Examples of digital marketing fails (broken windows)

The last time I gave a workshop on the Broken Windows Theory and how it related to marketing, a participant gave me feedback that I needed to include more web-based and digital examples. And, she’s absolutely right.

So to fix that, I’ve started collecting digital examples of broken windows. Taking inspiration from one of the blogs I read for fun, McMansion Hell, I’ve added parody comments to the photos.

Without further adieu, enjoy!

Priority Pass website with residence spelled incorrectly

Another fun fact about this one: I was nice and emailed their support department over a month ago and let them know about the typo. I got a standard, “thanks for your feedback” macro response. But did they fix it? Nope.

Cooking light recipe missing ingredients

So much for wanting to make this recipe

Branding to millennials web banner where millennials is spelled wrong. It also shows only white men and they are using their technology in ways that looks like work. There is only one woman in the photo. She's white, and taking a selfie

Thanks to a friend for sending me this one. Beyond the typos, my friend pointed out that the graphic is also problematic; it only shows white millennials even though millennials are incredibly diverse, and the only woman depicted is using her technology to narcissistically take a selfie.

Linked in notification, saying I haven't connected with a coworker for 2 years, even though I work with him every day

Let’s be real here for a minute: We really know why this came up. Phil hasn’t had a need to get on LinkedIn in a few years and they want him back, because eyeballs mean ad revenue. So it’s more about getting him back than doing to me a favor. But to me, it feels like that ex who tells your friends to tell you that they “just hope you are well” in hopes you’ll take that as a cue to contact them.

To give LinkedIn credit, this may be helpful at a large organization where you don’t interact with almost everyone every day. So, for this one, it could be a simple change to the algorithm; only show these messages if it’s an organization of x (200?) employees or more.

Screenshot of a law firm website where the photo of the lawyers is pixelated in a way that gives them a weird halo/aura around their heads

Two ideas of how this might have went down:

Option 1:

Web designer: Can you send me a high resolution version of the photo of you in the courtroom?

Lawyers: Sure. Here you go.

Web designer: Um, that’s low resolution. Can you send me the high res file?

Lawyers: We sent you the file.

Web designer: Yes, I know, but you sent me the low res file

Lawyers: We sent you the file!!!! Just do your file.

Web designer: (sigh) Fine. I give up (or a stronger version of this)

Option 2:

Web designer: We need high quality photos for the website

Lawyers: How much is that going to cost?

Web designer: (gives number)

Lawyers: What?!? That’s too much money. Ted’s kid does a great job taking photos. We’ll just have him do it with his phone.

Web designer: Those won’t look good

Lawyers: They’ll look fine…

On another note, the reason I ended up on their website in the first place is because of some entertaining billboard replacement.

A billboard for a law firm that represents drunk driving cases. Below it is a billboard for Miller Lite

Moving on…

A screenshot of an email promotion from a gym advertising a pizza and beer party after a new workout class

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the hypocrisy of gyms serving pizza and beer. This one is especially fun because the fitness center is tied to a hospital.

An iphone screenshot of Jason's Deli's website with the words "Access Denied" when I tried to click on their nutrition information

Actually they are right, I don’t want to see the nutrition info. I’m happy being blissfully unaware in this case.

iphone screenshot of a website with an error message that says "email not exists"

There, I fixed it.

Fair use disclaimer

All screenshots are used in this post under fair use for the purposes of education, satire, and parody, consistent with 17 USC §107.

Women as allies is a powerful tool to help prevent sexual assault

A few years ago, I found myself in a mostly deserted pub in Northern Houston, killing time with a few friends before an event. A young couple walked in and sat at the bar and, after a while, the young woman got up and went to the restroom.

And that’s when I saw it happen; the man that she was at the bar with called the bartender over while she was gone and he had the bartender pour another shot of alcohol into the woman’s drink.

I causally got up and walked to the restroom, where I found the young woman. After telling her what I saw, I finished by saying, “I think you need to come with us.”  And she responded with something like “Oh no, he’s just a friend, I’m fine.” “Did you ask him to put another shot in your drink?” I asked. “No, but I’m sure it’s fine,” she responded.

My friend Amanda had been listening to the conversation, and finally lost patience. “I don’t think you understand what my friend is trying to tell you. You are in a potential date rape situation. He’s trying to get you drunk without you knowing it. My friend here is trying to protect you,” she said to the woman. Still the woman persisted that all was fine.  Finally, we gave up and let her go. She and the male she came in with left the bar shortly after that.

Was letting the woman go the right thing to do? To this day, I’m not sure. I personally do a lot of contact sports and have been often pulled aside from someone being concerned for my welfare, so I hope that this situation was something similar, but I’m not fully convinced either. And, a former bartender friend pointed out later, I could have also turned the bartender for an ethics violation, a good lesson in what else to do in the future.

As I listen to #MeToo stories today from the restaurant industry as well as the stories of women warning other women about “creepy men,” I was reminded of the story above. And I realized there is a power we women have in this battle against sexual assault, we can share information, look out for one another, support one another, and pursue action against men who harm us, if not for ourselves, to protect other women.

I’m not insinuating that women in general are to blame nor is changing our actions going to solve the issue, I think in-group pressure (men fighting against and stopping the behavior of the abusive men) is the long-term solution, but until then, the more we can view each other as allies vs. competition, stand-up for one another, and share information with one another, the better our chances of staying safe.

Safe drinking tips:

  • Never, ever accept a drink you didn’t personally see opened or made.
  • Go to the restroom between drinks or take your drink to the restroom with you. Never leave it alone.
  • Always keep an eye on your drink, and even a hand if you can. If you get distracted, don’t drink the drink.
  • If you think it’ll “look odd” not to be drinking, ask the bartender quietly for a “mocktail” or simply ask for a club soda with lime.
  • If someone is pressuring you to drink something you don’t want to, and you feel a “no” is a poor option, get clumsy and accidentally knock it over. Then don’t be around that person anymore.
  • Only drink a little bit while out, drink slowly and rotate between water and alcohol.
  • Eat before and during drinking alcohol.
  • More great tips from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

What’s with all of the Shen Yun ads?

Photograph of women in traditional Chinese attire performing a dance
Image from lyndenj licensed under CC0 Creative Commons license.

If you live anywhere near a large city, you’ve probably seen the billboards, posters, flyers, etc. showing a woman graciously dancing, inviting you to a traditional Chinese dance performance called Shen Yun.

When I first saw these ads, I thought, “Oh how nice, I love cultural events promoting international art forms.” What set-off my skepticism, however, was the volume of their advertising. I sold billboard and radio advertising in the very early years of my career and have bought a lot of mass media as a marketing director. Using that knowledge, I did some rough math for the Houston area: the potential income from these performances in ticket sales (not factoring for any freebies given out and assuming each show is sold out) minus advertising expenses (that I knew of, which is limited since I don’t have TV and don’t travel the whole city), event rental hall prices, and costs of travel and such for the dance troupe.

I couldn’t make the math work where they would turn a profit.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who noticed their seemingly unlimited promotional budget and got curious; The Guardian has a great investigative piece about Shen Yun that is worth reading as does the Los Angeles Times. Both articles claim the goal of the performances is not to turn a profit from selling tickets, but to promote the agenda of a particular religious group, Falun Gong (Falun Dafa), and gain sympathy of their persecution by the Chinese government.

Which “side” is right? I don’t claim to have an opinion on this. But it’s important to highlight examples like their advertising and events where the goal of the advertising and/or event is different than we would originally assume.

Increase effectiveness of employee decision-making using Commander’s Intent

As organizations evolve to include more autonomous employees and roles, Commander’s Intent practices are making their way into offices to adjust to this new dynamic. For the concept to work effectively, however, leaders and team members need to fully understand their roles.

A woman facing two different paths through rows of corn, as if trying to make a decision of which way to go
“decisions” by Matt Wiebe, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“Do you need to check with your supervisor before making this change?” the woman on the other end of the phone said, when I asked her to make a last-minute adjustment to a plan due to new circumstances.

“I appreciate you asking. Knowing our leaders, I’m positive they’d be ok the decision and me making it. And, I’ll accept full responsibility for authorizing the change,” I responded gently, knowing her question came from good intentions.

The conversation above demonstrates a big part of my role; I’m often in a position where I have to make decisions or take actions on behalf of the leaders of my organization. What makes me comfortable in doing so is that we have a strong culture of Commander’s Intent.

Commander’s Intent is a military concept where the leader provides the ultimate goal of the orders (intent) along with the actual orders, so if something changes during an operation the military members carrying-out the orders are still able to take action to meet the ultimate goal.  Example: “The intent is to take the beach. Here are your orders on how, but if something changes, adjust according to your training and meet your ultimate goal: take the beach.”

As organizations evolve to include more autonomous employees and roles, Commander’s Intent practices are making their way into offices to adjust to this new dynamic. For the concept to work effectively, however, leaders and team members need to fully understand their roles.

Leader roles

  • Hire autonomous-oriented team members with good judgment who are willing to learn your intentions and act on those.
  • When giving direction and communicating decisions, go beyond just giving the direction and decision, explain why that’s the right decision, what factors played into that decision, and how you made the decision.
  • Over-communicate what’s going on in the organization and why, and document the past heavily. A leader is often able to make good decisions because they have all of the information needed to make that decision. Give your team members as much information as possible so they can be an effective extension of you when making decisions.
  • Be willing to let go of control. Commander’s intent doesn’t work if you’re a micromanager because team members won’t feel they have the ability to make autonomous decisions.
  • Provide feedback gently when a team member makes a decision that you don’t agree with. The goal of this conversation is to further the employee’s learning and understanding. If it comes across as punitive and judgmental, team members will be discouraged from acting in the future.
  • Communicate what rules are “hard” rules and what rules are more flexible. Communicate instances where employees can make decisions on your behalf and when they can’t.

