The Guest Defines The Experience (Not The Brand)

“Your Club Experience Is Your Marketing” by Denise Lee Yohn (ClubIndustry.com, 4 November 2010). This is yet another solid article that falls under, “it doesn’t just apply to gyms/clubs.” Much of Denise’s philosophy is similar to my own. That said, there are a handful of things I’d like to tight up a bit.

“That means the key to continued robust sales is less about attracting new members and more about retaining the ones you have.”

— Yes and no. First, the problem I typically have with the club industry’s view of retention is that it’s rarely seen as a marketing issue. That is, it’s rarely addressed that maybe you attracted the wrong customer in the first place. Some people are going to leave. Maybe it’s best that you let them go as quickly and as quietly as possible? Else, your brand could become the victim of online “bad mouthing”.

Second, there’s no reason to believe there aren’t new customers available. Sure, you might have to be more creative about attracting them and smarter about motivating them to buy, but they are there. If you ignore them now, that could come back to haunt you later. Don’t give up on attracting the new. You don’t want that muscle to go soft. (Pun intended.)

“Customers also are becoming more knowledgeable and discriminating. They’re swayed less by savvy salespeople and cool promotions, and their brand preferences are formed more by what they experience when they do business with your company. People also rely on the actual experiences of others…

In this environment, traditional sales and marketing tactics are becoming less important—and your club experience is emerging as your most powerful marketing tool.”

— The first bit is (obviously) very true. Stop whining and deal with. Someone said to me last week, “No one steals your clients. You lose them yourself when you don’t do your job to a level that matches their expectations.” True, very true.

As for the second bit, be wise and put heavy emphasis on “becoming less important”. That said, the traditional channels can still be effective. They are after all just channels. However, how you used them (read: the messages you send out) should be under review at any give moment. If you’re in set it & forget it mode then please don’t expect dynamic results. We no longer live in a set it & forget it world.

And finally, Denise’s list of action ideas is good but I believe she missed a key one. That is, speak/interact with your customers (and make a habit of it). Find out where they’re at. See how *they* define “experience”.

No matter how hard they might try, the brand is extremely biased and therefore should not make decision without consulting with The Guests. My point being, what the brand emphasizes as key to the “experience” might not be relevant to The Guests. A brand’s message(s) will only be as effective as those engagements actually connect to real Guest motivators. A point of differentiation is meaningless if The Guest doesn’t care about that point.

In short, look before you leap because The Guest defines the experience, not the brand. Assume otherwise at your own peril.

Conquering Business Superstition

Quite often business life is not much different than personal life—although it should be.  When off the clock,  cause & effect applied incorrectly is called superstition, myth, etc. Yet the same misdirected correlations between 9.00a and 5.00p is called a project, or worse still insight. Same use of illusion but a different belief in its legitimacy.

Let’s discuss an example. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been in two and a half conversations centered around e-commerce. Each conversation naturally touched upon shopping cart abandonment. Before I continue I want to state that I agree that shopping cart abandonment is an area online retail outfits should study and certainly be aware of. That said, some seem to pursue it like the holy grail. Unfortunately, in many cases obsessing on the myth means something else is probably not being addressed.

  • Specifically, the checkout process is not rocket science. If the overall process is that complex then keep rehashing it until it’s concise. Good enough isn’t good enough. Yet somehow we all continue to wade through crummy checkouts.
  • The truth is, regardless of venue/medium, people don’t buy everything they pick up. I believe they call it window shopping.  Online it’s probably even worse. There’s no getting dressed and driving across town. It’s just a matter of clicks.
  • The truth is, people will have to leave a site sooner later. Sure, if there’s a problem on a particular page it should be fixed. But staying indefinitely is not going to happen.
  • Focusing on abandonment is only half the picture. What about all those who didn’t add anything at all? Granted, I’m more casual about my commitment to e-comm but in all my reading and meeting no one seems to discuss such a measurement.
  • What if marketing is driving in leads with the wrong expectations? For example, “free shipping” is not free if there’s a handling charge. While the difference might be correct on a technical level, to most guests it probably qualifies as sticker shock or bait & switch. Yet there are sites that advertise “free” shipping. It’s certainly possible the targeting and/or message is wrong.
  • What if the site just kinda sucks? (Yes, I purposely used kinda.) That is, once the visitor stays a while reality sets in. They don’t like the look. The don’t like the feel. The might not even like the product. Doubt (aka the sales killer) arises and the sale is lost. Let’s face it, abandonment is a function of commitment and some sites just aren’t worth committing to.

The truth (as opposed to the superstition) is that in the 2.5 cases mentioned The Guest Experience of each site is “loose”. The sites do not qualify as awful but they are not tight in a 2010 sense either. If a guest was determined or already comfortable with the brand/site then each are sufficient. One the other hand, it terms of an experience that might inspire someone to part with their money, all three fall under the average column.

Guests want an experience. They want a story. For many, buying online is still a special event. By that I mean when someone asks, “Where did you get that?”, they want to respond proudly and with something meaningful.  Simply throwing some goods online might have worked 5 or 10 years ago. It’s not where expectations are today.

Believe what you want to believe. That is your right.  However, if that belief does not bring about the necessary change (read: results) then it’s probably time to admit you’ve been on the short end of a superstition and/or a myth. Not to worry, the solution is to stop and look at the details of the challenge objectively. Don’t get sucked into the accepted and standard convention just because it’s convenient to do so. There are plenty of people and websites willing to sell superstition and myth (because it was what was sold to them).

A Must Read Courtesy of Sir Richard Branson

“15 Small Business Lessons from Richard Branson” as reported by Ann Handley (American Express’ OpenForum.com, 23 September 2010). In a word, brilliant. So much so that nothing needs to be added.

80% is the new 100%

“Use the 80-20 Rule to Increase Your Website’s Effectiveness” by Oleg Mokhov (SixRevisions.com, 2 September 2010). While we apply the rule somewhat differently, Oleg and I are certainly in agreement. It’s the ultimate rule to follow because it can be applied to everything, not just web sites.

Three other good rules that all play well together are:

— Divide and conquer.

— You can’t be everything to all people all the time.

— How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

For example, if your business is about a particular set of core services, focus on communicating those 80% of the time. when sending an email blast target it such that it connects with the interests and expectations of 80% of your list. If the web site is about selling those services then put 80% of your time and effort into defining those pages. That’s not to say shouldn’t trust your gut and igore your hunches. Just be fully aware that you are doing so when you do.

If you get distracted by the 20% you will ultimately only dilute the 80% that really matters. Stay focused! As a general rule, as you are fine tuning X, shoot to get it 80% r complete and correct. When that dust settles, go back to the remaining 20% and attack 80% of that. And so on, and so one. As a result of focusing 100% on only 80% you will  be more effective. In addition, you and your team will  have more senses of accomplishment more often. Good motivators are always a good thing.

The bottom line is that in all likelihood you will  build a customer base such that 20% yields 80% of your business.  80% of your team will be happy 80% of the time, and so on. Now if only life were so easy.

A Classic Case of Shopping Cart Abandonment

While typically this blog is not for venting, this experience is worth sharing. Besides, it’s not so much venting as trying to prevent such things from happening in the future. Preventative e-comm medicine if you will.

As the story goes, I received an email from Barnes & Noble this past Thursday. It had a mystery coupon. By that I mean, you wouldn’t know the amount of the discount until you entered it during the check out process. Too cute (and vague) for me, but maybe it A/B tested well for them. None the less, I left the email in my inbox just in case.

Earlier today while reading CopyBlogger.com  I spotted a book that looked interesting, “Success Secrets Of The Social Media Marketing Superstars”. When I visited the book’s web site I noticed the B&N logo, remembered the emailed, did the math and went to buying work. The fun ended there.

Faux pas #1 – Of the five step check out process, the coupon code entering didn’t come until the last step. In fact, I thought I missed it. When I went back and didn’t see  it I almost gave up. I didn’t want to get suckered into paying full price. Why should I? I suspect my feelings are atypical, so what does the coupon come last instead of first?

Faux pas #2 – As it turned out, the coupon was expired. The problem was the coupon code was in the lower left corner/area of the email while the mention of the expiration date was in the upper right. In other words, being focused strictly on the coupon code meant I wasn’t going to see the expiration. Obviously another good reason for the coupon being earlier in the process.

How do you say, “Duh?”

The bottom line is, not only didn’t I get the book but I wasted unnecessary time. About the only positive aspect of the experience was the inspiration for this blog post.

Yes, but maybe your brand just kinda sucks

“Are You Listening?” by Mary Brandel (ComputerWorld, 12 July 2010). Yes, all good points. But let’s just cut to the chase… Maybe your brand just kinda sucks.

For example, take the Domino’s Pizza YouTube incident. A few months ago I responded to an article by an (old school) PR type. Evidently, she was appalled that one person and a video could do so much damage to a brand. While it was unfortunate, the fact was,  in terms of quality and stellar brand reputation Domino’s was already in questionable territory.The video was a symptom.

I’m not trying to imply that guy did with the video was right. One the other hand, the management at Domino’s made a conscious effort to built the brand around, “Delivered in 30 minutes of less.”  Not, “The best damn pizza without leaving the house.” Nor was it, “Domino’s Pizza — Quality delivered.”My contention was that the video had meaning because to enough who viewed it it was feasible.

Long story short, Anne and I went a couple rounds until eventually the discussion ran out of gas.  However, it should be noted (in a last laugh sort of way) that Domino’s latest campaign is about quality. Why? Because, yes Virgina, the perceived quality of the product, including taste, impacts how one perceives the overall brand. Yes, that video was low. Low enough to strike Domino’s right between the eyes.

Or maybe you kinda suck in a different way…

Twice in the last week or so I’ve been told by two different outfits, “…but we meet with our perspective clients…” That’s great, provided that’s how the merchant/client wants to be approach. Maybe that cold call walk in is an interruption? Maybe, much like myself, they want to gain all they can online and then if interested schedule proper meeting to get right to the meat of the matter?

I agree that in today’s world pounding the pavement and the flesh is a great differentiator. But it’s not a panacea. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Online reputation management is important in a reactive sense. But don’t stop there.  Don’t overlook the possibility of being proactive and ensuring best you can that your brand doesn’t kinda suck to begin with.

Be BI smart and respond (but that includes proactive listening too)

The journey of this post starts here: “Business Intelligence Meets BPM: Using Data to Change Business Processes on the Fly” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 17 June 2010). On one hand this is fascinating stuff — collecting data, analyzing it and distilling information that objectively drives business action. The business side of my brain goes, “Wow!” But then reality sets in and that, “Wow” turns to, “Wow, scary.” This freight takes two forms:

1) The private person in me shutters to think that Big Brother is not only watching but he’s storing, tracking, cross referencing and analyzing too. This is taking place at and unimaginable level of granularity.

2) The business side of my brain also appreciates the fact that Guests are people. They are not just data points on a graph or cells in a spreadsheet. Analysis is certainly essential but one would bet there are plenty of companies over-valuing this new found power. They are forgetting that they are in business to serve people, not just respond to ones and zeros. As a matter of fact, read this article first: “Superhighway to Hell” by Stephen Saunders (InformationWeek.com via InternetEvolution.com, 19 June 2010).

Back to the first article by Kim Nash. There are some bits to this article (pull out of the context of the whole article) that beg to be addressed AU style:

As Kilcoyne and Coyne learned, modern business intelligence and analytics tools can extract data from enterprise software, populate pre-built statistical models and quickly produce insights that used to take weeks. “In the past, doing predictive analytics needed a PhD in statistics to build a model and interpret results,” says Aberdeen’s White. But newer analytics tools “hide the underlying statistical nerd details,” he says. “Business people don’t have to worry about how the sausage gets made.”

One word: Derivatives. No one needed to understand those either, correct? Information is only as good as the understanding the business people have of the data that was used to compile it. A report without caveats and context is no report at all. If BI is about removing assumption then that thoroughness should be part of the end to end approach.

Key to game-changing decision making is the ability to detect and respond to market changes, taking into account historical knowledge. DirecTV uses analytics to save customers who want to cancel their television service. The company started the program two years ago when it sought to cut churn rates.

What’s interesting is that the examples sited are all reactive. There is some action and then analysis is used to define the appropriate way to respond. Maybe this should be supplemented with a proactive approach as well? That is, avoid upfront engaging customers who don’t meet the good customer profile. For example, for a fitness club, membership retention would be less of an issue if the right customers were attracted in the first place. Waiting to see who leaves seems archaic, no?

How hard agents press depends on how valuable the customer has been to DirecTV, Gustafson says. “There are some people we just do not want to lose.” About 60 percent of customers who want to depart are deemed worth trying to save, he says. The company uses tools from Teradata and SAS to analyze past behavior, evaluating data such as the average annual revenue the customer represents, her payment history and how many pay-per-view shows she buys.

This is a perfect example of forgetting that we’re dealing with real people here. Maybe I am a marginal customer. But if I have 500 Facebook friends and 1,000 Twitter follows then that should be a factor too. To simply place a value on an account (notice I did not say guest or customer) is at best dangerous if the evaluation is this superficial.

Every customer saved is one less customer the company has to try to win back weeks or months later—an expensive process, Gustafson says, that can involve mailings, e-mail and telephone calls as well as sending someone out to reinstall the service. “When the customer first calls, they have a certain mind-set: They want to cancel,” he says. “When we call back, they’re unprepared. It’s a little psychological advantage we have.”

Oh no he didn’t! Forgive me if this sounds insulting but only an idiot would go on record saying such a thing. But again, Mr. Gustafson’s statement is another example of forgetting that guests are real people, not rats to be manipulated.

Now, though, the My Coke Rewards program has helped the company develop more in-depth knowledge about loyal customers. The inside of every bottle cap is printed with a 12-digit code that customers can text or type into a website or desktop widget to accumulate points that can be exchanged for prizes and other awards. Those who opt in to e-mail marketing receive regular offers to gain more points, as well as other marketing pitches. Each is customized based on segments created from demographic information and behavior collected by the site. On average, 285,000 customers visit per day, entering an average of seven codes per second. Information embedded in the codes may include a region or location where the bottle was sold and whether it had special packaging, such as an Olympics logo, that Coca-Cola uses to tailor its pitches.

Read that again… It’s not a 12 digit number, it’s a code. In other words, you can’t drink a soda in peace without wondering when and how Coca-Cola is going to watch you. Scary, right?

After four years, My Coke Rewards is among the longest-running marketing programs in Coca-Cola’s history. And as the program has grown, the company has changed the way it runs in response to insight from analytics, Rollins says.

First, of all the programs Coke has ever had four years constitutes “among the longest-running”? MyGawd, has their marketing department been thinking or just rolling the dice and hoping to find something that sticks. Must be nice to have that type of budget. Furthermore, this reads as if they are responding to analysis, not guests. Not good.

Coca-Cola uses the FICO Precision Marketing Manager suite of statistical analysis tools to study data from its websites. Marketers look at which come-ons elicit the most and best responses, says Thomas Stubbs, Coca-Cola’s interactive marketing director in global IT. Coca-Cola also exchanges data with companies that supply prizes, including Nascar, Nike (NKE) and Sony. “As technology has evolved, we’re able to do more and have a relevant dialog with customers, not just push our ideas out there,” he says.

“A man might not want to admit that he’s a Diet Coke drinker. He will say in a survey that he prefers Coke. But we see he enters only Diet Coke PINs and market accordingly.”

Danger Will Robinson! While it’s true that Coca-Cola might want to know more about who consumes their products, Coke is treading on thin ice if they believe that their definition of the guest is better than the guest’s himself/herself. Do such details constitute useful information? Yes, of course. Might they also be making over-confident decision, and possibly insulting the guest? Yes, that’s very true too.

The idea is not just to save business but to create new business. Successful projects spark new ones. Analytics tools help companies create more money-generating interactions with customers and shave costs from internal operations. CIOs should connect analytics technologies with ideas about refining business processes, says Aberdeen’s White. “Meld them together and that’s very powerful.”

Bottom line… it’s about The Guests, not data and analysis. This shouldn’t be about “refining business process” but about improving The Guest Experience. Same ends? Maybe (but probably not). Different means? Yes, very different means. One puts The Guest first and one does not. If you could analyze the two approaches which would you bet to be the winner? Of the companies you deal with which try to improve The Guest Experience and which are more concerned about their processes and their bottom line?

And finally, to help get it all back into perspective: “It’s Not Your Relationship to Manage” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine via DestinationCRM.com, May 2010).

Content is Queen. “Quality” is King.

“Interview: Ricky Van Veen – College Humor CEO Shares His 10 Web Content Urban Legends” by Brenna Ehrlich (Mashable.com, 8 June 2010). A quickie worth sharing. Three universal themes worth noting are:

1) Content isn’t king — quality is.

2) But it is the receiver who defines quality. Quality is relative and based on perceived value of the experience.

3) Based on the perceived value it is the receiver who makes it viral, or not. It doesn’t matter how much you try to spin it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

How to save the fans from the NBA

“6 Ways to Fix the NBA” by Stephen Fried (Parade.com, 20 June 2010). As luck (?) would have it, this article managed to come my way via Google Alerts. And yes, sports as an analogy for business is overdone. None the less there are some interesting observation here that apply to incentives, as well as cause and effect gone astray.

Here is a version of the comment that was submitted:

Dear Parade,

I read the six recommendations on improving the appeal of the NBA and would like to comment. My thoughts are as follows:

1) Change foul out rules — While it’s true people wish to see the star players, no one comes to see fouls either. In any sport fouls are the “ugly” side of the game. I find it hand to believe that what ultimately comes down to more fouls is going to be appealing for the fan. Is there any prescient for ugliness increasing a fan base of any sport?

2) Increase scoring — I would like to suggest there are two flaws here. One, accelerating scoring will only accelerate the gap in two mismatched teams. Does the NBA really need more blow outs? Two, it’s supposed to be a game and sport, the tit-for-tat approach of focusing on scoring is going to wear thin very fast. One could argue it’s the perceived (?) lack of strategy is actually what’s hurting the NBA today. Pass… Pass… Dunk. Followed by pass… Shoot… gets dull after a while. We know they can score, the question is, do they have game?

That said, an interesting idea might be just giving the team that’s leading less time to shoot? Or the team that’s down more time so they control the pace, can readjust, etc.

3) Raise the age limit — Again, two flaws. One, what if the stars-to-be opts out of the college route and decide to play in Europe instead. Two, does this not confirm the criticism that many already make about college basketball? That is, it’s not about education, sport and developing students into citizen, but instead it’s just the minor leagues for the NBA.

4) Encourage quirk — Ha! In this day and age?? Even at 140 characters Twitter is enough for some of these guys to hurt themselves and ruin their careers. In a society that expects perfection this recommendation is just an accident ready to happen. Furthermore, just because they are great athletes does mean they have “personality”. What’s does shooting a basketball have to do with anything other than that? Yes, let them be who they are. Just consider the classic, “Be careful what you wish for”.

5) Change the trade rules — Truth be told, there is already collusion between the agents and the front offices. The free market will be great as long as there is a way to ensure it is remains a free market.

6) Shortern the season — Finally something that makes sense. And please suggest the same for baseball and hockey too. The NFL has it right, as does European football (aka soccer). The irony here is this is a call for quality, yet more (read: quantity) scoring was recommended earlier.

The bottom line… More fans will pay attention when the NBA, or any brand for that matter, becomes a better entertainment value than other choices fans might already have. I’m not so sure most of the six recommendation listed really workt towards that goal. That is to consistently entertain to a level that exceeds expectations.

Thanks for listening.

Mark

p.s. I thought it was interesting that the woman’s league was not mentioned. It very well could be that the WNBA is cannibalizing fans from the NBA. Maybe this is because in the WNBA it ismore about “game” than about size, or should I say size of egos?Btw, when was the last time a fan got beat up at a WNBA game?

Social networking is only a means

“Interview: John Jantsch – 5 Minutes with…” by: Daria Meoli (NY Enterprise Report, 19 April 2010). You know John, author of Duct Tape marketing, as well as his new book The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself. Good stuff, right?

Well, if you read and retain one thing this week then this paragraph should be it:

DM: What does “teaching your business to market itself” mean?

JJ: I actually went out and interviewed people from about 50 or 60 companies that get a lot of referrals. They’re doing a lot of business by word of mouth. What I discovered pretty quickly was that the number one way that these organizations were successful in generating referrals had nothing to do with a super special cool way to ask for referrals; they just did stuff that made the experience of doing business with them so great that people voluntarily wanted to talk about them. That’s the idea behind teaching your business to market itself. How do you become the trusted resource? What are all the touch points? What about your culture and your people? The idea is to get your clients so connected to your business that they’d go out of their way to refer you, and not just because they like your product and it does what it says it does, but that they really want to see you succeed.

