February 28, 2005Martin Lindstrom, you're a genius. I've always looked forward to your articles in ClickZ, and I've always been extremely impressed with your view of the world of branding. I like you, even though I've never met you, because you seem intelligent and you seem to get it. You understand marketing in a way that I may never understand it, and because of that, you will always have my deference. And you already have me thinking about how miserably I've been failing to include three of the five senses in my activities.
So, I don't want this to come as criticism, but rather a critique. I know that of which you are capable, and because of that, I hold you to a higher standard. You missed a huge opportunity with BRAND sense. Maybe you were too close to the project. Maybe you tried. Maybe the publisher wasn't willing. I'm hoping that was the case, but I still have to call you on it. Mostly, due to the fact that I'm halfway through the book and you haven't addressed this issue yet. Maybe you do at the end. I don't know. (If so, you should have done it sooner.) Or maybe I missed it.
(UPDATE: I'm a little slow on the uptake here. But, I just realized that I can link to comments. So, I'd like to thank Martin Lindstrom for taking time to visit, read, and comment on this post. I hope he returns.)
While I still highly encourage everyone to read BRAND sense, I have to make one comment about your book...
BRAND sense is an exploration of how companies should use all five sense (moving beyond sight and sound) to truly "brand" the company or product as an experience. I don't usually comment on books until I've finished them, so I may get burned here, but something has been bugging me.
As always, Martin offers incredibly thought-provoking arguments. This time, his arguments center on how companies could do more to further their brands by using all of the senses. And, how companies can make their brands "smashable." Like the famous Coca-Cola bottle, he proposes, you should be able to smash your brand and still recognize it from a piece of the whole. (The best part of Martin's style is that it really makes you think about stuff that you should already know and should realize, but haven't.) It's been a great read. But here's the problem: the book falls into the same pit as the companies it profiles.
What could Martin and his publisher have done to make the book a true experience of its message? (Ranked in order, from easiest to most difficult to accomplish)
1) Sight: The book looks exactly like every other well-designed business book out there. Attractive, but I wouldn't have looked twice if I hadn't had a great deal of respect for the author. And why does the BRAND sense book look so different from the BRAND sense Web site? The Web site pops. The book design doesn't. It should be an extension of Martin, who thinks differently than any marketing author I have read. It should look different than any other business book I've read, because it is.
2) Touch: Why does the book feel like every other business book on the market? Would it have been difficult to choose a paper stock that made the book feel different? Even the cover would have been sufficient. Do I think that BRAND sense feels like a glossy dust jacket? No, and I don't know that I know what BRAND sense feels like, but I'm sure Martin does. It should feel different than any other business book I've read, because it is.
3) Smell. I'm sure that Martin knows what his brand smells like. You want to know what the book smells like? A book. New book smell, but I'm sure that will go away soon enough. Why doesn't the book have an aroma of some sort? Or at the very least, why doesn't it have some form of scratch and sniff running down the borders of the pages so that, as I leaf through it, I am ensconced in BRAND sense? It should smell different than any other business book I've read, because it is.
4) Taste. I licked it. I did. I admit it. After all this talk about leveraging the senses, I licked your book. Want to know what it tasted like? Every other book I've ever licked. Again, given the availability of papers, inks, scents, and whatnot, I think the book could have been designed to have a taste that set it apart. Does everyone lick a book? I certainly hope not. But do people lick their fingers when turning pages in books? Yes. And what if that taste had been a unique, welcoming taste that made me want to consume the book mentally and physically? Pretty powerful, I think. What does BRAND sense taste like? I don't know. All I know is that it should taste different than any other business book I've read, because it is.
5) Sound. How many times have you opened a card that plays a tune or offers a message. Cheesy? Yes, it generally is, but I'm saying that the technology is available. Or maybe the book should have provided me a link to mp3s to download for listening as I read. Or maybe it should have shipped with a CD. I know the publishers can do that as they've been doing it books for years. In any case, I would have liked to know what BRAND sense sounded like. Even chapter by chapter. And, again, this would have been an interesting influence on paper choice. The paper doesn't snap or crackle or pop any differently than any other book I've read recently. A distinct paper choice could have given the book a sound unlike any other. It should sound different than any other business book I've read, because it is.
So, see Martin? You did get through to me. And I agree with your assertions, as usual. Thank you for taking the time to capture them and educate me. When your book goes out for a second edition, maybe you can bring some of these ideas in to play. Or better yet, you can do it with your own flare. I'm looking forward to licking your next book.
Have you read BRAND sense? What did you think? Let me know.
And please don't lick your screen. Hypocritical tastes the same as every other blog, for now. Will that change? You should return to find out.
Seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and licking Martin Lindstrom's BRAND sense
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UPDATE (March 14, 2005): Thanks to AdRants for highlighting Weblogs, Inc.'s new advertising feedback mechanism, focus-ads.
I've been thinking about ugly advertising quite a bit lately. I mean, who doesn't right? I know most of us just sit around thinking about advertising. Anyway. Advertising Age ran a couple of articles, today, that motivated me to finish this one. It's one I've been pondering for awhile, but I just haven't had the time to finish. Now, I feel the need to do so...
In my opinion, it's not censorship to deny companies the ability to run ugly ads, anymore than it's restricting freedom when you deny someone the ability to hit someone else. Because, when it comes right down to it, that's what they're doing, for the most part. Those companies and agencies creating ugly ads? They're guilty of assault.
And, it's nice to see some people taking a stand of some sort. Hopefully, it's a sign of changes to come.
There are some really good ads out there. On television, in print, on the Web. There are some people doing some really creative stuff. But, for every one of those types, there are hundreds taking the low road. Doing what's easy or shocking or controversial. And, while the NFL & FOX and ABC & Oscar may not have gone about it the right way, they have both done their part to make headway in a cause that is incredibly near and dear to my heart: Saying no to ugly ads.
While their definition of ugly has been based more on a pejorative "poor taste" quotient, they were still trying to fight against ugly. Pay them a couple of million dollars and they can still tell you no? Genius. And welcomed. I'm willing to bet that I didn't really miss out on any thought-provoking creativity by not seeing the ads that have been pulled.
Now, maybe I'm overly sensitive. As I may have mentioned, I work in marketing in high-tech. To those of you unfamiliar with the advertising found in this realm, this means I regularly get the pleasure of seeing hideous ads all of the time. Ads where the phrase "feathered montage" is a staggering understatement. Ads where I also get the pleasure of seeing the same royalty-free office people time and time again, in hundreds and hundreds of ads. In fact, I see them more often than I see my family.
But it works, they say. Over and over. It's easy, it's cheap, and it works. They respond. And what do I say over and over? Just because they are used to looking at ugly, doesn't mean they like looking at ugly. No one likes ugly.
Now, what's ugly? That's subjective, for the most part. There are some ads (and I'm talking television, radio, print, and interactive) that are soooo ugly that everyone agrees. There are some that are a display in lackluster creativity. No one appreciates them and yet, there they are, assaulting our senses. Take any pop-up or pop-under ad, for instance. Your skin just started crawling from the mere mention.
But people respond, they say. Sure they do. People, in general, aren't very smart, especially when they're interacting with marketing. We can't rely on the audience to make the call. This isn't the movie business or the book business. We are paying to get in front of them, and as such, we have an obligation to refrain from assault. Besides, if they're responding to something ugly, do you think maybe, just maybe, they might respond even more favorably to something pretty?
Why can't we say no to ugly ads all the time? Why can't we get to the television, radio, publications, and Web sites that we frequent to understand that it's not just who advertises in a publication but how they advertise? Now granted, the company identity and positioning must remain intact, but their ad should be thematic with the publication. And the types of changes I'm proposing would hardly tarnish anyone's brand. If anything, making things prettier would be a win-win for the brand.
Remember, paying for an advertisement is like trying to buy the friends. If you're being asked to subject your friends, colleagues, and customers to it, you have the right to say no. Don't let the advertising erode your identity. Don't let it sully your brand. The quick buck isn't worth it.
Maybe the networks were just trying to avoid bad publicity. Who cares? It's still a means to an end. Avoiding bad press is a way of maintaining brand. It's like working with negative space. The network told people to stop doing something ugly, to make it pretty, or to go away. And they still made a tidy sum of cash in so doing.
But making pretty creative ads is hard, they say. That takes work. Yes, it does. And we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. Just because we can do it that way, doesn't mean that we should.
Do you think I'm way off base in my prima donna view? That's what comments are for, my friend. If you think it's ugly, tell me, and help me help myself. I promise to take the comments to heart before you return.
The right to better advertisements
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February 26, 2005UPDATE (April 5, 2005): Apparently, the numbers of users listening to podcasts may have been a wee bit inflated. Therefore, please take the update below with a grain of salt. So much for research. Thanks to Micro Persuasion for pointing to the tabulation inflation in "Pewgate." More from The Blog Herald.
UPDATE (April 3, 2005): ClickZ featured an article, today, entitled "Podcasting Grows In Popularity." The article quotes a recent Pew Internet report that estimates "29 percent of Americans over the age of 18 with iPods or other MP3 players have listened to podcasts." Sehr interessant.
UPDATE (March 14, 2005): The Social Customer Manifesto has some interesting insight on podcast creation and distribution services in "Plotting the Trajectory." If you're interested in podcasting (and Adam Curry), it's worth a read.
Okay. I hit my saturation point. I have finally heard enough about podcasting. In a good way. In the way that it has finally managed to enter the portion of my brain that sparks epiphanies and makes connections. The part of my brain that, well, really works.
While I still see why podcasting has its detractors, I understand now. I understand why being able to create a miniature, transferable broadcast has power for the creator. I understand why it has the silky smooth ease of digestion for the user, anytime and as many times as they want. I understand how it could be bigger than traditional Web sites, bigger than Flickr, and bigger than blogs. And since I'm sitting here in the afterglow of my epiphany, trying to find a way to use podcasting for everything (What if companies used podcasts for earnings calls? What if NPR were all podcast so that my wife could listen to it privately and our miniscule yearly donation would actually have some legs? What if your senator podcast his/her reasoning beyond his/her latest vote? What if the Jerky Boys had been podcasters? What if Grateful Dead fans podcast bootlegs?), I thought I might play podcast bodhisattva and help a drag a few others a little closer to enlightenment.
For starters, what is a podcast? Think broadcast meets mp3. Think radio meets audio books. Think TiVo meets pirate radio. It's a broadcast, saved in a digital audio format, that listeners can download and play whenever they like.
1) iPod, iTalk, et al. It's becoming easier than ever to manage, share, and create audio content. This will make podcasting easier and more efficient than blogging. No need to be tied to a terminal or a phone. Podcast wherever you want. Upload when you're near a hotspot. (UPDATE: Thanks so much to Amy Gahran over at the genius that is Contentious for reminding me about a device that I missed completely, the MP3 cell phone.)
2) iPodder, Odeo, et al. (I had to work Adam Curry in here somehow, didn't I? I mean, I was an avid MTV watcher, back in the day.) Adam has created an open-source program called iPodder that helps simplify and automate downloading audio files to your portable mp3 device. With it, people will find it easier than ever to keep up with podcasts. Odeo, on the other side of the desk, is the latest project from Blogger-co-creator Evan Williams and Audioblogger creator Noah Glass. While Odeo has yet to be released, it promises to bring the Blogger-esque ease of blogging to the world of podcasting.
3) TiVo, audio books, cell phones, satellite radio, et al. The capitalist cultural pump, for lack of a better oxymoronic term, has been primed for podcasting. In consumer societies, people are becoming more and more entitled to get their information and entertainment where and when they want it. Don't have time to watch? TiVo. Don't have time to read? Listen to an audio book. Don't have time to sit and chat? Multitask by driving like an idiot while you chat on your cell phone. Can getting what audio you want, when you want it, really be that far behind?
4) Ease of content creation. Like it or not, we're all getting older. And when it comes right down to it most of us don't type that well anyway. I like to type, but I often find it far more engaging and thought provoking to talk. Just think how much valuable information you would be gaining if I were to say this instead of write it? What's that, you say? Rude. Anyway... audio recording takes the pain of typing out of the mix. Everyone can create content by just opening their pie hole.
5) No spellchecking. Every time I write, I have a constant fear burrowing into the base of my skull. The fear of having spelled something incorrectly or having made a major grammatical error. The fear that I'll look like an idiot who doesn't know how to use spellchecking. That all of my hard work will be thrown out the window by my readers for some lame-brain mistake. Now, public speeches by certain US officials over the past five years or so should make it glaringly obvious that there is no spellchecking speech. And, isn't it really more insightful than copy that has been carefully checked?
And I haven't even begun to hit the professional side of the table: the degeneration of broadcast media, increased FCC legislation, and media outlets controlled by fewer and fewer companies. We're mad as hell and we're... well, you get my point.
So, just remember folks you heard it here for the 35th, or 78th, or 123rd time: podcasting is getting ready to explode. So start thinking. How can you use it? How can your clients use it? Does it even apply? Because in the not so distant future, someone in your target market is going to ask why you aren't podcasting, just like they're asking why you don't have an RSS feed, today.
And when will hypocritical simply become a podcast, you ask? Oh sweet misinformed youth, your hope is never, because you haven't heard my voice, my friend.
Podcast your thoughts on this and post a link here. Or, just think about it, digest it, and return.
Why podcasting could be even bigger than Adam Curry's hair ever was (that's big)
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February 25, 2005As the wise ones are always saying, there is a big difference between can and should. And nowhere do we run into that more often than the world of marketing.
Unfortunately, marketers are often the target of this kind of can versus should mindset. Practically everyone in the organization generally thinks they can "do marketing." And they probably can form some type of communication. But should that communication be shown to anyone, let alone be used to represent a company and product? The answer, more often than not, is no.
So one would think that the marketing types would be the last ones to fall for the can versus should naÔvetť. Yet we do.
Hypocritical is a perfect example. Iíd like to think the thoughts are solid, the writing is halfway decent, and the design is tolerable, if not usable. I do it all myself. Now, mind you, hypocritical is a personal blog. It is not a company. It is a product, but itís a free product. And, you get what you pay for.
But, as of late, Iíve been encountering more and more marketing sites that just donít live up to the hype. Usually, I come across these sites after reading an extremely literate, sometimes borderline genius, article in a marketing pub. Excitedly, I rush out the Web site listed in the bio to findÖ What in the name of all that is holy is this thing? You proffer knowledge on how to do something on the Web, you seem to know what youíre talking about, and your Web site looks like this? What is wrong with you?
The most deflating part of this experience is the fact that it makes me question the very expertise I had, only seconds prior, appreciated beyond all reproach. Yet, because of the design on the Web or something else, my mind begins to twist. I cannot separate form from function. Itís almost predictable: Wow. Great ideas. Let me go to the site. What the? Wait, I must have typed the URL incorrectly. Let me go back. Iím just going to click on the link. Hmmm. Same place. This canít be right. They must have made a mistake with the URL. No, wait. This is the person who wrote that article. How can that be? This is almost exactly what they said not to do. Why would they do that?
Long story short, poor Web design (or listing a URL to a non-existent site) makes me question your intelligence. Iím sorry, but it does. And looking at the Web design on hypocritical (if youíre anything like me), you started questioning my intelligence, long, long ago. But, thatís okay. In fact, Iíll let you in on a little secret. (Looks left, looks right.) Come closer. This is just between you and me, but... Thatís why itís called "hypocritical." Get it?
So, to marketers and non-marketers alikeóespecially those that are doing work for a business or running their own consulting firm or just looking to raise their profileómy advice is this: play to your strengths; team to cover your weaknesses.
Iím a dumb jock. Through and through. Meat-h-e-a-d. So most of my analogies tend to lean toward a sporting metaphor. Hereís one of those examples: I played goalie in lacrosse and soccer. I was a decent goalie and I enjoyed playing the position because it offered a great deal of freedom. I have a hard time not ad libbing. Our teams had their share of victories, a couple of championships. I was on some very good teams. That said, how many goals did score during my time on those teams? 0. What? How is that possible? How could there be victory?
I think you get my point. Do what you do. Do it well. Ask for help on everything else. Donít skimp. If you are brilliant in terms of strategy, but canít write your way out of a paper bag, then podcast. If youíre an awe-inspiring Web designer, make the design do the work. If youíre an incredible writer, give the words center stage. THEN, find someone else to help you cover your weaknesses. Sure sure, you could do it yourself, but really, should you? Would you recommend that a client do that?
But that costs money, you say. So spend money. Or better yet, barter services. You, good designer, go to talk that that person, the killer copywriter. You, search-engine optimization guru, go work with back-end architecture genius. Quit trying to think you can do everything on your own. You canít. No matter how smart you are. You canít. And if youíre running a business that way, you shouldnít.
Thanks for reading. You not only can comment, but you should. And you should also return, when you have time.
Can versus should
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There is a great deal of hype spinning this week about Apple's potential acquisition of TiVo (for in-depth see "Everybody loves TiVo, but will it survive?" ). (UPDATE: Thanks to Fast Company for highlighting that more discussion continues on the Apple/TiVo combo at Steve Gilliard's News Blog and Infectious Greed.)
Not to get too overwhelmingly personal, but my house is what you would call "modern." Not contemporary, but modern. As in 1950ís modern. Am I into appearances? Um, yeah, Iím in marketing and design. Nuff said. Shallow, thatís me.
Now, as we all know, one of the most difficult elements with which to work in the modern style is the stockpile of electronics that todayís typical homeowner has acquired to provide entertainment of the audio and visual variety. Thereís the tuner, the turntable, the tape deck, the CD player, the speakers, the TV, the DVR, the DVD, the VCR, the surround sound, and the untold number of remotes for running it all. Itís the Achillesí heel of an otherwise well-designed room. They are not attractive. They are not well designed. In short, they are not pretty. And they arenít even ugly pretty. You know that almost ugly-modern look that makes something look pretty? I digress. Perhaps Iíll blog more on this subject at a later date. AnywayÖ
I guess what Iím saying is that the home electronics market, by and large, is the home computer market, pre-iMac. Itís ugly, psuedo-utilitarian functionality without even a nod to aesthetic. Currently, I sit and look at my iPod sitting on top of my stereo and just shake my head.
So, what electronics would work in a modern house? High-lacquer pretty well-designed electronics, i.e. huge iPods. Suffice it to say, I want pretty, pretty Apple products everywhere in my house. Even though the only "Mac" I own is an iPod (well I have an LCIII, ye olde pizza box Mac), I would jump at the chance to have a girth of well-designed Apple products throughout my living space. Wow. Would I look cool. And looking cool is about as close as Iím going to get to being cool. Iím willing to buy that.
With a TiVO acquisition, Apple would bookend its eventual ownership of the entire entertainment center. Today, the living room, tomorrow the house. One bookend, the iPod, could take over all of my stereo components, giving me a very, very pretty listening station for MP3s, radio, and any other type of audio I want to peruse. All in glistening white prettiness. The other bookend, TiVo, would give Apple ownership of my video-based media. The Apple monitors could be expanded to flat-screen televisions. The DVD player isnít far behind. Is it? And I really think Apple would pull a doozy by redesigning the turntable.
I mean, really. I could sit and stare at the Apple stuff without even turning it on. I think I just sat and stared at my iPod for a week before I did anything with it. (Now, itís all scratched and Iím thinking about starting an iPod buffing service for freaks like me.) So, I would probably just sit and stare at all my new pretty components. And that would be great, because I probably wouldnít be able to afford electricity after the buying binge that would outfit my entire house with Apple stuff.
Please Apple. Please buy TiVo. Please start making all kinds of pretty entertainment products. Please? And wouldnít that be an extremely interesting way of backing into the home computer market?
Most of all, I just want my wife to quit complaining about our ugly TV.
Thanks for reading and joining me in encouraging Apple to make our worldís more pretty. I hope you return.
I want Apple everywhere
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February 24, 2005A bit of backgrounder. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind has been on the movie channels a great deal lately. Which causes me to have Chuck Barris on the brain. Which got me to to thinkingÖ
Are you reading anything new here? Probably not. These ideas are tried (and maybe tired). None is unique. Some are tweaks. Some are re-combinations. There can be a great deal of power, however, in re-combinations. Good borrowing and great stealing and what not.
There are likely thousands of people thinking exactly the same thing you are thinking, and millions of people thinking along the same lines. The genius is in beating everyone else to the punch. Or taking a good idea and making it better. Feel free to make any of these better. Please.
Which brings me to my fleeting thought on American Idol. Whoa whoa whoa. Hold your horses. Stick with it for a second. It has a point. Well it has a couple of points. One is an identity point. The other is a recombination point. Both will have some sort of marketing context. I swear. Hear me out. Youíve got a few minutes.
Okay, American Idol. Know why Simon Cowell, the man behind American Idol, is a genius? There are a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that he is blessed with the ability to play the bad guy. He has a rude identity that he is willing to play. And he rarely, if ever, deviates from that identity. He has a consistency to his identity that companies would kill to have. And whatís more, itís negative. Heís the bad guy. The guy people love to hate. And he can pull it off. It works well and it sells.
But the second reason--and in my opinion the real reason--heís a genius is because he took two insanely popular constructs and managed to combine them in a way that seemed to be an entirely new idea. He knew what people wanted. He saw an opportunity, and he took it.
So what were the ridiculously popular ideas that he combined? The Gong Show (Barris on the brain) meets the karaoke bar. And then he threw in calling-in and text messaging to make it even more personal.
Genius. In this day and age of people feeling more and more connected and less and less in control, he put the control back in your hand. He let you rip the mike away. You canít sing and I want to tell you that. He gave you the right to take part in his rude identity without any guilt. And soon, without really thinking, people wanted part of that rude identity. They wanted the ability to tell people that they're horrible, without feeling horrible about it. He knew the market and what the market wanted. And it was truly a moment of genius, that concept.
But donít forget his genius was just a reconstruction of Chuck Barrisí genius. No not the Dating Game. The Gong Show. Stick with me here. I mean, seriously. The Gong Show. Itís part of our national lexicon. It needs no explanation. Even if youíve never seen the show, you know what it is. Babies are born knowing what it is now. (No doubt, the American Idol gene is finding its way into the youth of tomorrow.) That was freaky cutting edge genius, though. And exploring that kind of thought requires a whole other diatribe.
Oh and I didn't forget the karaoke. Unfortunately, there is no genius in the karaoke bar. Despite all my best attempts at spin, it still seems incredibly lame.
So I guess all that Iím saying is that maybe sometimes my ideas or views will be more like Chuck Barris. Sometimes theyíll be more like Simon Cowell. I just want you to feel free to gong me at any time.
Thanks for reading. I hope that even with the American Idol comments, youíll still choose to return.
Recycling and combining marketing genius
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February 23, 2005I donít always complain. And when I do, I usually try to provide some solution, rather than just pointing out the things that drive me to aggravation. Sometimes, though, I encounter people and services that are just plain good. And really, they deserve praise, even if it is from little old me. Who knows? Maybe Iím actually their target market.
So in these days of increasingly rude, inconsiderate, and outsourced customer service, it seems appropriate to recognize those who do it right. And one blue-collar company that does it right is Les Schwab.
For those of you who donít live in the vicinity of a Les Schwab (Washington, Oregon, Northern California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Montana), itís a tire shop. Plain and simple. They do brakes and alignment and maybe mufflers, from what I can remember. But suffice it to say, around my house, Les Schwab = tires.
Now, how did Les Schwab get me to make this connection? Itís clearly not their more traditional marketing efforts. Les Schwab doesnít have the best Web site. And their advertising and direct mail borders on homegrown, if not downright campy. (Is that a Google-esque approach to marketing, hard to say. Perhaps that's a story for another time, when I'm feeling a tad more cynical.)
In fact, a shining example of the flavor of that marketing is happening right now, at your local Les Schwab. Same as every year, itís "Free beef" time at Les Schwab, where buying tires guarantees you a free hunk of cow. And believe me, the beef brings them running in droves.
But thatís part of the point. It is free-beef time right now. Which means that every Les Schwab location is overwhelmingly busy. Theyíre a hive of frenetic tire-moving activity. Theyíre selling tires. Theyíre removing winter tires. Theyíre replacing rims. Theyíre aligning. Theyíre taking returns on chains. For a tire store, this is a busy, busy time. Thatís why encountering such an exemplary level of customer service, during such a busy time, is all the more impressive.
So, the other day, the inevitable happens. My wife was unlucky enough to get a flat. Our two-year old son was in the car with her. She managed to limp the car into a service station. And she got help changing to the pseudo-spare. Not the safest option, but still a tire, even if it is one of ill repute.
So she calls Les Schwab.
"I realize you guys are super busy right now, could you get me in today?"
"Weíll get you in as soon as you get here."
So she drives to the Les Schwab near our house. You know the one.
Now, understand that, along with the free beef, one of the other little gimmicks that Les Schwab always pitches is that they ďrun out to greet you.Ē In the ads, they always show the clean-cut, clean-handed tire guys running out to your car in their clean white shirts. The weird thing is: it really happens. No lie. Iíve experienced it practically every time Iíve been there.
"The guy had my door open for me before I even had the car turned off," says the wife.
"Got a flat, I see," he says. "Letís take a look."
So he checks the situation, deals with the tire, and is very understanding of the somewhat cranky two-year old. Does he try to sell her four new tires using some excuse of ďeven wearĒ? No. He says he has another tire with a little wear, same make and model, that should work just fine. Do we trust what he says? Absolutely. Because heís not trying to upsell, heís trying to solve the problem. Whatís more, he tells her that it will be done in about an hour. During the busiest time of year, mind you. And guess what? It is done in about an hour.
Trust me, this happens every time, whether you drive up with new tires, flat tires, whatever. Every single time Iíve been there. Iíve had this experience. My wife has had this experience. My friends have had this experience. Consistent consistent consistent.
Show me all the cheesy commercials you want. If you make this generally uncomfortable and sometimes extremely stressful experience an almost (gasp) enjoyable one, you have won a customer for life. Will I ever buy tires anywhere else? Probably not, if I continue to live in the Northwest. And I donít even care if I get the beef.
When was the last time you had a pleasant customer-service experience? Iíd love to hear. Thanks for reading and I hope you get a chance to return.
Les Schwab: An impeccable Northwest service brand
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February 22, 2005I have recently grown quite fond of LinkedIn. And they seem to have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity since the former PeopleSoft employees--whom Oracle chose to delete from their human resource management software--have gravitated to the service to network. LinkedIn is adding new functionality and polishing their identity and making other improvements on almost a daily basis.
If you haven't had the chance to use the service, it's a means of managing and visualizing your network (professional, personal, whatever), with a catch. The catch being: you can only "see" people within 4 degrees of you. You can tell who is using the service if you have an email address that matches an email address that the service has on file, but you can't see the users profile. And you can see people who list the same employers as you. However, in all cases, you can only contact or invite people for whom you have a current email address.
(A little aside, I didn't realize that you could only search within 4 degrees when I first started using the tool. When you start, you can't see anyone, really, and your network is fairly small. So, I fired off a couple of emails to some of my more well-connected colleagues with the air of "I'm surprised I didn't see you on there." Should have imported those contacts first, because they were there. Oopie.)
Needless to say, LinkedIn can be a powerful tool for managing your contacts and gaining a better understanding of who-knows-who. I've found it incredibly useful, thus far. But I'm starting to hit a usability ceiling. And I think there are some very basic things that the LinkedIn folks could be doing to improve their service by simply analyzing how people, like me, use their service. (NOTE: I have sent quite a few enhancement requests which have been cordially accepted by way of an autoreply. No word from any human as to whether my feedback has been received or not.)
So what could LinkedIn do to improve?
1) Listen to your market. Build a better system for enhancement requests and bug reports. You have a huge populous using your tool in a variety of ways, and your enhancement system has just barely upgraded from an "email your idea to the dead letter office." I'm sure there are tons of people with great ideas (ego aside, even better ideas than the ones I submit here or there) who could truly help improve the tool if you had a better way to listen.
2) Create incentives to build out your resume and history. I've noticed that a good chunk of the LinkedIn populous never gets beyond adding their current company. Usually, the only non-geeky folks who go through the task of adding an entire history are job seekers. This alone is the single greatest hurdle in helping me find those former co-workers with whom I would like to reconnect. (That is, the majority of the folks aren't looking.) You could give people with complete profiles more opportunities to search beyond their network. Or give them more compelling reasons for filling out some history. Or stock options. Or something. Anything. We users need some other carrot to get our friends to complete their profiles.
3) Give everybody a personal inbox for contacting people directly without a current email. I don't know about you, but there are a ton of people with whom I have worked in the past. And some of the contact information I have for them is older than... well, it's old. For me, there are a number of these former cohorts in the system within four degrees. I can see them. I can review their profiles. But can I contact them or invite them to my network? No. Why? Because I don't have a current email address for them. I just get to sit like a mime, wildly gesticulating at my computer screen in hopes that they will contact me. Storage is cheap. Provide some sort of communication option beyond email.
4) Give me the option to send text emails or generate my own invite URLs. "I never received that email. My spam filter must have eaten it." It's one of my favorite responses to salespeople. True or not. But, I have people who don't usually lie to me or avoid me avoiding me because they never get my LinkedIn invites. Why? Their filters eat HTML email as if it were some rare delicacy. Chomp. All gone. Do I have another option with LinkedIn? Nope. I wish I did. I would like to think that I would have a much better success rate with inviting people to my network. Wouldn't it be worth it to add the functionality for the simple reason of crushing my ego and putting me in my place when I realize that these folks just don't like me?
5) Give me a mechanism for introducing people in my network to one another. One of the most amazing things about analyzing my network are the connections I see that don't currently exist. These are of the "that person would really like that person" or "why haven't these two ever worked together" variety. LinkedIn is the perfect icebreaker. If I could introduce these people as potential connections, we all get something out it. Believe me, trying to just talk them into going through the effort of submitting a referral is paddling upstream, uphill, in three feet of snow, barefoot. I could tell you some stories.
6) Global searching. Nuff said.
I see companies who are handling different aspects of the puzzle well. Look at Guru and Classmates.com for ways to better manage the interactions and such. Keep looking to improve, LinkedIn. You're doing a good job already, but you could always get better.
Wish I was in your LinkedIn network? So do I, but I don't have your email address. Thoughts? Comments? Please comment. And I hope you find some time to return.
Improving schmoozing on LinkedIn
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February 18, 2005Ah, yes. It's time for another little rant.
There has been a great deal of media coverage for goldenpalace.com, because they have a creative marketing campaign idea involving a tattooed pregnant belly, the Virgin Mary, and Abe Lincoln. Mary appears on a cheese sandwich and Abe on a fry.
(Update 2/24/2005: They just added another model with a "provocative" body tat.)
Yes, they're the little-casino-who-could, who gambled and won some of the more famous wacky auctions. Which brings me to my complaint for today: When did ebay become the primary source for news stories? Oh wait, that's not my primary complaint. My complaint is about this, at first blush seemingly brilliant and cost effective, publicity ploy: They're a casino.
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not a great gambler. But, when I do gamble, I generally go into it with the intention of winning. And when I win, I would like to win money.
Where then, gentle reader, do you think I would choose to gamble? I'll give you a hint: I don't want to gamble at a casino that is raking in such a ridiculous amount of loot that they can afford to throw 30 large away on a cheese sandwich. No sir.
Me? I want to eliminate the risk. I want to gamble at a casino that can barely afford to pay their staff. I want them shirking on all of the freebies because they pay out so much money in winnings. I'll pay for a drink if I'm making bank. (And given that this is an online casino, I'll have to buy my drink anyway.) Long story short, I do want them giving their money away--but I want them giving it to me. It's gambling. I want to win.
And maybe it's just me, but this tact of buying weird things at outrageous prices doesn't really seem to support that, does it? I mean, I wouldn't set foot or mouse near that place, for fear of funding the purchase of the Spam sandwich Elvis couldn't finish in 1968.
Or is the brilliance even beyond the obvious. Deep down, does the campaign say "We're stupid enough to do buy these silly things at outrageous prices. Do you think we're smart enough to build a winning poker dealer?"
I'd love to hear your opinions. And, I'm hoping you'll choose to return.
I'll take a belly, a grilled cheese, and a side of Abe fries
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February 13, 2005First off, let me start by kissing up a little. I love Google. I think they have the smartest management of ďbrandĒ in the industry. Even better than Apple, I say, because they give the distinct impression that itís of little concern to them. Times New Roman is fine, they seem to say. Who cares? Shrewd.
Those of us who like to think that weíre in-the-know realize itís a great deal harder than it appears. And some day, I want to meet one or two of the roomful of marketing folks they keep on staff who simply say ďThatís too flashy. Thatís too dotcom. Dumb it down.Ē Itís that kind of frugal and straightforward control that has them where they are today.
That said, they missed one. For as much as I respect them, they really missed an opportunity here. And they came dangerously close to tarnishing their corporate mantra of ďDo no evil.Ē The case in point: The Mark Jen Blog.
This seemingly insignificant faux pas has become grown from mere obscurity to rubbing shoulders with the granddaddy of all public relations missed opportunities. That, of course, is the one that cannot be topped. The one which we affectionately refer to as the Audi "Uncontrollable Acceleration" debacle. But that is a story for another time.
So what happened with the Mark Jen blog? Jen got a job at Google. He started a blog using Google's Blogger. Then, Jen wrote some things about his employer he shouldn't have written. (A good friend of mine responded with this, "The more and more connected people become, the more and more critical the need for a clear delineation between what people can do and what people should do.") Jen shouldn't have shared some of the stuff he did in a public forum. And because of that, he got fired. End of story. But a black eye for the company that usually does so well at this sort of thing.
What could they have done better? Well, let's examine some facts:
1) More people seem to love Google than hate Google. (See above) (Update: And this "brand love" table from Jennifer Rice.)
2) People within Google are far outnumbered by those outside of it.
3) Google owns the Web-log management tool called Blogger (which Jen happened to use).
Given these facts, what did Google miss? How could they have handled this PR nightmare more appropriately? Well, in my opinion, Google missed a genuine opportunity to treat this leak of information in a positive matter.
I'd like to think that if I were in the Google PR hot seat, I would have come up with some creative means of addressing the problem and keeping the drooling lawyers at bay. Something along the lines of:
1) Blogger has a built in mechanism for refuting blog postings. Itís called the Comment feature. What a good Google should have done was send a representative to submit a comment in dispute of Jenís statements. Engage him in a dialogue. Figure out why he felt the need to broadcast this information. And, best of all, do that in front of an audience.
2) Blog about the comments on the Google's own blog. Address the problem. Get in front of people and stand up. Donít try to quash it. Everyone has dirty laundry. Ever company does too. Itís no secret. Do you seriously think that your investors and users think that a utopia lurks beyond the walls of the most powerful information engine in the world? Legally required or not, shutting the blogger down simply gives the impression that you are trying to hide something.
3) Encourage all Google employees to blog. You own a tool for providing the functionality. And, Iím willing to bet that youíll get some incredibly good feedback about the company and the way things should be done. Thereís a reason you give people a test to work there. You want smart people. Smart people have ideas. Theyíre not all good, but they all deserve to be heard.
Now granted, Iím no lawyer. I gave up that path after an internship. And Google and Jen both entered into legal agreements that precluded this kind of dialogue from taking place.
But let's look at it this way, if Jen had gone to a journalist, and blabbed the story, would Google have had the ability to shut it down? No. Google would have to deal with it like any other public relations issue. Without the potential positive spin a more creative tact would have had.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. And I hope you return.
Speak no evil
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February 10, 2005The letter from the president, CEO, COO, VP of anything has really run its course, donít you think? It has come to the point where I find it completely insulting. Insulting to my intelligence, and insulting for the nom de plume under whose guise it is distributed.
Does anyone honestly believe that the executive has even reviewed the letter, let alone worked on it? And better yet, why, in the name of all that is good, would an executive be spending their time blasting spamish emails to their users? You know what I would like to see an executive doing? Running the company. Devising strategy. Focusing on the business at hand. If they want to drop me a personal note, fine, but I'd be willing to take a phone call from pretty much any rock star CEO/President, wouldn't you?
Amazon, who I generally love, has managed to committ a doozy of one of these types of blunders.
Amazon decides to eliminate all of their sales opportunities on the front page for a letter from my friend Jeff. Now, why he decided to post his letter to me on the front of his site, I'll never know. While I feel honored that he wants to share his special program with me and me alone, Iím a tad concerned that he has removed all of the items I want to buy in order to tell me this.
And, then, imagine my utter dismay when I discover that Jeff's private letter to me appears on everyone's machine. Ack! I mean, I thought it was Amazon targeting, but then I looked from my friend's machine and it was there, too. My letter from Jeff for the whole world to see. Last time I checked it was still there. And here I sit, red-faced.
I realize I'm picking on Amazon when it happens millions of times a day from untold numbers of CEOs, VPs, and muckety-mucks, but I pick on them for one reason: these guys should know better. And the marketing department should know better. Do I think Jeff has an genuine interest in how his company is making my life better? I'm sure he does. Do I think Jeff has a deep concern for ensuring that I get the most efficient service out of Amazon? Yes, I'm sure he does.
Do I think that because of that concern he sat down to write me that letter? Do any of us? No, we do not. And that's why it has got to stop.
In fact, every time I get a new letter from one of the high up muckety mucks, I'll post it here. Just so you can see how well connected I am. Or how out of hand this has become. (If you've got a favorite, post it.)
Me? Give me a Manager or Director any day. At least I can still suspend my disbelief and convince myself that they actually reviewed the letter before it was sent.
I'd love to hear your feedback. And I hope you choose to return.
CEO and President, hypocritical
Do I know you?
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