How Mercedes Turned Pigeon Poop Into Respect for Its Smart Car

Photograph by Yavuz Alper Photography

What’s a brand to do when it literally becomes the butt of a joke about pigeon poop?

That was the problem faced by Smart USA, which takes a lot of ribbing for its small, eco-friendly vehicles. When one Twitter user joked that a bit of pigeon excrement had totaled a smart car, some number crunching led to the calculation that it would actually take 4.5 million pigeon “craps” to do in the Tridion Safety Cell, which provides the main structure of the car. When an infographic with this research was tweeted, everyone from Buzzfeed to Mashable picked up the story. It even hit the top spot on Reddit twice in a 24-hour span. Almost overnight, this “Humor the Haters” social media campaign turned negative comments about the Smart USA brand into respect.

Besides being funny and quick, the “poop tweet” was the kind of real-time response that big companies, with their many layers of approval, haven’t been good at. It was made possible by another skill that enterprises haven’t historically mastered: strong collaboration between tech and marketing. Because Smart’s social media and tech teams sit together, the right messaging was rapidly developed and the right infrastructure was put in place to support all the sudden attention. Thus the traffic resulting from an unpredicted 333 percent spike in searches on “tridion safety” didn’t crash the site.

This sort of cooperation may sound like a small thing, but it’s actually a sign of something very important. The once-impermeable barriers between IT and marketing are starting to weaken, a result of the convergence of media, marketing, and technology. Some companies are revising their organizational charts and changing their cultures to reflect this convergence. They’re ensuring that marketing teams can communicate with technology teams to understand what is possible and how.

That means the days of slow, intransigent IT operations insisting on the old ways of doing things—cumbersome and expensive private data centers, rickety old content-management systems—are numbered. Now it’s about speed to market and an iterative approach centered on quick releases and a test-and-learn approach.

Change is in the offing for marketers, too. Brand managers need to get closer to the code and learn how to build—and not just buy—software. And they need to take a page from software companies and evolve their marketing-mix-fixated brand managers into customer-experience-obsessed product managers.

By restructuring your organization to better respond to consumer needs, you form a relationship with your audience. They trust you, and they start thinking of you as more than a product. What’s more valuable than that?

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