Saturday, July 13, 2019

When Accountants Dictate Customer Service, Customers Suffer

I visited a local Jiffy Lube this morning for an oil change. They're quick, efficient, they explain things in easy-to-understand terms, and they offer a veterans discount. I like the way staff interacts personally with customers and how they know, track, and share the history of my vehicle.

Jiffy Lube has a new "greeting policy" that decreases personal interaction and attention. And while it may more efficiently utilize employees, the new policy potentially endangers customers. More on that in a moment. 

Marketers think: "Good place to welcome customers."
Accountants think: "Unnecessary expense."
But first, as a marketer, in addition to creating content that meaningfully, memorably and measurably engages customers, I scrutinize the processes to which our marketing directs customers. 

Before promoting a product or service, I try to understand how, when, and where customers engage with the products or service. The critical mass (energy) produced when content and process collide generates decisions. Some questions I ask colleagues:
  • How and where do we meet prospects and customers (digitally or physically)?
  • How do we shepherd prospects through the sales funnel (digitally or physically)?
  • Where can we enhance our service to make sales more personal and less transactional?
  • Are the costs of these enhancements worth our investment of time, treasure, and talent?
From this perspective, Jiffy Lube's new policy doesn't improve customer service. In fact, it makes it worse.

In the past, a greeter/worker would welcome you outside, ask the services you want, and escort you inside, handing you off to a team member at the front desk. The new policy has greeters direct customers to check in at a computer inside the work bay. 

Beyond the fact that the work bay is (compared to the inside) dirty, loud, and subjects customers to the weather (hot in summer, cold in winter), it's also potentially dangerous: Oil is slippery, right? Did the bean counters consider how favorably working women in heels or men in dress shoes will view going into a work bay? What about the kids? What do they do while mommy and daddy are checking in? Does Jiffy Lube really want kids messing around in the work bay? 

Customer think: "Dirty."
Accountants think: "Money
I'm thinking the new policy has to be the brainchild of bean counters and profiteers who prioritize staff efficiency over customer service. Sure, checking in customers in the garage keeps staff working on cars and not manning desks. Sure, you'll probably make more money keeping staff busier. 

From a marketing perspective, this move erodes an important (but unquantifiable) customer service and interaction point. But even worse, from a customer's perspective, it's potentially dangerous. 

Suggestion: "Red Carpet Service".

Instead of checking in customers in the garage, install a red AstroTurf carpet from the covered greeting area that leads inside to the service desk. 

A greeter/worker welcomes the customer, and--while genially escorting them inside (perhaps with a branded umbrella in case of inclement weather--asks the services they want. He/she then checks his/her customer in at the computer. This creates a more personal, safer, and seamless customer engagement experience.

A comprehensive national marketing and advertising campaign could promote Jiffy Lube's new "Red Carpet Service" and highlight the services Jiffy Lube already provides: Quick oil change, check/refill fluids, check/refill air in tires, check wipers, etc. Throw in a couple discounts to entice customers to "Experience-Our-Red-Carpet" service.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Share Specific Value to Help Your Job Application Stand Out

While unemployment hovers at historic lows, the pursuit of senior positions remains extremely competitive. When I apply for leadership roles, I go out ot my way to distinguish myself from a burgeoning pool of qualified candidates. 

In addition to being more selective about the senior marketing and communications positions to which I apply, I'm devoting more time and attention to my application packet--especially my cover letters. This post describes one such example.

(What's a Social Media Producer? 
Discover here.)
Among the applications I submitted this short work week included one to Boston's Channel 7 WHDH to become their Social Media Producer. Here's the position description. 

To underscore my interest in the position, I shared in my cover letter the following directly relevant example of social media knowledge and expertise I offer WHDH. 

"In the battle for Boston TV audiences' social media hearts and minds, I analyzed WHDH's current numbers (as of 7/3 PM) and generated a table that compared WHDH's Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram numbers with selected competitors WBZ, WCVB, NECN, and NBC10.

BostonTV Social Media
Likes (IG = posts)
WHDH Twitter (@7news)
316,000 (1st)
3,983 (1st)
WHDH Facebook (@7news)
450,558 (3rd)
449,108 (2nd)
WHDH Instagram (@7news)
58,500 (2nd)
2,852 posts (2nd)
WBZ TW (@wbz)
WBZ FB (@CBSboston)
469,637 (2nd)
431,358 (3rd)
WBZ IG (@wbztv)
21,400 (3rd)
1,892 posts (3rd)
WCVB TW (@wcvb)
277,000 (2nd)
3,963 (2nd)
WCVB FB (@wcvb5)
801,080 (1st)
829,251 (1st)
WCVB IG (@wcvb5)
67,400 (1st)
3,682 posts (1st)
661 (3rd)
NECN FB (@necntv)
NECN IG (@necntv)
1,709 posts
NBC10 TW (@NBC10Boston)
NBC10 FB (@NBC10Boston)
365,838 (4th)
364,837 (4th)
NBC10 IG (@nbc10boston)
1,922 posts

The numbers in the table indicate that WHDH has prominent market share on The Big Three social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram):
  • On Twitter, WHDH leads selected competitors in Followers and Likes (aquamarine)
  • On Facebook, WHDH ranks 3rd (yellow) in Followers and 2nd in Likes (green)
  • On Instagram, WHDH ranks 2nd (green) in Followers and Posts
Further analysis of the numbers reveals:
  • WBZ ranks in the top three for all categories
  • WCVB leads the group in Facebook Followers and Likes--almost doubling WHDH's numbers on the social media juggernaut. 
  • WCVB also leads the group in Instagram Likes and Posts
The chart reveals surmountable numbers gaps--which as your Social Media Producer, I will work to close by applying my social and digital media content development and disseminations skills."

Eschewing standard self-promotional cover letter language, and knowing the beleaguered HR manager will receive dozens--if not hundreds--of applications from qualified candidates, I tried to convey specific examples of the relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities I offer WHDH.

In this highly competitive job market, my experiences have taught me the necessity to provide measurable and memorable value up front. 

Stay tuned to find out if my efforts spark a response from WHDH. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Powerful Images from DMZ Produce Powerful Perceptions

The President's visit today to one of the world's most tense borders is an interesting juxtaposition to America's current debate about border security. But this isn't a post about politics. Rather, it's about advertising and the power of images to forge perceptions. (It also draws from my personal experiences stationed at the DMZ in the U.S. Army.)
On the left is an image of the DMZ Panmunjom "Peace Site", looking from the so-called DPRK ("Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea) looking to South Korea (Republic of Korea). This is the standard configuration of hand-picked North Korean soldiers at the border.
The KPA (Korean People's Army) soldiers in Panmunjom are hand-selected for their physique, height and military bearing. They are fed better and more than regular KPA troops. At the DMZ, they are supplemented by dozens more, hidden in the building at the top of the stairs in the photo at right. The soldiers record every minute of every visitor at the site.
Even if they could afford to visit, most NK civilians can't go to Panmunjom. Only the Elite of the Elite may visit; when they do, they are ringed by KPA soldiers to prevent them from defecting. By comparison, the DMZ is one of the ROK's most-visited tourist destinations.
After visitors on the South side sign a form stating they will not make any offensive gestures nor take any photos, they are escorted into the Peace Building (where the Armistice was signed in 1953) by ROK soldiers in dress uniforms.
Neither ROK nor U.S. soldiers are permitted to visit the DMZ in ACUs--Army Combat Uniform--as the NKs would interpret this as a provocation. Visitors either react with stunned silence or giggle nervously as two pairs of ROK and KPA soldiers glower at each other from each side of the room.
On the right is a press pool photo of President Trump and Kim Jong-Un, looking North into the DPRK. No soldiers, no uniforms, no visible military presence at all. It appears like just another photo opportunity between two state leaders--and most Americans will see this "advertisement" and accept it as reality.
In my experience, the moment VIPs departed, trailed by their entourages and the media maelstrom, soldiers on both sides returned to the watches they have stood since 1953.
That's the reality at the DMZ, and it's going to take far more than words and handshakes to achieve a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Sarah Sanders Set Spokesperson Standard

(Originally published at, 6/15/19)

You may neither have liked what she said or how she said it, nor for or to whom. But on the eve of her departure, it’s difficult to deny Sarah Sanders’ effectiveness as President Trump’s trumpet.
Whether out of Divine ordinance (“God wanted Donald Trump to be President”) or human obstinance, Sander’s relentless—often disingenuous—advocacy of the President’s policies and her dogged defense of her boss certainly deserves his praise and affection… as well as the grudging admiration of fellow Spokespeople.
In 23 months as White House Spokesperson, Sanders, 36, gained prominence as one of Trump’s most loyal and longest-serving top officials.
While many people (including this author) will have difficulty separating her performance from her politics and her loyalty from her likeability, an objective look at what she did and how she did it—instead of for whom—can reveal a lot about Spokesperson “do’s” and “don’ts”.
Beyond the community of professional communicators, there’s some confusion regarding Spokesperson duties and responsibilities. Indeed, the title itself has many variations: Media Relations Officer, Public Affairs Officer, Press Secretary, Chief Communicator, etc. Regardless of title and detailed duties, the position requires a suitably qualified professional to:
  • Serve as “the voice” of an organization
  • Clearly communicate and represent the organization’s priorities
  • Defend and uphold the organization’s policies and/or programs
  • Reflect the organization’s and/or leader’s philosophy
By these standards, Sanders’ performance wins a Gold Medal: She consistently reinforced the President’s messages; she tenaciously deflected criticism of his policies; she unfailingly promoted his priorities. And as we witnessed in her infrequent press conferences, she enthusiastically reflected his disdain for, and mistrust of, the media.
During her tenure (taking cues from her boss), Sanders successfully squelched media engagement with, and access to, the White House. According to The Washington Post, “In January, the White House set a record for the longest stretch in modern history without a news briefing, 41 days. It set another record, 42 days, in March, followed by a third streak that reached 94 days on June 13th.” 
Under Sanders, The Post opined, “The principal function of a press secretary—representing the White House in media briefings—all but ceased to exist.”
Led by her boss’ example, Sanders energetically eschewed formal media interaction, preferring brief “gaggles” that happened when and where she wanted. When compelled to engage, Sanders played a savvy shell game, shrewdly redirecting reporters’ attention by pushing back on their questions, publicly embarrassing them, and threatening to revoke their access.
Sanders’ lack of accessibility and controlled interactions generated a smokescreen within which POTUS operated. Deftly diverting, distracting and discounting the media whom she was supposed to serve, the smooth-talking Southern storyteller defined the narrative and dictated the pace of White House media relations.
If you have the stomach to strip away her dissembling, her smugness, her sarcasm, and her self-righteousness, you could concede that Sarah Sanders had a virtuoso performance as White House Spokesperson. She did precisely what the President required: Engaged in media machinations to alleviate his tribulations.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

What Kind of Fanatic Watches 22 Marvel Movies in 58 Hours? THIS Kind. Discover why in my article published by (extra multimedia below).

Marvel Movie Marathon Attendees Show How Brands Build & Sustain Fanatical Commitment

“I’m ready for my Nerd aneurysm” declared Lyska Benitez as she arrived at the Showcase Cinema de Lux in Revere, Massachusetts on Tuesday morning April 23. Fiddling with the settings on seat F12—her home for the next two and a half days—Lyska arranged her neck pillow, spread out her “22 Movie Marathon” Marvel Studios branded blanket, and sipped from her bottomless coffee mug. As the theatre lights dimmed and the Marvel Studios logo appeared on screen, a loud cheer and applause resounded throughout the sold-out cinema. So began our 58-hour, 22 Marvel Movie Marathon.

Over the next two and a half days, we traveled to distant galaxies (and much closer bathrooms), through different dimensions (and the always-open concession stand to refill our Avengers-branded popcorn tubs and soda cups). We kept our bodies clean using showers provided by the Cinema and our minds pure with morning Yoga classes. Thus sustained, we traveled alongside the characters of this visual epic, with whom we loved, lost, laughed, cried, died and were brought back to life.

Culminating our journey with the nation’s earliest showing of Avengers Endgame (Thursday at 5 pm), Marvel Movie Marathon fans illuminated both why the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become the highest-grossing film franchise of all time (Earth time, that is) as well as the intense cult-like commitment and loyalty the MCU brand inspires. 

Before Avengers Endgame became the only film in history to gross more than $1B in its opening weekend, 12 Showcase Cinemas in North America (11 in the U.S. and one in Canada) screened a Marvel Movie Marathon for the most dedicated Marvel fans. Geek adjacent, I attended New England’s sole venue, the Showcase Cinema de Lux in Revere.

Reflecting Thanos’ determination to secure the Infinity Stones and Dr. Strange’s time-altering magic, Marvel Movie Marathon attendees bent their personal time and space to be among the first Americans to see the final MCU installment, Avengers Endgame. The admission price of $90 was a pittance for Marvel fans who have for over a decade invested significant time and treasure in the brand.
Visual storytelling junkies, Marvel fans “geek out” by watching the movies repeatedly. Each time catching something they missed before, repeated viewings enhance their knowledge of the MCU and increase their affinity for the MCU brand.
“I grew up watching Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America,” Lyska shared after Thor: Dark World, our 8th movie, which ended before dawn on Wednesday. 20-30 minute breaks between movies became informal debriefing sessions for fans, during which they shared their MCU knowledge and good-naturedly argued the powers of each superhero and supervillain.

“I don’t see this as 22 separate movies,” explained Lyska, who declined to share her occupation. “It’s actually one story that plays out over 58 hours. Sharing this unique experience with people who feel the same way is really meaningful. It’s almost like how these superheroes who didn’t knew each other came together to form The Avengers.”

For the most committed Marvel fans, this isn’t a brand. It’s a lifestyle. They identify with specific heroes in the Marvel pantheon, choosing those who reflect their personal ethos. Studying and citing their hero’s respective backstory, most know more about made-up history than real-life history. They buy and proudly display their heroes’ Marvel-branded merchandise. While some can’t name the planets in our puny solar system, most know where Vormir, Knowhere, Morag and Asgard are and can tell you what happened on those planets.

“These superhero movies have fundamental human elements embedded so they connect with people of all demographics and all ages,” said Mark Malinowski, VP of Marketing for Showcase Cinemas, which is owned by National Amusements based in Norwood, Massachusetts.

Those human elements fuel MCU’s appeal and popularity, Malinowski explains. “People have evolved alongside the film series. They identify with the characters; they’re committed to the characters and engaged in their stories. Being here for this movie marathon is one way they show their commitment. For many people here, this is a Bucket List item.”

This fan commitment and brand loyalty has forged a cash Infinity Stone for Marvel, which Disney bought in 2009 for around $4B. Considering MCU’s profits alone, Disney’s purchase price—which some market experts at the time thought excessively high—appears now to be a bargain.

In addition to Endgame’s record-breaking revenue pace, seven MCU feature films--“Iron Man 3” (2013), “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), “Black Panther” (2018) and “Captain Marvel” (2019)--each grossed over $1B. Based on worldwide advance ticket sales—which Malinowski said shattered previous Showcase Cinema records—Endgame is set to become the highest-grossing MCU film to date. In fact, on its first day in theatres in China, Endgame grossed more than $100 million.
While revenue matters to Disney shareholders and corporate execs, it means little to superfans like Lyska and others. For them, how much the movies make pales in comparison to how much they mean.
About 45 hours into the Marvel Movie Marathon, at 4:30 Thursday morning, I caught up with Christian and Ladue, two young electricians from Newton, Massachusetts who were taking a vape break. (Attendees consumed coffee, energy drinks, cigarettes and vapes to stay awake for the marathon). Lifelong friends, Christian bought two tickets to celebrate Ladue’s 21st birthday.
Movie theatre at 4 AM

Reflecting on the experience, Ladue said: “I first saw Iron Man when I was nine. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve learned a lot from these characters,” Ladue admitted sheepishly. “I feel like they’re family. I mean, I know they’re made up characters but the stuff they go through seems real to me because I go through similar stuff.” “Yeah, but you’re just a puny Terran,” quipped Christian. “Seriously,” he said, “our folks and friends think we’re crazy, but we’re committed. Plus, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Sipping coffee nearby, Security Worker Joe Grant, 25, overheard the exchange. “I’ve been here the whole time, but I’ve been in and out of it for the last two movies. I’ll make it. I have to,” he says, more to convince himself than us. “I’ll be fine. A couple energy drinks and some more coffee and it’ll be time for Endgame. There’s no place else I’d rather be.”

Showers kept our bodies clean...
The uniqueness of a Marvel Movie Marathon reflects Showcase Cinema’s rationale for holding the event, despite immense logistical considerations. Malinowski elaborates: “We’re making it memorable. We’ve brought in showers and we’re providing soap and towels. We’re offering Yoga classes in the morning, discounted concessions (22% off, keeping with the theme) throughout the marathon, and branded coins and posters that may one day be valuable given the limited number of attendees.”

... and Yoga kept our minds clear.
Each attendee received Marvel-branded “Movie Marathon Survival Kits” which included a blanket, toothbrush and toothpaste, breath mints and tissues.

Concessions were available throughout the movie marathon: Attendees washed down 200 oz. tubs of popcorn with soda refills, coffee and water; ate breakfast wraps in the morning and pizza, chicken tenders and nachos throughout the day. 

