Thursday, May 27, 2010

@SouthwestAir: Last to Market and Proud!

Greetings from Florida!

I'm mixing business with pleasure for the next few days or so -- spending time with parents, friends and Amir Rafizadeh, the Network Sommelier!

Why share this with you? Well, I flew Southwest this time around and bided some of my time thumbing through Spirit, their inflight magazine.  I was woefully unprepared: I forgot to bring a book and my hopes were dashed for some sort of wi-fi connectivity similar to what I had when I flew AirTran earlier this year or even Delta last week.  Sure, I should have planned in advance and research wi-fi availability on Southwest but as I mentioned in this post, that sort of organization often eludes me.  

So there I was, bemoaning my fate, flipping pages and trying to block out the noise of the retiree gin rummy game to my right.  And then, I got to page 225: Southwest Spotlight.  The title of the article? "Coming Up: Wi-Fi"  My curiosity was piqued, I dove right in and was duly rewarded.

What did I learn?  Apparently, being one of the last to the inflight wi-fi party is intentional.  Here are some of the reasons why:
  • Southwest likes to take the road less traveled (pardon the pun): online fares only through their website, bags fly free, humor, etc., all with the customer in mind.
  • Southwest wants to deliver the most robust inflight wi-fi solution and that takes time.  Robust means faster sending and receiving speeds than other carriers because of satellite technology versus air to ground technology.
  • Southwest wants to control the wi-fi "Customer Experience" (title case was theirs, not mine).  This means that instead of Gogo Inflight driving pricing, Southwest has the "flexibility" to offer the service however they wish at whatever price point they wish.
  • Southwest conducted a year's worth of market research: usability, customer preference and the like to maximize both productivity and/or entertainment inflight.
  • Southwest says that, all in all, the road to superior wi-fi experience at a fair price is paved with patience and is indirectly asking us for continued patience.
That was marketing poetry right there.  Truly.  Here is Southwest saying, "Yeah, I'm late or last."  However, its defensive posture is woven so beautifully in a story about you the customer and how every waking moment is spent conjuring up ways to satisfy you the customer.  The spin is essentially, I may be one of the last to fulfill your need, but I'll be the best at fulfilling your need because I'm building this with you, my loyal customer, in mind every step of the way.

Imagine if, instead of the above, Southwest had said the following:
  • I like doing things my way and on my terms.
  • I like being better than everyone else.  I didn't think it would take as long, though.
  • I don't like the idea of paying for a third party as it cuts into my revenues and I'm all about efficiency.  Maybe I can make more money doing things with my own built in network.  Let me tinker with that a little bit and I'll let you know when I'm done.
  • Oops.  People didn't seem to like some of my original ideas and the others ones are hard to implement.  My developers and product managers have had to go back to the drawing board a few times so my milestone schedule is shot.  And oh yeah, this stuff is expensive!  My financials need some tweaking.
  • You'll just have to wait.  Like I said, this is on my terms.
Admittedly, I've taken some creative license and there is some exaggeration here to prove a point.  In this post that was borne of a Chris Brogan retweet, we talked about why a "You" story always trumps a "Me" story and this anecdote is no different.  To be a trusted provider of a good or service, I have to take great pains to demonstrate that I'm fashioning said good or service in the mirror image that you the customer expect and that would enhance your overall user experience.  As I said then, if I am effective as a marketer in delivering what you need and I treat you the way you require to be satisfied, I earn your loyalty as my customer and maybe, if I'm lucky, you'll tell a few friends or strangers.

This is why the article was particularly enjoyable to me.  It took my disgruntled self filled with semi uncharitable feelings about the wi-fi situation and convinced me that waiting interminably for wi-fi on Southwest was good even though I didn't know how the waiting would pay off or what the pay off would be.  It also converted me back into a Southwest fan even though I was starting to see what else was out there in the airline dating pool that might better suit my inflight wi-fi needs.  It's embarrassing to say but it took a few minutes to snap out of it and say, "Hey...  that was clever!"

Good marketing.  Hard to argue with it.  What's your take?  Send your thoughts or please share below.  I look forward to hearing from you!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, May 24, 2010

Persian Is Not French or Why Listening Matters

There has been a flurry of activity over the last week or so here at the 678 Partners ranch.  I can't tell you about them just yet but I will do so when I can...  I'm awful at keeping secrets so it's just best to distract myself by telling you about a funny little thing that happened when I was in LA last week.

