Simultaneous to its introduction were consumer marketing programs proclaiming a new nano was waiting for you if you took advantage of special offers. Now, the nano joins the shuffle, the mini, and the original iPod as the incentive of choice among consumer-hungry marketers. The world has caught iPod fever, and S&MM isn't immune. Two of our staffers recently took the bait, but with very different results.
Corris, our online editor, recently tried to get an iPod from a viral marketing program. Here's her take:
"I've always been fond of the F-word. No, not that F-word. Free. :-) But here's a case where free wasn't exactly free. The other day while helping set up this blog, I came across an article discussing how a marketer created buzz in the blogging community by offering free iPods. This definitely piqued my interest since it included the all-important keyword (free), and I wanted a new and much lighter nano to bop down the street with. I logged onto their Web site and discovered their plan right away.
Here's the deal: You must sign up for one of their advertised offers--I chose online movie rentals at Blockbuster.com--and convince five of your friends to do the same. Then the nano will be shipped to your address. I admit, I bought the idea hook, line, and sinker and encouraged scores of friends and family to sign up. You know what I got? Absolutely nothing. My friends signed up, but didn't complete the offers required to get the iPod. Now I'll never know if the marketer actually gives away iPods or not.
However, I am very happy with my online movie rentals and won't cancel the offer like I had originally planned. The marketer accomplished its mission: to lure customers into trying out its services. In hindsight, though, marketing practices like this look pretty sketchy."
So the marketer got what it wanted: Corris' business--without even rewarding her. But Julie, our editorial intern, had a different experience, and one that left a bad taste in her mouth:
"I recently received an iPod shuffle for opening a new checking account this summer. However the good feelings I had from receiving the iPod quickly faded as the account--and the iPod--started causing problems. When I opened the account, I closed an existing savings account with the same bank and transferred the money into the new one. In the first week alone, I made several phone calls and visits to the bank because it failed to close the account or transfer the funds as I originally requested. My online account was also frozen, although there was no reason for it to be. The bank's employees were reluctant to help me solve the problems, and the customer service was far from acceptable.
Once the iPod arrived, my frustration was renewed. I had to buy a USB extender so the iPod would fit into my computer, as well as spend time converting WMA files into mp3 files before I could use it. So the iPod was not exactly free. Once my account has been active for the required six months, I will no longer be a customer."
In both cases, the incentives acted as the lure, but at what cost? Are customers who don't intend to stick around worth the marketing dollars? And while Blockbuster.com got a new customer despite Corris not getting the intended incentive, what do you do with angry customers who have to jump through hoops to claim their rewards-or suffer poor service once they're hooked? Smaller businesses, especially, have to think hard about these kinds of incentives because they have more to lose from a bad marketing investment as they compete with the big players.