Ocean Marketing and the Avenger Controller Disaster: What Now?

nuclear explosionConsider this scenario:

You’re a small business owner.  You hire a marketing/PR consultant to manage your brand.  Later, you find that your brand’s name is being mentioned all over the social web.  Huge, right?  That’s great!  🙂

🙁 But, on closer inspection — and as your gut tightens — you discover that words like “moron,” and audacious phrases like “…sperm in your daddys balls (sic)…,” as well as off-color references to “…you’re the douchiest (of customers)…” were being ascribed to your marketing consultant in communications with one of your customers.

That scenario, believe it or not, actually played out this week with as much bewildering trance as watching someone chew sand while immolating himself even as your brain screamed for him to STOP!

ocean marketing - avenger

(Read the whole sad story about “How to self-destruct your company with just a few measly emails” here.  Or, google “Ocean Marketing fiasco OR debacle”.  It’s a pretty huge topic right now.)

What would you do?

I mean, after you fired your marketing/PR consultant?  How would you go about picking up the pieces and recovering your brand?

That question came up as a thread in discussions with colleagues in my social marketing sphere.

Brainstorming For the Benefit Of Messrs. Dave Kotkin and Mr. Chiullan

Without rehashing all the sordid details about the sequence of events, I’ll just direct you to the VentureBeat article via the link(s) above and instead jump to some thoughts my colleagues and I discussed about damage control.  And, dare I say:  there’s potentially an opportunity being missed here; even in the wake of this nuclear mess.

First, it’s worth listing for you some of the players I’ll reference:

  • “Customer Dave” – the kindly customer whose polite email inquiry sparked the whole thread.
  • Paul Christoforo – the boneheaded “marketing consultant” from Ocean Marketing whose hamfisted SERIES of responses to Customer Dave fueled a fire that eventually went nuclear.
  • Dave Kotkin – the reportedly kindly founder of a game device whose business judgment — or lack thereof — found himself at the center of the scenario I outlined at the beginning of this article.
  • Moises Chiullan – the new marketing consultant brought onboard by Mr. Kotkin to manage the fallout.  (And, I’ll add, that by initial accounts seems to be doing a decent job — definitely a hell of a lot better than that “other guy.”)

There are a few more names worth mentioning in this whole bewildering story, but I’ll only make reference to the four folks above.  (Click the link above to get the whole story.  You’ll want to pull up a chair and get a cup of coffee when you read it.  It’s a bit involved.  But, I promise you, you’ll be enthralled, albeit, in a watch-the-man-kill-his-career sort of way.  You’ll want to read it all, as well as the updates and perhaps even a few of the referenced links.  Tip:  If you’re a social media or business consultant/trainer, you may want to bookmark these articles.  It makes a great case study.)

Suggestions For Next Steps

So, my friend Kathi (founder, KruseControlInc) wondered outloud if Mr. Kotkin’s brand can recover in the wake of Mr. Christoforus’ inelegant series of responses.  As my friend Kathi correctly puts it,

“…(Mr. Kotkin) seems pretty sincere and transparent… but this couldn’t be the first time Christoforo acted like this, eh?  Time should help them and if their customers are like Customer Dave, maybe they’ll look past it because the (game) controller is so awesome?”

ocean marketing - avenger

I think Kathi is right.  By even Customer Dave’s account, Mr. Kotkin’s game device is actually a desirable product, despite the shipping challenges the company had been experiencing.

[Via Customer Dave.]  “…It’s truly a shame because I think this device is great for gamers with disabilities and problems… I’m really gonna feel bad if I think that sick children may somewhere down the line have fewer Avenger controllers because I got into a pissing match with a sad old man… As much as I hate this asshole (in reference to Mr. Christoforo), I still WANT (Mr. Kotkin’s) product and think it should be out there…”

In my response to Kathi, I shared my thoughts about how I believe Mr. Kotkin can recover.  Moreover, there’s probably an opportunity for him and Mr. Chiullan to improve the company and their brand.  It begins, first and foremost, by making things right with Customer Dave.

Thank Customer Dave for bringing to light a very very weak and blindingly incendiary link in their company’s whole customer lifecycle.  Pay Customer Dave for his troubles, reimburse the charges on his order, ship the device to him free of charge, whatever it takes; make him whole again.  Then go further….

Once Customer Dave has been made whole, offer to bring him “inside” as a consultant.  Or, better yet, bring him in as a member of a newly formed customer advisory panel.  The purpose of which should be to give feedback and guidance on customer service improvements.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chiullan should send a series of timely press releases that coincide with key milestones in the company’s genuine attempt to improve customer service:

  1. (Timing: Immediate.)  Announce the formation of the advisory panel (or announce the retention of Customer Dave as an external consultant.)
  2. (Timing: About 3-5 days later.)  Inform the public about specific and measurable feedback received from Customer Dave and/or the advisory panel.
  3. (Timing:  Another 3-5 days later.)  Subsequently announce the specific changes that have been made (or will be made) based on the customer advisory panel’s feedback.
  4. (Timing:  At about the same time as the previous step.)  Give video testimonial from Customer Dave and/or other customers about their candid and truthful assessment of the action steps Avenger has taken since the nuclear ground zero that was Paul Christoforo.

There’s clearly much more that can be done here.  But, wouldn’t you agree that it’s not a hopeless situation for Mr. Kotkin?  He can, in fact, recover if he takes genuine steps now to make changes while keeping the public informed about the steps he is taking?

What other guidance would you add?

For Messrs. Kotkin and Chiullan:

I say this with no sarcasm and with genuine sincerity — your situation is tough right now.  I truly hope you do recover, especially since Customer Dave’s account of your product testifies to it filling a very much needed niche.  You clearly have a fan in Customer Dave.  I have to believe there are more.

I respect the initial steps you’ve already taken to course-correct.  And, I truly believe it will benefit you further to give voice to your customers.  Over time, I think you’ll find that if you give them an opportunity to contribute in building the “new” company, they will undoubtedly help support that which they help to create.

Good luck.  And, if you’d like to brainstorm a bit more, let me know and I’d be proud to make introductions with some of the professionals whom I consider friends and experts who are more skilled than I in public relations and social marketing.

Best wishes.

Include a SWOT With Your New Year Business Planning

swot-strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threatsAs the year winds down and we each get geared up for the opportunities in 2012, now’s the time to update that business plan — assuming you haven’t done so yet.  Even if you don’t have your own business, it’s still immensely helpful to take a milestone assessment of your department, company, team, or what have you, as you plan budgets and resources for the coming year.  This is when a SWOT analysis can help.

What’s a SWOT?

A SWOT analysis is a structured group activity that’s useful for identifying the internal and external forces that drive your competitive position in your market.  In the case of a department, committee, team, group, and so on, a SWOT can be used to assess your group’s positioning within the larger organization.

Procedure:

  1. Define “SWOT” for your meeting participants.
  2. Analyze the internal environment.
  3. Analyze the external environment.
  4. Clarify ideas.
  5. Narrow the list.

Step 1.  Define what “SWOT” means for your meeting participants.

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

  • Strengths identify any existing or potential resource or capability within the organization that provides a competitive advantage in the market.  For example, an organization might define its capabilities as having a strong distribution network, intense employee commitment and loyalty, increasing profit margins, and so on.
  • Weaknesses point to any existing or potential internal force which could serve as a barrier to maintaining or achieving a competitive advantage in the market.  For example:  lack of clear company strategy, lack of training opportunities for using new technologies, inability to rapidly indoctrinate new employees, and so on.
  • Opportunities are existing or potential forces in the external environment that, if properly exploited, could provide a competitive advantage.  For example: high customer satisfaction ratings, raving fans, proprietary technologies, and so on.
  • Threats, meanwhile, have to do with any existing or potential force in the external environment that could inhibit the maintenance or attainment of a competitive advantage.  Here, examples might include:  a new competitor, a recession, rising (or even lowering) interest rates, tight credit lines, etc.

The thing to notice from the definitions above is that Strengths and Weaknesses are inward looking.  You generate ideas and gather feedback within the context of your organization or company.

Meanwhile, Opportunities and Threats are outward looking.  That is, what’s happening in the environment that will (or can) affect your organization or company.

Step 2.  Analyze the internal environment: Strengths and Weaknesses

In this step, ask your participants to identify the strengths of the organization (or department, etc.).  Questions you might consider asking include:

  • What strengths are unique to our (company, organization, department…)?
  • What differentiates us from the competition?
  • What is it that we do really well?

Next, ask participants to identify the weaknesses.  Questions to consider include:

  • What knowledge do we lack?
  • What skills do we lack?
  • What systems do we need to change?

Consider also discussing any case studies, white papers, lessons learned, client projects that went particularly well, as well as those that didn’t go particularly well.

Step 3.  Analyze the external environment: Opportunities and Threats

Reminding participants of the definition you gave in Step 1, ask them now to help you list opportunities.  Questions to consider include:

  • What additional services can we offer existing clients?
  • How can we engage our highly satisfied customers and raving fans to expand our offerings?
  • What new markets are we positioned to enter?
  • What new markets are we positioned to create?
  • Are there any service offerings we have that can be leveraged to appeal to different generations?

Finally, ask participants to do a similar exercise in identifying threats.  Questions to consider here might include:

  • Who are our closest competitors?
  • What new companies are poised to enter our market?
  • What environmental or regulatory issues might affect our industry?

The resulting list might look something like this:

swot analysis

Step 4.  Clarify ideas.

Review each idea within each of the domains; ask clarifying questions while discussing the underlying drivers of each idea.  It will help to ask members who presented an idea to help clarify and explain to the rest of the team what they meant about that idea.  Remember, the goal in this step is to clarify.  Avoid debating or championing the importance of any particular idea.

Step 5.  Narrow the list.  (If needed.)

This step will likely require the use of some kind of facilitative “narrowing” technique to help combine similar ideas.  One such technique could be your own variation to an approach I wrote about previously on using Post-It notes to help gain meeting consensus.

The goal here is to reduce the quantity of ideas listed under each domain without (and this is important) outright discarding any one idea.  It’s important that each participant feel that her/his idea was included.  It’s also unnecessary to discard ideas, given the easy techniques available in the Post-It notes article for combining, voting and narrowing.

By now, you can see that conducting a SWOT analysis with a group can be a bit time-consuming.  Due to this fact, you may want to conduct the SWOT over a span of time (over a span of days, for example).  You might also consider focusing on the internal dimensions with one group, while reserving the external dimensions for another day with another group.

SWOT is also a technique that can help sole proprietors and small business owners conduct business planning for the new year or new quarter.

Is this something you’ve done before?  What other planning tools do you typically use to prepare for a new year?