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The Whys

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It’s a difficult time around the Logue household.  Our son has come down with a massive case of the whys.

Why can’t we go to the playground?  Because it’s too late.

Why is it too late?  Because we have to go to bed soon.

Why do we have to go to bed soon?  Because tomorrow is a school day.

Why is tomorrow a school day?  Because today is Thursday and tomorrow is Friday.

Why is today Thursday?  Because yesterday was Wednesday.

You get the picture.  He’ll keep going until we put a stop to it. 

FAQ button

Recently, during one such interrogation, it occurred to me: this is why people hate researchers. 

Of course, our son gets a lot more patience and responsiveness from us than the typical interviewer enjoys.  Or said another way, he gets more leeway to abuse his respondents.

Because really, that’s what it is: abuse.  And being on the receiving end of it – not just from my son – is a helpful reminder of what we sometimes put respondents through.

  • One of my alma maters sent out a survey a few months ago, and the invitation assured me that the “brief survey” would only take around 15 minutes to complete. 
  • I opened an alarmingly thick envelope last month that contained a survey for car owners.  It was 9 pages long, using 10-point font and leaving no white space on the page.  I’m guessing it would take an hour to complete for anyone with the patience to answer the ridiculous questions inside.
  • Several times I’ve started taking travel surveys, only to give up when I’m asked to recall the number of business and leisure stays at each of two dozen hotel brands over the past year, or how my overall travel spend is distributed across airlines, etc., etc. 

Fortunately, there’s less of this now than there used to be.  That’s mainly because fewer people are willing to put up with these kinds of interrogations, and the ones that will participate are less and less representative of the population as a whole (removing the incentive to interview them).

So is there ever a time when it’s okay to put a respondent through the wringer?  Actually, there are a couple:

  1. When someone is being adequately compensated for his or her time.  I remember 15 years ago, when I was relatively new in the field, we did a mail survey and included a dollar with every outbound survey.  The idea was to build goodwill and hope enough people felt obligated to respond.  In one of the returned envelopes, instead of a completed survey, we found the dollar bill and a note that read: “my opinions are worth more than this.”  Fifteen years ago that was an outlandish statement… now it’s not.  Real opinions cost real money.
  2. When the respondent has a vested interest in the success of the project.  We recently conducted an internal culture survey for a professional services firm with around 100 employees across four offices.  It was a grueling online survey, 30-45 minutes, and required a lot of thought to fill out accurately.  We ended up getting 100% participation – every last employee!  Of course, the client did a good job pushing the survey internally, but the level and quality of feedback we received went beyond basic participation.  It showed us that the employees really wanted this process to succeed (quite a statement on their corporate culture).  They were happy to have a voice and an outlet to share their thoughts and suggestions, and several even wrote in comments thanking their employer for conducting the survey.  In cases like this, when respondents can see how the survey makes their lives better, they’ll give you more time, more consideration, more leeway. 

But if you’re not facing one of those two situations, you’re on the losing end of a long struggle, one in which the balance of power has already shifted to the respondent. 

As an industry, we generally realize this.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be investing so much brainpower in improving the survey-taking experience with more interactivity, gaming, feedback, and other features.  Some of it is hokey, some of it seems questionable from a data integrity perspective, but overall we seem to be headed in the right direction.  And that’s good to see.

In the meantime, I extend this invitation to the authors of those long, convoluted surveys, and to anyone else who needs to be reminded why it’s so important to stop abusing respondents:

Come on over.  My son has some questions he’d like to ask you.

Written by Tom Logue

September 18th, 2013 at 6:59 am

Posted in CPG,Research,Travel

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

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I always relish Super Bowl Sunday.  Good food, good company, sometimes even a good football game.  And of course, the ads.  It’s the one day each year when the majority of the country actually pays attention to what marketers are trying to say to us.  We talk about the ads, the messages, the execution, the target markets…

Of course, for most people that’s a one-day affair, and starting Monday the commercial resumes its role as designated potty break.  But not for me. 

Part of my job is helping my clients get a handle on how their customers react, both emotionally and behaviorally, to marketing messages.  So understandably, I spend a lot of time paying attention to advertising campaigns, and also the bigger-picture marketing strategies behind those campaigns.  That means I notice a lot of really good stuff, including campaigns that don’t get the attention they deserve because they don’t happen in early February. 

I also see some real head-scratchers.  And if there’s a better teacher than success, it’s failure.  So here are five lessons from marketing efforts (packaging, print ads, web content, and more) that, at some point between strategy and execution, came up a yard short.


Lesson #1: Don’t train your customers to sit on their wallets.

Here’s what happens.  You want your customers to buy.  So you create a promotion to encourage purchases and put a deadline on it to get them moving.  But then you notice that once your promotion ends, sales slow down.  So you add another promotion.  Eventually you end up filling your customers’ inboxes with offers like this…

On February 1, Amazing Clubs sends me an offer:

On February 3, they send me a reminder that the offer expires in 2 days:

On February 5, the offer expires.  Am I worried?  Nope.   Because I’m pretty confident that if I open my email on February 6, I’ll get an even better offer.  And sure enough:

So all they’ve done is shown me that the best deal is just around the bend, and I should hold off as long as possible before buying.  Probably not what they intended.


Lesson #2: Don’t raise expectations you won’t meet.

I like Domino’s.  Good pizza, good variety, decent prices.  Their “we sucked and then we fixed it and now we’re good” campaign has been great.  But despite their best intentions, they may have overstepped with their artisan pizzas.  Not because of the pizzas (which are delicious) but because of the packaging. 

The box reads in part:

“…every single Domino’s Artisan Pizza we make comes signed by the person responsible for it. A signature that lets you know it’s time to expect more from your local Domino’s.”

So what does it tell me when the boxes I get are never signed? 


Lesson #3: Don’t solve problems that people don’t have.

I’ve seen this one for FedEx Office a few times in our local paper. 


It might make sense to some people, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I would drive from print shop to print shop to get bids.  Even with complex projects, I think there are other technologies (phone, fax, email, carrier pigeon) that would do the trick. 

But let’s say I do have to drive somewhere to get a bid.  Once I have that bid, why drive to FedEx Office just so they will match it (which is what the small print offer tells me)?  Why not just get the job done where I got the original bid?  The ad isn’t suggesting that FedEx Office is cheaper, just that they’ll honor the bid I already drove across town to get.


Lesson #4: Do what you say you do.

I was browsing Target’s outdoor section a few weeks ago when this caught my eye:

It’s a “Watertight Container.”  Says so right at the top.  Other copy points include:

  • Great for outdoor activities
  • Watertight case keeps your most important items safe and dry
  • Not to be submerged

Just a tip: If one of your product “features” contradicts your product’s name… something’s wrong.


Lesson #5: Don’t make your problems their problems.

Our final lesson comes courtesy of Spirit Airlines.  Upset over the recent government ruling that airlines have to show the full price of a ticket up front (including all taxes and fees), Spirit decided to greet its web visitors with this window covering the usual home page:


Spirit tells its customers that fares are now “distorted,” informs us that we “shouldn’t stand for it,” and links to a website that Spirit so thoughtfully set up to communicate our outrage to Congress.  It’s a bit over the top, considering the only people truly outraged are the marketing folks at Spirit who have to show higher fares now in their ads. 

Or, if you’d rather buy a plane ticket than join a movement, you can click the tiny “No thanks”  text at the bottom of this corporate tantrum to get to the Spirit website and buy your ticket.  


So there you have it.  Five marketing mishaps, five good reminders for all of us, from companies that normally do a solid  job when it comes to marketing.  Remember, even the best of us make mistakes.  It’s not the mistake that matters, it’s whether you learn from it.

Written by Tom Logue

February 8th, 2012 at 7:39 am

The Heart of Snarkness

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It’s always fun to watch movies from the pre-9/11 era that have an airport scene.  Talk about simpler times… a couple airport cops and a metal detector set so low you could walk through wearing medieval armor.

Nowadays, we’ve got the good old TSA to deal with.  Personally, I think the agents get a bum rap a lot of the time.  I like to give them the benefit of the doubt and imagine they’re just as unhappy about enforcing stupid rules as we travelers are about following stupid rules.  Of course, there’s always a few bad apples in every bunch, and yesterday I found one.  She was finding it difficult to stifle her disgust for the cattle she was herding through the checkpoint, and this gem slipped out:

“People!  Stay with your items until YOU push them into the machine.  YOU have to push them in.  The belt doesn’t go automatically like at Kroger.  It’s called manual labor, folks!”

Wow.  Thanks for that. 

Pretty impressive sarcasm, especially coming from an agency that claims to provide “world-class customer service.”  Not that TSA really cares about customer service.  Sure, they have to pay lip service to the idea, but as long as they have a monopoly on airport security, they can do pretty much whatever they want. 

Still, as I reflected on that experience, it got me thinking about the rest of us (who do want our customers to like us):  is it ever okay to be insulting when you communicate?  When are sarcasm, snark, or even outright rudeness appropriate?

It seems obvious that a company shouldn’t insult its own customers.  Very few companies have the right mix of brand, communications, and customer base to pull it off… although the stars do align occasionally.  Take Woot, one of many deal-a-day sites on the Internet.  They’re equal opportunity snarkists, splitting their time between making fun of the products they’re selling, making fun of themselves for selling the products, and making fun of their customers for buying the products.  When you call your “grab bag” special a Bag of Crap, and your customers crash your servers trying to buy them whenever they’re offered, you know you’ve got a match made in marketing heaven.

Clearly, though, Woot is the exception.  For the typical brand, insulting customers (even in fun) is too risky. 

What surprises me, though, is how readily companies insult their prospects.  Like…

  • Samsung’s new ad for its Galaxy S II phone.  It’s a direct bashing of iPhone users, who would seem to be a good target group for conversion. 
  • Apple’s “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads.  Sure, they were funny, but as a PC guy myself, having a smug hipster point out my nerdiness doesn’t make me want to buy a Mac.  And if Apple doesn’t sell Macs to PC users, where’s the growth coming from?
  • Miller Lite’s “Man Up” campaign.  Because if you’re drinking any other light beer, you might as well be wearing a skirt.  Boy, I sure am thirsty after having my masculinity questioned!

In general, if you want someone to buy from you, it’s not a good idea to insult them.  So when does snark work?  When you’re not insulting them.  When you’re insulting yourself.  Like Ally Bank’s smackdown of banking.  Or Domino’s Pizza and their “we sucked, then we got better” campaign.

Want your customers to feel good about themselves?  Want them to feel good about you?  Then ditch the snark and stick to something genuine.

On the other hand, if you don’t really care about your customers… I know just the place for you!

Written by Tom Logue

December 8th, 2011 at 2:16 am

Das Bootleg

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Microsoft, take a number.  When it comes to Chinese counterfeiters, someone’s got a bigger beef than you do.

Bootleg DVDs are one thing... but a whole city?! C'mon, China!

Apparently the tiny Austrian hamlet of Hallstatt (a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its charm) has been under a microscope for some time.  Chinese architects posing as tourists have been surreptitiously taking pictures and measurements of the town and all its buildings for years, and are now creating their own carbon copy in Huizhou.

Wow.  I mean, wow.  Once again, China has shown up Disney… eat your heart out, Epcot.

Most likely, Hallstatt 2.0 will have a few inconsistencies.  Like topography.  And who knows what will be in the Schnitzel.  But heck, maybe it will be a passable imitation.

Of course, brands have been dealing with this for years.  It’s called private label.  And it used to come with a pretty big quality gap.  But these days, some store brands rival their name brand competitors, so the big guys have been challenged like never before to prove their relevance.  And they aren’t the only ones.

Whatever you do – from website design to LASIK surgery to granola bars – there’s going to be someone who can come along and do it cheaper.  The bigger the price gap, the stronger your brand needs to be to overcome it.

Where to begin?  Research, research, research.  Shopper research to help you find out what drives purchase decisions in your category.  Brand equity research to help you figure out what your unique value proposition is.  And marketing research to test how well you are communicating your value proposition to your target audience.

Let’s say you have a budget for all that.  Great!  Click here.

But let’s say you’ve checked under the sofa and come up with about $3.50 in loose change.  Go buy yourself a cup of coffee, then sit down with a pencil and paper and answer these questions:

  1. What do I do?  What is my core business?
  2. What part of this is easy to replicate? 
  3. How do I bring uniqueness to what I’m doing?
  4. How can I stop talking about #2 and start talking about #3?

Hallstatt’s not too worried about its knockoff.  You probably don’t have that luxury.

Are you ready to take on the copycats?

Written by Tom Logue

June 20th, 2011 at 7:38 am

Don’t Make Me Think

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“How many people here remember when you used to know phone numbers?  We’ve outsourced our memory functions to our phones!”

Brain 2.0?

That was futurist Elliott Masie delivering a keynote speech at a recent conference I attended.  And he got me thinking…  we “outsource” a lot of things these days.

It’s true, we now rely on our phones to remember phone numbers.  And we rely on a GPS to tell us where to go, and Outlook to tell us when to get there, and Salesforce to tell us who to meet with.  Maybe that makes us smarter because we can use our brains more productively on bigger problems.  Maybe it makes us dumber because we stop thinking and start doing what a computer tells us to do.  Who knows.

But it’s the world we live in, and the world our customers live in.  With that in mind, there’s one other important thing customers outsource: their purchase decisions. 

What do they rely on?  Brands.

Why?  Because life is overwhelming.  Too many choices, and way too many factors behind those choices. 

Want to buy some chicken noodle soup?  Regular or low sodium?  Big chunks or little chunks?  Wide noodles or skinny noodles?  Lots of veggies or not?  Multiply that one decision by the 50 items in your cart and your trip to the grocery store becomes a living hell.  So instead, you figure out a product you like and remember the brand.  The next time you go shopping, you look for the label, grab the can, and go.  No thinking necessary, thankyouverymuch.

That’s what a brand does.  A brand is how your customers make an automatic choice rather than a considered decision

How hard do your customers have to think before they buy from you?

Written by Tom Logue

June 7th, 2011 at 7:55 am

So, What Do You Do?

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In early 2010, I received an invitation to a Social Fresh conference in Nashville.  Curious, I scrolled through the list of speakers, digesting titles like:

  • Social Media Swami
  • WOM Inspiration Officer
  • Director of Zen Chaos

You can bet that a great deal of care went into crafting the titles above, for better or worse.   Choosing the right words can help set a tone: whether you are a Social Media Strategist or a Social Media Swami says a lot about you and the company you work for.

Which goes to show you that sometimes it’s not what you do, or how you do it, but how you talk about it that really matters.   

My kind of health food.

Which is why I want to salute Frito-Lay for their ingenious tagline.  No, I’m not talking about “betcha can’t eat just one”, that tribute to American obesity.  I mean this one, as found on a bag of Lay’s I saw last week:

We grow the best snacks on earth.

Now, that’s not what Lay’s really does.  What Lay’s really does is cut potatoes very thinly, deep fry them in oil, put salt on them, and sell them to people.  But we all know that, so we cut Lay’s a break and give them creative license.

What Lay’s has done with this statement is remarkable.  Let’s take it in three parts:

We Grow:

  • Not “we buy” or “we use”, but “we grow.”  In other words, Lay’s is the farmer and the farmer is Lay’s.  You can’t hate a farmer, can you?  That’s Un-American! 
  • What’s more natural than growing something?  It’s the quintessential natural thing to do.  Here, have a tomato, I grew it in my own backyard.

The Best Snacks:

  • Ambiguous enough to defy attempts to quantify it, hyperbolic enough to attract attention.
  • Let’s define the category: snacks.  They’re not trying to claim they are better than fresh produce.  And yet, what is a snack?  What isn’t a snack?  A snack is small enough to be harmless (it’s not a meal, for crying out loud) and is supposed to be enjoyable, an indulgence.

On Earth:

  • Go where you want, you won’t find a better snack.  In fact, don’t even bother trying.  Just give up and buy another bag of Lay’s.
  • Not “on the planet” or “in the world.” On earth. Very natural.

We Grow The Best Snacks On Earth.  Seven carefully thought out words that, together, make you feel pretty darn good about eating thinly sliced, deep fried, salted potatoes.

The last time someone asked you what you do, was your answer anywhere near as good?


Written by Tom Logue

April 21st, 2011 at 8:05 am

Posted in Branding,CPG,General