• 24Feb

    As a marketing and communications professional, I appreciate the challenges of launching any kind of customer outreach program. I have recently been working on a marketing campaign for a client to reach their customer base with a new product, and we have been walking the tightrope of how much outreach is too much? These customers already get two or three regular communications each week with pertinent research and other data. How many times can we add a sales pitch to the mix without alienating our clients? Just because a contact opts into a mailing list doesn’t give you the right to bombard them daily with spam.

    Which brings me to Orchard Supply and the debacle of their new customer loyalty program.

    spam_jpgI went to the hardware store last weekend in search of some sandpaper and stain to refinish a dining table for our deck. When I pulled into the parking lot I noticed a large banner announcing Club Orchard, Really Useful Rewards. My first reaction was: “Cool! Now I get rewards for my home improvement projects. Guess I’ll have to stop going to Home Depot.” So I signed up.

    I got my first communication for the rewards program today.

    Between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. this morning I received not one, not two, but 20 identical “Welcome to Club Orchard” messages, each inviting me to register online. I found this annoying and laughable at the same time. So I hit reply and basically told OSH corporate to tell their marketing department to get their act together. Naturally, the email bounced, so I had to do some investigating to find the right link, navigate to an online form, and lodge my complaint with OSH corporate. I immediately received a trouble-ticket acknowledgement via email, and about four hours later I received a message thanking me for my efforts and concerns. Shortly after that, I received another canned message of apology – obviously a blanket response to their screw-up earlier in the day. And still later in the day I received TWO MORE INVITATIONS within 10 minutes to register for their new customer loyalty program.

    So between 5:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. I have received 25 separate email communications from Orchard Supply OF NO VALUE TO ME WHATSOEVER.

    There is so much wrong with this program launch:

    1. It took five full days to send a welcome message for the new program. I know I entered my email and telephone number when I checked out at the register. Why wasn’t that information relayed to headquarters and used to IMMEDIATELY generate a welcome message waiting for me when I got home? The system is automated, and it should be simple matter to demonstrate how much the company values my trade with a timely welcome.image

    2. Why do I have to register twice? I registered for this program once at the store with an email and a phone number, then had to register a second time online. This may be one way to address the double opt-in concern but it is clearly awkward. Wouldn’t a confirmation email or some simpler, more customer-friendly approach suffice?

    2. No one bothered to test the message server. It is INEXCUSABLE for anyone to send out the same identical message every six minutes for two hours. The first rule of any marketing campaign is test, test again, and then test some more, and that’s not only valid for marketing messages, but the the delivery technology you are using as well.

    3. The feedback loop is clearly broken. When I correspond with editors, customers, or any group en masse, I am damned sure they have a means to communicate with me simply and easily. I try to use my own email address so an email reply goes right to me. Barring that, I make sure there is some easy way to respond to an email message beyond the required opt-out option. Two-way communications is the key to any successful campaign.

    4. There is no excuse for sloppiness and inattention to simple details. The shear sloppiness of this launch tells me a lot about this company’s marketing capabilities and sets a very low expectation for their customer service program. If they can’t get a simple thing like registering for a customer loyalty program right, then how can I be assured that they can offer reliable in-store service? Is this level of incompetence a reflection of the company overall? (Maybe the clock they used in their email message is really a ticking time bomb.)

    Granted, managing an effective customer loyalty program can be challenging, but when it’s done right, it really pays off. By way of contrast, I give you Safeway.

    clubcardWe all need groceries, and just as I can choose from a number of hardware stores, grocery chains abound. I like to shop at Safeway largely because of my Safeway Club Card. Granted, I have to drive farther to shop at Safeway, parking is not always as convenient, and occasionally they don’t have the specific product I am looking for but I still prefer to shop at Safeway. It’s because the Safeway Club Card has real value for me:

    1. It saves me money. I can see the savings at the register with the card discounts, and they typically are 20% or more.

    2. I can choose how I shop. If I am in a hurry, I often use the self checkout with my discount card – it’s fast and easy, and I still save money.

