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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008 at 8:00 am

Sign-of-the-Times Marketing

By Bryan Eisenberg
December 17th, 2008

This may be a sign of the times, but it’s not totally infrequent that a business will attempt to take advantage of a competitors demise – and there are classy and sleazy ways of going about it, right?

I received an email today from Staples.com. The subject line read “Will Office Depot closings affect you?” In the body of the email they lead off that “you can always count on Staples” and show what looks like the beginning of a press release. You can see the full email below:

In these rough economic times, do you think this type of message is smart? Are they building confidence with this kind of messaging or is the painful message an overall turn-off? Your thoughts?

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Comments (33)

  1. I personally do not like the message Staples is sending, sounds like negative advertising. Staples would be better severed by trying to improve their own stores for one. The Staples stores I have been in are generally dirty and nasty.

    Mark Twain wrote “Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated”. I suggest we all work on improving ourselves and not point our finger at others.

  2. I can really see both sides of this coin. A number of our competitors are going out of business, so many of our customers have started warily asking us “So… how are you guys doing?” They’re concerned that there will not be any support behind their purchase. So in that regard, there’s wisdom in reassuring the customer. In the end though, we’ve decided that the best reassurance is to continue presenting the same consistent message and to continue brining new products to market.

  3. It’s definitely not Kosher Marketing. Focusing on the pain of making the dollar stretch at Staples would have been more effective in my opinion. Knocking Office Depot does nothing to strengthen the relationship between Staples and their customers, which should be their only goal. They broke Commandment number 9 of Kosher Marketing: Be Polite. You can see the complete Ten Commandments at http://koshermarketing.com/wp-content/themes/thesis/custom/images/TheTenCommandments.pdf. If I were Staples I’d offer a special discount to people who are out of work and can verify it with an unemployment check stub.

  4. They could’ve sent the same message w/o referencing their competitor by name. The ‘generic’ message seems OK, but the ‘specific’ message will definitely rub a few personas the wrong way.

  5. A better approach would be a sympathetic one. A unity, brotherhood, sorry to see a great competitor in difficulty, we will fill their big shoes by honoring coupons, cards etc. More dignity, same message. Lets be honest NOBODY can afford to laugh at a competitor as even the most stable, established of organizations are looking over their shoulders. What goes around comes around, so to speak.

  6. Well, having seen my local, six month old/new Office Depot close this week and despising Staples lackluster service.. I put nothing questionable past Staples. “Kick ‘em when their down” marketing doesn’t appeal to me and never will. Another approach might have been to emphasize stability during the current economic downturn. Taking the moral higher ground and appealing to consumer’s need for stability in these topsy-turvy times could have been more effective.

  7. its a dog eat dog world someone will always profit from anothers loss

  8. I’m thinking. Wait a minute Staples. YOU could be next. (we’re all vulnerable) I don’t mind, “You can always count on Staples” but juxtaposed with :Office Depot closing” sounds too much like bragging.

  9. If we were having dinner and I passed you the dinner rolls, it’s no big deal. It’s just a plate of perfectly normal dinner rolls.

    What if, as I hand you the plate, I say:

    Here is a perfectly normal plate of dinner rolls.

    If Staples is solid, they should just maintain their marketing. There was never any doubt in my mind about Staples, until they raised the question in my mind by becoming the paper clip store that protested too much.

  10. It’s underhanded. It says, our marketing team has no more creative ideas. I also feel that staples feel that their work is done, their competition is over… which is a larger credit to office depot than themselves.

  11. I don’t like the sales tactic either. Apart from running my website, I also work in a very competitive sales industry. I vote for winning the right way but so many customers are influenced by such tactics.

  12. Office Depot stores closing is a great trigger for Staples to initiate a marketing effort – but it’s a lousy message to include in the marketing. Nobody likes an “ambulance chaser”.

    Ian

  13. I think they are worried about Dunder Mifflin:

    http://www.dundermifflin.com/

  14. As a customer, I don’t think it’s a bad message and, in fact, would appreciate knowing alternatives when/if my favorite store was no longer around. Thanks Staples, for letting me know so I don’t have to go find another place on my own.

  15. They might get a bit of extra publicity / money in the short-term but I think that it will affect their image in the long term.

  16. It comes off as a little arrogant. No one is immune to misfortune.

  17. “We invented the office superstore and we’re not going anywhere.”

    Not a very Grok-able value proposition – echoing other comments, this sounds arrogant. There’s no implied value for the customer (the customer wants to know what’s in it for them, not that they now have to buy from Staples because they have less choice).

    FYI Staples, Amazon sells office products too and could easily go head-to-head with you.

  18. I always found it hard to believe that there was room in the market for three big box office supply store chains.

    This looks like a sign of desperation more than anything else. I’ll bet there are a lot of people at Staples who envy the fact that Office Depot’s about to get a lot leaner and, presumably, have much more cash on hand. Staples had better figure out a way to grab as much of that dwindling market share as possible. I’m just not sure a message like this is necessary now, if ever.

  19. Today’s recession is making potential victims out of all businesses. No matter how big a giant you are there are other forces that are bigger and stronger than you. Don’t be too cocky since no business is safe today.

  20. I like it.

  21. What they’re doing is calling out a competitor and bringing their name to light. Even though they’re closing stores, my immediate reaction to that is – Office Depot closing doors = good deals. The statement “You can always count on Staples” isn’t realistic with what is going on the economy. That might not be true. Just because they invented the office superstore, doesn’t automatically imply they’re going to make it through the recession. “Other office supply superstores” would’ve been a better approach than calling out specific competitors because you’re not giving them brand recognition, and you are positioning yourself above all competitors, not just one of your competitors. The message seems dirty and underhanded, and the creative isn’t that solid either.

  22. I didn’t read the email until it was mentioned in this blog. I received the message, but because of the subject, did not open it. My first reaction was thinking it was a low blow and did not deserve my recognition.

  23. I would never do something like that. In my opinion playing on fears is not the right thing to do.

  24. Pretty simple Office Depot did it wrong and Staples did it right.If you find the ad offensive well go to Staples and buy a backbone. I’m sure they are selling them at half price.

    We have always profited from the demise of our competition unfortunately I didn’t have a list of their customers or we would have done the same thing.

    MJL
    chatropolis.com

  25. [...] a week ago, Bryan Eisenberg from Future Now posted a story called, “Sign-of-the-Times Marketing.” Staples sent an email to it’s customers to try to capitalize on the Office [...]

  26. Let consider the emotive aspect – after all, advertizing is emotive.

    Their email subject line asked a pertinent question. And looking at their email it goes on to answer that question.

    If you were an OE customer and they were closing this email fills a need.

    It is legitimate and directly addresses OE customers concerns, just like any ad does, creates an issue and goes on to solve it.

  27. I don’t think it’s a bad message to send. Though I probably would have worded it a little different, possibly with more of a sympathetic tone than a “business” tone. Possibly talking about WHY they can withstand the downturn – such as stocked cash reserves, certain business practices, etc.

  28. To each is own!

  29. Nice article ,it is link bait technique.This sort of headlines is designed just to grab the attention of the readers out on the web.

  30. The cable companies are doing the same thing around here with the bankruptcy filing of Charter. I may be biased as I don’t like Charter’s service one bit, they are a very poorly run company; however, the negative advertising does poison me a bit from the sat vendors too. Keep it positive people!

  31. Pretty dodgy territory riding on the back of other companies misfortune but the I suppose someone has to get the business.
    Matt.

  32. Business is tough so any opportunity is a good opportunity to promote yourself.

    Maybe if they had offered to honour a percentage of the reward points (from the other supplier) as good will and respect along with some better copy that touched hearts and minds a bit deeper it may have motivated and touched positively more people.

    I wonder if they did a split test ?

  33. It’s hard, it’s rough, but in the end, unfortunately, I have to say that marketing like that can be pretty effective in the end. People want to know what the alternatives are for when their shop is closed. If I were a Staples owner, I’d never endorse this kind of e-mail though.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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