Sunday, October 21, 2012

Business Tactics

Is there a single company in America that operates with any amount of honesty and transparency anymore?  Do businesses care about their employees or customers?  Ethic and integrity?

I'm beginning to think not.

Sure, there are lots of companies that "do good" for the sake of the public eye by way of charity and product donations.  But even those acts of philanthropy are done with the underlying intention of improving the company's image with the public.  Everything is about making the most money possible regardless of who must be trampled in the process.

A business needs to make money to be successful.  I get that.  Without profits, growth is impossible.  I don't have a problem with a company making money from their goods and services.  What bothers me is when the little guy - whether it be employee or customer - gets trampled in the process.  I know that I generally hold a no-tolerance policy over at Retail Ramblings when it comes to customers, but there are times when they, too, are victimized by the cutthroat nature of American business.

Wait - see what I did there?  For the purposes of being completely honest and transparent to you, let me point out how I just proved my own point by mentioning my other site, Retail Ramblings, and inserting a clickable link in hopes that you might click it.  And I inserted it again in the previous sentence to try to lure your attention to it.  Maybe you'll click it if you read the words Retail Ramblings more often.  The more frequently you see it, the more you curiosity about Retail Ramblings might grow to the point where you can't help but click on it.

Sorry, I'm done mentioning Retail Ramblings now.  Retail Ramblings.

Actually, all of that is very much true.  It's the reason you can't go anywhere without seeing corporate logos all over the place.  Branding is essential to just about any business these days.  It's the reason why you have to watch a stupid little Verizon animation every time you turn on your cell phone.  It's the reason the Nike Swoosh is everywhere.  It's the reason why Kelloggs plasters their name across the plastic watch that your child mailed four cereal box tops to obtain.  The more you see a company name or logo, the more you hear or read it's slogan, the more you're going to think of them the next time you need a product or service they offer.

I suppose that, in itself, isn't all that harmful.  When done appropriately, of course.  But there are other times when it is completely unnecessary and actually becomes a hindrance.  Personally, I still harbor ill feelings toward Panasonic for what they did to hockey for so many years.  If you don't watch hockey (or any sport, for that matter), let me give you a quick recap.

Hockey, like any sport, has its fair share of instant replays.  Years back, business started paying networks to "Sponsor" these replays.  Don't ask me how one sponsors a replay, because I still don't get that. Are they paying for the equipment costs incurred when a station replays a clip?

(Yes, I'm aware that these companies aren't actually sponsoring individual replays but instead the league and/or broadcasting network.)

Anyway, it doesn't matter.  What began to happen is that sportscasters would show a replay, then say something like, "This replay was brought to you by Coca-cola."  And that's what happened in hockey when Panasonic served as a sponsor.  However, Panasonic asked for a bit more than that.  After every replay (and if you watch any amount of sports, you know there are usually a lot), the sportscasters would end the replay by saying, "This Panasonic Digital Replay has been brought to you by Panasonic.  Panasonic: Ideas for Life."

After. EVERY. Replay.

Needless to say, it really damaged the quality and integrity of the broadcast.  Thankfully, the Panasonic deal seems to have run its course as these sponsor notes were not included last season.

But it irks me that companies have no problem taking a steaming dump all over anything that stands in the way of promoting their products.  And it bugs me even more that so much of their promoting is exaggerated at best and complete lies at worst.  How come my fast-food never looks like it does in the commercials?  Why can't I navigate my average sedan down a dusty road like a stunt driver?  Why isn't my airline experience as smooth and comfortable as the advertising suggests?

Because the "food" in those fast-food commercials isn't even real; it's made of artificial materials designed to look like food so that your mouth will water when you see it.

Because there are very few places where it is legal to drive like a stuntman, and you could kill yourself without the proper training.

Because flying sucks, and comfort is subjective.

None of that stops companies from deceiving people into buying their products.  A great example of this is a recent 5-Hour Energy commercial.  I was unable to locate the original commercial as it seems to have been yanked by the manufacturers.  There are some versions of it on Youtube, however, but they are edited by users adding their own voiceovers and commentary.

Here's why:

The commercial states that they surveyed over 3000 doctors, and 73% of doctors surveyed stated they'd recommend a low-calorie energy supplement to healthy patients who use energy supplements.  Does anyone else see a problem with that?  You're talking about patients who already use energy supplements, so you're asking doctors to either offer a higher calorie option or a lower calorie option.  Which one do you think they're going to select?  Had the choice been between energy supplements or no energy supplements, the survey might have a fraction more validity.

Second, the fine print reveals more (as it always does).  Of those 73% of doctors, only 56% recommend 5-Hour Energy specifically.  The fine print then changes to read that of all doctors surveyed, 47% recommended 5-Hour Energy specifically.  As always, all of this fine print is visible for such a short period of time that you need to pause the video to see it.

So the commercial is designed to make you think that 73% of doctors recommend 5-Hour Energy.  What it actually states is that 47% of doctors believe that if you MUST use an energy supplement, you should use 5-Hour Energy.  That is a BIG difference.

This happens all the time.  If there is fine print in ANY commercial, read it.  It will hold the truth you're looking for, or at least whatever portion of the truth the company needed to print to avoid lawsuits.

And that's just one method by which businesses deceive.

More deception comes from lower level employees.  I have no doubt that some of them don't care or don't realize that they are being taught to deceive consumers.  However, there are others who recognize it, stand up against it, and are terminated for their integrity.

The average shopper doesn't seem to realize that everything about their shopping experience (and I mean everything) is designed to make them spend more money.  Even the store associate's question of, "What can I help you find today?" is meant to try to make you spend money.  Statistics show that customers who are helped by salespeople - regardless of the product or service being offered - are more likely to make a purchase.  So management instructs salespeople to use "assumptive phrases" when interacting with customers.  Simply put, they are to assume the customer is going to be buying something.  "They didn't come into the store for nothing," management says.  Right, because window shopping never happens.

The question "What can I help you find today?" forces the customer to rudely ignore your question if they don't want salesperson assistance.  The company is banking on the fact that most customers won't do that.  So the customer answers.  "I'm just looking at digital cameras."  The salesperson then says they'll show you where it is and begins walking before you can object.  Once you've reached the product, the pitch begins.  You don't have to ask anything, because he'll start asking you.  Again, you are faced with the choice of either being rude and just telling him to go away, or just answering his questions.  So you answer.  Inevitably, he suggests the most expensive camera, memory card, leather case, swappable lenses, color printer (you'll obviously want to print those pictures, after all), printer paper, printer cartridges, cable, warranty plans (for both devices), and any other related items he can find to attach to the sale.  This is completely reasonable in the eyes of the company.  After all, nobody minds spending five hundred dollars instead of the one-fifty they originally considered, right?

Employees aren't allowed to question this process, either.  Believe me, I've tried.  I don't like making assumptions about anyone's shopping plans, nor do I like assuming everyone wants help from a salesperson.  I feel that using tactics designed to have a certain psychological effect on a person's shopping habits is deceptive.  Personally, I do most of my shopping online to avoid all that garbage.

There are also times when salespeople are expected to either lie or avoid the truth.  "This is the best camera we have," doesn't necessarily mean it's the best one for your needs or even the best one the store sells.  It means it's the most expensive one they have in stock at that moment that has the features you want (and probably more that you'll never use).  It's essentially the same advice given to Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street.

But when I'd raise these objections with my previous jobs, I was basically told that I was welcome to seek employment elsewhere if I didn't agree to go along with the established process.  Either I take part in the deception, or I lose my job.  That's American business ethics for ya.

How about the never ending battle over rights?  The tactics being employed to protect products go way beyond necessary.  In many cases, they downright spit in the face of logic.

Now, let me say first and foremost, that I support the battle against trademark infringement and intellectual property piracy.  The legitimate battle.  The question becomes, "What is legitimate and what is not?"  To me, the answer is quite simple.

Legitimate:  I found that two of my books were made available for free download online without my authorization.  I contacted the website, and they pulled the books for me.  Only I hold the rights to make my books available, and only I can grant permission for them to be made available elsewhere.  This isn't a case of someone mentioning my work, it's the providing of my full-version product for free.

Illegitimate:  Someone posts my book covers/titles to their site saying that they either loved/hated my writing.  Or if someone created a fanpage for The Fourth Dimension.  As long as it is identified as a fansite and doesn't try to pass itself off as being connected with me, I don't see the problem (not that anyone has done that, but for the sake of this point, that was the example I came up with).

Here's a real-world example: Amazon recently told a facebook page with over 5000 followers called "Kindle Korner" promoting Kindle titles that they did not have permission to use the Kindle name, forcing them to create a new page and start from scratch.  I argue this as illegitimate because the whole purpose of this page was to promote the Kindle and its product library.  The fact that the page was dedicated to Kindle alone as opposed to the Nook, iPad, Kobo, or other ereaders should've been something Amazon appreciated.  At the most, I'd say that Amazon should have required Kindle Korner to indicate that they are not operated by or affiliated with Amazon in any way.  I understand the company's need to ensure that consumers identify an official site from a user-run page, but to refuse to allow any use of the name is absurd.  Especially when so many other sites use the name (I'm looking at you, Kindleboards).

Yes, I realize there is a difference between trademarks and copyrights.  I know that the laws are different and that trademarked names aren't the same as book titles - they cannot be used without permission.  But we're not talking about a revenue-generating business here.  Kindle Korner wasn't in this to make money, and I'm fairly confident they aren't a revenue-based page.  Are trademarked names so taboo that we can't even use them as parts of fan-made pages?  If I made a facebook page called, "Pepsi Equals Awesome" would I be sued for using the name Pepsi?  Would that make any sens at all?

Do they have legal right to use the name?  No.  But they weren't trying to manufacture or sell Kindles.  They weren't claiming ownership of the Kindle brand.  They weren't even using the name to represent a different company and/or product.  So at what point does a product name become something that costs money to use?  This sets a frightening precedent.  How long will it be before we will be expected to pay to use any company product/name?  Geez, in this blog alone, I've named quite a few.  How far will this go?  Will I get in trouble for posting a picture of Mario to my facebook?  I have links to the Kindle, Nook, iPad, and other versions of my books on the sidebar.  Am I "stealing" those names?

It is getting so out-of-hand, I'm worried the day will soon come when I send a text message that says, "Going to get a Pepsi, will be there soon," and I get a letter from Pepsi demanding I stop using their name without permission.  I'm willing to bet that Panasonic could come after me for my comments above.  But why?  Our entire lives are dominated by products of one kind or another, whether it be the car you drive, the dinner you eat, the TV shows you watch, or the sports teams you follow.  Try to have a conversation without referring to a single product.  It's nearly impossible.

Why must it be this way?

Simple.  Because businesses know they are integral parts of American lives.  They can get away with charging money for the mere mention of their names because people will pay.  And courts support them because the politicians support them.  And politicians support them because companys pay for their support.  It's a disgusting cycle of corruption and greed that has rotted away the foundations of capitalism.

Drastic changes are needed in this country.  There needs to be complete honesty in advertising.  We need limits to the intrusiveness of advertising.  And there needs to be a better way of differentiating between property theft and freedom of speech.  Then again, there are those who suggest that true freedom of speech never really existed.

And I'm one of them.

God bless,
Kevin

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