Vulgar language has no place in your marketing

There are 2 writers I admire deeply who litter their prose with foul language. One is the great James Kelman; if you don’t understand Glaswegian dialect, don’t even bother reading, but trust me, he’s brilliant.  The other is a well known blogger who shall remain nameless because I do not want this to be a defense/attack on said blogger.  As I stated, I admire them; they, however, are the singular exception I make for accepting vulgarity in online writing.

I swear a lot in real life; the honest-to-God truth is that my father was a truck driver.  And I spent more than a decade in the carpet industry, where to swear was to speak.  I am not offended in the slightest by cursing in everyday language.  James Kelman’s use of cursing lends a gritty realism that is necessary for his subject matter. The blogger I admire often shocks the reader with their color.  I understand the reason both utilize vulgarity, but before you do, think long and hard.

Here are two reasons I strongly advocate that you refrain from cursing in your blog or marketing materials:

  1. The digital world is anything but private; simply ask Randi Zuckerberg or the Storify Co-Founder who is having his online lunch handed to him for the recently discovered practice of publishing private Facebook posts.  Do you want future clients and/or employers coming across your crassness?
  2. The written curse word usually comes across as lazy and unimaginative.

This image of the incredible Maggie Smith was floating around Facebook this week:

Vulgarity has no place in marketing


Violet is, as always, correct.

Cursing is not clever or witty, and it doesn’t make your brand hip or cool.  Your marketing language needs to communicate your message clearly, tell the reader how you will benefit them, pull their heartstrings, or whatever the goal of your campaign is.  Great copywriters can use language to communicate and stir emotions; they do not have to rely upon vulgarity to do so.

The chance that you will offend using crass language is so much greater than anything positive that may come of it… even in your conversational and relaxed blog space.

Communication: More important than ANYTHING

I would have put this post up yesterday, but I couldn’t because I spent the entire day waiting for Verizon to come and install my internet and phone line in my new office. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t set me up for disappointment by setting the appointment time between 8 am and 12 noon.

Steam may not have been rising out of my ears at noon if they’d call to tell me that their technician was tied up on a previous call.customer service

My voice may not have sounded so strained if, before they missed the second deadline of 2 pm, they called to tell me that they were pushing it until 5 pm, and if the employee arrives at 4:59 pm I’m to wait until he’s finished.

I wouldn’t be thoroughly disgusted with them right now if ANY communication about their poor scheduling was initiated by them instead of me. Or, if I hadn’t waited on hold for over 30 minutes calling them each time.

This post isn’t simply to rag on Verizon, although God knows they deserve it. Sadly, bad communications happen all the time. The result is always an angry, possibly former customer.

And it is almost always avoidable.

Most people are kind, patient and understanding… but they aren’t when you treat them with disdain. Not communicating is always interpreted by the customer as your company not caring. Contacting them as soon as you know of an issue avoids a lot of the negative experience issues they’ll have if you don’t.

Think about it this way: for every single dollar you spend on marketing and positive PR, one bad episode of non-communication can repay that, times 10, with negative publicity. Think about it, what do you do when you’ve been mistreated by a company? For one, you probably blast them on your social media network, more than likely complain about them when you get together with your friends. If you have a blog & you’re a marketer like me, you probably craft a post based on your bad experience.

That’s a whole lot of organic negative pr going on about a company for simply blowing the communication.

Even if my high-speed internet is rip-roaring fast and never a problem, I’ll have a sour taste in my mouth for how lousy I was treated from the outset. Your customers are no different. You may deliver the greatest product in your industry, but if you blow the communications and make you customer feel like you don’t care about them, their network will hear all about it.

Your company must make them FEEL something.

If  you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that I have a huge Business Crush on Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks.  Dino Dogan would tell you that ‘we all do,’ and he’s probably right.  What Howard, or more How do you create passion for your brand?correctly, what Starbucks does to illicit these emotions from customers is that they prompt them, continually.

I’ve written repeatedly that “It’s not about the coffee.”  I don’t even drink coffee; I’m a hard core tea addict.  Starbucks has decent tea and a great Chai, but even that’s not why I keep coming back.  It’s the entire customer experience that keeps me loyal.

In my past life when I supervised 18 Sales Reps. spread out across the Eastern half of the US, Starbucks-Everywhere was my office.  We could sit for hours in a pleasant environment , use the free wireless, and never ever feel rushed.  Not only did I spend thousands of dollars a year at the chain, I became a brand loyalist and incredibly grateful for their hospitality.

