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Archive for May, 2006

… yeah, but what about weekend warriors?

Patrick Marzullo – of Respond 2 Communications – pointed me to Tim O’Leary’s new book this morning: “Warriors, Workers, Whiners & Weasels,” which you can preview here. (Whether or not it was an email blast sent out to a bunch of us “business bloggers” is kind of irrelevant at this point. I followed his links and was entertained enough by what I saw that I’m posting about it.)

What’s the premise of Tim’s book? Well, it’s that there are basically four types of people in any organization: Warriors, workers, whiners and weasels:

The Warrior: Successful companies need at least one Warrior—the aggressive innovator who conceptualizes and defines the organization and who fights the
tough battle to make it successful. Some companies have many Warriors,
which can sometimes make for really great organizations or, in other cases,
can lead to disaster, depending on whether or not the Warriors can work
together.

The Worker: The backbone of any company is the Worker—the dependable soldiers who take direction from the Warriors and make things happen. Great com- panies always have great Workers. Workers understand their essential role in society, and they also tend to live the most balanced life among the four categories. Great Workers take tremendous pride in their craft, be it building jets, answering phones, driving a truck, designing microchips, writing legal briefs, or managing a large staff. Workers come in every shape, size and economic category; they perform duties that range from the mundane to the complex.

The Whiner: Whiners might be competent workers, but their negativity and dissatisfaction over- shadow their performance. Often, their whining is a mask for their incompetence. They spend a disproportionate amount of time complaining about others and blaming everyone else for their personal lack of success. They usually attempt to recruit more Whiners from the workplace, creat- ing dissatisfaction among the Workers. One of their great pleasures in life is to contemplate and spread other’s troubles (hence they tend to be big gossipers), as it provides a welcome distraction from their obsession with their own perceived problems.

The Weasel: Weasels are always negative, personally and professionally. They operate from a profound sense of insecurity that clouds their existence and drives them to destroy, for the strangely misguided sense of fulfillment it provides them. They have no regard for honesty, relationships, long-term credibility, or friendships. Weasels tend to be strong in personality, which can make them diffi- cult to identify at the onset. They may initially appear to be a Warrior or Worker. But the core trait of a Weasel is to instill confusion and distrust within his or her structure. Trace back a nasty rumor mill, and usually there was a Weasel involved in its initial development. Weasels delight in stirring up trouble between factions, fueling it with distrust, rumors, and outright lies. They will claim to be everyone’s friend, while not honoring any friendship. Every motivation they possess is designed to fill their in- ternal void, and true friendship is almost impossible for them to attain. Due to their aggressive personalities and relentless methods, they can often become successful and achieve positions of power.

Read the complete descriptions here. Interesting stuff. Jung would be proud. I don’t know if the book will be any good, but it should at least be entertaining.

Also be sure to check out its tongue-in-cheekish companion site: exposeyourweasel.com, which cleverly lets you submit your own weasel and maybe win a 30 gig iPod for your trouble.

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I had a fascinating conversation with a friend a few days ago who is on the verge of quitting his job. He’s always loved working where he is now, is friends with all of his colleagues, likes his boss, loves what he does… but the magic seems to be gone.

I was kind of curious about what happened to so radically change his point of view. Was it the customers? Nope. Was he being treated differently by his boss? No again. Had anything changed in the last six months? Niet.

So what was the problem?

His answer: “I’m just not happy there anymore.”

Interestingly, he isn’t the only one. Several of his coworkers have also seemed to me like they were just going through the motions in the past few weeks. They smile, but they aren’t excited about their jobs like they used to be. I know it isn’t burnout, but it sure looks like burnout. Something definitely isn’t right.

I guess it wouldn’t be a huge problem in and of itself, but I am beginning to hear from customers of this business that the magic is starting to fade for them too. Shopping there isn’t as fun as it used to be. They’ve started to shop around again. The business is doing great, but is starting to lose its edge. Its cool. Its uniqueness.

Before I go on with my story, check out this bit from a piece I wrote a few months ago that addresses this very issue. It was inspired by something Brains On Fire’s Spike Jones posted way back when. It’s this: “Happy employees make happy customers.”

Likewise, unhappy employees make unhappy customers.

There are ways to make your employees happy. Perhaps more importantly, there are ways to make your employees feel proud. And no, rewarding them isn’t something you can fake or buy off with plaques and pins and little bonuses. It’s something that has to feel real.

If you want to inspire your customers, you first have to inspire your employees. If you want to do that, you have to make them feel like they truly are a part of your company and not just worthless pawns.

You have to make them feel like they are on a mission.

You have to make them feel good about the work they do for you.

Does that sound complicated? It really isn’t. It’s actually the simplest thing in the world. Starbucks is doing it. So is Apple. So is Loreal. So is Nike. So is Coca Cola.

Treat people with respect. Give them something worthwhile to do. Inspire them to be knights in your kingdom… or at least happy to be there for as long as they want to stay. That’s it. That’s all you really need to do to get things rolling in the right direction.

So… back to my story. Back to my friend and his career woes. Back to what’s fishy in Denmark. Back to the fact that unhappy employees may not make unhappy customers, but… they sure don’t make happy ones either. Back to what my friend told me next:

“I feel like we’ve all become commodities. We aren’t very high on (the boss’) priority list these days.” And then he went on to tell me what he meant.

Pow. There it was.

Broken windows also happen in your relationship with employees. The people who work for you are your brand at least as much as your products. They are your designers, your evangelists, your human touchpoints, your knights, your fans, your friends, your problem solvers, your band of brothers (and sisters). You can’t take them for granted. Perhaps more importantly, you can’t make them feel like you are. Ever. Not for one minute.

Pay them what they’re worth. Protect them. Empower them. Put your trust and faith in them. Don’t ever think for one second that they can be easily replaced.

Treat your employees like they’re your best customers.

That’s advice you can take to the bank.

:)

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Memorial Day

yours truly, in a previous career – circa 1993.

Though I was born in 1971, I grew up in the shadow of WWII. My grandfather was a Cavalry Officer in both WWI and WWII. A hefty chunk of my family was killed by the Nazis. I grew up in France, surrounded by memorials, military cemetaries and the pockmarked landscapes of Normandie, Ypres and the Ardennes. Think old bunkers, craters and fields of white crosses. My mother, who was 11 when Allied troops finally landed and remembers the war all too well, still – to this day – keeps an emergency supply of sugar and butter… just in case, I don’t know, the Germans decide to give it another go.

I grew up with the paratroopers’ prayer framed over my bed, and the annual ritual of having my father let me hold my grandfather’s medals. (The Legion d’Honeur and the Croix de Guerre.) I grew up with countless stories of sacrifice and courage and bravery. I grew up with a profound love for all things American, simply because long ago, decades before I was born, thousands of them crossed the Atlantic to come save us… and died on our beaches and in our fields.

What does this have to do with branding? Very little… but it’s Memorial Day… and I didn’t want to just let it go by.

Cheers.

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Michael Wagner has another great post on his Own Your Brand blog today in which he uses Blu Dot (yes, the furniture company) to illustrate the first five steps you should consider taking if your goal is to create (and more importantly own) your own brand.

First: Stop dreaming and do. Co-founders Maurice Blanks, John Christakos and Charlie Lazor all quit paying jobs to start Blu Dot. Christakos, a Bain & Co. consultant, was the first to leave. He then waited for his two college buddies to say “adios” to their architecture firms. Brand ownership embraces uncertainty.

Second: Stop complaining and create. All three knew they were sick of “compartmentalizing their creativity while toiling at their day jobs”. Either bring your creativity to work every day and let the chips fall where they may or make your own place where you decide on how things are done. Brand ownership is about YOUR creative difference.

Third: Stop wishing for a solution and be the solution. Blu Dot is the solution for those who live in the land between budget-conscious IKEA and label-conscious Philippe Starck. Blu Dot supplies relevance on at least three levels: great design, great price, great simplicity. Brand ownership is relevance defined by the people you sell to.

Fourth: Stop hoping for more money and find your version of resourcefulness. These college buddies paid their logo designer with plans for a tree house and their web designer with tables. Christakos likes to say, “Furniture’s our favorite form of currency.” Brand ownership is about resourcefulness in an age of limited resources.

Fifth: Stop thinking you’re “all that” and be who you are gifted to be. Blu Dot founders learned to submit to each others gifts and abilities. Christokos is the business guru. Blanks, the operations/administration guy, and Lazor remains the designer. Brand ownership is seldom about the lone genius and more often about co-workers humbly finding their place on the team.


Nice.

Read the entire thing here. (And Michael, welcome to my blogroll. It was way overdue.) :)

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At 99 degrees Centigrade, water is hot.

At 100 degrees Centigrade, water starts boiling and turns to steam.

Steam can power locomotives, factories and ships. Hot water can’t.

The difference between just being hot and being capable of moving a twenty ton hunk of metal is just 1%. That’s it. 1%.

The difference between winning a race, coming up with a better design or a stronger concept is in that 1%.

Plan 1% better. Prepare 1% harder. Work 1% longer. Think 1% further. Proofread 1% slower. Research 1% deeper.

Forget about the ridiculous notion of “giving 110%.” Forget about giving it an extra 20%. Or even 10%. Those numbers mean nothing. Even if they did, they would be unrealistic.

Focus on the 1%.

Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already hitting that 99% pretty much every day. If not, you come pretty damn close. (It’s okay, you can admit it.) The point is that you’re already doing 99% of what you need to do to be kind of successful. What’s 1% more?

1%. That’s where the magic happens. It’s the tipping point of design and ideas and insight. The difference between pretty good and great. The sliver that stands between running a 6:00-mile and a 5:57-minute mile. It’s what separates the top percentile from… well, everything else.

I’ts just 1%, folks. That’s all it is.

Choose to be great today.

Thanks to my good friend Frank Roth who used this analogy yesterday to explain to me how he went from being a decent age-group triathlete to being a top finisher in almost every race he enters… in just one season.

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Heads-up: Two very important conferences are coming up next month (that’s June… if you’ve been so busy that you don’t remember what month this is).

The first is Corante’s Innovative Marketing Conference (June 8-9) in New York (at Columbia Business School). Scroll down for details, or just hang out for a sec while I tell you what the second conference is.

The second is WOMMA’s WOMBAT #2 in San Francisco (June 20-21).

Due to scheduling issues and circumstances beyond my control, it still looks like I will be unable to attend Corante’s IMC (ugh…), but I will at least be able to make WOMBAT this time around. (One out of two is better than none, I guess.)

Update – I’m still working on trying to free myself for Corante’s IMC, so there’s still hope.

Transparency notes:
Conference #1 – I am Corante’s Marketing Hub editor.
Conference #2 – WOMMA graciously invited me to be one of four bloggers who will cover WOMBAT #2, and I have accepted.

Here are the details (from Corante’s site):

Corante’s Innovative Marketing Conference:

The theme of the conference: innovation. Companies today are facing increasing pain points as marketing struggles to keep up with innovations in the marketplace. Media proliferation, product choice, consumer networks, “the TiVO effect” — all are posing immense challenges to the old ways of building brands.

At the same time, radical innovations in the practice of marketing are turning the field on its head. Search marketing, viral marketing, customer experience, word of mouth, mobile communications, customer involvement – each has shown promise for building incredible value. But can these cutting-edge new tactics really work for any brand? And should we really throw out the ad agencies—when the best campaigns are still generating incredible buzz, brand awareness, and bottom-line growth?

The 2006 Innovative Marketing Conference will tackle head-on the question of the future of marketing — drawing on the best practices from the past, and the real promise of the future. The conference will comprise a CMO Summit, and a larger Marketers Forum. Both days will assess the painful challenges and exciting new possibilities facing marketing today. Participants will gain practical tools, real world case studies, and the chance to network and share best practices with peers in a non-competitive environment.

How can we build the foundation for a new marketing that will deliver value in a new marketplace? We hope you will join the conversation.

Join Corante and Columbia for this intense 1-2 day conference and workshop (see below) that is designed to offer implementable insights and actionable learnings for companies and individuals looking to get a grasp of the forces that are remaking the marketing industry. We are convening many of the field’s leading thinkers and doers for a series of lively panels, interviews, talks, and informal events that will help marketers understand where things are headed and how to get there.

Day One: The CMO Summit

The first day of the conference will be open to a limited number of CMO’s and VP’s of Marketing from a range of industries. A select group of non-competitive peers will focus on the most critical issues facing marketing leaders today and the best practices for innovative marketing. Participants will share their challenges, lessons learned, and most effective strategies, with colleagues in other industries who face similar issues. (Again, space is very limited for this exclusive event: we urge you to sign up for this event quickly. Please proceed to this page to apply and register – you’ll hear back from us promptly.)

Day Two: The Marketers Forum

The second day of the conference will provide a large forum for marketing practitioners from a wide range of industries. Cutting edge thinkers and business leaders will present new models for innovative marketing and lessons from companies that are leading the way towards a new marketing foundation. Key learnings and case studies that emerged from the CMO Summit the day before will be incorporated in the Forum’s speeches and panels.

Among the companies and organizations that have attended the conferences:

* McCann-Erickson, Weber Shandwick, Interbrand, Avon, Estée Lauder, Adidas, American Express, Citigroup, Absolut Vodka, Coca-Cola, Unilever, HP, eBay, Microsoft, IBM, BMW, McKinsey & Company, AOL, BusinessWeek, The Economist, The New York Times, UNICEF, Bell Atlantic

Find out more.


WOMMA’s WOMBAT #2
(from WOMMA’s site):

Smart marketers have always known that word of mouth marketing is the secret weapon of the greatest companies. Satisfied customers telling their friends are your most powerful advocates.

Word of Mouth Basic Training 2 is the forum to share what we’ve learned and how to do it better.

What you’ll learn:

* Learn from real case studies and how-to lessons.
* Meet the world’s leading word of mouth experts.
* Master the core skills to succeed with word of mouth.
* Discover how to implement word of mouth at your company.
* Network like crazy at the biggest word of mouth conference ever.
* Understand critical issues around ethics and honesty.
* Measure and track the ROI of word of mouth.
* Enjoy an official WOMMA event, the association that brings together the amazing people who are building this fantastic industry.

Who’s going to be there:

The best minds in the business, all connecting and participating. WOM marketing experts from major brand marketers. Viral marketing masters. Bloggers. Grassroots organizers. Researchers, tacticians, professors, and pioneers. And lots of smart people who have developed unique ways to reach out and understand their customers.
A focused agenda featuring diverse speakers

We’ve created a focused agenda with an unusual diversity of speakers and panelists. You’ll meet the experts who have mastered word of mouth and get a chance to ask questions up close and personal. No aloof speakers who walk out the door when they’re done — just the right people getting together to learn and share.
You need to know this!

Word of mouth marketing is rapidly becoming a core part of the marketing mix. It’s amazingly powerful – and it’s easy to make mistakes. If you are actively using word of mouth marketing, you’ll learn the strategies and tactics to make your campaigns more effective. If you’re just starting out, you’ll learn what you need to know to be successful in this exciting new industry.

Right. So there you go. Mark your calendars, book your flights and hotels, and attend what I think will be by far two of the best conferences you’ll attend all year. (I wouldn’t recommend them if I didn’t think they were worth your hard-earned cash.)

In the immortal words of Rusty Longshanks, “These things are going to rock!”

I couldn’t agree with him more. ;D

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Note: I just wrote this piece as an editorial for Corante, but since it applies to this blog, I decided to post it here as well. Enjoy:

Hail the one-percenters. The rabid fans. The most hardcore users. Apple has them. Harley Davidson has them. Porsche. VW. BMW. Ford. Corvette. Marlboro. Cartier watches. Yves St. Laurent. Weston shoes. Pinarello bikes. Speedo (no, really). Rudy Project. Calvin Klein. Tommy Hilfiger. The New York Times. Fox News. Canon. Nikon. Michelin tires. John Deere. Hincapie Sportswear. Mavic wheels. The New York Yankees. The Atlanta Braves. Turin’s Juventus.

If your company has rabid fans, you’re already on the right track. If you learn how to listen to them, you’ll stay on the right track for years – and decades – to come.

Via Johnnie Moore, Ben McConnell (co-author of the well-read Church Of The Customer blog points us to a great piece on the importance of the “One Percenters”:

“It would appear that small groups of people often turn out to be the principal value creators of a democratized community. Over time, their work fuels widespread interaction that engages the non-participating community and attracts new ones. If continually nurtured, the community can become a self-sustaining generator of content and value.” – Ben McConnell.

That being said, here’s what’s really going on in most organizations:

“It’s easy for organisations to stigmatise the one-percenters. Marketing types often sneer at fanatical customers for their lunacy in being more passionate about the organisations’ product or service than the professionals are. Focus groups exercises tend to average out the views of a wide customer base rather than looking at the core enthusiasts. New business drives focus on acquisition of the new rather than enthusing with the existing customers.

“Seems to me that this is a mindset worth reviewing.” – Johnnie Moore.

Yep.

To illustrate his point, Johnnie points us to the case of how Harley Davidson (arguably one of the most widely recognized and iconic brands in the world) turned its fortunes around by embracing – rather than marhinalizing – its one percenters:

“On our trip to New York we met Richard Wise, Chief Strategic Officer at Agency 16, modern marketeer and a very saucy fellow to boot. He has paid close attention to that great US company Harley Davidson and the history of its brand. He explained that at one point the bikers that are so closely associated to the epic motorcycles were quite reviled by the company’s management. So much so that they were referred to as the one-percenters – as in the one percent who spoil it for everyone else. HD’s mindset was that it was best placed to decide what its customers wanted. The management were shocked when…

“…tattooed-hooligans started taking their beloved bikes apart – or chopping them – to meet their own warped ‘hog’ desires. It was only when the company’s worth hit rock-bottom and a younger member of the HD clan took control of the business that that view changed. The company embraced the one percenters and reframed their destructive tendencies as a guide to what their most hardcore and loyal customers wanted. As a result, the company’s fortunes were reversed and its value soared. This struck me as a great example of open source marketing and the value of a co-creative approach. Hells Angels as lead-users – what a great notion.” – from the Modern Marketing Blog‘s January 16, 2006 “Why Hells Angels Know Best”, by James Cherkoff.

Not to put any limits on the concept of co-creation, but perhaps a good place to start for most companies is to focus on the one-percenters first… and then, after a while, graduate to full-on co-creation. By focusing on customers and users who already understand your product as well as (and in some cases better than) you do, you can keep customer-generated input manageable and focused. You can learn how to integrate co-creation into your product development process without drowning in “noise”.

Perhaps more importantly, by learning to listen to the one-percenters first, it’s pretty unlikely that you will be tempted to gravitate towards the seemingly safe, boring, soft, generic middle. This is a topic often covered by one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy Sierra, who routinely reminds us to stay away from the boring “middle” in favor of the edgy… well, “edges” of design. The worst thing a company can do when it comes to building a powerful brand is to try to be all things to all people. It just doesn’t work that way. Looking for the fat middle is a sure-fire way of becoming instantaneously “generic.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with being generic, but when the object of the maneuver is to create a strong – or I’ll say it again – “iconic” brand (is there any other kind?), being “generic” is the complete opposite of what you are shooting for.

Per Johnnie:

“To some marketers, the polar opposite of the 1% Rule — the Law of Big Numbers– might doom any decision to dedicate resources toward a democratized community. Should it? Not necessarily, although any community organizer should be prepared to accept the reality of slow, incremental growth, not a big, Hollywood-style opening.” – Ben McConnell.

The fear in many executives’ minds is this: We know the 80/20 rule works. Will listening to the one-percenters really pay off? Will the other 99% of our customers adopt changes made by our 1% of insanely loyal and passionate users?

If your business is based on producing generic products or on simply providing a quality-light substitute for other products at a lower pricepoint, no. If, however, your goal is to differentiate yourself from would-be competitors, to develop a strong brand, to lead your company into a market leadership position or to help it become as iconic as Apple, Harley Davidson, Nike and Canon, yes.

Remember we’re talking about listening, here. What you choose to do with what you see and hear is entirely your business. You don’t have to act on every suggestion. But when it comes to focusing your attention on a particular segment of your customer base, you could do far worse than starting with the one-percenters. It seems counter-intuitive and yes, it’s a bit of a leap of faith when you’ve been told for decades to follow the big numbers, but these are the people who hold the key to your brand. Listen to them. Learn what makes them tick. Let them help you stay relevant. It worked for Harley Davidson. It worked for Apple. There is no reason why it won’t work for you.

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I had the great pleasure of being the latest participant in Eric Mattson’s 1000 podcasts project this morning, and the conversation that we started really got me excited about a number of topics… one of which being customer service.

Eric and I continued our chat once the podcast was over and his observations about customer service being one of a company’s most potent items in their branding toolbox really struck a chord with me. He is absolutely right, and this is something that… for whatever reason, is still the most undervalued point of contact between companies and their customers.

That needs to change.

Yesterday, I flashbacked to “Customer Complaints Are Great“, which explores the topic in pretty good detail. If you haven’t read it, check it out. It’s relatively short and to the point. If you don’t have time, here is the main point:

When customers call you with a problem, don’t fight or argue. Smile, listen to them, and fix it.

First, it’s good business. Second, it’ll impress the heck out of them. Third, because very few companies out there actually do this, you will stand out as being a GREAT company.

Here’s the thing: Problems happen. Cars break down. Computers crash. Coffeemakers go on strike. Washer-dryers eventually start making squeeky sounds. That’s why you need customer service departments. People are going to call you when they need help solving a problem. They might be dealing with a lemon. Maybe their three-year-old poured a cup of juice on their new supersuede couch and they need to know how to get the stains out. Maybe they can’t make sense of a new piece of software that never works right. Maybe you shipped them the wrong part. Maybe you didn’t ship it at all.

If your company’s attitude is that… well… you want to politely tell them that you can’t (or won’t) help them with their problems, please save yourself the money and invest in an automated answering system. Yeah. A recording. So when your customers call your toll-free number, they’ll all hear the same message:

“We’re sorry you’re experiencing problems with our products, but these things happen, and you just happened to be one of our few unlucky customers whose experience with us was less than stellar. We’ll try to do better next time. We hope that the next product you purchase from us will work better for ya. Thanks, and have a great day.

“Oh, and if you feel like wasting your time, please feel free to call our complaints hotline, where your call will be parked for at least twenty minutes and a customer service representative who has absolutely nothing to do with this company will do everything he or she can to discourage you from pursuing this matter any further.

“If you would like to yell at an imaginary person right now, please press 1 or stay on the line.”

Seriously. If all you’re going to do is argue with them or make it difficult for them to have their problem solved, save yourself the trouble and the expense. Go with a recording. Or outsource your customer service department. And hey, if the customer service reps don’t speak the same language as your customers, it doesn’t really matter. (They’ll probably hang up sooner and save you some money in the process.)

Good strategy.

If, on the other hand, you want to help your customers, if you realize that helping a frustrated customer can turn them into an evangelist for your brand, then read on.

Because here’s the deal: If your brand promises a great product and great service, you’re not going to wow customers by delivering on your promise. They’re going to be happy with you, they are going to continue to buy from you, but they won’t necessarily sing your praises. I love my VW Passat and I have been very happy with the product, the service and the relationship I’ve had with VW… but I haven’t recommended VW to any of my friends.

HOWEVER, when I had a problem with my laptop several months ago and the customer service person I dealt with took care of it in minutes, with a smile, with genuine empathy, I told everyone about it. It didn’t matter that the product failed. What mattered is that the company made my problem go away.

They turned my frown upside down. Literally.

Here’s how they did it:

1) The guy who took my call was very professional but kind of informal. The fact that he sounded relaxed and knowledgeable on the phone inspired confidence. I knew right away that I was in good hands.

2) He told me I was in good hands. “Okay, Mr. Blanchard. You’re in good hands. We’re going to take care of this for you right away.” As simple as it is, that’s a powerful statement. It set the stage right from the start. It instantly put me at ease.

3) He never said “no.”

4) He never put me on hold.

5) He never transfered me to someone else.

6) While he was working on resolving the problem, he asked me how I liked the product before it failed, what I used it for, if I had ever tried this and that feature, and even gave me some cool little tips. (So… a) he entertained me with cool information while I was on the line, and b) he made our dialogue about the product more personal. The conversation reinforced the fact that the product is an integral part of my lifestyle, and that the brand as a whole is a part of it as well.

7) He made me feel like he was there to help me rather than… defend his company or act as a firewall for complaints. It was almost as if he were working for me.

8) He resolved the problem quickly. I mean… minutes. It was completely painless. I almost didn’t need to stay on the line.

9) He gave me his name and extension number in case I had any more problems, and invited me to call anytime I had questions or if I ever ran into any more trouble.

10) Once the problem was resolved, he actually sounded happy.

It was an awesome experience.

When it comes to setting your company and brand apart from the crowd, the easiest and cheapest thing you can do is revamp your customer service department.

Step 1: Make the decision to make Customer Service a priority.

Step 2: Make your Customer Service department an independent body within your company. If you can’t, put it under the tutelage of the Marketing department instead of the Sales department.

Step 3: Put someone fresh in charge of Customer Service, and empower him/her to run that department independently from other elements of the company.

Step 4: Allow that someone to hire only positive, friendly, energetic people.

Step 5: Focus on making the Customer Service department a happy place. Use whatever means are at your disposal: Add plants and flowers to the decor. Add fish tanks. Add windows or more natural looking light. Buy better coffee. Buy a better coffee machine. Invest in fun, comfortable furniture. Make the space open and welcoming. Create neutral zones where customer service reps can go relax for ten minutes after X amount of calls. In essence, create an environment that makes people happy to be there.

Step 6: Train your people well. Product knowledge is crucial, but they also need to understand what their role really is. Define it for them. Take the weight of every complaint that comes their way completely off their backs. Make it absolutely clear that they are not there to defend the company against complaints. They are not there to be a firewall. They are there to make people happy. They are there to help people with their problems. It’s a positive thing. It’s an empowering thing.

Step 7: Allow them to decompress anytime they need to. Some customers aren’t going to be happy, no matter what you do. Some customers are going to be cold, rude or abusive. Most days, your people will be able to let it roll off their shoulders. Some days, it will get to them. On those days, make it easy for them to decompress. Give them the space they need to cry it out, punch a bag, shoot some hoops for ten minutes, or just let it out by talking about it.

Step 8: Schedule regular fieldtrips to retail outlets. (Select one or two Customer Service reps each week, and let them spend half a day at one of your retail locations.) Give the phones a break and let them interact with customers face to face.

Step 9: Provide training. Lots of training. Product training, communications training, conflict resolution training, etc. Schedule workshops on psychology and behavioral dynamics.

Step 10: Take good care of your people. Pay them well. Give them great benefits. Provide them with growth opportunities. Be as good to them as you expect them to be with your customers. (There’s a direct correlation: If you make them feel like commodities, they will eventually treat your customers like commodities as well.)

This is a human touchpoint. One of the few customer-to-brand interactions you get to actually work with. One of the few person-to-person experiences you get to share with customers. You absolutely can’t blow it.

This is not a place for any company to try and save money.

This is not the kind of thing you want to automate.

This is not where you want to cut corners.

This is where you want to put the friendliest, most well-trained, most helpful people you can get your hands on.

This is where you want to make sure that your customers are so well taken care of that they’ll tell their friends about it. That they’ll blog about it. That they’ll sing your praises for months to come. That they’ll proudly wear T-shirts and hats with your logo on it.

You can build the world’s best Customer Service department inside of six months and at the fraction of the cost of developing new products or launching a full scale Marketing campaign.

Think about it. Why more companies aren’t doing this is completely beyond me.

The good news is that since so few companies have figured this out yet, you can get the jump on them.

First things first… If you think that your Customer Service department is as good as it needs to be, call them up with a problem, and without telling them who you really are, go through the experience of trying to get that problem resolved. If your experience is wonderful, you’re very lucky. If not, well… I guess you have a new project on your hands.

(Don’t worry, it’ll be fun. I promise.)

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I love dropping by Francois Gossieaux’s “Emergence Marketing” blog because it is full of gems like this:

“Brands should put their customer service at the center of their brand universe. Customer service is where people give you real feedback about their brand “experiences,” and most often when things start going negative, as was the case when Jeff Jarvis started documenting his negative experiences with Dell on his blog – it starts off in the customer service department. In fact, Pete said, “the value of the customer service department may be 10 times as valuable as bean counters account for…”

(from a conversation with Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen Buzzmetrics)

No kidding.

And aside from the feedback aspect of having an adequately leveraged customer service department, think about its value in terms of turning angry or frustrated customers into your biggest fans?

What in the world am I talking about?

Read this. Hopefully, it will give you a whole new perspective on the true value of a focused, independent, marketing-oriented in-house customer service department. Everything you need to know about how to turn your customer service department into a team of marketing superheroes is right there.

Well… okay, maybe not all of it, but it’ll at least give you a pretty good idea.

Starting to get why outsourcing customer service is a lousy idea? I hope so.

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I found this on John Winsor’s blog today:

I have a personal theory about surfing. It takes riding a thousand waves to
become a surfer. It doesn’t matter if you catch 20 waves a day for 50 days or
one wave a day for a thousand days; you just can’t get around the experience of
learning the hard way.

Just as in surfing, there is no substitution for one thousand waves, or
in this case, a thousand personal interactions with your customer. I know it
seems like an overwhelming number, but there is just no way around it. Mastering
the seven steps above takes lots of practice. And practice will give you the
chance to develop your own style of engaging in a bottom-up strategy with your
customers and the marketplace, giving you the opportunity to drive real
innovation.

Well, after a thousand waves I learned last week that there’s
still a lot to learn. Surfing in a place called Ticla, a big south came in last
week producing 15-20 foot waves, much bigger than I’ve ever been in. Surfing
these big waves was a fresh experience. To be in the ocean with such power was
inspiring and made me use all of the surfing tools I’ve learned. It forced me to
take off much deeper on these big waves, commiting to a much bigger ride. This
experience got me a lot more excited about surfing.

Just like engaging with your customers, once you’ve had a thousand
personal interactions with your customers things can start to feel stale. Up the
ante. Try new ways of engaging them in a dialogue. Get them more involved in
creating your marketing and product development.

As Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, told me when I was writing Spark:

Shake it up, amplify the focus, energize the sense of urgency, get on a
mission, get each other excited, and create momentum.

Try taking off deeper.

Damn good advice.

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Own Your Brand


Mike (not John) Warner has one of the coolest Marketing & Branding blogs around.

Why?

First, because he tells great stories.

Second, because he knows how to tell them.

(And third, because his banner changes every time you access his blog.)

Check it out. You’ll definitely want to add it to your blogroll.

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An oasis of clue


Chris Carfi (who spent the day at the Business Marketing Association Conference in San Jose) shared some pretty cool insights from a presentation given byJustin Crotty, Ingram Micro VP of Channel Marketing. Here’s some of what he had to say:

“At first, Ingram was going to do an ad campaign around “partnering” with their customers. They pulled some prospective ads together.

The ads were abysmal. Stock shots of the attractive business people of all genders and races, smiling cheerfully at the camera. Ingram knew their customers would (rightfully) call B.S. on them. So, the drawing board was revisited.

In other words, it’s not that the strategy is aimed at the customers…the customers ::are:: the strategy

Crotty brought up a number of very salient points. In particular, he shared another insight that was spot-on, especially in a commodity business. “If you can get customers to help you develop your go-to-market strategy, the you don’t need to sell to them anymore.” Think about that for a second.”

I love it. It’s so nice to start hearing more and more stories like this, you have no idea.

Check out more on the subject here. (Just skip past the part you just read.)

Bonus Style Points: “Oasis of Clue” is just going to have to be my newest favorite phrase. Thanks, Chris.

:)

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rusty – photo copyright 2006 by olivier blanchard

Straight from the mouth of my good friend Rusty Hutchison:

“Word of Mouth means a whole lot more to me than advertising. If the product is really good, people will talk about it. It’ll get around. I trust my friends before I’ll trust an ad agency. Ads can be cool, but they don’t necessarily tell me what I really need to know.”

That little comment this afternoon prompted me to dig this up from the archives. It’s as relevant today as it was when I wrote it last year:

When you think about the nature of advertising, it’s interesting to note that very few people actually seek it out. With the exception of… well, me (and a few others, I hope) most people don’t flip through their TV channels to skip regular programming in favor of the latest advertisments. Likewise, most people don’t pick up magazines specifically to browse through advertising content either. Most people only are only “accidentally” exposed to advertisers’messsages… several hundred times per day.

Okay, sure, we make exceptions during the superbowl. The ads are as much a part of the experience now as what happens on the field, and that’s nice, but it’s the exception that confirms the rule. At least for adults. With kids, it’s a different story. Mine are captivated by toy ads on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. My kids know how to change the channel, but they don’t during “commercial breaks”. And that’s a point that I’ll come back to in a bit.

My point here is that we typically don’t seek out advertising. We don’t go to it. It comes to us. In the industry, we use the word “exposure”. Well, let me tell you about exposure: I don’t usually hear people say that they have been exposed to love or excitement or enthusiasm. When people use the word “exposure” it is usually in the same sentence as things like “virus” or “bad language” or “TV violence”.

Unless you’re a photographer, “exposure” is typically not a positive word. Yet we use it, because it describes the relationship between advertisers and the public fairly well. That tells you a lot about the nature of this business, or at least our perception of it.

As I’ve said before, advertising seeks you out. It comes to you. More and more magazines now offer more advertising content than… actual content. (Advertising is content now.) Every ten minutes or so, whatever show you’re watching on TV takes a break so that advertisers can get get some more face time with you. On your commute to and from work, you’re “exposed” to billboard ads. The ads come in on the radio, at the multiplex, at the amusement park, at the store and just about every time you access a website. It follows you everywhere, hence the advent of ad-killing technologies like TiVO, pop-up blockers and satellite radio.

You know how annoying those telemarketers are? You know, the ones who call you every five minutes while you’re trying to eat dinner? That’s the path that the advertising world is on with its blatant oversaturation. Instead of boring us to death, inspire us. Make us sit up and pay attention. Shorten your campaigns. Be aware that most of you aren’t as cool as you think you are. Don’t make yourselves a nuisance. Read the warning signs, guys. Your game plan needs to change.

A question you have to ask yourself is this: Assuming that advertising actually affects purchasing habits, can it be argued that more advertising and more repetition will actually translate into more market penetration and more sales? Well, it depends on whether or not you a) have a great product, b) have a captive audience, and c) have the right kind of ad to begin with.

Researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle University, and Washington State University recently examined consumers’ responses to advertising. They took into considerations a variety of elements like brand beliefs, responses to informational and emotional appeals, efforts to avoid advertising, attention to ads and reliance on ads versus other information sources. The test group was shown eight TV commercials, half of which were defined as emotional and the other half as informational.

For the sake of clarity Nancy Gardner (who publishded an introductory report on the study’s findings) explains that:

“Emotional ads are characterized as providing an emotional experience that is relevant to the use of the brand.

Informational ads predominantly provide clear brand data.”

The basic results:

Consumers who considered themselves highly skeptical of all ads were persuaded less by informational ads than they were by emotional ads.

In contrast, non-skeptics were more responsive to informational advertising.

Co-Author and professor of Marketing and International Business at the UW Business School explains that “Skepticism leads to less attention to and reliance on advertising, and generally a decreased chance that the consumer will purchase the advertised product.”

(Aha!)

He continues: “Highly skeptical consumers have likely become skeptical over time, in response to numerous interactions in the marketplace that have led them to distrust ad claims.”

The study further concludes that “skeptical consumers like advertising less, rely on it less, and respond more positively to emotional appeals.”

Per Carl Obermiller, professor of Marketing at Seattle University and co-author of the study: “Those who are more skeptical respond to advertising in negative ways – they like it less; they think it is less influential and, they do more to avoid it–zipping past ads on recorded programs and switching channels during commercials.”

Furthermore, “Skeptical consumers also are inclined to need to validate the truth of ads by consulting with friends and family members.”

MacLaughlan elaborates:

“The advertising skeptic regards advertising as not credible, and therefore, not worth processing. (His) perspective differs from the consumer cynic. A cynical consumer is critical of advertising because of its manipulative intent and indirect appeals. Such consumers may prefer simple, direct, informative advertising. Skeptics, however, do not.”

In other words, skeptics can’t be sold on a product or brand through the use of informational appeals.

So… it doesn’t really matter how many times you play the same ad over and over again. If your ad isn’t helping your intended audience to connect with your brand, you are wasting your time… and ours.

Once again, quality (or rather specificity) trumps out quantity.

Unfortunately, the report did not touch on what percentage of the US population might fall under the “skeptical consumer,” “non-skeptical consumer” and “cynical consumer categories.

Speaking of quantity and oversaturation, do you know what the average TV ad campaign’s life cycle is? 5 weeks. It should be more like 2-3. By week 5, it’s probably safe to say that we’re more than ready to move on.

But don’t take my word for it: Somebody is actually working on a study to validate the arguent. The ongoing test, called Project Wanamaker (in Omaha, Nebraska) has already shown some interesting results. Per Lee Weinblatt, CEO of The PreTesting Company:

“After two weeks of watching commercials, viewers generally become fatigued.”

And there you have it, folks.

“The things killing TV commercials are overexposure and poor creative,” adds Weinblat. “Give them more interesting commercials.” Wayne Friedman, the author of the piece, notes that one advertiser–Subway–kept changing its creative during the test, and experienced less weariness among viewers.

Right. (Note to self: If you aren’t going to be effective, at least be entertaining.)

A sad, sad word of caution, however: Erotic and violent images may cloud viewers’ ability to focus on the actual object of the ad.

“We observed that people fail to detect visual images that appeared one-fifth of a second after emotional images, whereas they can detect those images with little problem after viewing neutral images,” says Vanderbilt University psychologist David Zald.

The effect is known as attentional rubbernecking.

“We think that there is essentially a bottleneck for information processing and if a certain type of stimulus captures attention, it can basically jam up that bottleneck so subsequent information can’t get through,” says Zald.

In other words, although a provocative or visually loud ad is likely to grab your attention, it also hinders your ability to focus on the brand or product it promotes.

The findings, however, do not seem to take into account the effect of such an ad over time. Through repetition, it is likely that we might become desensitized to the distracting elements of the ad and naturally begin focusing more and more on its actual message. Since the more interesting the ad is, the longer it will continue to attract our attention, no matter how distracting the ad may be, we’ll eventually get the point.

(And that is good news.)

So, look… after all of this yapping about this and that, I’m going to make it simple for ye of the advertising world:

1) Know what you want to say.
2) Know whom you want to say it to.
3) Ask yourself why you want to say it. (No, really. That one’s more important than you think.)
4) Once that’s done and the next question becomes “how do I want to say it,” remember to keep it simple, keep it true, and make sure it isn’t boring. (At the very least, be courteous enough to make your ads either entertaining or inspiring… or both.)

Remember the thing I mentioned about my kids not changing the channel when commercials come on? That’s all you have to do: Make ads for us grownups that won’t prompt us to change the channel. Simple, isn’t it? If you guys allow us to fall in love with your craft again, maybe you won’t need to work so hard to get our attention in the first place.

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Uncharted Waters

image shot with a $7 Fuji disposable waterproof 35mm camera
copyright 2006 olivier blanchard

I’m a bad blogger. I really am. I let a whole week go by without posting anything, checking my stats, answering comments, etc.

Bad, bad, bad. And very unlike me. What can I say? It was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m almost nervous about my technorati ranking. A week off might have knocked me way back into the 20K+ range. (Oh the horror!) ;D

Don’t worry though, everything’s fine. First, I have been swamped beyond all comprehension for the past few weeks, mostly with F360, and then had to deal with some computer issues. (Bad combination.) The computer thing is okay now, the schedule is still insanely full but manageable, and so I should be able to start posting half-way relevant diatribes again as early as… well, today!

Speaking of today, I just turned the big 35 sometime around 9:00am Continental Time (that’s Zulu +1 for you military folks).

Wow. 35. Crazy.

FYI: I didn’t notice any new gray hairs or unusual stiffness in any of my joints this morning. No bald spots… no new wrinkles, no loss of memory (beyond the usual)… The waist is still somewhere around 31″, the height just a sliver under 6′ the weight hovers around 162lbs, the resting heart rate is a steady 49bpm, and I swim my sprint triathlon race-pace 100′s in 1:20. Yep, everything seems to be in order.

Anyway. 35. A new age. A new milestone. A whole new world of possibilities and goals and timelines: 5 years left until 40. *gulp* New clients. New demands. New points of view. New challenges. New levels of excellence. New discoveries. New notches on the proverbial bar. New unknown factors to tackle.

Awesome.

It’s so good to be here, and it’s great to be back.

PS: The photo is of my good friend and business partner Roby, who almost died of a pulmonary embolism last year. (The swimmer in front is his wife Holly.) Roby, who isn’t totally comfortable with the open water, is doing his first open-water swim triathlon Saturday. A little over a year ago, he could hardly walk without being winded. As an athlete, he had to completely re-learn how to use his body. This Saturday, he’ll be out there breaking new ground. Setting new personal records. Racing for the pure joy of being alive, of having a body that’s almost completely healed, and of having the power to move forward regardless of obstacles and fears and reasons not to.

I could do a lot worse when it comes to friends and business partners. :)

Have a great day, everyone.

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Okay, so this post isn’t so much about branding as it is about trademarking (yes, there’s a HUGE difference), but this article (by Marc Jacobs) does such a wonderful job of explaining some of the hurdles that sometimes get in the way when companies with limited experience in these types of exercises try to trademark new products or services, that I couldn’t resist posting a link to it.

(Thanks to the Strategic Name Development blog for the heads-up.)

This will get you started:

When I sat down to write this piece, I purposely chose the title, “What Not to Name Your Product,” so that you would better appreciate and understand that there are specific rules pertaining to the registration of trademarks. These rules dictate, for example, which marks are not registrable (generally) and which marks relating to specific products or services are not registrable. And my subsequent comments about trademarks will be applicable to both trademarks and service marks.

Read the whole thing here…

It’s well worth bookmarking. (If you don’t, it’s just a matter of time before you wish you had.)

;)

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For all this talk of WOM, WOMM, Marketing 2.0, consumer-generated content, co-creation, customer experience design, and everything else that we’ve been discussing here and on Corante, why don’t we take a quick break and consider that:

- Positive WOM is simply the result of your company doing things right.

(What? That’s it?)

Yep.

For just five little minutes, think of WOMonly as an indicator of how well (or poorly) your company is doing.

Seriously. Do it.

Now… share with the class… what are people saying about you?

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