Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why TargetGate won't be another Dell Hell

Target has become the latest company to go on record as saying that it does not respond to bloggers. Actually the company went a step further and said that bloggers aren't its 'core guest'.

Wow it feels like 2005 all over again, doesn't it?

It all started when Amy Jussel from ShapingYouth.org spotted the Target billboard to the right, and saw something other than a woman making a snow Angel. Amy felt that the billboard 'targetted' the wrong message for young girls, and emailed her complaint to Target. The company would later email her the following response:

“Good Morning Amy,

Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest.

Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.”

Jussel noted that in searching her blog's visitor logs, she noticed that Target had been visiting her blog and reading her posts about the company.

The New York Times also contacted Target, who replied that “We do not work with bloggers currently,” said a company spokeswoman, Amy von Walter. As the NYTimes points out, Target won't talk to bloggers, but WILL talk to a MSM source that's writing a story about how they won't talk to bloggers.

Gavin asks if this episode will become Target's version of Dell Hell. I don't think so for a couple of reasons:

1 - Dell went first, and had a first-mover DISadvantage. This is a big reason why Dell Hell erupted, because it was so completely stunning that a major company would admit that they ignore a sizable portion of their customer base.

2 - Dell Hell centered around defective products and shoddy customer service. TargetGate centers around a billboard that some people see as highly offensive to women, while some people see as a woman making snow Angels.

Also, Dell Hell was a major story created by the blogosphere that MSM finally reported on. TargetGate had gotten plenty of coverage with bloggers previously, but I've heard more about this story from bloggers in the day or so since the New York Times wrote about it, than I did in the last few weeks. In some ways, the NYTimes piece is helping to make this a story. Dell Hell didn't need any help.

But none of this excuses the fact that it is absolutely unforgivable for a major corporation, in 2008, to have a policy in place that states that it ignores bloggers. To go a step further and basically imply that bloggers don't represent Target's 'core guests', is the height of ignorance. Amy might be a blogger, but she was also a Target customer that contacted the company with a complaint. And she was all but ignored.

BTW when the NYTimes contacted Target and they claimed that they don't work with bloggers currently, the company clarified that statement by adding “But we have made exceptions. And we are reviewing the policy and may adjust it.” IOW, the company may change their policy if the story you are writing causes a big enough stink.

Target may avoid a Dell Hell-type backlash over this episode, but that might not be a good thing. Dell was able to capitalize on the blogger revolt during Dell Hell by re-examining the blogosphere, and how they should relate to bloggers. As a result, Dell is now offered as one of the finest examples of a blogging corporation.

I wonder what our opinion of Target and how the company relates to the blogosphere will be in three years?

UPDATE: Within 15 mins of posting this, and someone from Dell.com has already been here to read the entry. How long will it take someone from Target.com to make their way here?

Pic via Flickr user bennett4senate

Thanks to CK for reminding me about this story.

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Anonymous said...

Goes to show that a lot of corporations are like elephants to a blogging mouse. They need to get to reach down to bloggers: understand them more / communicate with them more - and instead of a fright they might pick up some fans. Squeak. Squeak.

Jonathan Trenn said...

There are two issues here.

One is the whole idea that Target chose to say that they don't talk to bloggers. Completely stupid if you ask me, but...you're right...it's may be stupid, but it won't be the end of the world for them. Their policy is "under review"...whatever that means.

The second is whether or not they will address Amy's concern. If they say that their policy is under review and continue to ignore the issues that Amy addressed, then they're likely putting the whole thing off until this situation goes away.

In the meantime, they'll probably tap into some sort of service that measures the influence and reach of certain blogs just in case they have to respond.

My guess is that Target still won't end up getting it, but it won't really affect them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mack - I agree with you - it's not going to blow up, even though some tweeters and bloggers out there were trying hard to make it so. For me, the fundamental difference between the two situations rests in the fact that Dell's issue related to its core products. Target's issue relates to an ad - not the retail experience. This kind of controversy actually helps a brand - if Amy Jussel really cares, she should stop talking about it. Believe me, I've been there before.

Mack Collier said...

I agree Peter. With Dell Hell you had a crappy product, crappy customer service, AND their purposely ignoring bloggers. That was three strikes and you're out for Dell.

With Target, it's easy to agree that they are idiots for ignoring bloggers. But then if we turn to the ad, it's something that's going to offend some people, but my guess is many bloggers will look at the ad and say 'I ain't seein' it'.

Jonathan I think you are right, their level of response (if any) will depend on the level of dustup this produces. This will probably be talked about for the rest of the week, then go away.

Gavin Heaton said...

I don't know ... while I agree with Mack and Pete that Dell's problems stemmed from their core product line, it seems to me that this problem hits their brand fair and square in the bullseye.

For me, this goes to the heart of the Target brand positioning. Perhaps it is different in the USA, but here their strength lies in an appeal to families and in particular to moms. There is a fairly substantial mommy-blogger community out there who may not take kindly to the photo in question and the response handed to Amy.

From a marketing point of view, it really could be a no show -- but if this topic were to drop plumb into the laps of a different and vocal consumer blogging category, it could be interesting ;)

Anonymous said...

"UPDATE: Within 15 mins of posting this, and someone from Dell.com has already been here to read the entry. How long will it take someone from Target.com to make their way here?"

Well... Target doesn't respond to bloggers, so unless they make an exception for you *(which they should)*, I wouldn't recommend holding your breath.

Anonymous said...

Putting aside right from wrong, Peter Kim pretty much hit the nail on the head. I'd even take it a step further - crappy experiences with technology products are, regretably, near universal. If your laptop doesn't suck, your desktop does; if your PCs are OK, there's probably something wrong with your phone. Even more than that, bad customer service experiences and shirked warranties plague consumers that couldn't care less about technology at all (e.g., the leaky dishwasher, the out-of-warranty repair for your under-warranty car - you get the picture.)

Bad service is a true universal. Dell's products (specifically) may have been crappy but the episode pushed a far more universal hot button than a potentially demeaning image and a poorly thought-through blogger policy ever could.


Jay Ehret said...

Maybe Target should be paying attention to bloggers. But we need to be careful not to engage in blogger self-importance.

Is the criticism of Target that they are not paying attention to the blogosphere and they should be? Or is the criticism that Target's not paying attention to us?

Also, couldn't it be said that Target is just trying to avoid a Meatball Sundae?

Mack Collier said...

In my mind, the main criticism should be coming from the fact that Target doesn't want to respond to bloggers, and that they don't believe that bloggers aren't their 'core guest'. To be honest I'm not really that upset about the billboard, it's Target's closeminded response that got my attention.

Companies have to realize that saying that you will NOT respond to bloggers IS your response. But again this is why I said that this won't be another Dell Hell. Are we mad at Target because of the ad, or because of their dismissal of bloggers? Or both? See with Dell's episode, their product wasn't working, they weren't providing good customer service, then the final nail was when they said that they don't respond to bloggers. It all all built into a snowball.

I don't see 'TargetGate' as being anything other than a hot story for a day or 2.

Anonymous said...

To Jay's point...

Is the blogging community most hot because Target is publicly ignoring them, or that the brand is blatantly shooting down a consumers concern?

The fact that Amy chose to use her voice in a “non-traditional” way wasn't her fault. It's still a valid concern. Say she strapped a banner in all CAPS to a plane and flew around the Target headquarters for a couple hours…that too would be “non-traditional”, right? Would that gain any tread?

We'll see if the situation worsens (my bet is on Mack's 2 day theory), and if they decide to put a band-aid on the situation. But in the meantime, it comes back to the product/brand and how too few choose to nip an incoming situation in the bud. Most turn a blind eye and sweep it under the rug.
YES, brushing the blogosphere off is fabulously dumb, but ultimately the big slam here may be simply the surprise in hearing such a positive company say "sorry but you don’t matter."

Anonymous said...

I agree that Target should respond to any customer complaints via blog, airplane, phone, letter, smoke signal, american sign language, etc.

However, I'll choose the unpopular comment and say, Target is right that bloggers are not their core customers. What percentage of Americans blog regularly? It's not bloggers versus nonbloggers, it's just that there are larger demographics to be targeting. Is it possible that bloggers are more likely to shop at Kohl's and department stores such as Macy's? Meanwhile, if they go after a larger demographic they might get better results.

I agree ignoring the bloggers isn't something I would do if I was a business owner, but Target being wrong and Target being stupid are two different things.

Mack Collier said...

"However, I'll choose the unpopular comment and say, Target is right that bloggers are not their core customers. What percentage of Americans blog regularly? It's not bloggers versus nonbloggers, it's just that there are larger demographics to be targeting."

There's a pretty big 'rest of the story' here tho.

You aren't talking about bloggers, you are talking about bloggers as well as the people that read their blogs. For example, no one would call me a tech blogger, but almost every day I get people coming here to read my marketing/social media blog from 'tech' companies such as Cisco, Adobe, Microsoft, and Apple.

This is the huge fallacy of the 'we don't respond to bloggers' stance. Because companies that say this don't understand the true reach of each blog. They likely assume that 99% of blogs are read by the blogger and 5 friends/family members.

Anonymous said...

I was not reducing bloggers to that level.

I was suggesting, maybe instead of bloggers, Target wants to grab the attention of another group of people--some of which, will enivitably be bloggers anyway.

I did say it wasn't a smart move. I also said I understand how the blogging community might not be the target demographic for any particular company.

The group of people I run with are young and/or tech savvy and/or extremely intelligent and/or very "popular" and when I mention a blog they give me a strange look.

Too many people think highly of themselves for being involved in the web 2.0 world and thus put their nose up at people and institutions that aren't as forward thinking or experimental as themselves.

The internet is just like society--there are areas for the average Joe and there are country clubs. The blogosphere has a layer of elitism to it; in some places it's less subtle than in others.

Gavin Heaton said...

Are you just trying to stimulate some contrarian debate here, Mr Collier? ;)

Anonymous said...

I am in Dell Hell too after buying a nice Inspiron 1521 for my daughter in August '07. As of today, it won't turn on after freezing up and basically will not work. I boutht eight (8) service & warranty coverages but Dell claims my issue is software and I did not buy coverage for that. Bull. Two hardware coverages are specified as such, the remaining 6 do not specify, therefore software is covered by exclusion but Indians don't understand that kind of reasoning. Everything on my P.O. and Packing Slip are all clear and in black & white but Dell Indians keep wanting to add words to the coverage as written.

This company is a mess, their "customer careless" doesn't care or help and there is no way to get this computer to work again without help I paid for and can't get from them. They actually insisted on selling me a $300 for "software coverage". Now that's pathetic and I cannot understand how we can be so stupid as to make this company so successful.

Don't do it. Buy a Mac where they know how to service what they sell. The rest of the PCs are all junk without support. It's called "OEM" software, and just gives Mike Dell another income stream on the backs of otherwise reliable software.

I hate Dell and will never, never do it again.