Brilliant, eh? What did you think of the rest of the interview? Are you going to buy the new book?

When the push is the process – Part 2

“Campaigns No Longer Matter: The Importance of Listening” by Shashi Bellamkonda (SocialMediaToday.com, 4 May 2010). Just a quick follow up on the ideas in the post from earlier this week. Embrace it for this is the current state of the art of “marketing” in 2010. Two rules (aka absolute truths): (1) Walk the talk . (2) Actions speak louder than words.

When the push is the process the mountain moves closer

“Special Report: e-Commerce Payment Processing & CRM” by Mira Allen and Laura Quinn (NonProfit Times, 1 April 2010). It’s not easy being a 501(c)3. With so much focus on the mission the necessary level empathy for those on the outside looking in can be difficult to muster. This is especially true when it comes to fund raising. Rarely will the guest (outside) be as committed as those fulfilling the mission (inside). Guests have their own mission(s) as well. Work, wife, kids, etc.

In short, successful donor engagement is no longer a once a year push, but an ongoing process. Resources are of course tight so management must embed the push in the day to day process, which in turn needs to align closer to the day the day lives of the target audience(s).

Mira and Laura (from www.IdealWare.org in Maine), cover many of the highlights in how to best to eat the donation elephant.

“As for any campaign, it’s important to formulate a plan before rushing out to ask for money. Start by developing a compelling message to inspire people to donate. Tell supporters a story — not just about why it’s important to support your organization, but specifically what the donations will support. Maybe the goal is a scholarship fund to help more people take advantage of your programs or a new piece of equipment. When possible, put names or faces to the people the campaign will help, or paint a vivid picture of what the hoped-for results will look like.”

Actually, for best results the story should be ongoing. It’s something that should reflect the mission and be constantly reinforced with every “blurb” that your org puts into circulation. Marketing in the 21st century is about a two-way conversation and not just traditional one-way messaging. It’ s a walk the talk world so be prepared to show them what you got. And then keep showing them! Additionally, it’s getting to be more difficult to meet fund raising goals when the marketing machine only gets ramped up once or twice a year. How do you think it makes your donors feel when you only come looking for them when you want money? While that might not be entirely true, if that’s their perception then consider it written in stone.

Whatever your medium, make sure you create compelling hooks to encourage people to donate. A simple “Help support our organization” might not get the same response as a “Help add 100 books to the library by midnight!” Almost any online message — whether ad, email, or status update — should be crafted to grab attention. Entice your constituents with intriguing and motivating calls to action.

At the risk of sounding like a broken mp3, do realize that the hook is for the donors, not for you. It’s not what those on the inside should find engaging and only have time for. What’s most important is what do those on the outside of the .org hear and/or expect to hear. How many times have we all seen an advertisement – not just from a nonprofit – that is about what the sender wants to say, and not about what the receiver is expecting to hear as well as how they are wanting to hear it. A product/service benefit isn’t a benefit unless the receiver thinks it is.  For example, the sender say,”Been around for 50 years…” While the receiver thinks, “Big deal! What are you going to do for me today?” That’s not to say tradition and established aren’t important to some, but hey are certainly further a way from the benefit target than “saves you time” or “saves you money”.

Btw, as a rule any “sales pitch” should avoid “cute” and don’t over think “creative”. If it’s not reinforcing the idea(s) then it’s probably a distraction. Nine of out of ten time KISS is will get the job done. Do you have the time to wrestle with unraveling a “cute” message? Don’t be that sender.

It’s more difficult to tell how many people are responding to your social networking appeals, but you can look for spikes in donations when you post something to Twitter or Facebook. It’s also possible to collect donations inside Facebook (using the Causes application), making it very clear how much is coming from Facebook users.

Actually, and this goes for you for profits as well, there’s a tool from Google called URL Builder that is an extension of their free website Analytics offering.  In short, you can add parameters to each of the links you post and Analytics will be able to better track that incoming traffic for you. And not to worry, the URLs generated with URL Builder still work with URL shortening services like TinyURL, Bit.ly, etc. Yes, URL Builder adds 120 seconds extra step but it’s time well invested if your .org want to analyze and understand what worked and what did not.

Three to get ready (for next week and beyond)

You might not be an executive. You might not have users.  You might not be a CFO. However, if you’re looking for ideas, inspiration and strategies for staying on a path to success then this trio is for you:

“Escaping the Executive Bubble” by Kate O’Sullivan (CFO Magazine, 1 February 2010).

“There are a whole bunch of natural filters in an organization,” Roberto explains. “It’s not because people are necessarily hiding things, but as information moves through the hierarchy of a company, it gets packaged, streamlined, and analyzed.” As a result, the “news” that arrives at the CFO’s desk has usually been cleaned and polished. And distorted.

“Opinion: Love Your Users” by Frank Hayes (ComputerWorld, 22 March 2010).

Yes, users also burn up a lot of our time with password resets, downloaded malware and simple dumbness. We could cheerfully strangle them for things like that.

But some users, at least, have eyes, ears and brains that can be IT’s first line of defense against problems that we wouldn’t spot ourselves until it was too late.

“We Fail Fast, Learn, and Move On. An interview with Steven Neil, CFO of Diamond Foods Inc.” by David M. Katz (CFO Magazine, 1 April 1 2010).

We got our supply-chain folks involved, studied our approach, and identified what my kids call the “duh” factor. The way we had been loading the truck facilitated the operations of our warehouse rather than our customer’s warehouse. So we changed how we packed the truck to align with the layout of the customer’s warehouse.

Get it?

Opinion: Love your users

March 22, 2010 06:00 AM ET

“Tweet Me The Money”

“Follow the Money (Facebook, Mobile Phones and the Future of Shopping)” by Kim S. Nash (CIO Magazine, December 2009). Last week’s post on Wired’s “The Future of Money” article might have been a bit abstract and heavy duty for some. This is more particle guide to the state of the online shopping art.

Here’s a bit of inspiring food for thought:

On Facebook, millions of people declare themselves as fans of performers, products, even the president. The number-one fan page on Facebook is dedicated to the late Michael Jackson, with 10.3 million members. President Obama is next with 6.8 million. Starbucks is the biggest retail brand with 4.8 million fans. But becoming a fan of something is the equivalent of wearing a logo T-shirt. It doesn’t bring M.J. back to life, reform healthcare or sell more coffee. 1-800-Flowers intends to find out whether social networkers are also social shoppers.

As well as:

The company is also tuning its marketing volume to match Facebook’s atmosphere. That is, rather than promote products all the time in the store’s status bar, there are trivia contests and craft ideas to keep fans engaged. “This is definitely a new and unique channel. Jumping in there and hard selling is not the way to go,” he says.

The moral of the web design story

“Keep Your Graphic Designer on a Short Leash” by Tim Ash (Website Magazine, February 2010). It’s Friday so let’s get right to the meat of the matter. First, it’s not just your graphic designer you need to keep on a short leash. Chances are good you need to keep you on one too. A web site is a tool. A tool that helps you meet certain objectives to engage your guests. But more importantly, it’s a tool that helps your guest satisfy certain needs. In short, it’s about them, not you. Define those needs and then work from there.

For example, just because you (or your designer) see something “cool” on another site does not mean it’s a good idea. The question is, does that “coolness” meet one of your defined needs or not? If it doesn’t help to meet a need then it should be taken off the table. No ifs, ands or buts. The fact is, there are far too many “cool” but bad ideas out there already. Don’t get sucked into thinking “cool” is the answer. Quite often such gimmicks get tired pretty quick. Unless of course you want your brand to seem tired.

Tim’s key pearl comes in the final paragraph:

The moral of the story is clear: When it comes to landing pages, graphic artists need to follow a minimalist visual aesthetic that focuses on conversion and not window dressing. The new landing page may not be exciting visually, but that is not the objective. On a toned-down page the call-toaction emerges from the relative stillness of the page. “Boring” works. And it makes more money — that should make it plenty exciting.

And while you’re at WebsiteMagazine.com be sure to also check the primer “Building and Maintaining an Online Brand” by Peter Presitpino (Editor-In-Chief). A good piece of back to basics to keep you on track.

