Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Getting By (Much Better Now) 'With A Little Help From My Friends:' New Talent On Board the Fresh & Easy Corporate Marketing Blog One Year Hence

In 2008, Fresh & Easy Buzz wrote and published a number of posts about Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's corporate marketing Blog, published by the retailer's marketing chief, Simon Uwins, and how the Blog would go for weeks, and even months, without being updated with new content-posts, along with the fact that seldom if ever reader-customer comments on the Blog were addressed and answered.

We likened the situation to a retail store -- of which a corporate marketing Blog is an extension of in the case of a retailer that uses one for such purposes -- that is neglected, seldom updated in content and merchandising, and where customers' (that's what the Blog's readers are, along with others being potential customers) questions are seldom answered. A corporate marketing-oriented Blog is an extension -- a digital store-front minus actually selling groceries -- of a grocery chain's brick-and-mortar stores. Plus, marketing and customer service is "everything" a retailer does, from how store employees dress to its Web sites and Blogs.

It's our analysis and opinion that when a grocery chain or any other type of retailer uses a company Blog for marketing purposes it then needs to keep the content (regular posts say at least once a week at a minimum) of that Blog fresh, just like it must keep merchandise in a brick-and-mortar grocery store fresh.

And just like store employees are required to (and want to) answer customer questions and inquiries, so to should whomever is responsible for publishing a company marketing Blog do the same. It's just basic and good customer service.

We also think retailer company Blogs should offer customers and potential customers important information about the retailer and its stores, as well as marketing-focused information. Done well, both general and marketing-oriented communications can be achieved, often times in the same post.

Whole Foods Market, Inc. does this well with its "Whole Story" Blog. Wal-Mart does it in an interesting and informative way as well with its Web site-based "Buyers Blog," as does San Francisco Bay Area (Northern California) multi-store independent Andronico's Market, with its "Buyers Blog," to offer three grocer-retailer examples we think are worth taking a look at.

Below are links to the posts we made about the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market corporate marketing Blog topic and issue in 2008:

[January 21, 2008: Click! Click!: Who's Minding the Fresh & Easy Corporate Blog?... February 14, 2008: It Looks Like Somebody is Minding the Fresh & Easy Corporate Blog A Bit Better of Late... March 29, 2008: Things Are Improving Over at the Fresh & Easy Corporate Blog: Perhaps They've Been Listening to Us?.]

As you can see by the post titles above, after publishing our January 21, 2008 piece, in which we identified and pointed out the problem, there was some improvement at the Fresh & Easy corporate marketing Blog, an improvement we attempted to reinforce in a positive manner (Fair & Balanced as one cable news network likes to say) with two posts -- one in February and another in March.

But... things went downhill over at the Fresh & Easy corporate marketing Blog once again soon after -- actually well before October, but we waited, just to be fair, as the posts linked below describe:

[October 13, 2008: 'The Promotional Pundit': Tesco Fresh & Easy Launches New $6-off Online Coupon Today; Post on Corp. Marketing Blog Remains -- Adding Insult to Injury... October 12, 2008: 'The Promotional Pundit:' More On the Online Coupon Fiasco: Tesco Fresh & Easy's Marketing Department to Launch A New Online Coupon Early Next Week... October 10, 2008: 'The Promotional Pundit': Keeping the Marketing and Promotional Eye On the Ball; Fixing A Promotional Fiasco Fresh & Easy Isn't Even Aware Of.]

Things got even worse over at the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market corporate marketing Blog in the fall of 2008, when not one single new post was made from September, 2008 -to- the end of the year. Fresh & Easy Buzz was well aware of the once again neglected digital store-front but (that Fair & Balanced mantra again) decided to hold off, thinking perhaps the busy holiday season was the reason, therefore giving benefit to the doubt.

We were considering writing another piece about the topic when not a single new sentence, nor even a single word, was posted as 2008 neared its end in December. Even worse, numerous reader-customer comments in the form of questions on the last posts went unanswered, as they do to this day from those past posts.

