ExpenseASteak.com is a Double-Edged Service

Last Friday, I sent out this tweet about ExpenseASteak.com:

CFOs face flood of flawless faux receipts http://pic.gd/7ab1a9; ExpenseASteak.com vies for guerrilla site of 2009 http://bit.ly/IsLY3

Today’s AdAge article on ExpenseASteak.com by Bob Garfield reminded me of both the brilliance and limitations of Twitter. While Tweets are timely treats, they simply can’t deliver the whole meal. My tweet tried to call attention to both the ethical issues and the sublime cleverness of Expense A Steak.com and did neither very well. And since I don’t have a lot of time at the moment, I’m going to borrow a few of the highlights from Garfield’s review.

Just in case you haven’t visited the site for yourself, here’s how Garfield described it:

Go to expenseasteak.com and fill in the obscenely large amount of your Maloney & Porcelli meal. Out will come a PDF of receipts for exactly that amount — innocuous (and extremely realistic) proof of purchases for taxis, panini lunches, office supplies, business books and so on. Accounting doesn’t ask why you’ve bought $700 worth of anti-static floor mats and toner? That’s their problem

And here’s Garfield’s appraisal of the stunt:

We LOVE this thing. It is brilliant. It is charming. It is hilarious. In short, it is brothermucking genius.

And here’s Garfield’s acknowledgment of the potential ethical dilemma of putting highly realistic looking phony expense reports into the hands of meat lovers and vegetarians alike:

All right, granted, the 61,000 phony receipts downloaded over the first four days might suggest the stunt is actually being slightly “abused” for a touch of “fraud” by a few tens of thousands of bad-apple “thieves.” But, c’mon. Expense-a-Steak apps don’t defraud corporations. People defraud corporations. In the meantime, Maloney & Porcelli is suddenly on the lips of those who hitherto could remember only Smith & Wollensky, preempting its major competitor into a corner. Because how to top expenseasteak.com?

From my perspective, ExpenseASteak.com is a rather clever and potentially degenerate example of Marketing as Service. It is unquestionably relevant both to the economic times and the restaurant brand it supports. It is remarkably entertaining–be sure to print out your own receipt and read some of the clever details baked into them. It also delivers the basic service of creating fake expense reports which is humorous until people actually turn them in at which time it becomes a nightmare for CFOs–proving once again that “everything is funny until it happens to you.”

Which begs the question: will companies send Maloney & Porcelli the bill when false expense reports are actually filed using their cute little app? Or will consumers sue Maloney & Porcelli when they lose their jobs after submitting false expense reports? Hopefully none of this will happen but stunts like this can go bad–just ask Toyota who is getting sued because of a Matrix prank campaign that according to AdAge terrified one consumer. Evidently, she missed the joke. Just in case someone misses the expense joke, I hope that Walrus, the NYC-based agency that created the site, carries as much liability insurance as we do!

Kraft iPhone is Tasty Service

Food companies have been offering recipes as a form of Marketing as Service for years. Consumers appreciate these recipes knowing full well that they will include ingredients from that particular company. Even occasional cooks like me find themselves wanting to whip up savory dishes like the green bean casserole offered in print ads by Campbell’s Soup!  So it comes as no surprise that this recipe for success has been update via the iPhone.

As reported by AdAge, Kraft’s iFood Assistant for iPhones has become a sizzling star:

Kraft Food devotees are actually paying to be marketed to on their beloved iPhones that the company’s iFood Assistant is now one of the device’s 100 most popular paid apps, and No. 2 in the lifestyle category. With its endeavor, Kraft is pulling off a rare trick: getting consumers to pay a one-time 99-cent fee for the app and also sit through ads on it. And in the process, it’s collecting useful data for targeting them more closely.

Kraft's iFood Assistant is both a paid app and contains advertising.
The lesson: When a marketer creates something that’s actually useful, consumers don’t really see it as straight marketing, or they’re at least willing to accept advertising as the payoff.

Thanks AdAge. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Offer Consumers a Meaningful Service: Understand What Your Target Needs, Deliver It and Stick With It

Published: July 28, 2008 in AdAge

It’s just common sense that if you give a little, you’ll usually get a little in return. But to paraphrase President Harry S. Truman, that (inadvertent) font of marketing wisdom, “If common sense were so common, more [marketers] would have it.” Marketing is nothing more or less than an exchange of value. The better the value the marketer provides, the more time and attention they’ll usually get back from their target. If the value delivered by the marketer is exceptional, then the consumer will pay back the marketer with loyalty and brand evangelism in good times and bad.

Marketing as service is about transforming your communications from mere messaging into an exceptional value that consumers will seek out. To quote Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom, “Marketing as service is where brands actually give consumers something they want or need,” as opposed to hitting them over the head with messaging they’d rather zap or ignore. While Ad Age and others have chronicled examples of this savvy approach, no one to my knowledge has put forth a how-to guide for marketing as service, so let’s just say, the buck starts here.

Because of our relentless desire to cut through, we are an industry that always likes to focus on the latest and greatest. Ironically, much could be learned from the past. As President Truman put it, “There is nothing new in the world except the history [of marketing] you do not know.” Ad Age recently reported on a “new path” being pursued by Crocs to help pedestrian explorers with online walking guides. And while Cities by Foot is indeed a fine example of marketing as service, it is by no means a true innovation.


Perhaps you’ve heard of the Michelin Guide. Way back in 1900, André Michelin created a driver’s guidebook to France to help drivers see the best restaurants of the country while keeping their cars in good shape. It included addresses of places such as gas stations, garages, tire repair shops, and public toilets. Set up 108 years before Cities by Foot, the Michelin Guide remains a quintessential example of marketing as service, educating customers, enhancing their lives and doing so in a highly relevant manner.

It’s hard to create a meaningful service for your customers and prospects if you don’t know all that much about them. And while some might choose to follow President Truman’s advice to “Always be sincere, even if you don’t mean it,” it is essential to have a genuine insight when pursuing marketing as service. Find that insight somewhere within the passions and miseries, the days and nights, the aspirations and disappointments, and the loves and hates of your target universe. Genuine insight will uncover a service that matters, a service the target will truly appreciate.

Street cred
Nike spent years hangin’ with action sports enthusiasts before it launched a social network on Loop’d to target them. After struggling to crack the code, Nike learned the hard way that this group is keenly sensitive to “posers” and will call out a false note faster than you can say “backside 360 ollie.” According to a Nike 6.0 spokesperson, “we reach out to our athletes for insight and validation. They are a crucial part of our brand, and we would not be where we are at without them.”

Some marketers have expressed concern about losing control of their brand in this newfangled Web 2.0 world. I urge them to consider these prescient words from the first president to address the American people from the White House, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” My advice to marketers is to just let go, because you aren’t in control anyway. Offer your customers a way to inspire subversive comic books, and reward their creativity with outrageous parties like Colt 45. “The Tales of Colt 45” program, now in its second year, celebrates “the most notable [customer] adventures involving the famed malt liquor” in a four-booklet series that also promote a five-market nightclub tour where new adventures will undoubtedly unfold. Or, like Jones Soda, maintain your cult following by letting your customers design your product labels.

Similarly, T-shirt company Threadless has built a reportedly multimillion-dollar business in eight years by encouraging its customers to submit designs and choose the shirts it will print. Best yet is Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods. Etsy has over 1 million registered users that it supports creatively with online classes and resource locations and conversationally with forums, blogs and chat rooms. They have also created a request-based marketplace where buyers can post what they want and sellers can bid on the job. In a recommendation economy, all of these represent powerful ways to drive positive word of mouth and build brand loyalty.

Marketers have a tendency to get tired of their successes far sooner than most consumers. The reality is that when you hit upon a really good marketing as service program, you need to stick with it for a while. Maybe you can’t foresee a 100-year-plus commitment such as Michelin, but how about more than a decade such as Camp Jeep? American Express has offered exclusives for gold- and platinum-card members for more than 20 years, and the BankCab has been driving customers to HSBC for more than six years. And lest we fall victim to the Truman proverb, “Being too good is apt to be uninteresting,” keep things fresh with periodic upgrades, ensuring that your marketing buck never stops working for you.

Service is Marketing?

On occasion, I’ve noted the differences between “service as service” and Marketing as Service but a recent article in AdAge obliges me to revisit this topic. The article “How Apple is Blurring the Line Between Marketing and Service” does a great job chronicling how Apple has really stepped up its customer service at its Apple Stores via orange-shirted “concierges.” The author, Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services, notes:

Whether explicitly acknowledged or not, there’s an unmistakable “service is marketing” mantra pervading every aspect of the Apple Store. And that’s something every brand, even those not as shiny as Apple’s, can learn from. The opportunity to solve problems, find solutions and even address “the darn thing doesn’t work” emotional pain-points all lead to a higher impact-marketing and sales proposition. While not every marketer has a Steve Jobs-inspired vision, every consumer-facing company has problems that can be converted into opportunities to inspire loyalty.

First, let me attest to the fact that Apple is indeed stepping up its service and this is a good thing. A recent visit to the Genius Bar with my son and his MacBook that was missing a “K” key, was resolved with astonishing speed and at no cost. That kind of service helps you overlook the fact that your first iPods died prematurely and that the K key probably shouldn’t have fallen off in the first place. That kind of service makes you confident that Mac products will remain a good investment for years to come. That kind of service inspires people to become brand evangelists and even write about that brand on their blog;-)

So, is Apple’s stepped up concierge program Service as Service or Marketing as Service? Well, drum roll please, its actually a progression from one to the other. The notion of Service as Service is that every company should aim for a high degree of customer satisfaction when & where service is required. This means answering 800#’s quickly, fielding questions competently and aiming for “first visit resolution” nine out of ten times. Apple’s Genius Bar is a pristine example of Service as Service. When the service goes above and beyond the industry norms and extends outside the store to become a truly branded experience then we’re talking Marketing as Service. In his article, Blackshaw identifies this outbound effort:

In the case of the “service concierges,” they are not waiting for problems. They assume you arrive at the Apple Store looking specifically for something, and in most cases they are right. And even if serendipity is your cup of tea, they’ll help you navigate that experience as well. What’s important about this front line is not just the help these employees provide, but the halo of service they create. They are there if you need them, a reality that brings more confidence to the overall shopping experience.

With the Conceirge program in place, Apple is also smart to promote thier upgraded level of service to its faithful customers like yours truly (see email below that I received TODAY!). This is great example of how Marketing as Service and traditional messaging can dovetail–create the service and then push it out as “news customers can use.” With all of this, Apple and its customers win–happy customers begets great word of mouth, great word of mouth begets more new customers, better service means those customers remain customers and so forth. SO, while service can be marketing, it is important to remember that without good service you probably shouldn’t bother marketing.Apple Conceirege Email

Licensing Marketing as Service

Though Renegade coined the phrase “marketing as service” we elected not to apply for a service mark. Our thinking was along the lines of IBM when they coined “e-business” and encouraged its use so that they could be at the center of a new industry. In effect, we are prepared to “license” the term marketing as service at no cost to any communications professional who can enhance the movement. So you can imagine how exciting it us for us to see the term proliferate.

This report from the licensing show by AdAge reporter Michael Stone is an interesting case in point:

Corporate licensing isn’t just for consumer package goods. An emerging trend at this year’s Expo is corporate licensing for services. Travelocity is an excellent example. Exhibiting at the show for the first time, the commodity business is looking to build customer loyalty, differentiate itself from the competition, and expand beyond the web and into consumers’ “real” lives. The brand is thus actively prospecting travel product and service licensees in the categories of mobile electronics, youth hostels, full-service organized tours and airport hot-spot lounges, among others. These brand extensions show the breadth and unique capability of licensing to provide consumers with a useful tool they can trust.

Don’t just brand there — do something
When licensing is used like this, it seems remarkably similar to the concepts of “brand utility,” “marketing as a service” or “marketing with meaning” — all of which are gaining attention in the marketing world. Is there any better example of marketing as a service than UPS offering consumers a GPS system (a category it is actively pursuing at this year’s Expo), brought to you through the power of licensing?

In fact, it could be argued that licensing represents the ultimate form of marketing as service, since the licensed products (or services) are actually bought by the consumer in a retail setting. This is among the reasons the industry is gaining serious momentum with today’s marketers.

Obviously, licensing isn’t right for every client nor does it always represent a marketing as service opportunity. That said, licensing can certainly be a quick source for a service that can add value to a customer relationship.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Oh those crafty agency types, saying the same thing but calling it by a different name so that each can “own” it. And yes, we’re just as guilty as everybody else with both the carefully crafted Marketing for Good and Marketing as Service concept descriptors. That said, here’s a little index of who is calling what what so we can keep it all straight:

Ironically, both Marketing as Service and Marketing with Meaning were featured in AdAge this week. Since I’ve already covered the former, I’ll give you a taste of the latter:

Young marketers or agency executives don’t take long to learn they’ve dedicated their lives to creating stuff people seek to avoid, and with increasing success. But Bridge, a digital unit of WPP Group’s Wunderman in, of all places, Cincinnati, ancestral homeland of Procter & Gamble Co. and interruptive advertising as we know it, thinks it has a disarmingly simple answer: “Marketing with Meaning.”

Bridge’s alternative, according to Mr. Woffington: “How do you make sure your marketing is held up to the same standard the product is? … P&G says their products improve people’s lives. But how about the marketing? Does the marketing itself improve consumers’ lives? … That’s a much higher standard than just selling more product.”

The article goes to site some specific examples including one I really like a lot:

Kimberly-Clark Corp. this year rolled out a $2 million, three-year “Not on My Watch” program for a bus tour to teach nurses and others to combat hospital-associated infections that kill an estimated 100,000 people annually in the U.S. Not only could the program save lives, said John Amat, VP-global sales and marketing for K-C Health Care, it could help save some of the $4.5 billion spent annually to treat such infections, much of which soon will no longer be reimbursed by Medicaid.

I suppose I could try to explain the differences between their hifalutin marketing principle and ours, but I’m afraid I’d ultimately have to admit that Shakespeare had it right as usual:

  • What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
  • By any other name would smell as sweet.