Are you selling pants, or selling a dream?

Plus ninety-seven more marketing ideas, insights and inspirations to help you sell more, build your brand and delight your customers
By Matt Heinz

Want more ideas and inspiration? Check out Matt’s blog at:

Table of Contents
Introduction .................................................................................................................. 5 Do your customers know what they want? .............................................................. 6 Are you selling pants, or selling a dream? ............................................................... 7 Do you read enough?.................................................................................................... 8 Be Proud of Your Mistakes .......................................................................................... 9 Making voicemails work harder ............................................................................... 12 Do people know about your blog? ........................................................................... 13 What's your company made of? ............................................................................... 14 Comprehensiveness vs. Relevancy .......................................................................... 15 Three Tips for More Dynamic Presentations ......................................................... 16 Your brand & your employees.................................................................................. 17 Thanking your customers .......................................................................................... 18 Are you making things happen? ............................................................................... 19 Who controls your brand? ......................................................................................... 20 Let your customers do the marketing for you ...................................................... 21 Why we blog ................................................................................................................ 22 A great networking idea ........................................................................................... 24 Turning wait time into an opportunity ................................................................... 25 Using PR as a Direct Response Tool ........................................................................ 26 The two obvious secrets of every service business .............................................. 27 Telling relevant stories through creative channels ............................................. 28 Don't forget to dream (and then follow up) .......................................................... 29 Do you word-of-mouth? ............................................................................................. 30 Death by risk-aversion ............................................................................................... 31 Setting the mood... ................................................................................................... 32 It's about the customer, not the channel .............................................................. 33 Building blocks for effective loyalty marketing ................................................... 34 Staying focused ............................................................................................................. 35 Your customers don't believe you ........................................................................... 36 Marketing Lessons from a Police Ride-Along ......................................................... 37 Networking is easy ..................................................................................................... 40 There are no stupid ideas ......................................................................................... 41 Creating a customer-centric media plan ............................................................... 42 What does Google know about you? ....................................................................... 43 Pilferables ................................................................................................................... 44 The Un-Media .............................................................................................................. 45 Focus Externally ......................................................................................................... 46 Big goals begin with baby steps ............................................................................... 47 The (other) impact of compound interest ............................................................. 48 Planning around your email ..................................................................................... 49

Get more at -2-

Asking "Why" ................................................................................................................ 50 Bringing theory to life ............................................................................................... 51 Making people smile .................................................................................................. 52 Excuse or opportunity? .............................................................................................. 53 How to win back my business .................................................................................. 54 Great business books aren't always about business ............................................. 55 Act like an owner ....................................................................................................... 56 My unsuccessful attempt to cancel TiVo ............................................................... 58 The Long Tail and Stadium Cakes ........................................................................... 59 Can a photograph lie? ................................................................................................ 60 Getting Organized, Part I ......................................................................................... 61 The Marketer Chasm .................................................................................................. 62 What's your paperclip? .............................................................................................. 63 Making community work (without doing a thing) ................................................. 64 Testing the bounds of permission ........................................................................... 65 Getting Organized, Part II ........................................................................................ 66 Happy Customers = Buzz, Beautiful Buzz .............................................................. 68 Thinking big, act (and spend) small ....................................................................... 69 Getting Organized, Part III ....................................................................................... 70 Building your business with customer focus .......................................................... 72 Use every opportunity to create buzz .................................................................... 74 Write about your customers, not your products .................................................. 75 Are you a cult brand in waiting? .............................................................................. 76 Don't let a good plan go to waste ........................................................................... 78 Surprise networking ................................................................................................... 80 Learning from other industries ................................................................................ 81 My top five marketing podcasts............................................................................... 82 Write your customer manifesto! ............................................................................. 84 Another example of great storytelling ................................................................... 86 Need vs. Want ............................................................................................................. 87 Write for your audience, not for yourself ............................................................. 88 Discipline ..................................................................................................................... 89 If you're a good manager... ...................................................................................... 91 Treat your customers like prospects ...................................................................... 92 Giving Away Ideas ...................................................................................................... 93 The Power of Relationships ...................................................................................... 94 The World's Greatest Ice Breaker............................................................................ 95 It's about them, not us .............................................................................................. 96 Learning & networking the old-fashioned way ..................................................... 97 The Communicative Power of Video....................................................................... 98 Why some people work hard (and some don't) ..................................................... 99 The most important skill in business .................................................................... 100 What a deli can teach us about core values ....................................................... 101 Great Service: Strategy or Objective? .................................................................. 102 Get more at -3-

Defining "The Extra Mile" ........................................................................................ 104 Doing More With Your 24 ........................................................................................ 105 Who do you work for? .............................................................................................. 106 Recruiters are marketers, too ............................................................................... 108 Don't tell me I'm wrong ........................................................................................... 109 What would daily renewals do to your business? ............................................... 110 Why new employees are your best marketers .................................................... 111 The best marketing isn't marketing ...................................................................... 113 No marketing budget for a year... ........................................................................ 115 Ignore the critic, embrace the criticism.............................................................. 116 Fresh ideas from the magazine rack..................................................................... 117 What are you going to give up? ............................................................................. 118 Are you worth it? ...................................................................................................... 119 Be like Sarah ............................................................................................................. 120 Work to enrich your life (not define it) ............................................................... 122 Credits & Copyrights ................................................................................................ 123

Get more at -4-

You should have written this book. And you still can. Every day, each of us has ideas and inspiration based on the world around us. These insights come simply by sitting in meetings, in traffic, or in the Lazy-Boy at home. We see things in our everyday lives that make us think about their past, their future, and their implications. How we think about these things is impacted significantly by our worldview. Five of us can see the same movie, and come away with very different opinions and reactions – all based on the perceptions and experiences that shaped us up to that point. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those ideas and insights are gone from our conscious almost as soon as they materialized. Yet I’m convinced that if more of us were to write down or otherwise record those insights, and make them available to others, we’d all be far richer as a result. That’s what this book is about. My hope is that it gives you a single new idea or inspiration that you can apply to your life and/or your business. All I ask in return, is that you do the same. Start writing your book today, by recording your reaction to the world around you. Start small, in whatever format, length and frequency feels right to you. Thank you for reading, and I look forward to being inspired by you in the near future.

Get more at -5-

Do your customers know what they want?
The short answer? Typically not. It's astonishing how many companies today build products based on so little market research and customer feedback. Perhaps even scarier are those who do the wrong kind of research, and make product and business decisions on that. A focus group, for example, is great, but is it really giving you an unbiased view of what your customers want? Too many focus groups are dominated by one very vocal member who gets the other heads nodding. Even 1:1 research channels often encourage respondents to "make up" answers when they're not sure, or to try and sound smart with something that, at the end of the day, they don't really need and won't use. I know it's hard, and it's not always cheap, but the best way to learn about your customers, and to truly understand what they want and need, is to watch them. Microsoft has a team of anthropologists on staff who literally move in with their customers - and watch their every move. They don't interrupt, don't ask question. Just watch and learn. Because most consumers aren't able to clearly articulate what they want, or what they need. But smart marketers and product managers can interpret current, unbiased activity by consumers, and translate that into product improvements and new product opportunities. Are you asking your customers what they want, or watching them do it? How you learn from your customers could make or break whether what you do next will be of any interest to them.

Get more at -6-

Are you selling pants, or selling a dream?
Lots of retailers sell clothes. Many of them sell workout clothes. Some of those sell clothing specifically for folks who do yoga. But few retailers package this clothing in a way that maximizes the merchandising potential. I don't really want to buy just the pants. I want to buy the dream. Let me start with a different analogy. I like to cook, but like many aspiring cooks I'm largely a vicarious cook. I buy way too many cookbooks, and most sit on my shelf unused. Why did I buy them? Because I really want to make the food, but was drawn to purchase largely by the aspiration of cooking the food. I liked the idea of having all the ingredients on my counter, spending a couple hours cooking a really nice meal, wowing my wife. It all sounded good, good enough to make me shell out $20 bucks for a cookbook I rarely use. I bought the dream. Cookbook publishers are great at selling that dream - with beautiful pictures of the finished product on their covers and within their pages. Some retailers do a better job at this than others. Let's get back to yoga pants. Let's say my wife is in the market for yoga pants, but as a marketer I want to help her to dream about doing the yoga. Instead of marketing just the pants, why not market an entire collection of yoga products together? Rather than building my Web site to feature pants in one section, shirts in another, etc. what if I packaged yoga-related products together? Running products together? It's amazing to me that many bricks-and-mortar retailers get this, but fail to execute the same strategy online. Check out how Lucy does it in their Favorite Looks section. Are you selling pants, or are you selling a dream?

Get more at -7-

Do you read enough?
Not possible. Sure, it's very easy to get lost in the daily shuffle, get too busy with work and home, and leave behind your standard reading material. I, like many people, occasionally lapse into a very-busy, prioritization mindset where the work in front of me - the piles of work that will go long into the night- are more important than reading. Short-term, I'm probably right. Long-term, I'm definitely wrong. And every time I pick up a magazine, flip through a Web site, or catch up on a blog I previously found interesting, I remind myself why reading is so, so important. As marketers, heck as businesspeople, we need to be constantly learning. Constantly reinventing how we do business. Constantly questioning the way we do business today and tomorrow. When I force myself to stop what I'm doing for a moment and read something, I almost always get ideas. Ideas for how to improve my job, my company, my life. Sometimes the ideas are for me, sometimes they get shot off to others. But I am robbing myself of personal and professional development if I stop reading, even for a day. Are you reading?

Get more at -8-

Be Proud of Your Mistakes
I make my share of mistakes. Not on purpose, but sometimes things don’t work the way I want. I conduct research, understand what my customers want, and then develop marketing strategies to put my products in front of them. Some of those marketing strategies don’t pan out, some messages don’t resonate, and others don’t generate the responses I wanted. Not success. But it is forward progress. I failed, but that’s OK as long as I learned something from the process. I am fortunate to work at a company that encourages, if not requires, me to take risks and test a LOT of new ideas. HouseValues was the fastest-growing technology company in Washington and the ninth-fastest growing tech company in North America in 2004. That rate of growth, measured over a five-year period, doesn’t come by only doing things we already know how to do. Growth comes from innovation and an acceleration of new ideas and creative thinking, across the company -- with our products, with our sales and customer service organizations, and especially in our marketing. To keep growing at a continued accelerated rate, we need to reinvent how we do business on a regular basis, and find new ways to delight our customers and get our message across. That means taking risks; calculated, educated guesses about what’s going to work. We test a lot, and if we do that right, we are inevitably going to fail. More than once. But failure isn’t all bad. Sure, it doesn’t represent immediate forward progress, but the end result of testing will almost always be new ideas and new strategies that otherwise would not have been discovered without an openness to taking risks. So failure is OK, to a point. The key to “successful failure,” then, is three-fold: 1) Test new ideas quickly, with minimal infrastructure. Many companies don’t test often enough in part because they want the test to go perfectly, Get more at -9-

which requires lining up many different resources for a small test -- a task that can take far longer than the test may be worth. My advice? Shoe-horn it if you need to. Mitigate risk associated with fast-tracking a test, but test quickly to see if your overall concept or message has value. If the test is positive, you can expand and build the required infrastructure to support a broader roll-out. If your test doesn’t work, it’s a good thing you didn’t waste too many people’s time with infrastructural support. 2) Evaluate success or failure, and act quickly. Know whether your test was a success or failure as soon as possible. If it was a success, scale it quickly to confirm that the idea still works. If your test was a failure, stop doing it fast. Move on to the next idea. 3) Learn and move on. If your test was a failure, don’t dwell on it and don’t cry over spilt milk! Do a quick post-mortem, even if it’s just in a meeting of one, and evaluate what went wrong, why the test was a failure, and what you would have done differently. A retest with different variables is an option, or you might decide to go an entirely different direction. Either way, figure out what you need to know and move on. Smart companies make frequent testing a part of their culture, and that also means having a culture that is OK with failure. But in this context, and given the three keys to “successful failure” outlined above, frequent testing and occasional failures will lead to more rapid innovation and growth. How can you create a culture of open and acceptable testing?
• Keep a running list of new ideas. Conservative ideas, crazy ideas. Post

them around the office to get your team thinking about even more ideas. Then think about what it would take to get those ideas tested as quickly as possible. Does it require a complete change to your product? Typically not. Could it be tested with a couple of well-placed phone calls to trusted customers who you know will give you honest feedback? Maybe.
• Make sure your team knows that failure is OK. Don’t create or foster an

environment that discourages or punishes employees for getting things wrong now and then.
• Reward your team for innovation. This applies to agencies as well. Is

your entire in-house team, as well as any agencies you work with, thinking outside the box? Are they taking action on those out-of-thebox ideas? Maybe create a monthly award, or even some bonus money,

Get more at - 10 -

for employees who have the courage to test something new and innovative.
• Dedicate time to testing. We’re all busy, typically over-booked with

work for strategies we already know will be successful. Make sure you set aside time for brainstorming and testing. Make it a priority for yourself and your organization. If your company is playing it safe, and relying on what either you or others have already done successfully, you’re likely not growing as fast as you could. Take risks. Test often. But be accountable.

Get more at - 11 -

Making voicemails work harder
If you've been in your current job for awhile, chances are you don't even remember what your voicemail recording sounds like. It probably just tells callers that you're not around, and to leave a message. But with just a couple more seconds of airtime, couldn't your voicemail message say something about your brand, help sell a product, or direct a potential caller somewhere you want them to look anyway? How about something like: Hi, this is Matt from HouseValues. I'm currently helping another customer make more money, but please leave me a message so I can help you with your business as well. In the meantime, please visit to learn about one of our exciting new products. Your caller already knows how to leave a message, so you don't have to waste valuable seconds giving him or her instructions. With the above message, I've communicated a core benefit, let the caller know I want to do the same for him or her, and then directed them to our new Web site while they wait for my return call. I bet your business has many more underleveraged marketing channels just waiting for optimization.

Get more at - 12 -

Do people know about your blog?
You read a lot, and you come across quite a few things you think are worth sharing with colleagues. Marketing ideas, interesting case studies, etc. You may, in the past, be used to sending those ideas and articles around as "FYI" emails with links directly to the article and/or text from the article itself. Moving forward, put a link to the article - with a brief summary and analysis on your blog, and send the blog link to your colleagues. They'll get access to the same information, and you'll build awareness about your blog at the same time. If your colleagues find what you wrote interesting, or find the primary article you wrote about interesting, they may send it to their own circle of friends and/or colleagues, and all of a sudden far more people are also reading your blog. Free and effective...

Get more at - 13 -

What's your company made of?
Creating and maintaining a strong brand is critical for successful companies. But the degree to which your company - your entire company - evangelizes and embodies that brand is also critical. Think about your own company, your mission, and your brand promise. Is your brand promise consistent across all of your marketing communications? Good start. Is it embodied in your products? Better. Do your employees live it? Every day? In everything they do? Is your brand embedded in your company's DNA? No brand manager can do that work at his or her desk. Your brand has to be something the entire company lives and dies by.

Get more at - 14 -

Comprehensiveness vs. Relevancy
I've been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between comprehensiveness and relevancy, especially as it relates to the value customers place in various brands and services. For example, take a real estate Web site like As a home buyer, knowing that you are searching from a database that has every home available for sale in the market is very important. So in the case of home buying, comprehensiveness is perfectly aligned with relevancy and value. But what about shopping for a TV? Do I need to have access to every television set available? Or just those that meet my criteria? If I'm looking for a 35-inch set, for example, I don't need to be able to search from a database of every 35inch set manufactured. But depending on where I'm shopping, there's an assumption that a level of comprehensiveness has already happened. If I'm shopping at Best Buy, and looking through their TV options, I assume that their buyers have already done completed a level of comprehensiveness in their own shopping to bring me the best options based on quality and price. And that's where the relevancy and value comes in. You could say the same for the value of real estate agents. Because agents have access to the MLS, and therefore every home for sale, an agent can cull that comprehensiveness on your behalf, and deliver to you only the products that meet your criteria. The real estate agent with homes for sale, therefore, is similar to what the Best Buy buyers do for me with television sets. Think about the products or services you offer to your customers. Is comprehensiveness a premium? Is it directly tied to relevancy and value at the customer level? Or can you deliver more value by delivering a level of comprehensiveness before the customer gets to you?

Get more at - 15 -

Three Tips for More Dynamic Presentations
This week I had the pleasure of attending a Kelsey Group conference focusing on Local Search. It was one of those conferences with many speakers and many panels, and I found it interesting to watch the differences between how various executives handled their speaking opportunities. As with many conferences like this, multiple executives from different companies offering essentially the same services appear on a panel, yet some executives comes across far better than others. The difference isn't always in their products, or in their presentation content, but largely in their delivery. I could go on and on about public speaking best practices, but just based on the past couple days at this conference there are three things I believe can help any speaker stand out from the crowd: 1) Don't read your slides: If you are using Power Point slides as part of your presentation, cut the words on the slides down to a minimum, and make sure your taking points compliment and augment those slides. When speakers read, or even paraphrase in linear order, audiences get bored quickly. 2) Know your content: This may seem obvious, but it's clear when speakers don't know what slide or point is coming next, and rely too much on their Power Point deck to remind them. If you know your content well, you likely aren't even looking at your slides. You're looking at your audience, directly connecting with them, which will make you far more engaging and interesting. 3) Show passion: This one is harder, as some speakers are more inclined to be passionate than others. Passion can be communicated in many ways - use of hands, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. Regardless of what you're comfortable with, or pre-disposed to, use this to your advantage. The common theme in all three of these tips is to get your audience engaged. Make them want to listen to you. No matter the subject or content, better audience engagement will significantly increase how well your audience hears your message, and whether they want to learn more.

Get more at - 16 -

Your brand & your employees
Your employees can make a significant impact on how your brand is perceived by customers. Take 15 minutes and do a quick inventory of all the places where your customers interact with your company. Yes, your marketing team may control many channels of communications - the Web site, marketing collateral, PR, advertising, packaging, etc. But what about how your receptionist answers the phone? What about the nomenclature your customer service reps use when handling customer questions and complaints? Wait times? Response rates? Smart companies realize that every customer touch point, every customer experience, every customer perception impacts the brand.

Get more at - 17 -

Thanking your customers
What are you doing to thank your customers this holiday season? Perhaps more importantly, what's your strategy for thanking them all year round? Customer love doesn't have to be contextual. In fact, a randomly-received "thanks for your business" can be more impactful than one that follows a particular action. For example, of course you're thankful when a customer buys a new plasma TV. Of course Bellagio is thankful that I just hosted a four-day conference at their facility. But are you thankful for your customers when they least expect it? Show that you care, at the least-expected times, and you'll be surprised at the impact it can have on brand perception and loyalty.

Get more at - 18 -

Are you making things happen?
Look around your own organization, and you'll see a difference between the people who get stuff done, and those who don't. I think it's important to study both people - both to understand and internalize best practices from those who consistently make things happen, and to understand how you can best leverage the other half. So are you a producer? Do you make things happen? Are you restless every day before you want more - both professionally and personally? A healthy dose of restlessness to make more things happen will inevitably help you do exactly that.

Get more at - 19 -

Who controls your brand?
Plenty of talk these days about what a good brand is, and whether traditional agencies are equipped to really help companies think through to the right brand strategy. I've seen and worked with traditional agencies on both sides of the argument those whose end game is purely the ad campaign and media buy, where the brand strategy is a loss leader, and those who truly care about the brand - and know how to build one. At the end of the day, however, it's simply not fair to entrust your brand entirely to an agency. If you're the client, YOU own the brand. You, and your executives as Jennifer also points out, need to 100% buy into the brand strategy and how that strategy will influence every facet of your business.

Get more at - 20 -

Let your customers do the marketing for you
I'm a big fan of (now owned by Kodak, and called EasyShare Gallery), but I think they've missed a huge opportunity the past two holiday seasons. Ofoto is an online digital photo sharing site, where you can save photos into online "albums" and then share those photos with friends, allow others to purchase their own prints online, etc. It's a great service, and I've been using it for years to share photos of hoilday gatherings, family vacations, even a periodic update on my home remodel project. They're doing a fine job merchandising holiday-themed items on their site, including gift items that can have photos imprinted on them, greeting cards and the usual. But what if they gave away user-friendly URLs to every customer, and encouraged their customers to create and share online holiday photo galleries with friends and family? Whether online or via widely distributed "snail mail" holiday greeting cards, current Ofoto customers could include a message that said something like "see photos from our family in 2006 at" Now imagine an Ofoto URL on literally millions of holiday greeting cards nationwide. The traffic to Ofoto based on this would be incredible, and I bet it would immediately become their #1 traffic and membership driver at least through the holiday season. And the beautiful thing? It wouldn't have to cost Ofoto a thing. If they'd started marketing this to their current customers via email and on the site as early as late September, it would have been huge. That may be an opportunity gone (at least for this year), but is there a similar opportunity in your business? Is there a new feature or seasonal/contextual spin on an old favorite that would encourage your customers to do your marketing for you? A few minutes of creative brainstorming could make you a marketing hero.

Get more at - 21 -

Why we blog
There are a handful of blogs out there that are very, very well done. Church of the Customer, Micro-Persuasion and Boing Boing, for example, have thousands of subscribers for a reason. But for every John Battelle, there are about a thousand Joe Six-Packs also blogging out there. It's no surprise that most blogs in the blogosphere are fairly mundane, and probably don't have much readership. So why do these folks blog? Why do they bother? I believe it boils down to three things: 1) It's an opportunity to be part of something big. Blogging means that you're a bonafide publisher, on the World Wide Web no less. That's quite meaningful to most folks, and just feeling associated and a part of something bigger than themselves has significant pull. 2) It's an outlet. It's an online diary for some people, purely a place to vent, pontificate, wonder and muse. Readership, circulation, subscribers - it's largely irrelevant. The fact that they've been able to put their thoughts into words, and do it somewhere convenient that has some permanence, is sufficient. 3) Somebody might be listening. And don't we all just want someone to hear us once in awhile? The mere idea that others may be able to find and read one's work is enough for many amateur and occasional bloggers. It's at the core of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends & Influence People" - people want others to focus on them. As marketers, we have a responsibility to tap into these common consumer needs. How are you enabling your customers, and your prospects, to express themselves? How are you allowing them to join something exciting, and bigger than themselves? Perhaps most importantly, how are you letting them be heard, and then letting them know that they've been heard? Whether it's via blogs, branded social networking strategies, or just your everyday business practices, these are powerful forces at work, forces that can be put to work for your business and brand as well. Get more at - 22 -

Get more at - 23 -

A great networking idea
Are you trying to get yourself, your business or your product noticed by someone in your network? Or maybe you're trying to add something special to your network? John Jantsch suggests in his well-written Duct Tape Marketing blog that you simply send them an unsolicited testimonial. Let them know you like what they're doing, you like something about their product, or simply endorse their value as a professional (appeals to vanity and self-promotion work just as well here). It's a good reminder that some of the best ideas aren't always the most complicated. Brilliance very often is found in simplicity.

Get more at - 24 -

Turning wait time into an opportunity
Seth Godin wrote recently about a good idea for making customers on hold feel special, and "rewarding" them for any wait time they have to endure before talking to a live body. Smart idea, and it should be a reminder to us of just how many underleveraged customer touchpoints exist throughout our organization. Think, for example, about your on-hold music. It it just pretty music? Or could it be used to communicate something to your customers? What about replacing that music with customer testimonials, samples of your radio commercials, or even a soft voice talking to customers about your latest promotion? "Thank you for calling, and we appreciate your patience. Have you heard about our new (insert feature here)? Inquire about that feature today and save 50%." Businesses with physical locations also typically have underleveraged opportunities. Think about all of the businesses in which you have to wait for something - doctor's office, chiropractor, oil changes, even take-out restaurants. When waiting the 20 minutes for your oil and lube change, could customers be reading something more than just two-month-old magazines? How about educational information about auto maintenance, maybe even a video playing about tips for keeping cars in top shape? All of this content could be independently valuable to consumers, but also build credibility for the oil change facility and drive repeat business.

Get more at - 25 -

Using PR as a Direct Response Tool
Savvy marketers already know that public relations can be one of the most effective, leveraged marketing and brand-building tools available. For very little relative budget, public relations can get the word out to vast & targeted audiences, in a highly credible context. But most marketers don't think about PR as a direct response tool. With focus and discipline, public relations can be leveraged and measured as a tool that directly drives traffic, business and sales. I wrote more about this for iMedia, based in part on a recent study by Delahaye that looked at how executives across the country value various PR measurement tools. According to the survey, direct sales as a result of PR was seen as exceedingly meaningful, but not particularly reasonable as an expectation of PR. I don't buy it, and believe we absolutely should have an expectation that PR can directly lead to sales and/or customer activity in a meaningful and measurable way.

Get more at - 26 -

The two obvious secrets of every service business
1. Take responsibility 2. Pay attention to detail Every business is a service business. Experience is the product.

Get more at - 27 -

Telling relevant stories through creative channels
Getting your company's messages heard is no small task these days. Nearly every marketing channel is clogged, and information gate-keepers (press, analysts, influencers) are inundated with pitches and story ideas on an hourly basis. To get your message across, you need to 1) have a unique, timely, and relevant story to tell, and 2) you need to be creative about how you communicate that message. Creating a relevant story shouldn't be difficult if you know your customers, know your product, and understand what your audience (be it consumers directly, or press, or analysts) are already interested in. Telling that story in a unique manner is typically where many companies get hung up. The easy channels, the standard channels, are within the reach of everybody - and therefore impossibly clogged. Press releases still work, but only with relevant stories - and not all of the time. Sometimes, a different approach is required. Case in point this morning is a uniquely-told story about the slowing real estate market. HouseValues, Inc., which offers marketing and technology services to real estate professionals, released a White Paper addressing how real estate professionals can actually grow their business in the next 3-5 years, despite a changing market. By leveraging great press relationships and a solid understanding of what both the industry and its influencers want to hear, the story quickly appeared in Realty Times, one of the industry's most popular online news services. And, the White Paper is being leveraged directly with prospective customers, as a means of demonstrating thought leadership in an area most agents care deeply about. It's a relevant story, being leveraged in creative channels. The next time you're thinking about issuing a press release, take a quick moment to consider the story you're tell, and whether you're using the right channel to effectively tell it.

Get more at - 28 -

Don't forget to dream (and then follow up)
It's the second week of January and some of those New Year's Resolutions already feel like an uphill climb. Things that felt very doable over a long New Years Weekend now feel much more difficult. You're back into the daily grind, personal and professional priorities are tugging at you from left and right... But that doesn't keep the great ideas from coming. In the shower, on a run, during the commute. It will be far too easy to let those great ideas stay on the back burner in lieu of today's fire fight, but don't let them fall off of the oven altogether. Oprah, of all people, had a great suggestion in her "mission calendar" (I'm not a loyal Oprah reader, but you spend enough time surfing the Web and you find these things). In summary: Find a dedicated place to record those great ideas, dreams, crazy concepts, etc. Categorize them if you can or must, and look back on past ideas from time to time. Think constantly about where and how those ideas could take shape or be tested. And don't assume that the majority of those great ideas will ever see the light of day. Last night's epiphany might not make sense in the morning, but at least get it on paper. A few days of perspective and the right opportunity could be what's necessary to get the right few of those ideas into play.

Get more at - 29 -

Do you word-of-mouth?
Word-of-mouth marketing is no longer the next thing. It's here now. Many companies - some relatively established, some brand-new - are emerging that focus on this marketing niche. But it won't be a niche for long. As media continues to decentralize and consumers become 1) more cynical, and 2) less prone to believe traditional marketing, word-of-mouth marketing will become a critical part of your marketing plan. Read as much as you can now, and think about how this fits into your brand strategy. Because what could be more powerful than your customers doing your marketing for you? The wickedly smart folks at Church of the Customer offer some advice for choosing a good word-of-mouth agency, which also should help guide how you create a strong, long-term evangelist mobilization strategy for your brands.

Get more at - 30 -

Death by risk-aversion
Don't be afraid to take risks. That's very often easier said than done, especially when you're working with established and successful businesses and brands that were built based on tried-and-true practices. But the world changes. Your customers change. Your competitors change (or new competitors emerge). If you're sticking with what's always worked, from a product or a marketing sense, you'll soon find yourself behind the curve (and likely behind your competitors). Fighting risk aversion can be one of the biggest challenges for any company, big or small. It can also be frightening for an individual swimming upstream against the norm. But it's a fight worth fighting. Take strength from and leverage with colleagues the success of others who have successfully fought risk aversion, and hence have introduced breakthrough products or marketing ideas that previously had been though to be crazy.

Get more at - 31 -

Setting the mood...
Good story in Newsweek about the critical role of music in helping to market TV shows. But it's not just TV shows, is it? The music playing at your favorite story in the mall helps "set the mood" for buying more shirts and skirts. Music at the supermarket is nice and slow, to help you walk more slowly through the aisles and buy more groceries. And it's not just music. Numerous environmental factors influence how people perceive your products, your business and your brands - both online and offline. How are you creating an environment that's more conducive to customer action? That's consistent with your brand image? That reinforces your core brand message and promise?

Get more at - 32 -

It's about the customer, not the channel
Mobile marketing, for the blissfully uninitiated, is the use of handheld and otherwise mobile channels for marketing – things like cell phones, Blackberry’s, PDAs, even iPods. The phrase used so often by agencies these days is “triple play”, meant to represent 1) traditional media (TV, radio, print, outdoor, etc.), 2) online media (primarily the Internet and email), and 3) mobile media (defined above). I get the definition, but still believe strongly that we’re doing ourselves and consumers a disservice when we define our marketing strategies based on channels. Twenty years ago, there was no true Internet. Ten years ago, I guess, we started making double plays. Now, we’re into triple plays. So what happens when a fourth significant marketing channel develops? Is that a quadruple play? (How many blades does that razor have, exactly?) Smart brands and smart marketers know that a channel-based marketing focus misses the mark. Marketing doesn’t start with channels, it starts with a customer. It starts with his needs, her desires, his and her daily lives and how we are making it better, easier. Yes, we are likely trying to reach them through some type of channel marketing strategy. But don’t think for a minute that consumers break their daily media consumption habits into channels. They don’t think in terms of “now is my 20 minutes of online channel time, then I’ll pay attention to my offline channels, then I’ll be on my cell phone. Hey, that’s a triple play!” If the phrase “triple play” helps more marketers discover mobile devices as another means of reaching an increasingly decentralized consumer, that’s fine. But let’s not forget that people make purchase decisions much the same way as they always have. Based on need, emotional connection, relevance, instinct and impulse. These drivers transcend channels.

Get more at - 33 -

Building blocks for effective loyalty marketing
I've been thinking a lot lately about loyalty marketing, and what makes for a successful loyalty marketing strategy. I think a lot of it boils down to product & customer insight. You can’t have loyal customers without a great product. If your product doesn’t connect with your target customers, the best loyalty campaigns in the world won’t be able to make the same kind of emotional connection. Great marketing makes great products look even better, attract more customers, establish more wallet and mindshare. Your marketing should serve to communicate a brand promise that your product was built to fulfill. Great marketing can’t save bad products. And if you already have a great product, that means you’ve somehow managed to understand and react to a core customer need or desire. It means you’ve done your homework, you understand your customers better than they do, you know where the puck will be before it gets there. This isn’t just about asking prospective customers what they want. It’s understanding what they need and want – both today and tomorrow. There’s a big difference. Good brands and companies are marketing-centric, in that the above two vital elements (good product and customer insight) don’t emerge independently from a product development and research team. The marketing plan starts with the consumer, then the product, then the marketing.

Get more at - 34 -

Staying focused
What are you willing to do today, to become more successful tomorrow? It's a simple question, but so important. Every day we have a thousand things to do. Fire drills, distractions, way too many priorities. But staying focused on the 1-2 most important things will almost always move you ahead faster than the many little things that often feel easier to accomplish.

Get more at - 35 -

Your customers don't believe you
So you're a smart enough marketer that you've stopped talking about features and product details in your copy, and you're finally talking about benefits and value. But your customers don't believe you. So is the best strategy to address directly how your company or brand benefits your customer, or "bash" the alternative, as some argue? Probably a combination of both. Never shy away from how your products are intrinsically changing the lives of your customers. If you've built your products right, they directly correlate with an existing need or pain point in your customers' lives. There's real magic there, and honest, direct benefit messaging will always be strong. But I think the message here is to also "be real." Don't let your benefit messaging fall off of the cliff and start to sound like a cliché. Prove your point with examples, testimonials, results.

Get more at - 36 -

Marketing Lessons from a Police Ride-Along
One of my good friends, Brandon Gill, a former Marine, is now an officer with the Everett (Washington) Police Department. He’s been with the department for a little over two years, and works the night shift as a beat cop on the north side of town. I had the privilege of riding with him last Saturday night, and it was an incredible, eye-opening experience. I accompanied Brandon everywhere – on 911 calls, to an attempted suicide, to a stabbing scene, even to break up a transient camp and shake down known drug dealers. I quickly learned three things: 1. Brandon, though early in his law enforcement career, is a very good cop 2. Police work is both delicate and difficult, and takes a uniquely-gifted individual to be successful 3. There are many analogies between good law enforcement and effective marketing I’m now convinced that to be an effective police officer, you need many of the same skills that make for an effective marketer. As my evening ride-along progressed, it became even more clear. So what does good law enforcement have to teach us as marketers and leaders? Here were a few of my takeaways and lessons learned “on the beat.” Taking the initiative is always the right thing to do From the laptop in Brandon’s squad car, he can pull up every 911 call awaiting follow-up – including the priority and nature of each call. He could wait for the dispatcher to assign him a call, or he could assign himself a call – which he did most of the night. As 911 calls slowed down Brandon began actively seeking trouble spots, circling known drug houses, and otherwise taking the initiative rather than waiting for instruction. He didn’t need someone back at the office or at a dispatch room to assign him tactics. He knew his objectives – or “what success looks like” as marketers might say – and he created a game plan to achieve it. His initiative makes him a stand-out cop, and also allows Brandon to achieve more of his objectives throughout the night. People skills are critical Get more at - 37 -

And not just in that attempted suicide, which clearly required the right balance of force and tact. As we escorted a man with a blood-alcohol level of more than three times the legal limit to the hospital, Brandon made it clear to the man, in reassuring tones, that we were on the way to get him help (not on the way to the jail), and that the nurses would help him get better. When we met an 18-year-old at her home, where she was alone and had just received several frightening harassment calls from a former co-worker, Brandon answered all of her questions and spent as much time as she needed to feel safe again – even though the additional calls for his services were piling up back at the laptop. With situations that were far more tense, and even with situations involving fellow officers, Brandon displayed a combination of force, tact, leadership and confidence that showed others he was in control, and had their back. Networking will make your job easier I watched Brandon network with his fellow officers. With nurses at the hospital. With drug dealers. Even homeless men huddling under the freeway overpass, trying to stay warm. In Brandon’s eyes, all of these people could be valuable to him down the road. Nurses can help expedite trips to the hospital with hurt-but-under-arrest perps. That drug dealer might be an ongoing source of valuable information about other folks up to no good (including competitors). And the homeless? They may not have a roof over their head, or be the most important people in town, but they know everything. By building relationships with a wide variety of people, Brandon is setting himself up for an ongoing flow of information, favors and expedited execution in the weeks and months to come. Triage, triage, triage At any given time throughout the night, there were literally dozens of requests for Brandon’s time. 911 calls lighting up the laptop. Traffic infractions everywhere. Calls to assist other officers with more complicated calls. Far more work than Brandon would ever have time to do. Sound familiar? But Brandon didn’t let the overflow of work consume him. He knew his limits, and was adept at focusing his time on the most pressing needs. This often involved making real-time decision between competing requests, and even changing course mid-call if something higher priority became apparent. In his job, as in ours, prioritization and flexibility can enable greater effectiveness and achievement. Seek ways to put the balance in your favor All night, without really thinking about it, Brandon did subtle but intensely Get more at - 38 -

valuable things to put the balance in his favor. Remember the drunk he calmed down before taking to the hospital? That was to make sure the drunk treated the nurses well, and wasn’t too abrasive, as nurses have long memories. When a K-9 unit from another precinct came up to help track down a stabbing suspect, Brandon sent a quick thank-you note via the intra-departmental instant-messaging system before we moved to the next call. When we suspected one driver of driving under the influence, Brandon called in the traffic cop, who is specifically recognized by the department for drunk driving arrests he makes. All of these things, done throughout the night, put others subtly in Brandon’s debt. Some debts were more tangible than others, but every move set Brandon up for a return favor down the road. Leverage, but do not abuse, authority It is clear that Brandon is a leader. With colleagues and perps alike, he emanates a calm and confident sense of leadership. He leverages this leadership to accomplish his objectives, but does not use it in a menacing, demeaning or abusive way. He takes control of a situation without bullying or bossing others. He uses the right words and tone of voice for each situation to get what he wants or needs, without overt demands or aggressive language. Police officers are naturally in a position of authority, but good cops know that this is an opportunity for leadership, not totalitarianism. Whether he thinks about it or not, Brandon’s style of establishing and leveraging authority creates credibility and results for himself and his department, by treating people fairly and giving others their own level of control over any given situation. Leadership isn’t just about taking command. Good leaders enable others to lead and take action as well – whether you’re in marketing or “on the beat.”

Get more at - 39 -

Networking is easy
I don’t think I’m very good at networking. But I’ve learned that nobody else really thinks they’re good at networking, either. I know many people – colleagues, friends, former co-workers, etc. – whom I consider expert networkers. But when I ask them for the secret to their networking success, the first think they say is how bad they think they are at it. Everyone, even the best, thinks everyone else is better. Networking isn’t always easy to begin with, but none of us think we’re very good at it. So when you think about it, that should make networking a lot easier. The next time you attend a local networking event or a cocktail party at a conference, keep in mind that nearly everyone else there shares your insecurity about why they’re there in the first place. Use that as confidence to strike up a conversation with someone, join an existing conversation in progress, or walk up to someone you’ve always wanted to meet and introduce yourself. But networking isn’t just about the initial conversation or introduction. It’s largely about the follow-up. And when you follow-up with those you’ve just met, you’re likely to be in the vast minority of networkers who have the courage, or take the time, to do the follow up at all. As I get older, my increasing number of “at bats” in networking opportunities is naturally increasing my confidence as a networker. It makes me realize I shouldn’t have been so nervous or averse to networking earlier in my career. It particularly makes me take notice of younger colleagues who don’t yet have that confidence, but would be 100% welcomed once they get into the pool with the rest of us. You see? Networking isn’t that hard. Really.

Get more at - 40 -

There are no stupid ideas
At HouseValues, we start every brainstorming session with a few simple rules. Perhaps most important: There are no stupid questions or ideas. To have the most effective brainstorm, all assumptions and pretense need to stay in the hallway. Brainstorms are about establishing new ideas, challenging old assumptions, and thinking in a way that might otherwise be challenged or shouted down elsewhere. Oftentimes in brainstorms, the best ideas are brilliant in their simplicity. Great ideas don’t always require reinventing the business. Sometimes they just require that we open a door, turn over a stone, or otherwise make a simple discovery that’s really just right in front of us. Thinking in an environment where precedent, tradition and establishment can be challenged and questioned is essentially for discovering those simple but brilliant next steps for any business – big or small. “We’ve always done it that way” isn’t a reasonable answer. Answering “we ran the numbers on that last year, so we know we’re right” is equally dangerous. Last year was a LONG TIME AGO for most businesses, where competitive landscapes and consumer demands can changes dramatically in a matter of months, if not weeks. Business breakthroughs are often born from stupid ideas and stupid questions. So keep asking.

Get more at - 41 -

Creating a customer-centric media plan
If you don't already follow the work of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), you should. They are pioneers in understanding how to amplify the kind of brand and product evangelism that's existed among consumers for generations, but just now is being harnessed and accelerated by smart marketers. I recently WOMMA's Basic Training Conference, and one of the things this conference reinforced for me is the importance of building a marketing or media plan based on customers, not channels. Too often, media plans are built based on a set of marketing channels leveraged to communicate to a set of current or prospective customers. The resulting plan is then inherently channel based, in that it tells us exactly how to use television, radio, online, print, etc. to communicate said message to said customer. But marketing, at its core, isn't about any particular set of channels. It's about the customer. It's about what they want, what they need, what will make their lives easier and/or better. Media plans should start with a heavy dose of how target consumers operate what motivates them, who they influence, and what they're passionate about. Consumers don't compartmentalize their time based on channel. From a consumer perspective, it's really just one big experience. Their interaction with brands aren't thought of in terms of online vs. offline, radio vs. television, even advertising vs. organic evangelism. With a deeper understanding of the needs, motivations and passions of our customer, far more efficient and effective marketing strategies can be developed that mobilize your customers to action and evangelism.

Get more at - 42 -

What does Google know about you?
Admit it, you’ve Googled yourself. Just to see what it turns up, right? Chances are, others are Googling you as well. Like it or not, the Internet is compiling a record of you for others to see. That record is likely far from complete, and only offers readers small windows into your life – personal and/or professional. But in a world of increased access to information of all types, you’d be surprised what others can learn about you. So who would want to Google you? Future employers, for one. But also colleagues, direct reports, potential clients and business partners, etc. Your online record will increasingly impact how new professional relationships are established and shaped. So with all of these groups reading about you online, how do you control what they read? How can you help increase the possibility that they’ll read what you want them to read about you? Perhaps the most important and easiest way to influence what’s people read is for you to actively contribute to what’s available. Create a profile on LinkedIn that gives your employment history, education profile, even endorsements of work you have done. If you haven’t done so already, start a personal blog. Don’t worry about frequency or even readership. Just establish an online paper trail about things you find important, ideas you have, how you think, etc. My personal blog, for instance, would give any future business partner or employer a good sense for how I think about marketing, what I value and how I might help further a business goal of theirs. And if those two tools don’t go far enough, keep a resume online. Register your personal URL, and make it a portal for people to learn about you. Include links to your blog, your past work, your LinkedIn profile, articles you’ve written, etc. This isn’t about ego. This isn’t about building a brag sheet. It’s about making it clear who you are, what you do, what you believe in, and what you’re interested in. If nothing else, you will be surprised what kind of networking and business opportunities it will generate for yourself personally and your current business.

Get more at - 43 -

Think about the last trade show you attended, and how much money went into all of the swag made available to attendees. Now think about what small percent of that swag was actually interesting, truly breakthrough, or desireable. Probably a low percentage. Trade show giveaways are often overlooked as a significant opportunity to drive buzz and pass-along word-of-mouth marketing value starting with those primary show attendees. If you want pass-along value and buzz, pens and notepads probably aren't going to cut it. You need something that people covet. I recently heard Julian Aldridge from Ammo Marketing call these breakthrough swag pieces "pilferables." It's a great, visual name that describes well what good swag does. It's not just a piece of plastic with your brand name or logo on it. It's something that your audience wants, needs, covets. Creating pilferable swag isn't always cheap, but the impact of good pilferables can be considerable. Consider Julian's example from a campaign his firm created for Miller High Life. For this campaign, up-and-coming rock bands were the target, as they were the influencers who woudl impact their broader target audiences (other bands, and especially the audiences at the band's shows). What Julian did was plant Miller High Life keychains and well-designed t-shirts in the dressing rooms and back rooms of the clubs that their target bands were playing in. They didn't promote this, they didn't ask the band to take anything. But everything disappeared. Then t-shirts started appearing on stage at future shows, and the bands started handing out key chains with the High Life brand to their friends. Whether at a trade show or in broader marketing strategy, swag has a purpose. It typically serves as a reminder to your primary audience, or a tool to encourage referrals and pass-along marketing. Don't pass out swag. Enable pilferables with a purpose.

Get more at - 44 -

The Un-Media
Had the unique opportunity to hear Robert Scoble speak at a recent conference. Robert is one of the most influential bloggers working today, and more than that he really gets how the channel can be best used and leverage to communicate new thoughts and ideas to the masses. Robert's blogging philosophy works so well because he doesn't really care about circulation. Doesn't care about marketing his products. Doesn't spend time worrying about his channel distribution strategy, or things like that. He simply stays connected with current conversations in the marketplace, and blogs about what he cares about. And because he's so well connected with other conversations ongoing in the blogosphere, he's writing about what others care about as well. And that's the secret to his success. In many ways, Scobleizer represents the un-media. It's conversation without pretense, without promotion, without hype. But it's extremely authentic, and it connects with others in a way that feels real. Robert focuses on the story and conversation, not the marketing. And in focusing on what matters most (the product), he's pioneering a very differentiated media channel that works. Blogs aren't going to replace "traditional" media anytime soon, but social marketing channels clearly have a prominent place in every marketing plan as a means of clearly and directly communicating products and ideas.

Get more at - 45 -

Focus Externally
A smart colleague four years ago had four hand-written guidelines posted up on his cube. These were rules he tried to guide his day by, to ensure he focused on the most important, productive work possible. The one rule that stuck out to me the most was simple and short: Focus Externally. The message is simple, but execution and fulfillment can be difficult. The idea is simply to ensure that all of your work is focused on impacting an external audience - in most cases, your customers. Everything you do should ultimately focus on helping customers become more successful, focus on bringing new products to market that impact the company's top or bottom line, or otherwise impact the company's growth or customer's success. But every company, and every employee, runs the risk of working on things "internally." This includes anything with an audience that is ultimately, and exclusively, internal. Examples include reports, processes and other peer-topeer deliverables that, oftentimes, have no bearing or impact externally. Don't get me wrong, sometimes internal work is done to inform colleagues about market conditions or work progress that is very much focused on external objectives. But if those very reports aren't leveraged or acted upon to impact external audiences, they're wasteful. I've been at marketing conferences where many of the attendees from large companies spend the majority of their time talking about how to convince managers to give them more money, or how to build consensus for their specific initiatives. Some of this work may be required to ultimately impact external objectives, but it's unfortunate that so much time is taken up internally to get the job done. Every company and every employee faces the internal/external challenge. Think about the work on your plate, and make sure as much of it as possible is externally focused. Your company, and your customers, will be better for it.

Get more at - 46 -

Big goals begin with baby steps
January 1st technically isn't that different than the other 364 days of the year. But psychologically, we all think of today as an opportunity to press the "reset" button in our lives - personal and professional. It's an opportunity to chart a new course, establish new habits, set new patterns of behavior (personal and professional) that will enrich our lives and careers. Too often, however, New Year's Resolutions are so big and ultimately so daunting that we abandon them before January is over. Now, that doesn't mean big/daunting goals aren't valuable. But to achieve them with greater success, it's important to break them down into manageable chunks, and keep yourself accountable. Take my personal blog at, for example. It in and of itself is only a small part of a much larger goal I've set for myself - a resolution that at a high level is not entirely manageable or actionable. But I've been able to break that ultimate goal down to specific strategies – my blog being one. So, I've resolved to be a more consistent blogger. I want to post at least twice a week (a vast improvement from my behavior over the past couple months). To keep myself accountable, I've put a note on my calendar twice a week moving forward to get something up here. Adding just two posts a week feels manageable, and setting an automatic "reminder" in my calendar twice a week helps keep me accountable. Ultimately, I want to be a far more consistent blogger, but starting back up with just two posts a week is a good first step. Once I've established the patterns and behavior for this first step, the next step (which is closer to my more ambitious goals) is far more manageable and actionable. Big goals begin with baby steps. Take time this week to set those big goals for yourself, then identify the individual steps to get there.