We then learned that Mr. Uwins was out during most of that period on paternity leave -- the proud new father of twins. Congratulations on that wonderful event to him.

We learned this fact though -- and its explanation as to why there had been zero posting activity on the company Blog -- not from the Blog -- which one could reasonably expect (or if not, just a single sentence in the Blog saying: "There won't be any new posts in the Fresh & Easy marketing Blog until January, 2009) -- but rather from a response by SallieB (who works for Fresh & Easy's public relations firm) on the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Twitter.com site she established and maintains in an excellent manner for the grocery and fresh foods chain.

Her "tweet" (Twitter-talk for a post) was in response to a question ("tweet") from a Fresh & Easy customer, Blogger and Twitter-user named Frankie, who was asking why there hadn't been a post on the Fresh & Easy company Blog since September. She had also left the same question on the company Blog but it was never responded to. There were a couple of additional consumer questions on the last (September, 2008) post on the Fresh & Easy corporate marketing Blog, in addition to hers, asking this same question, by the way -- question-comments that went unanswered.

Therefore, we decided to not write about the over three month lack of Blog activity at the Fresh & Easy corporate marketing Blog (digital store-front) for a bit, waiting to see if something might appear in 2009. (The benefit-of-the-doubt mantra again.)

And eventually it did. On January 2, 2009, Mr. Uwins wrote the post reprinted below (in italics) titled: "new year resolutions from fresh & easy." Of particular note are paragraphs number 9 and 10:

Friday, January 2, 2009
new year resolutions from fresh & easy

"Well, what an extraordinary year.

With all that's happened in the world, it's easy to forget that fresh&easy only had its first birthday in November.

From the start, it's been a business built by simply listening to what customers ideally want, and then trying to deliver it.

So in that spirit, I thought I'd share 3 resolutions for the new year.

We all know about the state of the economy. In talking to a lot of our customers, we hear about the various measures they're taking to cut down on their spending and reduce waste, in order to stretch their budgets. But we're also hearing the same concerns that we heard before, about the wholesomeness of food and the impact on the environment, though with a real sense of having to compromise to make ends meet.

So our first resolution is to find new ways to help our customers to stretch their budgets, so they don't have to compromise - from tomorrow, for example, we will always have 6 produce packs on offer at just 98¢ per pack, week in, week out, so our customers can count on it."

We've also had many, many requests to be kept informed via email of what's going on at our stores - whether offers, new products, meal ideas, etc.

So our second resolution is to do just that - you can now sign up on our website to be a friend of fresh&easy, receiving latest news and offers from us via email. It's quite basic at the moment, but we'll add features as we go (on the basis of feedback from our friends, naturally).

Finally, I've also had many requests to keep this blog going, and make it a bit more interactive - I'm very conscious that my last posting was in September (I had twin girls that month, which has kept me rather busy...).

So my third resolution, to uprate this blog. To help me, I've co-opted 2 web assistants, Gary and Sallie, who'll add things now and then, and follow up on comments. They'll always though use their own names, when they do.

It's been an amazing year to be a part of fresh&easy, as we've built a brand from nothing.Who knows what 2009 will bring. But we'll just keep listening to customers, and trying to give them what they want.And that, surely, is how it should be.

If you read our January, 2008, February, 2008 and March, 2008 posts on the topic and issue that we linked above (eighth paragraph from the top of this page), you will see we offered as one simple solution to the problem being for Mr. Uwins to merely have one or more of the Fresh & Easy Buzz marketing and/or PR firm staff personal assist him with posting and responding to reader-customer comments on the Fresh & Easy corporate marketing Blog -- assisting with the operations of the digital store-front just as team members assist one another in the Fresh & Easy brick-and-mortar grocery stores.