I've been helping someone figure out a new living situation.  As you know, cost is the name of the game but location and amenities are important too.  And, though you can't put a dollar value on it, the type of people who will be your neighbors add some element to your "quality of life" or similar.  It's nebulous but it's also the truth.

The property manager was very patient and showed us the building along with several apartment options: layout, floor, view, etc.  It was pretty much standard fare until we got to one small question I had.  See, the person I'm helping is predominantly Persian speaking and I was curious if there were some people in the building or complex who were also Persian speaking so there would be some commonality even if it never went beyond basic chit chat. 

Author's Note: As background, LA and surrounding areas have the largest expat Iranian population in the world.  So, asking about Persian speakers wasn't totally random.  There's even a joke about Beverly Hills Persians in Clueless.

So, I asked "are there Persian speaking residents here?"  The property manager turns around and said, "Hmm.  Persian.  Persian.  Gee.  Let me think about that.  Well, there's a resident from Belgium -- can't remember the name.  But then there's also Mr. Ed Laval.  I'm sure there's more but does that help?"  I just nodded politely.

Did that actually help?  Not in the slightest.  Not even an iota.  Not even in an alternative universe was that helpful.  To be fair, it could be that when I said Persian, she heard French.  Or when I said Persian, she heard Parisian.  Either way, the result was comical and not unlike the hundreds of times I've been asked if I am French or was born (or conceived!) in Paris.

And then I realized it was a kind of sad symbol for the larger problem we have as Marketers and Salespeople.  The manager's job is to sell, sell and sell.  She has empty units to fill and a certain profitability target to hit every month.  She was on her script and, in fairness to her, she was fulfilling her job.  Except for the listening part.  And that's where she lost this potentially lucrative piece of business.

We don't listen.  Or we are not listening as much as we should be or in the ways we should be.  If you remember, in this recent post, I said that marketers are quick to provide a solution without bothering to make a precise diagnosis.  I also said that we have to take the time to ask strategic questions to get to the actual source of the problem so that we can provide better solutions and become a trusted advisor or a "go to" person.  

The danger point is in the assumption that we've heard and understood everything we need to hear.  So, I'm going to add that we need to be 100% sure that we're listening to and comprehending the answers we get when we ask those strategic diagnostic questions.  And if we don't hear or understand fully, we should ask clarifying questions until we get to the point or the heart of the business problem.  

Mitch Joel had an excellent post last week about listening.  Essentially, he argues that great marketing success lies in truly listening to the customer at the point of need.  At that precise moment in time, where a customer self identifies as seeking a product or service, our strategic obligation is to have razor sharp hearing, to comprehend the matter intelligently and only then deliver the right solution that matches the ask.

In other words, listening is rather like a form of pull marketing.  Let's go back to my property manager anecdote to flesh this out a bit more.  When the customer is at the point of need, like I was, is envisioning herself using that product or brand, like I was, and starts to ask very specific questions, like I was...  the pre written sales and marketing script checklist stops at that precise moment.  Because the customer, like I was, is asking for help at the point of need.

The diagnosis begins.  And continues.  And continues.  And only stops when the core issue is diagnosed/uncovered.  The smart Marketer or Salesperson only then adapts himself or herself to the precise situation and crafts the solution.  We have to be nimble.  We can't expect or demand the customer adapt to us.  We have to adapt to and mirror the customer.  Because the customer has choices, like I did, and walk out the door to never come back, like I did.

Some may balk and suggest that this is the work of many hours to get to a proper diagnosis and use time as an excuse to stick with the pre written script.  Not at all.  Smart listening leads to smart clarifying questions and can be the work of a few minutes to get to the heart of the matter.  It pays off.  Truly.

What's your take?  Please send me your thoughts!

Until Next Time,

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One Brand Idea = Kiss of Death? Not Necessarily!

My Friends,

I feel like we've chatted about social media quite a bit lately...  I know it's all the rage, on trend, the "new black" and all of that good stuff.  Frankly, it's nice to think about other things from  time to time.  I'm sure you can agree with me.  Variety is the spice of life!

I was doing my usual tour of different marketing sites yesterday and came across this interesting tidbit on the Brandweek site which essentially argues that we can no longer hang our hat on a brand that describes us at exactly this point in time.  So, while it was perfectly okay for Kentucky Fried Chicken to introduce itself as that back in 1952, it's just not a tenable brand name in these health conscious days hence the shift to KFC in 1991.

These days, the pressure is on to cover as many bases as possible to retain as many customers as possible.  If you recall in my Sears post, we no longer do all of our shopping in one place.  We go to many places (online or brick and mortar) that best serves our purposes be it quality, price or even both.  As I suggested then, Sears suffered from a little bit of hubris and overconfidence that customers would always come back regardless of price or quality.

In light of this, the author posed the following:

"So I'll humbly offer this piece of advice to startup brands, big and small.  Don't just name yourself for the here and now.  Try instead to look inside an imaginary crystal ball (or heck, a real one, if you can find one that works) and think about the way the brand name is likely to be viewed in the near and distant future.  Given the ever-increasing savvy of consumers, it will behoove you to use some forethought when it comes to naming."

Hmph.  As a marketer and as a consumer, I don't have an issue with smart, strategic branding in the slightest.  And yet, I find this paragraph more than a little troubling.  You know what that means...  a bulleted list!  And away we go:
  • What happened to the customer?  The worst possible and yet most effective way to turn off a prospect or discerning customer is to try to distract them with bright lights and gimmickry.  Our customer is our boss and our job is to deliver the "ask" and nothing less.  If we don't, we get fired.  Pretty simple.
  • One other thing that kind of yells out to me in this paragraph is that there is no mention of the product in question that is the purported centerpiece or perhaps inspiration of the startup brand that delivers the "ask" I mentioned in the first bullet.  Are we so superficial as marketers and consumers that the vibe of something matters more than the what of something?  Are we really that vapid?  If this is expert advice, I guess the answer is yes.  What a bummer.
  • Is it even possible that a sexy and/or futuristic name can boost a so so product for the long term?  I know that smart marketers can create enough buzz and hype for a successful product launch but this question is about Year Two and beyond.  This is where "regression to the mean" comes into play.  I believe, for the most part, consumers revert back to value for dollars spent.  You can put "lipstick on a pig" but at the end of the day, she's still a sow.  Sorry, Miss Piggy.
  • Why must we be so insecure?  The article did point out that Sub Zero is a brand name that does well despite its age but it suggests that as exception rather than rule.  Why can't we be the best at one (or two if related) things, continually exceed our customer expectations as to our limits/imagination and wear that as a badge of honor in the form of our brand?  It's only complacency that allows us to lose market share a la Sears.  If we're always hungry, we're less likely to fail.
  • This paragraph suggests savvy customers.  If this is the case, they will see that our attempts to mean something to everyone ring hollow.  We can't mean something to everyone.  It's not a tenable position.  Some people are bound to dislike our product or our company for some reason or other.  Choose a name that means something and is relevant.  And then stick with it.
  • Fundamentally, this is a case of flawed strategic approach.  I said I wasn't going to do it but...  I have to talk about Social Media here.  Social Media can be a tool for good if used in the right ways: allowing humans to interact with one another meaningfully using these new networked platforms.  What happens, though, is that we let the platforms' fun glitzy gadgets take over strategy.  If we say the branding is the centerpiece of long term survival, it means that we are taking the worst of Social Media's attributes.  Glamour then become more important than substance.  Ack!

The long and the short of it is that when I read items such as this piece, I feel like marketing and branding is in crisis.  Maybe that's a bit melodramatic...  Well, maybe a lot melodramatic.  The point is that advice such as this encourages superficiality, it encourages disrespect of the customer and it encourages caring more for the brand's glitz than for the product's function.

Whew!  I've rather enjoyed talking about branding and what it means in today's marketing environment.  Please read the article and share with me your two cents.  I love the continued feedback!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, May 17, 2010

Marketing Haiku, Forrest Gump and Authenticity


On Friday afternoon, I was multitasking: enjoying nice Southern Cali weather, reading emails, talking to my inlaws, etc.  It was a multimedia cocktail of activity.  Sometimes, I paid attention to what TweetDeck had to offer.  One of the tweets that popped up was from Chris Brogan:

@chrisbrogan: #observation: people don't read to comprehend; they read to check off or comment.

Something stirred in me to retweet (and edit) to come up with this:

and some tweet to tweet RT @chrisbrogan: #observation: people don't read to comprehend; they read to check off or comment.

Now some may say that I tweeted for attention seeking purposes and hence I was guilty of the "tweet to tweet."  Maybe.  Others may say that I was being sassy to Chris Brogan and since he is famous and I am not, I have committed what is tantamount to career suicide.  Also maybe.

My intent is neither attention seeking nor sass.  In the first case, maybe all of 10 people are reading my posts on a regular basis (I'm related to half of them) and, as I've said in this post, I find Twitter to be like trading pits of yore so the chances of someone paying attention to little old me at that snapshot in time is slim to none.  In the second, I can be much sassier if I wanted.  My objection is that there are a million articles, webinars and blog posts about the attention span of the reader, the proper length of a blog/vlog what the right words are to present at the right time, etc.  The level of mass hysteria these days about what is "right" is borderline comical.

I've mentioned Mitch Joel quite a bit to you.  One of his recent posts was about how his blog is essentially a failure.  At least, his blog is a failure according to Julien Smith (co author of Trust Agents with Chris Brogan).  Essentially, Julien Smith's view is that Mitch Joel's blog does the following things "wrong" (for lack of a better word): it's too elite, all of the topics are heady, it's too long, it's not controversial and it's too far "out there" (aka not accessible).

To each his own but I respectfully disagree.  Everyone that writes should be authentic to their own voice and if it were any different, it would be painfully obvious.  If Mitch Joel is smart, writes "smart" and publishes as he goes but all of a sudden switches to a quick hit / marketing haiku style of gimmicky sexy delivery and posts for maximum tweeting effect, it would go "pear shaped" as my English friends like to say.

So, just now, I travelled over to Seth's Godin wildly popular blog and arrived upon this post which is essentially a primer on arrogance.  I travelled a little further along and found this post on elites.  The former essentially says to go forth with confidence and swagger to share your thoughts with the world and run the risk of being arrogant.  The latter describes the world as an us versus them type of environment... That if you write or read blogs of a certain ilk means that you choose to be aware, challenged and actively engaged in the lively art of marketing conversation with the effect of challenging the status quo.  And it means that you are part of the elite.

Well herein lies the problem with any type of marketing expression or strategy: that of who to believe.  Also, that of why we should believe.  Julien Smith says that Mitch Joel's blog is too elitist.  Seth Godin says that we should choose to be and proud to be elitist...  And that we should run the risk of being labelled arrogant if we deliver the next "big idea" to our clients and peers.  These two brand names are contradicting one another...  If you follow or think you follow both, what do you do?

Which takes me back to Chris Brogan's tweet and my retweet.  There's an inherent pressure to read a certain person or comment in a witty kind of way to elevate our profile (and our natural search results).  Sometimes, we're not sure what it is we're reading or why it is we are reading.  We get dazzled by the idea of something or personal brand and get drawn in as opposed to listening to our voice or what our gut dictates.  Also, when we see someone influential say "Please RT" or similar, there's often the temptation to do so without even reading the link.  Hey, I've been there.  I catch myself contributing to Twitter "noise" pollution.

I was watching "Forrest Gump" over the weekend and it struck me that the famous running scene (after Jenny leaves him) illustrates this point.  He slowly gets a stream of followers who think they understand him and look to him for inspiration that he's not necessarily there to provide.  He's doing this for healing his broken heart but serendipitously (and fictitiously) is the muse for the "Sh** Happens" bumper sticker and the "Have a Nice Day" smiley face t-shirt.  When he stops running, they're confused, lost and not quite sure what to do next.  

And it's because they're not listening to the voice within.  Do we believe in what we're reading?  Are we courageous enough to unsubscribe from certain blogs or newsletters from "elites" if we don't see or (dare I say) understand the value?  Are we courageous enough to say we've done that out loud?  I'll put it out in the public domain that I unsubscribed from Seth Godin's blog recently mainly for posts like the Arrogance and the Elites that I mentioned above.  My personal view is that I feel that some of his posts are "Intro to the Obvious" and like marketing haiku but having said that, I would be delighted to be proved wrong.  I guess it's because, as per Seth, I'm an elitist and enjoy conversation.  ;).

Who have you stopped following or reading and why?  I'd like to hear your thoughts.


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

P.S.  Here's the scene from Forrest Gump:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Quick to be Slow... The Marketing Tortoise Beats the Social Media Hare

Welcome to a Rainy Chicago Thursday...

