Archives Cynthia

A tale of two reputations: Lilly Pulitzer for Target

Lily prints

Lilly Pulitzer was a unique woman. In the 1950’s, she opened a drink stand in Florida to sell the juice of the oranges from her husband’s groves. So the story goes, Lilly was constantly covered in juice stains so she designed a shift dress with a bright floral pattern that would hide the mess while she worked. Her dress soon became more popular than her juice so in 1959 she became the president of her own dress making company. Over the next twenty years, everyone who was anyone owned a Lilly Pulitzer dress and the path she created became known as American Resort Wear.

“I didn’t set out to be unusual or different,” said Lilly, “I just wanted to do things my way.”

Lilly left the business in 1984 but her reputation and her designs lived on. She was the queen of happy, bright, comfortable clothing but it’s really her unapologetic attitude that people are buying when they pick up one of her famous shift dresses.

Someone at Target understood this and commissioned a full line of Lilly Pulitzer exclusive prints, clothes, housewares and beauty products. They expected the items to sell well. They didn’t expect Black Friday-esque lines in stores and server crashing hits online. Or did they?

Shortly after the product launch, Target was forced to limit the number of shoppers who could access their online site. By afternoon, they were returning Sold Out messages to customer after customer.

Twitter denizens began to complain:

And items started showing up on eBay at 10 times the price.

Now that the uproar is dying down, customers are no longer asking when items will be back in stock (they won’t), they’re asking how Target could have mishandled such a huge launch. Target is one of the country’s largest retailers both online and off. Why didn’t they beef us the servers for the online rush? Why didn’t they order more product? Why didn’t they limit the number of items one person could buy?

Maybe they didn’t because this story is a better news story than ‘Target Launches Lilly Pulitzer Line and It Was Good.”

It’s ironic that a clothing line dedicated to the casual, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere lifestyle should lead to a demonstration of all that is wrong with American commercialism.

There is a third side to this story; Target just proved that they’re still relevant and that they can attract a millennial audience. With Lilly Pulitzer and deals with other exclusive, high-profile designers, Target has managed to elevate their brand. They’re no longer thought of as a small Walmart; Target is a place where both mother and her teen daughters can shop for trendy items at a reasonable price.

Getting back to Lilly at Target; we all understand the law of supply and demand but does it make sense to turn away millions, maybe billions of dollars in sales just to make a splash? What will customers say if more Lilly products mysteriously turn up at Target stores? Will they forgive and forget if it means owning a Giraffing Me Crazy shift for summer? You bet they will.

Look like Target’s going to walk away from this one with their reputation intact.

The folks who are selling on eBay, however, might want to closely monitor their feedback scores for the next couple of weeks.

ebay shop Lilly

64% of consumers support socially conscious companies, but 28% can’t name those that are

bike manThe checkout pad at my local grocery store is making me feel bad. Before it tells me my total, it asks if I want to help stop world hunger. There are only two choices; yes (then I have to add dollars on to my grocery total) or no (the total remains the same). I want a third choice that says, of course but I choose to donate in my own way.

I suppose I should be impressed to see my favorite grocery chain doing what they can to feed the children but I’m not. How do I know they’re going to give my money to a charity? Are they going to match the funds? If not, then they’re just pretending to be socially responsible when what they really are is a corporate collection can.

I have questions and so do a lot of other Americans. Good. Must. Grow. just released their annual Conscious Consumer Spending Index and on the surface it looks good. 64% of consumers surveyed said it was important to buy from socially conscious companies. That’s up from 60% in 2013.

32% said they planned to spend more with socially responsible companies and that’s also up from 2014. The downside is that year-over-year, fewer people followed through with their plans, resulting in no increase at all in self-reported, socially conscious spending.

Here’s the real kicker. In spite of the fact that the majority want to buy responsibly, 28% of respondents couldn’t name a single socially responsible organization. And we’re not just talking about franchises that donate like Toms or Whole Foods. They couldn’t even come up with names like Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill or The Red Cross.

This leads me to believe that a segment of American consumers don’t understand what “socially conscious” means.

Here are the top 20 companies that did make the list:

Socially Responsible Companies

Toms beating out the American Red Cross. That’s the power of advertising.

Where does your company stand on the socially conscious ladder? Are you contributing quietly? Making a huge show of it? Thinking about doing something in the coming year?