Team member roles

  • Ensure the leaders you work with are on-board with the Commander’s Intent philosophy.
  • Learn the leaders. How do they make decisions? Why do they make the decisions they make? What other leaders do they admire? What books, magazines, and blogs do they read? What are their key principles, no matter what the situation?
  • If the leader doesn’t give you the intent information, ask for it.
  • Recognize when you’re making a decision on behalf of a leader and make that decision based on what the leader would do, not what you would do.
  • Continually keep abreast of the organization’s goals, initiatives, rules, etc. and use these to drive your decision-making.
  • After acting on behalf of the leader, seek feedback. I format this feedback-seeking in the following way: 1) Decision I made 2) What information about the leader I used to make that decision (previous similar decisions they’ve made, information they’ve shared, etc.) 3) Ask for feedback, such as “Is that what you would have done?” and/or “What would you like me to do in the future in a similar situation?” 4) If they would have done something differently, I ask a lot of follow-up questions to learn and refine my decision-making.

With the above in place, you can foster an organizational culture where team members can effectively be an extension of their leaders, which can greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization overall.

 

Good in theory, bad in execution

I often use this phrase when something that involved a solid plan with great thought behind the plan turns-out badly.

One of the main reasons that I like this phrase is that it acknowledges that strategic thinking may not always yield good results. And, if something does go wrong, there may not be someone or something responsible for the issue.

Examples:

  • A public relations director planned the perfect timing to distribute a press release to maximize news coverage. And, two hours after releasing it, a major community leader’s house burned down, taking all attention away from the release.
  • A bride and groom can plan their wedding for the time of year with the least likelihood of weather issues, and a fluke weather pattern can still create bad weather that day.
  • A retirement planning firm bought ads during a TV show series. In the ad, they positioned their financial planner, named Mary, as someone you could trust. One of the episodes of the TV show, unfortunately, was about a famous cult leader also named Mary and how she duped so many out of their fortunes.

You can almost always learn some things from incidents that execute badly, despite the best planning, but sometimes they are simply flukes. The trick is to know the difference.

Crisis Communications: Stopping a misunderstood customer service experience from going viral

While giving the full explanation each time may not fully prevent customer service issues from going viral and it may make things worse if it frustrates the customer, it can prevent others who are overhearing the conversation from making up their own story and creating a viral crisis via social media.

A photo of empty seats on a Southwest Airlines airplane
“Southwest Airlines” by Kevin Dooley, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association’s (AOPA) Flight Training magazine to read an article subtitled Who really suffers after an airline incident goes viral.

The article highlights a couple of recent airline customer service experiences, such as a man being dragged-off a United Airlines flight, and how could have been solved in more productive ways. It also argues that, had the whole story of some of these recent incidences been what the public saw, the court of public judgement may have judged the incidences differently.

The latter point is what interested me, as it emphasizes one of the most fundamental principles of crisis communication: If you don’t give people the whole story, they will make up the information they are missing.

And it gives us a way to potentially solve the issue. Customer service representatives need to make sure that EVERY time they discuss they issue, they give the full story and preferably in every sentence. 

In the case of two teenage girls not able to board a United flight because they were wearing leggings, the reason was that they were using “buddy passes” which have strict dress codes. While I wasn’t there and can only surmise what happened, I’m guessing the gate agent, who was probably in a rush, probably said something like “Sorry, you two are’t properly dressed to board this flight” when the Shannon Watts (the woman who complained about it on twitter) overheard. What’s missing from the above version? The full story about them being on buddy passes.

What would it look like to explain the full story in this situation?

Gate agent: You are traveling on a free buddy ticket and your outfit does not meet the dress code for using a free buddy ticket.

Ladies: What?

Gate agent: You are traveling on a free buddy ticket and your outfit does not meet the dress code for using a free buddy ticket. Do you have something else you can change into that meets the dress code for using a free buddy ticket?

Ladies: We didn’t know that. What’s the dress code?

Gate agent: Here is the dress code for using a free buddy ticket. Do you have something else you can change into that meets the dress code for using a free buddy ticket?

But this is hard, gets redundant and takes time in a stressful situation, so people start taking shortcuts.

Gate agent: You don’t meet the dress code, is there something else you can change into?

Reading the above, you can see how, if someone just heard this statement, they could start making-up the rest of the story.

While giving the full explanation each time may not fully prevent customer service issues from going viral and it may make things worse if it frustrates the customer (more trial of this is needed to understand and refine), it can prevent others who are overhearing the conversation from making up their own story and creating a viral crisis via social media.

And when you find yourself on the flip side and the person who overhears, PLEASE take a minute to find out the rest of the story before you pass judgement. I know, easier said than done, and I mess this up all the time, but the more we do this, the less issues we will all have.