Someone Wants to Use Google AdWords as a Weapon

There’s a polarizing website that’s been a big player in the political arena. And there’s a viral campaign that’s trying to use Google AdWords to hurt it.

I’m surprised. I’m shocked. I’m intrigued. And what’s even crazier is, even though I have personal feelings on the issue, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this new activism strategy.

Every day, I and my agency, Eleventy, use Google AdWords to help connect brands and people we believe might be interested. And, because the majority of my day is spent specifically working on nonprofit marketing and fundraising, I am especially appreciative to all that Google has made possible to charities.

So, imagine my surprise when I heard that someone figured out how to weaponize the AdWords network. Here’s the scoop, and the real names have been changed to protect the — well, I’m just not going to provide names.

There is a viral campaign going around right now born from the discomfort people have with a certain online news site. This website seems to polarize many people in the U.S. and has been a big player in the recent political arena. The campaign is trying to use the very basic feedback elements of AdWords to hurt the website.

I’ll keep this short, because this blog is not about how to do this. This new level of what is being called “simple activism” is about having people go to this website where brands have placed their ads. Within the ad feedback loop, which can be accessed by anyone who sees an ad, there is a simple way to provide feedback on the actual website (vs. the ad).

And, because Google is great at being in touch with consumer feedback, it provides various options for why someone might have a problem with a website. Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge):

Google AdWords Weaponized

Now, while the average consumer would typically not use this, the new viral approach is requesting that people do this on purpose and specifically leave feedback that the website promotes racial intolerance and advocates against individuals or groups of people.

The goal is to create enough movement in this area that the website is removed from the AdWords network. And, of course, if a brand is removed from the network, it will also lose advertising revenue.

Even though I know everyone reading this would have an opinion on one side or the other of this social issue, the purpose of this blog is not to weigh in on this activism campaign.

But, as a marketer who leverages the AdWords network every day, this has me very nervous. It will be interesting to see how Google reacts, because this could so quickly create a slippery slope where consumers attempt to censor media. No matter how you lean politically or personally, I’m just not sure this is the way to go about it handling an issue against a website.

If Google were to react to this in the way the activists are pushing, we could quickly see how digital advertising could be used as a weapon against brands directly.

Have an opinion on this? Share it with me in the comments. I’d love to hear if my knee-jerk reaction is common or not.

‘Take This Catalog and Shove It!’ – A Modern Customer Relations Parable

Somewhere within the bowels of Restoration Hardware, somebody got themselves a calculator and said to themselves, “Hey! I know how we can save a whole lot of money—let’s print these babies all at once!” What they failed to take into account was the potential negative reaction of their customers

Somewhere within the bowels of Restoration Hardware, somebody got themselves a calculator. And when they added up the cost of creating, printing and mailing multiple catalogs throughout the year, they said to themselves, “Hey! I know how we can save a whole lot of money—let’s print these babies all at once, and drop ship them via UPS. It’s gonna save us thousands in time, paper and postage!”

What they failed to take into account was the potential negative reaction of their customers.

When 15 pounds of catalogs landed on my doorstep I was stunned. At first I thought they must have mistaken me for an interior designer, and figured I need to be “in the know” on every single product SKU in their inventory.

But upon further examination, I was simply disgusted at their lack of marketing savvy. Not only did it take me more than 10 minutes to cut off all the plastic that encased them, but the books instantly filled my small recycling bin in the kitchen.

As a marketer, I wondered why I was even on their list. Not only have I not spent $1 at Restoration Hardware in the last 12-months, but upon further reflection, I’m not sure I’ve spent more than $100 there in the last several years!

Cranky, I took to Facebook to see if I was the only recipient of this marketing fiasco. It turns out 45 of my FB friends were also on the receiving end of this giant mailing effort. And 25 of them left equally cranky comments of support to my rant. One even suggested that we collect all the catalogs in the neighborhood and drive over to RH headquarters and set them ablaze on their doorstep! Yikes!

Next, I decided to let Restoration Hardware know of my frustration. First I visited their FB page and left my post, expressing my disgust. Taking a quick peek again this week, I’ve discovered lots of lots of similar customer complaints, including comments like “I will never shop at your store again!!!”

But the highlight (or perhaps lowlight) was my experience with the RH brand directly. I went to their website and completed the Feedback form. But it was the response I got that told me that RH is clueless when it comes to marketing. To help put this into perspective, I’ll share my note to them and their canned response. This is all a true case study in what not to do.

From: carolyn@goodmanmarketing.com
Received: 6/6/14 1:49:23 PM PDT
To: carolyn@goodmanmarketing.com
Subject: RH – Feedback

As a homeowner, I am appalled at the 50 lbs of catalogs you sent me recently. It took me 10 minutes to cut through all the plastic, so I could dump 13 catalogs in my recycle bin. I posted my crankiness to my FB page and have had over 40 others respond with equal disgust.

As a marketer, I am stunned at your lack of understanding of your customers and prospects. It can’t possibly make good financial sense to send me all this stuff as I haven’t made a purchase from you in years … and even then didn’t spend more than $100. Please, I’m begging you, take me off your mailing list … and contact me if you want some help with marketing strategies and tactics that can truly pay off with engaged customers, higher average order sizes, and brand evangelists.

From: Restoration Hardware Customer Service [mailto:webcs@restorationhardware.com]
Sent: Saturday, June 07, 2014 7:22 PM
To: Carolyn Goodman
Subject: RE: RH – Feedback <<#419189-1221170#>>

Dear Carolyn,

Thank you for contacting Restoration Hardware regarding our sourcebooks. We respect your environmental concerns and assure you that we are also very conscientious about our global footprint. The paper we use for our catalogs is sourced from sustainable forests, certified by ‘Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification’ (PEFC). According to the PEFC website, the group works throughout the entire forest supply chain to ensure that timber and non-timber forest products are produced with respect for the highest ecological, social, and ethical standards.

Additionally, we recently reduced the number of sourcebooks and the frequency by which we send them. Mailings that were once monthly are now only twice per year. For those who prefer to view our catalogs online, we have made our sourcebooks available on our website and through various smartphone and tablet applications.

In order to ensure that you are removed from our mailing list, please cancel your subscription via our website by clicking here. If you are unable to do so, please respond with the name and mailing address in which the sourcebooks were delivered, and we can certainly cancel your subscription for you.

We sincerely value your feedback. It is through our customers’ input that we continue to improve our quality of service. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Again, thank you for contacting Restoration Hardware.

Sincerely,

Jenna Blase
Email Customer Service Advocate
Restoration Hardware

Why Customer Experience Trumps User Experience

Whenever I’m asked to explain customer experience, I’m always hard-pressed for a short, easily digested answer. It’s just so huge! What doesn’t it cover? Not much. And the real stumper: Who is responsible? Customer experience is often translated into user experience as the front-end digital experience of users. Although they’re not the same, they aren’t that different. So which comes first? Here’s how user experience can inform customer experience strategy, and vice versa.

Whenever I’m asked to explain customer experience, I’m always hard-pressed for a short, easily digested answer. It’s just so huge! What doesn’t it cover? Not much. And the real stumper: Who is responsible? Customer experience is often translated into user experience as the front-end digital experience of users.

Although they’re not the same, they aren’t that different. So which comes first? Here’s how user experience can inform customer experience strategy, and vice versa.

Our first contender: user experience
Digital experience provides some simple and convenient ways to connect with customers, gain real-time feedback and allow for innovation. Consider the following:

1. Website analytics highlight user behavior, which is usually more factual than what they tell you. Watching where users drop off, where they linger and where they act can put your entire organization on the right path.

2. Users visiting your site are there with a purpose in mind. Inviting feedback in that critical moment allows you to collect emotional and immediate responses. In the heat of a disappointing moment or the happiness of a successful mission, customers will provide real-time feedback reflecting what they REALLY feel, not just the option on the survey that best suits their reaction.

3. Customers can show you what they really want through A/B testing and experience innovations. Ever since the dawn of the digital era, we’ve been testing and experimenting. We test context and see what works better. We experiment with design and gain knowledge on what resonates with customers. It’s so much easier to do this with user experience than any other channel or touchpoint.

Remaining mindful of reactions and analytics can absolutely inform your customer experience. But what about trends? There’s an ongoing debate about how user interface design is based on current trends (as well as guessing at future ones), and therefore is always at risk of being overshadowed. Consider what happened to MySpace, Netscape and others of yesteryore. The problem, as I see it: Too often, user experience is based on what works in the moment rather than the overall mission.

Customer experience takes the lead!
Customer experience is about understanding how customers interact with your organization at any touchpoint. Here are some tips to providing the best experience possible for your customers.

1. Customer experience must be tied to brand promise. The brand promise, often touted in marketing context, is what drives the experience. If you’re promising one thing (convenience) and delivering another (pain), then customers will likely desert you.

2. Mobile, digital and all other touchpoints should reflect the overall experience. Real Simple, which promises “life made easier, everyday” prominently on its print magazine and website, created a user experience to reflect that mantra. The digital experience is one where it’s easy to find things, full of surprises and offers choices for how users can consume the content. The site even includes “Today’s Thought,” fitting right into the everyday promise.

3. Customer experience is still about trends, but anchored in mission. Yes, experience must change to reflect the times. Car culture changed casual dining forever. The digital era ushered in global shopping, education and more. Mobile and social engagement allows for convenience and immediacy not available in the past. However, reflecting just the changes in how customers interact with their environments won’t serve an organization long term. The experience must be anchored in a bigger mission. Amazon.com started off selling books, but it was never about the books. Now it touts its revolutionary e-commerce experience in commercials. Not a book in sight.

So which came first, and what are the benefits of focusing on one experience over the other?
There aren’t hard-and-fast rules around this, as we’re still learning every day. Humans are so weird. We like something on Facebook and then can’t recognize the logo again to save our lives. We swear we won’t be one of “those people” who use a text message/tweet/email over calling, then we fall in line. Life moves very quickly, so taking advantage of the pace of user experience feedback is critical.

Trends and fast-paced innovation only work, however, if the bigger picture of customer experience is in focus.

Your Chance to Be a Part of Our Team

Are you a regular reader of eM+C Weekly? If so, please join our new eM+C Readers’ Panel.

Your feedback is what makes eM+C’s e-letters (eM+C Weekly and All About eMail), our Web site or our bimonthly print publication better than ever. Now I’m hoping you’ll help us focus in on the topics you want and need to stay informed about.

Are you a regular reader of eM+C Weekly? If so, please join our new eM+C Readers’ Panel.

Your feedback is what makes eM+C’s e-letters (eM+C Weekly and All About eMail), our Web site or our bimonthly print publication better than ever. Now I’m hoping you’ll help us focus in on the topics you want and need to stay informed about.

The panel will consist of a select group of eM+C insiders. Approximately once a month, we’ll send you a few questions to explore your ideas and opinions — and inspire some conversations, I hope — on various topics related to e-marketing and e-commerce trends, and to the properties themselves.

By taking the time to look over our questions and reply, you’ll help keep the eM+C discussions moving in the right direction — your direction. And I promise it’ll only take a couple of minutes to respond. Your answers will be kept confidential and will not be shared with any third parties.

Please let me know if you’re interested in joining our Readers’ Panel with a post here or by sending an e-mail to mcampanelli@napco.com. I really look forward to hearing from you!