Social Media and the United Breaks Guitars Video – A Cautionary Tale for ALL marketers

With more than 5.3 million people having already watched it, Dave Carroll’s  “United Breaks Guitars” video has become an internet social media phenomenon.  I first saw the video posted on Facebook by a friend.

For the last year I’ve been saying — screaming actually — that companies better have their acts together, otherwise they’re sitting ducks in this new age of customer centricity. If your customer service, products and brand image aren’t all buttoned up, you risk getting skewered on the internet, i.e., the people’s media.

The video I’m referring to is really amazing to see. Here’s the story behind it: United Airline’s baggage handlers break a passenger’s guitar, and the next thing you know 5.3 million people hear about it in a catchy, four-minute ditty on YouTube. Viralocity at its finest (and scariest).

The song has gone so mainstream that you can now buy it on iTunes. For just 99 cents, you too can help spread negative publicity about an airline. I hate to admit it, but I actually feel sorry for United. Well, to a point anyway.

As a marketer and consultant, I’ve seen every variation of apathetic customer service and crappy products sold by spin and hype alone. As a 30-year student of marketing and advertising — and, of course, firsthand experience — I’ve witnessed brands whose positionings were so far divergent from their actual customer experiences that you have to wonder what the C-level execs were thinking when they were sold hook, line and sinker on some overzealous, over-researched agencies’ campaigns. I can just hear it now: “Well, our market research says that if you … ”

But none of that scares me more than the internet and social media, and their power to kill your brand dead with a song, tweet, Facebook status update, blog post, thumbs down, etc.

You should be terrified, too. If you’re reading this column, let it be a call to action for you. Let my words galvanize you into looking into how your customers and prospects experience  — I’ll say it again — your customer service, products and brand image. I know I sound preachy, but how would you like a song written and gone viral about your company?

I strongly urge you to get together with your key staff members to pick apart every one of your company’s touchpoints to ensure every contact in every touchpoint is handled in a pristine manner.

To close out my sermon for the week, I want to leave you with a personal recollection from my early days in direct marketing. In the ’80s I was selling direct marketing media, and to hone my craft I read a book called “How to Sell Anything to Anybody,” written by a car salesman named Joe Girard. Girard had this rule, the rule of 250, which basically stated that any person you come into contact with knew and could influence 250 other people — positively or negatively. That one rule both terrified and inspired me. Here it is expressed mathematically: 1:250.

Thanks to social media, Joe’s rule has expanded just a little, I’d say. Take the United Airlines case, for instance, and do the math. It’s 1:5,322,806.

Oh, and by the way, check out the sequel to “United Breaks Guitars” here. It takes square aim at United’s policies and people who refused to pay for the guitar to be fixed. It’s already climbing the charts.

10 Ways to Reduce Direct Marketing Costs, Save Your Company and Look Like a Superstar!

While our economy is showing some signs of life, still most people I know are freaked out, totally stressed; and terrified of losing their jobs, homes and more.

It has been tough out there for direct and multichannel marketers.

But all isn’t bad. I swear!

There’s an amazing opportunity in all of this chaos to streamline your business, strip away the dead wood in your budgets and be a rock star in your company.

Here are 10 steps to help you get started:

1. It’s time to renegotiate everything. Start with your key area’s of business — printing, mailing, lists, creative, prepress (oops, I meant premedia).

2. Do a print review. Have your printer bid against other printers. I did this for a turnaround I worked on and was able to reduce printing costs by 20 percent. (Seems my predecessor was asleep at the wheel.)

3. Tweak your catalog’s trim size or basis weight. You may find some cost savings there.

4. Co-mail! This can reduce your postage costs.

5. Take advantage of destination-entry discounts. (Ask your printer about what this and co-mailing entail, and what you can save. Or e-mail me and I’ll explain.)

6. List brokers are offering discounts and test pricing for mail files. Ask and you shall receive.

7. Look for more list exchanges. These can be had for run charges, a fraction of the rental fee.

8. Use the co-op databases, such as I-Behavior, Abacus and NextAction. They’ll model your customers and rent you prospect names for less than list rentals.

9. Do your matchbacks. Make sure you’re analyzing your mailings the best and most accurate way possible.

10. Run NCOALink, merge/purge and other list hygiene products before each mailing. I had a client who had the same name on his database six times. Waste of money! You only need one instance of a name to mail it. Find yourself a great service bureau to steer you to savings.

In two weeks I’ll give you 10 more ways to save money and reach superstar status. In the meantime, if you need any clarifications on these or any other ways to save money, let me know and I’ll work your answer into my next column.

Hang in there!

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at

5 Pointers for Out-of-Work Direct Marketers (or ones who just want to hedge their bets)

Note from Jim: Originally published in All About ROI Magazine (formerly Catalog Success) Filling my virtual shoes this week while I’m on vacation is Jerry Bernhart, president of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, and author of the Direct Marketing Employment Outlook Survey.

For those of you actively looking for employment, let me offer a few things you can do to help you get that extra edge. This may not all be new to you, but these key points are worth repeating.

1. Make sure your resume screams, “I can add value!” I still see way too many resumes that are long on titles and descriptions, but short on specific accomplishments and achievements. That always amazes me. Metrics are an integral part of the direct marketing process, yet many marketers’ resumes often neglect to include what really matters most — quantifiable results. If you don’t brag on your resume, no one else is going to do it for you.

Be very specific, quantify where possible and use some choice action verbs to describe what you achieved. Companies have already taken steps to slash costs, so think more about what you’ve done to contribute to revenue growth, such as acquiring and keeping new customers; new products; new market segments; how you’ve helped improve recency, frequency and monetary value; and so on. Don’t forget to make your resume keyword-friendly. Use terms that are specific to your job or career objectives, and use them often. Continue reading

Blogging primer part 2 – Jim gives up his power blogging secrets!

In part 1 of this series, I discussed the many ways to add value to your blog and cement your brand to your readers — essentially your customers and prospects. In part 2, I get a bit personal, offering some tips I’ve used to build my personal direct marketing blog and others.

As a direct marketing consultant, blogging has been a powerful tool for me as part of my overall networking strategy. While I do plenty of in-person networking, I much prefer the newfangled way of using my blog and social media to drive lead generation and ultimately customers my way.

So here, follow these steps. And shhh, don’t tell anybody about this, OK? Continue reading

Blogging Primer – WHAT to blog for success

When used correctly, blogs can be an excellent tool for engaging prospects and customers — especially in today’s environment, when the companies we deal with are more machine than human. We call in and get interactive voice response rather than a live person. We read FAQs instead of speaking to customer service reps. It’s an isolated feeling.

So when I create a blog for a client, I do the following three things: Continue reading

Less bars in less places AT&T/iPhone video proves out how viral video works in a social media, customer-centric world

I am always banging home the point that social media and web 2.0, especially video that goes viral can drive the success or failure of a product or service.  Here is a perfect little example of a video that is currently making the social media rounds that takes aim at the AT&T Apple Partnership with the iPhone; directly lobbying to get away from the exclusive arrangement.

My 2 cents: I love my iPhone, and I hate AT&T.  I got my iPhone 2 months ago.  Compared to Verizon, I get about 2-3 dropped calls a day, whereas I got 2-3 dropped calls every 6 months with Verizon.  With AT&T, I get “no service” all the time, while I barely had that problem with Verizon.  Here is a video that needs to continue to go viral until Apple gets the point and drops their exclusivity with AT&T.  Thanks again to Jeff Yaniga from My Compass Direct for the video. (note: video contains profanity)

Don’t listen to us – A primer for direct marketers on how TESTIMONIALS can be YOUR sales force

There’s an old adage that says, “The more you tell, the more you sell.” Let’s put a 21st century twist on this. Providing your prospects and customers with solid testimonials from present customers can be a powerful selling force for your business.

Get Psychological
From a psychological perspective, consumers much prefer to hear what their peers are saying. As we get deeper into the age of social media, peer recommendations are becoming the norm as part of a prospect’s evaluation process. No longer are you able to push out messages and have customers buy on impulse. Today’s consumers are extremely sophisticated. They seek out information from many sources beyond a company’s marketing materials before buying decisions are made.

Therefore, companies who provide their customer stories up front are giving themselves an edge over the competition.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to get testimonials from your customers. Here are four tips to help you get started with the process:

  1. In most cases, all you have to do is ask. Have your customer service reps ask everybody they’re on the phone with when they hear a good story. (Believe me, they hear all sorts of stories. The question is: Do they filter up to you?) Have your reps say something like, “Wow, what a great story! Would it be OK to share that with our other customers?” Simple, right?
  2. Scan your database and pick customers from your top RFM cell. Give them a call, send them a letter (of course thanking them for their patronage) and see what happens.
  3. It’s a little trickier to get video and pictures from your customers. But it may be worth adding some sort of incentive for video or pictures. A contest is always a good draw.
  4. Engage your customers on social media sites. Monitor what people are saying about you on your sites. Contact the ones who say great things. Of course, the ones who say not-so-nice things are customer service OPPORTUNITIES waiting to happen when you resolve their issues.

Where to Feature Your Testimonials?

  • On your blog, front and center.
  • Your homepage and all throughout your website.
  • In your emails and email newsletters.
  • How about in your fulfillment packages? People perceive the package they receive from you as a happy thing — a gift even. Psychologically, the payment is forgotten in most cases, leaving just the Christmas morning joy of opening the package. Stick a piece of collateral in there with some testimonials, and it reinforces the sale even further.
  • On your social media sites. Tweet them out. Post them to Facebook. Better yet, ask and your customers will post to Facebook themselves. Many times you’ll receive kudos on Facebook and Twitter you never expected.
  • And of course, in your catalogs.