Saturday, March 26, 2011

I have 2,947.5 Reasons...

Why social media can be put to social good.  That is the exact dollar amount that Amir and I raised on March 24 for the Alzheimer's Association at #Cocktails4Causes hosted at Chicago's landmark Drake Hotel.

What is it?  It's a monthly event which benefits different charities.  Someone volunteers the charity, to host and to be 100% on the hook for marketing the event to friends, colleagues, loved ones, etc.  In turn, the hotel provides the venue, free passed appetizers and donates half of the bar tab to the charity.  The tickets are free but are limited to the first 150 people to reserve.  It's a great idea and kudos to Tom Martin as it is his brainchild.

Friends, in a period of 5 days, all tickets were reserved via the Eventbrite page (see our invite).  The Drake generously added 25 more tickets and those were reserved quickly as well.  There was also a waitlist of 50+ people.  Up until the event, we were fielding numerous emails and calls from people trying to get a ticket.  It was equally flattering and humbling.

How did we get so many people to sign up so quickly and to be so eager to attend?  It was a four part cocktail of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.  You see, but for these platforms, we would not have met many of these people at all.  And, but for these platforms, we would not have been able to communicate the details of the event so quickly.

More critically and to the point, but for these platforms, these people would not have joined us to raise funds in the fight against Alzheimer's.  Thanks to personal donations, the proceeds from the bar tab and a one night only SMS text donation program, we have the 2,947.5 reasons to believe social media can be used as a tool for social good, my #usguys friends.

However...  Intensely social, human experiences matter.

I would like to point out is that we only learned about #Cocktails4Causes because we knew people who knew Sean McGinnis and were inspired by his wish to do good in January.  Because we knew they were going to his event, we went and introduced ourselves to him.  We would not have gone nor introduced ourselves had it not been for the people we knew (bonus: what a nice guy!).

I often joke that I learned about marketing during the time of the abacus.  Given my "age" (ehem), I cling to the notion that it's the in person experiences which enhance what social platforms provide.  As I started to write this, I remembered this post I wrote last year about scavenger hunts and marriage proposals as well as this one about food trucks.  The tweet that inspired me then seems to resonate now:

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

I'll never disagree with how disruptively wonderful these social media channels are but they mean nothing to me without a multisensory and intensely human experience to accompany them.  The reason why the colleagues we've met either via social media showed up is because we previously chose to engage with them in person.  And in some way, we touched them such that they chose to spend their dollars and time at this event.  It would not have happened after a random follow or invitation to connect.

There's something about the texture of in person experiences that seem to make the difference.  And, much like our experience in January, the people we knew brought lovely people that we were pleased to meet so the cycle continues.  What makes these so powerful is the generosity of spirit and this vibrant organic energy that often accompany them.

Why wouldn't we want more of that?  There's only so much you can get out of being parked in front of your laptop.  There's so much that you miss.  So, yes there are ways to use social media for social good....  But let's not forget the essence of social.

What say you?  Please comment below and, if you've enjoyed reading this, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

1 Email's Broken Promise

What happens when you hype something up and create a ravenous appetite in your customers?  They’re chomping at the bit, right?  They wait in eager anticipation for that delivered good/service/X that you’ve so tantalizingly described to them and the minutes seem like hours.  What happens when you don’t follow through after all that build up?  Tremendous disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Last year, I wrote this post about how Southwest proudly touted their “last to market” approach to offering WiFi on their planes.  As their story went, they wanted to get the mechanics and the pricing right before offering it to us, their valued customers.  They were so unselfishly worried about our experience that it was best to be last but perfect.  We are their loyal customers, after all.

Created Needs

When airlines started offering WiFi in planes they put structure and shape to a need that was there but not fully formed.  Prior to inflight WiFi, some of us enjoyed the forced unplugging either to read a book, nap, etc.  This created need is not unlike the created need for heated seats in cars, the microwave, daily trips to Starbucks, etc.  Living in Chicago, I give thanks to my heated seats but it’s not like we couldn’t survive without them when they didn’t exist twenty years ago.

Because of this created need for WiFi, we look to see if the airlines we’re flying offer them…  For some, it’s been sold so successfully that it’s a must have.  For others like me, it’s nice but other factors influence more.  And with this, airlines are feeding the need’s appetite.

Practical Experience

Case in point: as I’m writing this (though posting later), I’m sitting on a Southwest plane.  Yesterday, I got an email from Southwest informing me that the plane that I am on is equipped with WiFi so I can tweet sweet nothings to you all from 30,000 feet.  Prior to getting this email, I knew there was a chance that I could join the Facebook mile high club but I hadn’t given it much thought.  Either way, I was going to get on this flight.

After I got the email, I have to admit weakness.  It built an expectation of productivity in me: to write a post, to catch up on email, to fix up some things on the 678 Partners site, etc.  I built a huge laundry list of interactive goodness in my mind.  Never in my life would I be a dynamo like this morning!

As soon as we hit 10,000 feet, I was amped with delusions of Chris Brogan/Mitch Joel/Joe Jaffe like grandeur.  I pulled out my trusty MacBook and searched for the connection.  Nothing.  Nothing again.  I checked the email that I had saved and I also looked for instructions in their magazine.  At last, the flight attendant did inform us that while the plane was equipped with WiFi, it was not working.

*Womp Womp*

I got a case of the sads.  I felt I was so close and yet so far.  I felt thwarted and frustrated.  I felt unproductive and panicked at the thought of all that HAD TO BE FINISHED on the flight that now WOULD NOT BE FINISHED.  The horror.

Once I took some deep cleansing breaths, I realized my emotion and panic, though self made, were due to created expectation of a created need that I didn’t really have in the first place because truly, the original plan was to tackle the crossword.  Had I not received the email, I wouldn’t be where I am now: writing a post because I feel like a promise was broken…  because I feel like I was somewhat misled.

Perception is reality.  And when customers perceive that something has been promised and then reneged upon, it’s hard to maintain the same level of trust and respect you had with them before.  After all, if a friend makes and then breaks a promise, we're somewhat taken aback and it's no different with our favorite brands.  So it's incumbent upon us to be very careful and serious about the promises we make.

Trust and respect are difficult to earn but easy to lose.  And while I believe that Southwest truly wished to offer WiFi in this flight and was so excited that they had to tell me yesterday about it, the fact that they couldn’t deliver it today is a bummer.

That can’t be a good thing.  What’s your take?  Please comment below and if you’ve enjoyed reading this post, please share it with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

P.S. In fairness, there was a disclaimer but it only covered switching planes out.  Here it is:

“You are currently scheduled to be on one of our WiFi planes; however, in the event of operational challenges throughout our system, we might have to "swap" the aircraft and put it on a different route. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience that might cause. This information is accurate as of March 14, 2011.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Your Brand's Worst Nightmare

Friends, I don't own a DVR.  I know that is horrifying some of you.  I get why people like having one but there isn't enough of a compelling reason for me.  This means that I can't fast forward through commercials.  Instead, the commercials allow me to refresh my tea, mull over my next Words With Friends move, etc.

But sometimes I watch commercials.  Here is one from Esurance I've seen recently.

Do you know what I think of every time I see that one?  This one:

Can't be good.  Actually, I would say very bad.  The last thing we want as marketers is to have a competitor's brand floating around in a customer's (or prospect's) head when they see or think of our brand.  For what it's worth, I suspect that Esurance intentionally muddies the advertising waters by creating spots that at best are inspired by Progressive and at worst are just copycats.  

** If they are not doing this intentionally, I would quickly stage a marketing intervention. **

When we have lookalike marketing, it's an extremely superficial approach to winning customers.  There's nothing about it that speaks to the emotional reasons (later assigned rational reasons) why a customer decides to go with Brand A versus Brand B.  And not only is it superficial, it's insulting.  

Why?  Well, in this case, it assumes that we buy insurance based on the entertainment value of the advertising and not because, perhaps, as customers we do our homework before making a decision.  What if we buy insurance from one company over the other because:
  • We feel like the customer care truly embodies "customer" and "care" if we've an accident or following up on a claim.
  • We feel secure that if we were to report a claim, the financial piece of it would be easy to manage so that we can get a repair or replacement as soon as possible.
  • We feel like the agent is an advocate by putting things into easy to understand language (without being condescending) and telling us our options without force selling us one option.
  • And so on...

It's not only insulting to the customer.  It's insulting to the brand itself.  When I see Esurance commercials, I think that their marketing team and advertising agency are devoid of inspiration.  It makes me think that neither can think of one really good differentiating attribute of the product to create branding, marketing and advertising that reflect and celebrate that differentiating attribute.  

