Category Marketing

Don’t waste your time looking for a name

In his latest novel, REAMDE, Neil Stephenson describes the process video game entrepreneur Richard Forthrast went through to name his company, Corporation 9592:

When their discussion of the company’s name consumed more than the fifteen minutes Richard felt it deserved, he pulled some Dungeons & Dragons dice out of his pocket and rolled them to generate the random number 9592.

Is it time to kill new user confirmation links?

The process of signing up for a web site has become fairly standard by now: give the site your email address when you register, they send you an email with a link that says something like “Please click on the link below to confirm that you wish to activate this registration.”

Jacob Quist suggests that it’s time to kill this process, and take a simpler approach. In his words:

A better way to ask Facebook users for app permissions

Facebook apps make it easy for developers to connect with users and gather necessary info, but they also come loaded with scary-sounding requirements like “This app is going to have access to all your personal data, photos, home address, and children’s blood type.”

What do you do if you want to let people engage gradually, only granting permission for things when the app really needs them?

Arthur Chang has figured it out, and shared his solution with the world. Hop over to his site for a method using one FQL query.

This method will result in more users signing up when they see that they can actually access the app without having to let it write to their wall before they’ve even found out what it does in the first place.


One Click

A friend told me about Jolly Time popcorn today, and mentioned that they had a new healthy version available. I think he sent me a link, but like a lot of people, I just Googled it instead of spending time hunting for the email.

The front page of their site has a huge Flash movie devoted to Healthy Pop, the product I wanted. Kudos to them for the real estate, but not sure why it was necessary to use Flash just to put an animation of the box dropping into view on a continuous loop. I suppose someone felt that just making it the most prominent image on the entire screen wasn’t enough, we needed the 2009 version of the <blink> tag to really drive the point home.

It’s completely distracting, and makes it annoying to look at any other navigation on the page, but that’s ok, because I’m just here for that product anyway, right? Alright, then, I’ll just click on the giant box of popcorn to see it, and…


Click again. Nothing. It’s not a link.

Now I have to figure out where I can go to see more about Healthy Pop, and it’s really not clear. While I try to look, I’m being hassled by the flying popcorn boxes, and there’s no other link on the page that says “Healthy Pop.”

There’s a link to “Products & Flavors,” which could be it, or another link to “Promotions,” which might be better, since they seem to be promoting Healthy Pop right now. There’s also a subtle search box hidden tucked away up in the corner, where typing “Healthy Pop” might be useful.

What am I really going to do, though? Do I really want to devote my time to searching through their site, when I’ve got work to do and a million things competing for my attention? Not really. I’m going to do the same thing countless other potential customers are probably doing right now, which is to shrug my shoulders and close the window. Sorry, Jiffy Pop, your new product just isn’t important enough for me to go on safari through your site to find.

You could have had me with just one click.

The Wrong Way to Sell Me a Palm Pre

My latest two-year AT&T contract is about to expire, and it’s time to consider a new phone while I’m eligible for a subsidized price. My original iPhone, purchased on the first day of the first year, after a six-hour wait in line, is the best phone mobile device I’ve ever owned. I can’t call it the best phone, because the truth is that as a telephone, it’s terrible. Without a headset, callers are hard to hear – partly due to the hardware, partly due to AT&T’s network, and partly due to the shape of the phone, which is almost exactly the wrong shape for holding to one’s ear.

It’s amazing to think that, 79 years after Henry Dreyfuss painstakingly determined the ideal size and shape for a phone reciever, we have managed to completely forget every ergonomic principle in the design of our “modern” phones.

With a headset, at least, with my V-Moda headset, I can hear a little better, but anyone I speak to is treated to an annoying half-second delay echo of themseves. I’m often told to call back from a “better phone,” and no wonder.

I suppose it’s a testimony to just how unimportant voice calls have become that, despite my iPhone being all but useless as a telephone, I still consider it the best mobile device I’ve ever owned. I’ve had a Treo 650 (with the Palm OS), several Windows Mobile phones, and on the “mobile device but not a phone” front, I’ve had a Nokia N810, a Toshiba Pocket PC, several Palm Pilots, and a Sony Magic Link. All of them held my attention for various amounts of time, being alternately novel, fun, exciting, and even occasionally useful, but none ever became a regular companion during my day. Even the Palm Pilot, which was the closest any device ever came to being a reliable part of my daily routine, often spent days or even weeks in a drawer.

My iPhone, on the other hand, has joined the category of my keys and my wallet. It is always in my pocket, to the point that even stepping out the front door without it (and my keys & wallet) feels instantly strange, so that I stop and wonder what’s wrong, and go back to make sure I have it with me.

Still, after two years, there are newer and faster models on the market, with more features, and of course, with a new warranty and battery. I haven’t switched to the iPhone 3GS, partly because my original iPhone is fine, and partly because I dislike the new design, with its wider face and cheap plastic back. I’m a prime target for the spate of iPhone competitors that have come on to the market, such as the HTC Hero or the Palm Pre.

Palm knows this, or at least, they know people like me are out here, and their latest ad is aimed directly at me (or at least, at people like me).

It’s almost perfect. They realize that millions of people bought their iPhones around this time two years ago, and that all of us are facing the renewal decision.

Faced with a “new” iPhone model that is disappointingly similar to the last model (especially in the wake of all the rumors that preceded its unveiling), and looking at the significant increase in monthly charges from AT&T, many of us are vulnerable to a come-on from a sexy new model. The Pre is the strongest competition the iPhone has faced, and even the prospect of suffering under Sprint doesn’t seem so bad – after all, we’ve muddled by with creaky old AT&T all this time.

Now is the time to hit me with a positive message – a message of hope, revitalization, a better tomorrow. Show me that there’s a better phone I could be using – one with great voice quality, a wonderful user experience, and beautiful industrial design. Tempt me with the shiny new toy that Apple failed to deliver this year.

They came so close.

Instead of thrilling with joy and excitement, though, look what Sprint’s ad has done. They’ve shown a boring photo of the Pre resting on a nasty old chewed-up apple core, and insulted my previous choice of phone.

Look at the first line. “The Palm Pre does things the iPhone can’t.” They’ve gone negative right out of the starting gate.

In political campaigns, negative advertising always turns off voters. The only reason it works is that someone has to win, and supressing voter turnout is fine, so long as it’s your opponent’s turnout that is suppressed more than your own.

In product advertising, though, all negative advertising does is make it harder for someone to get excited about your product, and easier for them to decide not to buy anything at all.

Product loyalty is often like loyalty to a political party or a sports team. The product we choose to buy is a reflection of ourselves, and the quality of that product is a reflection of our own judgement. No one wants to think they were stupid or easily misled when making a purchase, which is why so much work goes into the packaging and congratulatory messages that accompany a big ticket item. Reinforcement of a purchase decision after the fact is just as important as the marketing before the sale. Buyer’s remorse leads to product returns, it leads to negative word-of-mouth, and a lack of customer loyalty and repeat business.

We want to have that reinforcement. We read the manual for a new car, computer, camera, phone, television, et cetera, because it continually repeats the message you are smart, you are wise, you bought this product.

This is what fuels perennial debates like Mac vs. PC, Ford vs. Chevy, Republican vs. Democrat. Once we make our decision, to be told that the alternative is superior means we are idiots. After all, if Windows is so inferior to the Mac OS, and I use Windows, clearly I was stupid to make that decision – so I will defend “my” operating system of choice, and ridicule any attempt to be converted.

What Palm has done is to come directly at iPhone owners with the message that our iPhones are weak, ineffectual, and overpriced. We have chosen… poorly.

This message hasn’t worked in the past, and won’t work now. Campaigns like the failed iDont ads, Jeep’s commercials depicting Hummer owners as fat spoiled children, and others, served only to antagonize their targets rather than persuade them.

Palm’s CEO famously sneered at the prospect of Apple creating a phone in 2006, saying that “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”

When he said that, I was a Palm Treo owner, frustrated by my unstable and unenjoyable 650. A few months later, I was the proud owner of an Apple iPhone. Now, after nearly fading into obscurity, Palm wants to win me back by insinuating that I was wrong to leave, and thinks that going negative will let them take back some market share. It only demonstrates that they’re as tone-deaf to marketing in 2009 as they were to user experience in 2006.

Appropriate Language

I understand – marketers trying to write “hip” and “young” has been around since the invention of the teenager, sometime in the 1950s. I wonder, though – would Skittles have had any less success with their site if they hadn’t tried to write their legal copy as if their audience were composed of extras from the cast of Saved by the Bell?

Why Isn’t This a Campaign Already?

David Pogue twittered this photo of a squirrel in his backyard, theiving a little Skippy:

Click the photo to go to David Pogue’s original post.

There’s such an obvious marketing idea here, and I’m not just talking about Skippy and this photo.

A savvy brand would have the word out, right now, that they are paying $0.10 per follower for anyone who Twitters a photo with good product placement. For your mid-range Twitter mavens, the ones with a couple thousand followers, that’s a cool benjamin or two. Certainly worthwhile, and since they’ll be concerned with their own integrity as much as the cash, the photos are likely to be more authentic and entertaining than anything a brand manager could come up with – after all, “all of us are smarter than any of us.”

Hop to it, world. You can send my royalty check when you pay out the first million.