The weather's making me a bit pensive or maybe more so than usual.  You see, courtesy of Yoda, I'm to participate in an invitation only roundtable discussion on May 22 with the National Restaurant Association show as the backdrop.  It should be a great time and an even greater learning experience with operators, other marketers and suppliers as part of the discussion.  To say I'm thrilled to be there is an understatement!

So why should I be pensive?  Well, Yoda's suggested icebreaker is for all of us to share a pet peeve.  I'm usually full of them as I'm no wallflower when it comes to having an opinion.  The thing, though is which pet peeve to share and is it more of a quirk than a peeve?  I tend to over analyze.

Luckily some unintentionally helpful social media consultants came to the rescue!  I have a friend "J" who runs a successful business but, like everyone else, wonders how this business could be doing better.  He's in an industry which benefits from an active social media presence but he doesn't feel like his current supplier is "delivering the ask" as I like to call it.  He wants to make a switch.  "A" runs another outfit in town that provides social media services to another business just like his.  Here's a basic rundown of how the conversation went from consultant A to my friend J (all on email):

1) A to J: Hi J, C told us that you were interested in learning more about us.  When would be a good time to chat?

2) J to A: Hi, I think you do great work!  But I need to know your rates.  I might not be able to afford you.

3) A to J: Hey, I can appreciate the point.  For a company like yours we'd charge $X per month with a 6 month minimum.  Here's a sheet which breaks down our expenses.

Alors!  A pet peeve worth of sharing.  Here's the thing: there's nothing technically wrong here per se.  Someone reached out to win someone's business.  And the other person asked for the rates.  As consumers we do this all the time: at the grocery store, department store, online, etc.  Unless we're billionaires, the cost matters.  

So, if this is what we do all the time, why is it a pet peeve?  See, when J told me about the exchange, my first comment back to him was that giving a price without a full blown conversation is like getting a call from your doctor from 1,000 miles away after you sneeze telling you that you have the flu and expecting to collect fees from you.  You might have the flu.  But then maybe it was just dust.  Or a small cold.  Perhaps just allergy season rearing its ugly head.  

The channel cart was put before the marketing horse which is problematic.  The issues could be anything.  J was right to ask about the rates as he's got a budget.  What A should have done, though, was to diagnose the problem instead of offering a generic solution complete with pricing.  Even if all you offer is social media strategies, a strategic marketer is channel agnostic first always and asks some of these questions (see below).  

  • What are your overall marketing activities now?  Do the results meet your expectations?
  • What do you like about working with your current partner?  What do you wish would be different?
  • What do you know about your customers?  What channels do they prefer when they hear about businesses like yours?
  • What new customers would you like to have?  What about them makes them so interesting to you?
  • What is your marketing "pain" now?  Is it awareness, branding, positioning, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, Foursquare check-ins, no YouTube videos, user reviews?
  • Who are your strategic marketing partners in any channel including the social media space?  Are there ways that you can drive business to one another via sharing content, driving offers to each other, etc?
  • There's a certain down time or opportunity cost as you make a switch from one vendor/supplier to another.  Is your "pain" bad enough to justify the move?  Are you making "enough" to stay the course or is it really hurting your revenue stream?
  • How do you define marketing success?  Is it higher foot traffic because of repeat business, higher foot traffic because of new business, higher number of sales, higher average sales, higher recommendations, more user mentions and recommendations regardless of channel, etc?
Strategic marketers should selfishly ask these diagnostic questions and resist selling features and benefits.  Why is it selfish?  Well, what if the problem is more a global marketing strategy issue and not the social media channel?  If the former, A can make a referral to a reputable agency.  If the latter and A doesn't understand the nuances of J's business, he won't ever be able to solve J's problem even if the solution is delivered in the social media channel.  In both cases, he will have wasted time, money and his reputation (aka the chance to win new business via referral).  

Interestingly, as I was thinking about this the last few days, I came across this post from Jay Baer and provided the inspiration for my title.  The long story short is that though social media is defined by fractions of instants, it doesn't excuse us from being disciplined strategic marketers.  We have to learn to take deep breaths, ask some questions, identify the root cause, formulate strategies and plan the deliveries.  These do not have to be the work of many months...  but they always have to be the work of some quality analysis.  

Do you want to be ephemeral or lasting?  I'd rather be lasting.


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, May 10, 2010

Grant Achatz: Chef Extraordinaire... And Marketing Wiz?!?!? Who Knew?!?!


I like to think of myself as a a foodie in training.  The "in training" tag will ways stick with me because I'm just not as adventurous as others.  There are certain things I'm not willing to try just to see what kind of taste journey they might provide.  I know I'd learn something if I opened my mind and allowed it to go to different ways, bend in different shapes and view the same things in utterly new and clever ways.

Which brings me to Grant Achatz (rhymes with rackets), currently at the helm of Alinea which was just named the 7th best restaurant in the world and the best restaurant in America (here).  Every real foodie (unlike moi) was already atwitter on Twitter -- couldn't resist that play on words -- about the news.  Then, our friend Chef Achatz decides to do the following: leverage the already positive buzz and increase its hang time by announcing a whole new concept (on Twitter) called Next Restaurant.  The basic premise is that the menus change by season and will either be inspired by a certain location in the past or some location in the future.  You can read more in the FAQ page.  It's interesting.

The reason why I'm talking about Chef Achatz is more than just because he's a food rock star.  What I want to talk to you about is that for this new concept, they are selling tickets to dine.  Yes, tickets.  I'll let them explain it for you (taken from their FAQ):

"Instead of reservations, our bookings will be made more like a theater or sporting event.  Your tickets will be fully inclusive of all charges, including service.  Ticket price will depend on which seating you buy -- Saturday at 8pm will be more expensive than Wednesday at 9:30pm.  This will allow us to offer an amazing experience at a very reasonable price.  We will also offer an annual subscription to all four menus at a discount with preferred seating."

Holy smokes.  Where do I even begin to talk about this type of marketing strategy?  Similar to my Best Buy mobile posts (here and here), I've listed these in no particular order...  Just the order they occur to me.

  • Groupon.  Groupon offers deals on shopping/dining with the caveat that enough people have to "buy" it for the offer to get activated.  It's what they describe as "collective buying power" for entertainment.  By selling tickets, Chef Achatz has created a closed loop Groupon.  He gets to control the following: the number of tables at any given night as well as the pricing.  Some nights, there might not be as many tables which they will control via their closed loop reservation system.  One wonders if some Groupon offers are loss leaders for restaurants.  He's eliminated that possibility in this scenario because he's sharply managing his margins using Groupon's operating model.  A "take that" approach to Groupon.  Genius.
  • Loyalty Program.  Their annual subscription is really a buy in loyalty program.  If you peel away the semantics and look at the structure, you'll see what I mean.  The value add is exclusivity: if you purchase in advance (a la Groupon), you are guaranteed preferred seating at an attractive price.  This is no different from buying into a frequent shopper program.  The company uses your pre paid subscription to fund day to day operations -- and probably gets some interest benefit, too!  Your subscription is a liability on their books, of course, but the interest on the money earned more than covers it.  Smart.
  • Positioning.  I'd like to focus in on this sentence: "This will allow us to offer an amazing experience at a very reasonable price."  There are a couple of factors at hand.  
    • The first is that there's been a ton of research to suggest that buying patterns or how consumers think about buying have changed permanently because of this recession.  Fine dining has definitely suffered: lower traffic, lower average restaurant ticket, etc.  The success of Groupon rests on this behavioral shift.  Chef Achatz knows that to maintain a steady flow of traffic and increase his reach among diners, he has to discount a certain percentage of time.  The logic is that a certain percentage of something is better than 100% of nothing.  The way to position that is to sell tickets and explain the ticket price differential (the Wednesday versus Saturday).  Clever.
    • The trick with the differential is that Grant Achatz is a very valuable brand.  There's a risk to watering himself down too much despite the fact he needs to ensure steady revenue for longer term success.  The solution?  Mask the subscription, discount or Groupon style offering as if this is a study in flexibility.  They're not calling it an offer.  They're trying to demonstrate that they are nimble.  Also Clever.
  • Urgency.  The diner is never quite certain for which night they'll be able to purchase tickets.  There may be smaller numbers available one night and larger numbers the next.  The restaurant also says that it will have two walk in tables every night.  It's almost like a trip to Las Vegas.  This does two things: first, it makes the diner try and try again.  The sense of elusiveness is too much to resist.  Second, it naturally drives people to purchase the subscription to relieve them of the suspense.

I'm sure there are a million more marketing and/or business strategy elements here that I've missed and it would be great to have your two cents here.  The long story short here is that this is a very clever treatment to expanding into a new concept and virtually ensuring its success based on how its operated over and above the cuisine itself which is sure to be excellent.  Very left and right brained thinking -- you have to admire it.