    3. I get in-store coupons. As a Safeway Card shopper, I get discount coupons at the register. Some are valuable, some are not, but I always check to see what might be useful for my next trip.

    4. I get paperless online coupons. Safeway’s new online shopping program gives me a heads up on sales, discounts, and even can register for product discounts online. The savings are automatically granted at the register when I use my card.

    What’s the common thread here? It’s savings, and its service. Using my Safeway card is easy and painless, and it always delivers a return. And I have multiple ways to get a discount. So it’s worth my going out of my way to shop at Safeway.

    Based on today’s experience, I am not sure I can say the same about Orchard. I guess I’ll have to go back to shopping at Home Depot.

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  • 06Mar

    spam-big

    Not long ago, I wrote a blog post about the lost art of telephone pitching, which received a lot of comment from a number of my peers on LinkedIn. Every PR professional has something to say about this topic, and the conventional wisdom is that you need to use a number of different channels to reach editors, beyond e-mail. Or as one of my commenters noted, “E-mail is for novices.” But I think the issue of editor outreach goes far beyond the means of communication and need to focus more on content. Editors should look on PR professionals as allies, and it is clear that, with the explosion of e-mail, social media, and other electronic communications, we now have more ways to spam editors rather than engaging with them.

    Which is why I was particularly intrigued with a guest blog posted by Alison Kenney on Lindsay Olsen’s PR blog calling for “A Restraining Order for the PR Profession.” Apparently, in the eyes of the press, PR professionals have become cyber-stalkers, and they are calling us out on our behavior. Kenney cites a number of pissed-off analysts and editors who are maintaining an online hit list of PR offenders, including Josh Bernoff of Forrester, who complains there is no way to “unsubscribe” from press e-mail lists; Chris Anderson of Wired who maintains a list of PR firms of PR firms he has blocked; the Bad Pitch Blog, and a host of others.

    I think it’s not about the medium, but the quality of the message. With the advent of new technology, PR professionals have become lazy and are using electronic channels to substitute for one-to-one communications. Even the best pitch will be offensive if it’s off-topic, which is what happens when you get a junior account executive spamming different editors with the same storyline without customizing it first. Just because you have the technology to send information to reporters all over the planet doesn’t mean you need to wield it. If you have a strong news story, then you can use one of the wire services to tell the world, but you still need to approach reporters with caution.

    I have become a big fan of HARO (Help A Reporter Out) because they make their rules about spamming, but they enforce them. HARO has become a safe haven for reporters seeking resources because they know that off-topic responses to requests for information will get the offender banned from the system. This is the ultimate opt-out – being sent to that unique circle of PR hell where you are prohibited from pitching. HARO works because reporters get responses to specific informational needs, not abstract queries about not even remotely related topics.

    I blame the growth of technology as much as the laziness of PR professionals. We have created so many means of communication that it has become harder than ever to choose the path of least resistance. Will a reporter respond to an e-mail request?  A LinkedIn request? A Facebook post? A phone call? Chances are it will be “none of the above.” The noise level for communications has become so loud that it’s no wonder that even the most targeted and insightful queries fall between the cracks.

    So what are we to do as a profession? I tend to agree with Bernoff that it’s time we cleaned up our act. We need to be judicious about the use of e-mail and electronic communications; keep it real; and keep it relevant. Take the trouble to read before you pitch to find out what the editor is really interested in. Try to make a personal connection so you aren’t just an anonymous spammer but a person behind a message. If you can make a human connection with a reporter through Facebook, a phone conversation, or some other means, then they will be more forgiving of a faux pas, if you don’t make a habit of it.

    And most important of all, remember who is responsible for your success. Your job is to connect your clients with editorial contacts who need to hear their story. If the reporters won’t listen, you are out of a job. As I always tell my clients when they ask me to do something stupid that I know will piss off an editor, “After I am no longer working for you I will have to call that editor again, so alienating him always does me more harm than good.”

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