Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thank You

Just as I keep harping that we are nothing without our customers, so too I understand that this blog is nothing without you, the reader.  So, as this year winds down, I would like to thank you for the following:

  • your continued readership;
  • your continued support;
  • your continued good humor; and
  • your continued feedback.
I can't believe how much I've learned this year by keeping my eyes and ears open.  Where I stand now is leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at this point last year.  But by that same token, I've learned that the more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn.  And I'm thankful for it.

I've met so many wonderful people this year thanks to outlets like LinkedIn and Twitter.  And through these people, I've met many other wonderful people.  And I can't wait to meet even more wonderful people in 2011.

Have a lovely rest of the year!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, December 13, 2010

Uh, WalMart? Ham's Never Delicious for Chanukah.

So there I was Wednesday afternoon innocently procrastinating on Facebook when there were a bunch of documents I needed to review.  I justified the Facebook travels as "market research" and felt good about it.

And then there was payoff!  A friend shared this pic on his wall.  And it spoke to me because of its lovely ridiculousness.  We've got latkes with sour cream in the upper left corner juxtaposed with smoked ham text.  You can't make this stuff up.

In my last post, I talked about GEICO commercials as being unintentionally exclusionary because the context assumed you were a native English speaker.  I pointed out that by mid 21st century, "minorities" will represent over 50% of the U.S. population and I wondered why GEICO would want to leave 50% opportunity on the table.

And now, because the world works in mysterious ways, we have an opposite situation.  In WalMart's zeal to be inclusive, to honor and to celebrate all cultures, something has gone a bit awry.  And that something is a little basic information and knowledge.

Retailers have it tough during the holidays, admittedly.  Many celebrate Christmas but if there is too much Christmas, it's to the exclusion of other religions and perhaps can turn off long time shoppers who've had enough of the imbalance or repel prospective shoppers.  The easiest remedy is to find ways to make connections with others to show that the retailers "care" and "respect" other traditions.  

And, sometimes that means a menorah display in a corner of the store with a smattering of dreidels in another part of the store.  So I'm sure that somewhere in a WalMart store the same thing happened: the menorah, the blue and white wrapping paper, some gold foil wrapped chocolate and some dreidels.

Mistakes like the one in the picture make what may have been an honest effort ring false.  It's almost better not to make the effort than to make a mistaken effort like this.  You've heard me talk about "Surprise and Delight" more times than you could bear this year.  "Surprise and Dismay" is probably a good descriptor in this instance.

Just as I've said before (here, here and here) that the little things can make a big positive difference in the perception your customers have of you, so can the little things make a big negative difference.  The reason for the Buick salesman's success, the popularity of the Butterball hotline and Ramon DeLeon's high customer service scores is that in all three instances, they appreciate the fine art of detail to make things go right.  And they appreciate the fine art of detail to avoid things from going wrong.

Of course they're not perfect.  There are plenty of examples that Ramon DeLeon shares of orders that his team didn't fulfill correctly.  He'll even Tweet or put it on his FB page for the world to see.  But for each of those examples, he's always made up for the errors to keep the customer satisfied which means he's detail oriented when it comes to problem resolution, too.

In other words, it's a two way street when it comes to details.  In all three examples, there is this tacit understanding that you can't just "show up" and be rewarded for your existence.  Just showing up doesn't even cover the cost of doing business these days.  Just showing up is like opening your eyes in the morning: you don't know if it's cold, warm, raining or snowing.  All you know is that you're awake.  

And the WalMart price tag is an example of just showing up.  And this honest effort that rings false may not make a huge dent in WalMart revenues, but only reinforces the growing cynicism we have about retailers and other companies valuing our business.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pigs, Birds and GEICO

Have you seen either of these two GEICO commercials?

Whether these are funny to you is a matter of personal taste.  I happen to enjoy the whimsy especially the one with the lizard buying his boss a drink.

But, there's something a little more critical I'd like to discuss here.  If you're a native English speaker, chances are you've heard the "bird in hand phrase" and "this little piggy" nursery rhyme as you were growing up.  But what if you're not a native English speaker?  What if you were raised abroad?

I bring this up because I'm an immigrant.  I bring this up because though my parents and their friends are intelligent and sophisticated, some of these GEICO commercials will be completely over their heads.  I bring this up because though Amir spent some of his childhood abroad yet is is extremely assimilated, he's mentioned that he doesn't get the pig.  These types of commercials are exclusionary and while I don't believe the account team intended to be exclusionary, the net effect is the same.  It can kind of feel like the inside joke between the cool kids in high school.

This is a marketing and business blog and this isn't a civil rights post.  I'm so not personally offended by the commercials at all.  It's just that when I see advertising like this (and many beer commercials typify what I'm talking about), I wonder if the marketing managers and their agency truly size the opportunity cost of this type of specific approach.  Do they have calculations of who might not "get it" for cultural reasons and how many of those would have been profitable customers for them?  Do they have cultural exclusion tolerances for people who don't get the pig?  I am guessing not.

And I think they should on some level.  If insurance, for example, is a highly competitive market, one wonders at an advertising approach that potentially limits its overall reach...  especially considering all of the reports that show that more than 50% of U.S. population will be non white by the middle of the century.  If you're starting out talking to half of the country only, is that even sustainable as a business model?

Now, for the record, I know of very few people who like milquetoast when it comes to marketing and advertising.  So, these musings are not a desire to suck the fun and creativity.  The point of advertising, after all, is to capture attention and not to deflect it.  I'm wondering why it is we can't develop advertising that appeals to all of us regardless of background as opposed to the inside joke.

Maybe the inside joke is the easy way out.  What do you think?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, December 6, 2010

Marketing Lessons... From My Mother in Law

My mother in law is battling the last stages of Alzheimer's Disease.  What was once a vibrant, sharp, funny and social woman has gone and in her place is her meek alter ego.  It's heartbreaking to see her battle the confusion, it's heartbreaking that she doesn't recognize her own son and even more heartbreaking to see my father in law (her childhood sweetheart) watch the love of his life disappear before his eyes.

Ferdos Nedamani, first from right

I'm no scientist so I can't begin to explain the disease to you.  I'm no caregiver so I can't begin to explain the best ways to care for and interact with an Alzheimer's patient.  I'm just a person who met her in the middle of her battle and has watched her steady decline since then.

They say that if you've met one Alzheimer's patient then you've met one Alzheimer's patient.  No two people are the same.  What I can tell you is that at this late stage, every interaction, for her, is totally brand new...  Every step of hers leaving a room is the close of one scene and her return sometimes less than one minute later is the start of another.  It's true of her quick catnaps, if I am to step outside briefly, if someone changes the channel on the TV, if the next song plays on the radio and so on.

And so, the onus falls on others to make the best of every new scene (sometimes hundreds of them) that unfolds each day that is spent with her.  In each scene, I only have one shot to make things right with her.  I only have one shot to make her smile.  I only have one shot to give her comfort.  If I fail, the consequences are huge: confusion, maybe some anxiety, distress, withdrawal and a lingering sensation that can last longer than a scene or two that she was hurt by someone.

For me, it means that those around her have to have really good sets of eyes and ears.  And really good filters to check what is said and how it is said to her.  You have to be "on" at all times.  You bear the responsibility to make sure all is okay with her.  It's not easy and I am sure I've made loads of mistakes in my interactions with her.

What little time I've spent with her has made me consider where it is and how it is we could be doing right by our customers.  I'm not suggesting that our customers are like those suffering from Alzheimer's.  I'm suggesting that we take every interaction we have with them as wholly new and independent with the chance to delight as opposed to sequential and "good enough" level of service.  I'm suggesting we have to fight complacency.

It's easy to be complacent.  It's easy to take your eye off the ball if you live with a certain comfort or belief that your customers will come back no matter how you treat them.  But we've numerous before/after pictures of businesses who've suffered from that approach.  Sears' fall from grace immediately springs to mind, for example.

Do you remember my IntelligentsiaButterball and Domino's posts?  Each time, they've demonstrated success because of the big and little things they do to establish relationships with their customers no matter if it's the first or fiftieth transaction.  And with each interaction, is a delicately choreographed ballet that's been rehearsed many times over all with the goal of making the customer as happy and satisfied as possible every single time.  There is no next time; there is only this point in time.

People won't do business with you anymore by virtue of your sheer existence.  Competition, sophisticated differentiation, celebrity endorsements and all sorts of social media have changed the landscape permanently.  There's got to be a little something extra you bring to the table each and every time you have the chance to do so.

So I ask you, where is it that we could be doing better?  And, please, don't say it's too expensive.  I've never heard that treating customers well and thoughtfully through words or gestures, for example, was cost prohibitive.  I just don't buy it.  And neither will our customers.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and Lessons from 34th Street

I'm going to confess that I love a sappy holiday movie from the 40s and 50s.  So imagine my joy when I stumbled upon "Miracle on 34th Street" with Maureen O'Hara and the young Natalie Wood.  For those of you not familiar with it, it's about how the "real" Santa Claus plays the role of the Macy's Santa Claus one Christmas season... and, as the saying goes, hilarity ensues!

There I was sitting happily and laughing along with Kris Kringle when I was presented with this gem of a marketing lesson which we have yet to learn.  Read on!

"MACY: The effect this will have on the public is...  Come in, Mrs. Walker.

- Hello, Mrs. Walker.

- Sit over here.

MACY: I've been telling these gentlemen the new policy you and Mr. Shellhammer initiated.  I can't say that I approve of your not consulting the advertising department first but in the face of this tremendous public response, I can't be angry with you.

DORIS: What's he talking about?

MR. SHELLHAMMER: Tell you later.

MACY: Now, to continue, gentlemen.  I admit this plan sounds idiotic and impossible.  Imagine Macy's Santa Claus sending customers to Gimbels.   Ho ho.  But,  gentlemen, you cannot argue with success.  Look at this.  Telegrams, messages, telephone calls.  The governor's wife, the mayor's wife, over thankful parents expressing undying gratitude to Macy's.

Never in my entire career have I seen such a tremendous and immediate response to a merchandising policy.  And I'm positive, Frank, if we expand our policy, we'll expand our results as well.  Therefore, from now on, not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner but I want every salesperson in this store to do precisely the same thing.  If we haven't got exactly what the customer wants we'll send him where he can get it.

No high pressuring and forcing a customer to take something he doesn't really want.  We'll be known as the helpful store, the friendly store, the store with a heart, the store that places public service ahead of profits.  And, consequently, we'll make more profits than ever before."

True, this is a Hollywood confection and a very good one at that.  But, the point doesn't stop being a good one.  It is good practice to say that you don't have what your customer wants and refer him/her to someone who does because that customer will remember your honesty.  It is good practice to put service ahead of profits because the profits will always follow from performing the service.

I'm also saying that this is more than a "Karma is a boomerang" type of point.  It's actually a point about efficiency as well.  Why force a square peg into the round hole only to have to go back later and undo what's been done?  Consider the amount of rework and/or customer service hand holding or damage control you've avoided on the back end by simply saying "I'm sorry but I don't think I can help you."  The topline results mean nothing if your bottom line isn't there to back it up.

The other thing is that behaving in ways for the greater good is not a new concept, particularly in the social media space.  Why do we keep falling for the hoopla and artificial shopping competition of Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays?  Sure, there are retailers offering insanely great prices out there.  But you're not helping customers with savvy shopping habits if they don't buy what they "need" and instead buy what's flashy.

Eventually, the customer will realize that he/she may have spent a bit too much and while taking some responsibility, will feel a little hoodwinked by it all, will feel like there was price coercion or some other invisible prod at work...  not something you'd want to be remembered for during the yuletide season!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

p.s.  I got the screenplay transcript from here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's In a Name? Customers versus Passengers

It's been a while since we've last chatted.  678 Partners has been having oodles of meetings punctuated by a family visit to LA which I'll tell you more about very shortly...  And then there was Thanksgiving!

On my way back from LA, I noticed something unusual.  Typically, wherever you are in the travel process, you're a "passenger" if you're the one traveling.  Whether you're checking in, going through security or what have you, that's what you're called.

It's not something I've thought that much about until that early morning flight home.  One of our flight attendants referred to us as customers while everyone else on the flight (including the pilots) called us passengers.  I thought I misheard her a few times thanks to a bum ear and even chalked it up to little sleep (it was a 6am flight) until it happened enough for me to be convinced she was calling us customers and not passengers.

Truly, I found it odd.  Some part of me really wanted to be called a passenger and not customer because that's how I've always heard people refer to me when traveling.  I can't begin to tell you why I found it odd -- maybe resistance to change or other sort of inertia.  I do know that on some level, I thought being a customer meant that I wasn't taken as seriously as a passenger.  But then I slowly came around...  and the following definitions will help demonstrate my point.

Definitions (as per

Passenger: a person who is traveling in an automobile, bus, train, airplane, or other conveyance, esp. one who is not the driver, pilot, or the like.

Customer: a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer; patron.

Now, I did say that I initially thought that being a customer meant I was taken less seriously as passenger until I thought about it a little more.  And I looked it up.  And I changed my mind.  I want to be a customer.

Why: the word customer implies some sort of relationship or desired relationship between the buyer and the seller.  The word passenger implies something a little colder...  almost as if there's a tremendous psychological distance between the traveler and the entity making the travel possible.

Why does it matter what I'm called as long as I'm safely hurled in that metal capsule to my destination (which is what we're now reminded is the primary purpose of flight attendants)?  It matters if this airline wants to build an in airport, in flight relationship with me that matches the love letter style emails and whatnot they send to me when I'm not traveling.  By calling me a customer in flight, there's an acknowledgement that my business matters to them and that I'm not necessarily a body filling the seat.

BUT.  If you've travelled at all in the last few years, you know that this is a (somewhat) unfulfilled fantasy and (somewhat) a tall order.  And, I've told you how it can be a tall order based on personal experience.  And, you've heard about Kevin Smith's Southwest adventure and the guitar breaking mishap on United.

So, as much as the word passenger, to me, represents enormous psychological distance between the traveler and the entity making the travel possible, it turns out that it's actually a more accurate term.  It turns out that while it was nice to be called a customer for those few fleeting moments, it's a tremendous letdown because the experience doesn't live up to the promise of the word.  And, if you remember this post, the Buick salesman truly understood "customer" experience.  To equate one flight attendant's words with the salesman's actions would be utterly wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I'm going to hold out hope that I get the treatment worthy of "customer" -- a girl has to pin her hopes on something.  It's just that false words ring even more hollow as in travel service becomes worse and worse.

I know some may say to-may-to or to-mah-to when it comes to this semantic comparison of customer and passenger.  Maybe I have read a little bit too much into how words are used.  But maybe I haven't.

What your spin?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Devil, Details and Your Domino's Pizza

When we last spoke, I talked about Mitch Joel's "little big things" post and I said that while the whole is more than the sum of its parts, the net effect of how the whole "feels" is important, too.  And it's because of the attention to the little parts that makes the "whole" what it is.  There was this lovely quote from Marco Arment that was in this post:

"...I learned the value of giving people little delights... You can do the same thing with any business...  I try to find new and tiny ways to delight my customers. They may not notice, but it helps drive goodwill and makes your product remarkable."

I then spent the rest of the post talking about Butterball and its annual Turkey Talk-Line and said that we're not buying a product so much as we're buying confidence, joy, excitement and any other emotion because that product or service alleviates a (hunger) pain or solves a problem.  The delights from the Talk-Line distinguish the Butterball brand from another and every time we want to make turkey anything, we'll remember that brand experience when we're in the poultry aisle at the market.

All of this brings me to Ramon DeLeon who is the Domino's Pizza Guy To Know not only in Chicago but internationally as well.  You've all either heard of Ramon, seen him in person or heard him speak on a webinar.  You've heard his Tweetable Facts, too.  Here are some refreshers:
  • I cannot make money selling pizzas for One Dollar, but I can make money off the conversation it generates.
  • My Goal is to get Customers addicted to the Domino’s Pizza Experience!
  • My Goal is to promote my customers.
As you know, Ramon has multiple anecdotes where he has surprised and delighted many a customer which are #RamonWOW moments.  A recent one involved sending pizza to a hungry pregnant lady within an hour of her tweeting that she was hungry.  As you know, I'm all about surprise and delight moments and it's a thrill to see them unfold when they're done well.  And that one was done spectacularly well!

What Ramon and his dedicated employees are doing has absolutely nothing to do with pizza.  It's about the relationship that they build with customers every time an order is placed.  It doesn't matter if it's the first or fiftieth, each order is yet another opportunity to make that customer feel special, appreciated and "smart" for ordering a pizza from them as opposed to competitors.  Even when an order isn't fulfilled, swift action is taken to restore confidence and repair the potential damage to the relationship.  

And why all this effort?  It's because he understands that but for these customers, he would not exist.  Every opportunity can either have huge upside or downside unless careful attention is paid to every detail of the transaction.  One other look at the Tweetable Facts reinforces this.  Every #RamonWOW moment that gets shared takes a sometimes simple loss leader strategy and transforms it into a windfall that travels in concentric circles.

Let's hear it from the man himself.  Here's Amir with Ramon after we heard him speak the other day:

If you think about it, Ramon's creativity in delivering unexpected delights where possible to bring a smile to someone's face is a series of "little big things" that have made him a success not unlike Butterball's Talk-Line.  We can all do right by our customers if we have the desire.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Devil, Details and Your Thanksgiving Bird

We've all heard the expression "The Devil is in the details!" when it comes to planning and whatnot.  There are so many important elements that go into a project, a product, a service, an event, etc., but some of them are infinitesimal to the eyes.  But that doesn't mean they are not felt or appreciated.

I came upon this lovely gem from Mitch Joel about the little big things.  Essentially, it is true that the whole is more than the sum of its parts but the net effect of how the whole "feels" because of the little parts makes paying attention to the little parts all that more important. Here's a quote by Marco Arment from within the post:

"...I learned the value of giving people little delights... Those small details and experiences are the reason why people like luxury cars. They are full of those little delights. You can do the same thing with any business. With a Web and iPhone app, I try to find new and tiny ways to delight my customers. They may not notice, but it helps drive goodwill and makes your product remarkable."

Which brings me to the subject of turkeys.  Not turkeys as in bad ideas or bad execution of ideas.  I mean the prosaic Thanksgiving bird.  More specifically, I'd like to talk about Butterball and its Butterball Turkey Talk-Line.  I'd always planned to talk about Butterball (thanks to this article) and had I not had my O'Hare adventure, I would have written this earlier.  

Every year, the Turkey Talk-Line handles about 100K calls about the bird itself, great side dishes and anything even barely tangentially related to the holiday meal.  Butterball has turkey experts that have been working the lines for years...  So many that they earn wishbone fashioned jewelry to mark milestones.  They also answer about 5K emails and there are about 1MM visitors to their site each year.

Those are small potatoes (ha ha) compared to Epicurious or Food Network sites but there's something charming and homespun about the Butterball Talk-Line beyond the fact that you can call them regardless of the brand of turkey you've purchased.  Actually, Butterball celebrates smallness and personal approach and thinks it speaks well for the brand.  Here's are some nice excerpts from the article:

"Butterball Turkey executives believe the company has a strong niche and claim they are undaunted by the competition. In addition to selling turkey, they say, Butterball's core strength is providing live advice from calm experts about cooking, thawing or what side dishes to make."

"The fact that you can call a hot line and talk to an expert who knows how to make the perfect bird is so valuable to the consumer who's feeling so stressed,'' said Marie Chen, a senior consultant at EffectiveBrands, a global branding company. "People really feel like they have a lot riding on this meal," said Chen. "They're preparing it for their families, their in-laws, the people who matter the most. And they want it to be perfect."

So what does your Thanksgiving bird and a cooking hotline have to do with Mitch Joel and little big things?  Little big things are really what make up a brand's halo effect.  As I mentioned in my last post, we don't only buy a product or service but we also buy confidence and whatever other emotion we experience because the product or service alleviates a (hunger) pain or solves a problem.

Many of us may never call the Talk-Line but just having the knowledge that it's there "just in case" as you're preparing a big meal for the first or fifth time is comforting...  and something difficult to assign a price.  Consequently, the halo effect is the representation of the value of comfort, confidence, security and relief.

Very often, we're made to feel like we have to go completely over the top to win the hearts and minds of customers.  But, like that quote from Mitch Joel's post, the little delights are what drive goodwill and distinguishes one company from another.  If anyone were to receive help from the Butterball Talk-Line, that is one replayed memory with every visit to the poultry section at the local market with likely influence on the brand purchased.

Not bad for a little big thing, right?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

International Terminals, Sales and Service

Have you ever met a friend or loved one after they exited Immigration and Customs at an airport?  The palpable anticipation and noise of the eagerly waiting loved ones is one of the most beautiful things to watch.  Little kids are often dressed in their best clothes and holding on to the flower or the balloon they are to present to whomever emerges from the door.  

The payoff comes when they finally see the friend/cousin/sibling/parent/spouse and there is this huge swell of emotion.  Some people laugh with joy while others show their happiness through tears.  I've had the chance to see this play out over and over through the years thanks to family visiting from abroad.  I never get tired of it.

I was watching a similar scene unfold yesterday as I was waiting for my parents.  While I was enjoying the reunions, I saw something dramatically different unfolding.  For those connecting through O'Hare, there was some serious and immediate confusion which as you know is not difficult in my hometown airport.  Immediately upon exiting Immigrations and Customs are three large arrows that are pasted to the ground that direct people to use the airport train to go to the domestic airline terminals.  They look something like this (my ugly facsimile):

And just beyond, are signs immediately pointing to a escalator appearing to go nowhere and a sign outlining which airline is in which terminal.  There was also a female security guard shouting out "Take the escalator" over and over as people were exiting.

This is what I saw: people groggy from jetlag, scarred by Immigration and Customs, confused by the lady guard yelling the same thing over and over, with somewhat of a language barrier in some cases, who have never been to O'Hare and not familiar with domestic airlines.  The result: a sort of vertigo and people looking all around and up above to get bearings and information.  They never looked down.  If they did, they'd see a collage of baggage and luggage carts and never the arrows.

All of this reminded me of a post that Bruce Temkin wrote back in August about the new elevators in New York's Marriott Marquis.  I encourage you to read the post and travel back here.  If you've not the time, his overall point was that one key design element can go a long way.

So why talk about the airport when this is a business blog?  Good question.  I think the people at O'Hare meant well when they devised the stick the colored arrows on the floor solution.  I really do.  My main indictment here is they designed for themselves and not for the groggy and confused passenger.  They made the groggy and confused passenger even more confused.  That's a big no no.

It's a big no no in business, too.  We should never make people confused by our business processes.  We should never make them feel like they made a mistake (even if they had) with the reward being an alarming error message and instructions to call a random 800# with an obscure code to report to the phone rep.  And if you think I threw that out there randomly, I didn't.  That was my customer experience with a loyalty program recently.  No lie.

As business owners and executives, we are supposed to make things easy and seamless for the customer and not for ourselves.  Even in the worst and most stressful, complex moments, the #1 feeling the customer should have is confidence as they are doing business with us.  It's the emotion people have (in addition to the actual product/service) that make people want to come back to us.  They are buying confidence and it always has an equal or greater price than the product/service itself.

And this point of emotion is critical.  When anyone buys anything, it's to address a particular pain point that he/she has.  Sometimes it's not a grave pain point but sometimes it is.  The way we interact with prospects and customers should be predicated on the underlying diagnosed pain and not what we choose to foist upon them.

So, let's go back to the arrow example.  Have you had an experience where you've made to feel like you've a bit of customer vertigo?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Attitude (and Amplitude) of Gratitude

I still have "Surprise and Delight on the brain" today.  I mentioned Neiman Marcus' attempt in my last post and totally forgot to bring up my post about Oprah last month.  Truthfully, maybe Oprah's efforts are better described as "Shock and Awe" but in a good way.  If she had done small gestures, she would have been criticized for being cheap.

The fact of the matter is that when you do something wholly unexpected, people notice.  And they tell other people about it.  The item that inspired my last post would never have been written had it not been for the extraordinarily subtle, yet effective, gestures from the Buick salesman.  And I still believe they were kind though many of you may think otherwise.

With all this chatting about "Surprise and Delight" that I do, many of you probably think I am obsessed with this notion.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  My thinking is that there are oodles of ways to do one small thing effectively that do not require a rocket scientist's knowledge.

Saying "Thank You" is one example.  It's a small thing that people remember especially when it's unexpected.  It's an acknowledgement of time, money, effort, thought, resources, people and whatever was offered.

Case in point: Amir and I went to Fleming's.  Though we had a reservation, we were seated 40 minutes late.  And they wanted to seat us in the bar instead of the dining room.  We changed our table and I will admit to having not very loving thoughts to neither the downstairs nor upstairs hosts but I was polite.  The server was knowledgeable, the steaks were good and dessert was comped because of the wait (that was a good gesture).

We left agreeing that while we enjoyed the meal, a return trip wasn't a "must do" in the near future (which tells you how strong first impressions are and how important they can be as a predictor of a return visit).  The next day, Amir got this in an email:

I will admit to you that we did not see this coming.  Yes, jaded and cynical as we are, this was not anything that we were expecting.  And maybe it's because we are so used to bad service (see herehere and here) that what should be rote is actually distinctive.  And the sad thing is that this was distinctive.

It shouldn't have been.  At the very least, everyone should be extending some sort of Thank You gesture in the best way they know how and in the best way they can.  This is because we've all read the data that correlates business performance with customer service.  If X, then Y.

As for the note itself, my Fleming's friends didn't call us out by name but I don't think they needed to either.    Why?  Because they thanked me for choosing to dine with them and that they hoped that I would think of them again.  That's very powerful.  It's recognition that my dining dollars can go anywhere.  It's recognition that they serve us at our pleasure and not that we are obligated to do business with them.  It's recognition that if enough of us don't do business with them, they will cease to exist.

Which is why the Buick salesman's actions were compelling.  The salesman knew, unlike his Cadillac peer, that customers still have power.  He knew that the dealership doesn't exist without a customer base.  He knew that he can't "keep the lights on" if he displays behaviors that repel instead of attract.

Again, what should have been rote is distinctive.  And the sad thing is that this was distinctive.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's the Relationship, Stupid.

