From June 2010

It took Sue only 10 minutes to create raving fans

Last week in Maui we planned to go snorkling in the perfect Hawaiian waters and not having any snorkle shops in mind, happened upon Snorkel Bob’s in a nondescript strip mall in Kihei. Nothing fancy whatsoever. Sue, wrapping up with another customer, warmly greeted us and immediately started fitting us for gear. It was clear the other customer was a regular who’s known Sue for years. And that she knew her stuff.

She then started asking how long we needed the gear and where we planned to go. When we said just today and Makena Bay, she immediately warned us of the brewing South swell, how rough the waters were – and how easily we could get thrown against the unforgiving lava rock. She was particularly concerned for the safety of my 8 year old daughter. And genuinely interested in making sure we would be safe and have fun.

She then proceeded to tell us how West Maui where we’re staying is the best place during the summer for snorkeling and how we could rent gear from one of their other stores closer by. In addition, she gave my daughter a card showing the tropical fish we could expect to see and talked about which are endangered – and how we could help – (i.e. by not supporting the salt-water tank industry) which buys Yellow Tangs from locals for $0.75 and sells them for $100 at retail. All while depleting the local populations. Moreover, many die enroute.

In a very short time, we learned about the quality of their snorkel gear – including the great fitting masks (that don’t leak) and Snorkel Bob’s focus on protecting the environment and raising awareness of the issues facing Hawaiian waters.

Based on her advice, we left instead for a drive around South Maui and plans to snorkle another day on the west side. She didn’t make a sale.from us that day. She could have simply rented us gear, sign the waivers and sent us on our way with a warning that the water’s were rough. We would have discovered ourselves that it wasn’t the best snorkeling weather. But in that short time, we gained an invaluable education and she created raving fans in all of us. Sue took the long view – earned our trust and respect.

We rented from another store a couple days later and received similarly great service – snorkling in a very calm Honolua Bay. The lesson here is this is such a rare experience. And so refreshing. Sue’s generosity of spirit and knowledge will make us go out of our way to rent from Snorkel Bobs. It’s great gear – there’s a difference – as a contact lens wearer, it’s not fun to get salt water in the eyes – and this gear rocked as much as the customer service.

What’s remarkable is that kick ass service like this doesn’t cost any more, takes very little time. In this case just 10 minutes! Yet most often, you get people who don’t care. About you or their store. So you don’t either. Perhaps because of crappy pay at retail. Poor training. Or management that doesn’t care either. Or simply a focus on the numbers only. So you go where you get it super fast and super cheap. I’m willing to pay a bit more at a place like Snorkel Bob’s (and they’re quite reasonable anyway) because of who they are. And how they treat me and from what I can tell, all of their customers.

When you’re in Maui, I encourage you to visit Snorkel Bob. Especially Sue’s store in South Kihei. It’s nothing short of amazing.

Five for Friday, June 18

How your insurance rates are influenced by your Tweets - Jeremiah Owyang wrote  a salient post on how insurance companies are mining social data to set insurance rates. He talks about how this isn’t much different than using your credit report, however, the issue lies in HOW they look at the data and slant it in their favor. Particularly alarming, is how seemingly innocent comments on Facebook and Twitter could be used against you. I think this in only the tip of the proverbial iceberg regarding use of social data, but highlights the pitfalls of the open web. And how it’s not necessarily wise to share as much as many do so publicly.

I’m diving into the world of neuromarketing and am fascinated by how our minds think – and how we make decisions. On Twitter Analyst Fred McClimans pointed me to MindTime which helps companies map our thinking to accurately predict behavior. The have an application they call GPS of the Mind that evaluates styles of thinking -past, present and future. Definitely worth a look.

Neuromarketing, the focus group and research. Marketers love using data to justify their spending and predict results. Problem is that much research is very expensive and often useless due to the time and manner collected. Verilliance makes the case for why you should embrace – or at least be aware – of new advances in neuromarketing that make it more affordable, and the case against focus groups in favor of empirical research by Dan Ariely. Good thoughts here.

