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