Is it the copywriting? The coupon? Or the beginnings of a neighborhood?

May 30, 2011

The headline and lead in the Sunday NYT business section naturally caught my eye. 

Funny or Die: Groupon’s Fate Hinges on Words

The e-mail marketer hopes that its staff of 400 writers and editors will keep it one step ahead of its discounting competitors on the Web.

I’d love it if catchy copywriting could carry the day for coupon web sites.  But I don’t believe it will work, and I don’t honestly believe it is the core of Groupon’s competitive differentiation strategy. 

With sales promotions, it’s all about the offer, and being clear about the offer.  Clever copywriting may have helped Groupon create the category, but it won’t be enough to keep them on top.

Compare Groupon’s headline today

71% off Seattle Drum School

With Social Living’s (the competitor from Amazon)

Chef Shop , 2.5 Hour Cooking Class, $33

Both headlines are basic, and Social Living’s offer is actually clearer.  Whether I even bother to click depends partly on my interest in drums vs. cooking, and partly how much time I have to screw around that today.

Groupon’s email teaser copy is a little more clever, but I don’t even know what the specific offer is until the second sentence.

Playing a musical instrument is a skill that will serve you throughout your entire life, like safe cracking, horse whispering, and puppy juggling. Add to your resume with today’s Groupon: for $40, you get four 30-minute private music lessons on…

Social Living’s attempt at clever is awkward but it gets the point across.

Hey, good lookin’. Whatcha got cookin’? How’s about cookin’ a little somethin’ up with us when you get this brand-new recipe for great savings out of the frying pan and into the oven? Heat things up with a 2.5-hour cooking class from ChefShop and you’ll be dazzling your dinner guests…

The NYT article hints that Groupon knows it needs a more robust idea going forward, and this idea is intriguing

The hope … is that its users will eventually perceive it as an impartial guide to a city or a neighborhood, somewhat in the manner of the local paper’s weekend section.


Back in the saddle

June 6, 2008

The news was announced today that I’ve joined Naverus as Chief Marketing Officer.  Naverus designs and deploys high-precision, highly efficient flight paths for airlines.  It’s a little hard to explain the business to those not in the airline industry (I’m working on that) but suffice it to say that Naverus saves airlines fuel on every flight.  With oil hitting almost $139 per barrel today, that’s an exciting place to be.


This blog has been quiet for awhile, but I plan to re-activate it as I begin the journey at Naverus.

Why marketing agencies need clients (besides the obvious)

February 1, 2008

As a group, ad agencies and design firms have among the worst web sites of any category of company.  I realize that’s a gross generalization but it is true much more often than not.  I know because I visit a lot of agency web sites in search of resources for my clients.   

The most egregious missed opportunity:  The number one thing a prospective client wants to see at an agency’s web site is examples of their work.  Yet, way too often the portfolio is unorganized and hard to view.  Check out Publicis’ web site to see just one example — what I think of as the “filmstrip approach.” You have to scroll sequentially through the myriad panels of individual images, most of which do not make sense out of context.   Yes, you can click on any frame to see more but the individual images don’t tell you enough to even know who the client is most of the time.   

The problem, I’ve concluded, is that when agencies develop their own web sites there is one essential piece of the equation that’s missing – the client.  The client is the one who insists that the creative work serve a purpose, the one who measures each creative concept against an articulated strategy.  What I too often see in these sites is creativity run amok, cleverness for its own sake that makes me think less of the agency instead of more, even from agencies that otherwise do great work.   

I used to use a creative firm’s web site as a litmus test for the quality of their work, but I’ve abandoned that notion because I’ve found there isn’t a strong correlation.  And I’ve resisted the temptation to link to many of these sites for the exact reason that I do work or will work with lots of these folks.  What I do, is point out to my clients that they play as critical a role in creative work as their agencies do.  To get great work, you need both.

Throwing the baby out with the bath water

January 28, 2008

From today’s NYT:  In reply to a blogger’s complaint about a current Target ad, Target sent an email to the blogger that said “Unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with nontraditional media outlets.”  (emphasis mine). 

Wow!  The notion that any company has the chutzpah to completely disregard a major communications channel takes my breath away.  I’m not commenting on how seriously they should take, the founder of which sent the complaint — I don’t anything about that particular blog, though I’d guess they’ve had record traffic today.   

I do know that “conversational marketing” is the most fundamental shift in marketing that’s happened during my career.  To eliminate all blogs – one of the major manifestations of conversational marketing — from consideration, with the arrogant-sounding, broad-brush, across-the-board statement that Target used makes me wonder what they’re doing over there in the marketing department.  (Jeez guys, at least don’t say it that way, even if that’s what you’re doing.)

Figuring out how to “participate” with the blogosphere is hard.  It requires resources and it’s messy because there’s no control on the number or quality of bloggers.  It requires a willingness to slog through a lot of meaningless drivel to make sure you don’t miss the important stuff and to engage on some issues that normally wouldn’t get your attention. 

Wikia and Big Think: Contrasts in user-generated content concepts

January 7, 2008

The New York Times today featured articles on two nascent web sites: Wikia Search and Big Think.

There’s an intrinsic marketing problem in launching any site built around user-generated content:  The site is useful only once there’s lots of user-generated content, which is really hard to get until you have lots of users, which you achieve by getting lots of press coverage for your new site.  But of course, the PR drives people to a bare bones site that doesn’t showcase the site’s vision very well.  The more interesting question is whether the core concept will be compelling once the site is well populated.  In this case, I think there’s one potential winner and one site that’s missing the mark.

First a little background:

Wikia Search (by Wikia, the for-profit sister organization of Wikipedia) launched the alpha of its search engine today. The idea behind Wikia is laudable – it will rely on the user community to fine-tune search results by allowing users to rate search results for quality and relevance.  To his credit, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales admits that people using the search engine “should understand that they are part of the early stages of a project to build a ‘Google-quality search engine.’” Read the article. 

The Times also featured a large article on Big Think – a kind of YouTube for intellectual ideas.  It features video interviews with public intellectuals from a variety of fields, broken down into short snippets on various topics.  Users can post comments, creating an online debate, and also post their own original ideas. 

Of the two sites, Wikia Search has much less value as of today – the search results are laughable and the features to allow users to refine the content aren’t really there.  Yet I can easily see its potential. 

Big Think worked diligently to pre-populate its site with interviews of intellectuals and celebrities ranging from John McCain to Calvin Trillin, to Alan Dershowitz.  But I have a much harder time ever seeing it succeed as founder Peter Hopkins envisioned it:  “a web site that could do for intellectuals what YouTube did for bulldogs on skateboards.”  The sad truth that is that most people are pretty darn dull when they’re giving a monologue to a camera.  The short snippets are banal and the longer pieces are downright tedious.  (No, I didn’t check out every single example — but enough)  The big opportunity is to figure out how to empower the user community’s version of Charlie Rose or James Lipton to truly engage with Alan Dershowitz or you or me.  Till then, Big Think will have a bigger problem than just chicken and egg.

Free Rice

November 9, 2007

I came across the site Free Rice today, courtesy of Seth Godin’s blog.   It is an ultra-simple, fast-paced vocabulary quiz.  The twist is that for every correct answer you give, the advertisers donate 10 grains of rice on your behalf to the United Nations World Food Program. You don’t even have to register. If you like words at all, you will love this site. 

We’re seeing an extraordinary escalation right now of philanthropic programs of every size and variety (read Bill Clinton’s book Giving for hundreds of anecdotes).  Free Rice is a new and welcome twist that builds giving into everyday fun.  I love its cleverness and I hope it will become a Facebook app.

Friending a company on Facebook

November 7, 2007

Like a zillion other people this morning, I’m poking around on Facebook to check out the new Facebook Ads.  As one part of the strategy, Facebook is now allowing companies to build pages on Facebook to connect with their audiences.  i.e. just like I have a Dottie Hall page, now Microsoft, Apple, Coca-Cola or other companies can have their own pages.

The idea is very powerful.  Companies that find very fun ways to engage with their customers, in a Facebook-appropriate, not too commercial way, will find it a valuable tool for building communities.  But it definitely has a long way to go. 

The press release says that 100,000 Facebook pages launched on November 6.  I’d love to see a list of all of them.  Thus far, the only way I can find a “page” is to search on the company name, then know to go to the Pages tab (the other tabs are People, Groups and Events).  I checked out the pages for Coca-Cola, Verizon, Microsoft and Apple (which has 6 pages).  At this point, all of the efforts are extremely modest, as though these were thrown together very quickly. The press release says Coke will be featuring the Sprite brand, along with a Sprite Sips application, but I don’t see any sign of it yet.  I’ve added Coca-cola and Microsoft to “my products” – essentially “friending” them I guess.  We’ll see what happens next.

As a side note, “pages” is the odd name for the new category of Facebook page for these company or product pages.  The whole organizing concept of Facebook is the page (e.g. People create their own Facebook pages), so it is discordant to call these corporate profiles “Pages” – a non-parallel construction.  I’m sure someone thought “company” or “product ”or “business” was too limiting, but they were wrong.