As the Gulf Oil Spill gets worse – with no end yet in sight – this post from CNN sheds light on how BP approaches their bad press:
by focusing on damage control. To their image, that is. What’s most disturbing is this combined with the reporting about the clean up effort and how they prohibit people from seeing first hand the damage to public lands such as Elmer’s Island shows a company that is only focused on maximizing profits at the expense of the people and communities they serve. And it doesn’t give me much hope that they’ll use this as an opportunity to transform themselves into a forward thinking, authentic human organization.  For BP, it’s all about spin.

To make meetings productive, should they be fun and games? We’ve all been in way too many meetings that are complete wastes of time, resulting in no action items and yet more meetings. It seems there’s a new industry brewing around creative meetings – meetings with cool furnishings and environments to stimulate the right side of the brain. While much is written on how to run a more productive meeting with what you’ve got, this is about creating an environment to drive action. Coming soon to a city near you?

The hard work of shipping and making maps

This isn’t about shipping that package cross country. It’s about making a difference in your job. In your life. And the lives of your customers, prospects and others around you. It’s what Seth Godin so eloquently writes about being the really hard stuff we can do if we so choose. It’s making a dent in the Universe much like Steve Jobs. Or Hugh MacCleod. Or Oprah. Or Chris Gardner.

That is if you’re willing to take risks. Let go of your fears. And take action. We all need to get off the sofa, out of our chairs. We need to get away from work-by-numbers. Away from following that well-trodden path. Because if you’re really going to ship in this era, you’re not going to have a map.

Seth also talks about the resistance against taking action. It’s powerful and keeps you down. When you let it. I know I’ve let it. In the form of doubt. Worry. The feeling of needing to read just one more book. One more blog post. And working on something until it’s perfect.

But you know what? It’s never going to be perfect. And if it’s never going to be perfect, you never need to finish. Right? That’s what you and I tell ourselves. It’s easy to do the daily emails and phone calls and project plans. But the long term big ones. The ones that move huge boulders forward. That’s what we don’t complete. I used to value perfection.

Now I value good enough. Pay attention to the details but just get the darn thing out in public. And let people talk. They will, you know. And that’s okay. It’s only personal when you start doing things people don’t expect from you. When you start being really remarkable. Breaking out of mediocrity and really DOING something. They get scared. They get jealous. They don’t want you to change. Not too much anyway.

Until Seth articulated it so well in his book Linchpin – and even The Dip before that – I never put a name to the resistance. And hadn’t realized how damaging it is to all of us. What a shame to live a life without reaching for your full potential. I’ve always considered myself a late bloomer. And feel like I’m just getting started. But I’m feeling like I’m suddenly more wide awake than ever.  And excited to get to work on the really hard stuff. To embrace the potential that lies ahead in this really rapidly changing time when we can so easily share our thoughts with the world. So easily in fact traditional media is crashing and burning. It’s powerful stuff.

Read Linchpin. It’s perhaps the single most important book I’ve read. Then read it again. Seth gives you two options. Be a cog and settle. Or ship. And he makes no bones about how hard shipping really is. And that not everyone’s going to do it because it’s hard. Because there’s no map. And because you just might be laughed at. You might laugh at me. Or maybe with me. Either way is okay.

I’m planning on creating a map – I don’t know exactly what it’ll look like. But I know it’ll have a lot to do with communication and exploring different ways to forge meaningful relationships and having thoughtful conversations in a sound bite, attention-starved world. And it’ll likely have a lot to do with mobile. And how that’s revolutionizing how we connect. And how we market.

To help me stay more focused, I’m starting to work with the online version of the Action Method after reading (yes another book) Scott Belsky’s great book, Making Ideas Happen – and think you should check it out. He makes project management personal, enjoyable and flexible by making it really simple. Oh, and while I still love to read, I’m not letting that be an excuse for not taking action.

What are you going to do? What map will you draw?