And so, I say it's your brand's worst nightmare when the team responsible for romancing the brand and the product to the public come up empty.

What say you?  Please share your thoughts and if you've liked reading this, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Monday, March 7, 2011

1 Postcard and 2 Tweets

As you know, I let random tweets from celebrities influence my blog post topics.  See here and here for posts from @RevRunWisdom.  So much for a content calendar, eh?  So, really, today it shouldn't be a shock to you to learn that RuPaul is inspiring me to write.  Here's the tweet that flew across my eyeballs this morning:

"Life is so [expletive] short - Don't waste it on petty [expletive]"

RuPaul's words are essentially about how our energy is best directed towards the things that matter in life.  While these are not new or even provocative thoughts with or without the expletives, they are timely because I've got effective resource management on my mind these days.  

Are we allocating the right amount of time, the right amount of energy and the right amount of dollars to all of our business initiatives no matter the size?  Do we know the value of an hour spent of our brain power?  Do we appreciate the value of an hour spent of our brain power?  Do we know the value of a dollar?  Do we know the opportunity cost of a dollar when we have a couple of places we can spend it?

Ultimately, it's about respect.  Do we respect our time, energy and resources on our path to business growth and success?  Do we respect our businesses?  Do we respect ourselves?  I ask because of postcards like this one that I just got in the mail (see below).  I'll give you time to look both sides over but it should be no time for you to figure out what's wrong.  I'll cue the Jeopardy music...

There is no call to action here: no email, no phone, no address, no name, no Facebook page, no Twitter handle, etc.  How do I find out more -- assuming what's been presented to me here is compelling enough for me to want to find out more?  And, why, if they're seeking my business, am I the one required to do the legwork?  It's rather like someone inviting you over to his/her home for dinner but asking you to bring the salad, entree and dessert with you.

And here is where my comments about effective resource management and opportunity cost come into play.  Does this business respect time, energy and resources generally?  Does this business know the opportunity cost of ill spent time, energy and resources when there are such glaring errors as above?  Does this business understand this type of glaring error is kind of an "in your face" to business owners that are bootstrapping their way to success and sweating over the most finite of details?

The answer to the questions is clearly no.  Regardless of an up or down economy, every dollar and every effort matters particularly because of the cost of what's been foregone or sacrificed.  It's our job as manager, owner, executive, chief bottle washer, Idea Chef or Network Sommelier to make sure that we don't lose three times: once by the literal costs of poor execution (printing, design, postage, etc.), once by the opportunity cost of poor execution (no call to action means no foot traffic) and once by the opportunity cost of the "other" that could have been well executed.

I know mistakes happen.  We're human...  but in the immortal words of @RevRunWisdom:

"You were not born to live a mediocre life.. Excel!!! Shun #mediocrity!"

What are your thoughts?  I'd love to hear from you!  And, if you've liked this post, please share it with others!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, March 3, 2011

1 Tragic Email and The Animal Kingdom

A friend forwarded me this email she received yesterday morning... Have a look and then we'll get cracking.

"Over 90 days have passed since our first correspondence and you may now be employed. If this is the case, congratulations! However, if you are not securing multiple interviews then your resume could be the cause and you may wish to consider having it professionally written, so that it is a more effective personal marketing tool. 

Our clients are securing interviews, even in this economy, because they are properly "branded" and positioned for success in their job search. If you think a professionally crafted resume and cover letter to position your candidacy would be beneficial to your job search, as it is for our six-figure clients, then please feel free to write me anytime to discuss your resume. I look forward to hearing from you."

Before we get going, I'd like to state that:
  • It may very well be the resume that stops someone from getting an interview.  
  • A professionally written resume may very well be a break-through-the-clutter type of attention getting tool.
  • Your "personal brand" always matters regardless if you're in your dream job, an entrepreneur or a job seeker.

But also please consider:
  • It could be more than the resume.  It could also be millions of other reasons: geography, personal "fit" within company culture, the other highly quality talent whom they are evaluating, they can't afford you, the gate keeper is bad, etc.
  • Given the first point, someone could have the best written (and dipped in gold) resume but it may not matter.
  • You may be considered one of the experts in a certain field such that even if your resume were written in Esperanto and sprayed by a skunk, you'd still be interviewed.

Letters such as the one above are designed to make one feel insecure about the quality of their candidacy, make them go in panic mode and rest all of their faith (and money) into an external entity on the path to job hunting success even though the resume may actually have nothing to do with the reason why they are (or are not) getting the interviews.  

The operative word is designed in this scenario.  The fact is that many a time we resort to marketing tricks that use "fear as a great motivator" as its foundation.  The thinking is that if we push someone to a certain level of insecurity they'll snap and look to us as their saviors.  

Pay for play recruiters like the one above do this, term life insurance salespeople do this, a lot of women's magazines do this, some social media "consultants" do this (here and here)...  Actually anyone who says that "if you don't act now" or "if you're not doing this" in any of their communications with you does this.  And, to me, it's off putting because it's aggressive and it's bullying...  and it makes many people like me run away instead of the intended effect of asking for help and mercy.

Why are we making business moves like it's a jungle documentary on a local public TV station?  If an animal is another animal's target, it flees.  So too with marketing communications like the one above.  The idiom "you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar" never rang more true in cases like this.  As you know, the premise is that being confrontational (e.g., your resume is the pits) is less effective than making a positive approach.  

So if we know it to be true in life, otherwise the idiom would not be in existence, why are we not keeping it true in business?  The path to business success is based upon the earning of others trust and faith in your ability to help them and not the mindless stoking of their fears.  Earning someone's trust by instilling in them the faith that you can help should be the foundation when winning new customers and keeping loyal customers loyal.

So why aren't we doing it?  Why are we acting like a National Geographic show?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

1 Steaming Bowl of Porridge (Halim)

As I'm the Idea Chef, it shouldn't surprise you that while I'm cooking or thinking about cooking, I come up with answers to questions that have been plaguing me.  It's a kind of meditation for me.  This time, my cooking is inspiring me to write.

I'm making Persian style halim which is a type of porridge made with bulgur wheat, chick peas and lamb.  My recipe is a days long process that starts with soaking the wheat and ends with a 24 hour slow cooker extravaganza.  When it's done and you've ladled some of the porridge into your favorite bowl, the piece de resistance is this trifecta: melted butter, heaps of brown sugar and a liberal helping of cinnamon.  A nicely toasted piece of bread is advisable but not required per se.

If you've been raised on this stuff, as Amir has, the effect is instantaneous: silently eating as conversation would destroy the moment, a beatific smile, memories of earlier happier times with his mother and father, etc.  It doesn't matter how many times I've made it, he's instantly transported to a "happy place" and for a short time, all is right with the world.

If you're thinking of Pavlov at this point - you're following along nicely with my content gameplan today!  As a brief and way too cursory refresher, Pavlov's work was about reaction to stimuli without the involvement critical thinking.  It's this reaction to stimuli without critical thinking that I'd like to chat about today.

In this post, I bemoaned the lack of consistency of service and experience at Starbucks.  I wished that instead of all of the kerfuffle about a new logo, that they had spent some time improving overall experience to the point where it should be seamless to the customer.  After all the best thing about going to Starbucks is its worst: the expectation of consistency in drink preparation, barista expertise, cleanliness, etc.

Normally, I'd argue that reaction to stimuli without critical thinking is the death knell of good business.  We've all seen people not thinking creatively when it comes to customer service, for example.  They often say "No" or "We've not done that" instead of "Hm. Let me think about it."  And we've all seen businesses who won't adapt to the changing competitive environment because there is a presumption that their customers will always be their customers.  This sort of refusal to change and reaction without thinking is bad.

EXCEPT...  wait for it...

When it comes to the basics.  What are the basics?  Well, that's difficult to answer because it varies from business to business.  In a bakery, it's the lovely smell of butter, sugar, flour and vanilla combined together on the path to greatness.  In a hardware store, it's someone who can point you to the right aisle and confidently recommend the right (obscure) tool to help with your home repair project.  In a doctor's office, it's the security you have knowing that your health matters and you're on the mend.  And so on.

The core of what and who you are can never change.  It's the foundation, the bedrock upon which you raise the walls of your business.  You can paint, you can add on an addition, you can even remodel but all of those things rest upon the basics, that which you present to the world.  If you truly "own" who your business is and it's reason for being, this is one excuse I can think of for reaction without critical thinking.

It's this consistent, unbreakable foundation and this reaction without critical thinking that creates the "happy place" for your customers not unlike the "happy place" Amir goes to when he's having his porridge.  You could call it your brand's persona but, really, why confuse common sense with business speak?

Thoughts?  Do share!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef