Thursday, March 28, 2013

When It Feels Like Stalking

They call it remarketing. Some call it retargeting. My own experience is it feels a lot like stalking. Which is what makes it creepy. 

This is what I'm talking about. 

Say you are window shopping on the web. It's a fun pastime. Something you can do in your pajamas while sipping on a glass of Chardonnay. If you use Pinterest, you might even pin those new skinny boot jeans you've been eyeing on your Pinterest page. But you don't buy them. 

That company is disappointed you didn't pony up your credit card just yet. They want you to come back and finish up that transaction. 

This is where the stalking starts. If that company is employing remarketing, they have hidden a little snippet of code, invisible to the untrained eye, that picked up on what you were doing and will now track you all over the web. Which basically means their ads will start showing up on other websites until either you come back and make a purchase or the time on the cookie runs out.

At first you may not notice. At first you may think that company is just running a big ol' campaign and spending a lot of money online. 

Until you notice the ads showing up in places that just don't make sense. Like here.

Or here.

It becomes positively jarring. Like you are being stalked. And who wants to be stalked? Stalking is creepy. It's an invasion of privacy. It makes one feel unsafe.

If you are me and you teach this stuff, the light goes off about now. You realize that this is a remarketing effort.  You know if you go in and clean your browser of cookies you can make it go away. Or you can go back and buy those skinny jeans. But you know you. You are not about to pay retail for them. Plus you're a researcher, so you don't. Not just yet. You want to see just how many more crazy websites this ad is going to pop up on. And it is the same ad. Again and again.

Now let me say that I've been a fan of Rebecca Minkoff since the first time I spotted one of her handbags in a boutique on Columbus Avenue and she was not as famous and successful as she is today. I have a huge respect for the brand and what the company has grown into. But as I continued to let those cookies do their thing I questioned my opinion.

Their ads started to look cheap, as though the company was going through troubles and had resorted to buying remnant ads at rock bottom prices. I didn't like seeing it wherever I went on the web. Yes, it makes sense on The New York Times site in the Style section, but not in the middle of a tutorial on how to make an Infographic. It was annoying. It did not make me want to go back and buy anything from the company. It made me feel like I was being watched. Worse. Stalked. Without my permission. Not the kind of stuff that strengthens relationships.

So it's official. I am not a fan of remarketing, nor will I be recommending it to any client any time soon. If you've got a great product and a great brand, stalking as part of your digital strategy should not be in the plan.

Note: Now that my research is complete and this blog written, I will be cleaning out those cookies but I will not be buying those jeans...unless of course I catch a great sale!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Lesson In Branding

I’m all for changing things up. Renovation. Reinvention. Redress. Redo. Rebrand. Whether it’s an individual or an organization it’s a good thing to do when things aren’t working or when things get stale.

But it can also be a dangerous path. Especially when things are working.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I heard that NY1 News, the 24/7 local newschannel dedicated to serving the five boroughs of New York City is purported to be changing its name after twenty years. I admit to having a soft spot for the channel. I admit to having worked as their Director of Sales for seven years. But I write this as a marketer who believes change is often necessary and can be a very good thing when done right.

According to varying reports the impending change was announced last Thursday as the result of a marketing study revealing that the average NY1 News viewer did not know that if they opted out of their subscription plan with Time Warner Cable they would no longer get to drink their coffee while Pat Kiernan reads In The Papers. The viewer is not aware this is a proprietary channel that can only be seen if you are a Time Warner Cable household. Because they are not making this connection, Time Warner Cable is losing subscribers to alternate cable providers.

So they are planning a rebranding, which will include all seventeen news channels across the country, to something approximating Time Warner Cable News. What exactly?  That's still unclear.

The plan, as reported, is to call it something warm and inviting like Time Warner Cable News.  Because after all, doesn’t everyone just love the cable company? Doesn’t everyone just dance with joy when that big ol’ bill arrives in the mailbox every month? That will stop the erosion of its subscriber base for sure.

Right. The parent company. The brand that does not have a loyal following. The ones that are not well liked. At all. The ones that people are constantly complaining about, be it price or service. That will fix it.

This is where it gets dangerous

Based on what I have read, the rebrand has nothing to do with a problem with the NY1 News brand or product, but rather with the Time Warner Cable brand and with customer retention. It has to do with alternate cable delivery methods and a digital landscape where a younger generation is not even sure they need a cable provider anymore. It has to do with price points. But NY1? Not much wrong with that brand. A little kitschy for sure. It’s part of the charm. But it works.

So what happens next?

The decision is announced and the uproar is loud. That’s what happens today. The rules of marketing have changed.  Do something they don’t like and people have easy access to platforms where they can be heard. They have the power to create PR nightmares.

Consider the #saveNY1 Twitter streams. The outpouring of articles. The angry viewers that Pat Kiernan is trying to calm down, assuring them the content will be the same. The fresh rage from the Time Warner Cable haters. There is even a Save NY1 petition that has surfaced.  Which may sound a little overdramatic. NY1 News is not going away. Really.  But the damage from a PR debacle in today's landscape takes on a life of its own.

Changing things up is always a good thing. But it has to be for the right reasons.

Seth Godin says we are living in a connection economy, “projects that create connections, and those that don’t.”

That means a lot of things. It means the old rules don’t work anymore. Your customer wants to be heard. They want a good product experience. They want to be engaged with, not talked at. They want you to pay attention to their needs. They want a relationship with you. They don’t want to feel used.

When it comes to NY1, they’re doing it all right.

Under the leadership of Steve Paulus (who it is reported to have fought the decision) it has grown to a station with a national reputation that spawned others like it in cities across the country, a dedicated newsroom, a loyal and engaged viewership, a history of breaking stories and a strong connection to the community that solidified in its superior coverage of 9/11.

You don’t fuss with a brand that is working. You hone it. You polish it. You make it shine brighter. You keep its recognizable name.

The brand you work on is the one that doesn’t glitter quite so brightly. You start by understanding the rules of marketing have changed. Today they are about engagement, user experience and customers feeling connected to the product. You start to work on improving that relationship. You don’t start by doing more damage to the shaky one you already have.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gone Listening

Last night someone asked me how often I blogged. I said my goal is to write once a week. Which is the truth. I strive for one quality post a week. Hopefully something that falls into my mission to be either practical and useful or thought provoking. Something worth sharing. Tweetworthy.

I quickly fessed up that I've been lax of late. I knew it had been over two weeks since I had last written a word here. And I wanted this person to know in the event he decided to visit my site. I wanted to be clear I am not a fraud even though I had not posted one single blog in the month of March. I  wanted him to be certain I am not one of those people who say they blog, when they don't. I am a blogger. Among other things. 

I admit to feeling consumed with guilt.

A blog is a commitment. It's a place to speak one's mind. To share information and thoughts on the topic of one's choices. It needs care and nurturing. And I have been remiss.

But there are reasons. Good ones.

In this 24/7 digital space we live in everyone has something to say, every moment of every day. Some of it is really good and some is just awful. Sometimes it all starts to sound like white noise to me. It makes listening hard. And listening is important. In fact listening may be more important than speaking.

If you are not listening, you have no basis by which to voice your point of view. And by listening, I mean listening. Not simply hearing words. There is a difference. And if you don't believe me, you are probably not listening at all.

The essence of the digital space we live in is about engaging and sharing through technology. It is what makes digital marketing different from marketing as we knew it. To fully engage, one must first listen. With both ears and their brain. Sometimes that means being quiet and keeping ones thoughts to oneselves. For a bit. Until it is time to share again.

I've been spending time listening. A lot. More on that later. But for now let me just say, it appears it's time for me to share again.