The title of today's post is a riff on what drove Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign... This current election cycle (over)occupies my mind these days and I won't cry when it's over!

I've often joked that I started my Marketing career around the time of the abacus. My salad days at AmEx were before online marketing hit it big and when Palm Pilots were just getting popular. As much much as this ages me, I'm also thankful for not having gadgets or technology take the place of the basic learning I received.

I'm not about to launch into a speech about my early marketing days being much like walking uphill both ways in the driving snow as a schoolkid. There are many things about those days that I'm glad are over. But, I'm glad that I had to learn the basics of acquisition, brand building, relationship building, customer engagement, loyalty, etc., in seemingly rudimentary ways especially as they compare to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc.

Earlier this year, I talked about "Surprise and Delight" and though I applauded the gesture from Neiman Marcus, I bemoaned the execution. The instinct to do something "just because" is a good one but how you act on the instinct is so critical because the gesture can fall flat just as it did with the Neiman Marcus example.

These thoughts are courtesy of this past Friday's #kaizenblog chat and this post by Bill Taylor about why businesses find it so hard to display simple acts of kindness. Take a moment to read it because it's quick and it's truly worth it - and please remember to come back to this humble missive. The "surprise and delight" in that example puts our well meaning friends at Neiman Marcus to shame.

More cynical people will say, "The guy needs to get those cars off of his lot!" Maybe so. But honoring the $1000 certificate, allowing him to keep the car and sending flowers are all costs out of the guy's pocket. That's a cut into margin. Moving a car off the lot at a loss doesn't help the salesman's cause too much.

Here's my favorite part:

"Success today is about so much more than just price, quality, reliability — pure economic value. It is about passion, emotion, identity — sharing your values.

Nobody is opposed to a good bottom-line deal — "cold beer at a reasonable price," in the immortal words of Bruce Springsteen, who prefers his Cadillacs pink. But what we remember and what we prize are small gestures of connection and compassion that introduce a touch of humanity into the dollars-and-cents world in which we spend most of our time."

This is exactly right. The Buick salesman's gestures of connection and compassion were distinctive precisely because they were small touches of humanity. They were homespun and completely technology free.  They're not over the top, gimmicky marketing tricks. Truly - the salesman could have done something really flashy online. He didn't even have that urge.  That's unheard of these days.

The art and science of relationship building are just as more important today than before mainly because we mistake technology and what we can do with technology as marketing. We spend more time looking at the functionality of timed tweets, Google analytics, which words are better primed for "RT" than others, attractive Facebook landing pages, etc. We forget that relationship building can take time and is borne of delivering value to others to demonstrate that we are the "real deal" and can earn their trust.

And, thankfully Jason Falls backs me up this morning.  Here's an excerpt from today's Malcolm Gladwell post:

"I’ve long said at some point the pendulum will swing back and people will realize it’s the offline, face-to-face relationships that are meaningful. Brands that find ways to move their online (weak tie) communities offline (strong tie), are the ones that will win in the long run."

Before anyone points out that I play on Twitter/Foursquare/Etc. and tag me a hypocrite - know that I value technology immensely which is one of the many reasons why I'm glad I've left my AmEx days behind. On the other hand, I value the human touch, one on one communications, understanding what drives a person business, who a good contact is for them and then delivering on the ask within the best of my ability. It's at that point that we incorporate technology on delivering the ask...  if appropriate.

I wish I could say the Buick salesman is a genius for having this personal philosophy of basic relationship building. But he's not. I'd say it's more about him having a very healthy amount of common sense... and kindness. And we could all learn a little something from him.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, October 21, 2010

There's no I in Customer...

But there is a U!  Okay, so that was a bad riff on that original "There's no I in team" but the message is just the same.  We've all had instances when we feel like, as the customer, we're inconveniencing the company with whom we choose to do business.  We've all had similar horror stories that we've shared over blogs, drinks, meals, etc.

This past July, I shared with you this story courtesy of Chicago's hometown airline.  You'll remember that while I applauded the pilot's caution (and still do), I bemoaned the lack of even feigned regret by the customer service agents on the ground.  Don't even get me started on all of the misinformation, too!  I just felt like I wasn't appreciated and rather taken for granted.  It was almost as if they airline could operate without any customers at all which, if course, is ludicrous.

So why bring all of this up now?  There's a nice little blurb that I saw on Brandfreak that I'd like to share with you.  There's a new campaign by JetBlue (videos are on YouTube) that demonstrates how insane airline service looks if it were to take place on the ground.  Here are two really great examples:

I think my favorite is the one with the $25 bag fee and is more effective than Southwest's "Bags fly free" language in their advertising.  These videos, to me, are masterfully done because they show to what extent, as customers, we've had control wrested from us by the major airlines.

But I can't blame airlines only because we ALL do it - small and big business both.  I've had the great fortune of networking with many eager entrepreneurs and executives lately and I've heard lots of passion and excitement about their business ideas.  And I use those words deliberately...  The passion is for their ideas.  But I haven't heard the passion for the customer they hope to attract and retain.

I've not heard who these customers are.  I've not heard why these customers have caught there eye versus other types of customers.  I've not heard that these product/service ideas are borne of "pain" their ideal customers are experiencing due to the lack of this product/service.  I've not heard how incrementally better customer revenues/life/efficiency/happiness would be if this product/service existed.  And the list goes on...

To be clear: these behaviors are not intentionally selfish or self absorbed.  They are more a function of being too in love with the idea of their brand/product/service/whatever to be objective about it which can be a fatal error.  There's a phrase many of us have heard which (I think) goes: give to get but don't give to get.  It seems to apply here.

What's your take?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, October 18, 2010

Focus: A Love Letter to Intelligentsia Coffee

So last week I told you about a Starbucks misadventure...  Today, I'd like to tell you a coffee story of a different sort.

If you're a coffee lover in Chicago, chances are you have at least heard of Intelligentsia.  If you're from around these parts, love coffee and have NOT been to Intelligentsia, I would strongly suggest you pay a visit.  It can be a life changing coffee experience.  There are some locations around LA so do pop in if you've a chance.

Admittedly, I don't go as often as I'd like.  When I do go, I'm reminded of what coffee should taste like, how magical it can be and how something as "simple" as a cup of coffee can turn a frown upside down.  Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels that way because every time I'm at the Randolph Street location, it's jam packed.  Amir says another location is packed during the week as well.

So why did I put simple in quotes?  Well, it is anything but a simple process.  Intelligentsia buyers travel around the world to visit all of the coffee producers to ensure quality of the bean, ensure that the grower is committed to healthy environmental practices and sustainable social practices.  Also, trade partners (including exporters) have to pledge to transparency such that it's clear that the grower is getting the agreed upon price for the beans.   You can learn more about the Direct Trade practice here.

They also spend a lot of time analyzing and refining their roasting and production processes.  They have two dedicated facilities (Chicago and Los Angeles) and the approach sounds a little bit like alchemy.  Oh sure, they've got machines to do the heavy lifting because they're roasting 3 million pounds of beans a year.  But it's not possible to do well without someone closely making adjustments as needed based on science, experience and intuition.  There's more of a description here.

So how do they actually make a cup?  Watch this 2 minute video to see their level of precision in action.  It will give you a sense of the precision behind the scenes!

The last part of the video, you see that they have roughly 700 - 1000 transactions per day.  Of course, some are espresso drinks -- Amir says the cappuccino complete with the milk froth design on top is magical.  But, many are the prosaic cup of joe demonstrated here.  It's a beautifully choreographed dance with consistent level of quality in every single cup.

Why spend so much time talking to you about coffee?  Well, because this isn't a love letter to coffee.  It's a love letter to focus.  The laser like precision from farm to table can only be admired if not replicated.  It is a love letter to strategy.

Too often, we get caught up in the shooting star or dreams of a magic solution that will help with everything because it's too hard to have a vision that translates into a viable strategy with the end state refined/defined product/service as the output of that strategy.  The folks at Intelligentsia have made a commitment to the most perfect cup of coffee possible and have created roadmaps to get to that end state from growing to buying to roasting to serving.

They understand that it's more than free mp3s, free wifi, etc., that set them apart.  They may also understand that their level of precision may prevent them from the same level of ubiquity as other places.  And they're probably fine with that.  That level of ubiquity would be counter to the dedication to the most perfect cup of coffee possible.

I don't know these people personally but I don't think they are geniuses.  And I say that because it's easy to dismiss other people's focus/discipline/whatever by ascribing superhuman qualities to them.  What are these people if not geniuses?  They are patient.  They are thoughtful.  They are disciplined.  They have vision (but are not visionaries).  They are master strategists.

Their precision inspires me to do better.  What's your take?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When You Assume...

Many of us have heard this expression before:

When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.

The language may be salty for some but it can be a very apt expression at times.  Sadly, today was no different.  I went to a local Starbucks and paid $2.26 for a $2.16 drink.  When I didn't get my change, I asked for my dime.  Both the person behind the register and the guy standing behind me laughed.  I walked off with my change and went to find a seat.  Five minutes later, the guy walked up to me and said scornfully, "Make sure you get that dime back!" and went on his way.

It was a nasty thing to have done and I was shocked at the behavior.  But really, the main issue is that the guy didn't consider that maybe that dime matters.  What if I were unemployed and had to watch every penny but occasionally treated myself to a drink?  What if I live paycheck to paycheck and have to account for everything I spend but, like the unemployed example, treated myself?  What if I were traveling on business and had a strict per diem?

He assumed.  He made an ass out of him and me.

Assumptions about how other people actually live and how they are marketed to has been top of mind for me recently.  I read this article the other day and it had me thinking quite a bit about assumptions and trying to fit square pegs into round holes.  A really striking data point: never married 25 - 34 singles now slightly outnumber their married counterparts (46% to 45%).  Just 10 years ago, married outpaced singles in that same age group by 20 percentage points.

And yet, as the article also points out, advertising targeting singles skews much younger.  And, very few companies and agencies have devoted resources to crafting messaging and strategies that are more suitable for older singles.   Thankfully, some are turning that around just a bit -- Coldwell Banker and NCL to name just a few.  

But the fact remains that marketers and advertisers are happier assuming that singles want to be coupled/married because it's easier to put together a campaign for homogenous people.  They find it difficult or maybe inconvenient to shift that mindset despite the changes in population.  The tragedy of it all is that many singles are happily and intentionally single.  And want to be spoken to in ways that are respectful of them and mindful of their needs as a buying audience.

And it's not just singles that aren't being marketed to properly...  This article covered the changing face of parents (age, ethnicity and sexual preference) in the U.S. despite the singular "look" of the young, and married, American mother in advertising.  

Really interesting: 42% of mothers in a study by Marketing to Moms Coalition thought that ads that target them are ineffective and 28% found those ads to relate to them as a mother unappealing.  Why might that be?  For one, there are upwards of 6 million children with same sex parents in the home, for example.  And, data that show that 64% of mothers are married and that almost 40% of 2007 births were to unmarried women.  Before anyone has an episode of "Teen Mom" dancing before their eyes, only 23% of 2007 births were to teen moms.

This is a great excerpt from that article that says it all:

"One 43-year-old mother of three young children told me that she's noticed an "interesting division" between news coverage and marketing. "There's a lot of press that talks about parents being older these days but marketing is still geared toward younger moms," she said. "Brands show younger moms or, at least, moms that are younger than me.""

All of this brings me back to assumptions.  We make snap judgments all the time based on very few pieces of data.  In many cases, we allow these snap judgments to inform how we design marketing strategies/campaigns and inform how we do business with one another.  

And we do this because it's easier. We do this because we don't want to think about extenuating circumstances.  We do this because we think people are just like us.  We do this because we think people should be just like us.  We do this because we think our products and services are fine "as is" and do not need revisiting and reshaping to fit today's consumer.

Why do you think we do this?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, October 4, 2010

Beware the Social Media Snake Oil Fire

I'm fired up with some coffee and am about to dash off for an invigorating workout but I'd like to share some thoughts with you.

As you know by now, I have a tendency to find the funny where I can.  So, in the last post, I mentioned the FB page (for a chain restaurant) that said it was passionate for people but yet did little to engage in conversation let alone any other behaviors that showed an interest in building and maintaining relationships with its customers.  I asked you, at the end of that post, if you were watering your relationship plants.

In another instance of finding the funny, I brought your attention to some snake oil being peddled at a seminar I attended in September.  That seminar was hosted by a local business training consultancy and featured a "marketing coach" who had figured out social media for all of us -- boy, smart guy -- and was willing to share everything he learned for the low price of $1500 (steak knives optional).  Smart AND generous...  whew!

What I neglected to tell you last time was that the "marketing coach" received a personal endorsement from the owner of the consultancy that hosted the seminar.  The owner said that everything he learned about marketing came from his coach, that his coach was top notch and that he was sure we would all benefit if he were our coach, too.

I believe in the art of the follow up but I didn't get a formal one after that seminar.  A call or an email after the seminar that asks "how did we do" or "what could we have done better" or even "thanks for coming."  After all, they required me to check in and provide my contact information at the seminar.  And, I had to share all of that when I signed up for it in the first place.  To date, there's been no effort to at least network for the sake of karma, paying it forward or making a deposit in the goodwill piggy bank.

Why is this funny?  Well, the marketing coach told us about identifying a minimum number of leads and having a minimum number of prospect conversations per day to keep the sales engine humming.  Not a bad thing; as I've said many a time, regardless of channel, it's always about building good relationships one by one.  But since that didn't happen here, I guess the consultancy owner and his marketing coach need to chat with one another a bit more about the art of the follow up!

It's also funny because...  well...  I'm sorry to say that this same guy who learned so much from his marketing coach sent me this email on Saturday via LinkedIn.  I've blocked out any identifiers and have left in his typos.

"Hi Parissa,

Would you like to attend as my guest? I have 8 ticket left for "XX"  I am excited about this event! View a video at XXX that will help any business owner to explode their business. It's a great opportunity to network and learn cutting edge strategies on how to bring in new prospects with Social Media and Close More Sales. Hope to see you there. Past attendees raved about it!"

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  You can't make this stuff up and just reinforced that everything I heard in that seminar truly was snake oil.  And, when I read this note, my heart hurt for the guy because this just rendered him a bit ridiculous...  I don't want to explode my business per se but expanding it would be nice.

In that post when I first described this seminar to you, I had an excerpt from Mitch Joel:

"If Social Media has taught us anything, it's that people love these real interactions between real human beings. And, as those relationships grow, those who are interested can play, connect and contribute to the brands that matter most to them. That's no small feat."

His words struck me then and particularly now.  It's so hard to build relationships one by one that are sustainable over time.  It's so hard to be viewed as someone who's trusted and who always has something to bring to the table.  It's not an activity to be taken lightly and it takes a series of meaningful exchanges (in your peer's, customer's or prospect's eyes) before others decide to do business with you.  As I said then, people are smart and savvy enough to reject cutesy gimmicks and tweets.

Is someone trying to sell you snake oil?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Do You Have Passion For People?

Goodness, it's been a busy couple of weeks.  I've not been able to write as much as I'd like and the feeling is much like not having the vital, life giving cup of coffee in the morning: off kilter.

I've been keeping busy on a very large project which has been great.  One of the things I've been doing is scoping out Facebook pages of different restaurant chains to see what they do well and where they can improve.  I definitely have some favorites (Hi, Uno!) and then there are some that could use a little work...  we'll let them go nameless for their protection.

One in particular is a larger chain but its official FB page has little more than 400 fans.  The last time anyone posted anything on this page is September 19...  and it was a customer complaint about a closed location.  So, I found this little blurb just above the "information" box more than a little comical:

"We are passionate about People, Food & Place!"

I found it comical because if we put a claim like this out there in the socialmediaosphere (new word), we have to live up to it at least somewhat.  It may very well be that this is the experience inside any of this chain's units no matter where you are in the country.  But, if it's not the experience on FB (or anywhere online), then it's a tough claim to make online.  

And it makes me wonder why they've bothered in the first place.  It's almost better not to have a social media presence than to have one that looks to be lip service at best.  Somehow, to me, a lack of authenticity online is just like WRITING IN CAPS IN EMAIL.  It's jarring to the audience though it may not have been the intention.

In all fairness, I'm not in a position to criticize.  Our 678 Partners FB page (here) needs a little razzle dazzle in terms of look and feel, too.  But, I can say this: no matter how humble our page may be, we welcome all new "likers" by name in our status updates and we post relevant content to our services.  We also have great back and forth commentary based on what we post.  

But this isn't about us.  It's about the conversations we have and the relationships we choose to build regardless of platform.  Let's go back to the "People, Food & Place" example.  If one is truly passionate for people, then we have to make relationships to back that up.  Many say that it's the number of LinkedIn connections that matter and we've all seen people swiftly hand out business cards at events almost as if they are at swap meets.

Time and time again, I think back to a quote I mentioned in some earlier posts (here, here and here).  This part of the quote resonates with me now:  

"The new economy is not just about the exchange of information; it's about the exchange of relationships. Relationship management is nothing new, but with the advent of the internet as a communications infrastructure, it's more important than ever -- particularly at a time when there's more noise than ever."

And also, this Mitch Joel interview I mentioned in the second of those three posts also resonate here.  Here's one excerpt I'd like to call out again for you:

In a day and age where following, friending, or subscribing to anyone about anything is nothing more than a simple click away, there needs to be some time, effort, and thought put against the idea that being connected is basic and primal, but actually creating any level of engagement with an audience, community, or whatever you want to call whomever has agreed to follow or friend you, is a whole other ballgame.

If there is passion for people, do you make the time to build authentic relationships with them within the constructs of the online medium?  Do you elicit reaction, ask for opinion, share interesting piece of information, train/reward advocates, etc?  Do you show that you care?

I know we're all busy; that's a given in this multitasking age in which we live.  But, these relationships that we have with people who follow us are ephemeral at best.  We've got to feed and nurture them so that they have as much a stake in the relationship with us as we do with them.  

It's like a plant.  Sure, initially you want to make sure the pot is just so, that it's getting the right amount of light, that you water it just enough (not too much or too little), trim the leaves, check the soil, change the soil, etc.  But you always have to do that.  It may become routine but if you want it around and thriving it's got to be done.  It's not enough to remember to water it occasionally.  All of those other steps come are critical as well.

Are you watering your relationship plants?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Social Media Snake Oil and Ginsu Knives

So last week, I attended a half day seminar about improving sales technique and marketing strategies.  I won't say where I was, who were the speakers, etc., because...  well...  I was checking out a friend's competition.  My mission was to see the ways in which the speakers connected with their audience.

One of the speakers, a self proclaimed marketing expert in a shiny suit, whipped the crowd up by walking up and down the room, sometimes invading personal space asking if the audience was afraid of success, competition, being overwhelmed, etc.  Many nodded yes which was permission for him to probe and expose many (common) insecurities we have as business owners and executives: expenses, lower revenues, competition, etc.

The frenzy reached a fever pitch when he started talking about social media.  He stirred up many emotions when he talked about how the social platforms can be so darn confounding, that no one had enough time in the day to figure it out but it is where the most money is made and that we could all use more leads that we should be closing more successfully.

He managed to share at spitfire pace that he had 47 websites, made millions per year and had a custom web/Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter team to figure out all of this social media stuff.  And because he's figured it all out, he would share it with us so we wouldn't have to waste time figuring it out on our own.  He offered pre written tweets, offered pre written FB/LinkedIn status messages, told us that pictures were better than words in Facebook Ads, teased us with beautiful FB landing pages, said our marketing budgets couldn't exceed greater than 7% of total budget and more...

This was offered for the low low price of $1995.  And, if we acted by the end of the next ten minute break, he'd give us an additional $500 discount.  And he reminded us again that he's got many customers, made millions and that we can be just like him if we forked over the cash.  Generous, no?  Conjures up this famous commercial...

Shockingly, about 15% of the room took him up on the offer furiously scribbling down their credit card numbers on a piece of paper and dashing up to him right as the break was ending so they wouldn't miss the extra $500 discount and chance to purchase the snake oil.  It'd be comical if it weren't so darn depressing.

I was torn about whether I should tell you this story but two tweets convinced me it was the right thing to do.  One was from Leyla Arsan whom we just interviewed (here).  This is what she said:

"When people ask me, what's the best way to gain followers - I tell them "One by One"."

The other was a Mitch Joel tweet with a link to his new post that came very quickly after Leyla's tweet.  In it he describes how Coke's Facebook page was borne of a grassroots like fan club instead of some ingeniously constructed campaign by an agency and foisted upon us via cutesy tweets or pre written status messages.  Coke leveraged its goodwill by correctly identifying, incenting and rewarding its evangelists for spreading the love.  Here's a nice excerpt:

"If Social Media has taught us anything, it's that people love these real interactions between real human beings. And, as those relationships grow, those who are interested can play, connect and contribute to the brands that matter most to them. That's no small feat."

This perfectly sums up why the snake oil presentation last week was so bothersome to me.  It's no small feat to build and grow relationships regardless of large brand or a startup.  It requires meaningful exchanges with your prospects and customers for them to want to learn more about you.  People are smart and savvy enough to reject cutesy tweets.  It takes time and effort to gain followers one by one.

Serious, smart customers know how to separate the wheat from the chaff -- how to separate authenticity from gimmick.  If we want to have a steady stream of loyal and referring customers, it's exactly as Leyla tweeted and Mitch wrote in his post.  These good relationships are borne of time, dedication, focus and our contributions.

Has anyone ever tried to sell you social media snake oil?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oprah's Marketing 101 Class

This morning, Oprah kicked off her last season as talk show diva extraordinaire.  Love her, hate her, read salacious gossip about her, she knows how to captivate an audience.  Regardless of your personal feelings, her longevity really can't be denied.  After all, Oprah toppled Phil Donahue, my mother's 1970s talk show hero and, at one time, a beacon of daytime TV.  Remember Rolonda, Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones???  All relegated to the dustbin of talk show history.

Which is why today I scheduled my daily futile battle with the elliptical at 9am local time to see what she had in store for us.  There I was, captive to the elliptical with my iPod at the ready.  As the minutes wore on, I forgot all about it.

My friends, today was Marketing 101 presented in all of its captivating glory.  The show opened with her and John Travolta.  She surprised a circle of Boston area women with a road trip to Chicago based on the one she took with BFF Gayle King.  Oprah surprised a manly fan with a personal invitation to the show via NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson.

And the fun continued: Oprah announced she was taking all of them with her to Australia.  Yes.  Australia.  An 8 day trip complete with side trips to wine country, Great Barrier Reef, Sydney shopping and a special Oprah show at the famous opera house.  Here's the clip...  watch the audience go bonkers:

So why am I, sharing this and calling it Marketing 101?  Because she just gets it.  Oprah understands that engagement and buzz are shared in concentric circles.  She understands that both engagement and buzz come from the unexpected, the unthinkable and the creative.  She understands that to be distinctive, to make a mark and to get people to talk about you is to make connections in ways that are meaningful and special to others.  Proof: the news hit the airwaves and here I am typing away about it.

Oprah understands that for longer term relationship building and loyalty, you have to find new ways to "surprise and delight" your clients, or her audience in this case, to keep the magic alive.  I can hear some of you scoffing and suggesting that it's the unlimited money that creates these over the top surprises.  To that I say...  Duh.

To that I also say that it does not absolve us from getting at the basic point by understanding scale.  What Oprah has done can be scaled down.  And to suggest that it can't be done along with an unwillingness to listen suggest that we have no imagination.

There are numerous free/close to free ways to surprise and delight customers.  Send a handwritten thank you card, give them a Starbucks gift card, remember their favorite brand/product and let them know when a new shipment is in...  the list is endless.  These are activities we can do very easily and quickly that generates engagement and buzz that can travel in concentric circles.  Let's not use money as an excuse for not generating buzz.

Oprah made every single one of her audience feel special and lucky today.  We absolutely have that same capacity to make our customers feel special and lucky, too.  So why aren't we doing it?  I'll leave it for you to ponder.


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Food Trucks Matter More Than You Realize

It's no secret to those who know me that there's always some cooking show on the TV, much to the chagrin of Amir who'd rather be watching some form of sports.  So, it should be no surprise that I'm celebrating that Chicago finally has some food trucks.  I've (over)tweeted their locations, their menus and any interesting food truck story that I can find.

What is it about these trucks that are so fascinating other than food??? There is the fun of the truck that chooses my corner and me catching the tweet at just the right time with the announcement of both menu and location.  It's not unlike the joy of hearing the Good Humor truck when we were young albeit without the tech whizz bangery.

The fun is also that dining is one of the few experiences we have where all senses are employed and multiple people can have this same concurrent, intensely human, multisensory experience.  The food truck experience is intensely social.  And it brings me back to this post from early last month which was triggered by this tweet by David Meerman Scott:

"Get out of your nice comfortable office and meet with your potential customers. Use what you learn to create valuable stuff online."

As I mentioned then, it's all well and good that I'm parked behind my laptop like many others in my quest to be all things social.  I came of age in what is now the equivalent of marketing hieroglyphics (aka direct marketing) and am making my strategic experience mesh with what I learn in the social space.

At some point, you've got to have a multisensory experience beyond the tapping of the keyboard and accelerating your (or my) need for reading glasses.  Things become more meaningful with human touch even though I've read that half of all Facebook users log in once a day and one third of time spent online is spent on Facebook.  

We still gather in person for Barcamps and ProductCamps.  We go because we want to mingle and learn from thought leaders and also meet people who are eager to learn just like us.  We like to be with originators and other users.

Let's get back to food trucks.  The chef is the originator of content, products, etc. and can certainly talk it up all she or he wants in a blog, post pictures on Facebook and tweet pictures as well.  But, really, what's the point?  Unless the chef's massively gluttonous, all of those lovely things will go to waste.  The chef has to share.

Similarly, we can sit behind our laptops while damning ourselves to the prosaic turkey on wheat come lunch.  But, we can give ourselves permission to emerge, interact with the originator, witness creativity first hand and maybe meet some new people all at the same time thereby satisfying two intensely human needs: socialization and nourishment.  And all of this happens organically because we happen to read the right tweet at the right time.

Don't believe me? Here's an exchange between Amir and Chef Phillip Foss (see below).  Amir loved his sandwich, by the way, and the joy of something different for lunch.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef