New Digs

Office View

Today I moved from my lonely one-man office in the industrial park to a spiffy new suite downtown that I will be sharing with 3 colleagues.  Here’s my new view with an arrow showing where my house is. 


Web 2.Uh Oh

Market MayhemThere’s a breaking story in Moncton today about a street preacher who was mildly assaulted by a municipal employee at the city’s farmers’ market on the weekend.  Here is the newspaper account, but more importantly, here is a video of the event that was posted on YouTube.  If it weren’t for the online video, there wouldn’t even be  a story. 

[UPDATE: The video has been taken down by the poster, perhaps because it is potential evidence in a potential lawsuit he may or may not be pursuing against the city.  Since you can no longer view the “assault,” I’ll describe it as a belly bump just enough to knock the recipient back about half a meter.]

It used to be that for the public to see a controversial video, it had to be Rodney King-esque in its atrocity.  Only then would a network run it.  Now, everyone is a network, and can broadcast any video they want with a couple of mouse clicks. Everyone is also a videographer, now that most people carry video cameras (disguised as phones) with them wherever they go.  Because of those converging phenomena, this dude in red will probably lose his job over a belly-bump.

What does this tell us as marketers?  That you can’t screw up and sweep it under the rug anymore.  We are entering an age when any action might be recorded and retold to the world.  So we have to act as if every action IS being recorded, and may be retold to the world.

I think this is a good development, because it should nudge us further along the deception <–> integrity continuum, and make marketing less about fooling people and more about helping them.

My Long-Awaited Position on Climate Change

200805271101.jpgThere are several mini-debates I see within the big climate change issue:

1.  Is it real?  Is our climate actually changing, or is it just a localized fluctuation that will correct itself?  I believe it is real.

2.  Is it caused by human activity?  Has industrialization and deforestation caused the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; or is it just part of a natural cycle like the ice age, perhaps caused by solar activity?  I believe we are causing it.

3.  Is it bad?  Will coastal habitats be submerged and the land turned to charcoal, or is it simply going to be a tad warmer and tough on polar bears?  I believe it is bad.

4.  Can we fix it?  Does mankind have the technology/ability/will to reverse or at least stall the effects, or is our fate sealed already? I believe we can fix it.

5.  How should we fix it?  Specifically, are government-imposed sanctions necessary to save our planet?  This, to me, is the real question.  There is currently a lot of attention being paid by the politicos here in Canada about whether we should impose a carbon tax.  Those in favour argue that fiscal penalties are the best way to bring about change.  Those against feel the economic impact would make us poor and miserable while we’re saving the planet.

I wasn’t sure where I stood on the last point until I read this article (via boingboing).  It is a book review written by eminent physicist/thinker/shit-disturber Freeman Dyson, whom I usually agree with.  He reviews 2 books that deal with climate change.  The upshot is that the negative societal impact of any kind of Gore model is disastrous, while the potential for success of a Kyoto-style effort is break-even at best.  The answer, he thinks, is in this graph.

Every year, 8% of the carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by plants as they grow in the spring and summer, then released again as they decompose in the fall and winter.  All we have to do is genetically engineer some trees that “fix” carbon in their roots, the same way that legumes fix nitrogen.  Re-plant a few rainforests and BC clearcuts with those babies, and voilà!  Problem solved.

So my position on carbon taxing is, “no, thanks.”

Answer Your Clients Before They Ask

BMO LogoDerek’s comment on the post about some spam I received reminded me of my experience with the Bank of Montréal.

I have been a BMO customer since I was a boy.  I still remember going into the grey stone edifice in downtown Fredericton and having the teller write (!) the new balance in my bank book.  In the years since, Cindy and I have had savings accounts, chequing accounts, car loans, RRSP (retirement savings) loans, investments, securities trading accounts, and mortgages with them.  We have been relatively happy with them most of the time.

At one point, about 10 years ago, we got to the point where we thought we should start using a financial advisor.  We met a very nice lady who agreed to look after our retirement planning, so I withdrew all the RRSP investments we had with BMO and transferred them over to her control.  The very next day, a stranger from BMO called me and introduced himself as my “personal banking representative.”  He asked me why I had taken all my RRSP business from the Bank.  “Because,” I replied, “this is the first time, in 27 years of being a customer, that anyone from the Bank of Montréal has ever called me.”

It’s easy to forget to take care of your non-complaining  customers, but it sure makes sense to pay some attention to them – especially if you believe the oft-cited figure that it’s 7 times more expensive to sell to stranger than it is to existing clients.

Pilot Programs

PilotsBack when I worked for Maximizer, marketing customer relationship management software, there was one thing that almost always guaranteed the success of implementing a new CRM system at a customer site: a pilot roll-out.  First, a little background:  CRM implementations are hugely complicated and problematic.  They are usually aimed at the sales and marketing teams of an organization and can involve anywhere up to thousands of people and cost millions of dollars.  At one point in the late 90s, the analyst firm Gartner reported that over 70% of CRM projects were failing.  In the face of a stat like that, I had to come up with a strategy (and then deliver on it!) to convince our customers that if they used our product, their experience would be different.

One of our pieces of advice was to have a pilot roll-out.  In every group of people, and every department within a company, there are the keeners and the geeks.  The keeners will give anything their best shot, and have an inherent faith that things will generally work out for the best.  They’re glass half full types.  And the geeks are the ones who just “get” technology – they’re whom you go to if you have a laptop problem that is too trivial for tech support, but annoying nonetheless.  “Sally, how do I get the Yahoo! toolbar to stop reappearing in my Firefox?”

Before rolling-out the new CRM system to the whole user population, we recommended assembling a subgroup of about 10 keeners and geeks and installing them first.  There are many advantages to this: they are predisposed to be “positive” and not gripe and moan; they are more likely to tolerate the inevitable teething pains, and even help fix them; they will serve as a shining example to the rest of the user community when the “big” rollout happens; and, by asking them to do the pilot, you are branding them as “special.”  They will be your staunchest ally and informal tech support and guru and hero and feel great about it.

As always, here’s where I am obliged by the title of this blog, to apply this concept to bars.  When my time comes, I will not have a “Grand Opening” and invite the world.  I will limit it to a “special” group.  I will select the people that I think will accept  the invitation, know me already, will enjoy my bar, and (if possible) that are influential within their own social groups.  This group will have a higher probabilty of knowing one another, having similar interests, enjoying similar things, and having fun at the “trial” opening of the bar.  They will be more likely to laugh at the opening night glitches than bitch about them.  So I will have a small first-run audience that gives a positive review instead of a larger group whose opinion I would be less sure of.

And, they will always be able to say haughtily, “Well, I  was invited to opening night.”

Logos In Your Face

Bass AleMy friend and former colleague Clayton sent me a note yesterday which read in part, “You need one about how ridiculous it is to pay for a product with a prominent logo on it so you can advertise for them.  While this advertising is free, the company has no control over the person sporting the logo and the image they project.  It’s lose/lose.  […]  I predict that eventually high end products won’t have logos of any kind.”

Logos started out as trademarks.  The Bass Ale triangle logo is famously the first registered trademark, but there are many contenders for ones that predate Bass.  Manufacturers wanted people to know who made something, so they would know where to go if they wanted more.  The idea was that if you put your name (or your mark) on something, you must be proud of it.  So a trademark had a positive connotation – its job was to spread the word about something.

This is different from “brands,” which were originally conferred on something to show who owned it (think of branding cattle).  Unlike a trademark, which aims to make something more widespread, a brand limits the usefulness of an item to only one owner.  If you “brand” your shirt with your monogram, then only you can use it.  Well I suppose someone with the same initials as yours could, but you get my drift.

So what are modern logos prominently displayed, like the Nike swoosh on Tiger’s hat or the Microsoft Windows emblem on my Start button, trying to be?  Are they trademarks  that are proudly proclaiming, “We made this for you!”  Or brands  that are truculently saying, “This is ours; we’re just letting you use it.”  I think too many marketers believe the latter.  I know one VP Marketing who was so protective of her brand that she paid much more than she had to for a couple of hundred golf shirts, just so that the exact Pantone shade of thread would be used to embroider her company’s logo on them.  That is not spreading your brand, it’s constraining it.

Anyway, what about Clayton’s prediction?  Will high-end products eventually be logo-free?  I don’t think so.  I think the majority of people are less noble than Clayton, and will always want their neighbours to see that they bought expensive stuff.  Regardless of whether you think of the logo as a brand or a trademark, in the open market, most people have a good idea of the cost associated with that logo.  That’s why fake Rolexes exist – their owners are declaring, “I’m wealthy enough to pay $5,000 for a watch that keeps time exactly as well as a $20 Timex.”  There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you – I’ll mull it over this evening sipping on my Grey Goose vodka.

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What Can You Do In Person that You Can’t Do On the Phone?

Both my seminar on how to host effective User Conferences (which I will post some day), and Seth’s recent post on the pressure that the hassle and expense of travel is putting on conference planners, stress the same thing:

 “…a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement.” – Seth Godin

Travel used to be fun and exciting; now it’s dull and tedious.  If you’re going to make people do it, you have to give them a reason.  They have to expect that being there in person will add value that they couldn’t get from a conference call, videoconference, online virtual event, webinar, DVD, or some other remote technology. 

And what is a bar, really, but a conference venue that hosts a new event every night?  Just as a conference is going to have to offer people something that they can only get by being there in person, successful bars have to offer people the chance to interact with other people in a way they can’t otherwise.

Mandatory Tipping

Tip JarDuring a trip to NB once while we still lived in BC many years ago, my wife and I went to St. Andrews by the Sea.  It is a beautiful small town frozen in time  – around 1890, I’d say.  During our visit, we had dinner at a lovely little hotel down on Water St. whose name escapes me now.  It may very well have changed names by now anyway.

The reason I remember that meal is that there was a little tent-card on the table explaining that a 15% gratuity would be automatically added to our bill.  The card directed that if we had any feedback on the service (which in a normal hospitality business would presumably be indicated by the size of the tip), we should write it on the form provided and leave it on our table.

I understand why they operated this way.  St. Andrews is overrun with bus tours every summer.  I worked at the Algonquin Hotel there one season (where most of the tours stay), and I can tell you that the mostly elderly people on those tours do not tip very well, partially because they get used to staying places where a group gratuity charge has already been built into the fee for the tour.  So when the oldsters venture downtown to dine at this other establishment, they forget to tip.  So to protect the employees, management has decided to make sure they remember.

Well, this is wrong on many levels.  I cut my serving chops in Montréal, where service is GREAT, and servers get paid GREAT.  “Waiter” is an honourable profession there, and the best waiters at the best places make some serious coin.  Inferior waiters (and bartenders) get tipped poorly, and either get better, or get another job.  The small-c communist system at work at that St. Andrews establishment would eventually guarantee that every server would sink to the lowest level of effort that would still ensure they received the same compensation as everyone else.  There is no incentive to be excellent.

And a good server, who regularly makes far more than 15%,  would never go to work there in the first place.

I’m All About the New Marketing, but…

TherapyMy friend and former colleague Bernie Hadley-Beauregard is doing some amazing things with good, old fashioned branding.  He has made a career over the past 6 or 7 years of rebranding wines (or doing the initial branding for new vintners).  He does some other products, too, but his work with wine labels is what gets all the attention.  His concepts are clever and result in highly sellable products without any of my fancy Web 2.0 mumbo-jumbo.  Here is the link to his company, Brandever.

So why am I willing to get down off my high horse and admit that there are other ways to market successfully than 1 to 1, permission-based, two-way conversation?  Because there are  other ways.  The only problem is that you have to be a freakin’ genius like Bernie to make them work.  I’d like to believe that anyone can be successful using the techniques that I talk about.  Even me.

Why Punish Your Customers?



I received this semi-spam today.  (I blanked out the name of the offering to protect the guilty.)  I call it semi-spam because I do want to receive some stuff from this sender, but not these salesy messages; and I can’t end the spam without ending the stuff I want to get as well.  That’s problem number 1.

Problem number 2 is that there’s a punctuation error that actually makes the copy read like it’s questioning  the value of SaaS, instead of touting it as an application delivery platform.  Sorry, spellcheck doesn’t catch everything, which is why, as I’ve said before, always get someone ELSE to proofread your marcomm. 

But the biggest issue that I have with this is the special offer to new customers only.  This firm is telling its existing customers, the ones who eagerly jumped on board the fastest, the ones who are already sending in money, that they’re chumps and should have waited until now.  This kind of offer is insulting (and lame, because it’s so easy to get around).  And not only is it demeaning to existing customers, it’s telling potential new customers that this is the kind of treatment they have to look forward to if they come on board.

There’s nothing wrong with a time-limited special offer, but this could have been done better in so many ways.  How about:

* new customers only.  Our pack-leading, smart and good-looking existing customers receive 30% off if they sign up for another year within the same time period.

Posted in Bad Marketing. Tags: . 2 Comments »