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PR

American Express OPEN? Nope Closed

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Crain’s New York details American Express’s latest dumb move. Looking to shore up their risk and loss rates, Amex is freezing, lowering and closing the credit lines of many small business owners who have never missed a payment. And they are doing it without warning.

From Crain’s, Andreea Ayers, founder of Tees for Change, who says her profit has been undermined because she couldn't make a large purchase and she wasn't informed in advance that her credit line had been cut in half. "I understand that they're trying to protect themselves in a bad economy," Townsend says. "I just feel like they're lumping all their customers into one group, as opposed to looking at them individually." Crain's New York Business

American Express has invested a lot over the past few years in their American Express OPEN site. Targeting small business owners, the site provides forums and information for a group that generally dislikes American Express. For retailers and restaurants, credit card fees are universally hated and this is particularly true for small business owners. For small business owners, Amex is usually considered the worst in terms of fees and potential hassle.

So after courting the market and trying to make amends, what do they do? Completely undermine any good will that they might have earned and basically cement the view that they are unfriendly to small business. No amount of PR or marketing in an improved economy will undo this perception.  

Ignore Your Customer (or Voters) At Your Own Peril

Marketers who have been around the block know that business interests often trump consumer needs. Yes, shocking. Who knew that businesses would expect customers to conform to their processes rather than creating products and services that fit the customer’s needs?

While there are many frustrations for market researchers, one particularly bothersome item that occasionally arises is hearing executives say that they need to educate their customers on why their (insert product or service here) is better than the requested needs of the consumer. Yes, we know better and we will be successful if we can just improve our communications. We don’t have a product problem, it is a communications problem. Ignore the research. Our customers don’t know what they want and we have to tell them what they need.

The current healthcare debate is a great case study of this problem. Instead of providing a solution that most Americans would find of interest, the current proponents of the plan are trying to convince a larger number of Americans that they know better and their way is the only solution.

On the other side of the fence, health insurance companies have consistently failed over the years to take care of their customers, and they’ve created processes only an actuary could love. Insurance companies deserve to be forced into change. If they had made changes and innovated along the way, consumers would not be demanding reform.

With these two sides failing to listen to their customers/constituents...is it any wonder that people are fervently protesting?

What should be worrying the proponents of healthcare reform are not the people protesting the plan, it is the silent consumers/voters watching and complaining quietly. For every customer who calls to complain, there is a far larger number who do not call and will defect at the first opportunity.

There is not a communications plan or strategy that can successfully force consumers into a program they don’t want. The consumer or voter will always win out in the end with their wallets or their votes. He who ignores his customers/voters, does so at their own peril.

Sir, You Know This Is Being Taped? Right?

Ok, I’m not a fan but...

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.V., has called on Cigna to explain why it allegedly "purges" small businesses whose employees have "serious health problems." Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive, told Rockefeller's Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in June that insurance companies raise the premiums on small businesses reporting higher-than-expected claims to a point that the businesses cannot afford to pay them -- sometimes leaving workers uninsured. Cigna has denied the practice.

Unfortunately for Cigna, their CEO’s own words (or bravado) may come back to bite them. From the WSJ:

Rockefeller told Hanway that Potter's description was consistent with a discussion during a Cigna investor teleconference in February. During that call, the senator noted, Cigna President David Cordani told investors that in 2008, the insurer was actively decreasing its posture in the small-group market. "You could use the term purge, if you like," Cordani said at the time. "You can use the term hard harvests or soft exits."

Rockefeller asked Hanway to supply answers by Aug. 19 to several questions, including what Cordani meant when he used those terms to describe the company's approach to the small business group health insurance market, and why Cigna decided last year to pursue that strategy.

I guess Cordani could not just let it go. We are getting out of the business was not sufficient so he just kept going. Rule number one. If it is on tape or stated in public, treat it like it will be printed on the front page of the WSJ. Make your statement and don’t go any further. Showing off will only get you into trouble or in this case hauled before a Senate Committee.

Walmart A Green Brand? Seriously?

Here are the 10 greenest brands according to the 2009 Global Brands Survey.

Top 10 Greenest U.S. Brands

1. Green Works (Clorox)

2. Burt's Bees

3. Tom's of Maine

4. SC Johnson

5. Toyota

6. Procter & Gamble

7. Walmart

8. Ikea

9. Disney

10. Dove

Source: "2009 Global Green Brands Survey" conducted by WPP agencies Landor Associates, Cohn & Wolfe, and Penn, Schoen & Berland and independent consulting firm Esty Environmental Partners.

Tom’s of Maine, Burt’s, and Green Works are expected. But Wallly World? Did not see that one coming.

Back in 2005, CEO Lee Scott surprised everyone by embracing sustainability in a speech announcing ambitious initiatives on "all the issues that we've been dealing with historically from a defensive posture." Since then, Walmart has implemented an aggressive sustainability strategy, much of it employee led. Just last week, they unveiled plans to measure the sustainability of every product they sell.

The cynic would see this as a shameful PR attempt to blunt their constant negative press and to box in their critics. Whatever the motivation, it is amazing how far they have pushed this and how much they have accomplished in the past three years.