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.

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.”


Can Lisa Rinna and Patriots Football players actually make the taboo adult diaper sexy? Well Kimberly-Clarke seems to think so! To market their new line of Depend® diapers, appropriately being called Depend® Silhouette for Women and Real Fit for Men, Kimberly-Clarke has enlisted the help of 48-year-old Rinna and 3 (young) Patriots Football players to appear in their new ad campaigns.

Here’s the catch, none of these celebrity spokespeople actually suffer from urinary incontinence and have no medical need to be wearing the diaper, but all agreed to participate in a stunt campaign to benefit select charities.

The ads also encourage consumers to go to Depend’s website, The Great American Try-On, to request a free sample; not that you actually need to order one. By going to the site and answering a few basic questions about the new diapers, Depend will support The V Foundation for Cancer Research and Dress For Success women’s charity by donating money in return.

So will this marketing ploy actually help reach a new type of audience that, according to the Today Show (see video), has needed help for a while? Baby Boomers, like Kris Jenner,  are rapidly reaching the age where this product could be a necessity. So, the answer is probably yes, I mean they got me talking about it! However, it is also a bit disturbing. Kimberly-Clarke is marketing this diaper as a SPANX-type product, which will serve a younger, cooler audience and not just your grandparents. But the question remains, if you’re not wetting your pants yet, why would you need a diaper? I think I’ll stick with SPANX for now.

Yesterday, Google unveiled its latest project: glasses.  But these are not just any old glasses; they are futuristic augmented reality glasses.  By slipping these bad boys on you are able to keep your hands free from technology devices like a smartphone or tablet, but still stay connected as graphics pop up on a small screen a few inches from your right eye.

Google is a big believer that technology should work for you, the consumer, to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t.  With that being said the glasses have a built-in camera to record what the wearer is looking at and then uses the images to find relevant information about what is being observed, which is then displayed on the glasses’ lens. So say you head to the subway but it is out of service, you can ask for walking directions and the glasses will pull up a 3-D map and provide you with step by step directions.

Want to check in on FourSquare, Skype with you friend or take a picture of what you are currently looking at and upload to Twitter? Well, you can do that too, and you won’t have long to wait.  Google expects the glasses to hit the market by end of year and will only set you back $250-$600.

These glasses sound great and all, but when does technology become too much and, have we really become that lazy, that we would rather be bombarded by images all day than hold our cell phone? Others seem to agree, judging by the amount of spoofs on YouTube today.

Confession: I don’t own a smart phone. I think I’m the only one in my office, and possibly in the world of PR and Marketing, who still uses a flip phone. It’s not that I don’t want one. I do. It’s not even that they’re too expensive.

The reason I don’t own a smartphone is that, every time I attempt to peruse the lovely, shiny, thin phones, I’m convinced that my service-provider has secretly entered me into a meticulously-coordinated retail version of the Hunger Games.

Upon entering, the potential customer has to sign in at the kiosk. After that, the real action begins. Angry customers ahead in line are reaching the end of their ropes, having stood around for almost an hour. Others are feeling screwed. Having entered the store with excitement about the prospect of a new shiny phone, they quickly descend into depression when extra, all-but-obligatory “options” are sold to them. The guy next to them has not purchased those options, and now has a broken phone or has gone over his monthly allotment of data thingers. Grandmothers unused to this new retail model enter the store and immediately approach seemingly-available salespersons, only to be rejected, told to sign in, and leave confused.

I want a smart phone. I even need one. This should be a win-win for me and the cell phone company. But this dance is enough to make a man leave empty-handed and call his buddies on his flip phone to meet elsewhere for drinks. Instead of models in flashy pink dresses or bold phone coverage-area proclamations, the cell phone industry should start by simplifying and improving its in-person customer service model. Do you hear me now? Good.

Cell phone store or Hunger Games scene?

Antonio Bolfo/Reportage for The New York Times

Marketers are smart, but in some cases they are becoming increasingly sneaky. We’re all familiar with customized ad displays on Gmail, Facebook, YouTube and Hulu, for example. These sites display advertisements that relate specifically to your search history and keywords found within the content you browse. The idea here is that advertisers can target their ideal audience and consumers will watch and engage with brands that are relevant to them, rather than clicking away.

But a fascinating interview on NPR with Charles Duhigg of The New York Times uncovered some even more intrusive marketing tactics. Duhigg explained how retailers are uncovering more and more about our lives based on our purchasing patterns. This market research then informs targeted advertising and direct marketing so they can put the right information in front of you when you are most likely to purchase that product.

Duhigg explains that market research is becoming so smart, it can pinpoint more than just your likes and dislikes; it can pinpoint significant milestones in your life and take advantage. For example, market research has shown that consumers are more likely to change their brand of toothpaste when they move into a new home. Based on the type of products you purchase (moving boxes, packaging tape, storage containers, for example), a store like Target could make an educated guess that you have found a new home and then present you with a Crest toothpaste coupon upon checkout. Beyond a new home, Duhigg says that companies can also tell if you are going through a divorce or if you are expecting a baby. In some cases, they can predict your exact due date based on your online and in-store shopping behaviors.

I’m all for intelligent marketing, but this seems a bit invasive. Do you think this is smart marketing or is it crossing a line?


Nothing beats a place where you walk in and everyone yells NORM, or in this case Maggie. But as corner bars have proliferated into chain bars every ½ mile, and half of retail therapy is done online, is it possible for any bar or brand to keep up with that kind of consumer focus?

It all boils down to the person behind the bar – both literally and figuratively. Just last week I was passing through Vino Vento (a nice stop near Gate 72 at Newark Airport). The place was its usual packed annoyance and I muscled into a bar seat just before a [pack of six showed up. Security had been a disaster and I was at the end of my rope when the bartender handed me a menu and said, “Hi. Haven’t seen you in a bit. Sauvignon Blanc? And did you get your hair cut since you went to Dublin?” I almost passed out. In a place that has very few “Norms,” this bartender remembered critical aspects of me as a customer that quickly alleviated all my frustrations and reminded me why I liked this place over the other choices in the terminal.

Now I know this is not always possible, and it may have been the wine talking, but there was something special about it. Customer relevance when promoting big brands or small still has to strive for the corner bar “Norm” feeling. If every CEO, marketing director, etc. could take a cue from Amy at Vino Vento, making consumers feel special may be easier than they think. Amy (1) listened to me last time I was in, and I mean really listened. Some brands use metrics to measure their customers rather than actually putting themselves in their customers’ shoes and experience the brand first hand. (2) She paid attention because I was a repeat customer. Brands need to look at the folks who keep coming back to their branded and identify why. Engage these people as brand ambassadors and they will spread the word. And (3) she knew my drink. Not always applicable outside of a bar, but hey it always helps.

I’ll be back to Vino Vento for sure, and will spread the word to everyone. Can you say that about your brand?

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.


It’s time again for one of sport’s most anticipated events, the Super Bowl.  While the New York Giants and the New England Patriots face off, I will be spending more time watching commercials than the actual game.  By the end of the night everyone will have picked their favorite commercials, which will undoubtedly be discussed at length while standing around the office coffee machine Monday morning.

This year, one company decided to take advertising to the next level – with an ad to promote an ad.  Volkswagen debuted a 60-second Super Bowl teaser, “The Bark Side,” on YouTube and ABC, featuring a variety of dogs barking a canine rendition of “The Imperial March.” Or, to those who are not huge Star Wars fans, Darth Vader’s theme. You may remember that Volkswagen used the same song in last year’s Super Bowl hit, “The Force,” featuring a pint-sized Darth Vader determined to mentally move his family’s car.

So, all this to sell a few cars?  Nope. According to Mark Hunter, chief creative officer for Deutsch, the agency that designed the commercial, Volkswagen was one of the only brands to pre-release its Super Bowl ad last year, coming out ahead of other brands as a fan favorite.  So this year’s pre-ad was released as a way to continue to set media trends, and it has done just that. Within the first 24
hours of its launch, “The Bark Side” surpassed 1.6 million views. Within the same time frame last year, “The Force” earned around 1.1 million hits.

Yes, they may have won me and 1.6 million viewers over with Star Wars dogs, but let’s see if their gameday commercial can pack the same punch.

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…” So they say – and by ‘they’ I mean a Chinese general in 400 B.C. Well, the first part used to be easy when my friends were generally restricted to the cul-de-sac I lived on. But today some of us have a hard time maintaining friendships as we’re separated by more than white picket fences and curfews. Businesses are no different and, in fact, risk generating enemies by not paying enough attention to its friends and loyalists. But there is hope. While 2012 will continue to be a world defined by the “me” generation where consumer is king, I would recommend marketers keep these five things in mind.

(1) Venture outside

I don’t mean just out into the elements themselves, but outside of your marketing discipline. Consumers today are looking for the complete experience with brands, not just an ad or a product review. By connecting these disciplines better, brands can have a more streamlined dialogue with their customers. Oh, and taking your brand literally outside to the streets …consumers love that too.

(2) Make friends

Seriously, we should have learned this already, but it’s worth mentioning. Identify the folks who like your brand already, those that will influence and inspire others to be friends too. And remember an influencer can be anyone and everyone, so keep your eyes open.

(3) Be adventurous

With new platforms like Pinterest catching everyone’s attention, don’t be afraid to test the waters. Many brands were so hesitant to jump into consumer dialogue that they almost missed the boat. Try a test program, talk to people, and meet your customer where they live.

(4) Be specific

The average consumer is no longer content with generic marketing to the masses. Think about niche groups and create campaigns that can be catered to them. It’s not about diluting your brand message (see point one above), it’s about taking that message and listening to your audience to know how it applies to each person. Again, it’s all about them.

(5) Work with your enemies

I have honestly not focused so much on customer service as I did in 2011. Customers know they can take their issues to the masses – and often get their way. Now I am not saying these are all your enemies, but they could be. So how to stop it? Listen carefully to their problem, help where you can, make life easy for them on the other side. Customers mostly want to know that with big brands there is a person behind the curtain. It may not win them all over, but you could add a few back on your friends list.