Seven strategies you need to unforget

“Keep Business Cooking” by Tony Conway, CMP (Sante Magazine, Holiday 2009). Too much to do? Too little time? While this quick refresher doesn’t look to cure your time management ills, Tony does lay down seven simply great ideas to help you regroup and recharge. There might not be much new here but that’s alright. Quite often the tried and true of keeping it simple can be the “new black”. In other words, sometimes it’s the forgotten fundamentals that need to be unforgotten.

Survey sez…

“Want to Know How to Market Better? Just Ask” by Eric Groves (The New York Enterprise Report, February 2010). First of all, kudos to Eric for fighting the good fight and making the right recommendation. That is, just ask (the customer). It often seems that too many “experts” are so self-absorbed with selling their one-size-fits-all kool-aid that they forget the most easy and obvious answer. There’s no reason to guess. Just ask. And let’s face it, in a Web 2.0 world it’s getting easier and easier to do so every day.

There are however three caveats that should be mentioned here:

1) Realize that you’re human and try to be objective about the question you ask and how you ask them. Try to take it a step further and have an objective third party read what you come up with before going forward with the asking. Wording and understanding that you take for granted as an insider might not be heard the same way by those receiving your communication (i.e., survey).

2) Keep in mind that any survey results you do collect should always be interpreted with the understanding that what has been collected is not the opinion of all your customers, just the ones who elected to participate in the survey. Some good input is better than no input at all but don’t overestimate the value of what you’re collecting. That being said, don’t be too quick to dismiss your findings just because they are not what you want to hear.

3) Rest assured that the answers you do get will be subjective, and probably biased by the survery itself. We are all human and tend to forget, embellish, overlook, etc. Those who arer familiar with surveys understand that even something as subtle as the order of the questions can greatly influence the answers.

The bottom line here is this… Listen to your guests. They are telling you a lot and will tell you more if you ask. The biggest issue seems to be listening. Are you listening?

Reading between the wines

“Renovating the Wine List” by Marnie Old (Sante Magazine, Holiday 2009). Another great post in our “This doesn’t just apply to _______” series. As you read this one-pager, substitute your communications medium, be it print or web, in the spots Marnie says wine list. Also notice the fact that she mentions context. That is, wine menus need to be readable in low light. As simple as these concepts might be it’s amazing how many times we’ve all see them ignored and/or done badly.

Does your “wine list” pass this test?

Looking at the world through empathy colored glasses

“The Three-Minute Rule” by Anthony Tjan (Harvard Business Review, 22 January 2010). Let’s look past the trying too hard title and focus on bottom line — context. Nearly everything from web design, ad design or a phone conversation, to buying a product or using service – exists within context. Furthermore, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the context is often not yours but theirs. So, as has been mentioned here quite a few times before, be sure to add Context’s twin Empathy to your checklist.

Essential pull quote:

These situations illustrate the narrow-mindedness to which it is easy to fall prey. In the Thomson example, we were thinking of ourselves as a data provider, though we were really part of a broader workflow solution. We failed to realize the importance of customer context over our own product capability. In the cross-selling and shopping-basket examples, the three-minute rule reminds us that rearranging the context of a shopping experience to better meet customer patterns can be extremely effective. Customers seek solutions, but it is likely that your offering is only part of one. The three-minute rule is a forcing mechanism to see the bigger picture and adjacent opportunities.

Understanding context is certainly important, but to truly interpret it correctly one must also have a healthy supply of empathy.

It’s an execution problem

“Seeing Customers as Partners in Invention” By Mary Tripas (New York Times, 26 December 2009).

“Being customer-driven doesn’t mean asking customers what they want and then giving it to them,” says Ranjay Gulati, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “It’s about building a deep awareness of how the customer uses your product [or service].”

It’s not just about interaction and listening. It’s deeper than that. It’s about awareness and understanding. Taken a step further, it’s not about wants. It’s about meeting needs. Wants are easy. We’re all quick to recite our wants. Needs however are much more profound.

Later Ranjay is said to say:

“It’s an execution problem.” Companies, he says, “aren’t generally structured to access, absorb or utilize customer insights since they are organized by product, not by customer.”

Interesting enough, does this not sound quite similar to the ideals mentioned on our Success Realized page (as well as elsewhere within the AU framework)?