Sunday, April 28, 2013

Actions Versus Advertising

Some people that I know who run small businesses had some interesting feedback on my last post about "friendship" marketing, or as the ever witty Autumn at The Beheld dubbed it, "Slumber Party Marketing", where large companies attempt to market to consumers as if they are really your friends, and try to give you the impression they care more about your happiness than what you buy. The global marketplace is so crowded these days that just having a good product isn't nearly enough to get you the attention of consumers. If you want to sell people things, one of the most effective ways is to get them emotionally invested in your company and your products; and the most effective way to do that for both large and small businesses is to convince consumers you care about them.

We are legion, and we care about you.

Personally, I feel like this sort of marketing is pretty disingenuous coming from large corporations  - campaigns such as the dove Beauty Sketches can still have positive effects by contributing to an overall change in the way products are marketed to women, but the simple fact is that Dove does not care about you. They are just emulating the marketing tactics traditionally employed by small businesses, where the people running the company often DO often genuinely care about their consumers, because they've finally caught up to the idea that being nice to your consumers is a good way to keep them buying your products. So how do you tell the difference between companies that pretend to give a shit, and companies that actually do? It's simple; look at their actions as well as their words.

Some companies talk a big game about being connected with their consumers, but the actions they take (or don't take) indicate they don't actually care that much about their consumers at all. For example, Lush have been receiving a growing number of complaints for some time now about the amount of parabens in their products. Personally, I don't really a give a damn either way because I'm not that fussed about parabens, but it's a big deal to a lot of their devoted Lushies. And what have Lush done in response to these complaints? Precisely nothing, apart from explaining at length how wrongheaded their consumer's concerns are. It's not like there aren't alternatives to parabens available, and plenty of other brands have switched to paraben free formulations. But for all their talk about caring about their consumers, Lush have chosen not to make this change.

The actions taken to back up a company's claim they care about their consumers don't have to be big, or as complicated as changing a formula. Lego gained an enormous amount of good press and genuine goodwill be replacing a little boy's figure after he lost it at the shops. This one action not only made that kids day, but helped their image enormously. GameStop took similarly effective action when Duke Nukem Forever was finally released after being trapped in development limbo for 20 years. (It was unfortunately, an absolutely APPALLING game, but that's beside the point of this particular story) They announced they would honour ALL pre-orders for the game, no matter how old, and most notably  rewarded a ten year old deposit of ten dollars with a copy of the game, as well as a bunch of swag. They didn't have to do this - no one would have blamed them if they hadn't. The game had been through three different developers, and was realistically a drastically different game in the end to the product that had initially been preordered. But it was worth losing the money to be able to back up their words about customer service with genuine action.

Prize, or punishment? It's hard to say.
 These examples from large companies are however, anomalies. It's the world of small business where genuine care for the consumer really flourishes, and is most often seen backed up with tangible actions. Alanna Renee got wind that a few of the polishes from her Harry Potter inspired Magical World collection were staining. This is something that happens with polish sometimes - you put a liquid full of pigment on a slightly porous surface and sometimes the interaction means you'll be left with a reminder of the polish until it grows off your nail bed. It's annoying, but sometimes it happens. Several polishes from larger companies are well known for staining - people have  been complaining about OPI Fly (among others) since it was released, and OPI have done precisely nothing about it. Alanna Renee on the other hand, pulled the unsatisfactory stock immediately, and has since reformulated them to solve the issue. She could have kept selling them, and addressed any complaints as they came up. Chances are most of the people affected probably wouldn't have complained, because they're used to companies like OPI where complaining makes no difference at all. But of her own volition, she turned down those sales and held off until she had something she felt she could be proud of, and that ALL her customers would be happy with. Most of the indie polish makers I've bought from have a very similar attitude to quality control, and it's one of the reasons I'm so happy to tirelessly plug them.

Interaction with your customer base is another aspect of marketing where small businesses can really effectively back up their "friendship" marketing with tangible action. Pretty Serious are one company I can think of that are particularly known for not only their fabulous customer service in a traditional sense, but their enthusiasm for getting customers involved in the process of product selection. They regularly feature upcoming potential products on their blog and Facebook, which is a fantastic way to do accurate, relevant market research as well as making your customers feel involved with the company. Everyone loves to be asked their opinion, and it's even more gratifying when you get the sense the company is actually LISTENING because they take ACTION. I could write to Dove and say that I'm bored with the smells they have available, but I very much doubt I would hear anything back. A hundred people could do the same, and the best we could hope for is a form letter response. Pretty Serious put up a post on their blog asking if their customers would buy a polish called Purple Monkey Dishwasher, and because I'm a dork, I said hell yes. So did a lot of other people, and now they're making it, and we are all just that little bit more devoted to supporting Pretty Serious.

Purple Monkey Dishwasher, photo courtesy of the Pretty Serious blog
The point of all this rambling is actually quite simple, when it gets right down it. If I have the choice of being surrounded by marketing from companies like Dove with their ultimately flawed but overall pleasant messages of self love, or companies like Bliss that are happy to call me fat to my face, I would pick Dove any day. But I choose to spend my money elsewhere - with companies that not only embrace friendship marketing, but also back up their words with solid actions.

There are two indie polish collections coming out on Wednesday...

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