Etsy Controversy: Addressing Customers in the Social Media World

Etsy—a much-loved online marketplace for those of the crafty variety—came from simple beginnings as a young entrepreneur and crafter wanted a place to sell his handmade goods. With eBay already in the market, Etsy creator Rob Kalin wanted to create a website that looked less like a garage sale full of old junk and more like a community of crafters (a.k.a. Etsians) working together to promote their crafts.

As 2011 opened, Etsy found itself as part of a BP- and Toyota-level national controversy as Etsians and customers alike became aware that Etsy was allowing a vendor to sell controversial greeting cards through the site. As news spread of the controversial products that “clearly denigrate women and some people with disabilities,” debate grew over what types of products should and shouldn’t be sold through the online retailer.

Etsy customers immediately took to social media circles and product review pages demanding that these products be removed from the site. Those who took charge soon realized that their comments and unflattering reviews were being censored and removed by Etsy. Already accused in 2009 of censoring comments, controversy quickly grew as Etsy customers became increasingly concerned and dissatisfied.

Recently, Etsy did relay that they have changed their policies to ensure that products sold through their site do not “promote, support or glorify hatred toward or otherwise demean people based upon race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation; including items or content that promote organizations with such views.” Unfortunately, the site has yet to explain or comment on why they censor postings.

Rather than using this conflict as an opportunity to engage in direct dialogue to address concerns, Etsy chose to be complacent. Why would they so foolishly have refused to use social media to protect their company and brand? It’s a shame, since they no doubt lost loyal and potential customers—and artisans—in the process.


How Well Does Your Website Work in the Mobile Environment?

The SMB Group recently released its latest report, “2010 Small and Medium Businesses Mobile Solutions Study.” The report revealed that only about 12% of small businesses and 21% of medium businesses have mobile websites. What does this mean when nearly 70% of the world has mobile phones?

According to the report, “a significant proportion of U.S. small and medium businesses are revving up plans to implement mobile web sites,” especially non-governmental organizations, education and retail industries. But for any business with an online presence, it’s important that customers can access your website from their mobile device.

To make sure your website is optimized for the web, try testing it out on your own smart phone. Surprisingly, only 45 percent of small businesses have checked out their website on a mobile device!

If it’s not rendering well, you may want to think about optimizing your site for mobile browsing. As browsing the web becomes easier and easier on mobile devices, customers are expecting your company’s website to work on their phones.

Can you honestly say that your website is optimized for mobile browsing?

A Marketing Lesson from “Love and Other Drugs?”

In the movie Love and Other Drugs, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Jamie starts a new job with drug giant Pfizer. As part of the long and involved training process to become a pharmaceutical sales rep, the new hires are required to practice the company’s sales pitch. To ensure they can rattle the spiel off quickly enough, trainees practice the pitch with a lighted match in their fingers, aiming to finish before the flame gets close enough to be painful.

It made me think: how often does a typical employee practice their company’s pitch? Further, can they even articulate it at all?

The CEO at a company I previously worked for used an interesting tactic to promote the importance of the elevator pitch to staff. During company-wide meetings, he would ask who could recite the pitch, and the employee who did the best job pocketed $50 on the spot. While this might seem trivial, it indeed put a spotlight on the importance of really knowing your company’s angle.

Can you clearly and succinctly explain what your company does, what the benefit is for a customer and how you’re different than the competition? If not, that may be a good goal for 2011.

Dropbox Makes File Sharing Simple

Nowadays, everyone is talking about cloud computing, and Dropbox makes accessing the “cloud” surprisingly easy to do. No need to worry about FTP servers or VPNs—just log into Dropbox to access and share your files from any computer or mobile device.

Dropbox has two important features: file syncing and file sharing. Dropbox automatically syncs new files or changes that are detected so you don’t need to constantly upload files after you’ve made changes. It also syncs files of any size or type. Plus, Dropbox makes file sharing exceedingly easy. You can create shared folders that allow others to collaborate on the same files and be able to download them. Everyone can see the changes instantly, so there’s no need to email documents back and forth.

While there are dozens of file syncing and file sharing tools out there, the unique thing about Dropbox is how easy it is to use. The interface is simple, it works across platforms (Windows, Mac and Linux), and there are iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry and Android apps for your mobile devices.

You can take a tour of Dropbox here.

Dropbox is an easy to use and efficient way to sync and share files that’s free for the first 2GB. If you need more storage, Dropbox offers more space for a very reasonable monthly fee.

What other ways do you backup your files and/or share them with colleagues? Do you think you’d pay a monthly fee for this type of technology?

Grabbing the Attention of the “Plugged-in” Generation

The marketing world is all a buzz as a group of nearly 80 million “Millennials” hit the marketplace with new ideas, new demands and new expectations. This group, born between 1980 and 1995, was raised according to the notion of individualism. As a whole, they are optimistic, diverse and digitally connected. But how do marketers grab the attention of this “plugged-in” generation?

Millennials are careful shoppers who expect products, services and information to be available on their schedule and on demand. What’s more, they know how to do their research and use it to their advantage.

Offering free services, customization and positive incentives are now a must for companies hoping to connect with Generation Y—which is forcing marketers to get creative. Brand loyalty is especially valuable (albeit hard to come by) with this group, as they are not afraid to go elsewhere to get what they want.

Reaching Millennials requires more than great giveaways and customized messaging. They attach themselves to companies that are environmentally and socially responsible. Millennials expect “their” companies to make substantial donations to the same causes that the Millennials themselves volunteer for and support. That’s why companies like Subaru are enticing younger buyers with the promise to donate $250 of every purchase to a charity of the buyer’s choice, deemed the “Share the Love” event.

The lesson? It’s time to think outside the box and reach out to these customers in a new way. Smart snack companies like Wheat Thins have been showing up on doorsteps armed with pallets of free food to Twitter followers whose status’ claim they’re hungry. Sounds silly, right? Maybe not, because doing something unconventional is one of the best ways to get the attention of this hard-to-impress generation.

Marketing, Like Literature and Cinema, Needs a Story

This is a guest post by Katherine Hengel, a San Francisco-based freelance writer.

A commanding man of more than 70 years, Robert McKee has scorching, unapologetic ideas about everything – especially storytelling. When McKee speaks, writers listen; he is, without question, the Godfather of stories.

For decades now, McKee has delivered and perfected a four-day Story Seminar in which he rips the heart out of more than 100 well-known films and novels. McKee reveals the essence of these stories, the part that blasts through the page or screen and lodges right into the audience members’ hearts and minds.

Naturally, screenwriters and novelists (self included) can’t get enough. But we’re not the only ones. Business owners and marketing professionals are drinking the McKee Kool-Aid, too. These professionals scribbled down notes just as furiously as I did at McKee’s Story Seminar last month in Los Angeles.

So why do strategic thinkers and business minds care what a crotchety, old Detroit native thinks about story structure and act development? Why will they sit in a stuffy hotel conference room for ten hours a day, four days in a row, learning about storytelling? Because they know that good marketing, like literature or cinema, has to tell a good story.

The power of storytelling in marketing is not a new idea (see this abstract from a 2005 Marketing Review article entitled, “No Tale, No Sale). But that doesn’t mean injecting story into business communications is a breeze. As McKee tells seminar attendees, “Stories don’t tell themselves. You didn’t really think it was going to be easy, did you?”

He’s right. It’s not easy. Not in marketing or screenwriting or anything else. Finding a story – a true story compelling enough to affect a buyer’s actions – requires strong thinking and an extreme commitment to quality. To fully appreciate the work involved in storytelling, spend four days with McKee. In the meantime, here are some hallmarks for business owners trying to tell good stories:

Say something that matters. What’s on the line? What’s at risk? If there’s nothing on the line, there’s no story. No one cares if your product is say, engineered with quality. But if that quality saves children’s lives, then you have the start of a story.

Your audience is smarter than you. The audience knows when you’re not telling the story right, even when you don’t. Give them the information they need when they need it. If there is something your potential client needs to know right away, tell them right away. Get it out in the first act, so to speak. If you don’t, you’ll lose their trust.

Say something true. More than anything else, a good story adds up. There is no air of falsity or element that seems disingenuous. If something sounds fishy, it is. In your marketing efforts, you’re not doing yourself or your audience any favors by “just leaving in” anything insincere or cliché.

Of course, no analogy is perfect. But the link between storytelling and marketing communications is incredibly strong. An understanding of this interconnectedness is, in my opinion, The Cypress Group’s most valuable deliverable. Like McKee, the principles at The Cypress Group can find the heart of a business, the part powerful enough to resonate with audiences. And that’s the way it should be. Like all cursed scribes, marketing professionals – the good ones anyway – need to tell good stories.


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