Archive for April, 2009

I recently had a horrible experience with Ticketmaster. In buying 4 tickets for two days of a three-day festival, (in the same transaction), I had to pay “service” fees 8 times – for each Saturday ticket and then again for each Sunday ticket – for the same festival! Why, oh why did I pay nearly 20% of the ticket price in service fees? Because Ticketmaster has no competition and therefore can get away with murder. I guarantee you that if another company was able to sell tickets to the same festival, fees would be lower.

What I find interesting is that they call these “service” fees – oh, the irony! What service? I got no service – I couldn’t get any help from their website, I couldn’t get a live person on the phone and when I went to a retail outlet to buy them in person, with hopes of eliminating the need to pay double the fees, I was told that wasn’t possible. So, what service did Ticketmaster provide?

I think someone needs to remind Ticketmaster of the definition of “service”; according to dictionary.com, service is defined as “an act of helpful activity; help; aid”. How did Ticketmaster help me by taking nearly $100 in fees? I don’t pretend to know the in’s and out’s of the concert ticketing industry, but I do know good customer service when I see it, or, more accurately, when I don’t see it.

Service is no longer a point of differentiation, but rather an expectation. Provide good service and you’re just meeting the norm; go above and beyond, and you can be buzzworthy. Provide abominable service and you also become buzzworthy – for the wrong reasons.

One of the points Andy Sernovitz makes in his book, Word of Mouth Marketing, is that to keep people talking positively about your company, you have to “fix problems and make people happy.” Well, Ticketmaster, I hope you’re reading this. I hope you take action to either reduce your ridiculous “service” fees or start providing an actual service to your customers that is worth talking about – and that makes paying your fees acceptable.

Pearl Jam, where are you? We need you again!



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…as evidenced by the London Sea-Life Aquarium’s launch promotion. All it seems to take is stencils, some salt water, and the guts to invest your marketing dollars in something other than billboards.


To promote its grand opening, the aquarium decided to go with experiential marketing that was unique, unexpected and would grab the attention of their target audience, namely, children and tourists. So, they partnered with Curb (a natural media company) to generate buzz with a nontraditional, brand-centric campaign. The result? People on the sidewalk in scuba gear and sea-tagging!

Sea-tagging is a natural, temporary form of stenciling that you don’t need a permit for. It’s as simple as spraying sea water over a stencil onto a dry surface like a sidewalk. The designs come out crisp and legible, and while they evaporate in about five minutes, they are super fast and easy to create. You can literally do hundreds in one afternoon. In the aquarium’s case, the stencil-er was dressed up in scuba gear and attracted tons of attention in their own right, making them an important part of the guerrilla campaign.


For such a small monetary investment, the overall reach of the sea tagging and the word of mouth it generated were impressive. Tons of people stopped to take pictures, which are now all over the internet. Kids clamored to make their own tags on the sidewalk, and now are probably pestering their parents to take them to the aquarium.

Just more evidence that on its own or paired with traditional media, guerrilla marketing can have a huge impact.


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I recently came across a credit union marketing campaign that caught my eye. But not in a good way. (Now, I’m usually not this sensitive, but today I just don’t feel like embarrassing the innocent/ignorant, so I’ll keep their identity secret.)

So here’s what got me. In big, bold letters at the top of the postcard, it said:

“Check out the Viral Video Contest at our new website…”

Wow, what a misunderstanding of word of mouth marketing, viral marketing and buzz! This sounds like some traditional marketers who heard a hot new buzz word—viral video—and said “we’re going to do that—it will be easy!”

I think it’s mainly the wording of this headline that bugs me (don’t get me wrong, it’s not inherently bad to invite your audience to create videos). But this headline makes it sound like all you have to do is shoot a funny, badly produced video and put it online, and that it will “go viral.” As I wrote in my post called “Viral is a Result, Not a Strategy,” the goal isn’t really to make a video that is viral. Your goal is to create engaging content, that’s relevant to your audience, and that your talker groups will find interesting enough to talk about. The fact that it’s online doesn’t make it viral—it just makes the video a bit easier to spread.

