2016 has been a tough year for women, so I already entered 2017 a bit sore, but my first big blow came from the army of booth babes covering the CES floors. But in a sea of babes I saw our own booth rise above, and we did it with puppy power.
I’m not new to tech or trade shows and I get the gender imbalance of the industry (believe me, it has never been easier to find a bathroom in my life), but we can do better, and it pays when we do.
Women are still behind when it comes to STEM skills, and glass ceilings and pay gaps often hold us back from the type of executive rolls that might even take us to CES. Many people assumed I was a hired Vegas local. I get that we’re the minority, but it doesn’t mean we should be second class citizens in the world of tech.
At one event we attended, it was entirely football themed with cheerleaders passing out flyers and milling about the floor. Mind you the event had nothing to do with sports, it was just something American-centric and male-pleasing, so why not? How could you shut women out of this any more.
I get that beauty sells, and we all like looking at an attractive person. But there’s a big difference between a bored beauty and an engaged young person. Bored is the key word because I have to say more than anything bored was the expression on their overly-contoured faces. And as a woman who works at those same booths, I get it, because many men use it as a way to have a captive and submissive woman they can badger. These poor women are having to suffer through a slew of personal comments and propositions all day long.
Beyond the innate ickiness of using sex to sell, and the feminist implications of using women’s bodies to get sales, do you really believe that the type of person who’s going to score you the big deal or transform your company will be one brought in by a short hemline? That some cleavage will be what makes your product stand out in a sea of lookalikes?
Let’s push things forward. Let’s get creative. Let’s not stoop to the absolute basest point and instead try to reach for something better. Just like one piece of sleek techs bleeds into the next, so do all those pretty overly-contoured faces. The booth babes don’t work as well as you think. People want something refreshing.
One of the things I was proudest of with Petcube is that our booth babe wasn’t actually a babe at all. Kuro the pomeranian is an emotional support animal, and in addition to luring people in with his cuteness, he also gave them a nice break in the day to get in touch with the world of animals. The same type of break our product gives you. Sold.
Besides pets, you can also use influencers. With a shortage of staff members, we hired a local vegas influencer with a quarter million followers to work at the booth with us. For ads we’ve used people like Kitten Lady, who’s beautiful inside and out. Not only does this method put pretty faces on the floor, they’re also knowledgeable and come with their own following.
I’m not proposing equality, I don’t want a floor full of banana hammocks on the cast of Thunder Down Under. I just want a world where good products sell themselves and women’s bodies aren’t cheap billboards to distract from second-rate construction.
I promise, I’m not the type that downloads leaked sex tapes.
To date I’ve still never seen Kim K’s infamous Ray J video that sky rocketed her to infamy, nor was I temped by the The Fappening that caught everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Kate Upton. I don’t want to be part of victimizing those whose photos are stolen, nor do I care to feed the hype of those who fake a leak for the publicity.
On Monday evening, however, I found myself with credit card in hand agonizing over whether I should download the leaked tape of one of my favorite bands. It helps with temptation that Kim K and JLaw are such tremendous public figures they scarcely seem real, but the band Yacht feel like old friends. From LA to Austin, I’ve seen the Portland duo more than almost any other band. Only one night before I found myself hemming and hawing over the download, I had actually been corresponding with them on Instagram.
In a nutshell, the band had announced on its Facebook page that a private sex tape had been leaked by a third party and they were asking fans to respect their privacy and avoid downloading it. Media from Pitchfork to Gawker quickly picked up the story, and fans filled the comments with messages of sympathy and support. Flames were fanned even further when a few hours later the band announced that they were taking ownership and control of the leak by publishing the video for themselves for a $5 fee. They still didn’t want you to watch it, the video contained things that some people might find shocking, but if you must, they requested you download it from them.
So there I sat fighting an internal battle between my feminist sense of justice and my curiosity over a tantalizing video of one of the cutest couples in indie rock. Luckily, before I had to compromise any morals news started trickling in that anyone purchasing was being redirected to a 404 page and wasn’t being charged. That’s when it started to come into focus that we were all the butt of, at best, a very bad joke, and, at worst, a totally tasteless PR stunt.
There are a few things out there that you still can’t joke about and sexual assault is one of those. Revenge porn is a horrific problem that can drive victims to suicide, and that US states are finally starting to take action on. Having to recently watch sports reporter Erin Andrews in her fight against secretly filmed nude videos was agonizing. In the back of the mind of any person who has ever take a nude pic, is the fear that someone will use it as a weapon against them, and tons of people have experienced this very situation.
I can imagine the horror spreading across the couple’s faces as responses trickled in. On Tuesday, a day I’m sure Yacht had anticipated dropping a new music video, raking in press, and having pundits marvel at their wit, they instead released an apology. Unfortunately it wasn’t much of one.
The coals on all of this are still pretty hot, but we’re going to sift through the ashes and look at what the media-savvy Yacht did right, and where they went horribly horribly wrong. Let’s start with the positive.
They got their friends to play along
Yacht are no slouch when it comes to PR and hacking the news cycle. They had a song that streamed only during Uber surging periods, and their whole shtick frames the band as a cult-like organization. Enlisting famous friends like Miranda July in the stunt gave credence to the theory that the video may be legit.
They made a really quality video and used native channels
I’m not going to ruin the surprise but the video is actually pretty great. It’s very on brand for the band, well done, and low budget. They also loaded it on Pornhub and PirateBay rather than Youtube or Vimeo. Without giving too much away, it would probably pass the censors for those sites, but instead they went for a more native content location on the hubs for web smut.
Somewhere in this terrible stunt really was a good idea
As I sat there with that credit card in hand, I really did have to reflect on the fact that I hadn’t laid down cash for Yacht’s latest album but I’d been quick to shell out to see their dirty laundry. A sex tape has been a PR strategy for everyone from Kim Kardashian to Farrah Abrams, and they do it because it works. It’s actually fairly clever to hack the press for your band, while at the same time making a statement about media, privacy, and supporting musicians.
Unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. Here’s where Yacht messed up.
They played victim
If Yacht had seeded the video to the press, to their friends, on to these porn sites, and with fan influencers and then just shut up, I think they would have gotten what they wanted. The video is actually quality enough that I think people would be willing to play along to see the “blue waffles” style shock on others’ faces. However, Yacht made multiple statements about how they were victimized and how the video was stolen and an invasion of their privacy. Even a short statement of “We understand a private video of us has started circulating. We’re still trying to make sense of the situation now that our unconventional sex life is public. We’ll be issuing a response soon.” They pulled at our heart strings and turned themselves into the new balloon boy.
They didn’t check their tech
The strategy Yacht took was bad, but their tech execution was arguably worse. You see, they didn’t code that site to throw up a 404 when people purchased the video, it was actually an error and they likely missed out on collecting thousands of dollars. The developer, Daniel Bogan, included his Twitter handle at the footer of the site, and Tuesday morning announced he clearly had not carefully read the terms of service for the Stripe payment service. Stripe doesn’t allow adult content. A few hours later he would make his account private. This was an amateur hour. They took went to all the effort to strategize this, film a video, reach out to friends, but didn’t close the loop by QAing their tech.
They didn’t genuinely apologize
When you screw up, you need to own up. By far the biggest sin of all was responding with a half assed apology that pointed the finger at the media for its “irresponsible leap from ‘celebrity sex tape’…to ‘revenge porn.’” But that was exactly the situation Yacht implied with its statements. Yacht hijacked the tendency of the media to post about leaked sex tapes then blamed them for calling the tape leaked.
If this scandal was your first introduction to Yacht, let me apologize on their behalf and assure you this lapse is unlike them. Try to quell your anger while you listen to Shangri LA or Psychic City.
And if perchance this post should make its way to Jona and Claire themselves…
As a digital marketer myself I see the value of playing with emerging trends and technology and taking big swings to break through all the noise. But when we take big swings, we sometimes have big misses and this was one. You have always said that Yacht is a holy trinity: The Business, The Band, and the Belief System, and I’ve admired your frankness that working in the music industry is as much about business as it is beats. The Band is still good, but you need to take a moment to think about the Business and the Belief System.
When a man takes a woman out, he can’t simply go straight for the goods. She needs time. She needs to be romanced, she wants to learn more about him, she wants some proof points that he’s a good guy. There’s not really a shortcut. He has to seduce her to seal the deal.
There’s whole businesses built around ratings and reviews, user generated content reviews, and sizing information – all of these incrementally pushing customers toward a sale. Yet sites including Twitter, Wanelo, Instagram, and Pinterest all poured resources into the technology hoping that easing the path to purchase would result in big sales. Unfortunately for them, easy checkout is only part of the shopping equation.
First of all, understand that scaling one-click buy buttons isn’t easy. There’s the challenge of integrating with retailers’ ecommerce platforms, which can range from major providers like Demandware to hacked together legacy systems or custom built solutions. Then, retailers have to be on top of creating robust, up-to-date product feeds in order for their listings to be any good, and some still struggle with the technology. It’s a resources intensive mission for a social network to take on, and it opens a lot of new opportunities for security risks and customer service issues.
Finally, retailers shouldn’t cheat themselves with a channel that’s going to give them no opportunity to up-sell, will lower their cart size, and drag down their average order value. Because the customer is only buying one item, they’re likely paying full shipping and not even being pushed to hit a free ship threshold. Some of these one-click systems even cut out the exchange of the customer’s email or the ability to opt them into marketing. So not only have you lowered the amount of your sale, you’ve missed the opportunity to ever sell to them again.
The idea of the one-click checkout is good in spirit. Yes, social networks should definitely try to get users credit cards and make it seamless for them to purchase – but they need to also start to fill in other gaps in the sales process. At Wanelo, they’re starting to allow users to review product so they can have a database of reviews, but social networks could also potentially find a way to integrate in with systems like Bazaarvoice to track a retailer’s reviews directly into the social app.
These social networks actually even have some added advantages when it comes to the sales process. If a shopper is under a free shipping threshold, they could show them other items they’ve pinned and saved that would help them hit it, or suggest other frequently purchased items from the retailer.
Buy buttons aren’t a total flop, but social networks need to realize there’s no way to fast track the sales process, and their next innovations need to happen in the middle of the funnel.
The robots are coming for our jobs. No, seriously. They’re replacing cashiers at McDonalds, putting stockbrokers out of work, and now – as though outsourcing to India wasn’t bad enough – the robots are coming for customer service and sales.
This week at their F8 conference Facebook announced a new chat bot tool, Agents on Messenger, which will allow companies to create chat flows within messenger that can communicate to customers. They launched with a few clunky partnerships with media and retail companies like 1800 Flowers and Poncho, and these early examples definitely betray the potential of what’s before us.
For ecommerce professionals there are a few things you should be taking note of here:
Your CS teams should be worried
The internet has been evolving faster than CS teams can keep up with and they’re often left with a patchwork collection of tools for managing chat, social networks, emails, and calls. Content teams and data scientists have been laboring over ways to better help customers self serve and get them to the right support material…but perhaps a more conversational tool is the trick. Chat could potentially put a quick and direct route to CS on the phones of 900 million people, and deliver them an almost personal experience.
Your email and mobile teams should be learning
In Asia, chat platforms have been a marketing channel for ages with retailers hopping on apps like Line. In the US, however, companies have been slow to adopt, even as the number of users on apps like Kik and Messenger grow. The advantage is huge, first of al the ridiculous regulations of SMS make it costly and will have you living in fear of class action lawsuits ( I think I’ve gotten paid from Abercrombie and Steve Madden so far.) Your teams should be staying on top of these, brainstorming ways to drive opt ins, think through product suggestion flows, or thinking of what a drip messaging campaign might look like in this channel.
Mobile is personal
If you hadn’t gathered already, communicating on mobile is extremely personal. We can’t communicate to users on this device in the same way, and companies need to do more to bend to the types of tools, copy, and technology that work best for today’s customer. Mobile is a place where you use their first name, you anticipate what they want, and you speak like a friend.
Aspirin was unveiled by Bayer in 1899 for the treatment of toothaches, headaches and other pains. But it wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that it was recognized as a treatment for heart attack and high blood pressure. This gap in knowledge existed simply because pain reduction wasn’t an application they were measuring for. Tons of people were benefitting, but that data wasn’t being captured so no one was making the correlation.
I learned this information in a 2010 Wired article about Sergey Brin’s search for a Parkinsons cure, and it has stuck with me vividly since then and made me wonder what sort of valuable insights might be hidden in my own data. For years I’ve been using apps to comprehensively track my life. I use Miso for the movies and TV I watch, Foursquare for the places I go, Pose for the outfits I wear, and many other apps to follow everything from my period to the food I eat. But right now this is all just a lump of data, with no real application, outside of showcasing my lifestyle on a few social networks.
I know it’s not a revelatory observation to say that wrangling big data has immense value, but so far I see most of it is happening on the enterprise level rather than individual. One of the big opportunities I see now is to help people make sense of this personal data to identify unexpected correlations that might be affecting their lives. If Netflix can use big data to deduce that I might like a Morgan Spurlock documentary, then why shouldn’t I have the ability to parse out that I’m more likely to prefer strong male leads in movies on the 10th day of my ovulation cycle.
I’ll admit, some of the applications I have in mind are a little frivolous. I would love to see if the entertainment I watch affects the outfits I wear, or if the music I listen to affects the places I want to go out to. But more seriously, as a generalized anxiety sufferer, I’d really value a tool that helped me identify the more silent sources of some of my worry. Perhaps getting less than 300 steps a day drastically affects my mood, or perhaps wearing particular colors results in elevated mood.
The technology exists to do this, and big brands are already harnessing tons of big data to make correlations that help them sell. Gilt Groupe famously sends out 3,000 different version of their messaging for different types of customers. So perhaps if the technology is here, but the service isn’t, it’s a sign that the market for this level of self quantification and data analysis just isn’t there yet. That’s not surprising considering that self tracking can still be pretty tedious (today Foursquare still only has less than 20 million active users), but as the internet of things and wearable technology increase this data collection won’t be tedious, it will be automatic. Many of my less techie friends who wouldn’t dream of doing a Foursquare checkin are already starting to use Fitbit Flexes and Nike Fuelbands to put a number on just how much their cat is disturbing them at night, or just how sedentary their desk job is making them.
Self quantification is about to open up in an entirely new way, but will we be able to do anything actionable with this information once we have?