Such teamwork also has the added benefit of getting fresh thinking from others. It's also plain old good delegation. We also suggested -- and still do -- that some of the Fresh & Easy category managers and buyers be invited to post on the Blog. After all, too many marketers on one Blog tends to sound like...well, too many marketers. Other voices add variety. How about a store manager (or employee) or two as well?

It took a full year, but it appears marketing chief Uwins agreed with our suggestion. And since we believe course-correction to be a good thing, we applaud the decision. Better late than never, right?

SallieB and Gary, a company marketing staffer, are now posting on the Fresh & Easy marketing Blog, as well as answering some of the reader questions left via the comment box. As mentioned, SallieB does an excellent job with the Twitter site, and it appears Gary has been posting on the company's Twitter site as well. Both have added to the Fresh & Easy corporate marketing Blog, particularly the simple fact that the posting is now more frequent. It could be a little more frequent however. A minimum of at least once a week seems reasonable to us.

Having SallieB and Gary posting on the company Blog also has an added benefit for Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market: both are or very close to the age demographic (about 18-35) which we've identified to thus far be the most enthusiastic about the Fresh & Easy small-format, convenience-oriented grocery and fresh foods store and retail offering. Combining the use of the Blog with social networking tools like Twitter is something both of them seem well versed in and comfortable with.

Fresh & Easy Marketing chief Simon Uwins has often mentioned his affection for the British band Radio Head, which was born in Oxford, England, in the corporate marketing Blog. But it appears that about one year since we first suggested it, Mr. Uwins has listened to the musical advice of another British rock legend, Joe Cocker, he born and raised in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, and asked for a little help from his friends with the company Blog. As Mr. Cocker sings:

What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song
And I'll try not to sing out of key.

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

[Click here for all of the lyrics, and a cell phone ringtone as well.]

We look forward to watching how the Fresh & Easy corporate marketing Blog progresses now that the two new associates have joined the team. Of course, some might suggest that now with a team of three, particularly since the two new Bloggers are extremely talented from our observations, that the bar has now automatically been set much higher. We will let Fresh & Easy Buzz readers know if we think that bar has been met -- or even exceeded -- down the road a bit. [Hint: We like that SallieB and Gary have been posting at least one a week since January. That frequency sounds familiar.]

Waiting a year to bring in some help with the Blog was about 11 months too long though. We've heard from a number of the company Blog readers who didn't ever get their post questions answered, nearly all of them were Fresh & Easy store customers. Most were not very pleased.

Those we heard from also said they stopped shopping at the stores. We only heard from about six such people -- but that's six too many for a grocer to alienate when doing so can be easily avoided. And if six did send us comments, comments we didn't ask for, we can imagine there are more than six that felt they received negative customer service by not having their questions addressed on the corporate marketing Blog. And as all marketers know, word-of-mouth can be the best -- and the worse if negative -- form of marketing. It's a powerful sword that can cut both ways.

Course correction is good among retailers and marketers. We applaud it. But waiting unnecessarily too long to course correct when there's no need to do so can cause damage to a brand, not to mention contributing to a loss of customers. We suggest it did so at Fresh & Easy.

After all, there's never anything wrong with asking for a little help from one's friends -- in real time though. And can't you almost feel the sigh of relief when reading Mr. Uwins' January 2, 2009 Blog post about getting a little help with the corporate marketing Blog from his friends-associates?

Reader Resource:

[The Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market corporate marketing Blog is here.]

[A couple past posts from Fresh & Easy Buzz about the Fresh & Easy company Blog but not directly related to the topic addressed in our post: April 6, 2008: Telegraph.uk.com: 'Tesco USA Slip Highlights the Perils of Corporate Blogging;' We Couldn't Disagree More With This Piece April 18, 2008: Fresh & Easy Marketing Director Talks About the 'Self-Service' Checkout Policy at the Stores in the F&E Company Blog.]

[Twitter.com: You can follow Fresh & Easy Buzz on Twitter here.]

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