And they keep on doing things that make me feel passionately about the brand.  Last year it was the Indivisible campaign; I wear my bracelet and drink from my Indivisible mug every morning.

Recently, Starbucks began offering reusable $1 mugs to cut down on waste.  Of course I bought one, because I care about the environment and feel like I’m part of the Starbucks mission.  Now, my reusable cup )pictured here) already has my favorite drink permanently written on it.  Most of the time I don’t even need to tell my local Baristas what I want, because they know me … another customer service moment that connects me to the brand.

Perhaps you too have a major Starbucks connection, or perhaps you’re a contrarian who swears by Dunkin Donuts.  The point is, the brands that you are passionate about have done something to trigger that passion.  What is it that makes you want to evangelize for a brand?

The next, logical question is: What do you do to create that same loyalty and zeal in your own customers?  Because you know, it doesn’t happen by accident.

Bad Social Practices Blow Up in the Middle of the Night

Last night I was on Facebook at 1am  – I know, sad, but also rare. I was unwinding after a long brainstorming session and just surfing around.  Then I see my friend Danny Brown calling out Oracle Social for adding him to a page he never Liked. I wander over to the page and find that I too had apparently “Liked” the page too without my knowledge, and loads of my friends had as well.  The comment section was growing rapidly with others making the same complaint.

So there, for at least 30 minutes in the wee hours of the morning, Oracle Social was growing thousands of Likes per minute, its comment section was blowing up with complaints, and no Community Manager could be found.  The forced followers debated whether this was malware, customer acquisition or even a fake page.  Social savvy people started tweeting and emailing corporate.  Many of us reported the page a spam.

At around 1:30 am I gave up, went to bed, and thought: THIS will be great fodder for Spin Sucks and other blogs with huge PR/Marketer followings.

At 8:15 am I check back in, sure that there will be some resolution: utter silence from Oracle.  The comment section is full of pissed off people, and coincidentally or not, many of them are Marketers who are social ‘experts,’ although they’ll all detest that title.

We still don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we do know one thing: Oracle has dropped the ball on this one in a huge way. People have been on a Facebook Page that bears their brand complaining loudly, and there is total social silence.  Their corporate twitter accounts and email have been contacted: social silence.  Add that to the fact that many of us are bloggers and you have one very loud, pissed off contingent that you have not even begun to dialogue with.

When these PR stumbles happen at large companies, we always ask: what should we realistically expect? What is an appropriate response time?  Some have argued that hours, or even an entire day is ok.  I disagree; even managers of small  Facebook Pages check in first thing in the morning. Saturday morning in particular is a heavy usage time on Facebook and Twitter… is it really possible that no one at Oracle knows about this yet?  I doubt it.

The Oracle Social page is almost up to 1 million likes, from zero last night; sometimes it’s not so great to have a large audience.

[Read more…]

How Kind is Your Company?

If you’re an avid reader of Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks you will have read her fantastic story of the ultimate Starbucks customer experience. Those of us who regularly patronize Starbucks aren’t really surprised.  Just last week How Kind is your company?my daughter and I  drove through our old Starbucks and ordered our regular drinks; without even seeing us the drive through barista said “I know who this is! How’s Addie?”  Of course we felt special.

I have friends who still try to convince me I’m getting ripped off when I buy my $4 chai, but I know I’m not. The personalized, friendly customer service one receives at Starbucks is incredibly rare.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.   Social Media was supposed to make us more human… give us an opportunity to connect with our customers in a real way, uncluttered by traditional marketing speak.  It is supposed to allow for conversational exchanges between brands and buyers.  Sadly, most of us have forgotten that, and use it too much like a promotional machine… a digital billboard we aim at our targets.  We have forgotten how important being nice actually is.

What Starbucks knows is that kindness works.  People want to be treated as if they matter. Don’t believe me?  Try this: mail a handwritten Thank You to all of your customers from the past week.  I guarantee you will get a reaction. Why? Because companies have forgotten the human dimension.  Because we all want to be remembered.  Because in this age of automated bill pay and internet banking, the humanness has been sucked out of our lives.  Our customers crave it.  We ALL crave it.

