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A love letter to the CVS app development team

CVS barcode

Thanks for the bar code, CVS! Now, what do I do with it?

Okay, CVS, let me make sure I got this right. You have a new service called Curbside Pickup, which means I can pull into a special parking spot outside the store and an associate will use Location Services to know when I’ve arrived and bring the goods right to my car. Sweet!

So, let’s put together an order. Whoops, only a very limited selection is available for Curbside Pickup including almost none of the sale items in your weekly ad. What’s up with that? Well, I have a code good for $10 off my first $15 order so I’ll shop from what’s available. Combs are good. Let’s buy some. Order done!

Whoops, turns out the combs I ordered aren’t actually stocked in my local store so they’re cancelled from the order after I complete it. And now I’m below the minimum to apply the coupon. I am asked to add replacement items but can only choose items from the same manufacturer (no opportunity to search) and whoops, those other items are not available either.

I do try a second order just to see if we can consolidate the two. Nope. Soon I’m getting a flurry of text messages and am off to the store to pick up my two orders, sans discount. Well, not to worry, says the very nice sales associate who brings it out to the car. The discount code never appeared on your order for some reason.

Next I pull into a regular parking spot because there’s a prescription to pick up. That’s right, prescriptions are not available through Curbside Pickup. The CVS non-drug business has been completely separated from the drug business which seems like a bad idea; historically, drug stores started carrying non-medical items as an add-on to build customer loyalty. Now I can get my Curbside Pickup at CVS and move on to Walgreens for my meds, why not?

But wait, there’s something special about my prescription at CVS… they provided me a barcode! Does this bring relief from the very long line of sufferers waiting for their meds? No, it just gives me the opportunity to “share” the barcode instead of stating my name and birthdate when I finally get to the front of the line. How about a separate express line for folks who went the trouble to complete their order in advance?

Before I leave this love letter I will comment on the smart-looking CVS mobile app, which is necessary to finish most of the above transactions. Said app requires me to frequently log in even though I am responding to a text which includes all my data. Also, many functions are available on the web but not through the app, including the ability to apply that Curbside Pickup discount code. Hmm… I thought mobile apps were supposed to improve on the web experience, not make you revert to it.

I do know what’s going on here, dear CVS app development team. You’ve got some great resume fodder going. But the apps you have built have very little to do with the actual shopping experience. Be warned, your next employer may be less dewy-eyed.

Lessons not learned in 2016

Brexit and Donald Trump’s election were, according to fivethirtyeight.com, well within the margin of error in polling predictions and so were shocking only because people were mentally and emotionally incapable of thinking these events would take place. This made me think of some experiences with focus groups and direct mail back in the days when both were a bigger thing than they are now.

When shown a number of creative options, focus groups would inevitably veer away from the more promotional formats, especially when those formats had big screaming headlines and prominent offers. Yet every time the formats were tested head-to-head in the mail, the promotional format won.

My point: there is no substitute for real-world, boots-on-the-ground testing so long as you have two or more worthy options to consider. People will lie when they think the wrong answer might embarrass them, but not when they’re alone with the offer and their credit card.

Search marketers know this and so do online marketers who constantly refine their landing pages through multivariate testing. But I see many traditional marketers who don’t bother to test or—maybe worse—set up an a/b split and then fail to capture the results or are too busy to analyze them.

I always like to present a more and a less conservative option for any campaign. Of course, I am disappointed when the client chooses the conservative approach and even more disappointed if they test both and the conservative one wins. But the marketplace doesn’t lie. If you ignore this truth, you better be prepared to live with the consequences as well as explain them to your boss or client.

How to transcribe speech from a web page

[UPDATE: Unfortunately, Google has disabled the ability described below to transcribe audio from a web page. Now you get an alert to attach a microphone and record from that. Playing audio over your computer, or playing a recorded message from your phone, doesn’t work. Unclear if this is a deliberate move to limit the program or just a glitch. Anyway, I’d like to know if anyone is using anther transcription tool successfully.]

As a copywriter, I often need to capture speech to text from a web page. My traditional method has been to play the video and start and stop it while I type what I hear into Word. Very tedious. Faced with a new project, I decided to find out if there is a better way. And it turns out there is, but it’s not as easy to find as you might think.

Google “capture speech to text” and most of the results will be for the opposite, text-to-speech, an important accessibility feature but not what I was looking for. Word for Mac still has a dictation feature built in (it’s gone from Word for Windows) but it’s only for YOUR dictation; toggle to another application, like a web browser, and the capture stops.

Finally, I found this page for Google’s beta of its Cloud Speech API. You can sign up for a trial of the Google Cloud Platform (they require your credit card, but won’t charge it without your permission) or simply use the widget on the page to translate in 15-second increments. The interface said my video was captured with 94% confidence of accuracy, which I’d say was about right. The transcript required a bit of cleanup, but the process was certainly faster than typing it all. Check it out.

Choice Hotels loses a customer

It was Parents Weekend in Amherst, MA where our son is going to school. We were late in finding a hotel and did not realize when we reserved for that the Quality Inn in Chicopee was over 30 minutes away on a dark, winding,  back road. We arrived intact and politely told the desk clerk that we’d be checking out in the morning. He told us no, we’d reserved for two nights and we would be charged for two nights. And that’s how Choice Hotels loses a customer.

En route to Amherst the next morning, after paying for 2 nights but staying 1, I spent time on the phone with Choice customer service. They told me they this was an extremely unusual policy but because I had agreed to it–by initialing that document they give you when you arrive at 11 pm–the hotel was standing its ground. Meanwhile, my wife found a totally pleasant accommodation at Holiday Inn Express in Hadley, 2 miles from the campus.

The Chicopee Quality Inn was a little shabby, but not outright dangerous. The Holiday Inn Express was a definite step up and well worth paying $100 more. I have an upcoming business trip and have already joined the Holiday Inn loyalty program and identified their location near my client and will likely stay there. And will stay there again and again on future trips.

Now here’s the takeaway. I’ve probably stayed at Choice properties 50 times, usually for multiple nights, because they’re near a business meeting and I don’t care to pay for frills. They’re a franchise operation: independent owners who are members of a group. And this one particularly avaricious owner in Chicopee, MA has likely brought an end to my long association with the Choice brand.

This is how you lose a customer: not the only way, but certainly a very effective way. Let individual franchisees push customers away, since most folks won’t realize they are dealing with a jerk whose actions don’t extend across the company. Thus one bad apple spoils the entire brand. If you are interested in driving your business into the ground, I highly recommend this model.

If you care to short Choice hotels, their ticker is CHH. They’re currently rated 6.2  (a little above average) by Starmine but I predict that number is going down.

Attend a “Creative Town Hall Meeting” in Monday afternoon Ignition Session on October 17

Are you coming to the DMA’s annual conference in Los Angeles next week? Then make plans to attend my Ignition session, “The Devil in the Details,” at 4 pm on Monday the 17th. It promises to be a repeat of a highly successful and well-attended session last year in which creatives shared their pet peeves and inspiration–a town hall meeting for copywriters, art directors and those who work with them.

The DMA took a big risk last year in doing something that’s a no no in direct response: changing your control without testing it. The 3 day conference was compressed to 2 days, and content below the keynote level was reclassified as Insight, Inspiration, Ideation and Ignition depending on the format and content. Ignition is supposed to be audience-led. A moderator facilitates, but the folks in the audience actively participate and lead the conversation. Did it work? Yes. The conference was well-attended and the sessions for the most part got positive reviews, so we’re moving forward with the same thing.

As for my session, I was asked to take over for my pal Carol Worthington Levy and Herschell Gordon Lewis, who for several years had presented a session featuring examples of good and bad creative execution, often hilarious. (Herschell passed away last month after a very full life at the age of 87. He was a major inspiration to me.) To accommodate the new format, I showed a few slides and then asked the audience to pile on with their own experiences, eg what’s the worst project you’ve ever worked on, the worst client etc and what can we learn from it.

It was a huge hit. The room was packed and creatives and account managers loved the opportunity to air their gripes about crazy clients, up-tight legal departments and the “suits”. Now that we’re back with a better idea of how the Ignition format works, I’ll be ready with some examples to prime the pump and then step back and watch the fireworks happen. (Not to mix a metaphor or anything.)

Here are a few topics as a starter list:

  • Those darn kids… why won’t millennials buy my product?
  • Can brands get away with talking like teenagers in social media?
  • My best idea was killed by the ____ [client, suits, legal department etc]
  • My biggest flop and what I learned from it.
  • Can you be funny and still sell stuff?

And there’s more! If you have topics you’d like to add, email me and we’ll get them into the list.  See you on Monday, October 17 at 4 pm!

Should you care about email marketing?

