Monday, October 31, 2011

1 Tweet Quoting Aristotle

Featured image courtesy of Lawrence OP licensed via Creative Commons.

Muses have been on my mind quite a bit recently as I'm battling a bit of writer's block.  I've been seeking inspiration, that bright lightbulb above my head, that bit of Marketing Platitude that I and only I alone can deliver.  The stakes have been high and I've almost buckled under the pressure...  

Truly, I've been feeling like one of the characters in Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron complete with weights and other things that make us slow, dull or listless...  I've felt that genius and creative thinking is the lot of others and not mine...  until I came across a tweet this afternoon.

Back to life, back to reality.

@MamaBritt: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit." -Aristotle #quote

So, that's what I saw today and I promptly retweeted it because it spoke to me.  And the reason why it spoke to me is because of an article I read this very morning about innovation myths and realities.  Have a look - those HBR folks publish some great stuff - but after you've read today's missive from moi.

It turns out that we all have the capacity for magic within us.  It turns out that with a bit of elbow grease that we are all inventors, R&D scientists, product managers, market researchers, trend forecasters or what have you.  Our capacity for whatever magic we manifest is... wait for it...  based in process, how much we are committed to that very process and how much passion we have for it.

Repetition isn't a bad thing.

We've all heard that practice makes perfect.  Yes, it does.  Anything exquisite be it Innovation, Marketing, Sales, Product Development, Operations or Customer Service doesn't happen randomly.  It happens because we've worked at it enough to get it right and because we care to work at it enough to get it right.

So it turns out that there is no such thing as Marketing Platitude that I can deliver so much as there are a series of activities I can passionately pursue and repetitive behaviors I can demonstrate to get to that piece of nirvana I've been hoping for.  And, perhaps I'm not really a character in Harrison Bergeron after all... unless I'm the one putting the weights on me.

Need an example if repetition delivering excellence?  This post about Intelligentsia.  Their focus and drive in delivering an excellent cup of coffee each time has fundamentals in process and protecting that process like a jealous lover.

Be a jealous lover.

Yeah, I think we should all be jealous lovers of process, repetition, focus and a clear view of your end goals.  Without this passion, we'll all end up characters in Harrison Bergeron.  What say you?  Share below and, if you'd like, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Miss Piggy, Apple And Muses

Many of you know that there is another Muppets movie headed our way...  You've seen some of the movie trailer spoofs, certainly.  And, if you're like me, you're wondering if you should tell your friends you want to see it and wondering how many times you can see it without losing your street cred.

Like a good actress, Miss Piggy has been a part of the PR machine (read this) in advance of the premiere which includes a feature in InStyle Magazine.  Here's an interview of Miss Piggy from InStyle's Facebook page below.  Hilarious and full of her trademark sass and jambon de vivre...  I mean, joie de vivre.

Memory Lane

Now, I didn't share all of this with you so that we can end the week in a fit of giggles (though that's admirable).  Remember this Sesame Street post from a few months back?  My love of Sesame Street, and The Muppets, is constant because they always find ways to say they acknowledge me as a longstanding fan.  Or, more significantly, they're successful at getting me to feel that they are acknowledging me though I know they are addressing everyone.

I'm still a customer no matter my, ahem, age because they treat me as if how I feel about them still matters to them.  Both Sesame Street and The Muppets are successful because they always want us around.  They deliver things to us as adults to reinforce the connection we had with both as children.  It's frankly the reason why Marc Jacobs, Brian Atwood and others are willing to create outfits for Miss Piggy.  It's an affinity beyond the business transaction.  They don't discard us so we don't discard them.

Muses and Musing

Why the special relationship?  It's because we are their constant yet everchanging muses.  As society and we have changed, so have the ways they engage with us.  What's the most remarkable thing about this ever evolving and ever constant love affair between Sesame Street, The Muppets and their customers?  It's that Jim Henson passed away in 1990.  Yup, it's been that long.

And so, it gets me thinking about another creative genius that's been on our minds of late and the impact his passing has on the company he built.  I've seen many suggest that Apple can't succeed without Steve Jobs, among other predictions of its demise.  I can appreciate why people would put forth the argument...  but I think the predictions of its demise are a bit drastic.

I go back to that Miss Piggy video, other Muppets tidbits and of course lovable characters like Elmo, Grover and Big Bird that still thrive without Jim Henson's touch.  They thrive because those who carry Jim Henson's legacy understand the concept of customer as muse.

Steve Jobs succeeded because we were his muses.  He was always inspired by how we live, what we do, the ways we engage and he created things that were complementary to how we were evolving...  not unlike how Sesame Street and The Muppets relate to us as we get older and older.  The trick for our friends at Apple, I believe, is to see that the magic didn't reside in Steve Jobs so much as it resided in his muses.

Sappy?  Maybe.  But, it's my two cents.  Please share your thoughts below and, if you've enjoyed this post, please share with friends.  I'm thankful.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What? Xerox Does More Than Copiers?

I'm totally loving these Xerox commercials and I'm sharing a sampling with you.  Feel free to watch one or all (thought I do hope you watch all of them) and then let's chat.

Subject Matter Expert

One thing I particularly love is that Xerox is giving credit to each of its clients: Virgin America, Marriott and Ducati for being very good at what they do.  And, Xerox gives them further credit because they want to focus on doing the things they are good at as opposed to the things that, to them, would be distractions.  So, these very smart businesses delegate to Xerox, which is the business process subject matter expert.

Why is this clever?  It's clever because by showcasing its clients, Xerox brings the attention back to themselves.  The best in airplane travel, hotel and motorcycles would of course select the best in outsourced business processes and perhaps their competitors would want to also.  Xerox uses their client examples as de facto examples and endorsements of their services.  It's a lot like someone saying, "But enough about me...  what do you think about me?" 

Spending = Earning

What?  Yes, spending = earning.  At least, that's what Xerox is suggesting here.  In this awful economy, we've all heard how cash rich companies are these days and they all cut their budgets where and when they can.  So, it can be rather a tough sell in the B2B space to outsource functions that can reside in-house because the norm is to decline spending on anything other than things that drive (profitable) revenues.  

Another reason why this is cleverly done because it is, like the subject matter expert point, delivered ostensibly focused on the client but really all about Xerox.  When smart subject matter experts, like Xerox client Virgin America, outsources its call center to Xerox, it earns money because it's training its focus on making flying an enjoyable experience...  When they do that, they'll have more customers who will tell their friends and...  well, you get it. 

Net net: when delivered from the point of view of the client, it becomes less of a sales-y pitchy thing.  It's saying, "Virgin America, Ducati and Marriott are already doing it, so you can do it, too.  Jump on in... the water's fine!"

Who knew?

The best thing about these commercials?  A lovely (and funny) education on how they serve their clients without sounding to education-y.  There is value in teaching but there is danger in being too professorial.  By using humor, they've escaped professorial and they've created memorable.

What say you?  I'd love to hear your thoughts so please do share below and, if you've enjoyed this post, please share with friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Are You A Copycat?

So I saw this commercial today...

And, if you're a child of the 70s like me, you'll think it's a lot like this golden oldie...

Hmm.  Awfully similar.  I'm going to assume positive intent and say that the older Dunkin Donuts commercial was some sort of indirect inspiration for the Panera commercial.  After all, neither of us were sitting in the room during the Panera creative meeting to suggest anything untoward.  

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

but I don't always like it for brands.  As I shared with you in this post, Esurance's commercials make me think of Progressive Insurance which may or may not have been a desired outcome.  I found that to be a bad move for Esurance, as you recall, though some may say that insurance is so commoditized that it's to Esurance's benefit to confuse.  

I get what Panera's trying to do -- they're suggesting that other bakery cafe formats do not make their bread fresh and on-site everyday.  They also suggest that Panera has the customer in mind by committing to a quality product.  It's this customer focused passion for quality that sets them apart from the rest.  And, Panera wants you to think of one thing regardless of what you purchase: quality.

Yeah, so what Panera is doing in store truly does work for them.  It's a good experience, the food is good and the bread is fresh (I've tried it).  Not only have they done better than their competitors, particularly in a down economy, but it's also a stock market favorite.  So, really, there's nothing for me to criticize per se.

But I still think of Dunkin Donuts, specifically Munchkins...

and I think Panera deserves better than that just as Esurance deserves better.  I've got to believe that their marketing and creative teams can do better at communicating "fresh" and "quality" beyond what appears to be a 21st century version of a Dunkin Donuts commercial.  Panera shouldn't ever have any marketing collateral or campaign that conjures anything else but Panera.

It's hard to be original.  But if you respect your brand, you recognize it's the right thing to do.  What's your take?  Share below and, if you've liked this post, share with a friend, please!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In Praise Of The Exquisite

Apple MacBook
Featured image courtesy of Erik Eckel licensed via Creative Commons.
Last night, like many of you, I heard of the sad news of Steve Jobs passing and was glued to the TV (and Twitter) for most of the night.  And, like many of you, I first learned of the news while on my MacBook with my iPhone to my left and my iPod close by.

I'm no Apple nor Steve Jobs expert.  What I am is an everyday consumer of product and consumer of experience.  And it's really the story of experience that is my "lessons learned" as his customer.  My love affair with his products started when my dad bought an Apple II+ way back in the day...  we graduated through a series of Apple products and, embarrassing to say, strayed to the other side for a long while.  It was later on that I realized that the straying occurred after his departure.

Fast forward to 2008... I had reached the end of my tether with "the other side" and felt that I was throwing so much good money after not so good.  After my PC laptop blew up for one more time, I timidly walked into the Apple store not knowing what to expect but knowing i loved my iPod and iTunes.

I got some mad love.

After I shyly and sheepishly admitted my intentions, I was taken on a magical mystery tour of Apple love.  He told me that I was perfectly okay.  In so many words, He made me feel okay that:
  • I had made another choice previously.
  • I had made another choice because seemed a good idea at the time.
  • I was exploring a new choice and would be timidly asking questions.
  • I would ask they hold my hand through the transition.
  • I was a little late in coming back to the fold -- they loved me anyway.

This wasn't a sale so much as it was therapy.  And I have to say that I wasn't buying the product so much as how I felt about myself buying the product.  I felt smart, I felt sophisticated, I felt that I was... wait for it...  SAVING MONEY by paying a higher price than competitor laptops because I wouldn't worry about pesky viruses, hackers and costly repair.  When I brought it home, I left the box on my desk much like the picture I shared with you at the top of the post.  It felt a bit religious.

Since that fateful day in 2008, I've purchased an iPhone and also brought my dad back from the other side.  What's interesting about these later purchases is that the experiences were IDENTICAL to the first one.  In the case of the phone, I was sheepishly converting from Blackberry and, the woman who helped me made me feel okay for the same reasons I outlined above.  In the case of my dad, the tattooed specialist 50+ years younger than my dad successfully related to him and his needs...  and upsold him to MacBook Pro.

You catch more flies with honey....

is my "lesson learned" to share with you.  A lot of times, the typical sales behavior is to hound you with features and benefits.  If you've ever been shopping for a new car, you know the high pressure tactics they typically use.  You always walk away wondering if somehow they "got" you.

My tiny anecdotes are the complete opposite.  I was welcomed, I was encouraged, I was supported and, critically I was never pressured.  These "soft" approaches to experience are what keeps people like me coming back to Apple over and over again.  And my hope is that in the post Steve Jobs years, this vibe continues.

What's your take on your Apple experience?  If you've had a bad one, I'd love to hear about it.  Please comment below and please share with friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef