Tag Archives: marketing

Opening The Worm Can

You know what’s really weird?  There’s a shitload of people in the world and yet, every business fights tooth and nail and scrambles over each other to get you as a customer.  You’d think there would be enough for everyone, but when you slow down and consider it, there really is never enough money for some.

So, here we go.  I’m opening myself up to attack.  I’m going to purchase a new car.  You can visualize a million people leaping to their feet with offers and pleas and vague promises.  Hold on, guys.  I know exactly which car I want already.  Now there’s about 2/3 of the people standing, even more excited that they made the first cut.  And as I work further in the process, the number of potential winners decreases and their manic attitude intensifies.

Some of the people clamoring for attention right from the start have never sat down at all.  Those people are the money people.  Buying a new car in cash is a rare occurrence, for those with excellent foresight and planning.  The majority of people are going to finance a car at varying levels of, shall we say, danger.  The more dangerous the loan, the more money for those that get and keep your attention.  So, the money people are relentless right from the start.

I’m currently at the point that I have a car chosen and secured and now it’s time to begin the finance dance.  I consider myself in pretty good shape financially, on many fronts.  I have a top-tier credit score and I keep all my credit reports frozen.  But now I have to unfreeze my accounts – let down the drawbridge – in order to get approval for this new loan.

When I froze my accounts, I had to pay to do so.  Now all of that is free.  So unfreezing the accounts was surprisingly easy and quick.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been if I wasn’t such a stickler on data and didn’t have my unfreeze PINs immediately handy.  Or maybe if I moved around a lot and had different verification data points.  But in the end, I have my accounts unfrozen for a few days now.  Come at me, bro.

Since this is like a solar eclipse-type of moment for me, I decided to take advantage of it.  I went to Credit Karma and checked out what sort of auto loans I could be eligible for.  I was pitched Capital One and Bank Of America – both of which I already had credit cards with.  The broker that was assisting me with the car purchase said the best I could get a loan for was 3.5%.  Credit Karma told me BoA could get me a loan for 3.29%.  Ok, let’s try it.  So I went to Bank of America’s site (affiliate linked from Credit Karma, so they get a spiff) and filled out the application.  It was pretty easy since they pulled a lot of my info from my existing account.  And sure enough, I was now pre-approved for a loan at 3.29%.

Well, that was easy.  Addictingly easy.  I tried the Capital One offer from Credit Karma and was highly disappointed.  CapOne said, yeah, sure, you’re approved for a loan up to $60k (WTF!), but there was no mention of rate or term.  That’s absolutely useless to me.

While still in eclipse mode, I made the poor decision to try out LendingTree.  You’d figure that a company with so much name recognition would be fully on the up-and-up.  Well, no.  I did their “quick and easy” application, which asked enough questions to be a full credit application.  And let me tell you.  It was BULLSHIT that they structured the questions in a way that made it look like it would be a non-intrusive questionnaire, but as it went on, it got more and more personal and you’re like, “I’ve already gone this far, this should be the last question.  It can’t get more invasive that this.”  But, you see it to the end and you’ve essentially given them everything to fill in a complete credit app.

So LendingTree then sends that information to their partners and gives you results.  I got something like three offers with rates of 5-7%, which was infuriating and insulting.  Then, below the firm offers, were a few that said, “we need more information – click to complete the application”  And being pissed about the shitty offers I initially got, I wanted to see if this shittiness was universal.  So I clicked one named Autobytel.

To be honest, I don’t remember the results of that, and since I don’t remember, it couldn’t have been anything worthy of mention.  But here’s what is worth mentioning.  I’m now in spam hell.  I’m getting emails and texts from lenders and dealers.  They still think I’m car shopping, so they all have people ready to help me find my next car.  All of you – fuck off!  If there is a positive to any of this, at least all of the places LendingTree sold me out to all use the same unique email address I provided in my application, so I can shut them all down at my mail server in one go.  The text messages and (probably soon coming) phone calls, I will just have to block as they come in.

So now, what did that whole exercise get me?  Well, on the plus side, I do have a competitive loan rate that I can use to bargain with the dealership.  On the negative side, I have a bunch of new email and phone buddies I’m not thrilled about.  And a little later, I can see what kind of change to my credit score all this experimentation caused.  I am curious about that because supposedly multiple inquiries of a certain type (auto loan in this case) shouldn’t have the same effect as if they were multiple inquiries of multiple types.

The Mission

What are your thoughts when you read a company’s mission statement?  On first blush, it usually reads like bullshit.  It’s usually a bunch of feel-good words with a touch of fake humility and naïve optimism.  Mission statements are an easy target for people who want to attack a company for not fulfilling any promise they may or may not have explicitly made.

Who is the mission statement made for?  Cynics would say it’s for the owners and executives to make them feel like they’re changing the world.  Less cynical people would say it’s for the employees of the company to be inspired and motivated to do their best for the company – working for a higher good.  And then some people think it’s part of the company’s marketing strategy.

I was following a box truck for a company that had that particular viewpoint.  On the back of the truck, covering the entirety of the door, it read.

Our mission is to fulfill the specific needs of each customer by offering quality product, exceptional customer service and exemplifying Jesus Christ in every facet of business and life.

I have many issues with this.  First, I don’t believe a mission statement is a marketing statement.  Can you tell what business they are in?  No?  So, there’s your marketing success.  Then, the statement is so generic, it wouldn’t even inspire an employee or even an owner.  Every company wants to offer the best product and service, right?  Then, there’s the obvious.  You are putting your religious beliefs in your company’s mission statement.  Since there is nothing else differentiating your mission statement from any other company, and you are choosing to use your mission statement as marketing, your business proposition boils down to, “Do business with us because we are Christian.”  That’s about as compelling as saying, “Do business with us because we’re white.”  Oh wait a minute, that doesn’t make my point at all.

My primary point is that this is a dumb use of advertising space on your company vehicle, unless you feel the need to remind your employees of what they are working for every time they close the truck door.  What is their goal?  Be like Jesus.  No pressure, guys, just try to be the son of God while you’re on the clock.  And off the clock, too.  You did notice that little bit in our mission statement, didn’t you?

UberBastards

I just got a piece of spam mail, to my Uber email address.  I don’t recall saying I was ok with that.

The email is sketchy as fuck.  A company name of “Opinion Research”?  None of the proper CAN-SPAM hallmarks like indicating what email address this was sent to, or why it was sent.  Only because I use unique addresses for every account, do I know this came from my Uber signup.

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The survey is run by Qualtrics, which doesn’t mean much, since they’re just a survey platform, like SurveyMonkey.  This company has their own subdomain, opinionresearch.co1.qualtrics.com, so they’re at least somewhat legit (as legit as it looks so far).

As you see in the email screenshot, I did click to unsubscribe, which I thought would bring me to a page asking if I was sure.  It didn’t, it just took me off that list.  and it gave me another link to unsubscribe from all lists.  ALL lists?  How many have I been put on?

It’s really not a big deal.  If I see that my Uber address suddenly gets spammed, I’ll shut it off and create a new one.  But really, the point is, Uber has sold me out.  Those mother fuckers.

Then, I clicked on the privacy policy.  In bold type, in very simple to understand language:

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No fucking thank you.  Recall what the original email said, “…will not be used to sell you anything.”  However, they will tailor the ads you see to the information you have given to them, then will ask you why they were or were not effective, so they can try harder next time.  What is this world coming to?

As a recent implementer of Pi-Hole (maybe a future post on that), this wouldn’t have worked at all for me anyway because my entire network is actively ad-blocked.  Suck my dick, Opinion Research!

Marketing 101

There is an idiom from the the 1800’s: “hang out one’s shingle” which means to put out a sign saying you’re open for business.  I suppose that was a sufficient way of doing things when the world was small and everyone you knew was right around you.  Plus, there was much less competition back then, too.  You had your town doctor, lawyer, barber, woodworker, etc.

That is not the world anymore.  Now there is much more competition and you must stand out from the others that would take your business.  You should always put your best foot forward (another idiom) to represent your business.

So why, why, why, do people make hard-drawn signs for their business?  Specifically, I am referring to a sign I saw over the weekend that gave me the chills.

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That’s not the only time I’ve seen something like that, but it’s the worst example of its kind.  Now, aside from the spray paint stencil lettering that looks nothing like blood splatter, there’s the important information, like contact info.  It’s written in tiny letters cramped along the bottom.  How are you supposed to read that from your car?

Then there is the issue of legitimacy.  If you can’t see it, the sign says they are “License”, complete with quotation marks.  I don’t know if it’s worse that they don’t know that the correct term is “licensed” (which, btw, I followed a truck this morning that said “License and Insured”) or that they don’t know that putting things in quotes makes those things questionable.  In either case, I don’t think I would trust their intelligence to supervise children.

But let’s recap the idea of hanging out your shingle.  I’ve been involved in some business ventures.  It’s not easy; I’m not cut out for it.  But, I think if you’re going to go into business, you have an obligation to everyone to be professional.  You know, that sign on the side of the road doesn’t only represent you, it represents all of your customers as well.

Let’s say you personally don’t have an issue sending your kid to a place whose signage suggests it is a house of horror.  And if someone asks you for a recommendation, you say they have the sign out by the stop light down the road.  That person’s impression of blood-sign marketing may be disgust, which then alters their opinion of you.  As they say, you will be known by the company you keep.  Always align yourself with reputable associations.

If you’re going to go into business, do it right, or please don’t do it at all.

Junk

A quick recap of my life in my house.  I bought the house with my then-fiancee in 2005.  We got married, then divorced in 2010.  I took full ownership of the house in 2016, and that was the end of that.  But you know what refuses to end?  My ex’s mail.

Mail is a pretty well-protected delivery medium, in theory.  In practice, it’s hardly protected at all, with theft and whatnot.  But anyway, you’re technically not allowed to do anything with another person’s mail.  And for a very long time, I was living alone in my house, with all my ex’s mail still being delivered.  I filled up five large garbage bags of her mail for her to collect when she would return.  As you would expect, nothing came of that.

And even after the house became mine, she never filled out a change of address form, so I continued to get her mail.  Technically, I can’t throw it away.  Technically, I can’t contact the sender and tell them to stop sending to this address.  Technically, I can’t fill out a change of address form on her behalf.  There’s really only one allowed course of action: Return To Sender.

So back in April, I finally took action and purchased a rubber stamp:

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And I have dutifully been stamping every piece of her mail and putting it back in the mailbox to be sent back.  A couple of days after I started this, I got some pieces of that mail back (with my stamp on them!) and I learned this can happen because the automated postal systems read the barcode below the address for delivery.  So I started blacking out the barcode with a sharpie.  And since then, the mail has been tapering off.

The mail coming in could be classified as three levels of importance.  The top level would include bank statements and government correspondence, like the State Department of Revenue (you have no idea).  These mailings stopped after the very first return to sender stamp, as you would expect them to.  The next level would be things like bill collectors (you have no idea).  These did stop after being returned, but it’s also a game of whack-a-mole because there’s always some new collections company buying up old debts.  So, I may be living with these for some time.  The lowest level is presorted junk mail.  These have been sent back countless times and it’s very difficult to get them to stop.  I hope they will at some point.  My guess is they just throw all the returned pieces into a bin and process the addresses whenever they have some free time.  And most larger companies have multiple independent lists, so each department has to get a returned piece and process it at their leisure.

I’m hoping to get to the point of zero mail for that addressee, but you know, there will always be the companies that sneak it in with “…or Current Resident”.  Maybe that’s what they mean with the “’til death do you part” stuff.  They’re referring to junk mail.  But even that’s not true.  I get mail addressed to her dead father, too!  “Not at this address”, indeed!

A Good Idea Made Better

Driving to work today, I saw a dumpster truck for the disposal/moving company, College Hunks Hauling Junk.  It made me wonder how that name came to be.  Maybe the original founders were considered hunks and were in college and decided to haul junk to make money.  It makes me wonder if the founders approached other college kids and offered them a job on the premise that they would get paid for essentially working out.  You get paid and you maintain your “hunk” status.  Sounds like a win-win.

Well times have changed, so I’m going to create the next iteration of this business model.  I call it: Middle-aged Shitheads Being Crossfit-heads.  And I already have the commercial planned out.  But the pitch to the potential employees is still the same.  They can get paid while doing their ridiculous exercises.

We open the commercial with old, large, grouchy moving men slowly moving pieces of furniture from a house to a truck.  “When you’re moving, you understand that time is a crucial factor.  Why be held up when your moving company moves like a glacier?”

Switch the scene to a few thin, ripped people (men and women!) in crazy-tight spandex dashing back and forth between the truck and house with household items.  The difference is, in the true crossfit standard, the items are just chucked into the back of the truck.  You see, the focus is on speed, not quality.

The subsequent scenes reinforce the absurdity of applying crossfit to moving.  Boxes and completely unpacked articles piled up in the back of the truck; someone pitching clothes from a pile like a dog burrowing in the ground; someone struggling with a heavy item and two or three others crowded around him shouting at him to “finish it” instead of helping out; a couch being flipped end over end through the house out to the truck; gratuitous celebrations after moving a box.  You get the point.  The commercial could get lengthy.

At the end of the commercial, there would be a teaser for a sister company, Shithead Servant Services, which specializes in personal household services, like handyman (cue scene of hanging a picture with truck tire and sledgehammer), gardening (scene of “battle-roping” with hoses – or fire hoses), and carrying groceries inside (Guys looking at grocery bags in truck. “It’s at least two sets of Gurpals!”  “AUUGH!  I HATE GURPALS!!” “Oh wait, these are going to be Durkels.”  “YEAAHH!  I LOVE DURKELS!!!” Guys then hauling in all bags at once, then obviously celebrating on completion.)

I’ll be rich.

The In Thing Is Crap

The place that I work at recently hired a new marketing person.  We didn’t have one before, but I guess we needed one now.  This feels a bit like my rant about the Mozilla Foundation hiring a marketing person who had to bring in enough new money to pay for himself and make the company more profitable.  But anyway, that’s not the point.

This new person has some fresh new ideas for how to market our company: videos.  You kind of have to understand the industry of our company is pretty tight.  Everyone knows who all the other players are here.  We’re not trying to break into new fields, certainly.  Yet somehow, we’re supposed to be gaining new clients.  That’s not really the point of this either.

To get more to the point, we had a day where a production team came to the offices and shot video of executives and some random videos of people pretending to work.  You know, it’s all staged, it’s not candid.  As part of the team’s visit, we were supposed to participate in a company-wide group photo.  It’s going to be so cool.  It’s going to be shot by a “drone”!!

So we’re bussed to our biggest company office and over about 20 minutes in the noontime heat (the worst time and the worst lighting to take a picture), a drone whizzed back and forth, forward and back, while we just stared at it, or talked to each other, or waved, or cheered, or whatever else the video team wanted.  It was a dull experience.  Not cool, not exciting.

It’s been about six weeks since that photoshoot and we’ve just been given a sneak peek of one of the pictures from the session.  I opened it with a lot of curiosity and immediately was underwhelmed.  There’s not a single crisp pixel in the photo.  And I’m not sure what I expected.  I mean, a drone video camera is probably 1080p (surely not 4k) which is uh, 2 megapixels?  And we know that the megapixel count is less meaningful than sensor size, so how big could a drone video camera’s sensor be?

Now a much less exciting photoshoot would have involved a rented cherry picker and a photographer shooting a quality DSLR on a tripod with a low-aperture, wide-angle lens.  That would give something a bit larger to work with.  The photo we got was 3840×2160.  Basically a 1080p video still doubled in size.  Also, the photographer could have taken a series of high-framerate shots and used software to do face swaps and prevent some of the worse headshots of some of the employees.

So, drones are big now, I get it.  It’s cool to have drone videos, sure, I agree.  Maybe having a video of one buzzing through the halls of the office could be neat, too.  But drones are not cameras.  They are not created for photo quality.  The plan to use a drone for such an important and expensive photo was poorly-conceived as best.  The result was crap, no matter how cool it was.

SpamBastard–1aauto.com

I had an application idea at one time and actually finished writing it, but ended up never doing anything with it once it was live.  It was spambastard.com and its purpose was to catch companies that would sell, lose, or otherwise mishandle your email address info.  The concept was simple.  You sign up for their site using their domain name @spambastard.com and if any email comes in with a mismatch between the FROM domain name and the TO domain name (as the username, before the @), the email address would be considered compromised.

That domain and application is long dead, but I’ve been able to replicate the same concept with my personal email domain.  That eliminates the hassle of creating a second account for every site I sign up for (one with my real email and one with a spambastard email).  To date, I’ve only had a few cases where I’ve had to take action.  Those cases are:

  • albumartexchange.com – There are many people including myself who posted on their forum and complained that they received PayPal phishing emails to their unique email address.  The website did not respond.
  • lakelandlelectric.com – That debacle was chronicled already.  The utility company did follow up with an explanation of how it happened and how the process was unfortunately legal.  They said they would push for tougher laws on keeping customer information private.  This prompted a follow-up email from the spammer who was incredulous that government would try to reduce transparency.  See, transparency is only good when it works in your favor.
  • paypal.com – This got compromised after only nine people knew of its existence.  Whether it was sold or stolen, I don’t know for sure, but I am pretty confident that some eBay seller has a compromised account and a spammer is looting their customer list.

Now we can add to the list – 1aauto.com.  I placed an order with their site in January (remember when the punks broke the mirror off my car?).  Today, I get a political email from John Kasich’s New Day For America to that email.  So I immediately send a message to 1aauto.com saying they’ve either sold or given away my info or their customer database has been hacked.  So which is it?  I got a pretty quick response.

Hello and thank you for your email.

I do apologize that you received a spam email to your account. I can assure you that your information is secure and we have not experienced any kind of hacking. We do keep our customer information confidential and secure and have several measures put in place to prevent against fraud and stolen identity.

Thank you for notifying us. We will keep tabs on this and look into what we can do to prevent this from happening in the future.

So, I guess the answer is the owner sold out his customers to promote his choice of political candidate.  The fact that this happened at all negates the statement “We do keep our customer information confidential“.  As far as what they can do to prevent it from happening in the future, that’s simple.  Don’t do what you did again.

Thanks to spam law requirements, the spam email footer confirms the email address that it was sent to.  It tells me that I was added to the list on 2/24/16 via opt-in (gee, I don’t remember that), and gives me ways to unsubscribe.

There’s no sense in unsubscribing.  The email address is out in the wild and is now worthless.  Do I want to spend my life unsubscribing from every email campaign that gets that email or do I want to kill off the email?  The choice is pretty simple.

This scenario makes me pity people who only have a single email address, like @gmail.com or @outlook.com or @yahoo.com.  They don’t have the option of closing their account or changing their address.  Consider how easy it is for me, every email (except my personal email) is known to exactly one company.  Email gets compromised, only one place to change it.

The Way Things Used To Be

Today at work, I was CC’d on an email for an upcoming project involving some work with some company or other.  Someone on their side had a bunch of “technical” questions that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I don’t doubt that they were relevant questions, but they seemed to be in another language.  It reminded me of a time long ago at an old job when I sometimes had to work with pharmaceutical companies who were in regulated environments.  They used words and phrases in a way that meant something very specific.  If you weren’t in the industry, you wouldn’t understand, and they would use that against you.  You wouldn’t get to work with them unless you spoke their language.

So that I could try and understand this company, I visited their website.  They are a multi-national finance company, and as such, you can imagine they are the least Internet-savvy company ever.  They may actually be the least marketing-savvy company ever.  But, I remember these days.  I remember when sites like this were normal.

Back in those days, the metric for a good site was how much information you could get online.  Well, that is still the metric, sort of, but today, that information is the customer-useful type, like inventory, pricing, technical manuals, warranty status, you know, exposing your internal data to the world.  But, when you don’t have that type of data, like if you’re a bank and not a retailer or manufacturer, you still want your site to look huge.  What do you do?  You fill it with bullshit – lots and lots of bullshit.  And this site delivered.

I was amazed at the volume of verbiage on the site and how vapid it all was.  It was more than I could enumerate myself, with links going all over the place and a navigation menu so large, it had its own close button.  I downloaded a website copier and set it to work on their site.  It found 95 pages!  And that was just on their home domain.  They had a couple of other subdomains, too.  One was 65 pages and the other was a WordPress site, so the site downloader downloaded author pages, archive pages, individual pages, etc, so the pagecount was unusable.  Still, being a webmaster for 150 pages of content has to be a nightmare.

And all of these pages said nothing.  And some pages said even less than that because they were grammatically incorrect.  Maybe I can give a pass on that because the site is multi-lingual.  Anyway, my original reason for going to the website was to find out what they do.  On one of the four (FOUR!) pages of the About Us section, one of the paragraphs reads:

The goal we have proposed is that in each of the many contacts we have with our stakeholders a differential experience to provide sustainable value is conveyed. So we have established our vision as a company and some guiding principles defining our commitment towards those stakeholders.

That is what the entire site is like.  What kind of zombie composes page after page of meaningless, worthless garbage?  Well, a long time ago in another job, that might have been me.  Not likely, though.  That old company got some decent contracts, but not big enough to write hundreds of pages of dreck.

I also remember when I could think and write in that nebulous language.  My early websites for my own consulting work may have been like that, trying to make my one-man shop sound like a large company (it didn’t work).  But everyone’s grown up now.  Being a lone consultant doesn’t have a stigma and businesses can be proud to be whatever size they are.  But some companies still seem to be stuck in the past.

How Staples Is Enticing Me

I get emails from Staples because sometimes they’re pretty good with coupons and whatnot.  They show up just about every day.  What isn’t very good about them (aside from the frequency) – and this is a rapidly deteriorating condition – is their subject lines.  I have a pretty deep-seated hatred for click-bait headlines, and running close behind that is a distaste for pointless headlines.  Here’s a bunch of recent examples:

  • ⌛ You hit it big! Open asap for a COUPON!
  • We need your attention! 20% off toner
  • Access: GRANTED.  Buy 1, get the 2nd 50% off!
  • Don’t waste this ☞ You’re first in line to get this COUPON for 20% off…
  • We dare you to miss out: Your sneak peek is here.
  • You’ve unlocked it! It’s official, you’re in. >>Save 60%<<
  • You were chosen: Last-minute gifts inside.
  • You checked your inbox just in time: Get up to $280 off.
  • Let’s see you resist this: COUPONS inside! You hit it big.
  • You rock! You checked your inbox just in time: Get up to $300 off laptops!
  • 🙂 Yes, it’s true! What are you waiting for?

This goes on and on.  Each time I think I have enough examples, they just keep coming…  Who the hell is writing this garbage?  Are they speaking to children?  Is anyone going to be fooled into thinking that they are getting some sort of exclusive offers?  So many questions.

You know when this started?  10/16/2015.  And it was identifiable by the first emoji ever used in the subject line of their emails.  This suggests that the marketing person is young and hip.  Young and hip doesn’t always mean smart.  Just as the younger generation is failing to learn proper composition in its many forms, they are woefully ignorant about business communications.  Staples is a business supply company and primarily communicates with professionals.

Regardless of the target audience, which is being completely ignored here, there are some simple rules with regard to correspondence, whether electronic or physical.  The rule being shat upon here is: “The subject line identifies the context of the letter”, as in “This letter is regarding…”  This is not achieved with “You were chosen” or “We dare you to miss out”.  Seriously, you, a company, are extending a challenge to me, a potential customer, to not purchase something from you.  I don’t think you realize just how easy that is to do.

Ok, I’ll admit, I don’t know if the marketing person/people are “young”.  But they definitely seem to be “young” in experience.  To be honest, the subjects really seem like they were written “offshore” by spam/scam professionals.  I can say that Staples trying to portray itself in this fashion is definitely a turn-off.  If I want to shop at a goofy store, I’ll go to Ollie’s Bargain Outlet.  Not even Big Lots has such corny emails.