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Thursday, June 7 2012

The Cover That Never Was

We've reached that stage in the production process of my forthcoming book, Psychological Foundations of Marketing, that I always enjoy - the choice of a cover.  Enjoy, yes, but not without a high level of trepidation.  Based on my past experience, I would have to say that the design teams of major publishers often leave their creativity, imagination, and flair at the door and prefer to go with the tired and true once they sit down at the drawing board.  I think I lucked out for the cover of Connecting With Consumers: Marketing for New Marketplace Realities, probably the only cover of my eight books that I actually like.  And I like it a lot.  Fortunately, my editors at Oxford University Press and I worked together to come up with a cover that we believed reflected the book's content, while maintaining a certain degree of originality in the category.

Originally, my new publishers, Routledge/Taylor & Francis came to me with a couple concepts that I quickly rejected - one theme featuring one or more shopping bags and the other showing someone sitting in front of a bank of TVs.  They struck me as unoriginal and uninformative.  One month later, despite my initial reservations, they came back to me with four cover mockups of the same two original ideas, with the intent to run with the TV banks cover you see below.

I can't quite explain why the production people at T&F fell in love with this cover.  Granted, it's not a bad looking or poorly designed cover, and I could picture it blending into - and getting lost in the process - the array of other academic and professional books on the shelf in greater bookstores throughout the land.  But I hated this cover for several reasons, perhaps mostly because it had little, if anything to do with the book's content, which, as the title suggests, delves into the psychology of consumer behavior and marketing efforts.  An anonymous figure sitting passively in front of a bank of TVs might indeed be the ideal cover for a book on mass media communications circa 1970/80s, but that is not what my book is or intends to be.  When I pointed this out, one member of the T&F team responded that the image shows someone being directly marketed to in a competitive global marketplace characterized by advertising saturation.  To which I pondered, what exactly is Fred Flintstone marketing? 

But what really irked me about this cover is that it belies one of the basic points of my previous book - and this corresponding website: that we no longer live in an age in which people are passively sitting in front of television screens, waiting to be marketed to. I was perplexed as to how anyone could believe that a cover with multiple TVs reflects anything about the contemporary world, psychology, or marketing.  So, true to the Connecting With Consumers philosophy, I suggested that I post a call for covers from enterprising designers in cyberspace and offer some sort of monetary prize for best cover idea. 

Well, given their rush to deadline, T&F nixed the crowdsourcing idea, but I nonetheless am happy to report that they did give me 24 hours to come up with a better idea - actually, three ideas - drawing from two stock photo sites that they already had agreements with.  I'm no designer, but it didn't take me long to come up with about 15 ideas, all of which I thought, if I say so myself, were more appropriate for the new book than the TV motif above.  (The last image below of the shopping mall, unfortunately, would have required a time-consuming permission request.)  Two made it to the final cut and have the professional typography (see the first two below).  I faked the title and author typography on some representative other candidates below. 

So, which cover is the winner?  Sorry, I don't want to ruin the surprise, there's time for that.

I can say that it is not any of the covers you see below.





Monday, February 27 2012

Starbucks Disconnects

It's one thing to write about all the wonderful things that some forward-thinking companies are doing in joining the consumer conversation, based on second-hand reports and fancy websites.  But when it comes down to interacting directly with those firms, a dramatically different picture often emerges.  What I have been learning these past few months as I finish the preparation of my next book, Psychological Foundations of Marketing, behind all the social media bells and whistles, many companies may talk the talk, but in the end, it's all bullshit.  Case in point:  Starbucks.

Despite all the praiseworthy pages I scribed in Connecting With Consumers about how Starbucks, after some growing pains, gets it when it comes to customer engagement, when I asked for a little something from them, all I got was a door in my face.  Now, I must admit, I am not a loyal Starbucks customer.  In fact, the only time I've ever been a Starbucks customer is when I was stuck in a Dulles airport terminal (prior to its recent renovation) in Washington and was desperate for a cup of java.  As I waited for my beverage to be prepared at the Starbucks stand, I found myself counting the cockroaches ducking in and out of the containers of straws, spoons, and napkins.  No big deal, I live in Paris, where there are 40,000+ alternatives to the handful of Starbucks stores dispersed around town.  Who needs Starbucks?

Well, actually, I do, or at least thought I did.  In chapter 3 of my new book, my discussion of perception includes some examples of how company logos often are subtly changed over time, to keep them looking up-to-date, to freshen up a brand image, whatever.  One example was to show Starbucks' recent logo change, and here is what I intended to include:

These images appear on untold websites, no doubt without any permission rights obtained from the company.  For my forthcoming book, however, I am understandably obliged by my publisher (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) to obtain the rights from the image owners.  When I attempted to do so from Starbucks, no matter how clearly I explained how the images were to be used, how I wrote glowingly about the company in my previous books, and so on, all I received was a series of, basically, impersonal emails.  Here is a sampling:

1st Email:

Hello Allan,


Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.

Per Starbucks company policy, we do not grant permission to download our proprietary images. This applies to trademarks, logos and other graphic images displayed on 


For more information, please review our Terms of Use at and read the information under "Copyright and Trademark" and "Personal Use."


Thanks again for your interest in Starbucks Coffee Company.  If you have any other questions or comments regarding our site, please email us at


 Warm regards,


Ryan H 

Customer Relations

Starbucks Coffee Company

800 STARBUC (782-7282)

Monday through Friday, 5 AM to 8PM (PST)

2nd Email:

Dear AJ,


Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.


I do apologize but unfortunately we are unable to provide any contact information for our CEO Howard Schultz.

 If you have any further questions or concerns that I was unable to address, please feel free to let me know. 


Warm Regards,


Emmanuel D

Customer Relations

Starbucks Coffee Company

800 STARBUC (782-7282)

Monday through Friday, 5AM to 8PM (PST)

3rd Email:

Dear @Starbucks,


Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.


 Unfortunately, due to the volume requests we receive, we’re unable to grant the information about the company beyond what we make publicly available.


For more information about Starbucks, including our most recent annual reports, visit our website at and also  There you will find the Global Responsibility reports, our latest press releases, SEC filings, and general company information.  For industry information such as market share, please visit the Specialty Coffee Association website at 


We also recommend that you check out This useful website contains media releases, a company profile, and links to stock quotes and our SEC filings.


Thanks again for your interest in Starbucks Coffee Company, and good luck with your project.





Customer Relations

Starbucks Coffee Company

800 STARBUC (782-7282)

Monday through Friday, 5AM to 8PM (PST)

4th Email:

Dear AJ,


Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.


I am truly sorry about your disappointment and frustration. However as stated by the previous agent we're unable to grant the information about the company beyond what we make publicly available.


I want you to know that we take feedback from our loyal customers seriously. Because you know better than anyone else what you want from Starbucks, I will share this with the  appropriate departments here in our corporate office.


We have made a promise to our customers to provide outstanding products and service.  I know that this is a primary reason why you visit Starbucks and I understand how disappointing it is when we let you down.


Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to improve what we do.


If you have any further questions or concerns that I was unable to address, please feel free to let me know. 


Thanks again,


Anjelika R

Customer Relations

Starbucks Coffee Company

800 STARBUC (782-7282)

Monday through Friday, 5AM to 8PM (PST)

Share your ideas at

5th Email:

Dear AJ,


Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.


I am sorry, sir, that we are unable to answer your question adequately enough, however we are unable to provide you with any other resources other than the ones made available to you on the website at and also While I admire your determination to find the resources to put in your book, the reports that are made public on the above two web links are the only resources that are available.


As previously stated, you will find the Global Responsibility reports, our latest press releases, SEC filings, and general company information on the Starbucks website. You can also find industry information such as market share, at 


If you have any further questions or concerns that I was unable to address, please feel free to let me know. I wish you luck with your book, and hope the information that we can provide will be enough.


Warm Regards,


Amber C

Customer Relations

Starbucks Coffee Company

800 STARBUC (782-7282)

Monday through Friday, 5AM to 8PM (PST)

As is pretty evident, these are all pretty much form responses which seemed to all ignore the essence of my basic request.  Hardly indicative of a company that is supposed to be so good at 'listening' to consumers.  Several attempts to discuss my request by telephone with someone other than a 'Customer Relations' worker resulted in my turning around in circles and racking up a hefty long-distance phone bill.  So, Starbucks can rest assured that the images that appear here will never appear in any publication written by me, including this website.  I have no idea how the images got onto this site. 

