Author Archives: Rebecca

Reading the Signs

Posted by Rebecca in loyalty | Marketing | retail - (0 Comments)

Guest Post by Sam Ford

datavisionA few months back on a trip to New York City, I was standing in line at DataVision, heralded by City Guide NYC as “practically a New York City landmark,” when I eyed this laminated decree, posted next to the counter. It declares: “CUSTOMER SATISFACTION IS OUR GOAL!” IN ALL CAPS. And an exclamation point to boot.

Right under it, also in all caps…and highlighted is…ABSOLUTELY NO REFUNDS. DataVision may have had a range of issues that led to their “no refund” policy. But it seems it seems an odd thing to highlight if their top goal is, as stated, to achieve “customer satisfaction.”

I was reminded of that sign this week when I saw this Consumerist story from Chris Morran with a sign of its own. In this case, a specialty grocery store is charging $5 to anyone who comes into the store to look at products but then doesn’t make a purchase, for fear that they are looking at their store and then buying the products elsewhere.
Chris points out that, if the store’s prices are competitive, this shouldn’t be happening and that, if they have products not found elsewhere that people want, then it couldn’t happen, anyway. Most importantly, Chris asks us to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes. If you were a new potential customer, would you ever want to go into the store to check it out, if walking through the door would cost you $5?

I’d take it a step further, though. If you were a regular of this grocery shop, what message does this sign send? A company that distrusts you. A company not confident in its offerings. And a strong deterrent to ever “swing by” the store again, if you’re just passing through.

I can’t help but wonder if either of these stores thought beyond the immediate economic benefit of their policies and into the message those signs send to the people who walk into their stores. If not, they may find out the hard way, when their sign eventually reads:



Sam Ford is Director of Digital Strategy with Peppercomm and co-author of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. He’s also a contributor to Fast Company.

St. Louis Panera Bread cafes have been testing a 'pay what you can' model for several years

St. Louis Panera Bread cafes have been testing a ‘pay what you can’ model for several years

Did you know that there are five Panera Bread cafes in St. Louis that will allow you to pay whatever price you wish for some turkey chili (in a bread bowl, no less!)? And that they’ve been doing this for three years? Now, the national chain – which is based in St. Louis – is bringing this concept to all of its 48 locations in the St. Louis region. Patrons who order the chili (suggested price $5.89, including tax) can pay whatever they wish and all above-cost proceeds go right back to the community, funding St. Louis hunger initiatives.

Panera implies that this program shares the responsibility of addressing hometown hunger. It sounds like it’s effective: the head of its foundation (Panera Bread Foundation) estimates that 60 percent of customers continue to pay the listed menu price, and the remaining 40 percent is split between customers who pay less, and those who pay more. What a great way to involve consumers – with very little effort from the consumer.

The company does not promote this in their communication efforts. No advertising, no massive PR blitz. As a consumer, it’s music to my ears and makes me want to absolve my love-hate relationship with bread, run immediately to Panera and purchase a turkey chili bread bowl – at full price. As a marketer, however, part of me wonders if Panera might be selling itself a bit short in letting both loyal and lapsed customers about this effort. I don’t eat at Panera on a regular basis, but knowing one opened a few towns over, I’m now more inclined to stop in – even though the pay-what-you-can option isn’t available here in California.

Other brands, such as Yoga to the People in NYC (and Seattle, SF, Arizona….), follow a pay-what-you-can model and attract droves of dedicated followers and brand enthusiasts. One just questions how this model impacts the bottom line. Maybe that’s not all that matters for these brands. For Panera, it appears to be here for the long-haul and I have no doubt their brand will, too.

With a little less than three weeks until the presidential election, the notion of ‘spinning’ anything is generally not advised. When it comes to skin care, though, you have to spin it to win it. Truly clean skin, that is. The folks at Clarisonic, a Seattle-based tech startup known for its Sonicbrush toothbrush and skincare devices, certainly believe in spinning. Since launching, the company has made seemingly little missteps: it’s helped raise more than $2 million for cancer research, gained several celebrity endorsements (unpaid, mind you) from the likes of Cameron Diaz, Tyra Banks and Oprah Winfrey, and achieved remarkable sales figures ($105 million in 2010), making it a smart buy for L’Oréal last year.

Clarisonic has also made smart decisions in selecting its retail partners. From Nordstrom to Amazon to Bliss, consumers – men, women, young and young at heart – can purchase the right Clarisonic spin brush that suits their needs. As many of our clients know all too well, a retail partner can define success for a product – or it can drive sales into oblivion.

So what happens, then, when a retail partner makes a mistake?

