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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not THAT Parissa. I Don't Make Body Wax: My Personal Brand Dilemma

Hope all is well and thanks to everyone for the great feedback on the last couple of posts.  Sometimes, it feels like I'm talking to myself (in a good way, of course), so I appreciate the conversation!  I learn a lot from you!

Blogs, by definition, are narcissistic and today is no different.  Actually, today might be worse than normal because I'm going to talk about creating my "personal brand" as well as the struggle to maintain and grow it.  I've told you before that I'm on a marketing journey to do the following: make myself a better thinker and begin to learn the whys and wherefores of social media.  I'm the perpetual student and I'm okay with that.

One of the things I did pretty early on was to do some reading.  I pored through many articles like this on Inc. to better understand what I needed to do to make my Personal Brand shine not unlike a Broadway marquee.  Articles like this one instruct one to "have a personality" (um...  I thought I had one but okay) while demonstrating my thought leadership so that I stand out from the crowd.  There are a bunch of other niblets of advice in there, too.

So off I went and Googled myself filled with naive confidence that I would, of course, be near the top of Page 1 if not the top (no need to be greedy, after all).  The result?  I wasn't even close to Page 1 let alone Page 2 of results.

You know what was #1 through (it felt like) infinity? Parissa was, of course.  But this Parissa manufacturers at home body hair removal kits...  Body sugar? She makes it.  Hot, microwaveable wax?  You're covered, no pun intended.  Do you like wax strips?  You're still fine.  Curious about Parissa's quality?  There are product reviews galore.  My reaction: AAAAAAAH!

Since I've been engaging, blogging and tweeting quite a bit, things have changed somewhat.  If you do a search now, you'll still see that my waxing friend is still the #1 suggestion and she's all over the first page of search results with occasionally my mug on the bottom.  Sometimes, my full name shows up as #5 in the list... It's only been just recently that you've not needed to type "Parissa B" to find me.

Smaller businesses like 678 Partners have to distinguish themselves based on style as well as how "present" or "findable" they can be in the online space and what tangible functions they performs.  This is a consultancy that helps senior executives identify, create and grow business opportunities so they are more competitive in the marketplace.  This is like many what many others do.  And I would be on a fool's errand if I rested my fortunes on what 678 Partners functionally does though we are decently good at it, bias set aside.

The key difference is in how we go to market, how we attract new business and how we retain business.  How we engage is sometimes a little more important than what it is we bring to the table.  To stay top of mind, we have to engender some je ne sais quoi, some X factor, some belief that we can help and that we have their interests in mind.  And, this je ne sais quoi has to be so magnetic, they'll always come back to us, they'll always tell others about it.  And yet, they'll never be able to put a finger on exactly why.

And here lies the problem of Personal Brand.  Je ne sais quoi, as we know, means "I do not know what" which is a hard thing to pull off if you subscribe to the idea of a Personal Brand.  We know that it is certainly not fluff.  It's not flashy sites, cutesy odd shaped business cards or how many people we meet at a speed networking event.  It's also not what we tangibly deliver to clients.  It's chemistry.  It's listening for the spoken and unspoken word...  as well as a host of other things.

Ultimately, we can't digitize everything.  Apple can't create apps for our personality or how we connect with people.  I know this is making me sound like a luddite but there you have it...  The best thing that could have happened to me was to realize that it's hard to compete with body wax.  I'm going to have to rely on other tools to rise to the top.

Have a great weekend!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef