Seriously, what are brands thinking today? And I’m not even talking about the ones that throw a pool party for their customers that involves knockout-gassing them. Specifically, I want to talk about two brands that recently launched campaigns to engage with their customers at the point of sale, and why both efforts immediately fell flat.
First, there’s McDonalds’ ‘McLovin’ campaign. This short-lived (thankfully) campaign ran the first 2 weeks in February, and the idea was simple: Customers would be randomly selected to pay for their meal with ‘McLovin’. So when you go to pay for that Big Mac, you’re told it’s free, all you have to do is hug the 5 total strangers that are standing in line behind you. Or maybe you have to join the staff in a dance-off, or maybe you have to call your mom and tell her you love her, while the staff listens in and cheers you on. But the upshot of publicly embarrassing yourself is that you get a greasy $3 sandwich for free. Which of course makes it all worthwhile.
Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign is a bit different. Starbucks employees put #RaceTogether stickers on cups, and were encouraged to prompt customers to talk about the racial issues in this country when they place orders. You can imagine the reaction, it’s 8am, you are half groggy and want to grab a coffee to wake you up before heading to a the office and a barista asks you what you think about race in this country. This might be a healthy conversation to have, but asking half-asleep customers in a crowded Starbucks is not the ideal place to initiate that conversation. Starbucks immediately caught backlash over this effort, ended it after about a week, then claimed it was the plan all along to end it after a week.
What’s really odd about both these efforts is that they aren’t just making the customers uncomfortable in many instances, but think about how the poor employees feel? Can you imagine being an introvert working the front line at McDonalds and being told you have to get a middle-aged man to pay for his meal with ‘McLovin’ by following him around the restaurant taking 3 selfies with random customers? Or being an introvert working at Starbucks that’s required to spend the day encouraging total strangers (customers) to talk to you about race relations in this country? In both cases the employees are likely to feel as completely awkward as the customers do, which only makes the situation much worse for everyone.
But curiously, it seems that Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ politically-active CEO, is intent on pushing forward with the idea of having his employees start a conversation about hot-button political issues with Starbucks’ customers. Imagine trying to buy a coffee at Starbucks, then when you go to pay, the barista informs you that your price depends on your stance on legalizing marijuana. Or gun control. Or marriage equality. Or another hot-button political issue that is honestly none of Starbucks’ damned business what your views are.
Brands are looking for ways to engage customers and build loyalty. I get it. And a little out-of-the-box thinking can be great sometimes. But if you truly want to build an amazing brand, all you really have to do is nail the fundamentals.
For example: I went shopping at Publix yesterday. The cart was new and the wheels rolled like a champ (Hi, Wal-Mart!). Every employee I encountered in the aisles was friendly and helpful. Sales were everywhere, the prices were the lowest in the area for several items I buy regularly. Then when I went to pay for my items, a manager rushed up and unloaded my buggy for me. The woman that checked me out was friendly, remarked that she’d seen me here before, and thanked me for coming back. Then when she finished she told me to come back soon. Then the girl that loaded up my buggy begged profusely to let her follow me to my car and unload the buggy for me.
The fundamentals. Treating your customers as friends and people that you want to continue to do business with. I feel appreciated every time I go to Publix, which is exactly why I keep going there. The crazy thing is, McDonalds launched the McLovin’ campaign to try to boost sagging sales. If they want to boost sales, all they have to do is tell the cashiers that the next time they are all standing around up front chatting, to instead walk out to the restaurant area and ask the customers if they need anything. Ask them if you can refill a coke for them, or take their tray to the trash. It will take them a few seconds, and shock the hell out of the customers. Just treat your customers with respect and gratitude, and leave the silly gimmicks and public-shaming of customers initiatives in the trash can where they belong.