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Posts tagged ‘branding’

Beware shiny things

October 15, 2022


After a round of meeting great new vendors, exploring cool new tools & tech, I always think about how much room my clients have in my budget for these fun, experimental things. We’re all attracted to fun, shiny things. But as business leaders, are these always the panacea we want them to be? When we’re thinking about how to allocate precious budget $ to improving our websites, there’s push-and-pull between the foundational and the fun.

There are always new tools that promise better engagement, conversion or order value. Innovations that will increase brand value and improve the customer experience. Some of these are truly a value add.

But what good is a fun or beautiful front-end, if the underlying experience is bad?

The same is true in our personal lives. That shiny new buy isn’t going to change your life, though it may make you feel great in the moment. When the excitement wears off, you still have the same issues to deal with.

Last summer, I was planning a few home renovation projects. Not my favorite thing to do, but I love the result. It’s so much work: the planning, the product, color, and materials. The contractors. The coordination and disruption. Whenever we’ve talked about these bigger projects, I joke that I’d rather buy a new house that someone else already fixed up.

After two years of work-from-home, and daily visibility to the deficiencies of our laundry room, the main entry to the house from the garage, I was ready. Picture old, low-quality cabinets peeling at the edges, no longer flush, unpleasantly aged beige particleboard- yuck. It was dated, ugly and in disrepair. Our downstairs bathroom also needed an upgrade- tiles that keep pushing out the caulk, ugly striped wall-paper, and out-of-date everything.

But then while gardening out back, we noticed a deep foundation crack. One that used to be a hairline. The crack extended 15 feet, and was big enough that you could see sunlight from inside our furnace room, and feel outside air if you put your hand up to it.

For context, we live on a hill that descends into a creek. To protect the house, it’s a constant fight to keep erosion at bay. And after 25 years, the house was showing the wear.

We had to deal with it.

So we fixed the wall. It took 4 weeks of back-hoes, concrete destruction and reconstruction, leaving deep trenches through our back-yard and dust everywhere. During the tear-down, they told us that moving our old A/C units was a risk. Since they were ancient, decrepit, and inefficient, they recommended we buy new. They couldn’t guarantee that they would work if disconnected, moved and reconnected. But in light of the fortune we were investing in the foundation, we had little appetite for replacing those NOW. Let them hang on for one more summer.

When the work was finished, neither of the A/C units could be saved. One had been dropped. The other needed repairs so expensive, it wasn’t worth doing. So now, two days before the first 95 degree weekend of the year, we needed new A/C units. That was fun.

All in, we spent $20K on the foundation, then another $12K or so on the A/C’s. My renovation budget was gone- and then some. I really wanted that updated entry for the house. We were going to tear out a closet and make a more modern mud-room with a bench. And nicer downstairs bathroom.

But what good is a beautiful entryway to the house, if the house might slide into the creek? When we try to sell the house, what’s going to drive more value? A solid foundation, or a nicer mud-room? Shoppers might love what they see walking through and make the offer, but when the inspection is done- the foundational issues come to light, and many shoppers opt to simply back-out.

The same thing happens on your website.

Consider this as you plan your commerce & technology budgets. If you keep investing primarily on the superficial- the entry-ways, the cosmetic and feel-good moments, your technical debt gets bigger and bigger over time. Eventually, you’ll feel the pain. Conversion will stay flat or down. Only your most loyal or sale-conscious customers will persist.

We all love a little bit of fun. Branding matters. But customer experience is everything, from the beginning to the end. If a shopper loves shopping your product, but has trouble signing-in or checking out, your brand value takes a negative turn.

If your underlying foundation is cracked, all that good will just opts out.

A cautionary tale for your social media team (and entire brand)

January 25, 2020


terrible customer experience with Anthropologie

Last week, Anthropologie had what can only be described as every brand’s worst nightmare- a delivery snafu that went viral on twitter, first as an amusing story- and then as a customer experience gone terribly wrong, when Anthro’s response devolved from amused and supportive, to unreasonable and threatening- the antithesis of a good customer experience.

Leah Rachel von Essen, posting as @reading_while on twitter, shared her story about the vase that never arrived, and her resulting re-order. Instead of delivering the vase, Anthropologie shipped her 9 huge boxes of unrelated products, including a 20 lb candle, a feather coat, and a strange golden hand. And then demanded she return them all- or risk being banned and billed for the merchandise she hadn’t ordered- and didn’t want.

Had they handled it well, this could have been a great customer experience and a social media win for Anthro. Instead, one mis-directed social media post later, they quickly turned it into a cautionary tale about how NOT to respond to a brand snafu online- quickly going viral on twitter, resulting in thousands of supporters, including a lawyer offering to intervene on Leah’s behalf, and getting picked up by Forbes, as This is The Best Retail Story You’ll Read all week. And indeed, it was.

The moral of the story is: every single interaction with your customers matters. And every single employee of the brand is a brand ambassador with the capacity to help, or hurt the brand’s reputation. Every interaction. Every customer. Make sure that your people know this, and are empowered to do the right thing. In the end- Anthropologie did the right thing. But the damage was done.

It’s worth reading the entire thread.

terrible customer experience with Anthropologie

Leah is a book reviewer and blogger, who made this story such epic fun on twitter. You can see more of her writing on While Reading and Walking

The art of the message: do’s and don’ts

July 17, 2015


Copy sells.

Great copy can do amazing things. It stops you, even if you weren’t interested in stopping. It elicits an emotional response. Gets your attention. Draws you in. And can close the sale. Here, 3 key principles for creating effective copy online: what to do, and what not to do.

1. Get them in the door.

Copy is critical to communicate your message and to engage people with your brand. When it’s effective, it drives action- clicks, sign-ups, and ultimately, purchases. It will get them in the door.

Good copy gets your attention.

Good copy gets your attention and makes you smile.

Brevity is key. The goal is to get your customer to the next step, not to tell them everything they’d ever need to know. You have to prioritize your message. Keep it simple and uncluttered, if you want your message to resonate.

  • Good copy: FREE SHIPPING on orders over $50

It’s tempting to include lots of things to try to hit the right trigger points for everyone. Don’t. You’ll end up saying nothing to anyone. Too many messages become noise.

2. Explain and engage

It’s all about contextual information. Pacing is key. Providing the right information in the right places along the journey, to keep your customer engaged- and on a path towards what you want them to do. On each page, think about what you want your customer to know (and what he or she will want to know), to reinforce your brand, your product, or your offer.

  • Do provide social proof. What are your customers or media saying about it?
  • Do make it clear how to get there or what to do next.

3. Deliver on it

Tell the truth. Don’t over promise and under deliver. If you say FREE SHIPPING on the homepage, but don’t show it on the cart and checkout, your customers will feel duped. If it’s only FREE with a myriad of exclusions or conditions, and comes via pony and takes a year and a day to get there, your customers will feel duped. You might get the sale today- but they’ll think twice next time (if there is a next time).

Amazon claimed Prime Day would be the biggest sale event since Black Friday- and has declared it a success, but customers disagree. Disappointed Prime shoppers were all over twitter complaining that it was impossible to shop and that it was only the drek on sale. The Kindle was on sale- but only the base version- not the Paperwhite or the Voyage. It wasn’t the ‘good stuff’.  See “It’s not living up to the hype” on CNN Money.

Amazon prime day

A few choice tweets on Amazon Prime Day

  • Don’t over promise. If it truly is the biggest sale ever, say so.  Then prove it. If it’s not- think of something else to say that reflects your reality. It doesn’t have to say, ‘BIG SALE: all the stuff left over that’s not selling and we need to get rid of’– it just has to be true.
  • Do make it fun. Anthropology has a clever way to make further markdowns compelling- they’ve said, “Our sale is on sale”. That’s tempting. It doesn’t yell or scream, or promise rainbows and unicorns, but it does get my attention if I care about getting a great price, without sounding bargain-basement. is having a sale- the homepage says only “SALE”, with a little 25% off dot whack and a fun little animated confetti gif. Simple- but effective. Moo Sale

It’s tempting for your writers to overstate to make something sound great- but it’s only great if you can deliver on it. You may get people in the door with a hyperbolic message, but if you’ve over promised, they’ll be less likely to respond to it next time.

The lesson in all of this? Put yourselves in the shoes of your shopper. How will the message make them feel? Are you telling them what they need to know to make a decision? Are you delivering on the promise? How will they feel after they experience it? Emotions drive action- whether they come back to you, or not. It’s up to you.

Privacy matters

February 3, 2013


Everything we do online is tracked- by someone, or some entity. We all know it. Mostly, we accept it.

I don’t get too worked up about it. On the business side, retailers see it as a way to create a better experience for you. Executed thoughtfully, it can be. For example, if you come to a website and look at brand “A”, and add something from brand “A” to your cart, the retailer may send you emails about “brand A” in the future, knowing that it’s something that has interested you. This isn’t such a bad thing, though sometimes it can be misguided (as when you send someone a gift from a website that you also shop for yourself, and forever after get emails about that gift product or brand that you have no further interest in).

I’m not terribly offended by ‘stalker’ ads- banner ads from retailers, which seem to  follow you around as you browse news sites or content sites, showing you an ad based on products you’ve recently viewed on a given website. I don’t mind these, because they seem like they could be a coincidence. I don’t even mind getting an email from a retailer I’ve visited recently, showing me the product or brands I’ve looked at. Could also be a coincidence…although a little spooky when it’s exactly what I was looking at. And when I’ve added things to my cart, and then left the site, I don’t mind getting the email saying, “we’ve saved your cart for you.”  It seems credible that they know I have an interest in that stuff. Of course they just want to capture the sale. But maybe that’s ok- maybe I want to complete the purchase. Especially if they include a shipping or cart discount to encourage me.

Most retailers are careful to stay within the limits of what’s legal or within best-practices for protecting customer privacy. But there’s fuzzy territory when retailers try new things, or cross the line between what seems reasonable, and what seems invasive. What I mind, is when it all seems a bit too purposeful. A bit too obvious. When you think you’re anonymous, and then get called out by the retailer on it. Here’s an example:

I recently visited a website, looked around, and left. Never signed-in. A little while later, I get an email saying, “Glad you checked us out! Come on back….”

That’s just creepy.

Anonymity doesn’t exist anymore, online. There are measures we can take to protect our privacy, to a degree. If you block cookies, or clear cookies before shopping a website, the session can’t be tracked. But this isn’t top of mind on a daily basis, both because there’s not usually a problem, and because clearing cookies is inconvenient. At the end of the day, retailers are just trying to make money. And I want them to. Because then there are lots of jobs for lots of people.

So retailers: don’t forget you make money by making your customers feel good about you: your brand, your stuff, andIs a the experience. Don’t make me feel like you’re looking over my shoulder- or I won’t want to come to your store anymore. It’s that simple. I expect my information to be treated fairly, and thoughtfully.

And readers…What privacy issues rankle you most? How has it changed what you do online, if at all? I’d be interested in your experiences with privacy (or lack thereof).

work happy.

October 29, 2012


Poppin makes office supplies fun and colorful

Think old-school office supplies are on the way out? Paperless offices, Evernote, iPads, laptops, iPhones- there are so many ways to plug in and make your to-do’s a scheduled reminder list, your notes an archivable, searchable library on Evernote, or a quick email after a meeting. But the truth is, there are die-hard note-takers out here. There are paper lovers and pen collectors. There are those of us who are on a never-ending quest for the perfect pen, the perfect notebook- the proverbial blank page that invites and inspires and satisfies as you check off your to-do list, like no program, application or device can.

This is where Poppin comes in.

Poppin makes office supplies fun and colorful

Who says office supplies need to be black? Poppin’s site is all about color.

Of course, we need our technology, and we love that too. This is different. This is love at first sight.

Poppin’s tagline is “work happy”, and everything about the website reflects it. The copy is light-hearted and friendly- The people you can call for help are called “work stylists” who can set you up with a desk to love. On the Help page, the stylists are described this way:

“Each Poppin Work Stylist has been carefully chosen because they like to smile, have exquisite taste and looooove talking to people.”

The website itself is entertaining, fun and has a great design sensibility- you can shop visually by color as a secondary navigation bar at the top of the site.  The copy is believable and genuine, with a sense of humor. They “pinky-promise to take any Poppin product back that does not make you work happy.”

The branding is superb, end-to-end. The package arrives with writing on the outside, and air-bubbles on the inside printed with funny quotes. You actually want to save the air bubbles- they’re that cute. And a week or two after my package arrived, I got a hand-written thank you note on a Poppin card, mentioning my specific items.

All in all, it’s a complete delight. It’s not to say we won’t keep using Evernote and iPads and laptops. But it doesn’t hurt to have a desk that makes you smile everyday. Check it out at

Coca Cola goes awry (for a good cause)

December 8, 2011


The marketers at Coca Cola seem to have forgotten one of the simplest principles of branding, with the recent “Save the Polar Bear” campaign.

Coca Cola's Save the Polar Bear Campaign

Coca Cola's new can creates a controversy for confused consumers

Shoppers are visual. Our recognition of products is registered in the milliseconds we spend scanning the shelves for what we want. We do not stop to read or examine the things we buy often. We look for what’s familiar, pick it up, and go.

That’s exactly how I ended up drinking about 75 calories worth of a regular coke at lunch, before I got suspicious about the strange taste, looked more closely, and realized the word “diet” was missing. Turns out, lots of people had the same experience. According to the Wall Street Journal, Coca Cola’s response was that the white cans were distinctively different from the silver diet cans.

