Trailblaze & Grow Tag: Message Testing


Don’t #BeSomebody

An integrated approach is essential to every marketing strategy.  As the internet of things has grown, a marketer must consider how offline activities will affect online activities, and vice versa.  With marketing undergoing rapid and massive changes, it is inevitable that there will be the occasional high-profile slip-up.

One of the biggest risks that any campaign faces, particularly when targeting younger demographics, is the risk of coming across as tone-deaf or otherwise hypocritical. This is exactly what happened when an experienced and highly successful marketing professional, Kash Shaikh, launched his much-maligned “inspiration” company, #BeSomebody (yes, it’s a hashtag and the company name).

The idea behind #BeSomebody was fairly simple. Connect aspiring hobbyists or professionals in everything from piano playing to scuba diving with actual experts who can teach them how to be successful in those fields. In order to market their company, #BeSomebody had the fairly unique idea of conducting inspirational assemblies at high schools throughout Texas and (eventually) the rest of the United States.

Unfortunately for Kash Shaikh and #BeSomebody, their message fell on unbelieving ears when they conducted an assembly at Austin High. Instead of finding the assembly inspirational, the students felt like Mr. Shaikh was using his particularly privileged experience (in the form of an impressive resume, extensive travel, and ability to live with his parents well into his adulthood) to connect with high school students, many of whom had little to none of the privileges that Mr. Shaikh had available to him.

Ultimately, the students at Austin High launched a robust campaign of mockery, in which the hashtag #Lookadouche was used to disseminate parody videos and other derisive material.

What we can learn from #BeSomebody

While #BeSomebody ultimately had a fairly bad reaction to their marketing strategy, there is still a great deal that we can learn not only from what #BeSomebody did wrong, but what they did right as well.

What #BeSomebody did wrong

Clearly, #BeSomebody made mistakes in the execution of their marketing plan. Perhaps the most egregious mistake they made was failing to test properly their message before going out to schools such as Austin High. If they had tested their message in a smaller, more focused setting, they probably would have found that their message came across as out of touch and hypocritical, and could have adjusted it (or scrapped it altogether).

The other misstep that #BeSomebody made was their reaction after the mocking campaign from the students at Austin High. Instead of taking the message in stride, Kash Shaikh acted fairly petulant, mocking everything from grammatical mistakes to the overall reaction of the students, including claims that the students simply lacked the proper passion and motivation. Clearly, this was not the right approach to take, which was proven by the fact that Mr. Shaikh later went on to apologize and thank Austin High for their “tough love”.

#BeSomebody could have even turned this situation around.  The company could have accepted the criticism and positively engaged in the conversation.  In 2005, a journalist created a blog called Dell Hell that chronicled the horrible customer service that he experienced.  Dell Hell caught fire, and many unhappy customers jumped on board.  However, Dell turned lemons into lemonade.  A couple of takeaways from the event include:

  • Real conversations are two-way.
  • Think before you talk—but always be yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to apologize.

These were a lesson the Dell learned in 2007, and it is just as powerful today.

What #BeSomebody did right

Despite the outcome, there is still a lot that can be learned about what #BeSomebody did well. For starters, they used a very creative marketing tool – high school assemblies – to reach their target market. If their message had gone over well, this would have proven to be an incredibly cost-effective way to build an audience for their app and their company. Additionally, #BeSomebody was able to execute a plan using a very small team and utilizing very little overhead.

At the end of the day, #BeSomebody is a lesson in testing one’s message and ensuring that the message actually resonates with the target audience. While they did make mistakes, #BeSomebody has a great team of creative and marketing experts. Whether or not #BeSomebody ultimately turns out to be a successful company, the team will find success one way or another. That being said, we should all look closely at what they did wrong and right, so we can avoid, or replicate, where appropriate.