My summary reaction is that Starbucks is a joke.

I also requested permission to run the following in-store poster that appeared in Starbucks stores shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

This poster, as is now widely known, was viewed by some consumers as too close for comfort.  Here is the passage in my forthcoming book that explains how this incident provides a good illustration of the subjectivity of consumer perception:

Starbucks was forced to pull from 3000 North American outlets its “Collapse Into Cool” promotional poster for the popular coffee chain’s new TazoCitrus drinks when numerous consumers complained that the poster’s imagery (flying insects surrounding two tall iced beverages) was overly reminiscent of the September 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center (see Exhibit 3.2).  Although the ad had nothing to do with the event, the combination of the term “collapse” and the unfortunate choice of illustration was perceived by some consumers as insensitive on the part of the company and a malicious attempt to capitalize on the misfortunes of others (Roeper, 2002).   This example reflects the fact that although people may receive information about the environment through the senses essentially in the same way, perception tends to be more individualistic.  Thus, what one consumer might perceive as a rather innocuous promotional poster from an internationally-known coffeehouse chain, another may interpret as an insensitive and offensive allusion to a national tragedy.

I can better understand Starbucks' reluctance to have this image appear again in the public eye (despite the fact that it too can be found on countless Internet sites, such as the site, which debunks the original charges that the association to the World Trade Center was intentional), yet when I asked for permission rights, all I got in return were more of those emails you see above.

Starbucks isn't the only culprit - in subsequent installments, I will detail how the responses I received from other supposedly engagement-friendly companies, such as The Gap, Colgate-Palmolive, Nespresso, were worse than those from Starbucks.  If this is how these companies treat authors who are offering an opportunity to discuss the marketing practices in an innocuous way, I can only imagine how they treat customers with complaints.  Well, as for Starbucks, there already is some indication of that - the website that I discussed in Connecting With Consumers is still up and running.  Perhaps those cockroaches were symbolic of the brand after all.

Thursday, January 12 2012

50 Brands That Connect With Consumers

What is the secret to creating more meaningful relationships with consumers and experiencing significantly higher growth as a result?  According to a recent Stengel Study of Business Growth, the answer is no more complicated than this: develop a strong brand promise.

Using Milward Brown's Optimor technique (explained in the box at the end of this discussion), the Stengel analysis was performed over a ten-year period spanning 31 countries and 28 categories. The top 50 brands--that is, those that outpaced their competition in brand value over the past decade and formed “unusually strong connections with consumers” are listed alphabetically in the following chart.  The so-called the ‘Stengel 50’ grew three times faster in financial terms during the period studied than their competitors and the overall universe of brands.

The Stengel 50 reveals quite a disparity in brand categories, ranging from luxury brands like Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Moët et Chandon, Hennessy and Mercedes-Benz to e-commerce brands like and Zappos to consumer goods brands like Coca-Cola, Sensodyne, and Red Bull.  Among these brands we see some of the usual suspects, ones that have been identified in other analyses, particularly engagementdb's social media engagement study of the top global brands (which compared Business Week's top 100 global brands according to number of channels and depth of engagement), as well as assessments of company's performance on Facebook and Twitter.  Albeit with differences.  For example, the top three brands that emerged from the engagementdb analysis were Starbucks, Dell, and eBay.  The top three Stengel brands were Apple, Google and Pampers, growing as much as 10 times faster than average company growth between 2001 to 2011.  Both studies found that connecting with consumers was associated with financial growth.

Looking a little more closely at the Stengel study, however, the basic question is what exactly does it mean to 'develop a strong brand promise' or identity?  Insight into this question is provided by the study's director, Jim Stengel, former CMO of P&G.  According to Stengel the high ranking brands were built around a central ideal that clarified their core purpose, such as IBM's goal to 'create a smarter planet' and Jack Daniel's 'maverick independence.'  In marketing jargon we call these central ideals  'brand essence' - the essential and intrinsic nature of the brand; its spirit and soul; a single thought that captures that soul.

The man behind the research – high profile US marketer and former CMO of Procter & Gamble, Jim Stengel – suggested all of the high ranking brands were built around a central ‘ideal’ that fostered a tight focus on their core purpose.  As described in his book Grow. How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World's Greatest Companies, Stengel elaborates on brand ideals:

 “A brand ideal is not social responsibility or altruism but a programme for profit and growth based on improving people’s lives.”

“Maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible. They’re inseparable.”

As an example, Stengel points to Pampers, a brand that lost sight of its core ideal by focusing too narrowly on the dryness of diapers.  Market share continued to drop until Pampers successfully redefined its brand ideal as ‘helping mothers care for their babies’ and toddlers’ healthy, happy development’. Anybody can talk about dry diapers, but helping mothers care for their newborns is a message that helps distinguish a winning brand from the also-rans.  The best-performing businesses, according to Stengel, are driven by ideals that touch on one of five human values: eliciting joy, enabling connection, inspiring exploration, evoking pride or having an impact on society.


The Stengel study adds another notch to Starbucks' growing collection of successes in outperforming just about everybody else when it comes to connecting with consumers.  That I've admired Starbucks' strategy and tactics in the past is certainly evidenced by my extensive discussion of the company in my book, Connecting With Consumers, and in the many lectures I've given on the topic.  Nonetheless, based on some recent experiences associated with my forthcoming book, Psychological Foundations of Marketing (Routledge, June 2012), I'm beginning to reassess my image of Starbucks.  I'm now beginning to think their 'connecting' is nothing more than a lot of smoke and mirrors.  More on this in a subsequent installment.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 14 2011

Rules of Consumer Engagement

Eagerly anticipating the copious food and endlessly flowing wine at the recent European Marketing Academy (EMAC) conference in Ljubljana, I knew I was in trouble when they first shuttled everyone into an auditorium and presented some local flavor in the form of a Slovenian playing what was proclaimed as a '6,000 year old whistle.'  Miles Davis he was not, but then I imagine there's not much you can do with a 6,000 year old whistle except to marvel that anything 6,000 years old can still carry a tune.  The whistler was followed by a representative of the global management consulting firm, McKinsey&Company, who began with a breakthrough discovery:  "Consumers are more connected than ever before in history."  Really?  I didn't know that.  For the next 20 minutes, the audience was presented with an oratory about what a great company McKinsey is, which I am sure is very, very true.  But as stomachs started growling, I think quite a few attendees had come to the conclusion that if we weren't yet going to be fed, then it would be better to get that 6,000 year old whistle back on the stage.  Anything but more McKinsey self-plaudits.  Better to get off the stage and get back to issuing pithy and terse reports, like its May 2011 Consumer and Shopper Insights paper on consumer engagement, penned by David Edelman, Patricia Ellen, and Christoph Erbenich, available at this link.  

To make a long story short, McKinsey developed a "Consumer Decision Journey" (CDJ) model in 2009, which incorporates four steps that organizations can follow to engage consumers at each step of the consumer journey from the initial purchasing consideration to the creation of brand loyals: Align, Link, Lock, and Loop.

ALIGN:  Invest marketing resources where consumers spend their time.  This likely will involve shifting resources from the 'consider' and 'buy' stages of the CDJ to the 'evaluate' and 'advocate' stages.  For many companies, investments will have to shift from paid media (channels owned by other companies, like print or online newspapers) to self-owned media (like the brand's Web sites) and earned media (such as customer-created channels like brand communities).

LINK:  Messages must reinforce each other, a daunting task in light of the proliferation of channels.  This doesn't only pertain to promotions, but also to product model numbers and descriptions, images, etc.  Edelman et al.  point to Apple's effort to eliminate jargon and maintain consistency in its product descriptions, creating a rich library of explanatory videos, etc.  Consistency, accuracy, and accuracy across touchpoints is critical.

LOCK:  Keep customers attention.  This requires the development of direct, opt-in channels, including email promotions, Twitter and Facebook feeds, and apps.  For example, McDonald's targeted millions of Japan's mobile-savvy consumers to sign up for mobile alerts with discount coupons, opportunities to participate in contests, special-event invitations, and other brand-specific content.  Keep it coming, keep it fresh, and offer consumers something they value, and I bet you don't lose their attention.

LOOP: Focus on consumer and expert created content for insights into customers and the brand, and use data collected about customers to create content that will engage them.  As I emphasize in my book Connecting With Consumers, it is critical to listen to consumers, but if you don't then apply those insights to better connect with customers, what's the point?  Edelman et al. give kudos to Amazon in this regard - the company invites customers to rate products and then makes the ratings available to shoppers.  But Amazon goes further - it also uses the data to decide how it presents its products.  This is what is meant by an information-rich loop, which goes from data to content and back to data, all contributing to product development, customer support, and personalized communications.

Wednesday, May 4 2011

Connecting With the Crowd

In my book, Connecting With Consumers  I discussed two of the iconic examples of crowdsourcing, as employed by Dell (Ideastorm) and Starbucks (My Starbucks Idea).  Crowdsourcing, is the term that most commonly refers to mass collaboration - in essence, the outsourcing of tasks traditionally performed by employees or contracters to consumers through an open call or challenge.  Incorporating consumers' ideas into product or service design promotes the feeling among customers, followers, and fans that they have a vested interest in the offering's success and are thus more willing to support it.Slide 97

Take PlayStation.  If you check out the enormously popular (at least with gamers) PlayStation Blog, you'll find a link in the upper left corner to PS.Blog.Share, where fans can share their ideas with the company.

Has this program effectively engaged PlayStation gamers?  The numbers speak for themselves:  to date, PlayStation has received 5,371 ideas submitted by the community.  Those ideas have generated 77,773 comments and prompted 1,694,413 total votes.  PlayStation has put 62 community-generated ideas into action.

A couple more recent and noteworthy variations on crowdsourcing, this time coming out of Europe, are described at Real  The summaries below are largely lifted from that site:

  • the online furniture business is stripping out the middlemen and connecting its customers with the furniture makers directly to cut the cost to the consumer by 50 - 80 per cent. The company’s product range is determined by a customer voting system to identify “favorites”. With a 10 day countdown period for orders where customers commit to pay upfront, only orders the exact number required from the manufacturers, avoiding the need for a warehouse as orders are delivered direct to customers’ homes.
  • Naked Wines strips out the middlemen.  According to Naked Wines CEO Rowan Gormley, “Historically most winemakers had to spend more time and money selling wine rather than making it. Bonkers! Good winemakers want to invest in quality – they don't want to waste their funds on slick marketing campaigns."  To get around this, Gormley has rapidly built a customer base now numbering ~100,000, of whom a large proportion are “angels” investing £20 a month in advance for their wines. This creates a virtuous circle where the wines selected are the ones the angel community identifies as their “favorites”, orders are aggregated in advance and “the winemakers get to know their wine is sold before they've even grown the grapes... so they can spend all their time in the vineyard crafting delicious wines, and give you the money they would have wasted on selling!”

Active on Facebook and Twitter, eliminating the middle man and passing on savings to its customers, Naked Wines is all about connecting with consumers. 

Friday, October 15 2010

One Forty Plus

It was inevitable that once Twitter became famously established as the '140 characters or less' social media format, somebody would come along and - unless you are a stickler for concise and pithy updates - offer something better: 'one forty plus.' Welcome Tumblr (, Posterous (, and whoever else just added another innovation to the social web that I've missed in the last 10 minutes.  As it happens, these new social web innovations are different concepts from Twitter, which is still the leading real-time conversational channel on the web - at least, for now.

In short, the fledgling Tumblr and Posterous are extremely user-friendly blog creating/following sites that facilitate not only the sharing of user-generated content, but even more so, any sort of online content that you want to share with others (photos, articles, etc.).  As for the user-friendly aspect, I can personally vouch for that in the case of Tumblr, having set up my 'Connecting With Consumers' blog last night in about two minutes (  As for Posterous, we'll have to take the New York Times' word on that one.  What is particularly interesting about Posterous is that you can literally phone it in - that is, you can add content to your blog via an email from your smartphone.  Just shoot some snapshots at a concert you're attending?  You can have them posted on your Posterous blog in nearly real time.  Sounds pretty cool.  Here's the screenshot from Posterous:

Here's what the Tumblr dashboard looks like.  Looks familiar doesn't it?  Just click on one of the icons (text, photo, etc.) to upload content.

In fact, although not mentioned in the NY Times piece, it appears to be possible to upload content as easily as with Posterous.  Here's the welcome email I received after
setting up the CWC blog:

As for my CWC Tumbler blog, I intend to use it as a place to upload photos that I've taken (and as those I've found elsewhere that I deem worthy of sharing), as well as to quickly post shorter installments than what might be found at this website - something intriguing that I've seen online that is in one way or another linked to my book, Connecting With Consumers.

It remains to be seen how successful these new blog-generating entities will become, and how people will choose to use them - do we really need more blogs in the already bloated blogosphere?  Ultimately, it will be users who shape and sharpen the uses of the Tumblrs out there.  As I mentioned in my book, who knows what the social media landscape will look like in the very near future?  Well, we're finding out, every day. 

Friday, September 24 2010

Participating in Social Media: Risks and Rewards

I refer to some of Silicon Valley industrial analyst Jeremiah Owyang's ideas about social media at several points in Connecting With Consumers, so it stands to reason that I'd be mentioning them here as well. His most recent Web Strategy blog installment includes another in a long line of 2X2 matrixes, this time clearly identifying some of the key costs and benefits of participating in social media.

                   Like all investments, there are risks and rewards, use this matrix to help
                   decision makers understand the downsides and upsides by participating.

This is not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but I like 2X2 classification schemes - they simplify and highlight and conform to our growing tendency to devote no more than 5 seconds to process material.  (In fact, if you've made it this far, I 'm pretty satisfied.)  But Owyang's matrix accomplishes something other than simplification - it reminds us that participation and engagement in social media isn't for everybody.  Unfortunately, as soon as the media and corporate communications departments glom onto the big new thing (and for many companies, as surprising as it may sound, social media is definitely something new), corporate decision makers start to think they have to spend on it, regardless of objectives and ability, just to say, 'we're there.'

Of course, not participating, while it may have its benefits at least from the firm's point of view, is business as usual.  And I wrote Connecting With Consumers in large part to convince how business as usual just doesn't work anymore in marketing.  And then there is last year's Engagementdb's analysis showing how corporate mavens (i.e., companies high in engagement and social media presence) financially outperform companies characterized by other engagement/presence profiles - results that certainly argue for participating in social media.

It goes without saying that any new business venture bears some risk, so perhaps the moral to this story is not so much that gun shy companies should opt out of the Marketing 2.0 party, but rather, must consider the risks beforehand, proceed slowly, rely heavily on social marketing metrics, and adjust strategy accordingly - a moral succinctly summed up by Wetpaint/Engagement db founder Charlene Li:

Doing it all may not be for you — but you must do something.

The optimal social media marketing strategy will depend on a variety of factors, including your industry. If your most valuable customers do not depend on or trust social media as a communication medium, or if your organization is resistant to engagement in some channels, you will have to start smaller and slower. But start you must, or risk falling far behind other brands, not only in your industry, but across your customers’ general online experience. 

Monday, August 30 2010

And the Winners Are . . .

- Kristen Muckelroy, Antenna Software, Jersey City, NJ
- Anna Silcox, LECO Corporation, Saint Joseph, MI
- Timi Cornell, Full Sail University, Winter Garden, FL
- Rick Thomas, Computer Images, Pueblo West, CO
- Dawn Nowakowski, HCMImpact, Green Bay, WI

Congratulations!  A free copy of Connecting With Consumers is on the way to these winners of last week's
MarketingSherpa book giveaway.  I now wait for the WOM process to kick in and for sales to skyrocket in the millions.

Thanks for all who participated, and for those who weren't so lucky, don't despair, there's always amazon!

Monday, August 23 2010

MarketingSherpa Book Contest

As promised, the game is on! I've donated five copies of ''Connecting With Consumers'' to give away at the MarketingSherpa site.

Toss your name into the hat here to try for one. Good luck!