Popcorn 24 hours a day! Yay!
“These people are nicer than most who come here,” said PJ, a Concessionist who worked a double shift from Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning. “It’s a cool vibe, especially working here after we normally close. I feel as if we’re all in this together. It’s like a community, and I’m here to feed the community.”

As the marathon reached its apogee with the 5 PM showing of Avengers Endgame, I caught up with Malinowski. While working with theatre staff to prepare for the public opening, he said, “I’m amazed by the number of people who’ve stayed for the entire marathon and lived here for three days. One fan I spoke with has slept only three hours since Tuesday morning; another couple drove down from Maine in a camper. Everyone with whom I’ve spoken says it’s been an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Goose the Cat was a fan fave

“As fulfilling as this has been for our fans, it’s been incredible for us as a company,” he added. “It’s been fun to see how fans have bonded and connected through the Marvel universe. That’s why we have events like this.”

The Marvel Movie Marathon’s appeal shows the extent to which brands like the MCU inspire loyalty, devotion, and long-term commitment: By creating, building and sustaining emotional connections. If this story doesn’t convince you, you’ll see a similar phenomenon in December, when Disney-owned Lucasfilm releases “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

MLB Teams Slug for Social Media Homers: Battle Beyond the Diamond to Generate Revenue & Engage Fans

In the wake of Major League Baseball’s earliest ever Opening Day, fans are seeing surprising results between the bases: The defending World Champion Boston Red Sox are swooning, the Houston Astros soaring, and the usually meek AL West is feeding on the usually strong AL East. 

Graphic courtesy M
Meanwhile, on the digital diamond, where social media and brand building competition happen throughout the year, baseball’s historically most popular teams have almost insurmountable leads.

Befitting their status as MLB’s winningest team, the New York Yankees set the social media standard, ahead of the Dodgers, Cubs, Blue Jays and Red Sox.

But success on the field doesn’t necessarily equal social media success, as revealed in Cision’s ”Major League Insights Into Baseball’s Social Media Fans” (free with registration). 

The report goes around the horn, surveying the social media presence of seven MLB teams—the Sox, Yankees, Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and both Chicago teams (Cubs and White Sox). For those keeping score at home, a larger social media following delivers more brand visibility, more fan interaction and more potential monetization opportunities.

As Pat Conroy famously said, “Baseball fans love numbers. They love to swirl them around in their mouths like Bordeaux wine.” For a sport that has long worshipped numbers, pro baseball’s social media analytics are remarkable… and relate directly to annual team revenue (at least in terms of Twitter followers).

Prolific home run hitters on the field (they could break their 2018 record of 267 home runs hit by a team), the Yankees lead the league in team revenue and Twitter followership in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and the UK, far outpacing those of the studies’ six other teams.

New York Yankees (@Yankees)
$619 Million (#1)
Chicago Cubs (@Cubs)
$457 Million (#3)
Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays)
$274 Million (#13)
Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers)*
$522 Million (#2)
Boston Red Sox (@RedSox)
$453 Million (#5)
San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants)
$445 Million (#4)
St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals)
$319 Million (#9T)
Chicago White Sox (@WhiteSox)
$266 Million (#14T)

* Not in Cision study (see all 2018 team valuations and revenue here).

While the standard business model in all professional sports is team owners charge premiums for on-field success and fans willingly (and at Fenway and Wrigley Parks, eagerly) pay, Cision’s report opens the bullpen for the likelihood that fans are increasingly paying a premium to help teams build their respective digital and social media branding and visibility.

Chicago Cubs
$58.57 (#1)
Boston Red Sox
$56.97 (#2)
New York Yankees
$47.62 (#3)
Los Angeles Dodgers*
$41.13 (#5)
San Francisco Giants
$38.30 (#7)
St. Louis Cardinals
$35.54 (#10)
Chicago White Sox
$26.73 (#21)
Toronto Blue Jays
$26.07 (#23)
*Not in Cision study (

Beyond baseball, the report underscores the importance of knowing who and where your fans/followers are and what they’re interested in beyond the ballpark. Consider this objective data your “closer”: With it, you can pursue partnerships and implement promotions that are more likely to appeal to your fans—regardless of your brand.
MLB teams are in a digital arms race to capture, energize and 
monetize their respective fan bases.

With some tweaking, what works for MLB can work for any business: Develop “personas” around your customers. Customize your communications to those personas. Communicate and engage consistently with your customers via your digital media—not just social media.

NOTE: If you’re still not convinced of social media’s value as a customer engagement tool—especially among the 18-24 demographic, read this Pew Charitable Trust report.