Recently, a small group of Peppercomm-ers were made aware of a special promotional code at which awarded a 100 percent discount on Clarisonic purchases made on the site. Too good to be true, or did we just stumble into a super-secret, super-savvy marketing stunt designed to surprise and delight both Bliss and Clarisonic enthusiasts? Never ones to question a brand’s marketing motives – or a good deal – several of us made good on the offer. With holiday parties just around the corner, visions of glowing skin began dancing in our heads.

However (you knew this was coming), the promotion code turned out to be available in error, and the dreaded ‘oops we made a mistake’ email hit our inboxes later that week. One could practically feel skin tone fading while reading the company’s attempt to make right: a 25% code for a purchase of $75 or more. Huh? How does that begin to make up for this colossal mistake? This wouldn’t have been nearly as bad had Bliss not then charged everyone’s credit cards the full amount ($159). Double whammy.

After some lively tweeting, many of us were put in touch with the VP of global communications for Bliss. Our individual levels of interaction with her varied; I personally had a twitter exchange, direct message conversation, email correspondence and finally a phone call with this person. The end result: a refund on my credit card and a brand-spanking new Clarisonic spin brush of my very own.

While my faith in Bliss is somewhat restored (how can you not love the at home triple oxygen™ instant energizing mask?), it begs the question: what’s the price of customer service. Better yet, what’s the value of customer loyalty? Had Bliss not responded the way they did, I would have, begrudgingly, found an alternate to their fab products. But now that I’m on a first-name basis (BFF might be taking it too far) with one of the company’s top people? Yeah, I’m at a higher state of happy.

Here at Peppercom, we try not to get too political about anything. Everyone is free to be true to him/herself and express support on important issues like who will win American Idol, the color of next season’s PepperKickers t-shirts and where to go to lunch. However, it’s hard not to catch even a mild campaign fever as we all countdown to November 6. The conventions! The debates! The outfits! Okay, maybe just kidding about that last one. But I digress…

I’m not shocking anyone when stating that a heck of a lot of marketing and PR go into developing the ultimate presidential campaign. Now, with social media and the 24/7 news cycle, the job is even more complex. What I love about the 2012 presidential race is constant comparison of each candidate’s appeal to the people. It’s hard to dispute that this is what won President Obama the Oval Office in 2008. So now we watch as Mitt Romney scrambles to catch up. I came across a Romney campaign initiative called “Grab A Bite With Mitt” in which supporters can enter to win a meal with Mitt and his wife, Ann. Supporters are automatically entered to win after making a donation. Talk about the definition of experiential marketing: bringing your product to the people and – literally – serving it up on a silver platter (or, perhaps, on a plastic plate at a local diner).

There are three key elements about this program that I not only really like – but can also translate to other marketing campaigns.

1. Low Barrier to Entry: to enter, all you need to do is fill out a simple online entry form and donate $3. Given that one of Romney’s key issues is jobs/economic growth, it’s smart to not require a large donation amount.
2. Facing Criticism: Romney’s charisma and personability have been the thorns in his White House Rose Garden since he started running for president since 2006 (and lost the nomination to McCain). Through these meals, he’s sending a message that says “Hey, I hear what critics and pundits are saying and I want to change the perception.”
3. Touting Your Assets: Ann Romney has slowly, but surely, begun to win some fans. Since launching her Twitter handle in mid-April she has gained just over 45,000 followers and has spent more time in the spotlight. By offering a meal with the Romney’s as a couple, they are also appealing to the conservative voters who cherish traditional family values – and whose votes Romney needs.

I’ll be curious to see what media coverage transpires as a result of these events. Will reporters eat it up – or will Romney choke?

2 Days in Seattle

Posted by Rebecca in travel | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I recently spent some time in Seattle. While there (and actually, while on my way there via some lovely outdoor advertising at the Montgomery Street BART station) I noticed a new tourism campaign called 2 Days in Seattle. As someone who enjoys traveling, I’ve always thought it would be interesting to work on a marketing campaign for a destination: a resort, city or country. If you look closely, though, you may notice that two destinations can be completely different – but promote themselves in almost the exact same way.

Go on. Take a look.

What did you see? You likely came across a beautiful website with stunning photography, a rave review from an elected official or celebrity (ahem, California. You know I love you, but it’s time for a re-fresh) and an exhaustive list of hotels, restaurants and attractions. Before your vacation has begun, it’s possible the folks trying to get you there have already overwhelmed you.

