Saturday, March 31, 2007


Be like Sarah

Sarah owns The Bath Bar, a small bath & lotion store in downtown Kirkland, Washington. She sells a wide range of bath soaps, soaking salts, lotions and gifts.

There are plenty of places to buy bath soaps and lotions around town, including several competing retail locations in your local mall alone.

But Sarah's business is remarkably popular and successful, and her customers are fiercely loyal.

Why? Sarah has great products, and remarkable service. She's a prime example of how great products and even greater service can be your most effective marketing.

Walk into Sarah's store, and you're greeted with a smile and personal service to find exactly what you need. Come back a second time, and Sarah remembers everything you liked from the previous visit, and sometimes even has new products in stock specifically because she thought you would like them.

Need something in a hurry? Call ahead. Sarah will shop for you, process your credit card over the phone, wrap everything up, and bring your package out to your car for you, so you don't have to even worry about a parking spot.

Running late? Just give Sarah a call. She'll keep the store open for you.

Sarah's even been known to take orders directly to customers' homes on her own way home from work.

Sarah does all of this, and much more, not because she read about it in a book, or because she learned it in business school. To Sarah, this is simply what you do for your customers. This level of remarkable service comes natural.

But we all know that this level of service is quite uncommon. Most retail businesses fail to ask our names, let alone remember them, let alone remember what products we like.

Let alone offer to shop for us, bring our order to the car, or stay open late.

Sarah doesn't think about it this way, but she's one of the best marketers at work in retail today. She knows that building a business isn't about advertising, it isn't about flashy gimmicks, and it isn't about doing what the "big guys" do.

It's about serving and delighting your customers with something they can't get anywhere else.

By focusing on great products and even better service, Sarah has created a competitive advantage that few can match.

Is your business this remarkable? Do your customers tell stories as remarkable as those listed above? Are you creating a competitive advantage simply by how you support your products, and how important you make your customers feel?

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Are you worth it?

You may have read by now about Terra Bite, a coffee shop in Kirkland, Washington that charges nothing. That's right. Order your latte, get a muffin, even come back in the afternoon for a cookie or sandwich. You're obligated to pay nothing.

There's simply a box on the counter for contributions. Terra Bite customers are asked to pay what they feel the product is worth.

Before Terra Bite ever came to be, Seth Godin wrote about the concept of "business by donation" in The Big Moo. It's a good exercise in ensuring that your business is truly delivering value to your customer.

The premise is simple. Imagine that global competition caused your company to rely on donations to survive. Your customers only pay what they think your product or service is worth.

Would your product be worth the price you charge? Could you command the same premium for your service?

If not, are you overcharging customers today? And if so, how do you deliver more value?

What would you do differently to survive?


MoM Links for March 29, 2007

SNL is Back: It's buzzworthy again, and YouTube can prove it. Just check out the viewership metrics for this, this and this, not to mention all the "tribute" copycat videos created by fans.

Email Madness, Baby!: What college basketball can teach us about email marketing (yes, you read that right).

Seven Stations for your Home: Good advice from LifeHack on how to keep your home humming along as efficiently as your office.

Geek to Live: Finally, a Web site that doesn't promote technology for technology's sake. Find the right tools that help you get stuff done faster/better/cheaper, then get out and enjoy life!

Going Home: Great article by Web Worker Daily about how to effectively transition from "work mode" to "home mode" each day.

What Should I Say?: Social advice from the masses. Use at your own risk (but it's sure fun to read!).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


What are you going to give up?

Please read this fantastic, short article in Fast Company about setting priorities, and establishing appropriate expectations (with yourself and with others) about what you can and can't get done in the time available to you every day.

We all have way too many things to do. Too many things piling up at the office, and too many duties back at home. If we assume it all has to get done, we will never succeed. If we set goals but don't establish the discipline to stick to them and focus only on them, we're still doomed to a life of frustration and self-evaluated failure.

But if we take the time to decide what we really want, and what's really important to us (professionally and personally), we empower and free ourselves to live more satisfied lives.

(Wow, heavy stuff. To laugh again, watch this.)


Fresh ideas from the magazine rack

Some of the best ideas around right now are simply better-executed strategies pulled from somewhere else. They're not necessarily original ideas, just better implementations in a new setting.

Don't believe me? See for yourself.

Go to the bookstore, the nearest newsstand, or even the local supermarket. Find a magazine that you've never read, in an industry or genre you typically don't find interesting.

Take the magazine home, and read it cover to cover. Read everything - the editor's note, the ads, the short up-front briefs, and the back-of-the-book long features.

As you read, write down things that you find interesting. Pay attention to copy strategies from the ads, promotional ideas by sponsors, successful design elements in the magazine overall.

Observe to how the advertisers engage the readers. How the writers engage the readers. How the magazine designers keep readers flipping through to the back cover.

As you observe and take notes, start making analogies between what you see (and experience) directly, and how that might apply these insights in your job, your industry, or your marketing.

My guess is you'll end up with a strong to-do list of fresh, new ideas that are immediately relevant and actionable in your business.

Some of our best breakthroughs aren't necessarily original ideas. They're born out of an experience, a kernel of an idea, a snippet of information pulled from somewhere else.

I believe the best marketers among us are simply the most efficient at identifying those kernels in everything they see, do and experience, identifying bridges between where they find it and what they're presently doing, and then being diligent and focused on testing those ideas in their own environment.


MoM Links for March 28, 2007

Happy Hour is 9 to 5: Worth reading through this free online book on how to love your job, love your life, and kick butt at work.

Hit the ground running: Have you ever been this prepared for a job interview? Kinda takes things to a new level...

You know you're a blogger when...: Check out Brad Inman's "10 Characteristics of a Good Blogger." How many describe you?

How's your G-Cred?: Does Google know who you are? And does it like you?

zefrank on procrastination: Sound at all familiar?

What coffee says about your company: Interesting analysis published recently in the Financial Times. Do you help your employees and team members gather and collaborate, or do you separate them? Is your coffee pot this prophetic?

Chief Forgiveness Officer: That's what Southwest Airlines just hired. What do you think of his role?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Ignore the critic, embrace the criticism

We all have detractors. The best products don't work for everyone. And even companies with the best customer service deal regularly with angry customers.

Too often, however, our feelings about the person complaining get in the way of how seriously we should take their complaint.

Put another way: ignore the critic, embrace the criticism.

Even irrational complaints are typically rooted in something real, something that's facing and frustrating many more customers who haven't spoken up. If you take the easy path, dismissing both the critic and the criticism, you're likely passing up an opportunity to address a very real customer issue, something that could be keeping dozens, even hundreds of other customers from being successful and completely satisfied with your product or service.

Critics are not fun to listen to. They can be downright rude. Sometimes they get personal.

But they almost always have a point.

Ignore the critic, embrace the criticism.


MoM Links for March 27, 2007

Talk really is cheap: This study implies that good relationships and communication with co-workers is more important than compensation.

Mom My Ride: Funny video from Zima, but what's the brand tie-back? Is Zima a soccer-mom drink now?

Jott 2.0: It was cool enough when I could Jott myself, but Jott others? Out of sight!

Start the Conversation!: Check out DiscussThis, and get your customers talking (while you watch!)

Marketing Blog Bracketology: What happens when you mix March Madness with marketing blogs? This (for better or worse). What could you bracketize?

How does your marketing smell?: Don't just think about what your brand says and looks like. Involve every emotional and physical sense to communicate your message and brand essence. How does your brand smell and taste? What does it feel like?


No marketing budget for a year...

My last post about marketing that's not really marketing made me think about a simple exercise that can help all of us focus our attention first on products, services and customer experience - then on how to leverage marketing to accelerate awareness and growth.

Imagine for a moment that you were not allowed to spend a dime on marketing for an entire year. No advertising, no PR, no direct mail, no emails. You could not proactively market your business. You could only invest time, energy, resources and budget into your products, services and customer experience.

You are, in essence, counting on your customers to market and grow your business for you - based on how effective your products and services perform.

How would that change your approach? How would it change how and where you allocate your time and resources each day? How would it change your perspective on how, and where, to invest in current products & services?

How would you do business differently?

Now imagine you had that marketing budget back. Would you need it?


The best marketing isn't marketing

I had coffee this morning with a great marketer who doesn't believe in marketing.

He owns a very successful business in Seattle, the latest of several successful ventures in his career. His disciplined approach about both great storytelling and fanatical customer service demonstrate his understanding of the root causes of customer loyalty and word-of-mouth.

Yet despite the fact that he's clearly a success, and is clearly a great marketer, he doesn't believe that most marketing works.

And he's right.

Traditional marketing, done well, does nothing more than spread the work about great products and services. But if the products and services aren't great, the marketing will never work.

What's more, great products and services usually don't need marketing. Great products and services market themselves, in that they generate intense loyalty among current customers, and the kind of word-of-mouth that naturally generates steady waves of new customers.

Sure, an extra layer of traditionally-defined marketing can often be a catalyst to faster growth. It can mean the difference between 2X growth and 5X growth, simply by accelerating the speed at which people find out about your business.

But if the business isn't good - if the products don't work, don't deliver on marketing promises, or simply are supported by bad service - then all you've done is tell a lot more people that you run a bad business, or deliver a sub-par service.

If your business has slowed, sales are down, or competitors are catching up, marketing may be the answer. But look first to your products. Look to the service you provide to your customers. Make sure you're delivering on the promises you've made. More often than not, your growth path is not in buying an expensive ad campaign, or sending more direct mail. It's in building better, more remarkable experiences for your customers.

In a world where customers more frequently deliver their own marketing messages about your business back to the masses, your best marketing may not be marketing at all.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Why new employees are your best marketers

Each month, I tell a gathered group of new employees at HouseValues that they're the most important marketers at the company. And I mean it.

Most of these employees are actually joining very different groups across the organization - finance, technology, operations, etc. But I don't really care where they'll be working. They're all our most important marketers.

I've been with HouseValues now for almost five years. These newbies have typically been with HouseValues for just a couple days. While it's relatively difficult for me to see our company, our products, our processes and our industry in a new light, it's natural to do so for these new employees.

They bring to HouseValues a wide variety of experiences, perspectives and histories. They've done things and been a part of things I haven't yet seen or experienced, things that haven't yet become a part of my worldview.

These new employees are able to deliver incredibly important insights into our business that I, and company veterans like me, just can't see anymore.

So the trick with these new employees is two-fold:

1) Getting them to understand how important their perspectives are
2) Getting them to communicate and share their insights in the coming weeks and months

The first part is usually easy. The second part is hard. Hard because new employees typically assume that veteran employees know more, hard because they assume processes and perspectives are in place at the company for a reason, and hard because not every manager is open to feedback and criticism, sometimes in general and often especially from a newbie.

If you're reading this, I hope that you at least buy into the idea that your new employees are incredibly powerful marketers. If that's true, then your real challenge is to unlock the second "trick" listed above.

Create a culture at your company that empowers, encourages and rewards new employees for sharing their perspectives. Show them that their feedback is indeed valuable, and show them that you actually follow-up on and implement their ideas.

Today's newbies will be tomorrow's company veterans. And those veterans will help you to continue fostering the kind of culture that empowers fresh ideas and innovations from new perspectives.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


What would daily renewals do to your business?

Need something to help yourself, your team, or your employees make the right decisions for the business, every single day?

Here’s a simple exercise.

Imagine that every night, before they go to bed, every single customer had to choose whether they wanted to continue giving you their business the next day. Every night, your customers decide whether or not you’ve earned the right to continue doing business with them. Every night, your company goes through a vote of confidence.

How would you do? Better yet, how would this help you, your team, or your employees make decisions every day?

Clearly this level of daily affirmation is neither appropriate nor feasible. But I’m guessing it would drive far more customer-centric decisions for all of us.


Notes from a Spring Training weekend

Below are nine ten quick stories from the past three days in Arizona, where I attended three spring training games with my dad. For those of you who aren’t baseball fans, I apologize in advance. For those who are, I thought these were worth sharing.

1. Friday in Mesa, the Cubs’ wives had an auction and used equipment sale for charity. Part of the sale was a box of paper bags for $20 bucks each. Each bag held an autographed baseball inside. The guy in front of me in line got Billy Williams, a Cubs Hall of Famer. Guy behind me got Mark Prior, the Cubs’ star young pitcher. I got Sean Marshall, who apparently is in the minor leagues somewhere.

2. But, alas, karma smiles on this blogger. Mere minutes later, down on the field, Cubs right-fielder Jacques Jones finished a particularly disappointing round of batting practice, and proceeded to break his bat over his knee. A member of the ground crew was going to throw the bat away until I intervened. Couldn’t get it autographed, but the pine tar still smells (and feels) fantastic.

3. Saturday in Peoria, I followed a crowd down the first-base stands to a locked gate. Turns out this gate is right across from the visiting locker room. Two minutes later, Mike Sweeney (captain and star of the Kansas City Royals) walks out and spends 20 minute with a local Little League team that had come to see him. He signed autographs, took them on the field for a picture, made them feel very special. Mike’s one of the nicest guys in the majors, and he proved it (yet again) this day.

4. A few minutes into his visit, Sweeney asked the team to wait a second, and disappeared back into the clubhouse. Two minutes later, he emerged with Hall of Famer and career Royal George Brett (who spends each spring with the Royals as a hitting instructor). Brett did an impromptu clinic for the kids, then led them in a quick team cheer before signing autographs for everyone. Classy guy.

5. He got a bit more classy when he came over to the fence I was at, and signed a few more balls for some kids. Somehow my ball ended up in the mix as well.

6. In the middle of the ensuing game between the Mariners and Royals, Jarrod Washburn is pitching for the M’s. He’s in the middle of a face-off with a particularly testy Royals batter. Man on first, one out. 2-2 count. From behind me somewhere, a fan yells, “Hey Washburn, throw him the heater.” Washburn stands straight up, looks directly at the fan, and breaks an enormous grin. He takes that grin into his delivery, and pitches what became a 6-4-3 double-play to end the inning. He gave that fan another smile and wave as he walked off the field.

7. Sunday, again in Peoria for a match-up between the Padres and Giants, we arrive early to get a good parking spot, then walk over to a local sports bar to watch part of the early March Madness game before the first pitch. Halfway across the parking lot, a baseball almost hits us, as if it fell from the sky. Turns out, the Mariners minor league teams are taking batting practice across the fence at one of their practice fields. Half an hour later, we had collected nine home run balls that had made their way over that fence.

8. While fielding gopher balls, a tall skinny man walks up, on his way back from a workout. I stop to shake his hand and wish him luck this season. Bill Bavasi, general manager for the Seattle Mariners, thanks me and completes his post-run walk back to the Mariners office.

9. Spring Training is clearly about the kids. I’ve never seen so many balls thrown into the stands by players and coaches, and never seen the same players and coaches so meticulous about getting those balls to kids.

10. I typed this list-of-nine while waiting for my flight to leave Phoenix, only to learn later that Mariners legend Edgar Martinez was on our flight, flying back from a weekend of teaching Mariner prospects how to hit. He arrived at the gate 20 minutes before boarding, and was amazing with the kids. Answered every question, signed every autograph, posed for every picture. Classy guy. Especially when he signed two balls from story #7 above.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Don't tell me I'm wrong

I don’t like being wrong. I especially don’t like being told that I’m wrong.

Yet, as marketers, we do this on a regular basis. We tell prospective customers that they’re wrong. Sometimes, we even tell our current customers that they’re wrong.

When we tell people their current toothpaste isn’t very good, and that they should be using ours, we’re telling them that they’re wrong. And they don’t like that.

When a new Internet service provider tries to get me to switch, they’re trying to get me to admit I’m wrong about my current choice. And I don’t like that.

If my strategy as a marketer is to try and “yell louder” to get someone to change brand choices, I’m counting on people to admit being wrong.

But if I market my product as a new choice, as something that empowers consumers to make a new, educated choice, that’s good.

If you’re just offering something that everyone else has, you’ll always be yelling, and always be telling people they’re wrong.

But if you offer something new, something remarkable, something that changes the game, you empower people to choose something new.

I don’t want to be wrong. I want to choose something right.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


MoM Links for March 22, 2007

How important is sound to your brand?: Fast Company takes a look at seven examples. Turn your speakers up!

Easy online fundraising: Check out FirstGiving. Perfect for any nonprofit seeking an easy way to accept online payments.

All your music, available online, from anywhere: That's what MediaMaster is promising, anyway. How long until the record labels chime in?

Is the dawn of Web 3.0 upon us? Maybe. Maybe not. You decide.

Office Optional: First Best Buy, now Netflix. More and more companies are changing their rules about office and vacation time. Do your employees need structure to stay productive?

Networking for People Who Hate Networking: The name says it all. Worth a read. This is too.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Recruiters are marketers, too

Kudos to the folks at Red5 for this unbelievably creative recruiting effort. It cost a little money, but was incredibly remarkable and buzzworthy. I'm sure they counted not only on an extremely high response rate from primary recipients, but also significant word-of-mouth by those recipients telling their friends, then others (like me, and now you) reading about this elsewhere.

The best recruiters know that they are really marketers at heart. They're marketing the grass on the other side, and helping to paint a picture for possible recruits of how life will be better at their new job.

Good recruiters don't just share job descriptions and discuss education requirements. They tell stories about what life is like at the destination company, and how recruits will live better, more complete lives at the next stage of their career.

The best recruiters don't just post jobs on Monster, or HotJobs, or Jobster. They find the best candidates, wherever they are (they're rarely in the market), and go after them. when you're that focused, you can afford to spend the time, energy and money on creativity like this.


MoM Links for March 21, 2007

More links worth checking out in today's MoM links:

We're living in a Snack Culture: Great story set by Wired Magazine. What is your company doing to take advantage of this shift in information consumption?

Where in the world is Matt? I am apparently the last person to find out, but if you haven't seen this video yet, take two minutes to watch. It's amazing.

Want to be an influencer? The world is your oyster. Just work hard.

How to sell: Let your customers do the talking...

Great new marketing voice: New to me, anyway, is Jennifer McLean and her Credibility Branding blog. Great insights on an increasingly lost art.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


MoM Links for March 20, 2007

Among all of the blogs, newsletters, magazines etc. that I read on a regular basis, my favorite feature is consistently some form of bullet-list that quickly introduces me to a new concept, a new voice on the Web, a new product, a new opinion, or other piece of information I previously didn't have. These bullet lists are light on description and commentary, making it quick and easy to scan what something is about, and decide for myself if I want to click and learn more.

I can't commit to delivering a list like this every day, as some successful bloggers do, but I will start collecting "cool stuff" that I don't have time to fully blog about into lists, and when I get 4-5 onto a list I'll go ahead and publish.

So here's the first set of MoM links (short for Matt on Marketing, not my mother - thought she is also a faithful reader - thanks mom!):

Improve Your Webinars: Whether you already do Webinars in your business, or are just thinking about it, this free White Paper from GoToMeeting and Osterman Research is worth checking out. Some good nuggets of information to test!

SketchSwap!: OK, this is a time-waster, but for creative types who can draw (that does not include me), it's fun.

Personas vs. Profiles: What's the difference between them? This well-written article puts it into perspective very cleanly.

Turn out the lights!: Among the growing ranks of socially-conscious new companies, one of my favorites is Seattle's own Verdiem. Save your company money and reduce CO2 emissions at the same time!

World's Best Presentation Contest: Do you have something worthwhile to enter? There are some bad, bad PowerPoint presentations out there. Will be interesting to see some examples of great ones!


Search for a cause

I'm excited to see more and more focus on socially-aware businesses. The magazine Fast Company, for example, just published a cover package on Sensible Investing, and the venture-capital community is showing more and more interest in funding socially-conscious enterprises.

But in the midst of the big ideas and new emerging companies, there are also simple things we can all do to give back. One great example of this is is a new search engine that donates ad revenue, about a penny per search, to the charity you designate. Use it just like any search engine, and it’s powered by Yahoo!, so you get the same great results.

Just go to and enter (or search for) the organization you want to support.

Now, a penny per search many not sound like much. But let's say you're a nonprofit, and you can get 500 of your regular donors to use this as their primary search engine. If they average four searches a day, that's $7,300 in a year. Not bad.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Who do you work for?

You don't work for your boss. Sure, she might sign your paychecks. Or recommend your promotion. Or review your performance.

But your boss is actually third on the list of who you work for.

As I see it, you have three bosses (in this order):

1. Your customers
2. Your employees
3. Your boss

Let me briefly explain each.

1. Your customers.
There is no more important audience in your business. Without customers, there is no business. No paycheck. No promotion. So if your customers are that important, how can they NOT be the boss? This prioritization is relatively easy for those who are front-line staff, or get to interact with customers on a regular basis. But for managers who don't interact with customers regularly, keeping sight of what your customers want can be more difficult. Sometimes that means listening to how your boss interprets what customers want, but make no mistake - your customers are calling the shots.

2. Your employees.
If you are in any leadership position, you work for your employees. Your job is to make them as successful as possible, and to clear obstacles to their success. Three reasons for this. First, it's your job as a manager to help your employees succeed, to thrive in their jobs, and to grow in their careers. Second, by helping your employees grow, you're enabling your own growth (since you're preparing some of your employees to take your place). And third, your employees are likely closer to the customer. This means they hear things from your "first boss" often more directly and more frequently than you do.

3. Your boss.
At the end of the day, your boss is still your boss. He or she still has authority to to direct the work you do, and help set priorities for both you and your team. But, your boss works for you (you are her #2 boss), and you're likely closer to the customers (your and her #1 boss).

I think if more of us thought of our customers as calling the shots in our organization (whether you're in a huge corporation, or a business of one), we'd make a number of decisions very differently (or not make some decisions at all).

And if more managers considered their employees a close-second priority, employee satisfaction and productivity would rise.

Will your boss be upset if they find out they're third-fiddle? No way. You're putting your customers first, and empowering your employees to be better employees. What more could a good boss ask for?


Doing More With Your 24

We all have far more work on our plates than we can reasonably get done in an 8-10 hour day, and the disparity between requests and time doesn't stop when we leave the office. When we get home, requests from our kids, our "honey do" list, household chores and more all compete for our time.

The concept of working smarter, not harder, is nothing new. But despite the fact that we all know how important this is in our lives, I still find it extremely valuable to read fresh perspectives and strategies for executing this, in both my personal and professional life.

The folks at Nightingale-Conant today published a great set of strategies that remind us how to be more productive in the time we have.

Their primary takeaways:

1) Run the day, or it will run you. Part of the key to time management is staying in charge. Some will be masters of their time, and some will be servants. Enterprising people become the masters of their time.

2) Don't mistake activity for productivity. To be successful, you must be busy being productive. Some people are going, going, going, but they're doing figure eights. They're not making much progress. Don't mistake activity for productivity, movement for achievement. Evaluate the hours in your days, and see if there is wasted time that you could manage better.

3) Focus. You've got to zero in on the job at hand and, like an ant, let nothing stand in your way and let nothing distract you from the task. Assuming this is a major activity in pursuit of the highest-leverage opportunity available, there should be nothing more valuable to invest your time in.

Read the full article here.

Also, check out a few earlier posts on some best practices for getting organized.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Defining "The Extra Mile"

A lot of companies talk about going “the extra mile” for their customers. But I’d venture to say that very few of those companies, let alone their employees, know exactly what that means.

Making sure the product works, answering a customer question, solving a problem – those are all "table stakes" in my opinion. Customers expect that the product will work, that we will adequately support the product, and that they will see success with the product.

So, going the “extra mile” means doing more than is expected. But what does that mean? If you ask your company's front-line staff to go the “extra mile” for your customers, would they have any idea what to do?

You may very well find as many definitions for “extra mile” as you have employees.

What if you helped define “extra mile” for them? What if you gave every employee (specifically your front-line, customer-facing employees) a set of “extra mile” opportunities they are encouraged to proactively offer every customer they come into contact with?

It doesn’t have to be a complicated list, but could be things like:

* Sending a hand-written “thank you” or “congratulations” card
* Offer a sample or free trial of a new product
* Follow-up with the customer (via phone or email) after a couple days to make sure their issue is still resolved adequately

There will be many more ideas you can add to this list, specific to your products, business and/or industry. Your goal would be to put this in front of every employee, and empower them all to do any of these, for any customer, at any time.

Sometimes going the "extra mile" is about instinct - understanding exactly what each customer needs, and addressing that need at an individual but meaningful level. But in general, it's far easier to go "the extra mile" for your customers, when you've been able to pre-define "extra mile" options.


Great Service: Strategy or Objective?

I've been thinking a lot about the nature and value of great service. The more I read, the more I realize that most companies see service as a means of achieving their objectives.

Most companies list great service as a strategy, as a means of achieving financial goals.

But why not make "remarkable service" a core company objective? Why not list it at the same level of importance as revenue, growth and profitability?

Elevating the value and visibility of service in your organization would have a couple effects:

1) It demonstrates to the company how important great service is. It's not just a means to an ends. It's at the core of how you define success as a company. Great service unlocks repeat business, word-of-mouth to new prospective customers, and is so important to your financial objectives that it should exist at the same level.

2) Remarkable service is not a fad, not just a quarterly focus, not something confined to only part of the organization. Great service is something every employee must focus on all of the time.

Ranking service as a primary objective of the organization will help you ingrain it as a core value, and ensure every employee is being kept accountable all of the time for how their decisions impact your level and quality of customer service.

Janelle Barlow and Dianna Maul, in their 2000 book Emotional Value: Creating Strong Bonds with Your Customers, discovered the following proof points:

1) 86 percent of customers switch companies because they were dissatisfied with the service they received.

2) 75 percent of customer purchases are made by repeat purchasers.

3) The best service companies keep their customers 50 percent longer than their competitors.

These stats aren't surprising to most of us. But we have to ask ourselves - if great service is this important, shouldn't it have a representative place at the core of how we define our success?


What a deli can teach us about core values

Some of you may have heard of Zingerman's. It started as a small deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan 25 years ago, and now boasts seven different food service businesses - all still located in Ann Arbor. It's a small business, but with a remarkable story of service success.

The way Zingerman's makes such remarkable service the core of their business approach is also remarkable.

Here are the five simple steps Zingeman's articulates and still uses to translate the founders' focus on service into execution across the entire organization:

1. They teach it.
2. They define it.
3. They live it.
4. They measure it.
5. They reward it.

This five-part approach to living and executing service values offers all of us a blueprint for building and ingraining the core values our businesses hold dear.

To learn more about Zingerman's remarkable approach to service, I highly recommend ZingTrain (the deli's service approach is so good, they now teach it to others).

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Will Windows Vista replace TiVo?

Five years ago, I got TiVo. It changed my life.

One year ago, I got the DVR box from Comcast. It captured HD programming, and recorded two programs at once. The TiVo box went downstairs, to our second TV, and was used far less often. But I kept my TiVo subscription, so I could continue to record several season passes and "keyword" searches that my wife and I cared about.

Two weeks ago, I bought a new computer with Windows Vista Home Edition. Through Windows Media Center (a very cool feature of Vista), I can watch live TV, pause it just like TiVo, record season passes and search for keywords - just like TiVo.

But instead of paying a monthly fee, Windows Media Center is free. I only pay for the cable package from Comcast (which I was paying for anyway).

I cancelled my TiVo. It changed my life five years ago, but newer technology may have passed it by.

As Windows Vista and the Windows Media Center gain traction and market share, what will be the impact for TiVo? And how will TiVo respond?

Innovative companies change our lives with products we can't believe we ever lived without. But sooner or later, competitors catch up and eat away at the innovator's relevance.

Some companies respond. Others slowly fade. I wonder what fate awaits TiVo?


Why I quit Blockbuster Total Access

I gave Blockbuster's Total Access program a shot. Despite early problems, I continued to give it the benefit of the doubt. But now I'm done. This afternoon, I cancelled my Blockbuster Total Access subscription.

If I had never tried an online DVD rental service before, this divorce might not have happened. But because of my mostly positive, long-term relationship with Netflix, I was able to compare two services against each other.

The comparison to Netflix is where Blockbuster has largely failed, a notion that should particularly concern Blockbuster marketing executives. The lion's share of their current advertising campaign is clearly aimed at current Netflix users, encouraging them to switch. They may be driving a lot of trials, but my guess is that most long-time Netflix users will ultimately stay put.

Why? Here are my five reasons:

Slow Turnaround Time
With Netflix, your next selection is chosen and typically in the mail within hours of its confirmed receipt at the distribution center. Blockbuster promises turnaround within 24 hours on a business day, and they typically take ALL of that time. For example, Blockbuster confirmed receipt of one movie for me yesterday (Friday) morning, but by the end of the day hadn't shipped out a new movie. I'll now have to wait until Monday for that movie to ship, meaning it won't arrive until Tuesday or Wednesday. The Netflix movie would have shipped yesterday, and arrived today.

Low Inventory at Distribution Centers
Too many movies I want from Blockbuster aren't available at the Seattle distribution center, and therefore need to be shipped from more remote distribution centers (lengthening the turnaround time even further). What's worse, it appears that even the local distribution centers have fewer copies of many catalog movies than similar Netflix distribution centers, meaning the movies you want are stretched across more inquiring subscribers.

Worst Inventory at Retail Locations
Blockbuster retail locations are heavy on new releases, and very light on catalog movies. Blockbuster's "in-store return" policy counts on the fact that the returning customer will want new release movies. If your interests go beyond the mainstream, good luck.

Aggressive Retail Upsell
I realize Blockbuster's "in-store return" policy relies heavily on point-of-sale upsell. It's a good strategy. Problem is, it's also annoying. The poor guy at the check-out counter typically walks through 3-4 different offers before he lets me take home my new movie. It's not hard to say "no" 3-4 times, but it gets annoying visit after visit.

Not Enough Differentiated Value to Switch
At the end of the day, Netflix is still a superior product. They have fast turnaround, ample inventory at most of their well-located distribution centers, and typically plenty of new release inventory to ensure that those movies get out to customers quickly. In my mind, these benefits outweigh the incremental reasons to switch to Blockbuster. More movies, available faster, and at far greater convenience to me.

Are these reasons why Blockbuster's Total Access program will ultimately fail? Absolutely not. It's a good rental program, and a good value for families and other more casual movie watchers. But I question the current focus on switching Netflix users. That strategy, in my opinion, will ultimately prove unsuccessful.


The 10 most important service phrases

At least according to the folks at Wizard of Ads (who tend to be right about this stuff).

I can't get enough of examples like this. The more focus you can put on the customer, and their needs, the better.

Worth a read. If you manage any-sized call center (directly or indirectly), this is a must-read.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Are you this creative?

What particularly impressed me about with this guerilla recruiting effort by Zillow isn't just that they did something very creative and out-of-the-box, but how they did it with a clear strategy and focus.

The execution was brilliant, and by itself will generate some fantastic buzz for the Seattle start-up. But if you read into the reasons why they executed the way they did, you'll see just how smart the strategy was.

Is your business brainstorming ideas this creative and focused? And if so, are you executing any of them?


An example of the power of video

I wrote earlier about the communicative power of video, and how the multi-media format can deliver message and emotion very effectively and efficiently.

HouseValues just completed a fantastic example of this, with a short video focused on helping new customers understand the full HouseValues Business System. The video features several successful real estate agents from across the country, talking about the three key factors contributing to their success.

Worth a look.


Friday Fun: Sloganize your name

Check out this link and enter your name, your business or your brand.

It's more fun if you use your name, but I also found some of the brand slogan suggestions weren't all that bad.


Thursday, March 15, 2007


Trying dictation software

I just purchased dictation software from Dragon. My understanding in the past has been that the software didn't work very well but I've been impressed with the accuracy of newer versions. So far so good.

I'm dictating this blog post right now and I have to say it's a little awkward. Knowing exactly what I want to type before I say it takes some getting used to. But, it could be a way to be more efficient in communicating. For example, I can imagine being able to write faster by being able to just say things instead of having to type them. I can certainly say things faster than I can type, so this might be a faster way for me to write blog posts, write e-mails and especially write longer documents.

The biggest challenge I can see so far with dictation software is the ability to go back and edit. I don't always say things initially as efficiently as I might write it. So I can imagine that dictating e-mails and blog posts may still take a fair degree of editing.

However, the main reason I purchased the software was because I'm trying to write a book. I figured that dictating parts of the book might be faster and easier than having to type the entire thing. Time will tell.


Microsoft Small Business Summit

I'm signed up, are you?

Some good keynote speakers on Monday, plus some good-looking "how to" presentations through the week next week if you can navigate through the product demos.

Everything is available online, and it's all free.


The most important skill in business

I studied journalism and political science at the University of Washington, with the assumption that I would be a reporter for a living. Long story short, things didn't exactly work that way.

Now that I'm firmly on a marketing and business career path, I often think about whether I would have or should have treated my undergraduate education differently, had I known where destiny would ultimately lead me. Should I have gone to business school? Received an economics degree? A stint in banking perhaps?

Maybe. But probably not.

The more I do this, the more I become convinced that communication skills are the most important skill in business. It's the skill that can be the hardest to learn and master, and can be hardest for many of us to get good at.

But our ability to effectively communicate with one another, especially in a business setting, sets the stage and clears obstacles to achieving our goals. It defines how others perceive us, how well they understand us, how customers understand our products, and how badly prospects need our products.

Some of that communication is written, some verbal, some visual. But whether we're talking about an email, or a PowerPoint deck, or a video, or a quick hallway conversation, effective & efficient communication can make or break our success.

Those are skills that journalism schools teach every day. Journalism students learn how to effectively tell a long, complicated story in a single sentence. Even a single headline (less than a sentence).

They learn that less is more, and that words and images have the power to start and end wars, mobilize large groups of people to take action, and turn a simple product into a phenomenon.

To be successful in business requires a large toolbox of skills, no doubt. But the ability to communicate, in the end, may trump them all.


Why some people work hard (and some don't)

Very interesting article from the current issue of Stanford Magazine about what Professor Carol Dweck calls "The Effort Effect."

In essence, she concludes that people have two kinds of mindsets: growth or fixed. People with the growth mindset view life as a series of challenges and opportunities for improving. People with a fixed mindset believe that they are “set” as either good or bad. The issue is that the good ones believe they don’t have to work hard, and the bad ones believe that working hard won’t change anything.

Take a quick scan, think about the people you work with (and count on to get your job done). Are there alternative means to motivate each group of people?

I love articles like this that help give insight into the human mind. I still believe communication is the most important tool in business, but psychology could be a close second.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


The Communicative Power of Video

Dave Evans does a great job today reminding us how powerful video can be to communicate ideas and messages.

Dave focuses on our increasingly-shortened attention spans, and the fact that video can more quickly communicate a lot of information.

But what I particularly love about video is the multi-faceted nature of the message it can convey. In addition to the words spoken in a video, an audience can feel the passion in the speaker's voice, get excited by the cadence and speed of the background music, and be moved by the mix of multi-media visual and audio effects that ultimately lead to a richer experience, and far more effectively-communicated message.

Best of all, today's consumers are drawn to video more than ever before. Videos can be consumed more passively, quickly and efficiently than reading a long article. Put another way, they've become a far more effective way for us to communicate with customers, prospects, colleagues - even family and friends.

Sure, video can be harder to produce than the written word. But the impact on your message efficacy and audience activation can often be worth it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Learning & networking the old-fashioned way

I can no longer imagine business productivity and communication without email. Instant messaging services make it easy to ask quick question from my desktop. Many of us spend most of our days staying highly productive with nothing more than a monitor, keyboard and Internet connection.

I love the newfound levels of productivity that today's technology enables for each of us. But we also need to occasionally step away from our keyboards, out of our offices, and have real, live conversations with one another.

Sometimes that means answering an email with a phone call. Sometimes it means responding to an instant message by getting up, and walking down the hall.

By having live conversations, even though it may take an extra few precious minutes, we can create and reinforce stronger natural bonds and relationships with our colleagues, peers and co-workers. We open up opportunities to discuss other ideas, questions and priorities beyond the initial inquiry.

The art of networking has also gone digital. We can stay in touch with each other via email. Network via Plaxo and LinkedIn. Attend virtual seminars and Webinars online. Attend entire, multi-day conferences from home.

And again, I love these new opportunities. They allow each of us to learn more, learn faster, and learn more efficiently than ever before.

But they don't replace the opportunity to get out, meet people face-to-face, and interact in a way that only live settings can allow.

Face-to-face meetings accelerate networking and relationships faster than anything else. What's more, removing yourself from your usual everyday environment often gives you a fresh perspective on the same old challenges, and can re-energize you to solve the problems at hand.

John Jantsch recently wrote about stepping away from the monitor to give yourself a fresh perspective. Whether you're learning, networking, or just getting the daily and weekly work done, don't forget to mix up the means by which you communicate. Oftentimes, you'll find by giving up extreme efficiency, you gain in richness and value acceleration.

Update: Great post-SXSW post by Kathy Sierra today about why attending interactive conferences that focus on remote learning are still valuable.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Tiny URLs

I love it when a company finds something painful, or sometimes just annoying and/or awkward, and solves it.

Take, for example.

Every try to send a Web link to a friend that's 8-10 lines long? Especially when you're on a shopping site, sometimes the URL has lots of information embedded, such that the actual Web address for that specific page is hundreds of characters long.

Not anymore. Just plug that link into a simple tool on, and it creates a MUCH shorter link for you.

It's really just a redirect service, but isn't it brilliant?


Founders at Work

Guy Kawasaki gives us a peek at some of the best ideas to come from entrepreneurs in the last 25 years from the new book Founders at Work. Many of the names and brands you'll clearly recognize, and this book has them sharing some of the ideas that took them from nobodys with a dream, to the business superstars they are today.

Whether you aspire to be the next great brand, or just want to grow your small business, this list (and book) is worth a read.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Cold French Fries

Great customer service isn't always about acting & solving problems. Sometimes it's as much about listening and empathizing.

Steve Rubel calls this the "Cold French Fry Syndrome". Read more briefly here.

Friday, March 09, 2007


It's about them, not us

It doesn't matter if I don't like podcasts. What matters is whether my customers like and use them.

It doesn't matter if I think newspaper advertising is ineffective and a waste of money. If my customers pay attention to the newspaper, or still spend the majority of their own ad dollars in the newspaper, I need to address that.

It doesn't matter what I think. What matters is what my customers think. What they like. What they use.

I was reminded of this by John Jantsch's daughter today. John said he thought Twitter was stupid, but his daughter told him, "If that's the way I want to send and receive my information, then you should figure out how to use it."

Well said!


Retaining the "soul" of your brand

I've had a lot of fun reading the follow-up analysis and advice given to Starbucks after Howard Schultz's recent email challenged his company to get back to what they do best - creating a unique experience around coffee.

John Moore from Brand Autopsy and Paul Williams from Idea Sandbox, both former Starbucks marketers, have done a fantastic job breaking down Schultz's challenge and offering compelling solutions.

All of their ideas are smart and realistic, and most have implications for any business focused on creating unique value, differentiation and emotional appeal with customers.

Recently Paul covered the challenge of recapturing "store soul" at Starbucks in this post.

Some great advice for growing companies that, no matter what you do, might face the challenge of retaining a personal experience while replicating that experience in dozens, hundreds or even thousands of retail environments.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


More trouble for Blockbuster

After spending a small mint so far this year pushing awareness and sign-ups for its Blockbuster Total Access service, it appears that marketing success may be overtaking operational capacity.

The Hacking Netflix blog reports that "thousands" of Blockbuster Total Access customers are no longer receiving their DVDs, even though they returned their previous rentals days, and sometimes weeks, ago.

What's worse, the response from Blockbuster customer service first leaves inquiring customers on hold for 25 minutes, then says they have no ETA for a solution.

My experience with both Blockbuster Total Access and Netflix (I'm still a subscriber to both services) has proven that Netflix has a far better distribution network and operational capacity, in that nearly every DVD (no matter how obscure) is available from their Tacoma distribution center, meaning I receive my next disc the next day.

This is a double-punch for Blockbuster. Products sometimes break, sometimes don't work, and sometimes Web sites are down. Most consumers now assume that's a part of doing business. But it gets significantly worse when the company in question does not adequately or quickly address the issue with customers, or at a minimum validate the pain customers are feeling.

Said another way, if the issue isn't fixed quickly, this could be the best thing to happen to Netflix all year.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Three great customer service reads

It's no coincidence that customer service is getting more real and virtual ink these days from journalists, bloggers and influentials. In an increasingly commoditized and price-driven world, customer service is emerging as the most critical differentiator in nearly every industry.

Below are three great reads on customer service from the past couple weeks, including this week's Business Week feature:

Joel on Software - Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service

Seth Godin - Starting Over with Customer Service

Business Week - Customer Service Champs

Update: Thanks to reader Shawnie for pointing out Tom Asacker's great response to the Business Week post with his own four building blocks for great service brands.


The World's Greatest Ice Breaker

I'm still catching up on reading from my week off in late February, but just read Seth Godin's short riff on the value of name tags.

I couldn't agree with him more. How often do you attend a function locally or a conference across the country where you literally don't know anyone? Your job is to mingle and meet people, which is often hard enough as it is.
When attendees are wearing name tags, ideally with at least their first name but maybe with some other identifying information (where they're from, the company they work for, maybe also something like a favorite hobby or musical group), getting a conversation going is much easier.
If you organize conferences and events for a living, the simple name tag could be one of your most important tools to impact attendee satisfaction, and intent to sign up for the next event.
Think about it. Many people attend events and conferences to learn from the core subject matter, but also to network with other attendees and learn from their peers.
If you can facilitate more active networking simply by producing remarkable name tags, you'll directly impact the value and volume of information attendees take away with them.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Should I have to wait five days for a response?

I wrote earlier today about a great customer experience with H&R Block, but unfortunately am now balancing that with a negative experience.

I had tried to send a question via email to H&R Block customer service. Instead of giving me an email address, I had to submit the request via a Web form. They had me fill out my complete contact information before I was allowed to submit the question on their Web site.

But I apparently won't get my question answered anytime soon. I received an automated response via email, that started with the following:

Thank you for submitting your request to H&R Block Financial Advisors. Your inquiry is very important to us and has been assigned the following case number: XXXXXXXX. You should expect a response to your request within 3 business days.

It's Saturday morning, I'm preparing my taxes today, but H&R Block just told me that I should expect a response by next Wednesday. That's five days away.

We're 45 days away from the federal tax deadline, folks. I would have expected a bit better and faster response from a leader in the tax preparation space.

The above excerpt told me that my inquiry was "very important" to H&R Block, but their actions and accessibility imply otherwise.

If your company's marketing tells or implies to your customers that they are important, your products and operations had better back that up.


The Power of Relationships

I have a tax appointment with H&R Block this afternoon. I've thought about using the do-it-yourself tax software, and we really don't have anything too complicated to report, but I continue to go to the H&R Block office year after year. Why?

My relationship with H&R Block. More specifically, my relationship with Tom Stubbs.

Four years ago when my wife and I first went to H&R Block's Kirkland office, our taxes were prepared by Tom Stubbs. He's a retired teacher who loves helping people, and it shows. He connected with us, and made a great impression that first year.

Each January since then, my wife and I receive a hand-written card from Tom. The card simply thanks us for our business the previous year, and offers his help again this upcoming tax season.

That card takes time to write and send, but is one of the reasons we keep going back. We don't go back to H&R Block, we go back to Tom Stubbs.

This short story tells me two things:

1) Something as simple and powerful as a hand-written note can go a very long way.
2) We often do business and choose our loyalties based on people, not offices or brands.

The power of personal relationships is alive and well, and arguably more important in an electronic world.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Bad customer service from Major League Baseball

Earlier today, Major League Baseball proved that bad customer service can sour even a great product.

First, let me give Major League Baseball credit for their MLB.TV product. They let you stream any game throughout the season, right online and live. It's a great way to keep up on out-of-town favorite teams. It includes archived games, condensed highlights, great games of the past, radio from local affiliates and more. Very cool product.

I signed up last night but had trouble using the product. So I sent an email to their Customer Service email address, explaining my problem and asking for help.

Mid-day today, here's the email I got back:

Dear Customer,

This is where u would need to go:

That...was it.

Problem #1: Despite the fact that they knew my name, they addressed me as "Customer". It's lazy, generic, and proves that they think of me as a number and monthly paycheck, not a true customer.

Problem #2: Did the customer service rep really just abbreviate "you" as "u"? Is their customer service department staffed by text-messaging teenagers? Unprofessional and amateur. Doesn't strike a high degree of confidence.

Problem #3: The link they sent is exactly the link I couldn't get to work last night in the first place. So after the first two condescending problems, they didn't even solve my original problem.
There was no offer for additional information, not even the name of a real-live customer service rep I could call or email for follow-up. The response from MLB was completely anonymous. And incomplete. And frustrating.

I've finally figured out how to make the service work properly, on my own, but can only hope Major League Baseball cleans up their customer service act, and soon.


Conversations vs. Conversions

Nice job by Mike Manuel at the Media Guerilla blog discussing the nature of some one-sided marketing conversations, and the need to ensure purposeful, two-way, mutually-beneficial dialogue with customers.

Worth a read here.


Giving Away Ideas

Many agencies, consultants and vendors hold their best ideas back until they get paid. Free advice or strategy during the initial business pitch? Good luck.

Why? Most agency heads and consultants will tell you that their entire business is built on those ideas, and that giving them away is like giving away their product.

But I don't buy it.

Any consultant or agency worth their weight in salt should be FULL of ideas. Should be a bottomless pit of brainstorms and strategies.

If a consultant won't give me an idea unless I pay them, then I assume this must be the only good idea they have. If they had more great ideas, why not give me a very real, direct sense of how they think, and how smart they are, before I commit to a paid relationship?

This same issue comes up occasionally in the blogosphere, especially as pundits and marketing thought leaders spill their guts in their own blogs.

But it should be very telling that visionaries such as Tom Peters, Seth Godin and more regularly and freely share their new ideas and insights for free online.

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