Archive for December, 2005

This is kind of cool: WOMMA is trying to raise $20,000 for charity.

The way they’re doing it is they’re auctioning 20 passes to their upcoming conference on eBay, with 100% of proceeds going to charity. The conference – called Word of Mouth Basic Training – will be held in Orlando on January 19-20, 2006. It’s a 2-day event that will focus on helping everyone learn ethical word of mouth marketing practices.

Michael Rubin (WOMMA) hopes this starts a trend. In his own words: “anyone doing a marketing conference should make charity part of the process. There are so many expensive events out there, and we hope to put out the word that giving back should be part of deal. Let’s get some blogosphere pressure going that if conference producers want our support, they need to return something to the community. The only way that we’re going to raise the money is by word of mouth.”

Sounds good to me.

If you want to spread the word too, feel free to find out more about the auction (and the event) by clicking here.

Pass it on.

Today’s best reads:

Powerful Influence (Ernie Mosteller)
The High-Res User Experience (Kathy Sierra)
Trevor Gay On Simplicity (Tom Asacker)
Brand Measurement (Brand Perspectives blog)
Recognize Your Biggest Fans (Aaron Dignan)
From Thinking Different to Doing Different (John Moore)

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Promises, Promises…

Here are some comments from critics that I found on rottentomatoes.com today:

On Memoirs of A Geisha: “I was blown away by the trailer, but the movie doesn’t live up to that dramatic promise.”– Cherryl Dawson and Leigh Ann Palone, THEMOVIECHICKS.COM

On Syriana: “I’m still waiting to see the film that was advertised in its great trailer.”– Steve Rhodes, INTERNET REVIEWS

If a brand or product is directly tied to customer expectations, be very, very, very careful what you promise your customers.

Case in point: Movie trailers.

Before I get to the point, you need to know that I love movie trailers just about as much as I love other types of ads. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I will gladly sit through twenty minutes of trailers before the main feature. As a matter of fact, I make a point of getting to movies early so that I won’t miss the trailers.

Yeah, okay, I’m a geek. Sue me.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that trailers are really getting lousy these days. What’s going on? Who’s actually putting these things together? Sales interns? (Ooops. No offense.)

So Hollywood, if you’re listening, here are a few tips:

1) A trailer is a teaser. A taste. You’re trying to seduce us, not give us a synopsis… So don’t show us THE ENTIRE movie! See, when you show every single plot twist and special effect, you’re basically making us NOT want to go spend my money on something that our brains have already processed.

2) A trailer shouldn’t seem like it was put together in ten minutes by rushed middle-schoolers.

3) Make sure the end cut doesn’t look and sound like it got caught in aunt Gertrude’s toaster.

4) Every movie isn’t “one of the best movies of the year.” Every movie isn’t good enough to have “Oscar written all over it.” Give the fake critics a rest already. It’s sad.

Okay, I’m done. (And yeah, I feel much better.)

By the way, the best trailer I saw all year was for The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Flawless. The three different versions that I saw were obviously put together by someone who cared about the movie and knew how to build excitement without a) lying, and b) giving everything away.

This used to be the norm. Now, it’s the exception. Sad.

What’s perhaps worse than a poorly produced trailer are misleading trailers. Don’t promise “the funniest comedy of the year” if it isn’t. Every comedy trailer I saw in 2005 had some such of endorsement from a movie critic whose name I couldn’t read. (Microscopic print flashing on and off the screen inside of ten frames is insulting.)

Not every love story is “the most romantic movie of the year.”

Not every horror flick is “the scariest American movie of the decade.”


Likewise, don’t make a psychological thriller look like an action flick. Don’t use clips of deleted scenes in a theatrical trailer and make us think we’re going to get to see something that we really aren’t. Don’t make us think we’re going to get one thing, and then deliver another.

Breeding cynicism in your customers is not a recipe for growth.

Every year, the US spends less and less on theater tickets. Hmmm… I wonder why.

Promise : Delivery
Excitement : Disappointment.

Not good.

My wife and I went to see Syriana this week. Smart script. Great acting. Cool cinematography. Shame on me for not having done my homework, but up until the end credits started scrolling, I was absolutely convinced that I had watched a Steven Soderbergh film. (What, with the George Clooney and Matt Damon connection, the Traffic-like plot and style, and the fact that some of the trailers I saw mentioned Soderbergh’s name, my scattered brain made an assumption.) As it turns out, Soderbergh is only an executive producer on this film. (Along with Jeff Skoll, Ben Cosgrove, George Clooney, and Georgia Kacandes.) The writer and director is actually Stephen Gaghan (who was Soderbergh’s screenwriter for Traffic).

The point is that I went to see Syriana because I thought it was directed by Steven Soderbergh… And although it looked, sounded, felt and flowed like a Soderbergh movie, it wasn’t. (In hindsight, the flat narrative should have been my first clue.)

I got suckered. Shame on me, sure, but I got suckered nonetheless.

Walking out of a movie (no matter how good) and then realizing that you’ve been duped isn’t cool.

Aside from the Soderbergh thing, check out the trailer on the official site by clicking here (or on the image above). What does the trailer promise? A pulse-pounding thriller. Action. Suspense. Thrills. It’s a great trailer.

… Only… the movie isn’t exciting. Your pulse will never clock 90. There’s no suspense. It’s a great flick, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t the movie that the trailer is trying to sell you. If you go see this movie expecting it to be like the trailer, you will be sorely disappointed.


Along the same lines, how many people will go see “Quentin Tarantino presents Hostel” because they think it’s a Tarantino film? (Being executive producer doesn’t mean squat.) The director (Eli Roth) only has one other movie to his name, and it’s Cabin Fever. (Arguably the worst movie ever made. If you don’t believe me, convince someone you don’t like to rent it for you, and watch it. You’ll never get those 94 minutes back, but at least, you’ll have the satisfaction of not having wasted four bucks.)

In other words, in spite of what the campaign pushing this movie would have you believe, don’t expect “Pulp Fiction” meets “Saw II”.

You can’t sell one thing and deliver another. Contextual bait & switch is just lame.

A word of warning to everyone in the marketing world: Whether you’re advertising movies, music, cars, burgers, sportswear or prescription medication, be careful not to extend your creative license further than your customers’ expectations will stretch.

Even if you aren’t technically guilty of false advertising, even if your product ends up being great, engaging in these kinds of tactics is still slimy. The end doesn’t justify the means.

There’s a right way to do this. Tricking customers isn’t it.

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Making resolutions for a whole year seems so daunting… Which is probably why so few of us ever actually see them through.

Let’s see… Lose weight. Stop smoking. Eat better. Learn a foreign language. Take the dog to the park every day.

Yeah, right.

If there’s one thing we can probably all agree on about Western culture today, it’s this: More often than not, we tend to bite off a lot more than we can chew. (Often, literally.) We supersize everything: Houses. Cars. Shopping malls. Credit. Meals… and yes, even New Year’s Resolutions.

Maybe the lesson here is that the bigger the resolution, the less likely it is that we will actually make it happen. Likewise, the smaller the resolution, the more likely it is that we will accomplish our goal. (Losing 5 lbs by mid-February is a lot more likely a goal than say… losing 20lbs by July.)

Baby steps, grasshopper. Baby steps.

The process has to be incremental.

You have to start small.

Before you start thinking about your big goals for next year, before you start making your big resolutions, think about what you actually want to accomplish. Think about what you can realistically change once a day or once a week that will grow into something substantial by the end of the year. Don’t just go for pipe dreams. Don’t settle for what you think sounds good or grand or courageous.

Don’t fall into that trap again.

Resolutions aren’t about the finish line. They’re about taking responsibility for the changes that will get us there. They also have to find their relevance in our everyday lives.

If you’re at a loss for small resolutions when it comes to your profesional world in 2006, here are a few simple ones you will find as rewarding as they are attainable. They can even be passed on to your employees and colleagues. You don’t have to follow them, but they aren’t a bad place to start. If only one will inspire you to make lasting changes this year, then this post wasn’t in vain.

Here we go:

1. On the Frontlines: Every day, do something special for two customers. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. That’s it. Just two. It doesn’t matter what it is. Give one a 10% discount on her purchase. Give another a gift card or coupon for their next purchase. Send their sick mother a bouquet of flowers. Upgrade their room reservations. Give them free concert tickets. Whatever. The idea isn’t to win everyone over in the first month. You don’t want to burn yourself out. You also don’t want to eat into your company’s margins. You just want to make two friends each day. Surprise them. Wow them. Just because you can. Plant little seeds of love.

Not one or three or ten. Two. That’s it. Everyone else gets your best, but just not the extra V.I.P. treatment. (Pretty soon, you’ll wish you could treat ten people to it, and twenty, and fifty… and the way you look at your customers will change. The way you interract with them will change too. For the better. But one thing at a time.)

Baby steps.

2. In the Ivory Tower: Once a week, pick one customer complaint and personally respond to it. Pick up the phone. Write a letter. Do it yourself. This shouldn’t be a drag. It shouldn’t be a hassle. If you don’t care enough about your customers to do this one thing, something isn’t right. Look into the complaint. Find out what caused the failure in the first place. Find out what it would take to fix the problem. Make it happen.

One per week. That’s it.

Yep, baby steps.

3. In the Creative Suite: Keep your outlook fresh. Once a month, go watch kids play. (No, not in a creepy way.) Go spend twenty minutes at a McDonald’s or a park playground or at an interactive toy store. Watch how kids interract with objects. Watch their hands, especially. Then go home, grab a #2 pencil and sketch a shape that kids would love to hold and fiddle with. Design a new toy with no moving parts. Mold it out of clay. Take pictures of it. Recreate it in photoshop or paintshop or whatever graphics program you feel comfortable with. Play with colors and textures. Imagine tastes and smells. Design packaging for it. Create ads and brochures for, just for fun.

Yeah, just for fun.

If you can’t find any kids, design a dog toy.

Design a food bowl for cats.

Design a perch for cockatiels.

A doorknob.

A new shifter for your car.

A belt buckle.

A toothbrush.

Even if you’re a copywriter, even if you have zero skill as a graphic artist, do this. Once a month, complete a project that is yours and yours alone. Explore your own creativity. Keep the process fresh. Hone your creative skills.

4. Managers: Once a week, ask “what if?”

What if we didn’t make customers jump through hoops to return defective merchandise?

What if we designed cooler retail spaces?

What if we trained our employees better?

What if we did something that none of our competitors ever did before?

What if we rewrote the rules?

Each week, ask a question, and find the answer. If the questions are too big, then make it once a month.

Learn what works, what doesn’t, and why. Learn your company’s strengths and limitations. Learn what stands in the way of your organization’s growth. Perhaps more importantly, learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. Learn about your own limitations and how to overcome them. Finally, learn about turning management skills into true leadership.

5. Everyone: Don’t settle for average work. Ever. Don’t settle for good enough. Don’t settle for safe or comfortable. Always stretch the current limits of your talents. Always be on the lookout for new approaches. New methods. New ideas. You’ll be surprised at how much new ground you’ll break if every day, you push your own limits just a little bit. One word at a time. One concept at a time. One sketch at a time. One spreadsheet at a time. One question at a time.

Giving your customers or clients something to talk about – extraordinary service, memorable experiences, top notch products, etc. – is a decision you have to make every single day. Every single minute.

It isn’t about grand declarations of intent. It’s about the small decisions you choose to make throughout the day.

Baby steps. Baby steps.

Lastly, here’s a simple new year’s resolution for you: Just be better.

You don’t have to suddenly become a superhuman version of yourself. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize. You don’t have to cure world hunger. You don’t have to write the Great American Novel. You don’t have to lose 200 lbs. You don’t have to be the supadoopah. Just be better.

A little better.

Not six months from now. Not three weeks from now. Just a few times today… and tomorrow… and the day after. That’s it. That’s all it takes.

Baby steps, kids.

Itty bitty ones.

If those don’t work for you, that’s okay. Check out Tom Asacker’s resolutions here. They’re excellent.

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A Tale Of Two Princes

Once upon a time, in a land, far, far away, a king was faced with a tough decision: Which of his two twin sons would rule his kingdom once he passed on? He decided to test them.

The king gave each son a province to rule for ten years. After ten years, he would come to visit them both, and the one whose province had blossomed the most would inherit his kingdom.

The first son built wonderous palaces and gardens and libraries for his subjects. Before long, people from surrounding provinces started to move there. His borders grew. So did his wealth. He built more and more libraries, bigger and bigger palaces, and the most extravagant gardens the world had ever seen.

The other son didn’t build any new palaces. He didn’t build any new libraries. He didn’t build gardens. What he did instead was fix the old palaces that had been abandoned by the previous governors. He bought new books for his old libraries. He appointed the best teachers to the schools he also rebuilt, and sent his most compassionate knights to make sure that order and justice reigned from one end of his province to the other.

Ten years passed, and – as promised – the king visited his two sons.

When he arrived in his first son’s province, he was astounded by what he saw: Everywhere he looked, he saw magnificent gardens, enormous palaces with golden spires and gem-encrusted walls, and more people running about than he had ever dreamed possible. He stepped away from his caravan to ask a farmer who all of these people were, where they had come from, and what they were doing there. The farmer, not recognizing the king, walked away without answering his questions. The king, outraged by the farmer’s behavior, huffed back to his caravan and ordered it to move on.

A few hours later, he saw a young boy drinking from a well on the side of the road. He ordered his caravan to stop and sent one of his ministers to ask the boy the same questions he had asked the rude farmer earlier in the day. The boy rolled his eyes at the minister and shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “Go ask somebody else. I’m trying to get a drink.”

The caravan moved on, and later that evening, it finally reached the first son’s palace… Where it was refused entrance by the palace guards. The king stormed out of his carriage and demanded to see his son immediately. The guards refused. “We’re sorry, sir. No one is allowed inside the palace without written authorization from the High Prince.”

“But I am the King!”

“I’m sorry, sir. Our orders don’t say anything about a king. There is nothing I can do for you now. You will have to come back tomorrow, when the Prince is awake.”

Furious, the king ordered his caravan to press on through the night so that he might see the state of his second son’s province by dawn. When he arrived there, he was sad to notice that in the ten years that his second son had been in power, he hadn’t built any new palaces or gardens or libraries. As a matter of fact, the province looked exactly as the King remembered it. After an hour or so, the caravan passed some farmers tending to their fields, and they waved from a distance. Though his eyesight had grown dim in his later years, he could see the smiles on their faces, even in the distance.

By mid-morning, the caravan reached a small town. The king was about to order his caravan to stop so that the horses could be watered and fed, when he heard cheers up ahead. Curious to find out what was going on, he stuck his head out of his carriage and noticed a crowd of people up ahead. He hopped out of his carriage and was met by a dozen grinning children. “Welcome,” they screamed. “Welcome to the King!”

The king was so touched by the way he was treated by the villagers of his second son’s province that he spent an entire week there, enjoying their hosptality and bon vivant before returning to his own palace.

A fortnight passed, and he summoned his two sons. The first arrived bearing cartloads of wonderous treasures and some of the finest horses in all the land. The second came with flowers, musicians and fresh fruit. The king greeted them both with love, as he hadn’t seen them in many years, and his heart ached at the thought of having to choose which of the two would rule in his place. But it needed to be done.

To them both, he said simply: “Your kingdom is your people. Whomever lives by these words is fit to be king.”

To the first son, he gave half of his wealth and perpetual governorship of his province. To the second son, he gave the other half of his wealth and all of the lands of his kingdom to rule in his place.

If that little tale didn’t make much sense, try this on for size:

For the past week, I have been on the market for a TV. (It was way time.) I shopped around for a few days and hit all of the popular TV haunts: Best Buy, Circuit City, Target, etc. Literally cash-in-hand, my wife and I finally trotted on over to Best Buy to make our purchase. Only… when we got there, we were royally ignored by no fewer than seven Best Buy employees who seemed to have nothing better to do than… um… walk around with their hands in their pockets. The two couples who were already waiting in the TV section when we got there left the store empty-handed.

We finally decide to tackle an employee and ask him for a price on an unmarked Panasonic. He stops just shy of rolling his eyes at us, pauses to think for a minute, and then asks us “um, you want me to go look it up?”

Um, yeah.

Ten minutes later, he comes back, feet dragging, shoulders slumped, obviously thrilled to be there. (Meanwhile, three of his coworkers are huddled in a corner, having a chat while other customers and desperately trying to get their attention.) He flatly gives us the price, does an about-face, and walks away without asking us if we want to buy it.

Where does he go? To chat with his three blue-shirted buddies.

We left empty-handed. So did the other customers who were ignored.

Against my better judgement, we returned to best Buy today to get that TV (hoping for better service). But the same thing happened. We were ignored again by the sales staff (who, by the way, seem to be making a point to avoid eye-contact with customers throughout the store).

So guess what: We walked out, crossed the street, and went to Circuit City. Yep, boring old Circuit City. And what did we find there? The same TV at the same price. The difference is that there, we weren’t just greeted at the door. We were greeted on the floor, by a young guy who was super helpful and very friendly. While he was checking if the TV we wanted was in stock, another sales guy who was passing by stopped to ask us if we needed any help. He was friendly too.

Best Buy lost a customer today. Circuit City made a new friend.

The skinny: Both stores are exactly the same distance from my house, carry the same products and offer the same prices. One treated me poorly and the other one treated me well.

I bought from the latter.

Just like the king told his sons: “Your kingdom is your people.” Your people are your employees. Your people are your customers. Your people are all of the folks who come in contact with you and your company.

I used to buy into the whole “hey, no worries, we don’t work on commission” song and dance, but you know what? If “no commission” means “no service when we don’t feel like dealing with customers today,” no thanks.

Want to know how to lose customers? Treat them poorly. Worse yet, ignore them. Or treat them like an inconvenience, even. As Seth Godin points out in his latest blog entry: “All the magazine ads in the world can’t undo one lousy desk clerk.”

Best Buy isn’t about a big yellow logo or huge pretty stores. It isn’t about cool ads or product selection. It isn’t even about convenience. Kingdoms aren’t about golden palaces and lavish gardens.

People buy from people. People interract with people. People form relationships with people. Whether you’re Best Buy or Starbucks or Apple or McDonalds, there’s no getting around it.

Customer service and customer experience are not commodities. They are at the very core of your brand. Of your identity. Of your raison d’etre.

People don’t want to be treated like dirt. They want to be welcomed. They want to be taken care of. They want to walk out of your store with a smile on their face. Buying a TV should be fun. It shouldn’t be a drag.

Lesson number one: Letting your employees get away with unprofessional behavior is the first step towards brand identity doom:

Looks like Best Buy has some broken windows to fix.

Oh, I almost forgot… The moral of the story is…

The customer is king.

(Always was. Always will be.)

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Check out Tom Asacker’s interview on the Being Reasonable blog: Click here.

Brain candy.

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I just got off my secure line with NORAD, and the folks there have confirmed that Santa’s sleigh is indeed airborne. Check out his progress by clicking here.

Tonight, we find out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. (Don’t forget to leave Monsieur Kringle some milk and cookies!)

Merry Christmas, everybody!


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Disney’s “Wonder” – Nassau, Bahamas

Airlines, eat your heart out. Hotels too. And restaurants. Your lousy service is inexcusable. You’ve been trumped.

Case in point: Cruises.

Cruises rock.

Here’s the deal: Until last week, I had never been on an ocean cruise. I never even wanted to go on a cruise, really. The prospect of hanging out in a giant floating hotel, surrounded by swarms of annoying tourists didn’t appeal to me. Especially with the whole tight-quarters thing going on. I’ve never been big on the group activity deal. I’m not a joiner. I kind of like to travel off the beaten path and come up with my own entertainment.

I don’t like tourist traps.

But I finally gave in and went on a Disney Cruise with my family last week, and I have to tell ya, I have a whole new outlook on the cruise thing.

I never, ever, ever expected it to be as good as it was.

So… no more sneering from this guy. No more jokes about “The Mouse”. No more “cruises are for suckers” speeches from me. Nope. Those days are over.

Crow never tasted so good.

For a week, I only saw smiling faces. Not fake smiles, mind you. Genuine smiles. The folks who took care of us were happy to be there. They were professional. Our satisfaction was their main concern, and it showed. From the elaborate towel sculptures left in out immaculate stateroom every day to the friendly smiles on every deck, their mission to keep us happy was obvious.

I have never, ever, ever experienced this level of service anywhere (and I’ve traveled in some pretty exclusive circles.)

The food was great. The rooms were great. The shows were great. The parties were great. Everything about our experience was completely flawless. The kids had a magical time, and so did we.

Believe me: I wanted to find flaws. I looked for them everywhere. I found none.

After having witnessed flight attendants treat passengers like cattle (literally), after having suffered the “next, please” attitude of five-star hotel staff, after having endured lousy service from waiter after waiter after waiter in more white-tablecloth restaurants than I care to list, after years of watching retail sink into an abyss of morose customer unappreciation, I have finally found the last bastion of true customer service: Cruises.

Cruises have it all figured out. They do. They hold the customer experience firmly in their white-gloved hands. Is it a matter of survival? Not really. They could just settle for good enough. They could just shrug and say “hey, for the price you’re paying, this is pretty darn good.” They could shake their heads at the Bulgarian waiters and South African hosts and explain to you in confidence that it isn’t easy finding good help these days.

But no. These guys would give Marines a run for their money when it comes to squaring away uniforms, bathrooms, hallways and staterooms. People you’ve never seen in your entire lives make a point of knowing your name before you ever set foot on the ship. Your glass is never empty. Your ice bucket is always full. These folks aren’t just satified with pretty good. These guys are after one thing and one thing only: Perfection.

Every single thing they do from the moment they get up in the morning is about making you feel these three little letters all day: W.O.W.

Yep, Wow. They want you to feel this way. They get off on it. They don’t just go through the motions. It isn’t just about training and procedures. It’s about pride. About purpose. About fun.

My faith has been restored.

Now… let’s start working on bringing the magic home to your neighborhood businesses. To the local restaurants and grocery stores and retail outlets. To your local garage.

To your least favorite airline.

To your wireless provider.

To your local DMV office.

Fix your broken windows. Hire the best people you can find. Shut up and listen to your customers. Never settle for good enough. Book a cruise and go find out for yourselves what great customer experiences are all about.

There’s hope for thousands of businesses, and that’s great news.

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