WWTT? Draper James’ Free Dress for Teachers Giveaway Debacle

Sometimes well-intentioned plans can land a brand in hot water with customers and prospects, especially when there is a fail regarding the plan’s execution. Such is the case of Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James fashion line and the debacle it’s facing with the free dress for teachers giveaway launched earlier in April.

As I began to work on this week’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I dug through my inbox, looking for a campaign that celebrated solidarity, creativity, or just something worth talking about this week in the world of marketing. Then I saw an email from Target Marketing friend and blogger, Chuck McLeester, and down the rabbit hole I fell as I read The New York Time’s article, “Reese Witherspoon’s Fashion Line Offered Free Dresses to Teachers. They Didn’t Mean Every Teacher.” with my morning coffee. The debacle involving a free dress for teachers giveaway brought this to mind:

The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew

Who knew that on Day 36 of quarantine/isolation/social distancing/THIS (gestures wildly), I’d be quoting a Robert Burn’s poem in a “What Were They Thinking?” post, but here we are. So let’s look at the issue of not thinking through your well-intentioned plans enough, and the kind of havoc that can cause your brand, your marketing team, and your reputation in the long run.

On April 2, Reese Witherspoon’s fashion line, Draper James, shared the free dress giveaway via the following Instagram post:

Draper James Free Dress Instagram Post

Now, as my Mom has always said “It’s the thought that counts …” and while it certainly is a nice thought to offer a free dress, there are NO expectations for giveaway applicants set in the post. The post reads:

Dear Teachers: We want to say thank you. During quarantine, we see you working harder than ever to educate our children. To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress. To apply, complete the form at the link in the bio before this Sunday, April 5th, 11:59 PM ET (Offer valid while supplies last – winners with be notified April 7th)

Yes, the post states “while supplies last.” But c’mon. If there are a set amount of dresses, SAY IT. Especially when the line before reads: “To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress.”

What did most of these people see? “To show our gratitude, Draper James would like to give teachers a free dress.” Their expectations soared, and while most people would realize that there probably weren’t enough for all applicants, there also wasn’t a single expectation set. A lot of teachers — who have been working their butts off, are most likely exhausted, burnt out, and worried about their own host of concerns — got their hopes up.

What would I have done, had I written the copy? Made it really clear. Maybe something like: “To show our gratitude, Draper James is offering 250 free dresses to teachers who apply to this giveaway as a thank you. If you are not selected as a free dress recipient, we will be providing discount codes, should you want to purchase a dress from Draper James.”

Because without setting clear expectations, you have these sorts of conversations and complaints cropping up:

That’s right … when teachers signed up for the giveaway, they had to include their email address (that’s standard for most giveaways, so no issue there) … however, my question is will Draper James be using them to market to these teachers now? In most cases of giveaways, this is not a big deal because it’s in the fine print (and I’m sure it was included here, too). But the way this was executed has really turned off a lot of individuals.

In an attempt to address this and apologize, Draper James did reach out to those who applied for the giveaway and added the following messages to its Instagram story (now a highlight called DJ <3 Teachers):

Draper James Free Dress Instagram Story Part 1Draper James Free Dress Instagram Story Part 2Draper James Free Dress Instagram Story Part 3It’s something, but honestly, it feels a bit too late. There are a lot of disappointed teachers right now, and the partnership and offering of funds to the nonprofit might not be enough to completely remove this scuff from Draper James’ brand reputation.

Look, it’s hard right now, and there are so many people at brands who want to do good things for others; that is a great mindset and spirit to have. Fashion designers have shifted over to creating masks for healthcare workers; meals are being donated; there is a lot of good being done. And I think the decision makers at Draper James had very good intentions. Quoted in the New York Times article I mentioned above, Draper James SVP for Brand Marketing and Creative Marissa Cooley said:

“We felt like we moved too quickly and didn’t anticipate the volume of the response. We were really overwhelmed. It was way more volume than the company had ever seen. We expected the single-digit thousands.”

Even when you want to help, you still need to stop, think through the plan, and figure out the best way to execute it in a sustainable way.

As Chuck said to me in our email exchange about the story:

“My take on it was purely from a metrics standpoint. 3 million teachers, 77% female, 2.3 million prospects, a free offer of a valuable item — even at a paltry 1% response rate that’s 23,000 responses or 100x the number of dresses that they had to give away.”

This could have been avoided, and I bet if applicants had known there was a limited amount, it would have been received in a much better fashion. But what do you think marketers? Drop me a line in the comments below.

Why Brand Love Is Just Not True Love for Marketers

Just like in our personal relationships , we cannot take brand love and loyalty for granted among our customers. We need to find ways to keep them “enchanted” enough to tell their friends about us, share our incentives and offers to their circles, and stay positive when it comes to conversations about our brand.

The movies I remember most from my childhood all centered around finding that “true love” and living happily ever after, as devoted, loyal spouses that forever tingle at the thought of each other. You know those movies, like “The Princess Diaries,” “Enchanted,” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”

Years later, it became forever clear that “true love” was really just another Hollywood notion to keep people dreaming, and watching more romance movies. Not because true love cannot be found, but because there really is not just one person for every person here on earth. At least, that’s not often the case.

Yet somehow, brands jumped onto the trend of forming brand love with customers, believing they could achieve lifelong loyalty and happily ever after fans. Not.

No, I am not a skeptic that love does not exist and cannot last. But I am a realist when it comes to the ethereal goals of marketers today. The reality of forever and true brand love is right up there with the likelihood that my favorite love flick, “Enchanted” is based on a true story.

Why?

Think about it. Is there a brand you love so so so much that you would never ever stray? And you would take a vow to remain loyal “until death do you part” and even “in sickness and health?” which in the business world is failed expectations, higher prices, faulty products, and such. Not likely.

In every category and in every  market, customers have many options of suitors vying for their attention, time, money, affection, and loyalty. And choosing a brand based on what you valued at a given time in the purchase process or phase of your life is not something you consider as permanent, no matter what the future brings. It’s just a purchase that works then and now, kind of like high school dating works for teenagers, and most often those relationships change over time.

While love for brands is certainly fleeting, it does not mean marketers should not be focused on generating as much affection for as long as we can among every customer we are fortunate enough to have.  It means we need to look at things a little differently.

For example:

  1. Look at the customers’ lifetime value differently. Don’t just focus on securing sales for as long as they are viable in your category. Look at their referral value as that is where their exponential potential comes from.
  2. Engage in referral campaigns not just loyalty campaigns. Reward customers for the value they bring you from new customers, not just their own transactions. This way you are preserving your revenue stream as they slow down and eventually move on.
  3. Pay attention. Monitor offers and incentives offered by other suitors. What new appeal do they have that you don’t offer?  Find ways to offer the same but in your own style.

Just like in our personal relationships , we cannot take brand love and loyalty for granted among our customers. We need to find ways to keep them “enchanted” enough to tell their friends about us, share our incentives and offers to their circles, and stay positive socially online and offline when it comes to conversations about our brand. Reputations last longer than most customers ever will so communications, nurturing, and keeping respect and admiration at the top of each customers’ minds will set us up to secure the next generation of customers.

Why Brands Like Shiny New Objects

While hanging onto shiny new objects may be the death trap for racoons, it’s just the opposite for brands. Brands like shiny new objects because customers do, too.

While hanging onto shiny new objects may be the death trap for racoons, it’s just the opposite for brands. Brands like shiny new objects because customers do, too.

Price, convenience, quality, variety and even good customer service is not enough to keep customers hanging on anymore. When a brand meets basic expectations, customers easily let go and move on in search of the shiny new object that sparks their interest, enthusiasm and fulfills their passion. However, when a brand offers the unexpected, customers often latch on and won’t let go; no matter how great competitors’ offers or incentives become.

But in a market where customer expectations run high, just what makes for a shiny object that keeps customers connected until the very end?

We know its not the clever ads, free content and rotating digital banners that chase consumers around the web. And we know its not reputation or how many likes your last Facebook post got over your competitors’ posts. One thing that does shine and shines bright is value. Extra value you can’t get anywhere else, even if it does not have a great monetary value, often gets consumers to latch on hard and long.

Just like the racoons, we consumers go for the shiniest value for most of what we choose and buy, luxury products excluded. We do silly things like drive in circles until we find the store that gives us more than we expected. Something as small as a free coffee with a gas tank refill, or the tenth carwash for free, or a free cookie with a deli sandwich purchase can do it. Value works for consumer purchases and business purchases, alike.

In the often cut-throat B2B market, the pressure is on to do more with less, and so purchasers seek greater value than the products they buy.

Negotiations for business contracts, whether it be for SaaS, ERP systems, paper supplies, printers or medical devices, are no longer just about price. They are about “what else can you give me” more often than not. And when asked, most suppliers negotiate and add in a few perks to close the deal. The key, however, is to offer that shiny new object, or maybe two or three, before they ask.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Rewards for Quantity: It’s nothing new to offer something for free in exchange for volume of purchases. So if you’re not doing this right now, find a way to do it. And soon. You can do this in any industry and it works. Consider your own purchases. You’re still with a specific airline or hotel brand, as you know you’ll get rewarded for volume with free stays or flights.
  2. Consulting or Tech Support at No Extra Cost: While tech support and training is a good revenue stream for many industries, it’s also something you can afford to offer for free, at some level, to those customers who impact your bottom line the most. Find ways to chunk out your training or support offerings into modules you can give away as added value for VIP customers without ruining your revenue streams.
  3. Offer Your Experts: Every brand has experts who are industry-leading in one way or another. Who are yours? And how can you offer their expertise to customers as part of an added value program?

Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of promoting the dull objects that have lost their appeal. And likely won’t be appealing again.

Essentially, there are many forms of shiny objects that attract customers and/or keep customers. It’s really all about understanding your customers, what matters most to them and what you have to offer that shines far brighter than offerings from others in your space.

Building Customer-Centric, Trust-Based Relationships

More than a buzzword, “being human,” especially in brand-building and leveraging customer relationships, has become a buzz-phrase or buzz-concept. But, there is little that is new or trailblazing in this idea. To understand customers, the enterprise needs to think in human, emotional terms. To make the brand or company more attractive, and have more impact on customer decision-making, there must be an emphasis on creating more perceived value and more personalization. Much of this is, culturally, operationally, and from a communications perspective, what we have been describing as “inside-out advocacy” for years.

More than a buzzword, “being human,” especially in brand-building and leveraging customer relationships, has become a buzz-phrase or buzz-concept. But, there is little that is new or trailblazing in this idea. To understand customers, the enterprise needs to think in human, emotional terms. To make the brand or company more attractive, and have more impact on customer decision-making, there must be an emphasis on creating more perceived value and more personalization. Much of this is, culturally, operationally, and from a communications perspective, what we have been describing as “inside-out advocacy” for years.

Most brands and corporations get by on transactional approaches to customer relationships. These might include customer service speed, occasional price promotions, merchandising gimmicks, new product offerings, and the like. In most instances, the customers see no brand “personality” or brand-to-brand differentiation, and their experience of the brand is one-dimensional, easily capable of replacement. Moreover, the customer has no personal investment in choosing, and staying with, one brand or supplier over another.

A key opportunity for companies to become stronger and more viable to customers is creation of branded experiences. Beyond simply selling a product or service, these “experiential brands” connect with their customers. They understand that delivering on the tangible and functional elements of value are just tablestakes, and that connecting and having an emotionally based relationship with customers is the key to leveraging loyalty and advocacy behavior.

These companies are also invariably quite disciplined. Every aspect of a company’s offering—customer service, advertising, packaging, billing, products, etc.—are all thought out for consistency. They market, and create experiences, within the branded vision. IKEA might get away with selling super-expensive furniture, but it doesn’t. Starbucks might make more money selling Pepsi, but it doesn’t. Every function that delivers experience is “closed-loop,” carefully maintaining balance between customer expectations and what is actually executed.

In his 2010 book, “Marketing 3.0: From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit,” noted marketing scholar Philip Kotler recognized that the new model for organizations was to treat customers not as mere consumers, but as the complex, multi-dimensional human beings they are. Customers, in turn, have been choosing companies and products that satisfy deeper needs for participation, creativity, community and idealism.

This sea change is why, according to Kotler, the future of marketing lies in creating products, services and company cultures that inspire, include and reflect the values of target customers. It also meant that every transaction and touchpoint interaction, and the long-term relationship, needed to carry the organization’s unique stamp, a reflection of the perceived value represented to the customer.

Kotler picked up a theme that was articulated in the 2007 book, “Firms of Endearment.” Authors Jagdish N. Sheth, Rajendra S. Sisodia and David B. Wolfe called such organizations “humanistic” companies, i.e. those which seek to maximize their value to each group of stakeholders, not just to shareholders. As they state, right up front (Chapter 1, Page 4):

“What we call a humanistic company is run in such a way that its stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, business partners, society, and many investors—develop an emotional connection with it, an affectionate regard not unlike the way many people feel about their favorite sports teams. Humanistic companies—or firms of endearment (FoEs)—seek to maximize their value to society as a whole, not just to their shareholders. They are the ultimate value creators: They create emotional value, experiential value, social value, and, of course, financial value. People who interact with such companies feel safe, secure, and pleased in their dealings. They enjoy working with or for the company, buying from it, investing in it, and having it as a neighbor.”

For these authors, a truly great company is one that makes the world a better place because it exists. It’s as simple as that. In the book, they have identified about 30 companies, from multiple industries, that met their criteria. They included CarMax, BMW, Costco, Harley-Davidson, IKEA, JetBlue, Johnson & Johnson, New Balance, Patagonia, Timberland, Trader Joe’s, UPS, Wegmans and Southwest Airlines. Had the book been written a bit later, it’s likely that Zappos would have made their list, as well.

The authors compared financial performance of their selections with the 11 public companies identified by Jim Collins in “Good to Great” as superior in terms of investor return over an extended period of time. Here’s what they learned:

  • Over a 10-year horizon, their selected companies outperformed the “Good to Greatcompanies by 1,028 percent to 331 percent (a 3.1 to 1 ratio)
  • Over five years, their selected companies outperformed the “Good to Great companies by 128 percent to 77 percent (a 1.7 to 1 ratio)

Just on the basis of comparison to the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, the public companies singled out by “Firms of Endearment” returned 1,026 percent for investors during the 10 years ending June 30, 2006, compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500—more than an 8 to 1 ratio. Over 5 years, it was even higher—128 percent compared to 13 percent, about a 10 to 1 ratio. Bottom line: Being human is good for the balance sheet, as well as the stakeholders.

Exemplars of branded customer experience also understand that there is a “journey” for customers in relationships with preferred companies. It begins with awareness, how the brand is introduced, i.e. the promise. Then, promise and created expectations must at least equal—and, ideally, exceed—real-world touchpoint results (such as through service), initially and sustained over time, with a minimum of disappointment.

As noted, there is a strong recognition that customer service is especially important in the branded experience. Service is one of the few times that companies will directly interact with their customers. This interaction helps the company understand customers’ needs while, at the same time, shaping customers’ overall perception of the company and influencing both downstream communication and future purchase.

And, branding the customer experience requires that the brand’s image, its personality if you will, is sustained and reinforced in communications and in every point of contact. Advanced companies map and plan this out, recognizing that experiences are actually a form of branding architecture, brought to life through excellent engineering. Companies need to focus on the touchpoints which are most influential.

Also, how much influence do your employees have on customer value perceptions and loyalty behavior through their day-to-day interactions? All employees, whether they are customer-facing or not, are the key common denominator in delivering optimized branded customer experiences. Making the experience for customers positive and attractive at each point where the company interacts with them requires an in-depth understanding of both customer needs and what the company currently does to achieve that goal, particularly through the employees. That means companies must fully comprehend, and leverage, the impact employees have on customer behavior.

So, is your company “human”? Does it understand customers and their individual journeys? Are customer experiences “human” and branded? Is communication, and are marketing efforts, micro-segmented and even personalized? Does the company create emotional, trust-based connections and relationships with customers? If the answer to these questions is “YES,” then “being human” becomes a reality, the value of which has been recognized for some time, and not merely as a buzz-concept.

Take Command of Marketing Data Governance—Because We Have To

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern. I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it).

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern.

I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it). An infographic that captures some of this research is now posted at Mason Zimbler, a Harte-Hanks Company, which created the visual presentation.

Alongside this current fascination and business trend, perhaps it’s not surprising that members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, also are posing questions at the marketing business as to how we collect, buy/sell, rent and exchange data about consumers online and offline, and if there is adequate notice and choice in the process. In the rush to capitalize on Big Data, we need to ensure that we’re collecting and using marketing data for marketing purposes only, and doing so in a manner that is respectful of fair information practices principles and ultimately serves the end-customer, be it consumer or business individual or enterprise. [See Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA: http://markey.house.gov/content/letters-major-data-brokers.]

All too often, privacy adherence is considered a legal matter, or an information technology matter—but I maintain that while these two business areas are important in respecting consumer privacy, it is marketers who have the most to gain (and lose) by smart (or insensitive) information practices. Data is our currency, and we must treat data (our customers as data subjects) as our primary asset to protect. Our method of marketing is in the balance. One or two major privacy mishaps can spoil it for everyone.

Of course, marketing data governance is far more than privacy compliance. Data quality, data integrity, data security, data integration, data validation and data flows within an enterprise all, too, are part of marketing data’s customer intelligence equation. It is in this spirit that the Direct Marketing Association recently introduced its newest certification program for professionals: “The Institute for Marketing Data Governance and Certification,” taught by marketing veteran Peg Kuman, who is vice chair at Relevate Group. The three-day course, which has launched on a two-year, multiple-city tour, is indispensable in understanding how multiple channels, multiple data sources and platforms, customer expectations and business objectives combine to command better understanding, tools and processes for data handling for smart integrated marketing. Forthcoming course dates and registrations are available here: http://www.dmaeducation.org/dm-essentials/marketing_data_governance.php

For three days last month in New York, approximately two dozen professionals from large and small enterprises, both commercial and nonprofit, attended the first seminar. I, too, attended. There were representatives from marketing, public relations, analytics, legal, IT and fundraising, representing brands, agencies and service providers. This group was engaged—providing examples, asking questions and reporting experiences as the curriculum moved along. (For those who don’t know Peg—a former client of mine—she is quite the facilitator.)

Alongside a workbook, I took home some great handouts, too:

  • A sample security policy; a sample information security vulnerability assessment;
  • A security due diligence questionnaire;
  • A sample vendor risk management program vendor questionnaire;
  • The latest copy of the DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice (recently updated with new email append guidelines, by the way) and a bevy of news articles that captures the media’s and public policymakers’ current attention on consumer data in America.

The meat of the course tackled, among other topics:

  • Categorizing data and assigning priority and sensitivity (personally identifiable information, sensitive data and other categories);
  • Mapping data flows and interactions with customers; enhancing data with appended information, and ensuring its use for marketing only;
  • Having a data quality strategy as part of a data strategy;
  • Calculating return on data investment;
  • The emergence of digital, mobile and social data platforms, and how these present both structured and unstructured data collection and insight analysis challenges;
  • Assigning data “ownership”;
  • Calculating and assigning risk regarding security;
  • Monitoring security, investigating potential incidents of a breach, and handling a response to a breach were it to occur (using recent breach response examples of LinkedIn and Epsilon); as well as
  • Laws, ethics and best practices for all of these areas.

One of my concerns is the importation of European-style privacy protection in America, and current fascination with such protections by U.S. regulators and elected officials. That is worth another blog post in itself, but I can assure you that we need to educate politicians about the superiority of self and peer regulation where no consumer harm exists.

Thank you, DMA. Marketing data does not harm. It only creates consumer choice, commerce, jobs and (tax) revenue—and pays for the Internet and other media, too—and it is ridiculous to even entertain government-knows-better regulation of such information through a potential omnibus law in America, or other notions such as a government-mandated “privacy by design” requirement in marketing innovations. (On the other hand, I’m more than happy to see laws pass that protect Americans from potential government abuse of private sector marketing data—Big Brother should not be getting access to marketing data for non-marketing purposes, unless there is a demonstrable greater public good, where subpoenas are served and heard.) Privacy by design is smart business, but only when left to the innovators, not the policymakers.

Which brings me to close—and if you’re still reading this, I congratulate myself for not chasing you away. Big Data (which can incorporate far more than marketing data) goes hand-in-hand with marketing data governance. Whether a Big Data user or not, we all use marketing data everyday as our currency. Protect it. Respect it. Serve it. Govern it. So we can use it.