Bon Appetit!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Social Media Scat -- Why Museums Are Jazz Musicians Like Us


Lots of great activities this week coinciding with some insanely great weather.  I'm typing away at my favorite Caribou coffee (shout out to them for free wifi) and I'm inspired to write.  And away we go!

I posted my first vlog on Sunday covering a very interesting social media panel discussion organized by Chicago Gallery News and Alicia Eler at Art Chicago.  There were representatives from the Art Institute, Bad at Sports, Hyde Park Art Center and Museum of Contemporary Art.  The conversation generally was about how these arts organizations use social media and if they've gotten to the point of "best practice" for their organization and for their audience(s).

I'll stop here and tell you that I fully expected the museums had super cool ways to keep their audiences excited, engaged, rabid, etc.  I don't know why except maybe the logic was that artists are more creative than us business types.  I'm not defending the logic -- just sharing it -- so please be gentle with the scorn!

What I really enjoyed about this panel was the range and reach of institutions like the Art Institute and Hyde Park Art Center.  Both play really important roles in the city's "cultural fabric" if you will but they occupy extremes in terms of staffing and funding.  The Art Institute has an entire marketing staff covering traditional and social media and Hyde Park Art Center has Crystal Pernell, its only marketing manager, who bears that load.

Like companies, brands or products, these public non profit institutions are still figuring out some heady, social media existential things: for instance, do you have one "persona" or do you allow creative expression and diverse personality to show through as your staff tweets or posts on Facebook under one institutional name.  How that existential question gets answered methodically rests on money.  If you have the deep pockets and a large captive audience of a large museum (test, measure, test, measure, etc.).  If you don't, it is answered on the fly and on a more grassroots level (let's throw something and see what sticks).  Side note: shout out to Crystal Pernell's Tweet Up that she talked about...  it sounded like fun and I'm sorry to have missed it!

Regardless of the disciplined versus improvisational approaches, all of the groups said they were still struggling with the recipes to initiate and maintain consistent dialogue.  They understood that they needed to provide interesting or stimulating (and humorous) content to drive traffic or at least create a lasting impression, of course, using Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.  But, like us for profit types and our social media experiments, there was difficulty in getting people to revisit and engage directly with them.

They are jazz musicians like us.  That can be an incredibly awesome thing.  But, when we get caught up in the art of our own social media improvisation, we forget to invite our audience in to jam with us or to jam for us.  

And that's what I didn't hear at the panel.  I didn't hear how these institutions were fully owning the need to cultivate and encourage two way conversation similar to how Best Buy does it with their user forum and Idea Exchange, how Starbucks does it with My Starbucks Idea and how e.l.f. cosmetics engages as well.  I also didn't hear how they were cultivating and identifying their advocates/evangelists/influencers be they people who appreciate art or the artists themselves.  

We get caught up in our much needed "elevator speech" when we network or introduce ourselves to others similar to how musicians get caught up in their music when they're jamming.  We forget to use the tone and dialect of everyday conversation when we're only talking to an audience.  The beauty of advocates or evangelists are that they are your consumers just like us.  They can tell us, from a position of knowledge, why something is cool in the tones that everyday consumers use and understand yet still be true to your underlying brand essence.  In this arts example, we can appreciate the dialogue from the perspective of the artists but also people who think that certain forms of expression are things we should know about.

How to engage the advocates (artists or lovers of art)?  Well, many have blogs or other forms of expressing themselves in the social space.  Why not feature them in a short video along with their blog excerpt on the museum's FB page (and/or blog) with a tweeted link?  Why not ask them to guest blog about a favorite piece of theirs and why it impacts them so?  To borrow from Crystal's Tweet Up, maybe these advocates can be encouraged to host their own Tweet Up or maybe Tweat Up if there's food involved.  Maybe someone can host a blogtalkradio program.  Maybe there can be a cool Foursquare message checking in with tips to check out a particular artist's favorite piece, etc.

Friends, these are admittedly very simplistic ideas and clearly not exhaustive.  It's just to underscore my basic point that we can and should be doing more to excite and engage those who might be our most fierce and loyal advocates.  Letting go of the conversation and letting people "talk amongst themselves" does not mean you are giving up the brand.  If you've got your brand story firm and tight, it just means that you're socializing it more -- which is the inherent point of these online platforms.

What's your view on this?  I'd love to hear from you!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why Do We Pay More and Accept Less - Part Deux


I can't believe it's May!  We had a lovely weekend in Chicago and I spent most of it at Art Chicago which is an international fair of modern and contemporary art.  All in all, a lot of great work using all sorts of (non social) media: painting, photography, drawings, prints, sculpture, video, etc.  There was also a great arts and social media seminar which I'll also be writing about this week.  You can catch my brief vlog (recorded on May 2) on that seminar here.

About two months ago, I wrote about how everything seems to cost more while service and the notion of service have seemingly disappeared.  I also quoted some interesting data from a business survey (thanks Bruce Temkin) which showed the following:

  • 90% of the respondents said customer experience was critical to their 2010 strategy; and
  • 80% want their customer experience to be a form of competitive differentiation.

Other research (hats off again to Bruce Temkin) show that for every 10% increase in a firm's Customer Experience Index, resulted in a $284 Million positive change for every $10 Billion in revenue broken out in these ways:

  • $65 Million in additional purchases; and
  • $116 Million reduction in churn; and
  • $103 Million in word of mouth or "buzz" marketing.

I thought about that post while reading that Ryan Air wants to charge people to use the lavatories and Spirit Air wants to charge for carry on bags.  It boggles the mind why business keeps moving in the exact opposite direction.

Why am I strolling down bloggers' memory lane?  Well, some things happened in the span of this past week which made me a little more thoughtful about servicing and why it's so important to pay attention to the types of relationships we create and maintain with others.  I'm particular sensitive than ever as I'm prettying up our 678 Partners site and coming up with our "tone" and "elevator speeches" as we connect with others for our own networking purposes or making introductions.  You can't think too much about this.  Your reputation is yours to make and destroy with one sleight of hand.

Amir, my better half and business partner, and I went out to dinner last weekend to a bistro located just outside of the city.  We had an 8pm reservation and we were on time.  We announced ourselves and watched a little bit of confusion at the host's stand with some whispering.  We were asked to wait at the bar.  So we waited.  And waited.  And then waited.  The manager approached after twenty minutes and said we'd still wait and asked if we wanted a beverage.  So we ordered.  And waited.  And then waited.  We were seated a full forty five minutes after arrival.  

Now, I will say that it was a great meal.  But because of the abnormally long wait, a few things occurred: we didn't order a bottle of wine, we stuck with the one drink we had, I was sensitive to appetizer/entree price points, noticed when the water wasn't poured perfectly into the glass and almost dripped on me, I was aware of how close we were seated to other tables and how loud it was.  I also noticed that nothing was "comped" because of the inconvenience.  

Friends, all of these very high maintenance reactions were because of the unexplained and mysterious wait.  I'm normally the "oh, whatever" and "life's too short" person at the table.  But because we weren't informed and the wait was mysterious, I felt like someone was abusing my business.  I didn't feel valued as a customer.  Maybe a little over reactive but there you have it, nonetheless.  Perception is reality.

Over the weekend, I had a salon appointment.  I showed up on time and was told the aesthetician would be out shortly.  I waited.  And waited.  And then waited.  Twenty five minutes later, I was informed that she was stuck in traffic but that she'd be coming in.  I was walking out when she finally did arrive...  breathless.  I found out their staff didn't tell her she had an appointment -- until they called her after I had arrived.  

This aesthetician is excellent.  Just like in the restaurant example, I'm usually the "oh, whatever" person while waiting for her.  But like the restaurant example, I felt like someone was abusing my business because I wasn't informed and the wait was mysterious.  I didn't feel valued as a customer.  Perception is reality.

In other words, it should be about the satisfaction and the needs of the client and not about the business.  These anecdotes are unwittingly a continuation of my last post.  The customer service failings here occurred because both of these service businesses made the situations a "me" story instead of a "you" story.  

As I said previously, the personal touch matters.  The listening matters.  The focus matters.  The authenticity matters.  I accept the responsibility that my business succeeds or fails based on my ability to listen and have a laser like focus on my customer.  The only way to become a "trusted advisor" in the long run lies in delivering the ask without introducing the irrelevant.

If the data I shared above (again) is true, then there is no excuse to not deliver the ask.  The math is simple and pretty easy to understand.  So why does business make the same mistake?

I'd love to hear your views on this!  Please send a note!


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef