It was the promotion the Internet was made for.
On Tuesday, Uber, the car service app, launched a promotion called I Can Has UberKITTENS in honor of National Cat Day. Between the hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., people in New York City, San Francisco and Seattle could have kittens delivered to them for "15 minutes of snuggles" for $20, plus cupcakes from Charm City Bakery of Ace of Cakes fame, Uber announced in a blog post.
There was a higher cause to the promotion than raising Uber's profile and user base: All the proceeds went to each participating city's local shelter, and shelter representatives were on hand for those who wanted to adopt the cute furballs.
The promotion was so popular, the demand far outweighed the supply, leading to a "massive shortage of Uber kittens," as Business Insider reported Tuesday. Despite the upset, Uber was definitely the winner in this situation: The company saw a marked increase in searches for the brand's name, according to Google Trends, and dominated the online conversation for hours.
So what can small-business owners learn from the promotion that made the Internet let out a collective "Awwuh"?
Capitalize on an under-the-radar national holiday. Anyone can have a Halloween or Fourth of July promotion, but Uber's decision to unveil this offer on a kitschy holiday like National Cat Day ultimately upped the amount of attention paid to the effort. Uber's promotion was so big, it's the first thing that appears on Google when you search "National Cat Day."
Larger brands are no stranger to this tactic: Last month Krispy Kreme offered a free box of a dozen doughnuts to customers who dressed up like a pirate on September 19—Talk Like A Pirate Day. (If you stuck to the literal meaning of the day, you got one free doughnut).
Know your audience. Kittens are the currency of the Internet these days, a fact Uber and its core millennial audience know all too well. Partnering with Cheezburger, the site that launched a thousand memes, hit a viral sweet spot and made the promotion hard to ignore for even the snarkiest of online users. Speak to your customers' desires as well when you're planning a promotion. Know that one item is especially popular with your customers? Create a themed day around it and offer that good at a discount!
Give back. Yes, snuggling kittens is the best. But the fact that the promotion also drew attention to local pet shelters made it that much more heartwarming. Small-business owners should align their own promotions with a local charity; getting involved in your community increases your brand's equity and encourages customer loyalty.
Be incredibly clear. While many users weren't able to get in on the offer due to the kitten shortage, there was no question what steps you had to take to participate. Customers will appreciate equally clear instructions from you on your promotions.
Preempt disappointed customers, but respond to criticism quickly. We can't say Uber didn't warn us. In its blog post announcing the I Can Has UberKITTENS event, it noted, "Demand for kittens will be very high and availability very limited. It may take multiple tries to find available kittens. Please be patient!"
Yet for all the good will the promotion spurred, including tweets like this:
— Michelle LeBlanc (@LeBlancly) October 29, 2013
... the fact that many went without kitten snuggles dominated the conversation online. Yet Uber didn't address the #womps around the campaign. Complaints on the original blog post went unanswered, and Uber's Twitter feed only mentioned the promotion five times, in glowing terms, as of press time.
As many pointed out, while even doing the campaign was something worth applauding, it wouldn't have hurt the company to comment in real-time on the mild hysteria the Great Uber Kitten and Cupcake Shortage of 2013 caused. Provide great customer service all around by letting customers know you are aware of any issues with your own promotion, and outline any steps—if any—that you're taking to remedy it as it happens.
Uber made amends on Wednesday, by offering some customers who tried to participate in its National Cat Day event a $10 credit, Business Insider reported.
Prepare for excess success. Even though they warned us, come on, Uber! The company had to have known what kitty-hysteria it would wreak if users weren't able to get those 15 minutes of cat time. "When it comes to kittens," writes Arwa Mahdawi of TheGuardian.com, "you should never over-promise and under-deliver." Companies launching a campaign sure to attract attention should lean on the side of being over prepared to avoid their customers' wrath.
With a little bit of planning (and a lot of speaking to your audience), you too can launch a promotion that brings a smile to your customers' faces.
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