“Coke says it hasn’t tweaked the taste of its cola and that protecting polar bears is a worthwhile initiative. It recently added a “fact sheet” on its website highlighting how white Coke cans are distinct from silver Diet Coke cans. Among the differences: Regular Coke is labeled “Coca-Cola” and states the calories at the front of the can, while Diet Coke’s holiday can—silver as always—is labeled “Diet Coke” and features snowflakes.”  – WSL 12.1.11

Let’s just agree that saving the polar bears is a right and good thing. But Coca Cola, changing the brand identity is confusing and distressing for consumers who feel duped, or annoyed at drinking needless calories. I’d like to have believed after the New Coke flub of 1985, they would have the institutional memory to be cautious about changing the brand too dramatically. Sadly, no.

Coca Cola has a website, Coca Cola Artic Home, dedicated to the Polar Bears, replete with geo-trackers, so you can choose a “virtual parcel” to donate to. It’s a lovely effort, and Coca Cola should be celebrated. But, folks, how did they  lose sight of the fact that the people who buy coke and diet coke would be confused? The white can they designed to celebrate the polar bears looks almost identical to the silver diet can.  The explanation that the silver is distinct is a clear case of snow-blindness. Perhaps they were too deep in the the artic blizzard to see it.

Tropicana did something similar a few years ago- they decided the brand was looking stale, so they updated the carton so dramatically that it was unrecognizable. They thought it should be more modern, clean, and elegant. The result was so clean that it looked like a generic. And those of us who were Tropicana customers walked right by it looking for the carton with the orange on it. Major brand flub.

There’s been huge consumer uproar about the white can, and Coca Cola has responded by saying that the red cans will be back on the shelves by Christmas.

A brand marketing guy I used to work with used to say, “Fall on your face, not on your ass”, to encourage risk taking on big ideas. I’m not sure which way Coca Cola fell on this one, but it appears that the lesson is learned. At least for now.

5 brand imperatives for holiday (and beyond)

October 23, 2011


It’s prime time. The holiday season starts now.

Motivating shoppers is more challenging than ever. Shoppers are more thoughtful about the purchases they make, and far more likely to shop around for the best offers, policies and site experiences before they take out their wallets.

Getting people to your website is just the first obstacle. Next, you need to give them a reason to care about engaging with your brand- and not just because you have the best price or shipping offer. It’s about branding: delivering value on a meaningful emotional level, to make your website a destination worth bookmarking, and returning to, again and again. Your brand is your most significant competitive advantage. Make sure you’re well positioned with these 5 imperatives, and they will serve you well, long after the Holiday season has passed.

1. Play up your intrinsic brand value. Who are you, and how are you differentiating? Is it a philosophy? An aesthetic? Your policies? Your expertise? If you don’t have the answer, your customers are not likely to find it, either. Spend the time to figure out what it is, and develop content, messaging and events to support it.  It can be advice that differentiates you as the expert. It can be your opinion, that positions you as the authority. It can be the aesthetic, with visuals, copy and design that create compelling emotional connection. Consumers need a compelling reason to shop with you. What is yours?

2. Embody the brand, in all that you do. Create a voice and visual language for your brand, and be consistent. Whether it’s a product launch, a sale event, an editorial message, or a customer service email, it should convey a tone and quality that is uniquely you. Shopping is emotional. Any single incongruous communication can create a disconnect that gives your customer pause. Consistency makes your brand believable, dependable, and uniquely appealing.  You can continue to react to external factors like the economy, in a way that is motivating, yet uniquely you.

3. Be consistent at every touchpoint. Brand equity is about trust. Without consistency, customers begin to lose faith in you. Without trust, you will lose customer loyalty. Without loyalty…you risk losing repeat customers and brand evangelists who could bring in new traffic. It takes time to gain your customer’s trust in you as a brand, but a single bad experience can jeopardize it. Brand consistency takes vigilance- and training throughout the organization. Your leaders need to know it, nurture it, and police it. Everyone needs to live the brand, in every role, at every level. Start by looking inward: Shop your own site, stores, and print materials often. Call customer service for help with a size or product question. Look for customer service and read the FAQ’s on the website. Make an actual return. Ask yourself: is this a good brand experience?

4. Listen to your customers. They may not always accurately predict their future behavior, but they can tell you how they feel. And how they feel is an important measure of how your brand is doing. Let’s face it: your brand is what your customers think it is.  Make sure it’s who you want to be.

5. Make it great. Be the best at what you do, and move it forward. What’s great today, is status-quo tomorrow. So push for what’s the next big, great thing you’ll center your efforts around. Solve a problem your shoppers didn’t know they had. Make it ever-easier to shop. Whether it’s a tool, a value proposition- or an event, make sure that you’re keeping it fresh. It’ll give you something to promote that isn’t about price, and creates a reason for customers to keep coming back. And that’s a win-win for everyone.

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