Now go and look at your company practices:

  1. Who answers the phone and how do they do it? Have you ever instructed them on what you expect?
  2. What did the last 10 Facebook posts look like?  Was there any attempt to generate conversation?
  3. Is your Twitter stream just a broadcasting mechanism?  How many actual conversations have you had on there in the past month?
  4. Are you telling your company stories?  Is there a mechanism for your employees to hear them internally?
  5. Are you asking your customers for THEIR stories?  Are you giving them a voice?
  6. When was the last time you took an anonymous company poll to ask for employee input?
  7. How are you rewarding employees for excellent customer feedback?
Maybe Mitt was half right; maybe corporations are supposed to be people.  When was the last time you looked at your company practices seeking out evidence of kindness?  I know, it all sounds a bit mushy, but It Is REAL.  I believe it’s the single greatest ingredient in Starbucks’ incredible success.  If more companies made it part of how they do business, we’d have more success stories, and posts like Gini’s would be a lot less rare.


Advice from your customer: Want My Business? Let Me Tell You How Not to Get It

Over the years I’ve had several companies attempt to sell me their products or services. In most of those instances, they failed. It wasn’t the quality of their products that cost them my business (well maybe once or twice). Does Cold Calling leave you cold?The problem was their sales approach. Let me give you some tips if you are really interested in getting my business:

  1. What’s in a name? It is very important that if you want my business, you know whose business you seek. If you are contacting me via telephone, make sure you know how to pronounce my name. If you are soliciting via mailers or email, spell my name correctly. For me there is nothing that gets a hang up as soon, a mailer shredded as quickly, or an email deleted as promptly as getting my name wrong.
  2. Cold calls will get you the cold shoulder. While I understand that sales is a tough business, I’m still not a fan of the cold call. I’m fortunate enough to have someone to screen my calls so I can pick and choose my conversations but others don’t have this luxury. Those poor souls end up trying to quickly and politely say no in hopes that they don’t have to rudely hang up on an overzealous sales person. If cold calls are working for you, kudos, but I know they aren’t working on me.
  3. Unannounced is unacceptable. This is taking the cold call to another level. The sales person dropping by the office without an appointment who wants to see me. While I admire the courage of someone who does this, I can guarantee that you will not get into my office.
  4. Do your homework or you will fail. Do not make a sales pitch to me without knowing my business. I mean REALLY knowing my business. We are in an age where information is abundant and readily available. Before you talk to me, do the research. I’ll be much more open to talking with you if you truly understand what I need.

Now I’m not heartless and I do need goods and services, but like you I am ‘too busy’ too often and I don’t have time to waste.

Let me give you a one final tip on how to get my business. Remember that you are being interviewed. Getting my business is really a job interview. When you come looking for my business, have references and make them good. A list of references is good. Letters of reference from your other clients are better. A personal reference from someone I already know professionally works best.
If you take my advice, I think you’ll find better success not only with me but with other potential clients.

Today’s post is by guest blogger John Errico, an all the time Sports Love & Game Day Stringer for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. His day job is VP of Finance. Follow John on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn ; as of this date he has still resisted Facebook.

Is Your Strategy More Accurately Called “Beg Marketing”?

I read a great post by Jeff Esposito about his adventures in shopping for his new home. He found that lots of retailers requested that you follow them on Social Media. He wasn’t surprised that when he did, he found the same old “push marketing” and one way conversations. It is the classic case of using a Traditional Beg MarketingMarketing approach with New Media tools: it never works.

In the comment section of this post, @annedreshfield described this approach being taken to an extreme degree when a restaurant she checked into on Foursquare hounded her on Twitter for a recommendation.

Sadly, this form of “Beg Marketing” takes place everyday all over Social Media. I see people begging their Followers to share their page and tweeting constant “deals” that ‘if you follow me I’ll follow you back.’

Like I’ve stated 475 million times, Common Sense should be your guideline in Sales and Marketing online. It’s just like dating: Desperation is totally unattractive, always.

Give your followers a reason to share your page or Retweet you. Create a contest where you gain additional entries by sharing a page. Offer excellent, informative content so that people WANT to Like or Follow You. I know, it sounds like a lot of hard work, and it is. And it should be. Think about the Brands you admire; didn’t they work hard to earn your respect and admiration?

A Broadcast Only Facebook Wall is Just WRONG

It may seem a bit obvious to my marketing colleagues that setting up a one way, broadcast only Facebook Business page is a terrible mistake. In the past week I’ve spoken with 1 Fortune 100 company, 1 nationally known organization, and 2 small businesses about this very topic. I sit on the board of a small non-profit and one of my smart, professional members is advocating that we turn our page into a “Our Messages Only” page.

This discussion always focuses around CONTROL, and it’s always rooted in Fear. These are the things companies fear most:

1. Losing control of their message.
2. Being savagely, verbally attacked by an angry customer
3. PR firestorms that may occur if their employees don’t handle negative comments well.

If you haven’t read The Now Revolution, here are a few choice pieces of advice you must hear:

“What you don’t control – and have never controlled – is the response and reaction to what you do..”

The book has a lot of advise and is a guide book for understanding Social Media’s impact on your business. You should buy it. In the meantime, here’s a key piece you must understand:

“…these communication tools are already in play, already being used, already affecting your business, whether you’re actively using them or not.”

So, this is how it will work if your Facebook Business Page does not accept comments:

1. Those who visit you wanting to share their positive enthusiasm for your service will be frustrated in not being able to do so. They probably won’t return to your page.

2. Those wanting to complain will instantly interpret your controlled wall for exactly what it is: fear of honest criticism. They will then find other Social Media avenues to blast you. The only difference will be that YOU may not know about them and you won’t be able to respond.

A closed Facebook Business Page is a lose/lose proposition for you. What you need to do is the one thing that usually eradicates fear: Educate Yourself. And then Educate your employees – every single one of them – as to what your Social Media Policy is and how you will handle negative comments. Your company culture should dictate to them how you would handle any customer service issue… but that’s an entirely different blog post….

The success of Social Media has been all about interaction and engagement. If it’s going to work for your brand you need to allow it to be a two way channel.

The Profoundly Pathetic PR Showcased by the Susan G. Komen Foundation

If you haven’t been paying attention to the latest PR Typhoon raging on Twitter, it was brought to us by the PR naive (to put it politely) board of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. In December the Foundation decided to cease funding Planned Parenthood to the tune of $680,000. When that decision was made public on Tuesday, social networks EXPLODED with a wave of anger and very, very little support for Komen. Scanning their Facebook Page and Twitter feed, one was hard pressed to find ANY support.

The Foundation attempted to dampen the outrage claiming that the decision was not political and that they withdrew support because Planned Parenthood was under ‘investigation’ after Republican congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida launched an inquiry to see if Planned Parenthood was using public funds to provide abortions. Despite their claims the decision came across to the public as purely political.

A few hours ago The Susan G. Komen Foundation announced that it was reversing its decision. So far the Twitterverse does not appear very forgiving, and whomever is managing their account must be exhausted, frantically cutting and pasting the “Please read our latest statement” with a link to their website.

What baffles me as a PR Professional is why a foundation that is so successful would be so profoundly unprepared for the backlash that erupted. They made many pronouncements about the apolitical nature of their decision, but charities more than any other type of organization, have to understand that public perception is what drives their business. If your entire modus operendi is to get people to open their pockets and hand over their hard earned money to support your cause, doing ANYTHING that alienates or angers a majority of people is completely taboo. To take such a risk without understanding what may come means that you are devoid of any PR savvy whatsoever.

The moral of the story? Big changes in company policy must be analyzed, prior to them being made, not solely for what will happen to gross revenue, but for what PR impact they will have on your business. Watching Komen flounder for what very well may be years to recover their once pristine reputation should be a learning lesson to business and organizations of all sizes. Not having your finger on the pulse of your audience and blatantly offending many of them is simply terrible for business.

Should Scheduled Tweets be Shut Off When a Tragedy Hits the News?

This post was prompted by an exchange I saw on Twitter. A Tweep was admonishing an “Influencer” for not halting all scheduled Tweets when it appeared a tragedy was unfolding, again, at Virginia Tech last week. The complainant felt that it was callous to not halt the scheduled Tweets in the midst of such a tragedy. The Influencer felt that his work life didn’t cease every time there was a tragedy.

I side with the Influencer. The reality is that tragedies happen everyday; some draw more national attention than others. Some touch our smaller local communities. How should we react when tragedy strikes?

There is the business reaction, and their is our human reaction.

In a Utopian, compassionate world we would shut off our computers, tune into the tragedy, and cease doing business.

And we’d all go broke.

Of course we can’t shut off business when something awful happens in the world, and pre-scheduled Tweets are part of marketing for many businesses. Ensuring that those Tweets don’t offend is what your PR/Social Media department is responsible for. When a tragedy of note occurs, your Community Managers need to be even more plugged in and sensitive to the discussions on your pages/platforms.

Depending upon your customer’s expectations, you need to have your Social Media Manager(s) connected so that they know when a blow up is happening on your page and can respond in a measured, respectful and timely way to each and every dust up. This is where the oft missed STRATEGY comes in; part of your Social Media plan needs to include having the right people manning your online voice so that they know how to respond to these type of events. Businesses without such a plan leave themselves open to the kind of PR nightmares we all read about far too often.