Ever Had Your Brother Held For Ransom? Mine Was

At 9:44 am on Friday, May 11, 2012, I got a call on my mobile. A voice said, “Your brother has been in an accident. He’s hurt.” “Where?” I asked. A male voice with a heavy Puerto-Rican accent said, “In a gas station and he is hurt pretty bad.” The voice went on to tell me, “He hit my brother’s motorcycle and damaged it and tried to run off.” I asked “Is your brother OK?” He responded, “We have your brother tied up and will not let him go.” “We can pay for the repairs!” I told him. He said, “I don’t know what is going on here, but I was called in to help. He’s tied up and beaten.” “We can repair the motorcycle,” I repeated. His voice was annoyed and aggravated: “Look, this is a kidnap and we want $1,500 now!”

I didn’t know what to think
My thoughts at this point were… My brother lives in Puerto Rico and these guys sound Puerto Rican. Do they know I’m in Miami? Are they physically in Puerto Rico? How am I to pay them? I was starting to get really nervous. My throat was drying up and my hands were shaking a bit. I kept trying to remember what I had heard about express kidnappings. It’s when they kidnap you and take you to an ATM for ransom. It usually happens in other countries.

The negotiation begins
“Are you going to help your brother?” he asked. I said yes and he responded, “Good. Go to an ATM and withdraw $1,500. Can you do that? Do you have that kind of money?” I thought, wait a minute, he wants to negotiate.

He was asking if I had the money, instead of assuming I had it. I said, “No, that’s a lot of money. I would need to transfer…” He cut me off and asked, “Transfer?” I said, “Yes, from one account to another. It can take 3 days.” The kidnapper said, “No, go to the ATM right now and take $600 out.” “The maximum is $500,” I said. His response was “No, its $600!” and he gave me delivery instructions. During all of this, I was frantically calling my brother’s cell phone number from my office line. He didn’t pick up. On my second attempt, I heard what sounded like a pickup, a pause, then a disconnect tone. I called again and it went straight to voice mail. The kidnappers have my brother’s cell phone I thought. I tried my brother’s wife and she didn’t pick up either. The voice said, “Get in your car now and drive to an ATM.” Does this guy know I’m in Miami, I wondered? I couldn’t get him the money physically. I took a bold step and said, “I’m not going anywhere until I speak to my brother.” He didn’t like that. “No. Do as I say!”

I was beyond nervous
“How do I know this isn’t a prank call from a radio station?” I asked. He started laughing condescendingly and told someone with him, “Rafi,” that I thought this was a radio station prank call. Rafi said, “That’s it, I’m going to kill him now.” The voice started shouting “Is this what you want, the death of your brother on your conscience?” At this point, I was beyond nervous, I was scared. I heard Rafi moving and I could hear faint background noise, like a crowd, but I couldn’t make it out. I started pleading, “No, no, no, I will help. Please!” And like in a movie, I braced to hear a gun shot. I told the voice, “Look why kill him, he is useless to you dead and then you’ll have to deal with that problem. I told you I will help.” The voice said, “Go to your car now and drive to an ATM.” All of a sudden, I got a second call on my mobile, from a phone number I didn’t recognize. I asked him “Someone is calling me, can I answer?” “No,” he said. “If you hang up, I will kill him.” As he explained what he wanted me to do, I tried to dial the number that just called, hoping it was my brother’s wife.

“Rafi, get the gun”
The voice then asked, “Who is Marcos Menendez?” I was freaking out by now. The kidnappers must have seen my caller ID on the other phone number and thought I was trying to call out for help. The voice again asked, “Who is Marcos Menendez? Huh? Answer me!” I said “Who? Mendez? I don’t know.” He asked, “Is someone calling you on the other line?” My mobile was flashing with another call, but I said “No, no one. Can’t you see I’m talking to you?” The voice said “I’m tired of playing games with you. I’m going to give the order to execute your brother. I’m done fantasmeando [playing around] with you. Rafi, get the gun.” I started begging, “No, please don’t shoot. I’m on my way to the car right now.” Trying to get a grip on the situation, I asked him, “How do I know you won’t kill me or my brother after I pay you?” His tone of voice changed, from slangy, reggaetonero to reassuring and comforting: “I know you might feel insecure about the exchange. That’s why we will do it at a public place like Winn-Dixie Supermarket.” I went dead cold. They knew I was in Miami. There are no Winn-Dixies in Puerto Rico. They kidnapped my brother in Puerto Rico, I thought, and knew I could pay them in Miami. “What are you doing now?” the voice asked. “Tell me!” I said, “I need to get dressed to go to the ATM.” At this moment, my mind was exactly where they wanted it – in compliance. I was broken, scared and worried about my brother. Fear got the best of me. I dismissed any fleeting, rational thoughts, gathered my keys and proceeded to my car, only to realize it wasn’t there. I forgot my wife needed my car for something that morning.