Given the results of this report, I wouldn’t rush to set up a charity fund in hopes it will buy you some good will. Such an action might have the opposite affect as it did with me and my grocery store hunger slam.

Your company’s socially conscious actions must be an organic extension of what you already do. Toms is a shoe company that donates shoes to the needy. Whole Foods gives microloans to people in developing nations who produce products for the company to sell. Both worthy causes but you don’t have to cross borders to be socially responsible. To the public, a restaurant that donates food to a local homeless shelter is just as responsible, if not more so.

Once you’ve chosen your path, you have to let consumers know. It might feel self serving to advertise your good works but it’s the only way to get the consumers on board. Americans say they want to buy more responsibly but you have to help them understand what that means.

Heath Shackleford, founder of  Good. Must. Grow. sums it up nicely with this;

“While I think we can be excited to see consistent and continued growth in socially responsible behavior, we have to act with urgency to remove obstacles and speed up our progress. It’s going to take a collective response from conscious companies and conscious consumers to turn this from an evolution into a revolution.”

Is it ever okay to curse on Twitter?

man textingFive years ago, you opened a Twitter account so you could trade barbs with your college buddies. Twitpic was going strong so you routinely uploaded party photos to your stream and there was that one time you pulled that questionable prank then bragged about it in 35 consecutive Tweets. It was all in good fun and you even got a reputation for being the guy everyone should follow if they wanted a laugh.

That was before your startup burst on to the scene.

Before the investors and the press and the talk of IPO’s and buyouts. Suddenly you’re not a college kid anymore. Now you’re an entrepreneur and every one of those old Tweets is coming back to haunt you. It’s not that you did anything that bad, but when an investor hands over a check for $10 million dollars, he likes to think that he’s investing in a solid CEO–not a wild and free frat boy.

I hear some of you saying, ‘hey, that’s who I am. If somebody doesn’t like it, then they can just move along’. This is true and if you’re a solopreneur then it’s only your own reputation at risk. Stand on principle and see how that goes.

Once you have employees or you’ve hitched your social media profile to a brand-name wagon, it’s a different story. Fair or not, we’re all judged by the company we keep. If you’re the bad boy in a company full of straight-laced lawyers your attitude could be putting the whole company at risk. All it takes is one big client who doesn’t share your enthusiasm for self-medication and it’s all over. The Twitter rolls are filled with people who lost a job because they over-shared.

Now you’re thinking you can continue to be yourself as long as you make your Twitter account private or post under a fake name.

Forget it.

All it takes is one friend who doesn’t understand the word “private” or a smart journalist who connects the dots from IMaFunGuy to you. Monday morning, you’re the top story in the Huffington Post.

There’s no way around this, I promise you. If you want a good reputation, you can’t just talk the phony talk, you have genuinely walk the walk.

In Repped, Andy Beal quotes Abraham Lincoln and I’m going to quote them both:

Lincoln said,

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

Says Andy,

Your reputation will only ever be as good as your character. Sure, just as hand puppeteers can contort their fingers to display a bunny shadow on a wall, so too could you manipulate your reputation to be something other than your true nature. But how long would you be able to hold that pose? It wouldn’t be long before your audience realizes that you’re not a cute, fluffy bunny after all, just a bunch of knuckles and fingernails.

This is where you have to decide how far you can and are able to go for the sake of your business. Cleaning up your public persona is going to be a lot harder for some than for others.

Let’s take cursing, for instance. I don’t curse (a habit from my school teacher days) but I know people who can’t make an English sentence without using at least one foul word. Personally, I don’t think professionals should use such language on Twitter but there are some industries where it’s not a big deal. Now, if you just launched an app aimed at pre-schoolers, I’d clean up my act and fast.

And since we’re talking about cleaning up, let’s go back to those Tweets you posted when you were young and free. Delete them now. If you need to get rid of every post before you had your epiphany, use a tool like Tweet Delete. If you had only momentary lapses, go to your Twitter settings page and request an archive of your account. Then you can skim for problem posts and delete only those.

Once you’ve cleaned up your past, it’s time to make a plan for the future. The easiest way to do this is to follow the grandmother rule; you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read it, don’t post it.

Time for you to chime in on today’s question: Personal account or business account, is it ever okay to curse on Twitter?

51% of the world believe US companies have a great reputation

Man on a BenchBusinesses of every size are going global; from the biggest supplier of Corn Flakes to the artisan soap maker. You can call anyone in the world for free using Skype, currency exchange happens instantly via Paypal and translation apps allow us to communicate in hundreds of different languages at the push of a button. There really is nothing keeping any company from doing business overseas — except perhaps, their country’s reputation.

A new study from Nielsen shows that where you are impacts how your business will be perceived by potential customers in other countries.

For the study, Nielsen queried the “Opinion Elites” in 16 countries. These are people they determined to be “highly engaged and active when it comes to business issues”.

Not surprisingly, the Opinion Elite spoke most favorably about companies headquartered in their own countries. After that, it gets interesting.

The United States came out top with 51% of respondents giving businesses here a thumbs up. Japan came in second with 46% and France with 40%.

Even though we have the best rep on the chart, almost half of the world doesn’t agree. The biggest naysayers come from Russia where only 24% like our US rep and Germany with 26%. The largest pro US nations are Mexico (75%), India (74%) and Brazil (70%).

The countries with the worst overall reputation are China, Saudi Arabia and India.

It’s a Multi-National World

Looking at the reputation of global companies overall, sentiments have fluctuated widely from country to country.

Our own view of the world market is on the decline, down nine percentage points from 2013 to 2014.

reputation-location-wire-chart-NielsenCanada, Japan, Italy and the Netherlands both have improved impressions of global reputations.

One last interesting fact, younger Opinion Elites had more positive feelings about working with companies based in a foreign country. That’s a good sign for the future because we’ll all get so much further in life if we learn to share ideas and work together.

Does Rolling Stone need to fire people in order to regain its reputation?

Rolling Stone

Last summer, Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely went looking for a story.

She wanted to write a piece about the growing issue of rape on American college campuses. Her sources put her in touch with a woman from the University of Virginia who was willing to tell her shocking story. In order to gather the facts for the story, Erdely talked with the woman eight times. An editor later edited the story. A fact-checker checked the facts and an in-house lawyer signed off allowing it to be published.

The staff of Rolling Stone magazine did everything they were supposed to do before publishing an expose. And it’s not like this was their first controversial article. A previous expose had cost a General his career and their Boston Bomber cover nearly caused riots in the streets.

But something went wrong.

Shortly after the article was published, the author told her editor she had “lost confidence in her sourcing”. The editor pulled the story from the website and it all fell apart from there. The Washington Post did an expose on the expose. The college started fighting back and a police investigation turned up no evidence of a crime.

It didn’t stop there.

This week, the Columbia Journalism School released a report detailing a long list of places Rolling Stone staffers went wrong. Failures in the interview process. Failures in the fact checking process. Failures at the editorial level. Really? How could so many people get so much, so wrong?

They got it wrong, because they wanted to believe; not that a young woman had been brutally assaulted, but that they were about to make a difference in the world. After all, nobody would make up a story like that, would they?

Apparently, someone did.

The Rolling Stone published a statement on their site:

There is no evidence in Erdely’s materials or from interviews with her subjects that she invented facts; the problem was that she relied on what Jackie told her without vetting its accuracy.

Yet Rolling Stone‘s senior editors are unanimous in the belief that the story’s failure does not require them to change their editorial systems. “It’s not like I think we need to overhaul our process, and I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things,” Dana said. “We just have to do what we’ve always done and just make sure we don’t make this mistake again.”

The mea culpa does not include firing anyone involved in the incident. In an email to the Washington Post, editor Will Dana said “Sabrina’s done great work for us over the years and we expect that to continue.”

That’s a hugely, unpopular response but you have to give Dana credit for shouldering some of the responsibility. He could have made a sacrificial lamb out of his reporter but he didn’t. I like that. It’s going to cost him and it’s going to cost the magazine but he’s standing firm on the “honest mistake” platform. He’s sorry it happened, but it wasn’t intentional. And though firing Sabrina Rubin Erdely might make the vocal masses happy,  it won’t fix the magazine’s reputation or the University’s. Only time can do that.

In the meantime, I worry about what affect this story will have on the next victim. Will people believe, or will they hesitate because of a dubious story in Rolling Stone that ruined reputations?

What do you think? Should Rolling Stone fire everyone involved with the story, just the reporter, or no one at all?