Digital Marketing: Amazon pitch-slapped over marketing fail

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By Regina Gilloon-Meyer, correspondent

The idea of authentic marketing was developed on the premise that digital consumers are too savvy, and have too many resources available to them, to be fooled by dishonest, self-serving marketing messages. When attempted, sophisticated consumers will flee, but not before inflicting a little pain of their own.

In a recent example, Amazon felt the sting of a good pitch-slapping from disappointed customers who felt duped by the retailer’s self-proclaimed Christmas in July sale.

The blatantly overhyped “bigger than Black Friday” sale on July 15 had all the earmarks of another Amazon marketing blockbuster. The promotion of the Prime Day event was textbook perfect by any standard.

An integrated marketing and PR campaign included gorgeous creative, campaigns on all the major social media sites, email marketing, targeted display ads and even TV commercials. And of course, it had its own hashtag, #PrimeDay.

Amazon threw the party, everyone showed up, and that’s when the wheels came off the authenticity train.

Train wreck

Instead of delivering the kinds of deals that made Cyber Monday a thing of marketing legend, Amazon failed to deliver. The deals were ho-hum, the inventory was low, the website was glitchy and the staggered release of the “lightning deals” required consumers to devote too much time to monitoring the website to find something, anything they might want to buy.

Intended to bolster sagging summer sales and grow the Amazon Prime loyalty program, the event failed to deliver the merchandise Amazon’s holiday sales were known for. The social media firestorm was immediate and brutal.

Millions of tweets and messages filled social media sites with sentiments such as “#PrimeDay is a bigger disappointment than I am to my parents” and “LOL at Amazon getting everybody excited about Prime Day & then showing up like that clearance table at TJ Maxx.”

My personal favorite, “When I die I want whoever’s responsible for #PrimeDay to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time.”

Brand Damage

Probably the greatest risk to Amazon was downgrading its reputation for delivering an awesome customer experience. Let’s face it: Promising the consumer an awesome sale and then attempting to pass off granny panties and a family pack of brass knuckles as “lightning deals” is not a great customer experience.

Amazon claims it fulfilled a record number of orders on Prime Day and registered a record number of new Amazon Prime members. How many of those newly minted Prime members will stick around after the 30-day free trial membership expires remains to be seen, particularly if they were disappointed by their initial Prime Day experience.

Thanks, Amazon

Walmart.com went head-to-head with Amazon on Prime Day, and Bloomberg reports it experienced a surge in its online sales, along with traffic to its stores. Many other businesses reported record online sales on July 15 as well.

This is perhaps an indicator that consumers, primed to shop by the #PrimeDay promotions but disappointed by Amazon, clicked away to find better deals elsewhere.

A hallmark of authentic marketing is to understand and live your own brand. Until now, the Amazon brand focused on convenience, selection and trust, not competing with the deep-discount retailers. The almost primal disappointment expressed over Prime Day proves once again how deeply consumers identify with their favorite brands and how quickly those relationships can be severed.

People expected better.

• Regina Gilloon-Meyer, is a content marketing specialist for Fusionfarm, a division of The Gazette Company. (319) 368-8530, regina@fusionfarm.com, @Regiimary

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