Monthly Archives: November 2009

A Lesson in Irritating Your Consumer – J. Crew’s Social Media Campaign

Last Thursday on Thanksgiving, after my family said grace and gave thanks for all being together, the conversation shifted to a more important topic: what everyone wants for Christmas.

I am one of five semi-preppy 20-something siblings, and all of us receive marketing emails from J. Crew. Santa receives these emails too, and with frequent offers of 20 percent off of orders over $150 and free shipping,  the chances are very high that this Christmas morning we each open a box with a fuzzy new J.Crew sweater in our favorite color.

But, after dropping the requisite hints about how cute we all think the new cable knit v-necks with the ruffled detailing are, we began discussing how exactly we all know about that one cute sweater: J. Crew’s marketing.

In the past, we have all agreed that J.Crew’s marketing efforts have been superb. The company is religious about sending a glossy catalog to our residence each month. Its marketing emails are timely, and keep us informed of its sales, deals, and new merchandise. But its emails are pretty much always the same bargain – 20 percent off and/or free shipping, mostly on orders over $150. And that’s where the complaints began. The “deal” emails usually come in the same format – white lettering on a black background touting those same, predictable sales.

We started talking about marketing and the value of a brand switching up its techniques to keep things interesting for their consumers. We love J. Crew – we already want what it sells.  It does a great job of taking its tried and true concept and tweaking it just a little bit each season in order to keep things fresh.  That may be the reason we like its clothes, but it’s the reason we don’t like its marketing. We want J. Crew to surprise us, because we already know it can surprise us with little bows and sparkles on otherwise basic tee-shirts and headbands.

This leads me to our biggest complaint about J. Crew’s recent marketing – its social media campaign.  We all received the same email recently: J. Crew told us that if we became a fan of the J. Crew Facebook page, it would give us a special exclusive deal. “Ooooh” we thought, “maybe it’s a free tote bag or keychain! Maybe it’s 50 percent off!” But when each of us signed up as a Facebook fan and saw the deal, we were disappointed.  It was the usual twenty percent off.

Wow, never seen that before, J. Crew. Pretty exciting. You enticed us, your already devoted consumers, to be your Facebook fans, published that information on all of our friends newsfeeds, and will now flood our homepages with product and company updates. And all we get is a measly twenty percent off? Thanks a lot, really. Now, instead of making us happy, you’ve irritated us. You haven’t irritated us enough to stop buying your products, but maybe you’ve irritated us enough to de-fan you on Facebook, or worse, to unsubscribe from your marketing emails.

The moral of this story is that when your consumers are doing you a favor, you better reward them properly. Keep them interested, give them something unexpected to show them how valuable they are. But it has to be genuine – it can’t be the same old ploy. If J. Crew really had given us that tote bag or keychain, its dedicated consumers would have felt special and appreciated. We would have forwarded the offer to all of our friends, and the campaign would have generated hundreds of thousands more Facebook fans. Instead we feel annoyed and bored.  J. Crew is doing all the right things as far as keeping its consumers informed with email, social media, and direct print marketing, but it needs to work a little harder to keep things its marketing as exciting as its knits and tees.


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Tweet for Cash!

Social media is a great medium to market products, but twitter ads?  It’s a trend I’ve seen popping up lately, and I’m not the only one noticing. The NY Times wrote about it this weekend in their article A Friend’s Tweet Could Be an Ad. The basic concept is that companies target “influencers” (people with a ton of followers – think celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, John Mayer, and Ellen) to tweet about their product. Another company called Tweet for Cash is a program you can purchase that teaches you how to make money by twittering. A friend forwarded me this article (which is really an ad for Tweet for Cash disguised as an article… tricky tricky) about how an unemployed fast food worker now makes over $10,000 a month just by posting links on twitter.

The controversy arises because this concept dilutes the “authenticity” of Twitter. No one wants to be bombarded with ads in her social media conversation, and followers can probably easily see through the paid-for ad-tweets. I suppose it’s smart for companies to target key influencers on Twitter to help get their message out, but I also have to wonder if this is the smartest tactic. I’m not saying they shouldn’t do it, or that it’s an ineffective strategy for marketing. It’s just not believable. It’s just that if tweets aren’t coming from an authentic place, they feel low-grade and the whole process feels kind of unscrupulous. Then again, no one ever said Twitter was a place to engage in genuine, quality, thought provoking conversation – the whole premise is built on an in-one-ear-and-out-the-other mentality.

So, go ahead, Tweet for Cash! Why not! Mix those paid-for tweets in with your quotations from Nitche and Ghandi, and your profound reflections on life! I’ll forget about it just as fast as you can tweet it.

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Lululemon: The Lifestyle Brand

Lifestyle brand: Wikipedia defines the term as “a brand that attempts to embody the values and aspirations of a group or culture for purposes of marketing.”But a successful lifestyle brand actually flips this definition, creating its own culture and values that consumers embody. Then, instead of feeling like he’s being marketed to, the consumer actually becomes a cult-like follower of the brand. He or she becomes a brand evangelist, and we all know the power of word of mouth marketing!

A great example is Lululemon, a yoga-centric fitness gear company based in Vancouver, Canada. Twenty years ago, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson predicted yoga to be the next big fitness craze. But he noticed that the baggy, cottony clothes women were wearing to yoga classes weren’t optimal for were’t optimal for putting your leg over your head. Wilson developed stretchy, comfortable, and great looking yoga wear. The high tech fabrics and form-fitting designs allowed for better performance, and the clothes made women look and feel good, inspiring them to practice more yoga. Yoga itself is a lifestyle that encourages balance as well as hard work. Lululemon embodies these values in its products and company philosophy by creating a balance of good looking, comfortable, and functional active-wear, thus making it a highly successful lifestyle brand.


And while Lululemon embodies the culture of the yoga lifestyle, it helps create that culture too. One of the things that makes Lululemon such a successful lifestyle brand is its promotion of and interaction with its followers and the fitness community. The brand embraces customer feedback, asking for customer opinions and suggestions about its products on facebook, on its website, and even in the stores. It’s facebook page is extremely active, alive with customer feedback, fan’s photos of themselves in Lululemon gear doing yoga poses and other fitness activities, and fan/customer questions, goals, etc. It feels driven by the followers and customers passions – not dictated by Lululemon.

Lululemon’s other values are based around goal setting and achievement, both for its followers and for itself. The brand encourages followers to set one, five, and ten-year goals for themselves in their personal development, fitness, and career. The Lululemon website provides a template for followers to discuss their own values, set corresponding goals, and provides tools to measure customer’s progress. It also offers monthly fitness challenges to customers, and encourages them to send photos and tell stories of their achievements.

The clothing facilitates and promotes this lifestyle. With yoga at its core, the company has branched out to running gear, and has embraced this community as well. Both sports require very little in the way of technical gear, but you’d be surprised how much a great pair of yoga pants, sports bra, or running tights can help your performance. Each item has its own unique benefits – the special stitching, material, or hidden pocket makes paying that extra amount (pants run from about $75 – $120) totally worth it.

As a lifestyle brand interacting with followers, there is a ton of room for Lululemon to grow. Aside from opening more stores, there’s an opportunity to branch into Lululemon energy bars and/or drinks, perhaps encouraging customers to submit great healthy recipes. Customers could use the facebook page or social aspect of the Lululemon website to talk about diet as well as exercise (since it’s about total balance, after all!) sharing adventure stories, fitness moves, and ideas for healthy meals.

As lifestyle brands go, Lululemon is the total package – the values and lifestyle drive the products and inspire the customers – the customers give feedback to the company, and the company actually listens. Because of this genuine relationship between customer and brand, customers are happy to ascribe to the lifestyle – they don’t feel like they’re being marketed to, they feel a sense of participation.

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Social Media Revolution

This video puts some interesting statistics into a video format. It’s not breaking news that social media is a major phenomenon (if the population of Facebook were a country, it would be the worlds 4th largest!),  that people believe ads less and have the ability to
ignore them more, and that companies need to go where their consumers are (on social media, hello). But seeing these facts floating across the screen set to stirring music makes me stop and marvel at the major change that happening in marketing/advertising right now.

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ING New York City Marathon Drums Up Excitement on Facebook

This past weekend I was a bystander and team-supporter at the ING New York City Marathon. The NYC Marathon is a major event and a massive undertaking in New York City: this year, 43,0741 participants ran the 26.2 miles through all 5 NYC boroughs – from Staten Island up to the Bronx, and then back down to the finish line in the heart of Central Park. Two million spectators came out to cheer them on, and about 30 million more viewers followed the race from locations worldwide.


The marathon has been a tradition in NYC for 40 years now, but this year’s crowds owe a lot to social media. For example, my team raised over $14,000 for a charity called Team Continuum, primarily through fund-raising efforts on Facebook. Participants alerted their networks to the fact that they were running for this charity,  provided links to the fund-raising page, and sent out frequent updates on their progress toward meeting the financial goal. They also kept their networks posted on their training progress via newsfeed (i.e. “in agony: ran 17 miles”). With buzz generated for the various charities and the marathon itself, you could say that I (not to mention my team of friends who were actually running!) was pretty keyed up for the race on Sunday.

The ING New York City Marathon as an organization used social media in an interesting way on race day, although there are still opportunities to optimize their efforts (more on that later). Marathon sponsors The NY Road Runners Club created a system that allowed spectators to track up to ten participants. By entering a runner’s name into the system up to three days in advance, you would receive an email or text when that runner crossed each 5K interval up to the finish line. While you could not actually interact with the participant while they were running the marathon, this system allowed spectators and supporters a level of “participation” in the event. To take this interaction to the next level, in the future NY Road Runners could allow the system to tweet or send a facebook newsfeed alert from the runner each time they crossed one of the 5K marks. This would allow the participant’s entire network to know how the runner was doing.

Another interesting (although mildly disturbing) phenomenon I observed was that some runners were using their cell phones to call friends during the race: “Hi, yeah, I’m here at mile 14 and I’m pretty tired. Are you at the bar with our friends? Ok cool, see you there in about 2 hours.” I can just BET that some of these same people sent mobile photos to their facebook pages while running…! While none of the runners I knew did anything like this, they still posted a ton of pictures to facebook after the race to let their networks know about their accomplishments. The photos and other newsfeed updates generated a ton of praise and congratulations… and rightly so!

In all, the event was seriously inspiring, and social media played a major role in drumming up support and excitement before, during, and after the race. As I said on my facebook status on Sunday: congratulations to all of the participants!!

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