#WTF Marketers? Get Your Act Together and Stop Killing Kittens!

Think of the Kittens

PubCon has come to an end but our coverage from the show continues! I knew I was going to love the Scott Stratten keynote at #pubcon when he started asking where the early adopters were. We all had a good laugh reminiscing over the days of ICQ and then a handful of us had an even better laugh when we remembered the days of IRC.   The real reason I was excited about Scott’s message, though, is that he, the anointed king of “Unmarketing,” has a new book out, QR Codes Kill Kittens.

Scott Stratten at PubconStratten could be labeled a disruptor, as he tends to ruffle a few feathers of the marketing world, but the reality is that he spews something so many marketing professionals have forgotten in their rabid quest to be the social media king of the hill – common sense.

The first part of the keynote challenged the audience to think about what it really means to be a brand. Is it your logo? That flat design you’ve spent ridiculous amounts of time and copious numbers of dollars to create an identity? Or maybe, just maybe, your brand identity is the every day experiences consumers have with your brand, your products, your employees, and so on.

To illustrate his point, Scott proceeds to tell one of my favorite social media stories involving Ritz Carlton hotels and a poorly stuffed toy named Joshie the Giraffe.  The Cliff Notes version is that a man named Chris Hurn was unable to join his family  for a weekend in Florida, and they happened to be staying at a Ritz. Their son accidentally left his favorite stuffed toy, Joshie, in the sheets when the family checked out of the hotel.  Anyone who has a young one in their lives knows that this only means one thing: disaster.  While tucking his son in the night they realized his favorite toy had disappeared, Hurn told the boy not to worry and that his toy was just enjoying some extra time at the resort.

Later that night the Ritz, upon discovering a child’s toy, called to say they had found and it would return it.  Hurn mentioned the white lie he had told his son, and the Loss Prevention team at the resort agreed to take a picture of Joshie lounging by the pool at Hurn’s request.  Fast forward a couple of days, and Joshie arrives in a package.  Instead of throwing Joshie in a box alongside the random picture, the Ritz blew it out of the water.  They took pictures of Joshie by the pool.  Pictures of Joshie in the spa (yes, cucumbers on his eyes and all!), Joshie driving a golf cart, visiting other stuffed animals and a not-so-stuff real parrot. Joshie also came home with a newly minted Ritz Employee badge, complete with his photo.

Hurn’s son was relieved to have his beloved companion back in hand, and Hurn and his family were wowed. Stratten continued to challenge the audience by asking whether or not the signature Ritz lion logo defined the brand, or was it a story like Joshie the Giraffe?  Do you ever hear someone say, “Well, the bed was too hard and the customer service was not all that great, but damn, did you see that logo? They really had me with that logo.”  (At this point it was all I could do to silence my inner “AMEN!”)

The real point of this story, as great as it is, is that your brand identity in the era of social is an organic, living, breathing beast.  It’s not your logo. It’s not your mission statement.  “You know what your mission statement is?,” asked Stratten, “Ask your customers. Whatever they say is what your mission statement is.” He reminded the Pubcon audience that most customers remember the best and the most extreme interactions with a brand at the most, and that every interaction you have with a customer IS your brand. It IS what you stand for.

Technology Isn’t the Problem. It’s the Application of the Technology That’s the Problem.

Segueing into the details of his new pictoral, Scott Stratten reminded us that just because a technology exists, doesn’t mean it has to be used.  Or, in the way I prefer to say it, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  The QR code in the United States hasn’t been widely adopted. This isn’t because the QR code isn’t a great idea – it is – it’s because, if I may be frank, so many marketers are entirely too eager to be the “first” in this day and age that the results are short-sighted failures that make technology look bad.

Take, for example, the QR code. They have potential, which means that they suck now, but they have potential to suck a lot less.  The QR code is a fantastic metaphor for the problems with so many marketers today.  Let’s take a peek at some of his examples:

qr code billboard

Forget the notion that a QR Code on a billboard is next to impossible to interact with, but the encouragement of doing so while promoting a message against texting and driving is a downright #headdesk.


There are simply no words to describe the idiocy behind this marketing move. No. Words.

Outside of these examples were a couple of other ways that marketers have failed in the proper adaptation of technology.  For example, sending QR codes in email, when you know, something like say, a link, which is not at all weird to see in an email, would do.  And then there’s the issue with QR codes on websites… which lead back to the same website.

My personal favorite is the QR code for a hospital on the back of the bus.  Who is going to scan a fraking (BSG, anyone?) QR code that’s on the back of a bus?! If you’re going to be creative with your roaming advertising, you have to be not only applicable, but memorable.  Memorable like this smile-inducing example from Shatto Milk.  Stratten put it succinctly, “How else would a man from Ottawa know about a dairy company in Kansas? THAT is marketing.”

shatto milk in case of accident have lots and lots of cookies ready dr heckle funny truck signs

But in order to make more informed decisions as marketers, we need data and data, Capt. Unmarketing reminded us, can be dangerous.  Data can be skewed. Data can be aligned to be what it wants.  And often, people accept it without really thinking through how the data arrived at the conclusion it did.  Herein lies the problem.

One example of dangerous data was the brand adoption (and then abandonment) of Google+.  Reports  came out saying that 60% of Google+ users sign into their accounts every day.  But when a closer look is taken at that information, we know that by virtue of being a Google user (Gmail, YouTube, etc.), you get signed into G+.  Brands jumped on the bandwagon, only to never really adopt or embrace the platform, save for the most savvy of them all.  Personally, my favorite example of this kind of abandonment is Wells Fargo:

wells fargo example

As you can see, they jumped on in late 2011, but apparently are still “working on their launch,” according to their lone G+ post.

This type of inconsistency is a problem and it’s a topic I’ve brought up frequently when I speak at conferences. I was pleased to see Stratten agreed.  It’s far better to not be on a social network at all than to be there and not commit.  It’s okay to take a little step back, evaluate technology or social platforms, and make a decision.  After all, if your brand carries an official presence on a site, consumers expect a fair amount of interaction.

Along with that interaction, as also pointed out by Stratten, is the expectation of immediacy.  He explained that the average brand waits three days to respond to a consumer tweet or post, which is simply unacceptable when the brand has adopted, and in many cases promoted social media channels as a way to connect with concerns. Having had my own frustrating experiences with this as of late, I wholeheartedly agree with Stratten.  The three days I have to wait is three days I have to fester, to speak ill of a brand, and to activate my networks.  Brands that respond, even with as little of a message as “Thank you, we’re working on it and will be in touch soon!” have every opportunity to squash the incident and prevent it from being the next United Breaks Guitars.

Toward closing of the keynote, with all the energy that the fourth day of a conference truly needed, Stratten touched on another subject of importance – stripping away the fear.  As a whole, we are forgiving of mistakes made by companies as long as they are honest and own up to it.  His example here, and a powerful one at that, was when a FedEx delivery driver threw a computer monitor over the fence during delivery.  It’s one of the most viral stories in the recent past, but as Stratten points out, as horrifying as this might have been for FedEx, the fact that they handled it swiftly, with authority, with accountability, helped them move the spotlight.

Once your brand is in the spotlight, he cautioned, there is no getting out of it, but you can, with the right moves, control the spotlight.  FedEx handled the issue so professionally that they ended up coming out looking even better than prior to the incident. It’s okay to ride the coattails of the embarrassing and show off what makes you amazing.

While much of Stratten’s message was comprised of problems many of us have been fighting for years, my suspicion is that there are a lot of in-house marketers from Pubcon who arrive at their sea of cubicles come Monday insanely more inspired. QR Codes Kill Kittens isn’t going to be as thought-provoking as the other two Scott Stratten books on my shelf, but it’s a wonderful read. It’s the kind of book you keep around for meetings where the people who use the word “leverage” as a verb need a bonk on the head. So stop being stupid marketers. Think of the kittens.

Feature image: © kei u fotalia (dot) com

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