Has Vogue Gone Rogue?It looks like Marissa Mayer and Kim Kardashian have more in common than business sense—both moguls are also talented at turning off Vogue’s high-fashion audience.  As I’m sure you have seen, Vogue’s April cover features a wedding shot of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West accompanying hashtag: #WORLDSMOSTTALKEDABOUTCOUPLE.

All personal feelings of Kimye aside (I have to, or it would cloud my judgment of whether or not this is a good brand decision), this is not entirely a rogue move for the magazine. Vogue also drew much attention and criticism from their decision to feature Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer in 2013.

Yes, I completely agree that Vogue’s brand is high caliber and does not exactly mesh well with the mass-marketed, over-publicized reality TV couple’s image. However, the magazine industry is facing a very difficult time in today’s culture. With so many people getting their news online and through tablet subscriptions, the printed publication has been slowly moving into the land of fax machines and flip phones. The average Vogue reader is currently 37.8 years old, compared to 30 in 2001. As the current market is aging, Anna Wintour knew she had to spice up her brand to help bring in a newer audience.

The Daily Beast put it best: “Between the two of them, Kim and Kanye have more than 30 million Twitter followers. Vogue has only 3.6 million.”

When it comes down to it, Vogue may have alienated several of their current subscribers, but they also potentially opened the door for a slew of new readers. I really don’t even think they strayed from their brand either. Sure, Kimye is no Kate Moss, but Kim is still wearing high-fashion gowns, and Annie Leibovitz’s photos also comply with the current brand standards. The cover has even inspired spoofs from James Franco and Seth Rogen (who are certainly not newbies when it comes to spoofing Kimye) and even Miss Piggy and Kermit, in addition to the many articles and newscasts that are talking about the “controversy”.

Whether or not you agree with Wintour’s decision, you can’t really argue that Vogue’s April issue is #THEWORLDMOSTTALKEDABOUTCOVER, thus making it a smart brand move.

There Is An Airline Doing It Right!

PorterThis post is in praise of airline customer service and an overall EXCELLENT air travel experience.  Yes, really.  A positive one.

A few weeks ago my husband and I were looking for an easy, seamless ski vacation that didn’t involve driving 8 hours to Vermont or flying out west and battling the altitude, the time change and a cross-country flight.  We decided on the ski resort Mont Tremblant which looked to be just the right fit for us, but what sealed the deal was that a small Canadian airline called Porter flew direct between Newark and the local Tremblant International airport.  I liked their tagline, “Flying Refined,” and the price was comparable to other commercial airlines, so we pulled the trigger.

I have never had a more pleasurable flying experience.

Porter flights don’t have a business or first-class section, which means no priority boarding (unless you are infirm or travelling with small kids) and their in-airport customer lounges are open to all customers.  Here you can relax with FREE wifi, a bottle of water, some yummy snacks and even make yourself a coffee, cappuccino or espresso – in a real cup.  Like in Italy.  My husband and I slugged two each before hopping on board.

Once airborne, we had a very short flight to Tremblant (1:10), except that we had to take three approaches to land in what looked like a shoveled driveway in the middle of the snowy wilderness.  (Pretty standard for the more remote airports in Quebec, or so I’ve been told.)  After each of two failed attempts to land, there was a brief announcement from the pilot about visibility and then the stewardess came down the aisle with additional information, including a contingency plan to go to another airport should visibility not improve.  We all felt informed and even the nervous fliers on board weren’t alarmed because we knew exactly what was going on.  Very civilized.

Fortunately, the third time was the charm and we landed easily on our final approach, hopped a shuttle to the resort and had a great vacation.  But then, another inevitable polar vortex of weather was threatening to hit Newark airport on Sunday, so we made the decision to try and get on an earlier flight home, just in case.

When placing the call early Sunday morning, I steeled myself for a long wait, inevitable extra charges and possibly a flat out “no.”  I mean, this was a small airline with limited flights.  After approximately 8 minutes we were booked on a new flight with a short layover in Toronto – no extra charges, no drama.  The nice Canadian lady even apologized that our trip would be cut short by a few hours.  (Really?)

I’m not a fan of layovers, but Porter flies out of Billy Bishop International Airport in downtown Toronto (with regular shuttles to downtown Toronto, which is just a few hundred yards across the water) and is the only airline to use that airport, making international transfers as easy as walking down the hallway.  This also means that the whole airport is actually a Porter lounge, including a huge business center with computers, free wifi and an even nicer snack spread than Newark.  Porter is currently petitioning to have an ultra-quiet jet approved for landing at Billy Bishop (they currently fly only prop planes), which would allow the airline to fly to further destinations, including the Caribbean.  My fingers are crossed that this will go through – and that they will stop in Newark along the way…

I know it may seem silly that I was so floored by Porter’s cute lounges, good customer service and seamless flying experience.  I’m also not alone in recognizing that Porter is kicking butt in the airline space – they were awarded best small airline in the world according to Condé Nast Traveler’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards.

The thing is, flying has become torture for all of us in recent years, so when things go RIGHT, it feels like being given a gift.  This is a sad state of affairs, but it’s also an opportunity for airlines – should they deign to care about their silly customers – to set themselves apart from the pack with small, yet very important details.  Porter has certainly done that in spades.

Oh – and onboard snacks and wine were free…  What’s better than that?

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Mom 2.0 with 500+ bloggers, brands and yes, a few brave men.  Why was it a pleasure of an experience?  Let me count the ways.

1.       I had the opportunity to make authentic connections with like-minded individuals from around the country. This includes bloggers and brands like Bissell and Starbucks and those in between.
Confession: I am 100% obsessed with a certain brand’s steam mop.View

2.       Spending time with people you typically only interact with electronically is invaluable.  (Great to see you Meagan Francis!)

3.       Ideas, ideas, ideas!  From Raising America’s Shark-Tank style pitchfest to Dove’s fabulosity, I came back with tons of ideas, not only for clients but for Peppercomm.

4.       Did I mention the fabulous accommodations, view and event staff at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel?

5.       Watching the Mom 2.0 Summit evolve over the years and truly adapt to the current marketing environment and participants needs shows that Laura Mayes and crew really get it.

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.
dearcustomers
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:

outofbusiness

 

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.

Maybe Spring is in the air, or I’v288_a73bca5126_gallerye just been lucky, but customer service has been on the uptick in my life.

Take last Friday.  Headed to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway and of course I leave my tickets on my desk.  Of course, it was Friday and a holiday, so no dice on a messenger.  And truth be told, I did not want to give up my pre-even cocktail or be late for the curtain in order to make the trek back.

Enter the manager and staff from Blue Fin restaurant, one of the many delicious restaurants that are part of the BRGuest group.  As a pre-theater hot-spot getting a managers attention at 7pm would seem like a challenge and a big ask.  However, in this case the staff quickly got me help, provided me an email address and the manager (thanks David) went and printed my tickets out.  Seems simple, yes, but not expected.

And I think that is the key here.  A busy restauntant in Times Square is often too busy to stop and consider customer service, and sometimes a part of a larger restaurant group doesn’t think they have the same skin in the game as a sole proprietorship.  By taking the time they not only made my night, but helped BRGuest stand out.

So many restaurant groups and brands do a good – if not overbearing – job on mass marketing once you are signed up.  But a lot fall short on the experience when you walk through the door.  And it is the complete experience, not just one channel that matters.  While leaving tickets for a show may not be common customer issue, taking the time to solve it is a great customer relationship builder.  Brands can learn here it’s not just the draw in, or the sale (let’s face it, I was on my second drink when the tickets showed up), but the cross channel experience that keeps people talking and coming back.

Thanks again Blue Fin & BRGuest… don’t mind if I do.

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.

I admit I am a sucker for every points and gold club out there.  From my United Airlines status to the Starwood Preferred Points to Hertz Gold, I am constantly chasing the perks where I can get them, I mean who wouldn’t.  But this past Friday, an unexpected perk (potentially not eveimagen tied to my membership) totally surprised me AND made me a Hertz renter for life.

Here is the story.  Twenty minutes till flight leaves Dallas Fort Worth, just spent 90 minutes on a 20 minute drive due to an accident on the highway, and pull up into a huge line at Hertz Returns.  Sounds pretty bleak, right?  Well not that day (thanks girl at DFW Hertz).  When I pulled up my boss and I told the woman directing cars that we were potentially going to miss our flights.  She sprung into action, telling us to not even take our bags out of the trunk and to get back in the car; she would drive us to our gates. Unexpected and unbelievable. And we both made out flights thanks to Hertz.

When I dug further I found that this practice is a Hertz commitment and something that is not advertised but communicated as needed.  I guess people would take advantage if it was common practice.  But last Friday, when I needed it most, it was truly a brand practice that was all about me.

Seems like the term “story telling” has been the buzz word of 2012, getting tossed around like the word innovation was in 2000.  Today too many brands are looking for any way to connect with their consumer in an over-saturated and very brand-skeptical
market.  Brands can’t just push product – well maybe Apple – and assume their legions will follow.  There is a need to provide content that motivates their consumer and applies to their needs in life, their goals.  A tall order for a brand?  Well Coke thinks not.

Today, one of the most beloved brands – though plagued recently with Bloomberg’s and others bans on soda – is launching a new website transformed into a consumer publication called Coca-Cola Journey. According to Stuart Elliott’s column in today’s New York Times, the article points out that “the use of the word ‘story’ is significant because the Web site changes are indicative of the growing interest among marketers in recasting their communications with consumers as storytelling rather than advertising. Just as attention is being paid to developing content to use for brand storytelling, an appetite also exists for  corporate storytelling.”

The question remains for Coke and all brands as to whether the consumer will engage with the story and take the journey.  I think if they can create a journey with their target, rather than forcing them down the road strewn with ads and product promotions, the iconic brand has hope with its new offering.  So read on soda lovers.

Living in Manhattan, I’m always surprised when I somehow manage to stumble upon a bad restaurant, a moody store owner or just generally bad customer service. The reason it surprises me is that there are so many good restaurants and retail establishments in Manhattan. With so much excellent competition, I don’t know how the good ones stay in business, much less the bad ones.

Plus, New Yorkers are notoriously… um… particular, which makes it all the more wonderful when an establishment is able to stand out above the rest. I’m speaking, of course, about that wonderful New York City bastion of grocery excellence, Fairway. What began as a fruit and vegetable stand in 1933 is now a nine-store juggernaut of high-quality food in the greater NYC area.

But that’s not what makes Fairway great. First of all, it seems like I always go grocery shopping at the wrong day or time. I’m always bumping elbows at the deli counter, dodging baguettes by the bakery or having my toes run over by stroller-pushing mothers in full yoga regalia. Fairway is great in spite of all that, much of which I attribute to my poor planning anyway. That’s because pretty much every employee I’ve ever encountered at Fairway has been helpful and human.

I’ll give you an example. One day I decided to go to Fairway right after work. As every working person is wont to do after work, I was rushing to get home. So I gathered my jerk turkey, dark chocolate with mint, greek yogurt and honey-glazed almonds, and jumped in the express line.

The customer in front of me was completely bonkers. One of those women of ambiguous age with an alien-esque stretched face and stringy hair, she was losing her mind because the cashier accidentally added an extra zero to some quantity of vegetables, making the grand total something around $400 for her handful of items. The cashier, handling a barrage of insults, patiently explained to the customer that she would get a manager to simply void the transaction. The manager came quickly, and, before voiding the transaction, asked the cashier what happened.

It was too much for the customer to handle. She kept screaming “I refuse to pay that much!” After voiding the transaction, the manager then offered the lady free delivery. I would have called a NYC Animal Control Officer to “crate” her for a while. When the debacle was over, and it was my turn at the register, the cashier and I looked at each other and both burst out laughing. It was a little slice of humanity indicative of what I always find at Fairway and supporting what Fairway says about itself: “Fairway: LIKE NO OTHER MARKET.”

 

It’s been awhile since my last blog but travel tends to inspire me to write, or maybe it’s just the ridiculous things that occur when on the road.  Last week, several colleagues and I flew to Chicago for a meeting.  I am typically a United (formerly Continental) gal but someone in the group (read: the boss) is none too pleased with United since the merger so we flew American. I was more than happy to go along for the ride particularly since the cost for a first class seat was marginally more expensive than a coach fare.  The trip out was uneventful although first class was lacking.  The trip home, however, was another story altogether.

Our meetings concluded a bit early so we bolted for the airport in hopes that we could hop on an earlier flight. During our two hour drive, a few back in the office were kind enough to help us research and rebook on an earlier flight. All was well or so we thought.  Upon arrival and check-in we learned that we were not only no longer in first class (allegedly there were no seats available which we later learned was untrue) but that we now owed American $300 EACH to move back to coach.  Wait, it gets better. Our esteemed colleague who had purchased an economy fare checked in and was upgraded and received a refund of $10 on his original ticket.  WHAT!?!?  In what universe does this make sense?

Now, I have absolutely no problem flying economy, in fact, 9 out 10 times, that’s where I am seated. The premium security access is what I am after.  American had no explanation for this except for “It’s how you booked. We don’t know why but we can’t help you.”  Well, American, the customer experience here was in no way “first class” but did have one redeeming quality. Gwen at the First Class ticketing counter at least attempted to assist us and ensured me that although we had now paid a small fortune to be downgraded we could enter through  premium security. Thank you, Gwen!  I will be flying United for the foreseeable future.  It’s not perfect but at least they make sense.