I’m Not a Superstar…DKNY Just Treated Me Like One

Here’s something you should know about me as I begin this story: I’m nobody.

Now, I don’t mean that in an self-deprecating, aww shucks, pity me sort of way.  I actually think I’m a good guy with a good job and great friends and family.  However, I am not a movie star. Or a professional athlete. Or a Kardashian. I’m not even a CEO/Entrepreneur/Social Media all-star with an audience of 100k+ Twitter followers who gets dinner delivered to him at an airport by a PR savvy steakhouse. If a company gives me great customer service, well, it’s not because they expect to get massive amounts of national exposure from me. Nope, it just means they’re good at customer service. Or, in the case of DKNY, they’re amazing at customer service.

Those that know me know that I have a tendency to spend a lot of time on Twitter. In a private moment, my wife might tell you that I’ve got an addiction (and she might be right). Occasionally, I may even share a little more about mundane tasks than anyone outside of my own brain would ever care to know. Say for example that I’m ironing one of my favorite new shirts and find a huge tear in the cuff:

Honestly, I’m not sure why I added “@dkny” to the end of it. True, the shirt in question is a DKNY shirt, but I really wasn’t intending to tweet a complaint or semi-publicly call out the company. I didn’t even know if that was a real Twitter handle. I was simply bummed that I couldn’t start the week wearing my new favorite shirt and felt like tweeting about it. I certainly never expected to hear from anyone at DKNY. However, less than 10 minutes later:

Take note of the time on that tweet. It was 9:17 p.m. on a Sunday night and someone was taking the time to respond to my concerns. This was clearly not a 9-5 intern tasked with spitting out corporate talking points while sending responses to social media mentions from the night before. So, being someone that always scored highly in “Listens and follows directions” in grade school, I DM’d my info, and received another response.

The response wasn’t “Send proof of purchase to xxxxx” or “Unfortunately, we can’t confirm that this was caused by a defect in craftsmanship”. I wasn’t even asked to confirm that it was a DKNY shirt (it is, I promise). I was simply asked where I purchased it and what size shirt I wear and told that they would be in touch.

This was actually the point at which I thought this story would end. You see, I purchased the shirt at the outlet mall and fully expected to get a response that items purchased at the DKNY Factory Store were subject to defects, etc. Instead, a couple days later, I received the following in my inbox:

“Let me know which you prefer and we will take care of it right away”. I was blown away. No hassle, no questions, no condescension towards an outlet shopper. Just “let me know…and we will take care of it”. I opted for the “grab bag” option, and a couple days later I arrived home to a package on my doorstep. They didn’t just throw a shirt in a FedEx box though:

They had wrapped up the shirt and so it arrived looking as though I had just brought it home from the store. I wasn’t surprised this time though, but I wasn’t any less impressed. Clearly, the good folks at DKNY understand customer service…and they do it amazingly well. They don’t sit in a room and ask what the ROI of social media is, no, they spend that time taking care of their “nobody” customers and making them feel like superstars.

Congrats DKNY, you’ve exceeded all expectations (and, inadvertently, created the “DKNY-standard” which I’ve begun measuring myself against in my professional life when dealing with customer service issues). I wish I could offer you oodles and oodles of national exposure for your brand in return. Instead, I offer you this humble blog post and the promise of many future purchases. Now, if only you could bring back DKNY Be Delicious for Men…then I’d really be impressed.


How to Market Like a Monkey…a Ninja Monkey

A couple weeks ago, a friend and I were discussing dress shirts. Not the most exciting of mid-day gchat conversation topics, but he was getting ready to gear up for his new attorney gig and was looking to get some referrals from friends who wear dress shirts on a daily basis. As we were running through some of the usual suspects, he asked if I’d ever heard of a company called Bonobos. I mentioned I had, but didn’t have any of their shirts, and the conversation moved on from there.

As we continued chatting, I figured I’d venture on over to Bonobos.com, because while I had read about the company’s use of social media, I had never actually checked out their wares to see what I’d find.

What I found was a lot of things I really liked. I found some great looking clothes (and some that were a little, shall we say, Martha’s Vinyardy for my tastes), a nice clean website, and a company that appeared to be dedicated to customer service (Free Shipping! No Questions Asked Returns!) and saving monkeys. Oh, and they call themselves ninjas, which appeals to me in a whole other way.

Something else I found over the next couple days, which was less expected, was an unbelievable example of great interactive marketing, via “traditional” web ads and customer interaction through more social avenues.

On the traditional side of things, I noticed within a day or so that Bonobos had unleashed a pretty aggressive retargeting campaign on me, meaning I was seeing display ads for Bonobos pants on nearly every website I was visiting. Running this sort of campaign regularly myself, I knew they must be spending a fortune on customer acquisition (and as I later found out from an AdAge article the cost per new customer was around $100).

I wasn’t actually in the market for pants, but damn it if I didn’t find myself on their site a few more times poking around, getting more and more tempted. Impressed with their campaign, I thought I’d take to Twitter and let them know:I posted this late on a Saturday night while working a UFC event and then sort of forgot about it, until first thing Monday morning when I received this response:

This is where their social media savvy started shining through. The response they sent was absolutely pitch-perfect with what I had come to see as their brand identity. They weren’t pushy or salesy, but irreverent yet to the point. Their tweet essentially said “We’re listening…watching, actually.”

Their tweet sent me back to their website, where I browsed around their sale items for a bit, but again didn’t pull the trigger on a purchase. A day later, what did I find? I found that they actually were calibrating – I was now being served with ads for a 25% off discount if I liked them on Facebook, which of course I did. I’m not sure if they identified me as spendthrift (due to the pages I was viewing on their site) or if they recognized that I had not purchased yet and tried to sweeten the deal. Either way, it was well done.

So, here we are two weeks later, and my message to Bonobos is this: You’ve got me, I’m sold. Your model worked perfectly – start with word of mouth then drive the message home online. I started thinking about my fall wardrobe this weekend and what was the first site I visited? You guessed it, the one with the monkeys and ninjas. I’m a slow shopper, so have patience, but rest assured that the payoff is coming.

Deflating the Fat Cats

This is not a rant about the influence of money in politics, corporate greed, or the destruction of our nation at the hands of the ultra-rich. Surprisingly, this is also not a story about self-indulgence or over-consumption. No, this is quite literally a tale about two fat cats and the journey they have embarked on to become two average sized cats.

Please allow me to introduce you to the Fat Cats.

This is Briggs:

Brigadier General; 18.6 lbs.

This is his brother,  Jeter:

Jeter Scott; 19.1 lbs.

Briggs and Jeter were not always obese. I can attest to this because I met them when they were but a week old and have known them ever since. They were born on my sister-in-law’s porch in March 2005 and came to live us three months later at our apartment in Urbandale, IA. Don’t believe me?  Here’s proof that these gargantuan beasts were actually once tiny:

Briggs and Jeter; 3 months of age

Pretty much since birth, these two guys have done everything together. They play together, eat together and sleep together. If you ever see one without the other outside of the litter box, it usually means someone has gotten locked in a closet. Unfortunately, this also means that they also got fat together.

Now, I told you already that this was not a story about over-consumption. In fact, until fairly recently, we were completely baffled as to how they managed to become so rotund. We are very aware of the dangers of obesity for cats, especially feline diabetes. Jill and I dealt with twice a day insulin shots and regulated feeding schedules for over five years with our previous cat B.J. and we were determined to never have go through that again. So from day one, Briggs and Jeter have only been fed quality cat food in carefully measured portions. Well, what we thought was quality food any how…

Shortly after moving to Philadelphia, Jeter (and Jeter alone) had surgery to remove a bladder stone. As part of his recovery and to prevent future stones, he was put on Hill’s Science Diet KD – a special diet for cats with a predisposition to the type of stone he had. Yes, there are different types of bladder stones.

Since they are from the same litter, and because it would be impossible to separate their food, the vet told us it would be fine to feed Briggs this same prescription food. At that point in time, they each weighed about 13 pounds. Within a year, they were each pushing 20. As it turns out, while KD is great for preventing stones, it’s not great for maintaining healthy weight. After a couple years on this food, a vet finally made the connection and had us switch up their diets.

In the time since, we’ve bounced around between a number of different foods. Each vet at our clinic has had a different recommendation, from grain free dry kibble to a mix of moist and dry food, to (most recently) canned food only. There was no consensus on what the best course of action was, and we were pretty much told to limit their intake (which we already did) and make sure they excercise (really? Have you ever tried to make a cat excercise? We even got a dog to help with this).

While we saw some moderate success after discontinuing the “bladder stone” food (they dropped a pound or two from their 22 pound peak weight), their weight loss seemed to plateau. We tried combinations of a few different foods during this period of time, finally settling on 1/4 cup of EVO Weight Loss and a packet of Wellness “Healthy Indulgences” per day. Neither cat has ever been too fond of canned food, so this was the first wet food that they really took to, so we went with it.

Throughout all of this I’d read a ton about how terrible dry food is for cats because 1) cats are carnivores and their digestive systems aren’t designed to handle carbs, especially at the levels found in dry food due to the grain fillers used and 2) cats don’t naturally drink enough water to stay hydrated. For some reason, when they get thirsty, there first instinct is not to drink water. As I mentioned though, they never really liked canned food so going to an all “wet” diet seemed impossible.

That all changed two weeks ago. Briggs had to go to the vet for a bowel issue, and the new vet we were assigned really stressed that they should only be fed wet food to help B get through his current issues which she attributed to dehydration. To make a long story slightly less long, they’ve now been on Wellness canned food (we transitioned successfully from the more expensive packets) exclusively for two weeks (1/2 can each, twice a day)…and we’re already seeing results. They went in for their annual exam this weekend and they are at their lowest weights in three years. On top of that, I’d swear they have a little more pep in their steps.

It’s entirely possible that they will once again plateau and the overall loss will be less thrilling than the initial results, but for now we couldn’t be happier. My goal is to eventually get them down to a normal cat weight of 13 pounds (Jill thinks 15 would be just fine). It’s going to be hard for them, and they’re going to be hungry…but lucky for them, they have each other.

Hey Urban Outfitters: How’s it play in Miley-wood?

Urban Outfitters Tweet

There it is. In 140 characters or less, Urban Outfitters let the world know they were aware of the public outrage that was starting to bubble up over the latest accusations that they had stolen a design from an independent artist (see the tumblr post from the artist here). Right in the middle of their regularly schedule social media programming (in this case, a twit-chat about interior design) and not long after the incident came to light, they raised their hand and said “Hi, we hear you…we’re on it!”.

Sounds good, right? Well sure. They went right to the crisis PR handbook and put out a succinct (albeit generic) holding statement that acknowledged the problem at hand and indicated they were looking into the issue. What came next was a little more troublesome…silence. Well, first there was more interior design chat (“We LOVE zig zag!”) and then nothing. For over 24 hours since the end of the chat, @UrbanOutfitters has gone completely silent.

A quick Google News search for Urban Outfitters turns up a large number stories about the situation, most of which include a sentence along the lines of “requests for comment have not been returned by the company.” What the company has done, also silently, is remove any mention of the World/United States of Love line of jewelry from their website.

Their swift first action made it appear as thought the company had a plan for such a situation, though that now appears to be in doubt. That is unless their plan was to simply dig in, batten down the hatches, and wait for the storm to pass. Perhaps they misjudged how quickly word was spreading. Maybe they didn’t think one little independent artist was going to be able to get the attention of the mainstream media. Clearly they weren’t expecting Miley.

Urban Outfitters has no chance of regaining control of the conversation now and there is no way the company can emerge this situation unscathed. It seems to me, from my position as arm-chair quarterback, the better play would have been to release a full statement indicating that a comprehensive internal investigation was underway and that if any wrong going was found the company would work directly with the artist to compensate her for any profits they made off her designs.

While such a response would not have completely stopped the outcry against them, it may have taken some bite out of the protests and shown that the company was taking the situation seriously and bought them some more time to resolve the problem outside of the public eye. Instead, they let the public at large (including Miley and her 1,000,000+ followers) control the narrative.

What say you? Was Urban Outfitter’s PR silence golden or deafening?

The World’s Last Great Marketing Campaign?

One way or another, Harold Camping’s world is about to come to an end. Whether we’re talking about his literal or figurative “world” remains to be seen.

Camping, for those that haven’t gotten caught up in Rapture-mania, is one of the co-founders of Family Radio (a network of donor supported Christian radio stations operating as the University of Phoenix of Christian Fundamentalism) and the man behind the campaign to spread the word that “We Can Know” when Judgment Day will occur. By the way, in case you haven’t heard, it starts tomorrow

A wrapped van spreads the word of impending doom - one of many tactics used in the world's last great marketing campaign

– right around 6 P.M. local time.

Using a combination of complex mathematical calculations and Biblical context clues, Camping believes he has uncovered the exact time of the Apocalypse. If he’s right, he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest minds in the history of mankind (posthumously, of course). While the title of “genius” is yet to be earned, his ability to create a grassroots movement and subsequent marketing and public relations campaign that has moved the narrative well beyond “random nutjobs in vans” to full-force cultural phenomenon has been a sight to behold.

The problem is Camping has been down this road before. He similarly predicted the end of the world would occur back in September 1994. He received some national attention at the time, appearing most notably on Larry King Live, but in the days before the internet went mainstream (and long before “going viral” had a positive connotation attached to it) he was able to explain away the lack of any rapture-like activities by blaming it on computational errors. Family Radio lived on, and very few people noticed.

Things are much, much different this time around. In early march, I happened to see one of Camping’s followers driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike with a mini-van clad in May 21, 2011 bumper stickers. I’d never heard of Family Radio or the predicted apocalypse at that time, but soon his message was everywhere. News stories, billboards, Facebook…suddenly May 21 was the new 2012. As a marketer and PR guy, I couldn’t help but be impressed with how far and wide Camping’s message had spread. Not everyone is buying it obviously, but his exposure is off the charts.

Camping is either so confident that he is correct that he is not concerned about the severe repercussions to the brand he has built if he is wrong again or he severely misjudged how much the communications landscape has changed since the early 1990’s and never really expected to get the attention he is now receiving. Perhaps this was just intended to be a nice little fundraiser, get on a few more people’s radars only to discover more computational errors and delay the apocalypse yet again.

Unfortunately for Camping, his success is sure to be short lived. Either the end of the world is actually upon us, in which case none of us are going to be around to long to laud him (5 months at the most, for those not planning to be raptured), or he is going to become a victim of his own successful marketing and see his professional world go up in flames on Sunday if it appears doom and gloom has been delayed once more?

In which Dustin eats gross things for charity…

So, I recently agreed to lend my bowling “skills” to my wife’s Bowl for Kids’ Sake team. One of my responsibilities to the team was to come up with a name…which I failed at. My other task was to help raise money for the team to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters. Donations were slow at first (read: non-existant), so in order to make up for my inability to come up with a team-sanctioned name, I decided to up the ante and make sure we reached our $100 minimum donation threshold by promising to eat a package of uncooked hot dogs if I received at least 5 donations of $10 or more in 24 hours.

Well, thanks to my friends and family (namely: Jody, Carter, Kris, Charlotte, Shannon, Brad & Sarah, Vickie, and Cedric), we have surpassed our first donation goal…and being a man of my word, it was time for me to pay up. The accompanying video is visual proof that I satisfied my end of the deal. If you choose to view, you’ll see me chomp through 10 Oscar Meyer wieners straight out of the package, all in the name of helping to keep kids facing adversity off drugs and in school via professionally supported one-to-one youth mentoring.

We still have an overall goal of $250 to hit, and we’re not quite halfway there, so perhaps this is just the beginning of my gastronomical fundraising challenges… In the meantime, if you’d like to help the cause, click here.

Waiting for a White Flag Winter

I’ve seen the Cubs win the World Series. I’ve seen a fourth blue “W” raised in late October, waving over red-tinted ivy as a series of seven zeroes are strung next to the AC beyond the right field wall. I’ve seen a party that would make Bourbon Street blush, stretching from the corner of Clark and Addison all the way to Joliet, a party that lasted for days and didn’t end until it followed the final victory float into Grant Park. I’ve seen the tears running down the faces of Cubs fans very young and very old. I’ve seen that white flag flying above center field from November until the following April, as the traditional winter of “wait ‘til next year” had finally been transformed into “remember last year?”.

This scene is played out in my mind at this time each year…Opening Day. Opening day is a time for blind optimism for all fans, but for a Cubs fan it’s the one magical day each season that the good guys are guaranteed to be in first place and the Cardinals are certain to be at the bottom of the standings. Anything seems possible on this day, no matter what the previous 102 years of documented history tells us.

In the grand scheme of Cubs-fandom, those of my generation have had it easy. Like all Cubs fans born since 1975, nary a decade of my life has passed without seeing my team in the post season. My grandpa listened to their last World Series appearance on a warship returning from Europe as a 27 year old, never expecting that he would would wait four decades until the next time fall baseball would return to Wrigley Field, but born a decade late too see a Cubs title. My dad, born in 1952, waited three decades for an opportunity to see the team he loved in the playoffs, but also never saw them win it all.

As Opening Day 2011 has arrived, I am just two weeks into my 32nd year – the same age my father was when he witnessed the first Cubs playoff series of his lifetime. By comparison, I’ve experienced an embarrassment of postseason riches: 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008…an archipelago of success in a sea of Red, White, and Blue ineptitude. Small bits of success that, rather than satiate the hunger for that elusive title, has only made each playoff defeat taste a little more bitter.

Three seasons ago, I stood and watched as Phillies fans poured out of Citizens Bank Park and continued their march up Broad Street after their team’s 28-year championship drought came to an end. A season later I sat in the left field stands at Yankee Stadium as Jeter, A-Rod and the game hoisted the Yankees’ 27th championship trophy. Then, just last summer, I was in Chicago as the Blackhawks held their Stanley Cup celebration in front of oceans of fans wearing red sweaters.

But none of those celebrations has come close to the revelry I witness each spring. As the Cubs return Friendly Confines this Opening Day, there’s nothing you can tell me that will shake my belief that this might be the year we finally see that white flag winter. If it doesn’t happen, well, there’s always next year. Trust me, it will be worth the wait.

Dad is Dead (and the New Tattoo)

Self-reflection is what I do and I’m pretty damn good at it. I’ve always been very introspective and so in the wake of my dad’s death – an event made for introspection – I was destined to shine. I made lists of things I want to improve about myself, things I want to do, new things I want to learn, old things I want to atone for. I mulled for days. I can ruminate with the best of them. However, as great as I am at reflection, I’m very terrible at taking the next step. I am so self-aware, that I’ve been freely admitting that this was a weakness of mine for at least a decade.

Since I’m so adept at taking a good look at myself and not so good at acting on what I see, I didn’t have many major revelations on this front in the weeks following my dad’s death. Many of the things I stewed about were the same things I’d been stewing about for years, but had never done anything about. My problem has never been knowing what I think I want. No, my problem is putting too much stock in what would happen if I was wrong. What happens if what seemed like a perfectly good goal wasn’t really worthy of the time it took to accomplish it? Is it not better to have great dream that you can rely on to get you through the rough patches than to actually pursue the dream and realize it wasn’t all you had hoped it would be?

My dad was 58 when he died, and I’m guessing that he had a long list of hopes and dreams when he was my age as well. I’m also guessing that a lot of the things on that list were still on the list 27 years later, when he finally ran out of time to start crossing some of them off. I’m left to simply guess about this, because he never told me and I never asked. I have no idea what his biggest regret was. I don’t know if there was one thing he always wanted to do but never had the courage or chance to do. I haven’t a clue what really made him happy. My guess is, though, that he did know and took for granted that he’d have the time to get around to it.

There is a tipping point between fearing the potential for regret and regretting the inaction caused by that fear, and it’s impossible to find the balance between the two through reflection alone. I don’t know if my dad was ever aware that he’d slid irretrievably from one side of the scale to the other – I can’t sure that I haven’t already done so as well. However, I still have time to move back the other way, and hopefully find that equilibrium. I no longer want to be happy to know that by doing nothing, I can’t ruin what seems like a perfectly good dream. This is where my recent introspection has diverged from the norm. Suddenly, I see my lists not as an accounting of where I am, but rather as a to-do list. A to-do list that is on the verge of becoming overwhelming if I don’t get moving.

This new line of thinking is how I came to have the tattoo that now adorns my back – a 4 square inch representation of my lucky number in roman numeral form permanently etched between my shoulder blades. I’ve known for the better part of a decade that I wanted not just a tattoo, but this specific tattoo. I could never be sure that I wouldn’t one day regret it though, so until three weeks ago, it remained something that I’d do some day. I still can’t guarantee that I won’t deplore the decision to get it at some point. What I am assured of though, is that 27 years from now, I definitely won’t regret not doing it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few other things I want to have a chance to look back upon fondly to do.

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