Thursday, October 17, 2013

Aimee Tries to Sign Up for Obamacare - A Marketer's Nightmare

I've been trying to call it the Affordable Care Act because I think Obamacare is derogatory. But after checking out how to purchase insurance on the Maryland exchange, I'm laying the name right square on the president. This was one of the most hotly contested legislative decisions ever in the history of the nation and the web site doesn't work. And it's cost something like $300 million, so far. Take responsibility Mr. President.

Something this important should not have been put through the federal government procurement process. Where was the White House when this was being built? Where was its Chief Technology Officer? 

So here's my experience after they've already started fixing this thing.

First I went on and registered which is a ridiculous process. Someone in HHS or maybe lots of someones decided that you should not be able to browse the site without registering. Bad idea. Why? Because it's a cumbersome process (better than FAFSA however, and that's not a compliment). At least FAFSA has an end.

Not only that but who didn't think that the most important thing to the general public would be checking out the pricing right away? The conservatives are now claiming that the web site was set up so you couldn't see the prices. It's a huge story in Forbes. Think people. What's that government word I've heard way too much of - Optics. Give the people a chance to explore - don't make them qualify first. It's just dumb.

So I registered and told them how much money I make, and since I'm not having a great year, I qualified. That was about 15 minutes and I was lucky. I got through to the right place and ended up there but that's not all of it.

So after you register they send you an email telling you what to do next. But like anyone who just wants to look I went into the site with my new name and password. Then I had to fill out more forms - a lot of them. About 2/3 of the way through the system died on me. I have no idea if the information still exists but I'm not going to fill them out again any time soon.

Then I finally get the email awhile later and I got back on. And I got into a part of the Maryland Exchange that allowed me to look at plans. But it was so clunky and there were so many choices and they weren't really organized at all. So I just poked around. It seemed like everything was cheaper than what I'm paying now on a federal program that ends in 18 months but then you go to the next level and start looking at the deductibles. There's this weird system where it shows you what it will cost you in the first year and it's thousands of dollars. And it's not clear what the costs really are. The plans that were under $300 for an individual had deductibles of $3-$5,000. Well so other than if I get really sick how does that help me?

Where were the marketers?

Then the Maryland site sent me to another place - not to be spooky but a dark place that I had no purpose being. And I got off. Two hours and nothing solved. If we marketers ever did that to a client we'd never work in this town again. 

Now I'm not giving up completely but has the basic problem that every federal web site has which is that it was designed by technology people, not marketers. And I'm willing to bet, quite a lot if anyone wants to take me up on it, that it was never tested with consumers. How can you spend close to $300 million without having your users try the darn system? I can guarantee you that if they did - it would work and the layers would make sense.

The president won a great victory in saving his signature healthcare legislation. The test phase should not be the same as the roll-out. Marketing 100. Surely someone in the government gets that.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mad Men Pearls of Wisdom

Ed McCabe 

“Weak advertising tells people what you want them to know. Strong advertising gets people to conclude what you want them to know. I have a theory that comes from the smoking era. If you walk up to someone on the street and say, ‘Excuse me, sir,’ they are gone. But if you come right out and say, ‘Got a match?’ you get your match.”

Jerry Della Femina

Keith Reinhardt

"The first rule of creativity is, “Be prepared to look foolish.” If you are bothered by the snickers of those who take comfort in the “tried and true,” it’s unlikely you’ll be very creative."

Donny Deutsch

“If you can’t embrace failure, or the possibility of failure, or the tremendous fear of failure, you can’t be wildly successful.” 

And the master . . .David Ogilvy

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar. “

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Scientists are from Mars, the Rest of Us are Marketers

The National Academy of the Sciences is holding a conference this week called "The Science of Science Communications" and it opened up the web cast to whomever wanted to watch. I've seen some of it and have found myself wanting to scream at the screen. 

The scientists have discovered story telling and narrative as a way of connecting the general population to the wonders of science. They are still debating how to do it of course. They told us that if you make a connection with people - use analogies - tell the story of how the research was developed and where it led - humanize the researcher - people will pay attention and perhaps even care. 

The conference should really have been called "A Celebration of Breaking Bad." Many presenters referenced the AMC show which over six seasons has been a brilliant character study of how a dying high school chemistry teacher turned into a meth manufacturer because he desperately needed the money, and chemistry helped him do it. 

News flash - this is not a show about the wonders of chemistry - it's about how someone who is essentially a good person transforms into a monster who lacks any form of morality except moderately where his family is concerned. There are formulas in the introduction to the show - that's about as deep as it gets into chemistry.

Do we really want to celebrate that?

The absolute irony was the presentations used to convey the scientists insights into science communications were scientific. They had charts with lots of labeled dots - were presented in language that was so thick it was hard to figure out. In other words, here are the purveyors of science communication telling scientists how to communicate, and they are not following their own advice. 

A breakthrough on one panel was when a researcher who is figuring out how to communicate with teens explained that you have understand the target audience before you determine the best ways to talk to its members. I'll let that one stand on its own.

Another questioner pointed out that all of the scientific journal articles start out with the end result of the research - the great finding - and then work backwords to explain how they got there. But from Point A to Point B is oversimplified and not really an accurate description of how science works. 
"Science is messy," she said, meaning that the whole point of basic research is that it may not lead where it was expected too. Why don't we just start there?

Or learn from the graduate students. In November of 2012 NSF had a video contest for its Graduate Research Fellows and the students' depictions of their work was wonderful. Check out the winners at:

I guess this is a rant. But if the senior science communicators don't know how to make it matter to the rest of us then who does? Maybe it's just a job for marketing.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Put the Damn Cell Phone Down and Talk to Me

The more you blog, the more you condense, the more you message, the easier it becomes to read a converasation, know what's missing, and inspire a new line of conversation.

This happened the other day with me when a LinkedIn post entitled "What Interviewers Wish they Could Tell Job Candidates" had some very good advice but missed all the technology.

My comment, was about what you are supposed to do when someone reads texts while they are talking to you. Do you say something? Do you steam? Do you know they are sending you a message that you are less important to them than the phone in their hand?

This type of behavior from an interviewer is more common than ever and it's unconscionably rude. I tell my kids to put the damn phone down. But what do I tell someone I want something from?

Here's a link to the post and what was said.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Marketing Pundits Explain Brand Evangelism to Vocus

A growing number of marketers have drunk the brand evangelist Kool-Aid and it's a pleasure to listen to what they are saying. An evangelist is not just a loyal or even a super loyal customer - it's not even someone who fervently believes in your product - it's someone who cares about it - who takes it to heart. 

And in the age of social marketing, your evangelist can and often does tell everyone they know about you, who then tell everyone they know, and it keeps going for a long time. 

People sleep on the streets for the latest version of the iPhone. Need I say more? 

I just ghostwrote an article for a CMO about brand evangelism which should appear in major media soon - and will share as soon as I can. What was fascinating is she talked about the evangelist in the non-profit world and what can be done to build them in corporate. Stay tuned.

The social marketing world is all about evangelism - and a growing number of highly respected, and quite rich marketing consultants are out there preaching it like the gospel. Vocus, the Beltsville-based cloud marketing software company, began a leadership series in August with the current crop of gurus - Seth Godin, Dorie Clark and Rohit Barghava among them. They make a case for building a network of evangelists and how to keep them once you get them. What they say is nothing earthshattering, but the way they put it hits home. And it's blissfully short - one message each. Evidently there's more to come.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A PR Pitch is Not a Tweet - The Worst of the Worst

For those of you who were not in PR at the time, or do not remember – although how you could forget I do not know – there was once a PR person at a big agency named Amber who represented a company called Hot Pockets. After 9/11 she sent out a press release about how people might want to check out this comfort food after what happened on that day. Unless she was the bosses’ daughter – actually even if she was – Amber lost her job when the Washington Post published her release with a commentary.
There are far more bad PR people than good and as a service to those of you who are looking for an agency or need PR here are a few articles about the worst that PR has to offer. One of the biggest issues is that so many of the PR people who don’t know what they are doing are young, untrained and trying to get the attention of actual journalists in the same way they would create a tweet or Facebook post. PR requires a real story to tell and a respectful pitch note.
For your amusement here are some of the worst pitches out there:
From Deadspin
From: Chris Brown - Wantster
Subject: Chris Brown and Wantster to make sick kid's wish come true
For Immediate Release - Toronto, Canada – July 16, 2013
When social site learned of Chris Brown's support of the Kids Wish Network following a backlash of media reports of locals trying to boycott Brown from headlining the Energy Rush concert series, the company decided to get involved as a major sponsor. Wantster is working with Kids Wish Network and Chris Brown to fulfill the want of a child who is battling a life threatening illness. "We wanted to check off "MEET CHRIS BROWN" from one lucky child's want list by granting them an up close and personal meeting with Brown himself and VIP access to one of the concerts taking place in Halifax, Winnipeg or Toronto", says Kathy Brewer, publicist for Wantster.

From Bob Garfield in MediaPost

I  mean, check out this big scoop, courtesy of Jeff Inks and Theresa Jacobs over at ALI. (Come on. Don’t pretend you don’t know the initials…)
American Ladder Institute Exhibits at NSC Expo
CHICAGO – The American Ladder Institute (ALI), a not-for-profit association dedicated to developing ladder safety standards and promoting safe ladder use, will be exhibiting at the 2013 National Safety Council (NSC) Expo taking place September 30 – October 2 in Chicago.
Look, guys, I don't want to be too smart-alecky about this, but if I didn't bite on your Ladder Safety Month release, why would I promote your convention booth? In future, please address your ladder-awareness news to My inbox is no place for your spam. And by the way, on the subject of pork and pork byproducts, this arrived from Peter Marchese of Playback Producers:
.Intv Opp-Bacon Nation
Hi, folks!  Are you a bacon-lover? Check out these 125 recipes that show bacon isn’t just for breakfast anymore!!  Please let me know if you’d like to book an interview!    

From Gawker

Hello! My name is Veronica. [Hi.] I found your blog through my research on Technorati, Google, and Social Media sites. [Thank you, fascinating.] After reviewing your site, I commend you. I respect your work. I know that blogging is more work than most understand. [God damn right Veronica.]
I'm reaching out to you to start the discussion of working together. I'm looking to promote our easy, convenient, and confidential car title loans as an alternative to other traditional lender options for those across the nation with financial hardships.[Let me stop you right there, Veronica. You see, we are a humorous general interest blog site with little to no connection to the topic of car title loans. Furthermore, we are not in the business of promoting specific car title loan companies. Even our car site, Jalopnik, where you should have sent this email (if only you did not think we are The Huffington Post), does not do that. So you're really wasting your time here. Thanks anyhow. You may stop writing, hit "Cancel," and continue on doing something more productive with your day now.] 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hollywood PR People Miley Cyrus' Image Matters to Parents Too

Every time I see another Disney princess from my daughters pre-teen years (aka this time Miley Cyrus) trying to break away from her nice girl image and transformed into someone I never want my daughter to behave like I get furious.Not just furious at Miley and the entourage around her who are charging her insane amounts of money for advice on how to take her from the teen to adult market. But mostly at her PR people. Don't you get that parents actually pay attention to this stuff too?

I have news for you folks. There's alluring, there's sexy and there's obscene. Often in an effort to spark a national conversation about your "product" oh no I mean star, you turn away the very teen girls who used to watch her. Any girl brought up with a modicum of decency doesn't want to see Miley do whatever it was she did on the MTV awards last weekend. It's gross, and it can't be good for record sales. Maybe for the short term but not the long.

Let's compare. Miranda Cosgrove, teen princess from the Drake & Josh show which every parent approved of and watched a long side their children. Moved to a show where she was more grown up but still grappling with the issues that a teen girl deals with. Amanda Bynes from The Amanda Show on which she was sweet, bubbly, funny - now transformed into the next generation Lindsay Lohan. Which would you rather have your daughters experience? 

Or are you too busy to pay attention to what your daughters are watching. Even the Kardashians aren't as bad as what some of the former teen idols are doing. At least they are unabashed, ridiculously selfish, overly plasticized versions of someone I would throw rotten tomatoes at. And they got rich doing it. If America wants to watch that crap then let it. But don't take a young girl my daughter grew up admiring and turn her into a porn star at the MTV awards, really?

I am not a prude by any means but we have swung way, way to far towards the othe side of the pendulum. There is a middle ground between a girl who is saving her virginity for marriage and one who is openly available to everyone. And the PR people who orchestrate these events should know better.