Archive for May, 2008

Coming soon to a gas pump near you

Judi Schindler

Try Googling “digital out of home media.” In doing so this morning, I got 27,500 hits. My cursory research indicates that number will increase exponentially over the next few months.

What started as a kiosk in a hotel lobby or an occasional elevator video screen has now become a $2 to $3 billion industry with projections of $10 billion for next year. Some 900,000 screens are currently in place at gas stations, health clubs, coffee bars, train platforms – even men’s urinals. (Now there’s a thought.)

The advertising industry, which has been wringing its hands over the ever-slipping numbers for traditional media, is jumping on this bandwagon with both feet.

Many of the major ad agencies have formed special divisions to manage it. The media companies are delivering “narrowcast” programming. A new trade association (the Out-of-Home Video Advertising Bureau) has been formed. And MediaPost, the online marketing publisher, held its first forum on the channel in April and launched Digital Outsider, a weekly e-letter, May 23.

And if there was any doubt about the legitimacy of the medium, the Nielsen Company, best known for its television ratings, is planning to launch a similar service for out-of-home media.

What’s all the fuss?

Proponents believe that out-of-home media is a way for advertisers to reach active, highly mobile consumers at times when they are more or less captive. They may be waiting for an airplane or train, sitting in the back of a taxi or waiting in line at a store – occasions when they have time to be attentive.

Media buys can be targeted by geography, interests, demographics. When combined with cell phones, out-of-home ads can be interactive. (Call or text for a free sample or coupon.)

Media Life Magazine says that travel, financial services and automotive are the top categories for out-of-home digital media. Local businesses like dry cleaners, real estate and healthcare providers are also said to do well with it.

While out-of-home may not be appropriate for all advertisers, others may well find it worth a test run. Success, however, will ultimately depend on targeting, messaging and integration with other forms of marketing.

May 27, 2008 at 8:08 pm Leave a comment

Managing the viral spread of bad customer experiences

Sally Saville Hodge

You may have heard this factoid mentioned when it comes to customer service: A satisfied customer is likely to share the experience with one person, while one who’s dissatisfied will share it with ten.

Now, think about the implications of those numbers in a Web 2.0 world, when anyone and everyone has a voice and can make it heard resoundingly around the world. Whether through a blog, a Twitter, a YouTube feed, or a MySpace post. The possibilities for sharing positive, but (human nature being what it is) more often, negative experiences have exploded.

Any business that understands the value of a strong brand is going to do whatever it takes to consistently deliver a superior customer experience. Part and parcel of the deal is monitoring the conversation and seizing any opportunity to identify any disconnects – real or imagined – in the way the business is delivering. And find ways to make it right.

What’s amazing to me, though, is the number of businesses that still don’t get the power of the Web as more than just a messaging channel du jour. It’s also a great, grassroots way to keep the pulse of changing customer perceptions and to respond in real time and in authentic ways to shape them.

Or not.

Consider Brenda and Gerald Moran. These folks love cruises. They were such fans of Royal Caribbean that they booked two trips a year and even bought stock in the company. This despite a customer experience that was less than ideal for each and every trip.

Some of their complaints were laughable: Her birthday greeting was delivered to the wrong cabin. (Get over it.) Others? Not so much. On their most recent, two-week Alaska/Northwest cruise, their cabin reeked of sewage, which was blamed on other guests flushing everything from oranges to diapers. With no more rooms available at this floating inn, their balcony door remained open in 40-degree weather to offset the odor. Yet the Morans were happy with the cruise line’s offer of a 20 percent discount on their next cruise.

But here’s the deal. Brenda wrote, as she always did, a post-cruise review on Cruise Critic, which sparked an active viral dialogue. Royal Caribbean responded by offering the Morans an additional discount for their next trip…and, oh, by the way, now will you pull your review?

Brenda declined. Cruise Critic later declined to pull or modify it. And Royal Caribbean soon thereafter banned the Morans from its cruises – for life.

Even in the olden days before the Web boosted the power of word-of-mouth, such heavy-handed tactics would have been ill-advised. Royal Caribbean would have been much better served with a variety of other courses of action:

  • Apologizing in the discussion forum for the Morans’ experience and detailing steps being taken to make it right (and remember, it’s not always about money!) and create a consistently positive customer experience for all its guests.
  • Identifying the Morans’ (and others’) specific complaints about the customer experience, their relative degree of importance, and possible fixes besides discounting that would create goodwill.
  • Identifying and cultivating other satisfied customers (which the Morans really were, overall) who could serve as brand ambassadors and encouraged, among other things, to share their own positive experiences.
  • Monitoring the conversation and employing an ombudsman, perhaps (see what Comcast is doing), to run interference in real time as a means of enhancing customer satisfaction.

The Web’s current role and future potential to help make or break brands is only growing. For those that don’t like the way the conversation goes, killing the messenger isn’t the answer. Finding better ways to keep the negative word of mouth from spreading virally to hundreds or even thousands more is.

May 20, 2008 at 8:23 pm 3 comments

Don’t titter at Twitter – there’s a place for almost everything in this changing new media world

Sally Saville Hodge

A month or so ago, Helena Bouchez, our erstwhile, soon-to-be-former VP and resident guide to all things new- and social media-related, started telling me about the marvels of Twitter. Then she sent me some links to some of her favorite Twitterers.

I kind of knew about Twitter. Little top-of-mind messages – 140 characters max – that you can use to keep your friends and followers abreast of what you’re doing and thinking during the course of the day. A mini blog, as it were. Accessible through the Web, your cell phone, and instant messaging.

Now, Helena is a self-proclaimed early adopter, God love her. Once she gloms onto something, she does it with gusto. She now oooVoos and/or Skypes with aplomb. She has several blogs. So it’s not surprising that she’s Twittering away with great regularity.

It takes me a bit longer to embrace a lot of this stuff. It’s only been the last several years, for example, that I’ve been satisfied with the business benefits of a blog strategy, and, heck, we only just launched this one in January. (The time commitment I was worried about? I was right: It’s 1:21 p.m. Saturday and I’m writing this post instead of playing outside!)

So I went to some of Helena’s recommended Twitterers. One I liked. Gaper’s Block’s Twitters are useful little facts about stuff going on in the city. The others? Not so much. When I see a bunch of messages that read like this…

11:45 a.m.: landed at Las Vegas airport.
Left laptop in room; had to go back for it.
Was late to my meeting with students.
5:45 p.m., and I’m boarding now to go back home.

…my first reaction is: Does anyone really care?

Apparently they do, or Twitter’s ranks wouldn’t be swelling with each passing day. (*Pat on my own back: Many people have lives that seem to be as boring as yours!)

Helena hasn’t yet talked me into setting up my own Twitter feed. I am, nonetheless, keeping an eye on this utility to see how its applications expand.

The Bad Pitch Blog, for instance, just exhorted its readers to learn not to hate Twitter, and shared how some have used it for more than just mental masturbation. Like the PR person who followed one journalist’s feeds, and used the tool to not just successfully make a story pitch but to see the article through, including fact checking.

Now, that’s cool and useful. And the kind of thinking may make a believer out of me yet.

May 13, 2008 at 5:14 pm Leave a comment

A post with a point!

Sally Saville Hodge

Pet peeve No. 322: People who use exclamation points to excess!

(It’s funny how, the older you get, the more crotchety you get, and that list of pet peeves seems to get longer and longer.)

I started thinking about the insidious exclamation point upon reading Word Wise, a must-read blog on writing and style by Edelman PR’s Dan Santow. A recent post pokes gentle fun at Hamilton, Ohio for formally changing its name to Hamilton! Ohio (yes, really!), and uses the occasion as a (ahem) point of departure for when and how to use it to best effect.

While I’m not one to discourage the enthusiasm that this device implies, it’s typically a sign to me of an entry-level or not-very-creative writer, whether it’s being used in an article, press release, advertising copy or even e-mail.

Wait a minute.

In the spirit of total honesty, I have to admit that while I use the exclamation point sparingly in my “official” copy, I’ve recently found myself reading my e-mails before hitting the send button to remove an overabundance of the things. (*Mental slap on the side of the head: “Really, Sally, four sentences and all of them ending on this kind of upbeat note?”)

It’s all about using such devices for effect. The rules should still apply whether they’re being used in casual correspondence, like e-mails, or more formal writing, like reports. And, really, the rule here (as well as in utilizing dashes and ellipses, which I also abuse) is pretty simple: Don’t overuse or you lose the effect!

May 6, 2008 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

On journalists and the upside/downside risks they face

Sally Saville Hodge

Ever since I first worked with Herb Greenberg way back during our tenures at Crain’s Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune, I’ve considered him the epitome of what journalists should aspire to: Relentless in pursuit of the next scoop, resourceful in how he goes about getting it, principled in his dealings with sources, and passionate about his calling.

So it was with surprise and some sadness that I heard he was not just leaving MarketWatch, where he cemented his reputation as a leading prognosticator on stocks and the businesses behind them, but he’s leaving journalism all together.

He and I chatted last week about his move, catching up for the first time in a couple of years. He and a friend are launching a boutique research firm. The strength of his brand alone, supported by a highly loyal following, and his partner’s contacts and capabilities as a CPA and terrific modeler should make success a shoo-in.

But he talked about things that business and financial reporters typically save for their copy and don’t normally apply to their careers and futures. Things like the upside and downside risks of taking on an entrepreneurial venture versus sticking with the traditional journalism path.

Who would have thought that journalism would come up short?

It’s not surprising that many of my print journalist friends are similarly feeling angst about their future directions. Their relevance is increasingly in question in an era of fractured media channels, instant news delivery, egalitarian content creation, and a decided shift in trust away from newspapers and magazines toward sources like Wikipedia.

Newspapers are especially hurting in this environment, of course; their general inability to respond effectively to the dramatic changes altering the news landscape is a repeated theme by pundits. Here in Chicago, the financial bleeding is forcing many fine and talented journalists to make decisions sooner than maybe they’d like.

So where’s their future? Good question. Not everyone is going to be able to make the transition, whether to PR agencies (a time-honored move) or to freelance or corporate writing positions or to Web-based venues or to other, more entrepreneurial ventures like Herb’s.

But as they start thinking, like Herb, about upside and downside risks, they need to realize that the risk with the greatest downside lies in standing still.

May 2, 2008 at 6:32 am 3 comments

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