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NetSuite vs. SAP: using competitive advertising to reposition your company

NewtSuite SAP Fired

NetSuite “Fire SAP” ad in Wall Street Journal; click the picture to see it larger

We’ve talked in the past (and you can read in my book) about strategies for competitive advertising—promotions in which you talk about a competitor as much or more as yourself. It’s a good strategy for smaller companies because, by positioning themselves against the bigger competitor, they can gain instant credibility. It’s probably not so smart for the bigger guy, who would be better off pretending the little guy doesn’t even exist.

There’s a third reason to do competitive advertising: to position yourself in a new way, for a new audience, even if you are a big and established company. That’s what is happening with the NetSuite campaign currently running. Both NetSuite and SAP handle the back office “plumbing” of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other large-scale data management. The difference is that SAP is an established and somewhat stodgy company, while NetSuite is Software-as-a-Service. They operate in the cloud.

Notice, however, that cloud is never mentioned in this ad. NetSuite is a company that does the same thing as SAP but is more agile. Maybe the idea is to position them with IT executives who are suspicious of abstracting their key functions and think that important data should never leave the premises. This ad gives NetSuite an opening to talk to them before that objection comes up. They use the reader’s built-in perceptions of SAP, bad and good, as a springboard they can use to say “we do that too” and then differentiate themselves.

I do wonder about the creative execution that seems a little casual and slangy when a stodgy, white-paper approach would have been the obvious way to go. I doubt this target does a lot of text messaging. On the other hand, this is the kind of sophomoric humor that appeals to engineers.

I’ll be keeping my eye on this campaign to see how successful it is (which you can generally judge by how long it keeps running) and what this first foray leads to next. Stay tuned.

The problem with Scottish focus groups

So the dust has settled, and Scotland will be a member of the United Kingdom for a wee bit longer. This may come as a relief or disappointment to partisans who saw the polls dead even up till last week’s election. But it’s not surprising to the bookies, who use another metric to predict results.

We last looked at this phenomenon during the 2012 U.S. presidential elections. (WordPress is not cooperating at the moment; there should be a hyperlink to http://www.otismaxwell.com/blog/learn-voters-expectations-intentions/ ) Obama vs. Romney was predicted to be neck and neck, but four days before the election I said Obama would win easily and explained why. When they asked how they plan to vote, voters become cheerleaders. They endorse a position even if they have no plan to make it to the polls—or they have a secret prejudice or preference which can be exercised in the privacy of the voting booth.

But ask voters who they think will win, and you get a much more accurate result: the voter as pundit. They’re happy to trade in their personal baggage for the chance to speculate based on their circle of friend and acquaintances.

Which brings me to focus groups as they are used in evaluating direct marketing creative or messaging. Every direct marketer has had the experience of a focus group rejecting a creative platform because “I’d never fall for that” or some such, when we well know, and will subsequently prove, that those very same newly-minted marketing mavens will behave completely differently in the privacy of their web browser or mail pack.

Polls, and focus groups, don’t lie. The moderators and analysts make adjustments to equalize those who are trying to game the system. But they’re not reliable either, and the Scottish referendum result shows why.

Why Words Matter… in bank marketing

We work hard to make banking easy.

How about…”We work hard to make banking easy”?

A regional bank has invested in an image campaign, and the results are visible in the window of their local branch. Unfortunately, the copywriter has a tin ear. Let’s take a look at three sequential pieces of signage to see what I mean.

“We strive to make banking simple.” Making something simple is a benefit, but strive is a word that implies difficulty. It’s also a little bit above the average person’s everyday vocabulary. “We work hard to make banking easy” would have been better, especially because hard/easy balance each other in a way that strive/simple don’t.

We'll give your money a good home

“We’ll give your money a good home”?

“Feel good about your finances.” Another five dollar word. “Finances” is not a word in the average person’s vocabulary or, if it is, it’s not something you feel good about. “Feel good about your money” would be better but it doesn’t really tie back to the bank. (Neither does the original line, of course.) How about “We’ll give your money a good home”?

The convenience you want, with the security you need

“The convenience you want, with the security you need”?

“The convenience you need with the expertise you trust.” The copywriter was running on empty when s/he got to this one. Convenience isn’t something you need. Want, crave but not need. Expertise is another of those high falutin’ words. What’s wrong with “experience”? Again, we have two concepts strung together so thought should be given to how they balance. Is it news that you can have expertise/experience AND convenience? Not really because they’re two unrelated benefits.

For that matter “need” and “trust” aren’t very well balanced either, are they? Let’s choose something you wouldn’t really expect to get with convenience, and use verbs of equal weight. “The convenience you want, with the security you need.” Because usually the more secure things are the, less convenient, right?Vestibule

So there we are. Didn’t take that long, did it? But I have the feeling the copywriter’s not wholly at fault. I say that because of what’s written over the ATM entrance. “Vestibule”? How about “lobby”? The client probably got the big words because that’s what the client demanded. It reminds me of David Ogilvy’s maxim, “don’t keep a dog and bark yourself.”

Turn your cat’s ashes into a tree!

Catster hijinks

“Fur-ever” tree grown from your pet’s ashes

I’m definitely not a cat person, but even I found this email heartless and cruel. Catster.com wants me to cremate my pet and use “her” (why always feminine for cats?) ashes to fertilize a tree. And, if I have an elderly animal I’m thinking of euthanizing, there’s a sweepstakes to push the process along.

Long time readers may remember that I once did battle in the Google search rankings with a cat named Otis. This should be schadenfreude yet I find it repulsive. The linked web page has a nonsensical title tag, suggesting this may be the work of hackers. If so, get a life.

Mumblecore Marketing

We Boomers have a bug up our rear for Millennials, much as the “Greatest Generation” probably felt about us back in the day. Wall Street Journal reported on how they don’t like to use the telephone (probably because it intrudes too much on their personal space), and there’s now an app that allows them to hire household help without the awkwardness of meeting face to face and giving instructions.

In short, Millennials are self absorbed. Just look at them: walking with their heads down, obsessed with their iPhones, as they board their Google buses with the dark windows that will swoop them up to earn big bucks at whatever it they do. Goddam kids…

I have noticed a consequence of this in what I’ll call Mumblecore Marketing: emails that are deliberately casual and slouching, as if it’s almost too much trouble to get around to selling you something. As a side benefit these emails seem like they were written by somebody you know, though you can’t remember exactly how you know them.

Nicole Marshall of DMNews—by definition a direct marketing best practitioner and careful tester—is a great mumblecore marketer as far as subject lines go. “Did you see this email” “Re: 2 weeks left” “Are you free at 1 PM ET?” and “Log in now!” are a few that made me look. The body content is fairly straightforward, but the casual subject lines get my attention which is what they’re supposed to do.

Peter Coates of insideout.com starts with the subject line “Following up” and begins,

Hi Otis,

I sent you an email the other day… if your inbox looks like mine, you may have missed it. Just wanted to let you know Inside Out is holding a Performance Coaching workshop at the Fremont Marriott Silicon Valley on March 11.

It’s designed to help more leaders coach more often, for more business impact. Would you or your colleagues like to attend the training? There are a couple of discounts available if you are in a position to evaluate for your company or if you would like to bring your colleagues with you.

I’m happy to set up a call. Let me know a few times this week when you are available for a conversation.

Warm regards,
Peter

This is a very hard sell situation—a paid seminar—but the casual tone is disarming. Mentioning a previous email I didn’t read—a classic direct response no-no—makes it fresh and personal. And referring to “a couple of discounts” without getting into the details of pricing raises curiosity rather than objections. Once I get this far, there’s more straightforward content (including the price) below his signature.

Mumblecore, as you no doubt know, has its roots in independent film, usually low budget and featuring actors who try to appear non professional in order to create a realistic, slice-of-life storyline (though often there isn’t a storyline) including Greta Gerwig taking off her clothes. The term was coined by a sound editor, who was probably frustrated that he could not always understand what the actors were saying.

In mumblecore movies and in mumblecore marketing, the illusion of authenticity is absolutely essential. Make one false step and you turn yourself into a laughingstock. Such was the case with this email, which arrived with the subject line: “Young entrepreneurs… disrupting the food industry – Fancy Food Show 2014”.

Otis-

My name is Blake & I’m the Founder at eatKeenwa. We’re a bunch of mid-to-late 20 year old entrepreneurs disrupting the status quo in the food industry and re-pioneering American manufacturing. We’re doing something different for once.

We make a stellar snack out of quinoa. It’s robust in flavor, full of functional benefits and packaged with commanding presence.

Please stop by our booth, #5126. I would love to share our story with you. It will leave you engaged and will resonate with your audience.

Please check us out at www.eatkeenwa.com.

Thanks & Be Well,

Blake Niemann

The casual tone is there, but it’s disrupted by jargon and hype: “resonate” “engaged” and “commanding presence” are meaningless and overused and instantly tip off the reader. Kudos, though, for inventing a new word, “re-pioneering”. That truly is “doing something different for once”.

I hear often from Peter and Nicole, suggesting their marketing works; Blake was a one-shot wonder. I have the feeling the mumblecore marketing for eatkeenwa was suggested by a consultant, probably an elderly wretch with tobacco-stained fingers, who then couldn’t resist adding a few time-tested zingers. Blake, if you’re reading, try writing your own copy next time. After all, you and your fellow rambunctious twentysomethings are the real deal.

Home Depot, where’s your ALT tags?

Home Depot without graphics

(Click the thumbnails to see the emails in readable size.)

Home Depot graphic loaded

Aha! load the graphics, and see the special.

Home Depot sends me an enticing daily email: one special item, on sale for one day only! But I have no idea what they’re offering because my email reader (Outlook for Mac 2011) does not load graphics without permission and Home Depot does not use ALT tags.

ALT tags are text that appear in the space reserved for graphics, when for some reason the graphics don’t load. In many email readers graphics are turned off by default, and the user has to make the decision to turn them on. It was only very recently that Gmail started loading graphics by default. And many security conscious companies still refuse to allow network users to open graphics.

Hootsuite no graphics

Who is this email from?

Hootsuite no graphics

Oh, look, it’s my friends from Hootsuite!

Forgetting to put in an ALT tag (or being clueless) can lead to some peculiar effects. Like the message that I got from Hootsuite that said I needed to give them permission to keep contacting me, but I didn’t know who they were because their name was in the graphic. And the cookbook publisher which invited me to a launch event, but the date and venue were in the graphic. If I don’t recognize the sender and nothing appeals to me in the text I can see, how likely am I to investigate further? (Emails like Home Depot’s, with no text at all, are the worst offenders.)

Belcour no graphixs

I‘m invited to an event, but where and when?

Belcour with graphics on

Looks like a nice party! Sorry I missed it.

In each of these cases it would have been a trivial task to code an ALT tag which conveys the day’s special, the sender’s identity and the venue. Even if the no-graphics group is 5% or 10% of your audience, why give those folks a reason to ignore your email?

Why amazon.com is eating bn.com’s lunch

I recently posted about an inane and penny-pinching customer service experience with Barnes and Noble. I also mentioned that I was switching out my iPhone for an HTC One. These two threads have now converged because of what happened when I attempted to resell my old iPhone through the “trade-in program” on amazon.com.

I would not recommend the Amazon trade-in program. It probably is a cautionary signal that it’s just about the only thing on Amazon you do not have the opportunity to review. It seemed simple enough with a fair trade-in price and seamless execution (print out your shipping label and put it in the mail at their expense and they’ll return it if it does not meet their criteria). But my trade-in was rejected with a message that the return was covered with deep scratches–that’s not my phone. Then they sent it back, the tracking number was bogus, it went missing, and finally an empty box showed up at my door.

I complained to Amazon and here is their reply: “I’m sorry to hear that the trade return arrived empty.

To make this right for you, I’m issuing a promotional certificate to your account for $115.60 which you can use the next time you order an item shipped and sold by Amazon.com.”

That’s the full value I would have received if the trade had been accepted, offered to me immediately with no questions asked. To be fair, I’ve spent a lot of money with amazon over the years and they certainly know this. But I can only imagine how the prim “management” at bn.com would have reacted.

That’s why one company is taking over the world, and the other is slowly sinking into the sea like the setting sun.

Do gila monsters run customer service at Barnes and Noble bn.com?

Gila monsters were legendary in the southwest where I grew up. Their poisonous bite didn’t kill you immediately, but they would clamp down on their victim’s flesh and grind their jaws till the venom eventually did you in. I was reminded of this critter the last few days when trying to get a small refund from Barnes & Noble’s online persona, bn.com.

I absolutely did one thing wrong: allow a mysterious $1.69 charge (later increased to $1.99) appear on a credit statement month after month till it went on for years, in fact. I eventually took some time to investigate and discovered it was for a subscription to National Geographic for kids on a Nook device. Never mind that I never requested the subscription when I registered the device, or activated it when it showed up (if it did, as an app) or that I have not used the Nook in years…  these were valid charges and bn.com expects me to pay them.

On my first call I talked to someone, likely a new hire, who thought all the charges would be reversed but she transferred me to a supervisor who disconnected me. I was unable to get back through the phone tree so emailed, then today finally had “the talk” with customer account audit. It went up the ladder to a supervisor then from there to “management” and Barnes & Noble’s final offer was to credit me for the last six months.

That’s around $10 (as I mentioned the monthly charge recently increased) vs the $60 they would have refunded if they went back to the beginning. Enjoy the $50, Barnes & Noble. Go buy yourselves some juicy prairie dogs or kangaroo rats to chew on.

“Hope you are well” email intro makes me sick

Here’s an email typical of many I receive these days. It’s to a business account, and it begins:

Otis,

I hope all is well. I’m not sure if you’re attending the Fancy Food Show in NYC on June 29th – the July 1st, but if you are I thought you would be interested in visiting the Crown Maple booth…

Why do so many marketers these days think it is appropriate, and maybe disarming, to inquire about the recipient’s health as a way to start a mass email? What’s it to them? What business is of theirs? If I’m well I’ll attend the event, unless I get run over on the way, and if I’m not I don’t need you reminding me of it.

Note the odd use of “the” above, before “July 1st”, which suggests the writer is not a native speaker. Could this have something to do with it? The French (this is for a maple syrup product, so I suspect un Habitant at work) have the equivalent phrase Comment ça va but that just means “how’s it going?” which I don’t find at all offensive.

I’m preparing a longer post on the general trend toward faux-casual business email but this stuck in my craw so I couldn’t wait to get it out. There. Now I feel better. Thanks for asking.

How to restore lost AAdvantage miles

The other day I wrote about my unfortunate discovery that both my AAdvantage mileage accounts had zeroed out due to inactivity. I also wrote to AAdvantage customer service and received an interesting response which I’ll share for web searchers who might be looking for this information.

First, I received this email:

Because qualifying activity extends the expiration date of all active
miles in the account, there may be an easy way of restoring your expired
miles. If you had an eligible mileage-earning transaction prior to May
26, 2014 (the date the miles expired from your account) and no older
than 12 months, then let’s get that transaction credited. When these
miles are credited to your account, your expired miles will
automatically be restored on the same day! For more information on how
miles are earned, please visit us at www.aa.com/earn. You can also
request missing mileage credit from the ‘Request Air Mileage Credit’ or
the ‘Request Non-Air Mileage Credit’ links from this page.

If you did not have any qualifying activity, we have a couple of paid
alternatives. Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll be pleased to
furnish details.

Hmm. Unless there’s some coded wink-wink message, the only way I’d restore my miles is if I had done some qualifying activity, it had not been recorded, and I’d failed to report it. Highly unlikely. So I inquired about the paid options and got this:

To get you involved again, we have designed a Re-engagement Challenge – a set of activities created to introduce you to the program and to restore all or part of your expired miles, based on your participation.

First, register for the Re-engagement Challenge with AAdvantage Customer Service and pay the $30 registration charge.

Once you’re registered, you have 6 months from your registration date to complete the requirements listed below:

1.     Subscribe to the AAdvantage eSummary™ and AAdvantage Promotions email and remain opted-in to these two subscriptions for the duration of your Re-engagement Challenge
In conjunction with your registration, you are also subscribed to receive these email messages if you haven’t been receiving them already. These helpful subscriptions send you information on how you can earn more miles and provide a monthly summary of your activity and current mileage expiration date.

2.   Complete the following mileage earning activity within six months of your registration to restore the desired amount of miles: (for under 50,000 points, which is my level)

Earn 5,000 partner base miles*
OR
Earn miles for 1 round trip flight**

In many markets, a round trip is available for a couple hundred dollars or less. So for a fairly small investment you could earn back as many as 50,000 miles, which are supposedly worth $900. Fair enough. American is also getting you back into the traces with the behavior they expect from an AAdvantage member.

In closing, you may recall I had two accounts–one which zeroed out a few days prior, and the other last October. I wrote customer service separately about each of them. The long-expired account received no response.