Get more at - 47 -

The (other) impact of compound interest
I had the pleasure earlier this year of attending a seminar by Verne Harnish and the folks at Gazelles, who among other things teach a number of businessbuilding best practices known as "The Rockefeller Habits." If you haven't done so yet, please read the book Mastering The Rockefeller Habits. For businesses big and small, young and old, it offers a great many organizational best practices that will make your business more efficient. Verne talked about many things business owners and executives can do to make their business run more efficiently, and ultimately grow faster. Many of the things he recommends, however, won't have an impact tomorrow. Might not even have an impact next week. But over time, and collectively, these changes can have a massive impact on your business. Verne compared it to the concept of compound interest on a general savings account. Initially, and over the short-term, you might not see a big change. But over time, those changes compound into something incredible. Bill Gates, for example, talks about how he uses three screens in his office at Microsoft. The screen on the left is for his email. The middle screen is for the document he's currently reading or working on. The screen on the right is for his Web browser. Bill claims that his desk efficiency has increased by 30-35%, simply by not having to navigate back and forth between windows on his screen so often. Will that efficiency impact Microsoft tomorrow? Probably not. If you buy two extra screens for your office, will you make more money next week as a result? Probably not. But if you implement this and other small, simple changes to your business, over time they will have a significant impact on your business in terms of growth and profitability.

Get more at - 48 -

Planning around your email
I spend too much time "doing email." I'm on it all the time - especially during the work day but also on weekends, evenings, etc. But when I step back, a very small percentage of the email I receive is urgent. A very small percentage. Much of what I get (and likely what you get as well) is a combination of junk mail, "FYI" emails that can be read later, and requests that otherwise wouldn't bubble up as something you need to do right away. Let's say you end each day by making a list of your top five priorities for the next day. You commit yourself to getting the first 1-2 things done. Sure, fire drills are a part of business, but you can't let those fire drills get in the way of what you need to do in your job, and for your business, long-term. You can't let the reactive work get in the way of your more-important proactive work, which ideally is based on a long-term plan focused on growing your business. If you effectively prioritized your workday last night, then there's very little in today's email that will affect those priorities. With that kind of daily focus, you can spend more time getting your core work done, and less time letting your email inbox manage you. Set aside 2-3 times each day to focus on email - clearing out the junk, reading the FYI's, and identifying work that might become a "top five" priority for the next day. This level of "compartmentalized" email time will be a big change for many (including myself), but I guarantee it will make you feel far more productive and successful in the long run.

Get more at - 49 -

Asking "Why"
If you're a business of any size and are contacted by someone who was referred to you by another, make sure you follow-up with the person who did the original referring and ask "why." Finding out why they referred you in the first place will give you great insight into what you're doing well, and what you might want to do more of. The same applies to just about any customer feedback situation. For example, don't just ask your customers if they're satisfied with your service. Many companies collect some type of customer satisfaction rating, which is only helpful and directional if you know why those customers are (or are not) satisfied. Knowing "why" gives you the tools you need to START and STOP doing activities that will accelerate your growth, not to mention satisfaction and referrals from even more customers.

Get more at - 50 -

Bringing theory to life
Good speakers and writers are typically also great storytellers. They know that raw information by itself can often be dry and difficult to understand, so they bring that information to life in the way of real-life examples and analogies. Think about one of your favorite business books. The "core idea" of the book can probably be summarized in a concise magazine article, maybe less. But the idea really comes to life when it's explained in greater detail, and proven with the use of countless case studies, real-life examples, and analogies that make the idea easier to access. HouseValues Inc. helps real estate professionals manage their business with a package of marketing and business development services. These services include a CRM tool meant to help real estate agents build relationships with prospective home buyers and sellers over a long period of time - allowing the buyers and sellers to choose when they're ready to take action, but helping the real estate agent "be there" when they're ready. This is a different business development paradigm for many real estate agents, who expect to work with clients who might be 30-60 days away from a transaction. Therefore, many agents don't start with the patience to work with prospective customers who don't immediately do business. The theory of long-term client cultivation is the "core idea", but like many good ideas it's easier to understand in analogy format. Brenda Hakimi, an agent coach at HouseValues, came up with a great business cultivation analogy using microwave popcorn. When you first put that bag of popcorn in the microwave, you already know that some kernels aren’t going to pop. You just don’t know which ones. But if you don’t try to pop them all, you won’t get the maximum popcorn yield. This simple analogy alone helps countless real estate agents understand how popcorn relates to their customer prospecting strategy. It brought a very real strategy to life, making it relevant and actionable for customers.

Get more at - 51 -

Making people smile
Most of us are in the business of making our customers happy. Customer happiness is typically defined as satisfaction or success with our products, but we also know that customer happiness can be impacted in a lot of ways - big and small. Customer service, for example, is a HUGE differentiator between companies. Even with equal products, a company with superior customer service will almost always beat out a company with bad service. It's not just about good products, it's also about how you treat your customers - and how you make your customers feel. Some of that customer happiness can be taught and institutionalized. Some of it can be done through companywide initiatives, marketing campaigns, sales scripts, etc. More of it, however, can be done in very small ways. The mundane can be made fun. Stressful customer experiences (a travel delay, for example) can be transformed by a company representative that did little more than emphathize and make you smile. Kathy Sierra does a great job talking about how the little things can go a long way, and how the simple act of making people smile can be a very powerful thing. Definitely worth a read on her Creating Passionate Users blog. Nobody wants to be upset, or frustrated, or stressed out, and simple gestures aren't typically going to erase the cause of this frustration or stress. But the act of making someone smile can make the path to satisfaction far easier to navigate.

Get more at - 52 -

Excuse or opportunity?
In the greater Seattle area, we typically get a little snow each year during the winter, but this past year we've experienced a prolonged period of snow, ice and freezing temperatures. In early January, several inches of snow froze to the ground, and six days later was still icy in many places. The smart move when this happens (especially in a city that isn't used to such weather, and therefore isn't as able to sand roads, etc.) is to put your safety first. If the conditions are bad enough, don't put your life (or your car) in danger. But for many, bad weather forces a decision between excuse and opportunity. Do you use snow to make excuses for not getting things done? Or do you use the disruption in your usual routine to get stuff done? If your school or business is closed due to weather, do you take it as a day off? Or do you use it as an opportunity to get caught up, evaluate your work so far, and set new priorities? If the weather is causing a disruption for your customers, how can you use that as a means of reaching out to them, offering a service, and creating more passionate and loyal customers? Last month Seattle saw its worst windstorm in years, knocking down trees everywhere, knocking out power to nearly a million homes, and causing billions of dollars in damage. The day after the storm, as residents throughout the area sat at home in the dark without power or heat, a contractor friend of mine started calling through all of his past customers. He was simply checking to make sure they were OK, and to see if they needed anything. You can imagine their response. At a minimum, every customer he reached was very appreciative for his call and concern. And he also received several primary and secondary leads for new business, all from just an afternoon of phone calls. When the weather changes, when you face an obstacle in life or business, do you see it as an excuse....or an opportunity?

Get more at - 53 -

How to win back my business
Earlier this year I finally signed up for Google Desktop. For those that haven't tried it yet, Google Desktop is essentially a sidebar of "widgets" that sits on the side of your screen, and give you easy access to things like sports scores, stock prices, news headlines, etc. Many companies (and most of the major portals) are offering a flavor of widgets, but I was impressed with the ease of use from Google. Problem was, come Monday morning, I noticed that performance on my laptop had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. I ultimately targeted Google Desktop as the culprit, and uninstalled the program. But here's where things got interesting. As soon as the "uninstall" application completed, I was sent to a Google page asking me why I decided to uninstall. One of the options was "it slowed down my computer." Once I selected this option, I saw the following message from Google (paraphrasing): "We're very sorry that you experienced this problem. We may contact you if we have any questions about your particular problem, or if we have corrected the issue." First of all, this was the first time I've ever been surveyed by the maker of an application I've uninstalled from my computer. It was a simple, one-question survey I was happy to answer. Even more impressive was the follow-up message. I was a happy Google Desktop user until the overall performance issue popped up. If Google were to solve the performance issue, I'd likely install and use the application again. How would Google have known this was my issue if they didn't ask? And how would the typical past customer know that they've fixed the very problem that initiated the uninstall if Google wasn't able to follow-up? Your past customers aren't gone forever. If you know enough about your customers to understand 1) why they left, and 2) what it would take to bring them back, how could you use that to your advantage? And aren't the "prodigal" customers often some of our best evangelists?

Get more at - 54 -

Great business books aren't always about business
I was excited to see Ben's list of top 10 books that every business leader should read, and was particularly excited to see that he included a book that is not about business. Amidst such classics as Selling the Dream and Purple Cow (the entire list is well done and on target), Ben also listed Theodore Rex, part two in a three-part biography of Teddy Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (part three has yet to be published). In addition to a great biographical text, Ben described the book as also "a treatise on the qualities of superhuman energy, charm and political skill." Fictional novels, biographies and other reading material can often be very instructive for busy business leaders and managers, even if they're not found on the Business shelf at the local bookstore. A couple books I've read recently that also fit this bill include: His Excellency, a biography of George Washington by Joseph Ellis. Washington was an incredible leader, and this book gave myriad examples of why. Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, by David Maraniss. Roberto Clemente's contributions to baseball weren't well known until his untimely death in 1972, largely because he labored his entire career in smallmarket Pittsburgh. But Clemente was a giant of a man, a pioneer for Latin Americans in baseball, with a clear direction for his life. His life story provides examples of leadership, commitment, focus and determination - all critical skills for leaders at every level.

Get more at - 55 -

Act like an owner
I remember my first business trip at my first job after college. It was in NYC on a press tour for a client (I was at the PR firm Weber Shandwick at the time). I assumed I would spend the trip eating Subway sandwiches and fast food, the cheapest food possible so that it wouldn't cost my company, or my client, any more than was necessary. I remember a colleague taking a $4.50 bottle of water out of the wet bar and being shocked (shocked!) that they would do this. That was a WAY overpriced bottle of water, that our client was going to have to pay for! I couldn't believe it! Shoudn't we be more frugal? Shouldn't we be more careful with our client's money? I soon realized that eating fast food with and without clients wasn't always feasible. But I still cringed at the price of unscrewing that small bottle of water next to the bed at hotels. When I joined Microsoft a couple years later, I remember watching colleagues order extra computer equipment for their offices - not because they needed it, but because they could. I remember going on business trips - client visits, trade shows, etc. I was shocked at what was ordered and purchased, all on the company dime, and often without a client anywhere in sight. Colleagues laughed at the idea of dining at Applebee's (Subway was out of the question), and headed to Morton's instead. "Uncle Bill" was picking up the tab, so order what you want! Years later I joined a private start-up. Our CEO was also the founder. The majority of his personal net worth was tied up in the company. I realized I had come full circle. At this company, I made purchase decisions like an owner because I worked for the owner. Even as the company grew quickly, the culture was such that we all spend (and saved) money like it was our company. No matter where you work - a company large or small, private or public there's no reason why we can't all take an "owner" mentality. Do you really need an expensive agency to help you create a new customer promotion, or do you have the smarts and customer knowledge internally to hunker down, get create, and do the work yourself?

Get more at - 56 -

Do your customers really want to be taken out to the fanciest restaurant, or would they be impressed that you take them somewhere more reasonable, proving that you're investing your money in product development and not on wining & dining? Do you really need that extra magazine subscription, or can you share a subscription with a couple other colleagues down the hall? What if your company was your company? What if purchase decisions you make every day had a direct impact on your personal net worth, your personal savings? Would you make decisions any differently than you do today? What responsibility do you have to your company to spend wisely? What example are you setting for those around you? If you're a business leader, what levels of accountability are you creating for such behavior, and what rewards are you putting in place to encourage the right fiscal actions?

Get more at - 57 -

My unsuccessful attempt to cancel TiVo
I called TiVo to cancel my account. But they saved me. For a year my wife and I had primarily used our Comcast DVR box to record TV programs. I love that it has a double-tuner and HD recording capabilities (TiVo didn't have this at the time). Our TiVo box was still active, but it was hooked up to a secondary television at the house that we didn’t use as frequently. We'd transfered all of our "season passes" to the Comcast box, so hadn't really been using TiVo anymore. So I called to cancel. They asked why I was cancelling, so I explained the circumstances above. I half-expected them to tell my why TiVo was better - explain its great features (many of which Comcast doesn't have, and my wife still misses), maybe even offer a free upgrade to the new double-tuner Series 3 box. Instead, I was surprised when the customer service rep offered to cut my price in half. Instead of paying $12.95/month, she offered me $6.95/month to stay on. Now, offering price reductions as a "save" strategy is nothing new, and is fairly common. But I was a little surprised that this was the first thing out of the rep's mouth when I said I wanted to cancel. A couple lessons here, I think, for both businesses and consumers. For consumers, make sure you're sharing feedback, concerns, even the possibility of cancellation with the companies you do business with. You never know when they'll offer you an upgrade, a reduced price, a different cell phone, better plan, etc. to keep your business. For businesses, make sure you're not using price reduction strategies too aggressively. If you ask a couple questions and better understand "why" your customers might want to leave, you might be able to save them with a lesscostly upgrade or change to their subscription that, in the long run, is far more profitable than a significant price cut.

Get more at - 58 -

The Long Tail and Stadium Cakes
Much has been written about the long tail created by the Internet, and I've said before that I don't think the long tail is anything new. It's just that the Interent has made the tail infinitely more discoverable. My dad reminded me of this recently. He grew up just a couple hours from Chicago, so came over to watch the Bears beat the Saints for their first Super Bowl berth in 21 years. He showed up with a cake to enjoy at halftime. But this wasn't just any cake. It was a stadium-shaped cake. He'd frosted the entire thing to look like Soldier Field (the Bears' home turf), complete with fans and grass. Fifteen years ago, stadium-shaped cake pans existed. If you could find it, you could buy it. But that was the problem. Unless you knew specifically which vendor sold them, you likely were out of luck. Specialty catalogs for such obscure items as stadium-shaped cake pans have existed for decades. But unless you were mailed such catalogs (let alone flipped through every page), your chances of buying them were slim. This channel problem impacted more than just discoverability. It also had an impact on availability. Twenty years ago, stadium-shaped cake pans weren't widely offered to the public. They were primarily available directly to bakers and caterers. Why? Because manufacturers of stadium-shaped cake pans could only profitably sell those pans through more efficient sales channels. Finding consumer buyers just wasn't cost-efficient. But the Internet has changed that. I can do a search for "stadium-shaped cake pans" on Google and be linked straight to a seller. Now, obscure products can find their buyers far more efficiently, and with greater volume. This will continue to accelerate the variety of products at our fingertips, catering to increasingly specific interests.

Get more at - 59 -

Can a photograph lie?
How many of you have responded to a real estate listing advertisement - either posted online or in a newspaper - only to find that the neighbor's wall is far closer than the picture implied? Or that there's something very scary behind the back fence, conveniently out of frame from the photograph posted on the listing? Kudos to Ardell for taking on the subject of ethical real estate photography on the well-done Rain City Guide real estate blog. She goes as far as to say classes in photo editing should be a required class for new agents. Real estate photography really isn't much different from the "spin" we all put on our products & services. If a real estate listing photograph is cropped such that you can't tell see the negative aspects of the home, how is that different from the rest of us "touting" the great features of our new product, but failing to mention slow speeds and/or low battery life? Where's the line between spin and disclosure? What level of spin is ethical, and when does it border on deception? The long-term risks for real estate agents are mitigated by the fact that nobody really buys a home sight unseen. The worst they'll likely do is waste your time with an extra trip to their listing. For those of us who compel a sale with largely our words and images, the stakes are much higher. What are the risks for your business, your brand, and your products? Is it simply selling a product that your customer might not want, or is it bigger than that? Are you risking the very reputation of your company? Weighty issues, that clearly can't be taken lightly.

Get more at - 60 -

Getting Organized, Part I
As part of my New Year's Resolutions, I'm trying to get better organized - both in my professional and personal life. Like you, I find I'm constantly pulled in a thousand different directions, and have a hard time 1) remembering everything I need to do (or want to do), and 2) putting them in a good, priority order so that the most important things are getting done first. One of the things I've started doing is make extensive use of the "tasks" feature in Microsoft Outlook. I've used this feature on and off for years, but just recently have started making them a regular part of my organizational structure. In the past, I've kept primarily work-related items in my Task list. Now, I'm starting to keep track of everything. Yes, my work priorities and deliverables are all there, divided by functional responsibility. But I'm also tracking my "honey do" list for projects around the house. I'm tracking my progressive shopping list for weekend trips to The Home Depot. Calls I need to return (personal and professional). Books I want to read (and either purchase or check-out from the local library). Personal errands. Even an inventory of future blog posts. It's all organized as Tasks. This may seem like overkill, but I now have (on one piece of paper) an inventory of things across my life that are important to me, and that I want to get done. So far this year (three weeks and counting), I've found this format to be very helpful and highly productive. It's one of several things I've started doing to get myself better organized and significantly accelerate my productivity.

Get more at - 61 -

The Marketer Chasm
Standout marketing is about walking the other direction, doing something different, standing out from the crowd. Seth Godin has a knack for pointing out critical insights with simple, succinct language. This line he credits to a friend of his (who was describing a colleague), but I also thought it was a great example of what separates good and great marketing minds. I believe she is good at the standard but limited in considering the notable.

Get more at - 62 -

What's your paperclip?
The 1980’s television show McGyver was a case study in ingenuity. The main character routinely would get out of tight situations with a variety of household objects. The cliché to have emerged from the show is that anything can we done with a simple paperclip. How are you best using the resources available to you, to achieve your goals and delight your customers? Assume you will never have a complete set of the perfect tools in your marketing toolbox. You'll always need something - more money, more resources, a bigger team, new technology, etc. But what are you doing to squeeze the maximum value out of what you already have? How are you reinventing how your current resources are used to achieve the next level of success - for yourself, your company and your customers? What's your paperclip? And how will YOU use it?

Get more at - 63 -

Making community work (without doing a thing)
Online communities don't really work when they're controlled by a company, brand or individual that has a vested interest in managing the conversation. They don't really work when the conversation is dominated by one or two strong-minded individuals. They don't really work when they're thought of as a communication channel to one's customers. And yet, many companies and brands justify online customer forums with one or more of these objectives in mind. The problem is, your customer is much smarter than that. They'll see through your strategy in a second. The best communities are those that develop, blossom and mature on their own. The best communities are truly egalitarian, with a free exchange of ideas and opinions. And whether you believe it now or not, this is actually the most valuable forum for marketers and product planners as well. When your customers are able to share ideas and opinions with each other freely, you get a true sense for what they like, what they don't like, what they want, and what they don't want. Online communities that are given the freedom to find their own path represent a gold mine for marketers. Are you brave enough to let them develop? And are you smart enough to listen, and take action on what you've heard?

Get more at - 64 -

Testing the bounds of permission
Bob Bly has started a good conversation about just how far permission can be stretched, particularly in the email marketing world. Just because you've given a company permission to send you email, doesn't necessarily mean they can email you daily. Or multiple times daily. Unless that's what you expected, or what you requested. Permission is not a binary decision by your customers. It's rarely black and white. Just because a new customer wants to stay in touch, and has put their email address on a signup sheet next to the register, doesn't mean they want you to move in and be their new best friend. By effectively capturing permission intent from your customers, you can ensure that you're being as respectful as possible to 100% of your customers, while increasing frequency (and sales opportunities) with those who want such a deeper relationship.

Get more at - 65 -

Getting Organized, Part II
I wrote earlier about my use of Microsoft Outlook's "Tasks" features to help me organize several aspects of my life, both professional and personal. Making lists of the things I need to do, and aggregating those lists in one place, has been quite helpful in increasing my productivity. Getting more things done is a good first step. But I'm also getting more of the right things done, thanks to a daily "top five" list. Let's first assume that your organization has set explicit goals for this year, and this quarter. Let's also assume that you've done the same for yourself - mapped what the company needs back to the specific things you need to accomplish this year, and this quarter, in order to succeed. If you know what success looks like at the end of this quarter, you should be able to map that back into weekly, even daily, deliverables for yourself and your team. And that's where the top five, and "first of five", come in. Many people set priorities, but fail to effectively prioritize the priorities. If I have five priorities today, and get two of them done, were those the most improtant two priorities to get done? Did you get done the most important priority today? With the myriad things on our plates each day, it's easy to focus on some of the easiest projects, or the emails in front of us, or simply be reactive to what appears the most urgent. But if we look back, that work rarely maps to the most important, most direct means of achieving our monthly, quarterly and annual objectives. So now, every morning, I establish my top five priorities for the day. And I focus on achieving the priority at the top of the list. If I've prioritized correctly, I'm spending my time on the most important project - that day, and every day. Tomorrow, the list simply shifts up. Today's #2 priority (assuming it didn't get done) becomes tomorrow's "first of five", and gets done. Lists are important. Prioritized lists are better. And getting the most important priority done each day is far better than simply getting "a lot done."

Get more at - 66 -

To learn more about top five lists, and the "first of five", check out Verne Harnish's great work.

Get more at - 67 -

Happy Customers = Buzz, Beautiful Buzz
My wife and I recently ate at Mama Lucia's, a fantastic Italian restaurant near downtown Kirkland, Washington. We eat there all the time - it has great food, a fun menu, good wine, good prices, and great service. We were seated at a table that wobbled, so we asked the waitress if they had a shim. We didn't need to be reseated, we just wanted to help fix the problem. The manager came over and asked if we wanted a different table. Turns out, they had a larger party they wanted to seat at our table anyway, plus they wanted to fix the wobbly table and get us somewhere more stable. The manager offered a free dessert for moving. We thanked her, but said it really wasn't necessary. At the end of our dinner, the manager reappeared and asked what dessert we wanted. My wife chose a slice of cheesecake, and I also ordered an espresso. When the bill came, I was surprised to see that they had comped us for both the dessert and the espresso. When I flagged down the manager and asked to pay for the espresso, she said absolutely not. Successful, buzzworthy businesses know that little things can go a long way. Mama Lucia's might not have thought I'd blog to the world about their fantastic little restaurant, but I'm sure they knew they were creating a noteworthy experience - something that was likely to convert into at least a few repeat visits, and probably a little word-of-mouth to family and friends. So, what's your espresso? What are you doing to let your customers know they're priority number-one? Big initiatives are great, but the little things can often have the same noteworthy, buzzworthy effect.

Get more at - 68 -

Thinking big, act (and spend) small
Are you a small business trying to build a significant presence for yourself quickly, and for a low cost? In just part of an afternoon, you can: Start a blog on, and teach people things you know. Home improvement tips, beauty advice, fashion trends, whatever you do. Blogger is free. Register a "vanity URL" via GoDaddy to promote your blog. Just have the new vanity URL redirect to your blog, and that's your Web site! Your URL will cost just $7 bucks each year. Start asking your customers for their email address, and start a newsletter via Constant Contact. It's free for 60 days, or free forever if your email database is less than 50 names. But if your database is between 51 and 500 names, it's still just $15 bucks a month. Your newsletter features teasers to content on your blog, which drives traffic back to your Web site. Professionally-designed templates are waiting and ready, all included in the price. Promote your Web site and newsletter by printing business cards with Your first 250 business cards are free, and to add a newsletter sign-up tout on the back (with URL) it's just $6 bucks. You'll pay for shipping, but that's just another $5 bucks if you do the economy ship rate. So, you now have a custom Web site, custom URL, an email newsletter, and business cards to promote all of the above. And your first month fees (including the annual costs) is $18 bucks. Each month moving forward, it's just $15 bucks a month. Perfect for small businesses, right? Sure. But if you're a big company, or big agency, why not try these tools for your next marketing campaign? Your next product launch? Or your next guerilla effort? I'm guessing it'll be far cheaper than other options. And it'll take less than an afternoon to get up and rolling.

Get more at - 69 -

Getting Organized, Part III
So, I'm using Outlook Tasks more frequently and setting my daily Top Five priorities. But it all comes down to the binder. In the past, I've walked around the office from meeting to meeting with a notebook and a couple unorganized folders of handouts. I had most of what I needed, but it was desperately unorganized. Within a meeting, I often had a hard time finding exactly the document or information I needed. My notebook was great, but it along with a couple folders was a lot to manage. That, plus information was always in several different places. Not now, not with the binder. Here's a quick description of what I've done. It's just a small, one-inch binder, but it's got everything I need. The front and back cover have a plastic sleeve so that I can slip paper inside. The front cover of my binder features my calendar for the day, with a sidebar that features my top five and "first of five" for that day. The back cover is my task list, so that it's easy to reference at a quick glance. Inside the binder is an opening for loose-leaf handouts I might receive throughout the day. Those handouts are destined either for a folder in my office (if they likely won't be referenced often) or for a special place inside the binder itself. The binder features eight dividers - each corresponding to an important, longterm initiative or business I'm focused on. Well, six of the dividers are devoted to this. The seventh is for personal business, and the eighth is for miscellaneous items. In the front of the binder, I've three-hold punched a few pieces of copy paper. That's my new notebook, and is where I take notes and hand-write to-do items through the day. Important notes might be transcribed later, and to-do items are added to my Tasks list eventually (unless they're quick to-do's, in which case they're taken care of before I leave for the day). That's it. It's not fancy, and cost me all of $12 bucks at the local OfficeMax, but it's made me far more organized and productive when away from my office during the day. Get more at - 70 -

Get more at - 71 -

Building your business with customer focus
I was asked recently to define the single most important factor in helping a business achieve phenomenal growth and success. I'm sure there are many answers to this question, but my answer typically comes down to the right people. If you can find, hire and motivate the right people, everything else is achievable. But "the right people" means more than just hard workers, more than just typeA personalities, more than just a reputation for producing results. The right people have a deep-rooted passion for the success and satisfaction of their customers. Such passion and drive for customers, combined with the right mix of work ethic and focus, creates the best opportunity for success in any organization. Mark Strother, a senior coach at HouseValues, epitomizes this customer passion and focus. Mark's job for the past five years, plain and simple, has been to make his customers successful. He spends every day on the phone (and occasionally in person) with his customers, teaching them what they need to do to accelerate their real estate careers. Now, our entire organization is focused on making real estate agents more successful. But Mark embodies that better than anybody I know. He exudes passion for his job, and excitement for his customers. When one of his customers shares a success story, Mark's face lights up. He starts talking with his hands. He walks around the office bragging about the success of his customers. You'd think his daughter just made the Honor Roll. His customers are his family. This customer passion is even more evident when Mark is on the road, working live with his customers. In Minneapolis, for example, Mark developed a state fair marketing strategy that helped one of his customers earn more than $50,000 dollars over the course of two fairs. You should see (via the power of YouTube) Mark and his customer talk together about this project. The video tells the story better than I can just how committed Mark is to his customers. Mark is "the right people." Mark cares deeply for the success of his customers, and does whatever it takes to make them happy and successful. Better yet, his passion is infectious. Mark leads by example in his organization, and encourages others to care deeply about their customers as well. Successful businesses, businesses with a reputation for customer centricity and Get more at - 72 -

intimacy, are built with people like Mark at the center. Do you have people like this in your organization? If so, how are you helping them accelerate their impact on the business, and how are you helping their passion rub off on other employees?

Get more at - 73 -

Use every opportunity to create buzz
Creating buzz for your company, your product, even yourself is an everyday, every opportunity kind of thing. Everything you do, all day long, has the possibility of accelerating awareness, perception, and buzzworthiness. Some buzz-building opportunities are right in front of us, and we don't even think about them. I had never thought about my email "out of office" autoreply as a word-ofmouth opportunity until I received one from Andy Sernovitz. Andy's the CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, and author of the soon-to-bereleased book (appropriately titled) Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. In response to an email I sent Andy, his auto-reply said the following:
I will be out of the office at conferences until Friday, with limited access to email. I'll reply as soon as I get a chance. 1. Reporters and emergencies: Please call my cell at XXX-XXX-XXXX. (actual number removed) 2. Wife and parents: You may also call my cell. 3. Charlie (my 3-year-old): No, you cannot pee in the sink. Yes, a dinosaur could eat a monkey. 4. Telemarketers: Please take me off your list. 5. Spammers: Please call my stock broker.

With this simple, short out-of-office message, Andy near-guaranteed that his message would be forwarded around by folks that thought this was incredibly clever (and funny). And of course, at the bottom of this message was Andy's contact information, information about WOMMA, and a tout for his new book. Andy's creating buzz for himself, his organization and his new book all at once. Just by adding a little extra leverage to something many of us already use all of the time.

Get more at - 74 -

Write about your customers, not your products
I spoke the other day to a group about social & conversational media, and how to leverage simple strategies with blogs, social networks and the like to generate interest, awareness and sales for any product, service or brand. An executive from a print services company at the event was convinced that nobody would care to read a blog about printers and print services. And I agreed with him. Don’t write about your products. Write about your customers. Your customers don’t buy printers because they want printers. If you know why they’re buying printers (in other words, how they’re using those printers), you can write about THAT. It gives you infinitely more subject matter to write about, especially in formats that lend themselves to progressive, serialized or community-contributed content. Let’s say you’re trying to sell printers to amateur photographers. How can you teach photographers how to best user home printers to create professionallooking prints? Can you help those same photographers discover inexpensive, downloadable software to make their photos look even better before printing? How about helping them share their photos with friends & family, or with other networks of photographers? Give your customers some information to chew on, then ask what other resources they know about. Your content will be a starting point for more, user-generated content that not only enhances your original content, but will give you suggestions for future content, marketing ideas, product suggestions and more. All of these topics, and dozens more, and far more interesting to your customers. And every single one will lead to them thinking about printers.

Get more at - 75 -

Are you a cult brand in waiting?
When you think about cult brands, you probably think about companies and brands such as Apple, Harley Davidson, Linux and Star Trek. These brands have highly-active customers, all of whom go the extra mile to evangelize and protect to brand. Apple users volunteering their time to work at retail stores, convincing others to also buy Mac. Star Trek fans spending thousands a year on costumes, conventions, collectibles and more. A “cult following” is an enormous advantage that companies and brand managers work hard to protect and leverage. But aren’t we all cult brands in waiting? Do we all have the potential to reach the cult status of Apple? Or Harley Davidson? Yes. But first thing’s first. You start with a great product, and a great experience. If your products aren’t good, or don’t serve a fundamental customer need, you have bigger problems than trying to create a cult brand. But let’s assume you have good products, and a strong fundamental business. You are a cult brand in waiting. You merely need to identify, energize and mobilize your passionate customers. Every business has detractors. But every business also has Promoters – rabid fans who love the product or service, and tell others about it. The problem is, most companies don’t know who those promoters are, don’t know where to find them, and therefore have absolutely no way to accelerate the word-ofmouth and impact those promoters can generate. If you can find your promoters, you can make them stronger. You can make them “insiders,” give them extra information, samples of your products to give others. You can create tools that effectively give those passionate customers a microphone to communicate to others the passion they have for your products. Create your own customer brand army that works side-by-side with you to protect the reputation of your company and brand. Make them insiders, make them feel part of the family, and they’ll work harder for you. I believe most companies are at various stages of becoming cult brands. Most Get more at - 76 -

are just relatively far away from realizing true cult status. But with focus and work, you can get there.

Get more at - 77 -

Don't let a good plan go to waste
You write a great plan. Lots of research, insight, and critical thinking go into this plan. It gets broad approval across your organization. Everyone’s excited about it. Great work. Then you start to execute. Some things are harder to do than expected. New opportunities develop. New complications materialize. You make real-time decisions on how to change what you’d planned to do. You make adjustments, compromises, changes to get the plan in motion, to get things executed and to meet deadlines. But despite the need to stay nimble and flexible during execution, it’s important to occasionally look back and ensure that what you’re building, or executing, has stayed true to what you had planned to achieve in the first place. Adjustments to the plan are fine. Changes in how you execute the plan? Perfectly reasonable. But a good plan is based on expected outcomes. A clear sense for what success looks like. Clear, measurable objectives. If some of your execution adjustments and compromises change the fundamental nature of your plan, or dramatically impact your ability to hit expected outcomes, then that’s not good. If you’ve built a long-term plan, check back on the original plan every month or so. Start a monthly “review” meeting with your team by literally pulling out the original, final plan and reviewing it together. Identify the places where you’ve deviated, and make sure everyone agrees that those changes are OK. Also use this time to “rediscover” parts of the plan you may have forgotten, and identify places where you’ve compromised or deviated to the point where the previously-stated expected outcome is no longer possible. If you ignore this crucial step, especially with complicated plans executed by many individuals across multiple work groups, you run the very real risk of executing a watered-down, highly compromised version of what you had intended, something that doesn’t have near the impact of what you (and your bosses) had expected. It takes just a little extra time to do that review, but it’ll keep you focused, on Get more at - 78 -

track, and on a path towards achieving the success and results you originally intended.

Get more at - 79 -

Surprise networking
Want to meet new people? Expand your network? Part of the solution is right in front of you. Let's say you read an article in the paper, online or in a magazine about an interesting company. An executive from the company is interviewed for the story. Why not write an email to the executive, introducing yourself and expressing your interest and delight in the story you just read? You'll get more responses than you think. Let's say you hear an interview on the radio, or on a podcast. Why not write an email to the interviewee, thanking them for their insights? Sending a quick "thank you" or "appreciated your ideas" note is faster and easier than ever, thanks to email. And thanks to the Internet, finding contact information for those executives and interviewees is also quite easy. So here's my challenge to you this week. Send an email to five people you don't know. Just five. Do it based on things you read, things you hear, or just businesses you've always admired. The Internet is a virtual cocktail reception. If you summon the courage to walk up to someone and introduce yourself, well, you've just made a new friend, and expanded your network.

Get more at - 80 -

Learning from other industries
A smart man once suggested that sales & marketing executives attend at least one trade show or conference each year in an industry far different from their own. The idea is that, although the industry and products are likely very different, some of the sales & marketing strategies they use are likely very leveragable in your own industry, and in your own business. Now, justifying a trip to a totally unrelated conference might not fit into your budget this year, but that doesn't excuse you from learning. There are trade publications. Magazines. Industry association Web sites and newsletters. Blogs and podcasts. Check out, for example, this restaurant marketing blog. It's written by the Cohen Restaurant Marketing Group, a firm in the business of helping restaurants build their brand and grow their business. But take a look at the lessons and insights this blog shares. Although they may be written and tailored to the restaurant and dining industry, most of them can be applied to any of our businesses. Stepping outside of our offices, our businesses, and our industry can often generate brand new, out-of-the-box insights that our own industries & businesses haven't yet experienced. And that just might lead to some breakthrough ideas, insights and successes of your own.

Get more at - 81 -

My top five marketing podcasts
Podcasts were built for multi-tasking. Just like books on tape. Most people don't settle onto the couch at home, pop in a book on tape, and listen for a couple hours. People buy books on tape for the car, for travel, or for the gym. It's a great way to catch up on a book when you don't otherwise had time to read the "traditional" way. Podcasts are no different. I've found podcasts to be perfect for the gym, for example. I'm focused on the words and conversation, which makes my time on the Stairclimber go that much faster. If you're still relatively new to podcasts, I'd encourage you to browse the selection on iTunes, or use one of the fantastic new podcast search engines (such as Pluggd) to find content fit for your interests. Here are five of my favorites: The New York Times Front Page: In five minutes or less, a nice man reads me the stories from the paper's front page, plus offers a little perspective on each story beyond the headlines. A great way to get caught up quickly on national and world news, and it fits into even the shortest morning commutes! It's one of several podcasts offered by the Times. Duct-Tape Marketing Podcast: I'm a big fan of what John Jantsch is doing on his Web site and blog, and he's now extended it to a series of podcasts. Most feature interviews with some of marketing's top minds, all focused on providing listeners with real-life, tangible marketing ideas that can immediately be put to work in almost any business. HBR Ideacast: The editors of Harvard Business Review bring their journal to life in this great podcast, featuring a mix of outside speakers, HBS professors and other luminaries sharing a combination of business strategy, marketing insights, and collected best practices. Just like the magazine, this podcast will help you keep a strategic edge. Marketing Voices: One of several great podcasts from, this one features Jennifer Jones interviewing a wide variety of marketing and technology leaders on subjects relevant to all of us. The Wood Whisperer: This is unrelated to marketing, and a video podcast toboot, but it's just plain cool. I'm a budding (but very amateur) wordworker Get more at - 82 -

these days, and Marc does a great job explaining everything from how to use tools to how to build boxes. It's a great example of how video podcasting can work, and also an example of just how much great content is out there already.

Get more at - 83 -

Write your customer manifesto!
Some companies write positioning documents. Marketers write sets of bullet points describing their products. Others write complicated creative briefs, or build positioning frameworks. Those tools all have value, but I find that the most powerful way to build, communicate and create message consistency organization-wide is to write it in terms that your customers would understand. In other words, write a customer manifesto! Too many positioning frameworks put messaging into a context and in prose that should never be in front of a customer. It's justified as "core" messaging that ultimately will be honed for its audience. But what value does that actually have? If you can't write customer-centric messaging into a framework, how do you expect to translate fundamental product value to your customers? If you take the time to sit down, and write your company, product or brand "manifesto" as if you were speaking to your customers directly, you will end up with a powerful piece that can rally a large organization around a single message, common nomenclature, and a unified vision for what value you provide back to customers. HouseValues, for example, takes pride in providing its customers with a complete & market-proven system for real estate professionals to grow their business. Thousands of real estate agents have used the system over the past seven years, and have helped hone the system to what it is today. So, how do you communicate that system to new real estate agents? How do you communicate the key tenets, the "three simple things" that are at the heart of that system? The manifesto, of course! Attached here is a copy of the HouseValues Business System manifesto, written with a customer audience in mind. It's a simple two and a half pages - easy and fast for everyone in the organization to read, and get behind.

Get more at - 84 -

Could you write a 2-3 page manifesto for your product, business or brand? What would it say? And how would you put it into action?

Get more at - 85 -

Another example of great storytelling
Great marketing often means great storytelling. Take E.E. Robbins, for example. It's a small chain of engagement ring stores in the Seattle area. Emerson Robbins, the third-generation owner of the chain, runs a constant campaign of radio ads on stations throughout the Seattle metro area. But his ads aren't about rings. They aren't about his stores. His ads are about people getting engaged. He features actual couples telling the story of how they were engaged, how the husband-to-be proposed, and what an amazing experience the whole thing was. Emerson isn't just selling a diamond ring. He's selling a story, something that transcends products and creates a vision of success, satisfaction and happiness for his customers. It makes his ads memorable, and it quickly creates an emotional bond between store and prospective buyer. Emerson knows how to tell a great story. Do you?

Get more at - 86 -

Need vs. Want
I need to eat dinner tonight. I want to dine at a fancy restaurant, and enjoy a fine bottle of wine. I need to have a job, to pay my bills. I want a career. I need a way to get to and from work each day. I want an SUV with leather seats and a sunroof to make that trip more enjoyable. Three pairs, each essentially describing the same thing. But while the "need" is relatively basic, the "want" adds a flavor of preference and desire. The gap is good marketing. Even better marketing is when you convince your customer or audience that they want something so much, that they actually need it. I need a new BluRay DVD player. I need a vacation to Hawaii.

Get more at - 87 -

Write for your audience, not for yourself
I used to write about me. Now I try to write about you. I used to write copy that said things like: "We here at Microsoft want you to know that..." "It's our intention to be the premier provider of..." "At Microsoft, our success is built on a foundation of..." The problem with all of this copy is that it's "me-focused." It's all about the speaker, all about the company, person or product making the announcement. If I'm the reader, I immediately want to know what's in it for me. I may do business with Microsoft, but I want to know what they have to say to ME, not what they want to say about themselves. So, rather than write "me" copy, write "you" copy. Change those above lines to say things like: "Your success is our top priority at Microsoft, and that's why..." "You are the foundation of what Microsoft was built for..." "We're here to provide you with the premier..." Even that last line, though it starts with a "we", gets very quickly to a "you" statement. For customer-centric companies, this kind of copywriting comes naturally. But no matter where you work, or who you write for, your audience is far more interested in themselves than in you. Make sure you write that way.

Get more at - 88 -

A new friend emailed me the other day, asking where I find time to blog on a consistent basis, and where I find time to read about and research the stuff I blog about. I'd have to say the answer comes down to habit and discipline. Like anything you want to make a priority in your life (from working out, to brushing your teeth, to mowing the lawn on Saturday mornings), you have to establish a habit of doing it to make it part of your regular routine. I'm at the point now where blogging has become a more conscious daily habit, which also helps me identify things I encounter throughout the day that are worth blogging about. For example, I'm in the habit now of making notes, or leaving myself Jotts, of things I encounter - no matter how small - that are worth cogitating on and possibly blogging about later. Perhaps most important, however, is discipline. We're all incredibly busy people. The things we need to do in our daily lives - professional and personal can easily overwhelm us. That's why it's so important to set aside time for the things you find the most valuable, that end up making the rest of what you do more manageable and more successful. For me, I now set aside at least an hour each day for reading and writing. I take that time to read through my various RSS feeds, flip through a few magazines, and sometimes just randomly browse the Web for things new & interesting. I also take some of that time to write reflections on what I read. Sometimes those reflections end up as nothing more than "FYI" emails to friends & colleagues. Sometimes they end up here. I occasionally hear from folks who say they're just too busy to do any reading, let alone writing. The email newsletter subscriptions pile up, RSS feeds go unread. I hear this more frequently from folks who are early in their careers. The feeling of being "too busy" never goes away - no matter how long you've been doing it, how old you are, or what you do for a living. You need to consciously make time for the things that are important to you. For me, that includes taking time each day to see what others are thinking, discover new ideas and fresh perspectives, and then occasionally ruminate on Get more at - 89 -

those ideas for myself (and indirectly for others) in formats such as this. I find it personally and professionally profitable. I think you will too.

Get more at - 90 -

If you're a good manager...
If you're a good manager, you can go on vacation for an extended period and your business will not miss you. If you're a good manager, you've prepared and empowered your team with a clear set of priorities, and the ability to make decisions without you. Even when you're out of the office and out of touch, the ball is moving forward. If you're a good manager, your team is happy to have you back when you return. But you'll find that your inbox isn't filled with urgent decisions you need to make, decisions that have stalled progress while you were gone. If you're a good manager, catching up from an extended period of time away from the office doesn't take very long at all. You merely catch up on a few emails, read through a couple progress reports, and pick right back up on the clear priorities set well before you even left.

Get more at - 91 -

Treat your customers like prospects
We woo our prospects like crazy with great offers, slick presentations, lots of love. But once they've signed on the dotted line and become customers, we all too often take the relationship for granted. Kathy Sierra used a marriage metaphor successfully in her post on the fantastic Creating Passionate Users blog. But a more direct analogy that might help many of us is to simply think of your customers like prospects. How would you treat them differently if they hadn't yet signed up? How would you treat them if you knew that they were making a renewal decision later today? How do you "keep the spark alive" in your customer marriages?

Get more at - 92 -

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.

Get more at - 93 -

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.

Get more at - 94 -

The World's Greatest Ice Breaker
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.

Get more at - 95 -

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!

Get more at - 96 -

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.

Get more at - 97 -

The Communicative Power of Video
Dave Evans does a great job 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.

Get more at - 98 -

Why some people work hard (and some don't)
Very interesting article from a recent 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.

Get more at - 99 -

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.

Get more at - 100 -

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).

Get more at - 101 -

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 Get more at - 102 -

great service is this important, shouldn't it have a representative place at the core of how we define our success?

Get more at - 103 -

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.

Get more at - 104 -

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 recently 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.

Get more at - 105 -

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 Get more at - 106 -

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?

Get more at - 107 -

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.

Get more at - 108 -

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.

Get more at - 109 -

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.

Get more at - 110 -

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. Why? 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. Get more at - 111 -

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.

Get more at - 112 -

The best marketing isn't marketing
I had coffee recently 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

Get more at - 113 -

messages about your business back to the masses, your best marketing may not be marketing at all.

Get more at - 114 -

No marketing budget for a year...
Here’s 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?

Get more at - 115 -

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.

Get more at - 116 -

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.

Get more at - 117 -

What are you going to give up?
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 selfevaluated 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.

Get more at - 118 -

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?

Get more at - 119 -

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, Get more at - 120 -

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?

Get more at - 121 -

Work to enrich your life (not define it)
There's a great scene (among many) in the latest version of The Italian Job, in which a retiring thief played by Donald Sutherland is giving advice to his protege, played by Mark Wahlberg. After a particularly successful heist, the master tells the apprentice: "There are two kinds of thieves in the world - those who steal to enrich their lives, and those who steal to define their lives. Don't be the latter." Many of us put our heart and soul into our work. We do this because it's how we were raised by our parents, or because we love what we do, or because we're driven by various financial or career goals, or all of the above. But work as the means and the ends is largely hallow. Although I love what I do, and truly enjoy the work I'm privileged to do each business day, it is a means to an end for me. I've worked with many people who use work to define their lives, and too often these people end up lonely and unhappy. They get incredible satisfaction out of the success they achieve in the office, sure, but it's at the expense of the joy and fulfillment they aren't able to achieve outside of the workplace. It's far easier to both write and practice this on a Sunday afternoon, rather than a busy Wednesday afternoon. But time and experience has already taught me that, although work can be incredibly fulfilling, it's a means of enriching the purposeful life I choose to live outside of work. The right balance between personal and professional time is a personal decision, but few of us at the end of the day want our time in the office to truly define who we are. As you start another work week, and a new quarter of the year, it's a great time to set aggressive goals for yourself at the office. Push yourself to be better, to work smarter. But also challenge yourself to define how you want to live your life - this week, this quarter and beyond. There's no reason you can't continue to be a superstar at the office, but use that success to enrich the life you really want to lead.

Get more at - 122 -

Credits & Copyrights
This book is copyrighted. You do, however, have permission to post this, email this, print this and pass it along for free to anyone you like, as long as you make no changes and attribute its content back to the author. You do not have permission to turn this book into a play, a musical or a television mini-series. The author reserves those rights, just in case. You can find more information on much of the contents of this book, as well as additional information and insights, at We hope this book inspires you to keep thinking, innovating, and inspiring those around you. The author was particularly inspired by Seth Godin, Kathy Sierra, John Jantsch, Dave Chase, Emerson Robbins, John Moore, Ron McDaniel, Guy Kawasaki, Brandon Gill, Jackie Huba, Ben McConnell, and many many others. This book is dedicated to my wife, Beth. She knows why.

Get more at - 123 -