The Friday Five – June 11, 2010

Group Buying – only for big businesses? I first learned of Groupon, the rapidly growing group-buying company based in Chicago in a recent Inc. magazine feature. This is a rapidly growing trend that offers businesses the opportunity to generate a lot of traffic to their website or brick-and-mortar storefront. The downside is that you can’t look at this as a short time money maker but as a marketing campaign designed to expose your business to people who otherwise wouldn’t find you. With Groupon, you offer a significant discount, they take about half of that, leaving you with a loss – but the hope is a new subset of these buyers will become long-term customers. It’s a pretty cool way to take advantage of social media. Still new, I’m going to be watching how this trend unfolds over the next year+

Over at the new Content Marketing Institute,
Lisa Petrilli writes a provocative post connecting the wisdom of Thomas Edison with the modern practice of content marketing. She offers five key takeaways that draw from Thomas Edison’s approach to his work. I’ve read a great deal about content marketing and best practices. There’s great advice and then there’s simple advice that makes you pause – then get to work improving your own. This is one such piece. I believe one of the most important points she makes is this: “think of your overriding mission and don’t marry your content. Measure whether it’s meeting your customers needs and if not, change it up.”

Six great tips on integrating Social media into your company from someone who’s done it. Last year at the Inbound Marketing Summit in Dallas I heard Paula Berg talk about the ups and downs of experiences in Social Media and Communications at Southwest Airlines. She’s been doing it for four years now, and provides a great framework for us to draw from in educating our own teams – from the CEO on down. It’s important to spend time educating your senior management and recognizing that social media is not something you turn over to the intern or junior staffer. It requires trust and experience to successfully navigate the often chaotic world of social media – and understanding that you need a team, a structure, but most of all the ability to move quickly with autonomy. That’s where the trust comes in. There’s a lot of snake oil in the wild frontier that is social media. Learn from someone who’s been in the trenches and speaks from the heart.

The dark side of technology. I’ve long known that multi-tasking is a myth – it’s physically impossible to do two things at once. What really happens is the brain switches from one to the next, losing focus and ultimately not doing as good of a job. While there are so many benefits to our connected world, this is a sobering wake up call that we need to understand the implications of being too connected.

We’re deluged with far more data than any of us can effectively process and manage. It creates a feeling that we have to be always on – and always connected to make sure we don’t miss anything. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time online can likely relate to how easy it is to turn five minutes into an hour or more. Resist the urge and design a higher quality of life for yourself and your family.  I think this quote sums up the importance of focus: “Mr. Nass at Stanford thinks the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room. “The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said. “It shows how much you care.””

Designspiration – In a world where the computer has made it easy to create pleasing layouts and design, there’s still no substitute for someone who really gets it. I’m a sucker for great design – design that has personality, that’s memorable and plenty of attitude. I was introduced to the work of Jessica Hische, by another great designer, Halle Cisco, after I mentioned how much I like Louise Fili’s handcrafted style. Her work has amazing attention to detail and range. Enjoy!

Why you can’t effectively manage a brand by a spreadsheet

Spreadsheets may be the greatest tool since sliced bread for the finance wizards, but sometimes they’re totally useless. What looks black and white on a spreadsheet – achieving the economies of scale so often touted in mergers and acquisitions by streamlining costs and eliminating variations across the new company – usually doesn’t result in profitable success. Tony Hsieh of Zappos talks in this month’s Inc. magazine (and in his new book) about why he sold to Amazon: his former investors didn’t value his customer service approach thinking it was too costly – yet it’s the glue that makes Zappos what it is.

Rather, it usually dilutes a brand, alienates customers and eventually kills the business because the numbers don’t reveal the whole story. Customers don’t care about spreadsheets. They don’t care about your economies of scale. They care about a great experience. The experience they used to get before the merger. Now that you’ve destroyed what made that brand special, they’ll go elsewhere. And there’s always somewhere to go.

Such was the case with Pacific Coast Restaurants in Portland. For years they had a great formula regardless of which restaurant you went to in their portfolio: really good food, great service, nice, upbeat atmosphere and reasonable prices. Year after year. They were never cutting edge. They never followed the latest trends. But their food was consistently good. It was comfort food with class. Enter the acquisition by Restaurants Unlimited. They tried to capitalize on the economies of scale by changing the menu to match the Seattle based restaurants in the chain. They did some spiffy new logos and raised prices as well. In short, they managed their brands from a spreadsheet and failed. Customers left. Fast. Business fell by nearly 25% – far more than the impact of the economy. And longtime employees left as well.

I remember being shocked at the prices when I went to Stanford’s last year, one of their key brands, after the makeover. It’d been awhile since I was there, but their prices pushed the boundaries of what they were known for. Now it seemed to be more of a special occasion restaurant rather than a great place for business lunches or casual dinners. And that being the case, there were so many other places I’d rather go for a special occasion, that they’d never make that list.

Fortunately for Restaurants Unlimited, they brought in a new CEO who started listening to employees and customers. He started to appreciate the cultural differences between Portland and Seattle and at Stanford’s, brought back customer favorites to the menu and rolled back the prices. Then publicly apologized in an ad campaign that invited them back for what they loved about Stanford’s. Guess what? It’s working.

Pacific Coast knew how to run a successful restaurant. They executed every detail flawlessly since they began in the early 80s. They made very nice profits by paying attention to what customers responded to. And they never followed the latest fads. They did this by developing consistent processes – and measuring what’s happening in the trenches. They set high standards for their managers. The manager of each restaurant as well as head chef was always listed on the front door. They made the experience personal. As a guest, you often were asked by the managers how you liked your meal. It was management by walking around. Not by a spreadsheet.

You can’t manage a brand on a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets only display numbers. They don’t display the human qualities – the intangibles – that make a brand sticky.

On Great Products and Bad Customer Service

The much anticipated announcement of iPhone 4 has left most everyone with shiny object syndrome. Our copywriter, Jason, asked “is  it possible to have a crush on a device?” That’s the magic of Apple and why their market cap has now surpassed Microsoft’s. Say what you want about their walled garden and imperfect draconian app approval process, but Apple gets user experience and beautiful design like no other company has.

I think Droid is coming close – and am interested to learn more about the upcoming Motorola Droid, but it’s a tough ticket to out shine the beauty of new iPhone. It’s an object of art. The detail, the sleekness and combination of glass and stainless steel beg you to hold it, touch it. Stare at it. You almost want to hang it on the wall. Being without a contract with AT&T, I’m free to go to any provider. But I really want the iPhone and tell myself, I may not be able to make a phone call because of AT&T’s shoddy service, but at least I’d have something exquisite to hold and stare at.

My wife, a Verizon customer, is planning to purchase a Motorola Droid in July to replace her awful HTC Windows Mobile device (which has never worked well and has been replaced three times in less than two years). And that gives me pause to consider the Droid Incredible by HTC – they’ve not proven themselves and I’m skeptical despite the good reviews for the Incredible thus far. The HTC brand doesn’t (yet) have the emotional tug of Apple. Say what you want as well about AT&T, but Verizon’s no saint – my wife has had a run in with their customer service over her expensive but poor quality HTC phone. She typically receives great service when her contract is about up. It’s almost like you have to choose between the lesser of two evils although you know which one wins the coverage war hands down.

And that’s too bad. Imagine if AT&T took a page from Apple and created a magical experience. Imagine if instead of changing their plans to eliminate unlimited data and trying to put a positive spin on it they focused on making the customer experience fluid and delightful. The combination of that and Apple would truly be a force to reckon with. As it stands, once the iPhone is available on Verizon or other networks, I’m sure many will flee AT&T. Will they care? Not sure. But right now, they’re a company without a heart.

Why do so many big companies have to create such poor customer service? Why is it more cannot realize how powerful raving fans can be? How often raving fans will go out of their way to recommend you and talk about their experience? Imagine how much you could save on advertising expenses if your customers did your marketing for you!

Another example is United Airlines and their Mileage Plus program, which I’m enrolled in. I’m trying to plan a summer trip with the guys to Alaska and wanted to use my miles. I receive a nicely designed email promoting special fares to Alaska with the ability to use as few as 20,000 miles and no blackout dates (yeah!).


But after getting the screen above a few times (trying later) I called today to talk to a live person, who told me no flights are available with Mileage Plus. I can, however, pay $914.00 for my chosen flight (lowest price is $689.50) even though that flight shows $849.20 on their site. Ouch! But I can travel 5 days before my desired date and three days AFTER my desired return date with miles.

Hop over to Continental and you can get the VERY SAME FLIGHT for $400.09 Round trip. Seriously United? Aren’t you both one big airline now? What’s the point of being so restrictive with the miles? I’d be happy to use 60,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket. I tried to on my upcoming trip to Hawaii but didn’t have enough miles for the three of us and again, Hawaiian was far less expensive (1/3 the cost) so no point on using miles to pay more.

Why can’t United make the use of miles an experience that creates more trust and passion for their brand? Instead, I’m growing to distrust and really hate United. If you don’t really want people to use your mileage rewards program, then don’t offer it. Do business simply and straight forward. Cut the games. They’re not helping you (maybe in short-term profits, but not long-term brand loyalty).

Unlike AT&T with the iPhone at this point we do have options for flying. In the future will try booking with other airlines and use United as a last resort.

On the flip side, Inc. magazine has a great feature on businesses that get it. Businesses that invest in their employees which translates most often into rewarding experiences for their customers. How refreshing. These are the types of businesses I want to work with. These are businesses with vision and a long-term perspective. And based on what I read, they’re profitable too. Scale this up to businesses the size of AT&T and United and imagine what you could do! Customer service is marketing. Why don’t more companies recognize the power of creating wow and delight? That’s the burning question in my mind.

UPDATE: I learned a bit more about how United’s Mileage Plus program works – it defaults to Saver award, which is extremely limited since they’ve cut 30% of their flights and can sell the seats rather than give them up for free. The Standard award is always available for twice the miles. My problem stemmed from the fact that they don’t have many flights to Anchorage and the system required a live person to manually input the flight info – and after about a 45 minute online chat with a rep in Manilla, I was able to book a flight to Anchorage from Portland via – yep – San Francisco  for 50,000 miles. It still was not a fluid experience – and had I not talked to an expert in travel, likely wouldn’t have found the work around.

The Friday Five – June 4, 2010

Happy Friday! The deluge of rain here in Portland continues – we’re all looking forward to potentially drier weather next week. Here are my top picks for this week. Top of mind continues to be the tragedy in the gulf. The more I read and more I see, the more heartbreaking this is. Let’s hope for a fix before August.

On #imchat this week we had a great conversation on the importance of customer service to marketing - and how customer service is marketing. Few companies really get this based on my service experience. Lauren Vargas from radian6 wrote about five steps you can take to make your customer service more social – and thus create a better customer experience. Why wouldn’t you want to turn your customers into evangelists for your company?
How JetBlue acquired the greatest social currency of any American brand – and ranking of brands with the highest social currency. (Hint: They’re not American). I found this an informative read, providing insight into what more brands need to do in order to successfully navigate the online channels. Hat tip to @LisaPetrilli for the find.

I’ll admit I’m new to Foursquare and location-based marketing initiatives. Being one who thrives on constant learning, I find the best way to understand how things work are to see great examples. Therefore these case studies were a great read. Key takeaway? Keep it simple and make it frictionless.

One of the hottest stories this week has been how @BPGlobalPR grabbed the BP brand and took it for a well-deserved spin – attracting 100,000 followers in a couple of weeks. This post provides a glimpse at the guy behind it and underscores how if you spin it, it will be counterspun. My hat is off to Leroy.

Talk about the killer list of social media resources. There’s something here for nearly everyone – from examples to best practices. And also underscores the wealth of great content on the web – and how helpful curation can be. I’m certainly thankful!

If I were BP, what would I do now?

There’s no disputing the Gulf Oil Spill is a disaster of epic proportions. From the initial lives lost in the explosion to the major disruptions of livelihoods and communities around the gulf. Let’s also not discount the untold environmental destruction of sensitive marshlands and now the 22 mile plume threatening an underwater canyon that serves as a major food source off Florida’s west coast.

And since the leak is still going more than 40 days later – with possibility of running into August – we certainly haven’t even seen the total impact of this catastrophe. This is something that will take years to clean up and repair (if it can be totally repaired at all). That said, it probably need not be said that the BP brand is at an all time low. Trust is gone. Not that it was all that high to begin with. Nor do we have a lot of confidence going forward: learning that there were mistakes made at many levels combined with lax oversight before the spill – that had the warning signs been heeded could possibly have prevented this mess only adds to the fire.

But that’s hindsight now. It happened and BP and all of us can only move forward. So given all this, how might BP respond?

With complete openness. To have any serious chance of regaining the public trust and redeeming the BP brand, they need to come clean. Skip the PR spin, stop blocking people from touring affected areas and proceed with absolute openness.

Be transparent. Cover nothing up and speak in plain language. Be conversational. Provide real reporting vs. the shiny spin presented by the BP reporters. In fact, you’d have more credibility if you piped in a news feed from objective eye-witness accounts. Again, show the unvarnished truth.

Exercise humility. The world is watching. Take off the polish and spin. Don’t paint such a happy picture of the relief effort on your site. I do applaud your putting the response front and center on your website – you really didn’t have a choice, however.

Reinvent the company. Since you’re down, use this as an opportunity to reinvent the company. Turn it inside out to become the oil company that puts communities first. Not profits. The company that operates authentically. An oil company that’s actually a good steward of the environment and the communities in which you operate.

Innovate. Partner with the leading thinkers on the environment and corporate responsibility. Partner with your enemies. Set aside corporate greed and think long term. It’s possible to exercise corporate responsibility – and sustainability and still earn a good profit.

Work towards the common good. Don’t short circuit any of the clean up. Take care of every individual and community affected in the most frictionless way possible. And use this as a lesson to never take shortcuts. Rewrite all of your safety policies. Transform your culture into one of accountability and humanity.

And make sure your communications and PR teams are up to speed on the current online channels. Olivier Blanchard wrote a great post on what happens because they’re not – underscoring the importance of listening and being proactive in protecting your brand (but not by exerting heavy-handed control – that doesn’t work any longer). If you act more human, people might feel less compelled to hijack your brand.

Complete the job at hand. And above all else, make sure you follow through on cleaning up every drop of oil no matter how long it takes. Demonstrate through your actions that we can trust you. I’m not sure you can fall much further, so you have the opportunity to radically transform yourself into a forward thinking, humane enterprise. Those that think it’s not possible should take a page from IBM – See Lou Gerstner’s great book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?.

We’re much less likely to kick someone when they’re down, but try and cover it up and you’ll be mercilessly pursued. So admit that there were many things that could have been done differently. It’s always the cover up that creates the biggest problem and is usually exposed.

Rewrite all of the copy on your website in human terms. Again, scrap the corporate speak. We see right through it. Show us exactly how much you’re investing in alternative energies and moving forward to a world less dependent on oil. Don’t give it lip service because you have to. Have a conversation with all of us. Again, be open.

Let’s not blame the Obama administration for the initial failure. The  environment that allowed this to happen started long before. What we can hold them accountable for is how they operate going forward. By instilling full accountability in their oversight.

I do wonder what happens if the cost for clean up exceeds the total value of your company. And what if there’s a second incident? What then? Who will you partner with? On whom will you offload the cost? The more you try to control, spin and cover up the most damaging information, the harder we’ll work to uncover it and less sympathy we’ll have. Remember all of us have equal channels to share our point of view. We may not have the deep pockets to promote that point of view via traditional channels, but have the power to engage the masses by cutting through the clutter. By NOT spinning. I know it’s painful, but let it all out there BP and let us decide for ourselves what to think. You’ll gain points for credibility. And we’ll be more apt to forgive once we see your sincere commitment.

BP, you have an opportunity to create significant change and become a model citizen for other oil companies to follow. You have the opportunity to exercise serious leadership. The question is, do you have the desire?