August 22nd, 2014 by Leonard Klie

Following a number of very high-profile customer data security breaches in the past year or so, Congress and several  state governments are now considering legislation that would require businesses and organizations that manage databases of personal information to put in place safeguards against hacking . Companies that don’t could  face significant fines after a breach.

In the U.S. Congress, a pending bill, S. 1976, introduced by Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.V.) would require any company or organization that becomes the victim of a data breach to promptly notify a handful of government agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission, and the U.S. Postal Service (if mail fraud was also involved), as well as the attorney general of states involved and any other appropriate federal or state agencies.

Some of the other legislative changes would give the FTC regulatory authority over breaches, spell out the responsibilities organizations have to protect personal data from being hacked, and provide for severe penalties of up to $5 million for failure to comply.

On the state level,  California,  Florida,  Iowa,  Kentucky,  Louisiana,  Minnesota, and New Mexico are all considering legislation that identify very specific steps that must be taken to protect consumer information, with penalties for non-compliance. Twelve other states are toughening data breach reporting requirements.

With ever-increasing numbers of data breaches like those that hit Target and Netflix earlier this year and late last year, it’s certainly welcome news that lawmakers are determined to hold firms accountable for managing personal information. It’s a welcome change. Unfortunately, not everyone is convinced.

360 Advanced, an accounting and security  assessment firm, recently issued a statement against the new legislation.

“Our analysis of pending legislation requiring data security safeguards and stiff penalties for non-compliance sends a chill across an entire industry that is already moving swiftly toward voluntary compliance on numerous levels,” said Dan Collins, president of  360 Advanced, in a statement. “It is one thing for state and federal legislators to strengthen data breach reporting requirements, which is indeed appropriate, but it’s another matter entirely when they consider legislation that would punish service providers for being hacked.”

Granted, ultimate responsibility for a data breacb lies with the individuals or organizations doing the hacking, but ultimately companies have an obligation to protect their data from such attacks.

August 21st, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Aside from a slightly depressing declaration from Microsoft Dynamics’ Bob Stutz that “CRM is dead,” this year’s CRM Evolution was an optimistic gathering of analysts, vendors, and customers. So what was the theme of this year’s conference? As the silos between marketing, sales and customer service come down and social, mobile and digital channels continue to blur into holistic customer experiences, there’s one key thing that companies should be focusing on at every level of the organization: engagement.

Here are the top 10 takeaways from conference presenters:

1. “The digital disruption is more than just a technological shift. It’s about transforming the business model and how we engage… We’re no longer selling products. We’re selling experiences.”


-Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder, Constellation Research

2. “Engagement must be internal and with the customer. “If there’s no engagement between marketing, sales and service, you can’t even begin to effectively engage the customer.”


-Bob Stutz, Group VP, Dynamics CRM, Microsoft

3. ” When thinking about engagement, we need to acknowledge that the power has shifted. The customers are in control now.”


-Volker Hildebrand, VP Product Marketing of CRM, SAP

4. “When it comes to VoC, most organizations are doing a little bit of everything, everywhere and in silos. Stop the madness! Be consistent and smart about how you approach customer feedback.” 


-Leslie Ament, SVP, Research, & Principal Analyst, Hypatia Research Group

5. “Connected mobile has big implications for virtually all areas of business. Mobile is the one place where people’s converged identities can be pinpointed…Connected experiences are better experiences, and you have to deliver experiences that customers can’t live without.”


-Michael Fauscette, GVP, Software Business Solutions, IDC

6. “Because of social media, marketing, sales and customer service teams are finally in the room together.”


-Katy Keim, Chief Marketing Officer, Lithium Technologies

7. “Social used to be all about listening, but now it’s about converting that insight into action.”


-Steve Kraus, Senior Director, CRM Product Marketing, Pegasystems

8. “To align sales, marketing, and customer service, you have to align metrics.”


-Bob Dunfee, VP, ONE Evangelist, 

9. “We need to start thinking of engagement as a service, and engage customers on a one-to-one basis consistently while maintaining context throughout the buying cycle.”


-Charlie Isaacs, CTO, Customer Connection,

10. “When you take a customer driven perspective, every conversation shouldn’t be about selling a product.”


-George Wright, Senior Vice President and General Manager,

August 14th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

When Robin Williams died earlier this week, I, as many others, learned the news through Twitter. Once the word was out, there was an outpouring of support, tributes, video clips and other messages from fans, fellow actors, and news organizations. Though some may disagree, I personally find tremendous value in the kind of social media mourning wave that builds around the passing of a prominent figure. It was particularly comforting this time, when the deceased was one of my favorite actors and comedians. As the conversation surrounding Williams’ tragic death continued on Facebook and Twitter though, I couldn’t help but notice that notably silent were brands. So what happened to all the marketing?

On a typical day, my feed is flooded with promotions, campaign messages, and other marketing content, but in those few hours immediately after his death, brands were radio silent, and I commend them for that. Fast food giant Burger King, for one, apparently made a quick decision to pull a Promoted Trend–a national marketing campaign that typically costs more than $200,000 a day–as soon as the company noticed the kinds of conversations happening on the social network in the hours after Williams’ death.

The ad was a promotion for the return of Burger King’s famous chicken fries, but executives made the decision not to run it “out of respect for Robin Williams and his fans,” a BK rep told Adweek in an email. More power to Burger King, and to other brands that cancelled their scheduled tweets or changed the tone of their marketing after the news rocked the Internet.

When done tastefully and with great sensitivity to what’s going on in the real world, I think there’s a place for brand messaging in these situations. A few months ago we wrote a feature on marketing in the wake of a disaster. The piece lined up with the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, and while we chastised brands that turned the natural disaster into a gimmicky sales campaign, we complimented brands that were able to use their marketing platforms as a means of sharing information about valuable resources that they were making available in light of the events.

But these responses and efforts take time. When tragedy strikes, whatever it may be, the biggest mistake a brand can make is to appear insensitive, even if it’s entirely unintentional. Until marketers can determine the kind of marketing or messaging that would be most helpful or supportive given the situation, silence is golden.

And while we’re on the subject of marketing…

Here’s Robin Williams reciting some beautiful lines from Dead Poets Society in this touching ad. You’re welcome, Apple, for the free advertising.

August 11th, 2014 by Leonard Klie

I am a huge Yankees fan, and have been since I was a little kid. And while I’m usually fully engrossed in the baseball season by now, this year I just haven’t been following the sport that much at all. With many long-time players and fan favorites fleeing pinstripes for higher salaries elsewhere, a lineup plagued with injuries, and a number of free-agent signings in the off-season, I hardly know any of the players on this year’s roster.

I think a big part of my baseball malaise this year also stems from what I perceive as a lack of marketing out of the Bronx. Instead, I see headlines that the team is banning celebrities from wearing opponents’ garb in the stadium.

Sports Illustrated model Kate Upton, who grew up a Yankees fan, was at the Stadium last week to watch boyfriend Justin Verlander‘s Detroit Tigers take on the Bombers. Upton showed up at the stadium in a Tigers hat to support Verlander, but the Yankees told her she couldn’t wear the cap while sitting in the “Legends” section.

Is this a sign of marketing gone too far? Perhaps, but not as far as the San Francisco Giants, which about a month ago started warning fans not to show up at AT&T Park wearing “culturally insensitive attire” that might offend some fans.

Does a sports team have the right to tell people what to wear to a game? With attendance on the decline at major sporting events, it might not be the best move.

Marketing experts blame lower attendance numbers on soaring ticket prices, among other things. To compensate, some teams are going to great lengths to make the fan experience more enjoyable. Then you have the San Francisco Giants and the Yankees telling me what I can and cannot wear to a game.

A highlight of the gameday experience for me is seeing the off-the-wall outfits worn by some fans. Any of them could potentially offend someone.
Foam cheeseheads worn by Green Bay Packer fans could offend vegans or those with lactose intolerances. The Eric the Red outfits worn by some fans at Minnesota football games could offend any number of groups conquered by the Vikings throughout history. Then there’s the Dawg Pound, a group of over-zealous fans in the bleachers behind one of the end zones in FirstEnergy Stadium, the home field of the Cleveland Browns. Not a spot for cat-lovers to hang out,I’d venture to guess. Even the Giants themselves run the risk of offending those of smaller stature. And that’s a name shared by teams in both MLB and the NFL.

Maybe teams should start reinvesting their marketing efforts a little more wisely. Let Kate wear her hat with a simple D on the front. I promise not to be offended.

August 4th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

Business isn’t always black and white–there are gray areas everywhere, and the ethical line between customer persuasion and manipulation can sometimes become blurred. In the case of the Union Street Guest House, a boutique hotel in upstate New York, however, the line is crystal clear. The just chose to cross it anyway.

According to the hotel company policy, which has now gone viral, guests that stay at the hotel for a wedding or other event are strongly discouraged from leaving any negative reviews on Web sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor. If any are found, the event hosts would lose $500 of their deposit per review (yup, per review!). Just imagine it: you’re a newlywed, and your new wife’s uncle from Wisconsin didn’t like the salmon at your reception. He gave the Union Street Guest House a bad review, and boom! There goes $500 bucks. But there’s a silver lining! If you call your wife’s uncle and convince him to take the review down, you’ll get your money back. All’s well that ends well, right? I don’t think so either.

Here’s the hotel’s policy, verbatim:

If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. 

Sounds crazy enough, right? Well, there’s more! In a not-entirely-unexpected plot twist, the hotel responded to the sudden outrage over its practices on Facebook today, claiming that the policy was a “tongue-in-cheek” response to a debacle at a wedding several years ago and was never actually enforced. But, alas, a bodacious bunch of Facebook commenters didn’t let the company get away with that explanation–many pointed to a 2013 Yelp post from a customer who was being threatened with financial repercussions that alluded to the very policy in question. And then in response to all the hubbub, the Union Street Guest House took down their Facebook post. Drama, drama, drama.

Tongue-in-cheek or not, this whole thing is just absurd. Is there really no better way to leverage customer reviews? Plenty of great businesses have negative reviews here and there–negative brand impressions are inevitable, and attempting to stomp them out completely will undoubtedly reflect poorly on the brand. Instead, brands should encourage reviews–good and bad–but strive to deliver experiences that will lead to outstanding evaluations. And a little incentive doesn’t hurt either. My favorite hair salon in New York City, Fox and Jane Salon, for example, is a major presence on Yelp.

When the brand was just starting out, stylists encouraged customers to write reviews and share photos, with the promise of a discount at the next appointment. It didn’t have to be a good review necessarily, but the reasoning was probably that customers wouldn’t be too eager to leave a horrible review since they had to show it to their stylist to redeem a discount. Still, I’ve personally seen them give a discount to someone whose review wasn’t all that flattering. The salon’s been around for only a few years, but now has 5 locations in NY and California, and boasts 128 5-star reviews on Yelp. Actually, it’s one of the top rated NYC hair salons on Yelp, last time I checked. They’re transparent, and that’s why they’re successful. As for the Union Street Guest House, it looks like the entire Internet is giving them one giant bad review today. Guess we should all get our wallets ready, right?


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