As they said in the post on the Canadian Marketing Association blog:

“If a Marketer claims that they can make something go viral, be sure to steal their crystal ball on the way out of the meeting.”

I agree.


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If I were a bank, I would become extremely informed about credit card skimming. Skimming – a practice that is unfortunately happening more and more frequently – works by retrofitting a perfectly legitimate ATM, or any card reader, with a camouflaged counterfeit card reader.

If I were a bank, I would make sure that every ATM with my name on it was checked every 5 hours to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with. I would ask my security guards to check on ATMs for tampering. I would also make sure all my customers where informed about skimming through e-blasts and handouts so that skimming didn’t happen to them elsewhere. I would offer a guarantee that if any customer lost money at one of my ATMs because of skimming that I would return the stolen funds at double the amount.

If I were a bank, I wouldn’t do everything in my power to prevent skimming in order to get more customers. But you better believe that some positive buzz would spread about my brand. Articles about the dangers of skimming are being spread like wildfire through instant messages and emails as we speak.

If I were a bank, I would make sure that positive word of mouth about my brand was spread in the same sentence as the cautionary tales about skimming. So that the next time the skimming message is spread, it reads more like this: “Hey, did you hear about credit card skimming? But did you hear that Bank ABC has a 100% skim-proof system and they’ll give you twice the money you lose if you get skimmed?”

If I were a bank, I’d be thinking on my feet. But that’s just me.


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Trust is a big issue in word of mouth marketing, especially when you are a talker like me. I just read an article on entrepreneur.com, written by Ivan Misner, where he points out the responsibility of not only the talker, but of the product or business the talker is favorably talking about. It reminded me that I need to be extra careful when being a talker and referring people to businesses, services and products that involve an experience.

He makes the point that when you make a referral, you give a little bit of your reputation away. This couldn’t be more true when talking about a restaurant, movie or hair stylist because if someone doesn’t have a good experience (especially a bad hair cut!), then I feel horrible because an experience isn’t something you can easily return for a refund.

My favorite quote from the article is this: Word-of-mouth is always working–if not for you, then against you.

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I admit it–I was embarrassed. A few months back, when I was still new to Twitter, I began to see lots of people putting an RT in front of their tweets. I couldn’t figure out what it meant. So, I humbly reached out to a few of my sophisticated tweeps and discretely asked them to explain it to my sorry self. So I learned that RT stands for re-tweet, meaning you’re essentially forwarding someone else’s tweet on to your own tweeps, and you’re giving the original twitterer the attribution.

But it was the follow-up tweet I got from my friend Brent Dixon (@itsjustbrent) that I wanted to share with you. He said, very simply:

RT = Twitter WOM

And he’s exactly right. Twitter can be a powerful word of mouth marketing tool for banks and credit unions, but only if you give people something worth talking about…or in this case, re-tweeting.

Step into the minds of your talkers, and ask, “what would they find interesting enough that they couldn’t help but RT it?”

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Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE ice cream – it’s perhaps my favorite dessert. And Ben & Jerry’s is probably my favorite ice cream; in addition to loving the actual product, I love their story, their corporate ethics, and their commitment to so many social causes.

So imagine how excited I was when I got an email telling me that I could get ice cream for $1 if I just brought in a can of food – woohoo! And what did I do as soon as I learned of this? I told everyone in the office, emailed a few friends and called a few friends to see if they wanted to go.

I’m always getting emails about these kinds of giveaways from Ben & Jerry’s, which of course, I almost always forward to all my friends so they can enjoy some free or cheap ice cream, too!

Ben & Jerry’s has word of mouth down – they know their talkers (those of us who sign up for ChunkMail), they know what will get their talkers talking (free or discounted ice cream), and they make it easy to spread the offer (which almost always comes via email).

It may seem perilous to dole out so much free stuff, but the truth is that ice cream generally has a large profit margin (much like coffee), so it doesn’t actually cost the company much to give large quantities of it away. Of course, the average consumer doesn’t know that – the only thing they know is that they’re getting free goodies, which generates great word of mouth!

When the conversation of going out for dessert comes up, what do you think my friends suggest? Not Baskin-Robbins or Cold Stone, but Ben & Jerry’s, of course!

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