Somehow email marketing has become the red headed stepchild of promotion channels. It’s not as pervasive as Facebook, immediate as Twitter or insidious as native advertising. And it’s all too easy to take email for granted and put it on autopilot with a management tool like Eloqua or Pardot. So email gets short shrift in planning meetings and the email marketing manager is often someone who’s expected to handle production rather than make a creative and strategic impact. Am I right?

But email marketing is also the face of your company to people on your email list as well as email inquirers. And if you don’t pay attention to the channel you risk looking like you are clueless or don’t care. I’ve recently moved, which has caused a number of new interactions. Here’s an email from Thermador customer service when I asked about a part for my 25-year old range:

Good Afternoon Mr. Maxwell,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We here at Thermador are always more than happy to assist you with your appliance inquiries and we appreciate you allowing us to do so.

Please accept our sincere apology for the delayed response as we are currently experiencing a high volume of email correspondence.

In regards to your inquiry, unfortunately there aren’t any parts available for your unit…

See what I mean? Here’s a potential new customer reaching out to you… sell me an upgraded product! And, while you’re at it, engage with me instead of saying you’ve been too busy to answer my query.

Here’s another. The USPS partners with a company called My Move which makes a number of offers during the process of changing your address. There’s an interstitial page with check boxes for retailers you want offers from, and after you leave there is a second page with more offers. I get it, the second page is for marketers who didn’t pay enough to be on the first page, but there are some really good offers here. $50 off $500 at Amazon! 10% off my next Home Depot purchase! I want this stuff.

But when I try to submit the page, it doesn’t work. I just get the spinning ball in my browser (Safari for Mac… I suspect a compatibility issue). I find a support link for My Move and I write to them and describe the above problem in detail and ask how I can get these offers since the submit button didn’t work. The response:

Hi,

MY MOVE sends your information to the advertisers you selected during your transaction. Fulfillment of specific offers is done by those advertisers and can take anywhere from 48 hours to several weeks depending on the content. For example, a catalog you selected may not arrive for a few weeks, but a coupon that is emailed may arrive in just 2 days. If you need a more specific time frame please contact the advertiser directly. Good luck with your move, and I hope this has helped.

See what I mean? No, it hasn’t helped, since you answered a completely different question than the one I asked. Hopefully Amazon and Home Depot are on a performance contract with My Move, because they are getting exactly zero hits from anyone who is using Safari for Mac. And they can’t be happy about this indifference to a prime target because My Move can’t be bothered to clean up its email automation or pay a human a few dollars to actually read the emails.

UPDATE: Here’s an even better example. I needed a recommendation for a pool & spa service (in my hostile climate, we have to have a “closing” and drain the pipes for winter) and went to Angie’s list. I noticed that one of the reviews had an “F” which was clearly intended from the content to be an “A”. Unlike Yelp, there’s no way to flag a review or give feedback on it so I wrote an email to support using their online form. Here’s the reply; note that has nothing to do with my concern and also contains a number of grammatical errors:

Thank you for contacting Angie’s List. 
We do apologize that you were not able to use the one of the recommended services in your area. For the reviews, we rely on our members feedback. We advised them to be as accurate as they can and non biased as for the work performed by the companies enlisted with us.
Let us know if you have any other questions, or visit the 24/7 Angie’s List support site for additional help. Don’t forget, if you have any home maintenance or improvement projects coming up, you can save time and money by shopping at  AngiesList.
Thanks again. Have a great day!

See what I mean? You too, dear reader. Have a great day.

LinkedIn says: Congratulate Otis on his new position!

Last month LinkedIn asked me to update my profile. I did so, and the next day got a flood of emails congratulating me on my new position, as “copywriter” at a client I haven’t worked for since 2014. One person was miffed because I had recently told her I had no availability for new work… so why was I now going on staff for the other guys? This is similar to another “update” a year or two ago when I was announced as the new creative director of an agency… at which point another agency client said they could no longer work with me, now that I was employed by a competitor.

I don’t know what is going on with these bogus announcements… why LinkedIn does them and how it is of benefit to anyone. Obviously LinkedIn has little use for freelancers since its primary role is to bring individuals and employers together. Maybe there is an algorithm to deliberately sabotage us?

Anyway, the solution seems simple enough. Anytime LinkedIn asked you to do something… ignore them.

P.S. One of my contacts who works in database management put it well when I told her the announcement was bogus: “I was wondering about that, and that’s the downside of data driven triggered communications, when the business rules are not fully vetted or not taking in consideration outliers and exceptions.”

Donald Duck is my spirit animal

Donald Mug

My new Donald Duck mug. Waak!

I took one of those stupid online quizzes and was told my spirit animal was the deer: “When you have the deer as spirit animal, you are highly sensitive and have a strong intuition. By affinity with this animal, you have the power to deal with challenges with grace. You master the art of being both determined and gentle in your approach. The deer totem wisdom imparts those with a special connection with this animal with the ability to be vigilant, move quickly, and trust their instincts to get out the trickiest situations.”

Balderdash. I’ve long known that Donald Duck was my spirit animal, because of his ability to continually get in his own way and fly off the handle. Yet for some reason other ducks trust and accept him. He’s the guardian of three young triplets and Daisy Duck, who is undeniably hot even though her fashion sense is rather outdated, can’t get enough of him.

My long time friend and colleague Carol Worthington Levy knows all this, and occasionally delights me with a piece of Donaldana like the mug she just sent for my birthday. Each time I sip from it I will rage at the stupidity of the world and think about how things would be better if people would just let me fix it. If your name is Donald, or if Donald is your spirit animal, that’s what you do.

You can’t hide in social media

Over the last few months I’ve been involved in two situations which could not have happened before the advent of social media. A friendly acquaintance had made a commitment (in one case to do something, in the other to look into it) and I emailed at the appropriate time to remind them about it. There was no response. I then took to other means—Facebook messaging in one instance, Facebook plus LinkedIn in the other—with the same reminder in case their email wasn’t working or I ended up in their spam folder. Still nothing.

At this point, you have to assume that the other party is receiving my messages and for whatever reason is ignoring them. Presumably they’re no longer able to meet the commitment, but why can’t they just come out and say that? It’s not that big a deal. I’m a bit inconvenienced, but not to the point of being harmed or angry about it. We can still be friends. I should also say there’s zero possibility I have done anything, directly or indirectly, that would make either of them not want to continue a relationship with me.

Now, the lack of follow through has led to a social media radio silence. I know these folks are okay because they continue to post on Facebook about the usual stuff. I’ve rattled the cage by liking or commenting on a couple of their posts. In the normal course of events we would have had a bit of back and forth on one topic or another. But, possibly because they’re embarrassed, these two people are unable to engage with me in any way.

I will add that one of these folks is a copywriting colleague who moved out of state so it’s unlikely anything will happen to resolve the issue. But the other is someone I regularly see at local events. It’s inevitable I will run into her sooner or later at which point I expect I will ask her about it face to face and she will give me an answer and an apology for not responding sooner. But why can’t she do that online?

Has anything like this happened to you? Of course it has. What do you do about it? I’m interested because it’s a social phenomenon that could not have existed in an era when letters got lost in the mail or voicemails got erased by mistake. Now that we have no place to hide, is there a way to make ourselves selectively invisible? If not, should we even try?

Free marketing advice from Warby Parker

The other day I was on a plane and got in a conversation with my seat mate. When she found out I worked as an advertising guy she told me her husband designed neckwear and wanted to sell his ties via the internet. What free marketing advice did I have?

My first thought was, uh oh. Fashion is a very fickle industry. I had some experience early in my career when I was an ad manager for a large department store. In that bricks-and-mortar era a men’s fashion manufacturer had to sell a network of retail buyers each season, starting with the MAGIC Show  (is it still around?) and other industry events and and once you had a few retailers signed up, manufacture and distribution was the next channel. Maybe online sales have broken down some of those barriers, but the subjectivity of the ultimate buyer probably hasn’t changed.

Then it occurred to me: Warby Parker. Here’s another niche fashion product that seems to be very successful, based on the frequency with which I see their Facebook ads. So I advised her to study Warby Parker, or another single-line internet retailer, to see what they do. If it seems successful, then consider emulating their strategy.

I don’t think this is bad advice. One of the great things about working in marketing is its transparency. It’s not like the technology industry where a company’s special sauce is kept under lock and key so competitors won’t steal it. To the contrary, retail advertising is in plain view and the more you see it the more successful it probably is.

“What advice can you give me as a marketing pro” has just been added to the topic list for my DMA Ignite session on Monday, October 17 at the DMA &Then conference. This session is evolving into a sort of town hall meeting in which creative practitioners and ad managers will share their ideas and frustrations with their peers. Come join us at 4 pm at the Los Angeles Convention Center. And in the meantime, if you have any free advice of your own, please comment below.

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