This is a simple story of 2 brands. 2 experiences. 2 lessons in brand awareness when it comes to social media.
Ironically, both of these stories happened within a 48 hour period. Both involve restaurant chains. But, only one of these stories ended with me actually enjoying a meal.
Sunday afternoon, I found myself in West Hartford, Connecticut eating at a place I had not been to since college. The Counter is a burger chain with over 100 locations (both company owned and franchised) nationwide. This is a place that I had been to dozens of times during my college days and I was eager to return and enjoy one of their custom built burgers.
Later that evening, hours after I had devoured my burger, I hopped on my tablet to catch up on what I had missed on Twitter during the day. I was pleasantly surprised to find a reply from Craig Albert with a simple response:
"How was it?"
His Tweet was in response to a FourSquare check in that happened to post to Twitter earlier that day. After four and a half seconds of research I found out that Albert was the Co-CEO of The Counter. It was a simple gesture that took Albert and his team mere seconds to execute and suddenly, I felt like The Counter had missed me. Whether or not he does this to everyone who checks in on FourSquare is irrelevant but for a few seconds, I felt as if this brand that I love, loved me back.
This interaction with Mr. Craig Albert shined even brighter the next day. On my way back from my short trip to Connecticut, I was desperate for breakfast. Locating the nearest Starbucks, I made a beeline for it, assuming it was a safe breakfast option. After ordering my coffee, I was informed that they were out of breakfast sandwiches. The barista informed me that the connected Subway served breakfast. Usually I wouldn’t have bothered but I was extremely hungry and decided to give it a shot.
After ordering an egg sandwich on an English muffin, I waited patiently.
As the “sandwich artist” at Subway began to wrap my sandwich, we both noticed a green patch right on top of the English muffin. I was shocked as he continued wrapping my sandwich after we had both clearly seen what appeared to be mold.
It was such a shock to my system that I paid and left without saying another word. As soon as I reached my car I unwrapped the sandwich, assuming that my eyes had played a trick on me. After all, how could a fast food chain whose motto is “Eat Fresh” not have fresh bread? I had not seen a mirage. There was a mold spot the size of a quarter right on top of my sandwich.
I tossed the sandwich in the garbage before jumping into my car and doing what any millennial in that situation would do. I Tweeted, Facebooked and Instagramed about my experience. I assumed that my use of the words “mold,” “disgusting” and including the hashtags #subway and #eatfresh would catch someones attention at Subway.
I was wrong.
24 hours later, no response. No PR guy trying to apologize or a marketing representative telling me that the location I visited somehow didn’t represent the Subway philosophy. Nothing. Being served a mold ridden sandwich falls on the individual store and employee that made the error. Not reaching out to a distressed customer via social media falls on the company as a whole.
Here’s the kicker. The Subway that served my mold ridden sandwich was located just a few miles from the company headquarters in Milford, CT.
When bad things happen, ignoring them is never the right solution. Especially when it comes to social media. My moldy sandwich picture has now been heavily circulated around Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. The amount of negative buzz surrounding Subway can not possibly be measured but the act of not responding to such a violation of health codes is shocking to me.
While it is not possible for brands to respond to every mention, the night and day between these two interactions really made me think about brands that get social media right. And the ones that don’t seem to understand it’s impact on the world we live in. Congratulations to The Counter for getting it. Congratulations to Subway for serving the following sandwich and then making no attempt to make the situation better.
In 2009 and then again in 2013, the FTC released a document entitled “Guidelines For Disclosure in Advertising.” This document gave a very clear and pointed declaration that bloggers had to clearly identify if there was paid content or advertising on their site. Here’s the disclosure as it reads on my blog, The Truth About Music:
As a consumer, I consider myself to be amongst the loyalist of brand loyal shoppers. I love the brands I love. I don’t use the brands I don’t. When it comes to arenas such as hotels, coffee, credit cards and restaurants, I’m 100% covered when it comes to brand loyalty and I do not like change. The problem is that as a casual flyer, the airline system doesn’t fit into my brand loyal lifestyle.
It ends up boiling down to price. The airline industry has been struggling with flight costs since the beginning of time. The next time you’re on a flight, ask the person sitting next to you how much they paid for their ticket. Depending on where they bought it, how they bought it and when they bought it, you will end up with drastically different answers.
You might be thinking that this is the same in every industry. I’ll call bullshit. Try to book a hotel in New York City on a random weekend. While there will be a variety of prices, hotels with similar luxury amenities will all be very close in price. The less you pay, the faster the amenities fly out the window. Still, hotels that off a similar experience for consumers will be similar in price.
This is not true when it comes to airlines. For some flights, American will be the cheapest. The next week, that same route can be found cheaper on Spirit.
Airlines also struggle with something that all hotels can provide. A unique experience. They offer two types of planes. Ones with entertainment systems and ones without entertainment systems. The rest of it is all smoke and mirrors. You get the same array of bland snacks, the same drink list and (for the most part) the same uncomfortable seats.
Still the disparity in price exists because of complex routes, airport taxes and up charges.
This article is not lamenting the cost of flying. I’m willing to pay my fair share for a flight. The issue is the wish to be loyal in an industry that makes this impossible. No matter how much I want to fly JetBlue (the airline with the least amount of countable flaws), how can I possibly rationalize paying a 30-70% premium for the same seat on the same route? You can not!
That’s where the airline loyalty falls out of place. When I head to Priceline, Expedia or Hotwire to book my flight, I’m given a grid that shows flights that often feature price differences of hundreds of dollars. 9 out of 10 times, I’m going to end up settling on the cheaper flight, no matter how much I’d like to fly a familiar airline.
Here’s the real life comparison.
My preference for hotels is Hilton. I am a member of the Hilton Honors program and earn points with every stay. Trust me, it’s not about the points. It’s about a predictable experience that seems to always deliver. When I go to book a hotel, rarely is there more than a $5-$10 difference in cost between Hilton and other comparable hotels. I’m willing to pay the slight premium. I’m not willing to pay the type of premium that would be forced on me if I chose JetBlue over a competing airline.
Of course if JetBlue happens to be the cheapest, which it sometimes is, then I jump on the opportunity. This same issue can and does arise with every single airline.
As one of a brands most valuable assets, loyal customers are people that defend, promote and purchase from a company. The message to the major airlines is clear. Either give me an experience across your entire fleet that will make the premium worth it or get your prices in line with your competitors so that I can get comfortable with one airline, one terminal and one set of on board snack options.
Social media often exposes a brands largest weakness. Generally speaking, large, far reaching companies have a difficult time acting quickly when it comes to public outreach. Unfortunately for them, the core of social media is speed.
Last nights Super Bowl featured a flurry of “big moments.” From the blackout to Beyonce to the near epic comeback by the San Francisco 49ers. A post Super Bowl recap from me usually comments on the ads but they were simply terrible. Instead, let’s talk about a brand that used the Super Bowl platform to pitch a social media perfect game.
It all started with the flick of a switch. As a blackout encompassed the Superdome, fans worldwide took to Twitter to comment on what was happening. Twitter registered 24.1 million total Tweets during the game with the peak performance coming during the blackout when 231,500 Tweets were posted per minute!
The official Major League Baseball Twitter account (@MLB) chimed in just a few minutes into the blackout with a simple message:
Simple in substance, the Tweet showed poise by Major League Baseball. After all it was well after normal business hours and centered around an event that was completely unpredictable. They had a hunch that if football was on pause, smartphones would be Tweeting away. They jumped right into the middle, racking up 8,200 ReTweets and 1,500 favorites. Those numbers stand out against other Tweets from @MLB, showing the importance of taking advantage of this situation.
Major League Baseball shined during the 2013 Super Bowl, a feat that should not go overlooked. While commercials flopped, power fizzled and the Ravens won, baseball hit a home run in the social media world on Sunday.
As the game ended, @MLB posted a few followups. One read:
"It’s our turn now."
The other was a picture that summed up the night and the season to come:
There are first times for everything. From things as simple as a first cup of coffee to a first trip out of the country. Each first brings a rush of new feelings, changing your perspective on things large and small.
The first in this story wasn’t my own. Instead it was a man I sat next to on a recent train ride. Separated by an open middle seat, a man set next to the window and looked to be pushing 90. He didn’t say a word as I sat down, adjusted and then readjusted my electronic devices preparing for the hour trip from Grand Central Station.
It’s weird how a year progresses. Sometimes, 365 days seems to take about 2 weeks while other times it seems to last forever. Whether it’s a slow year or a quick year, December arrives shortly after the close of November and 25 days later, America’s biggest and brightest holiday is celebrated nationwide.
As a social media consultant, I come across campaigns of all sizes. Some are funny. Some are emotional. Some are just plain horrendous. In 2011/2012, a company stumbled across a campaign that has taken the entire world by storm.
For those of you who are not sports fan, Aaron Rodgers is a Superbowl winning quarterback who commonly celebrates his touchdowns by putting on an invisible championship belt. This was a celebration known in the sports world but was not something you’d associate with anyone other than the Green Bay Packers quarterback.
The next move is a pure stroke of advertising genius. In 2011, the world was re-introduced to Rodgers, standing in a State Farm office explaining his touchdown celebration. The State Farm agents took credit for the celebration, claiming it was the Discount Double Check celebration. It was a simple act of brand association. The brand, State Farm wanted to associate with Rodgers and his broad appeal. Rodgers wanted to associate with the huge check State Farm wrote him.
What has happened in the year since that commercials debut has been nothing short of extraordinary. The touchdown dance that was once referred to as the Championship Belt, is now known throughout the sports world as the Discount Double Check. Commentators on networks such as ESPN, FOX and CBS have commonly used “…the Discount Double Check…” to describe the act.
It is truly amazing when a brand can not only associate with someone, but help to define the celebrity they choose to associate with. If you were out in public, and recreated the now famous touchdown celebration, people around you would be more likely to mention Discount Double Check than Aaron Rodgers. The Discount Double Check has even appeared in other sports. Steve Novak, one of the NBA’s top three point shooters and a Wisconsin native, often celebrates clutch shots in the same way. Commentators rarely miss a beat, saying things like “Novak with the three followed by an emphatic Discount Double Check.”
Brands can’t buy this type of association. State Farm picked the right celebrity at the right time with the right campaign. That campaign will likely pay dividends for years to come, with free plugs in sports commentary throughout the world. Was it strategy? Was it luck? I’ll let you judge that for yourself.
Facebook recently announced that they had reached 1 Billion active users. That number has implications on many levels. From a consumers standpoint, it means that almost all of your friends are probably on Facebook, telling you all about who they voted for, how cute their dog is and what they are cooking for dinner. From a marketing standpoint, it means that your message is competing against upwards of 999,999,999 other users.
Some may call me an idiot. Others might call me a child. What I am is a 24 year old who is about to write a check for the very first time. With 24.5 years under my belt, I’ve never needed these medieval purchasing tools. My confusion with this device lies both in its premise and in it’s cover.
A contraption created by someone who assumed you’ve already used a checkbook, it is quite confusing and after about 10 minutes of starring at it, I’ve given up. My checkbook will remain a stack of checks, void of a book.
My curiosity is actually peaking as I wonder how many other millennials have yet to write a check in their lives. Is this a form of payment sure to go the way of the penny?
So to those who still use checks, I ask why and to those who have yet to use a checkbook I say this. It does not make you less intelligent. It makes you more resourceful and less dependent on the past.