Then there’s Seattle. The crew in charge of getting people like you to visit created a new way to let people explore the city on their own. It’s all about being able to customize your own itinerary by hearing from other visitors. The site centers on an interactive map that features not only selected hot spots but tweets, photos and other feedback from real visitors. Sure, these visitors were food, wine, arts and culture experts who received a free trip to the Emerald City, but according to the site there were no organized events, press junkets or other forced tours anywhere. The goal is that this interactive map acts as a “living, breathing insiders’ guide to Seattle.” You can scroll through previous visitors’ tweets and take inspiration from previous visitors’ experiences. When you’re ready, you can jump to Seattle’s official tourism site at and look at the shiny pictures and get more information. And, what’s really cool is that you can add your own tweets after your visit.

I like this idea and hope some of the destinations I have on my list soon follow suit.

2 (more) days in Seattle? Yes, please.

Showing Face

Posted by Rebecca in brand | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. When done the right way, it can be one of the most effective ways to promote your brand. I’m talking, of course, about the spokesperson. Spokespeople come in all variations, be it the loveable, no-name brand ambassador (think the Verizon ‘can you hear me now’ dude) or one of America’s most recognizable faces (I’m talking, of course, of Jennifer Aniston for Glacéau Smart Water).

Then there are the seemingly ill-fitting spokespeople. You know what I’m talking about: the matches that make you scratch your head and wonder what both parties were thinking. I mean, did you really buy I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter because Ozzy Osbourne told you to? And did you find pistachios more delicious because the Winklevoss twins crack ‘em like apparently no one else (bless their handsome hearts).

Didn’t think so.

For brands considering a spokesperson, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. The brand comes first. It’s easy to be tempted by the hottest new celebrity on the scene. But just because the celebrity is a household name doesn’t mean he/she will make your brand one, too. Instead, think about the key attributes of your brand and your audience..

2. Think long term. Whether you’re looking to sign a 3-month or 3-year contract with a spokesperson, he/she will remain associated with your brand long after the paychecks stop. With commercials on YouTube, trade magazine articles archived online and social media comments galore, consumers will always remember – either fondly or with chagrin – your brand’s spokesperson.

3. Don’t just pay to play. Sticking your spokesperson’s mug on a billboard or coaching them through a few lines in a commercial may get you some buzz, but not much else in the way of engagement. When negotiating with your spokesperson, explore other opportunities to use their likeness to benefit your brand. Whether it’s connecting with fans through a Twitter party or offering a chance to win signed memorabilia, challenge yourself to optimize the relationship.
Extra tip: offering true win-wins between brand and spokesperson will also help your budget!

4. Get creative. Maybe you don’t have a multi-million dollar budget to spend on a celebrity, but don’t let that stop you from finding a great personality to represent your brand. Two of Peppercom’s clients have achieved this in two different ways. Once major consumer brand held a casting call when they were seeking a new face for brand. What they found was a talented actor who was perfect for the part – but didn’t cost a fortune. T.G.I. Friday’s was looking for a way to remind consumers that the bar is the heart of its brand, so it has developed a campaign centered around the bartenders – without focusing on just one personality – that is spreading through social media as well as paid advertising.

And because I know you’re wondering, some of my favorite celebrity endorsements include Jane Lynch for Barnes & Noble NOOK (despite being a Kindle user myself, I love how her Sue Sylvester personality dances into the spot) and U2 for Apple – cool band plus cool brand, it’s hard to go wrong.

What are your favorites?

I’ll be Returning Soon

Posted by Rebecca in brand | loyalty | retail - (5 Comments)

Guest post by Eddie Russell…


For me, I learn if I really love a company when it comes time to make a return. For example, I almost exclusively shop at Costco for all my electronics because their return policy and process is so amazing. At one point, you could buy the latest flat screen television and return for a full refund a year later with no questions asked. Essentially, this would allow you to purchase the latest electronics and upgrade a year later without paying an extra dime. However, as consumers, just because we have the power doesn’t mean we should always take advantage of it.

After gaining attention among blogs and social media outlets, Costco has since modified their return policy, limiting electronics, including televisions, to a 90-day window. Abuse it, you lose it.

I started thinking about company policies rather closely after making a return myself. Over the holidays, I purchased a pair of pricy headphones for a friend. I noticed the store had a disclaimer clearly stating ‘no returns,’ but purchased anyway because I was certain it was what my friend wanted. It wasn’t.

I contacted customer service who politely reminded me their return policy. However, after listening to my pitch about ‘how getting stuck with a $250 pair of headphones I’d never use would ruin my life’ (I was a bit dramatic), he agreed to accept the return, stating ‘we like to make sure our customers are happy.’

My experience with the return and conversation with the customer service rep has turned me into a loyal customer. I don’t think any marketing campaign or advertisement could have sold me any better on the company.


As a big fan of Anthropologie, I was excited when they launched their highly anticipated bridal collection, BHLDN, earlier this year. The fun bohemian-chic patterns and down-to-earth style the brand is known for would finally be applied to wedding day attire. When the collection debuted in February (on Valentine’s Day, of course), I was a little disappointed. Maybe the winter blues had really set in, but I couldn’t get excited about the various cuts, patterns or overall looks. It felt…dull and a little forced. I was missing the drama and the glamour. Maybe Anthropologie was too down to earth for the wedding crowd.

Like most of us loyal customers do, though, I stayed on the email lists and receive updates from time to time. I have to admit: the collection is getting better. It seems that Anthropologie is finding its groove, balancing tradition with trend. One tactic they use – which I love – is video to showcase the dresses. Unlike pictures, the videos really show how the dresses move and the character they depict. Brilliant. I received the latest video this morning which unveils the brand’s latest endeavor: separates. That’s right, on the day that is all about togetherness and unity, Anthropologie is suggesting brides select separate pieces to create their own dress, perfect for their style and body type.

Looks like a lot of fun to me, especially these days when two, sometimes three, dresses for the big day are more the norm than the exception. By selecting two skirt styles with one top, you can create two very different looks at an affordable (well, more affordable) price. Bravo, BHDLN! Can’t wait to see what you come up with next.


The first few years of life are all about touch. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with a toddler could tell you that. As we grow older, we begin to rely on our other key senses – we develop certain tastes, our eyesight sharpens (only to start weakening somewhere around age 13) and we eventually learn when something smells funny (literally and figuratively!). Touch has been one to lose its hype the older we get. Until now.

With the plethora of smartphones, tablets and other devices equipped with a touch screen we’re all a bit obsessed. iPhone users are probably the worst of them all (and I say that lovingly as one of them). How many times have you tried to move something on a screen by sliding your finger across it? Say, for example, on your Kindle. Doesn’t work, does it? While not all beloved electronic devices accommodate our screen happy-tapping, many brands are jumping on board in order to provide user experiences that fit our habits.

For example, hotels like the Plaza, Hilton and Mondrian are equipping guest rooms with iPads, allowing guests to access a variety of services including the concierge, room service and transportation. Most of these iPads are locked for hotel use only and don’t allow the guests to download apps or access certain web sites, but it’s a much easier way to schedule room service than strategically placing – and then removing – the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door.  Airlines are also getting on board (pun intended). Samsung recently announced that first-class passengers on American Airlines will receive its Galaxy Tab for in-flight entertainment on certain transcontinental and international flights. Not a bad way to kick it at 30,000 feet. A lot of credit goes to Virgin America, who has humored our love for the touch screen for a number of years, equipping its fleet with built-in screens for all passengers to order movies, food and beverages throughout the flight.

So, where will touch screens pop up next? My predictions – and yes, hopes: McDonald’s drive-thru, the shoe department at Nordstrom and in Section 217 at AT&T Park.


Next time you head to your local grocery, department or home improvement store, be on the lookout for Scan It, a smart-phone-esque device that scans items for customers as they shop. Sounds like a great way to save money, right? Particularly for those of us who are “math-challenged,” having a device that tallies your total while you’re shopping would help shoppers avoid that “register shock” when the total is much higher than expected. Also saves in the embarrassment of whispering to the sales clerk, “you know, I think I’ll set these five items aside for next time.” (Hypothetical, of course, as that situation has never happened to the author.) However, according to today’s WSJ, shoppers who use the Scan It system spend about 10 percent more than the average customer. Marketing and consumer insights attribute this to targeted coupons sent to the device throughout the shopping experience. For example, if you’re buying hot dogs, expect a coupon for hot dog buns to flash on the Scan It screen. Sounds harmless enough, considering if you’re buying hot dogs you’re likely going to buy hot dog buns. However, if you’re buying toothpaste you might not necessarily be in the market for mouthwash. But with a coupon for 50 cents off…how can you resist?

The interesting thing is, Scan It (and others like it) has been around for a few years but has only recently been gaining in popularity. It appears that consumers are finally ready to embrace the next phase of DIY shopping. Personally, I think it’s great. Whenever possible, I use the self-checkout at the grocery store; I also consider “pay at the pump” the best thing since sliced bread.

Perhaps mobile shopping solutions like Scan It will give brick-and-mortar retailers a shot at re-capturing market share lost to internet retailers like Zappos and Amazon – which, according to a recent National Federation of Retailers survey, rank as the number one and two retailers, respectively.

I may have to venture out this weekend and seek out a Scan It device and assess the shopping experience for myself. Research, of course.