“We have a problem”
I didn’t know if I should tell the kidnapper I didn’t have a car. I asked, “Can someone else deliver the money?” “If it’s not you, we’ll kill him,” he said. “We have a problem,” I told him. “I don’t have a car.” He got irate, cursed me out and continued to threaten me. I told him not to worry. I could walk to an ATM. At that moment, my mobile phone flashed with another call. It was my brother. I couldn’t resist picking it up. “Is that you?” I asked. My brother answered: “What do you want?” My heart dropped. Oh man, was I relived.

My brother laughed
“You haven’t been kidnapped?” I asked. My brother started laughing. “You got called? It’s a hoax,” he told me. “They’re trying to extort money from you. I’m okay. I was busy with a client. That’s why I didn’t pick up when you called. Tell them to go to hell,” he said. “They tried that on me two years ago.” I heard the click of a disconnected line and remembered I left the kidnapper on hold. Then I got a text message, “Semurio.” Poorly spelled in Spanish: “He’s dead.”

It’s a scam
I later called the FBI to report what happened. They took my information, but the lady nonchalantly said it happens all the time. She would send the report to an agent and I might get a call. I guess it wasn’t of major importance, since no money was involved and no one was really kidnapped. But if the FBI isn’t going to move on this, at least I can let others know. What happened to me is a scam for money. It felt very real and scary to me, but fortunately, it was fabricated. I uncovered various forums and a news article about this scam. I also searched the phone numbers on caller ID from the “kidnappers.” Both numbers, 787-477-0979 and 787-624-4234, have Puerto Rican area codes. My advice is to save those numbers on your phone and if you get called, don’t pick up. I know this is a mobile marketing newsletter where I mostly talk about my business marketing experiences. But I thought this was especially important to share and this was the best way to get the word out to 8,000+ readers.

Ironically (and especially for me), the easiest way to have reached my brother would have been a text message. He would just have replied and the ruse would have been uncovered. Even the criminals thought a text message was a good way to communicate a powerful and direct message. And I can tell you from experience, it worked.

Has this happened to you? Comment below.

A $10 Mistake and a Lesson in Getting Instant Customer Loyalty

I hate getting my hair cut. I don’t like having to set up an appointment or waiting at the salon. I also don’t like having my arms locked in place by that thin plastic cape and sitting still under the threat of losing a piece of helix by razor-sharp scissors. Something else I hate… having to think about which cut fits my thinning hair and, worst of all, realizing that my hair is thinning and there’s nothing I can do about it.

So when it’s time to trim the hedges, I try to find the most efficient way to get my lame business-man’s cut. This usually involves Googling for the salon closest to my office.

Google search results: Orquidia Salon

Orquidia Salon seemed to fit my needs, so I called to see if they would take me as a walk-in within the next 10 minutes. To my surprise, they did.

A typical salon with atypical service

Orquidia’s is your typical Miami-Cuban, old-lady salon. There’s nothing avant-garde here, no faux feng-shui décor, snooty model-like receptionist or tattooed-up stylists with names like Extephan or Eriko.

No, none of that. As a matter of fact it’s just the opposite. The owner, Orquidia, is cutting hair and chatting while the rest of the staff, mostly older elegant ladies, are primping, dyeing, plucking, blow drying or spraying earth-unfriendly amounts of hair spray on their customers. Everyone’s talking simultaneously with everyone else, while maintaining a sometimes different conversation with the customer in the chair.

I’m told that Ms. Blanca will cut my hair, but since I didn’t arrive in precisely 10 minutes she had left for coffee. The wait is well worth it though since “going for coffee” means getting Cuban coffee for everyone at the salon. A quick shot of black-gold and I’m in the chair smothered in the gown and wondering how I’ll be able to read emails. What if someone calls? But I get past my mobile phone separation anxiety and Ms. Blanca asks me how I would like my hair cut.

I’m starting to like the lady; she asks me if I have a preference instead of just starting to cut. This is a good idea when it comes to meeting customer expectations. I say “A little off the sides and back. I like the length on top.” To my surprise she does exactly that. I get off the chair with exactly the same look I had when I came in, just shorter. But I’m completely satisfied, heck even happy with my cut because it’s exactly what I asked for.

I complement Ms. Blanca on the cut and she says “If there is something I’ve learned in all my years, it is to listen to the customer. It will be $25 for the cut.” I pay, tip and go on my merry way, satisfied and thinking that I may even come back.

The next morning, I receive a call from Ms. Blanca. She says, “I’m sorry but I overcharged you for the cut. It was supposed to be $15 instead of $25. I pressed the wrong key on the register. Would you like to come by and pick up the difference?”

I couldn’t believe it. The salon is offering to give me money back, knowing full well that I didn’t notice, nor would have noticed. They could have kept the difference, figuring “mistakes happen.” But no, they made an effort to call me to admit the mistake and refund the money. How many businesses do you know would have done that? Really, how many?

This was a unique opportunity for Orquidia Salon to provide excellent service by simply recognizing a mistake and providing an honest resolution before I noticed it. This is better than customer service; it’s taking care of your customer.

How do you handle these opportunities?

Think about the opportunities to take care of your customers. Your service or post-sale process can have small, but significant chances to do the unexpected. And I’m not talking about buying your clients lunch. It can involve going above and beyond or helping your customer find a better solution, even if it’s not your own. My favorite is the simple act of honest feedback, with a genuine desire to help. A simple act of true concern may or may not lead to immediate business, but the customer will notice and remember.

Orquidia Salon and Ms. Blanca may never know what that act meant to me, but she’ll be seeing me once every other month and I’ll be happy to wait. Has this happened to you?

Case Study: Pet Supply Chain Finds Value in SMS Advertising

Retailers and brands can quickly reach their most frequent customers using text-based advertising, however Lipof Advertising creative director Nathan Lowery says businesses that inundate their customers with meaningless marketing messages are actually doing more harm than good. In his experience handling advertising and marketing for Pet Supermarket, a regional pet store chain with 127 outlets in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, Lowery has noticed that customers are less likely to unsubscribe from SMS advertising lists when they’re sent messages that have actual value, like coupons and discount codes.

Tell me about Lipof Advertising’s relationship with Pet Supermarket. How have you helped manage their campaigns?

We have been their advertising agency for about 10 years. We provide all of the print, radio, TV, and digital marketing solutions for them. That includes media placement, and production; everything soup to nuts.

Given that you’ve been working with them for the last decade, what are some of the changes in advertising or media placement that you’ve noticed over that time?

We’re doing more customer retention, which would involve text messaging, Facebook, and direct mail to existing customers. In the past, it was more customer acquisition. We still do a lot of customer acquisition with consumer advertising, but we’re also able to do more targeted messages because we have more data to work with now. [We look at] geographical data, demographic data, and purchase history. [How we get this data] depends on what our objective is. For the purchase history, Pet Supermarket has that data. For the geographical data and household income data, we can buy that when we buy mailing lists. We’re also able to do things a little quicker now that Facebook is instantaneous and text messaging is pretty much instantaneous.

What are some of the challenges that Pet Supermarket has when it comes to customer retention or customer acquisition?

I think one of the main challenges is the competition, because there are a number of other pet supply retailers that carry very similar products or the same products. We try to inform customers that Pet Supermarket stores are a little bit smaller, but they also pride themselves in having much better customer service, which some of the other pet specialty stores don’t offer. So that’s one big challenge. Another challenge is that a lot of people still purchase their pet food from the grocery store or from stores like Target or Wal-Mart, which would be considered mass retail. We try to explain the benefits of feeding a premium pet food, so the customer buying their dog food at Publix [knows he] is not [getting] the same quality as a higher end food bought at a pet specialty store.

I know Pet Supermarket sends text-based coupons. How did you first get involved with that?

We knew Marcos [Menendez, CEO of Momares, a mobile coupon platform] because he was already working for us on an e-newsletter. His other company, Loop Consulting, was doing our e-newsletter, and he brought us the idea. He showed us some other companies that were doing [text-based promotions] and some case studies. We started advertising [the program] in the stores and on printed materials to get people involved, and it really took off. A lot of people were interested. Every month we [pick] a winner and give away free pet food for a year. So everyone who enters [their phone number] has a chance to win. Then, we also send out coupons and messages. We want to keep the messages fresh, and we want to not overdo it. We typically send out one or two messages a month. We don’t want to annoy people, and we pay [Momares] per text message.

We are able to see when people leave the group or want their numbers removed from the list, and we have found that as long as we’re sending messages that have value they are staying in and they love it. If we send messages that don’t have value, don’t have some sort of savings, or are very product-specific, then they will leave. We can actually see that happen. We try to have some sort of value with the messages — usually it’s a $1-off discount across any purchase. [That allows] dog food customers to take advantage of it, cat customers, bird customers, and fish customers. It’s not brand specific or anything like that. We send the same message to [customers] at all [Pet Supermarket] stores because we’re not able to see, or we don’t know, what stores the people shop at. All we know is their area code. Beyond that, we don’t know where they’re at.

What has the feedback been from customers since you started sending mobile coupons?

They seem to like it because we send out a lot of coupons by text. In today’s economy coupons are very big, so people see a lot of value in it. We have a lot of people joining and we have very few people opting out, so I think there’s a lot of interest. We are able to track the redemption rates on the coupons that we send out and the messages that we send out. We just send out a five-digit code and we say what the offer is. [Customers] just show the associate at the register that five-digit code, and they get the discount.

Looking forward, where do you see Pet Supermarket’s going in terms of marketing and advertising?

I think it’s going to get more and more specific, to where we can track customers’ spending habits and we can tailor messages directly to those customers. If someone is a Nutro dog food buyer, we’ll [be able to] send them messages that pertain to Nutro dog food. And, we’ll be able to group people by how often they shop. With smartphones, at some point we’re going to be able to send out coupons with an actual bar code or an actual graphic. I think that’s probably going to be happening sooner rather than later.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Source: Street Fight

Top 10 SMS campaigns of Q1

Arguably, SMS is one of the best channels out there that helps marketers reach consumers no matter if they have a smartphone or feature phone and brands such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola and General Mills have all increased their databases by implementing the medium into their overall strategies.

SMS is a great way for brands to connect with consumers on a deeper level. Additionally, marketers are able to build their databases to better target users in the near future.

Here are the top 10 SMS campaigns of the first quarter, in alphabetical order.

Ace Hardware
Westlake Ace Hardware, which operates 88 Ace Hardware stores in several states, used SMS to deliver weather-related text alerts and special offers to help consumers prepare for when the bad weather hits.

Through the SMS initiative, users were encouraged to opt-in to receive weather-related mobile notifications based on their ZIP code.

Additionally, Ace Hardware integrated the campaign with the National Weather Service to provide timely, location-based weather notifications.

SMS was an effective channel for Ace Hardware because it not only gave the company a new way to communicate to its consumers, but SMS also helped the company send out relevant information to help grow its database.

Aveeno
While many companies are placing QR codes on their static prints ads to drive user engagement, hair care brand Aveeno went a different direction.

The company placed mobile calls-to-action on its magazine print advertisements. When consumers texted the keyword HAIRS to the short code 467467 they were able to receive a free sample.

After consumers text-in the keyword, they fill out their contact information by replying to messages.

By offering an incentive – in this case a free sample – consumers are more inclined to opt-in.

This also helps Aveeno start a relationship with consumers and take it beyond a simple static ad.

Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola is no stranger to SMS and it was no surprise that the company was going to tap the channel when it came to promoting its latest initiative centered around March Madness.

Coca-Cola’s Coke Zero ran an interactive SMS program that rewarded users with prizes when they watched March Madness games.

The campaign centered around the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship games and during the games, an SMS call-to-action was promoted with on-air keywords and alerts with the Coke Zero logo that prompted users to text-in to win prizes.

Additionally, consumers could find codes on March Madness-themed Coke Zero products and cups and text them to the short code 2653.

The initiative was a great way to have users interact with their mobile device while they were watching a game at home.

General Mills
General Mills’ Cheerios brand leveraged SMS to help drive mobile donations for its Spoonfuls of Stories program.

The campaign asked consumers to donate to the organization First Book, which provides low-income families and schools with books and educational resources.

Additionally, for each mobile donation made, publisher Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing matched the donations up to 50,000 books.

Through the initiative, consumers were encouraged to text the keyword Books2Kids to the short code 20222.

Then, users received a text message back confirming their donation of $5, which was billed to their carrier bill.

Although SMS is a great channel to build a company’s database, it is also good for driving donations.

JCPenney
Department store JCPenney thought outside the box when it came to promoting its Easter dresses.

The time-sensitive campaign centered around JCPenney sending out SMS messages to its opted in consumers to drive them in-store for a one-day event.

Additionally, the SMS message included a link that let users shop Easter clothing from the company’s mobile site.

This is a good example of a company that is using their current mobile database to reach its customers and drive sales.

The one-day event was time-sensitive and SMS was a great channel to quickly get the word out about it.

Macy’s
Macy’s is another department store that took advantage of its mobile database to drive in-store and mobile sales.

Recently, the company sent out SMS messages to its customers that promoted exclusive looks from NBC’s “Fashion Star” show and let consumers shop them through their mobile device.

Additionally, those that were not opted-in to Macy’s database could also text the keyword STAR to the short code 62297 to learn more about the show and how to get the latest looks.

Macy’s has been using SMS for a while and continually sends out messages to its consumers letting them know about new sales and events.

Reese’s
Last month, Hershey’s Reese’s candies used SMS to let sports fans vie for a chance to win a trip to the upcoming 2013 NCAA Men’s Final Four game.

Reese’s ran a text-to-win promotion as part of a bigger push to interact with sports fans.

Sports fans were encouraged to text the keyword REESES to the short code 44144 for a chance to be entered to win prizes.

From there, users were sent back a message to enter their birthday and email address.

Additionally, the SMS message also included a link to Reese’s mobile site where users could learn about the rules of the game.

The campaign helped Reese’s start a dialogue with users and then continue it by sending more relevant SMS messages.

Rite Aid
Rite Aid is another company that used SMS to help drive donations.

To kick off its 18th annual Miracle Balloon campaign on April 1 benefitting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Rite Aid invited its shoppers to text the keyword RAKIDS to the short code 50555 and make a $5 donation.

Rite Aid proved that SMS can be used to drive awareness of a good cause and to get consumers involved.

Additionally, instead of simply asking them for a donation at the point-of-sale, Rite Aid used SMS to have consumers make their own choice about the donation.

Starbucks
When it comes to mobile, Starbucks is one of the companies that leads the pack no matter what channel they are using.

To promote its My Starbucks Rewards program, the company ran an in-store call to action.

The call to action was positioned near the drink counter so that when consumers waited for their drinks they could text-in.

Coffee lovers were encouraged to text the keyword GOLD to the short code 697289 (MYSBUX).

When consumers texted-in, they received a message from Starbucks that thanked them for their interest in the program.

For this instance, SMS helped Starbucks build up its My Starbucks Rewards program.

Additionally, but using the in-store call to action, the company was able to reach more consumers while they were waiting for their drink.

U.S. Tennis Association
The United States Tennis Association significantly expanded its existing SMS strategy this year with plans to bring in-venue messaging to more events and introduce new text clubs.

For the past couple of years, the USTA has used SMS to engage fans at specific events such as the U.S. Open.

Through the new SMS initiative fans in the audience are able to text to vote, answer a question, post a picture or send a message based on a promotion to a short code. The results will appear live on the screen in real-time.

The USTA said that it will also be able to deliver special offers to fans in the audience.

The association’s updated SMS strategy proves that it is never to late to build on an existing initiative and make it better.

Source: Mobile Marketer

Sex in the Gym Sells

Take a look at the poster ad above (I’ll wait)… It’s brilliant! It shows lust, sex, passion and desire, and challenges you to do it all at Executive Fantasy Hotels.

You’ve seen the Executive Hotel by the airport, right? This ad says we are not a dingy, secretive hide out for promiscuity; but instead we are an elegant, sophisticated venue for the expression of passion and virility. Super! And this is a motel. Not a Ritz-Carlton. Not the kind of marketing you’d expect from a motel. But that’s not what makes the ad speak.

It’s not just the image with the man’s muscular arm and female fingers caressing it. Nor is it the typography or the selection of colors that make this ad outstanding. It’s the message and the media placement that deliver ad gold.

The media is a poster placed in the right place, the gym. That’s good, but what makes it remarkable is that the ad is placed at the entrance to the men’s bathroom. An ad completely targeted to guys, placed at a bottle-neck entry point that each male gym member will pass through. Is that all? No.

The message brings it home

The message speaks to the main reason men go to the gym, to look better so they can attract more females. Sure health, stamina and weight are important, but deep down most men lift weights, run like hamsters on treadmills and secretly compare muscles in the hopes that a better physique will get them more action in the sac.

What we have here, so brilliantly put together, is an ad that speaks directly to the target market of motel visitors. It says, “Want to test your “other” endurance, we have a just the place.”

When you combine targeted placement (the men’s bathroom at the gym) with the right message (come test your sexual prowess) you create an ad campaign that will pay. But the ad is missing something. What can it possibly be missing?

An appropriately discrete call to action like “text your ZIP CODE to 65047 for the nearest location”? A mobile call to action would turn great into perfect! An instant response text would send directions via GPS mobile map to the closest love suite. It could also include a phone number for on-the-go reservations and a link to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” (OK, Marvin may be a bit much).

What do you think?