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Friday, December 29, 2006

Happy 2007 from Wear-Dated!

Don't you love the web? This really cool idea comes from Experience Curve in a post titled Say It With Buildings. Talk about having the whole world available at your fingertips! Try clicking on the image, and see what happens. Try your own message!
SayitwithbuildingsWith 2007 almost upon us, I thought I would share some observations of trends to be aware of for the new year.

I refer first to "Retail Trends 2006" from G.A. Wright which I learned about from an 8/25/2007 article in NationalJeweler.com where the following statements caught my attention: "retailers in all industries can remain competitive by focusing on 'value-added' strategies, such as loyalty programs that reward customers." It went on to say that price is quickly decreasing in importance for retail purchases. Furthermore, "consumers want experiences, not just purchase transactions. They want memorable events that make them feel appreciated and create a positive emotional experience while getting something of value." Wow!

Some points from the actual report include:
+ "Smaller stores especially stand at the threshold of an ideal opportunity. Because they are best equipped to communicate one-on-one with customers, they can more easily identify their niche opportunities than larger stores."
+ Pay attention to the hispanic population [it is "younger, has larger families, has higher income, and higher education and employment rates than ever before."]
+ "Loyalty is more than rewarding shoppers for the dollars they spend in your store. It is equally about building trust and a relationship... Establishing a lasting relationship between your customers and your store is tricky, but not impossible. It is worth the effort. The benefit: you will create an emotional bond that will result in a long-term relationship."

As it relates to the future, the report makes 21 points. The following strike me as particularly critical and also familiar given recent postings!
+ Know as much as possible about your customers. Which ones are less profitable and why? [i.e., should they be on the naughty or nice list?]
+ Develop strong relationships with the good ones.
+ Is your store easily accessible and safe? Is your store comfortable to shop in? Is it fun? Can you eliminate any customer irritants? Are you kid-friendly?
+ How can you build value through service to your customer? If your products aren't unique, can you make them unique via your services?
+ Provide her with information!
+ Consider the 'social environment' that your store creates. Does it encourage people to come back, to stay, to interact with other customers and your staff?
+ Does your retail environment appeal to all of the senses?
+ Promote your store name. As with the Santa brand, it is the "symbol of your unique selling proposition."

Next, consider the 10 Marketing Trends to Watch in 2007 by By Kim T. Gordon from the 11/24/2006 issue of MSNBC.com's Entrepreneur.com. Of the 10 trends, the most relevant to us include:

+ Affluent working women - they are becoming a larger and more critical group, and best reached online.
+ Asian population growth - it is growing fast and has higher than average household income and education.
+ Word-of-mouth - driven primarily by women, working women, and affluent working women.
+ Simultaneous media usage - we are all multi-tasking! making an integrated marketing approach that much more powerful and necessary.
+ Newspapers - particularly newspaper websites - attract young affluent readers. See Shelly Lazarus on the Future of Advertising and the article Hyper-Local Hero by Chuck Salter.
+ Online research - be honest, how do you do research? Don't you google? Or do you pefer Searching for Meaning the hakia Way? Either way, don't you go online first?
+ Local search - this goes back to the local/global conversation. Be relevant to your local community base.

Tami Anderson's andHow To Reach Women in her post titled Women Figure Strong Into Key Marketing Trends for 2007 builds on Gordon's article.

I hope these readings inspire you for the year ahead of us. On behalf of Flooring The Consumer and everyone at Wear-Dated, I wish you the very best and great success for 2007!

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tag.. I'm It!

A game of tag originally uploaded by MobileBurn.
What a month it has been! In addition to being included in the amazing Z-List [see Extending buZZ... which Seth Godin says is NOT a Z-List but rather a list of What to read now/next], I've been 'tagged' in a game of 'blog tag'. It consists of sharing 5 things about yourself that others don't know.... and then 'tagging' 5 others with the same!

I'm in good company, as you can read here:
+ Learned On Women's Andea Learned
+ Customers Are Always' Maria Palma
+ The Marketing Excellence blog's Eric Kintz
+ Church of The Consumer's Jackie Huba
+ The Viral Garden's Mack Collier
+ MarketingProfs:DailyFix's Ann Handley

Thanks go to Derrick Daye from Branding Strategy Insider for sharing this honor with me in his post titled Blog Tag: 5 Things You Don't Know About Me. And, now, here are the five things you may not know about me:

1. I am half Parisian French and half Irish American, and one of few people actually born in Washington, D.C..

2. I have quirky idiosyncracies around color. If you remember, I am mad for color, and not for white or black, and soso on grey! That translates into specifying NO WHITE cars in my rental car profile [and no SUVs, either]. I wear white and black as accent colors only....

3. I started out in college as a math major [wanting to be an engineer] until we hit vectors [the third dimension threw me for a loop] in physics and total abstraction in diffiQ [I loved linear algebra, but differential equations just didn't resonate]. I became an art history major instead. Perfectly logical, right?

4. I have a major American cultural gap in my upbringing: we lived in West Africa from 1971 to 1975 and I missed out on major formative TV programs [can't even name them!]. My TV fare consisted instead of French dubbed versions of The Saint [Le Saint avec Roger Moore], The Avengers [especially with Emma Peel], and French 'romans-feuilleton' [soap operas]. I remember hearing in 1971 before we left that by 1975 video phones would be ubiquitous. Needless to say, I was really bummed to return to this country and find that they were nowhere to be seen.

5. I like bass fishing [when I catch fish], skeet shooting [when I hit the skeet], and pulled-pork BBQ [e.g., Big Bob Gibson]- all of which I 've experienced in Alabama. Not bad for a Yankee!

In turn, I tag:
+ Susan Abbott
+ Stephanie Weaver
+ Reshma Anand
+ Sandy Renshaw
+ Becky Carroll

The whole concept of 'blog tag' reminds me that often the hardest part of developing a relationship with customers is that initial point of connection. So, imagine enabling that connection through a non-virtual version of 'blog tag'... Think of hotels where the concierge and others wear nametags showing both city of origin and name. Don't your eyes gravitate to that information? And, don't you start a conversation with that person relating to that info? Then, don't you remember more about that person [including their name?] than you normally do? I sure do.

So, consider if everyone in your store shared with customers some other 'thing' about them in addition to their name. And, consider changing those bits of information every week. You might be surprised by the quality of the relationships that you develop.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

It's Time to Elf Yourself!

This is it. We're down to the wire. If you have everything taken care of, then congratulations! And, if you don't, then forget the worrying and just enjoy all that you have accomplished! Enjoy family, friends and good cheer and focus on getting into the holiday spirit...

In case you need some help, though, I invite you to 'elf yourself' and get dancing. Let me be your inspiration - as you can see here . What do you think? Not bad for a seasonal elf gig, right? [Thanks go to John Winsor for this wonderful idea from his post titled Have a Viral Christmas.]

But, that's really nothing when you consider what the Top Elf - Santa - does to make all of this Christmas stuff happen. Consider this Forbes.com article from 11/29/2006 titled For a Better Brand, Think Like Santa by Mike Matheis. [The slideshow is worth watching, too.] It hits on quite a few universal points that all of us should take to heart....

Take brand loyalty. Positive loyalty towards us, our brand, our store, can only occur if we consistently deliver of the promise we make to our consumers. They have expectations about us. We must - day in and day out - meet their expectations around our retail experience, our brand positioning, our communications, our attitude.... Santa builds "the expectation of an experience through consistent images and behaviors." How consistent are your images and behaviors?

Or human resources! Santa is only as good as his elf labor pool and "pays close attention to human resources practices and policies to retain top talent." He has created a "work environment that fosters a sense of community while engaging employees with training and opportunities to develop professionally." What about your employees? Are they totally engaged in your business and committed to delivering the best possible experience to your customers? If you're not sure, consider this article by Lewis Green on MarketingProfs: DailyFix titled What Really Drives Brand Success.

Customer knowledge. That's a biggy! Both Jack Mitchell [see Ruthless Focus on the Consumer] and Paco Underhill [see Paco Sightings... and Rubber Soled Shoes] preach the criticality of knowing everything there is to know about customers. Have you identified which customers you can consistently delight, and which ones you cannot? How well do you understand your "good" customers' needs and desires? And what are you doing about those not-so-good customers?

Local vs. global. Another Paco area of opportunity. "Some things about Santa are customized to local preferences... But other aspects of Santa are universal." How well do you connect with your local constituents while offering them global products, services and standards?

Passion. To delight, to deliver, to inspire, to exude goodwill and cheer, and to not disappoint! Absolutely!

Happy, Happy Holidays! From this elf here at Flooring The Consumer and from all of us at Wear-Dated, best wishes for this holiday season!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Paco Sightings... and Rubber Soled Shoes

Well, not only 'Tis the Season to Cite Paco, but 'tis also the season to share sightings.

I sighted Paco Underhill earlier this year at the Science of Shopping Conference that Envirosell put on. I even shook his hand! Here's what he had to say about the current state of retail:

+ Retail innovation is happening in those places with a young affluent population base [e.g., Moscow, Dublin, Sao Paolo, Mexico City, Shanghai, Mumbai, Seoul...]. It is not happening in the US where our retail culture is overly focused on stock price rather than on what happens on the floor [or 'ground']. We are overly focused on the short term and getting results from opening new doors rather than from same store growth. We are overstored and for the most part reluctant to shed underperforming properties. Mergers [e.g., Kmart/Sears and Federated/Mays] have nothing to do with customers, and muddy the waters around the actual needs of consumers.

+ Design alone is NOT the answer. The fastest growing retail channel today consists of "anti-design" stores [e.g., dollar stores, Aldi, ...].

+ Category management perfects the status quo, and prevents category reinvention. So many aisles are at risk of gravitating to another form of distribution [e.g., the center sections of grocery stores are showing 5% loss per year. Where is it going?] and this isn't being addressed. What about new approaches to distribution? [E.g., What if you purchased a detergent plan when you bought your washer/dryer, and never had to go to a grocery store ever again for detergent?].

+ Consumers are time-poor and not willing to spend more time to accommodate larger formats. Interestingly, consumers routinely over inflate by 50% their reported time in-store vs. their actual time! Their perception of time spent is greater than reality and the ease of getting in/out matters to the overall retail experience.

+ As the 'first world', we face the following retail challenge: shopping cart use is declining as shopping missions change; for mass stores, 10-15% of customers are walking out with nothing; deep discounting is on the rise; and too often, the seminal object on the shopping list is NOT there, and consumers wind up making a decision to take EVERYTHING on the list elsewhere.

+ Failing Gender model: we live in a world owned/designed by men and expect women to participate in it. We must make our stores more woman friendly!

+ The service model is changing from one that has been nose to nose [i.e., across a counter] to hip to hip [i.e., next to one another] . This is the Sephora model [Starwood has implemented this, as well as some banks [e.g., WaMu].

+ Technology in-store: make sure it is bullet proof! The only 2 winners to date have been ATM machines and self check-in at airports. Technology that doesn't work in-store is worse than no technology at all.

+ Our relationship to consumption has changed: our symbols of success are in transition. It's no longer about gold, silver and stones which over history represented transportable wealth, particularly in times of war. What is indulgence and what is necessity?

+ It's vital to re-think the labor model, market by market. We live in a shrinking world and need to balance global vs. local identities. Shopping has strong social ramifications: people matter to the overall retail experience and if you and your staff have fun, customers probably will, too!

+ A fundamental shift is taking place with landlords becoming place makers. It's not longer just about real estate and collecting money, but also about programming good public spaces, etc., to encourage people to visit the space and interact in it and with it.

Given all of this, we must recognize that the realities of the setting [e.g., where is the real entrance? where does the experience start?] drive strategy. Amenability and profitability are inextricably linked, and operations, product, design and marketing must work together. That will drive successful innovation at the point of sale. Be sure to wear rubber soled shoes. That way you can think standing up and have a strong connection to the floor [or ground] to understand what is really happening.

Some other thoughts:
+ Windows are powerful: they both attract and repel! [e.g., Victoria's Secret] Make sure your windows create the effect you desire.
+ Aisles: respect body bubbles. Leave sufficient space.
+ Use language appropriate to customers rather than industry jargon.
+ For end caps and displays: sightlines and access are critical to success.
+ Our visual language is evolving faster than both written and spoken words. How we communicate messages is critical. We also need to understand how eyes work and age.

Paco showed us many examples of retail innovation from around the world, including Zara [see What Makes A Destination?]. Four of his other examples -- Roppongi Hills/Tokyo [which sounds a lot like a lifestyle center [see An Architect's View of Better Lifestyle Centers], Sao Paolo's Higienopolis, Three Minute Happiness/Tokyo, and Ibn Battuta/Dubai -- you can read more about in Susan Abbott's sighting of Paco Underhill during the Qualitative Research Conference: Toronto - October 2006.

One last reference from the 6/23/2006 issue of AIArchitect: an article by Russell Boniface titled I Spy A Shopper!. Not only does it feature numerous Paco pictures, but it also recaptures many of the points made in these last two Paco postings - including rubber soled shoes!

Paco refers to shoes to encourage us all to spend time observing firsthand what our consumers do and what they go through when interacting with our retail experiences. After all, how else than by Walking In Her Shoes can we ever create an environment that is more friendly to women?

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Monday, December 18, 2006

'Tis The Season....To Cite Paco

Image courtesy of Envirosell.I am a Paco groupie - and proud of it! What about you?

Paco Underhill is responsible for bringing anthropology and retail together. His first book - Why We Buy [see Recommended Reading on Flooring The Consumer sidebar] - is amazing in its observations, practicality and insight. It changed my world, and my appreciation for the retail experience. [Many thanks to Peter Smallman and Doug Ehrlich from Image Zone for setting me on the Paco path!] I reread it regularly, and preach its lessons at every opportunity!

Paco is fascinating to read, projecting strong passion for the people whom he observes and what they go through as they maneuver the retail world. He wants their retail experience improved. He is amongst the first to notice signs of changing consumer habits, and, most important, his observations withstand the test of time....

Consider this 10/1999 Fast Company article titled How We Sell by Keith H. Hammonds. It gives you a flavor for how Paco's company Envirosell operates [i.e., with googles of video tapes of consumers in action!], and a firsthand feel for the "incredibly valuable facts... [that] are also significant observations about business, work, and the act of finding -- or being -- a customer."
Some extracts:
+ "Increasingly, in our time-pressured culture, retailers are recognizing the importance of purchase decisions that are made or that are heavily influenced at the point of sale."
+ "...Consumers are eminently more cynical ... more experienced. Our tempers are shorter, and our patience is thinner. As consumers, we are becoming aware of our power -- the power to pick up our toys and go home, or to go to somewhere else to play."
+ "There's still something called "retail magic," where someone is able to put something out there in a way that makes us fall in love with it and have to have it."
+ Retailers can do a better job addressing the needs of several "ignored groups": seniors, women and ethnic groups. "Often, marketers have no real sense of the ground. Where is my store?.... who's coming into [my] territory."
+ "There are a number of ... small ideas that are fundamentally clever, that cut through the clutter, and that work." [e.g., chairs -- see below]
+ In terms of the web: "it can play an important role by forming a bond between the cyberworld and the physical world so that they support each other."

Paco's Principles for Retailers encourage getting shoppers to spend more time inside a store shopping [i.e., the longer they stay, the more likely they are to buy!]; not providing too much information to shoppers within the 'transition zone' [i.e., your entry foyer], rather letting them decompress and get the lay of the land; remembering that shoppers have Two Hands, and need to use them to interact with your goods. Did you know that mirrors slow people down [and banks hurry them along]? Men like to get in/out of stores expeditiously, so help them do so! And, "by 2025, nearly one-fifth of the American people will be 65 or older." Have you considered how to meet the needs of these wealthy consumers? [Start with good contrast on your signage and make sure the font isn't too tiny!].

CBC marketplace shares this 11/7/2000 article titled Paco Underhill: Shopping Scientist summarizing comments Paco made while speaking with the Retail Association of British Columbia: "the retail industry is undergoing a fundamental shift - it's all about the consumer.... Retailers have to cater to the behaviours of the consumer in order to increase their chances of selling successfully."

"Underhill's research has shown that 70 percent of shoppers are women. It has also shown that retailers don't always make their shopping experience rewarding.... A store can do something as simple as providing a chair in a convenient location.... "A chair is not an amenity," Underhill observes. "It's a marketing tool." And, don't forget about kids! "The important role for the store is turning kids into allies." His "biggest complaint about the shopping experience, is the lack of it, in some stores." And, finally, be sure to respect the consumer!

The article includes Shopping Facts about shopping surveillance findings, what shoppers love and what they hate.

Entrepreneur's 12/2001 article titled Attention Shoppers! Paco Underhill knows what they look at, what they buy and why.... explains that "converting browsers into spenders greatly depends on store design and displays, because 60 to 70 percent of purchases are unplanned." Pay special attention to sightlines as they affect how successful a retailer is in drawing a consumer in.

My favorite: "A store window needs to communicate beyond the people immediately in front of it. Windows should have one message, not 15. They need to change no less than every two weeks to get people coming back. People should look forward to window displays as a place to have fun. MTV has shown us the importance of focusing on icons rather than words, using visual puns and symbols of having a good time."

Paco refers to the "butt-brush" factor and the importance of avoiding narrow aisles if a retailer wants to appeal to women consumers. Some other factors to consider: good lighting, strategically placed chairs [and reading material], and not forcing consumers to bend over or get on the floor to interact with product [I have had to sit on the floor, even while pregnant, just to examine merchandise -including carpet samples- and I really resented having no other option. ]

Don't forget about extending your merchandising into the register area. Can you create an opportunity for an add-on sale or a reason to extend the relationship beyond this one transaction? According to Paco "everything should be for sale in the store... even if they don't buy, you want them to walk out with a better sense of what your store offers..."

Finally, "if it isn't fun, people aren't going to come back."

Eric Mattson at MarketingBlurb posted Paco Underhill Chimes In On Branding which pointed me to Liz Danzico from Boxes and Arrows. She shares this 11/28/2006 interview with Paco Underhill titled From Data to Wisdom.

He refers to these fascinating consumer changes afoot:
+ "our visual language is evolving faster than our written and spoken word." In other words, we respond faster to symbols than we do to spoken or written words. Compounding this is the disconnect between the average age of consumers [above 40] and of those designing communications [under 30].
+ "we live in a world that even in 2006 is owned by men, designed by men, managed by men, and that we expect women to participate in." In other words, for the majority of retailers, it's critical to consider how female-friendly your store experience is, and if it isn't how can you fix things?
+ "the perception of ease is as important as the reality of ease" given how time-stressed most consumers are. Although Paco give an online example of this, it is just as relevant in-store: is your store as inviting and exciting to a new customer as it is to a repeat customer?

The challenge for retailers today is figuring out how to differentiate themselves to the consumer, how to make products relevant to each individual who comes through the doors, and reaching interested customers more efficiently than ever before.

I was particularly excited to hear that Paco is currently working on a book about "how the changing aspect of women is affecting the design community." I bet that will be an interesting read!

Experience Paco for yourselves via any of these 3 recent video clips of Paco Underhill where he encourages retailers to treat shoppers well and build a relationship with them. Also, recognize that a neophyte will have different needs vs. an expert shopper and that a successful store needs to recognize and accommodate both. Paco makes specific points relating to the Gap and Best Buy in these clips, and generally shares his fascination with retail as a dipstick for changes in our culture.

The 12/4/2006 Los Angeles Times features a really fun article titled Hunter-gatherer, bargain shopper by Janet Cromley which draws strong parallels between modern day bargain shopping and prehistoric hunting and gathering.... Remember that times are a changing and roles may be shifting! "It used to be that we celebrated what we purchased," says Paco Underhill... "Now it's a celebration of what we paid for it ... [and] how little they spent." "The prey is a sale item." And, 'extreme shopping' is an opportunity to bond.

[The other person referenced is Raymond Burke, business professor at Indiana University, whose 10 Principles of Retail Shoppability I often refer to in presentations.]

If Paco were observing your store, what would he notice? Do you have chairs in-store? How woman-friendly are you? What about the kids? How fun a retail experience have you created? When was the last time you updated your windows? The answers will determine how successful a carpet/flooring business you have and will have for years to come!

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Extending buZZ...

The Letter Z originally uploaded by Admit One.
Something magical is afoot within the blogosphere and it started with Mack Collier from The Viral Garden and his Revenge of a Z Lister.

Becky Carroll from Customers Rock! ran with the idea on Blogs Pay It Forward.

Mike Sansone from Converstations amplified it in Mack Collier Creates a Zing List.

Doug Karr from On Influence and Automation broadened the influence in The Best Blogs You've Never Heard Of [he even offers html code!].

I think of it as the "Z" - as in buZZ - list.

Susan Abbott at Customer Experience Crossroads has a fascinating post titled Trendwatching: Managing the Infoglut and the Info-guilt that makes the magic of the Z list that much more powerful: with all of the wealth of fantastic perspectives and insights out there, how to absorb them all? I'm still struggling with a solution [my bloglines feed list is growing exponentially!], but here's where the magic of the Z list really plays a part....

Having the blogsites I respect recommend branding and marketing blogs offers me a shortcut of sorts to get to new information-worthy sources sooner rather than later, or never!

My 2007 New Year's resolutions include one about identifying new marketing resources in the blogosphere. The Z list saves me at least a month's worth of research sifting through the bad and the indifferent to get to the good. So, thank you! And, thank you for including Flooring The Consumer!

Here follows the Z list. Do check each out and extend the buZZZZ.

Brand And Market
Shotgun Marketing Blog
Customers Rock!
Being Peter Kim
Two Hat Marketing
The Branding Blog
The Emerging Brand
Drew’s Marketing Minute
Golden Practices
Tell Ten Friends
Flooring The Consumer - yes, this blog!!!
Kinetic Ideas
Sports Marketing 2.0
Black In Business
On Influence and Automation
Marketing Hipster
Ben Wills

And here are my additions:
Customer Experience Crossroads
What I Do For A Living
Curious Shopper
Customers Are Always

If you care to add to the list, here are the guidelines:
Cut and paste the list of blogs into your new post, adding any additional blogs that you think need more air time. Add the same instructions in your post so the next blogger does the same.

Enjoy, and happy reading!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Audi's Human Element

So, tell me. How do you feel about those regular x,xxx mile checkups for your car? Do you enjoy the experience?

I have really mixed feelings.... On the one hand, I get a free carwash [very convenient even if they do a poor job wiping the car down so the drips dry nastily on the windshield].

On the other hand, it's a major inconvenience. I've had no luck scheduling appointments online, so must speak with a person during the day, and shlep to and from the dealership very early and late. It takes 30 minute to drive each way. Then, there's the rental car and making sure to refill the tank before returning it.

I can deal with all that. My Audi dealership has a nice facility with clean & functional bathrooms [see Let the Bathroom Blogfest Begin] and internet-ready workstations. Plus -if I'm in the mood- it can be interesting to people watch.

What I can't deal with, though, is the inconsistency of their Human Element [see Retail Experience and the Human Element] which significantly affects my service experience.

As my Mom learned during her carpet buying experience [see Final Issue: Endless Frustrations], I may very well be dealing with the best car dealership around. How depressing! Here is the commitment that Paul Miller Audi makes on its website: "We pride ourselves in delivering a truly outstanding customer experience to our customers at all levels. We work hard at ensuring that our customers are dealt with honestly, in a straightforward manner, professionally, and courteously." They certainly sound serious about the customer experience. Are they, though, doing the best they can?

At my last checkup, Audi replaced the entire instrument cluser. I got the car back, and happily drove home [my car is FUN to drive!]. As I got closer -with the sun shining at a low angle- I discovered .... numerous fingerprint marks on the plexiglass obscuring the dashboard instruments. I'm irritated, but since the problem is neither mechanical nor electrical, just sloppy, not about to return to the dealership. Perhaps I can deal with it myself. I tried some Windex with no success; the marks seem to be behind the plexiglass. I decided to followup at the next x,xxx mile checkup, and dutifully mentioned the problem when I made my most recent appointment, repeating the concern again as I dropped off the car. Fine.

Several hours later, I got a call saying that the fingermarks cannot be behind the plexiglass [1 piece unit]; they are etched onto the plexiglass and I must have done the damage. My option: to pay for a replacement dashboard unit or live with the marks.

I'm stunned and angry. Does it make sense for me to damage to my own car?

I bring a flashlight when I go pick up the car several hours later. When I arrive, I check out at the payment counter. Two young women are busy finishing what looks like dinner [stir fried veggies?] and a conversation. I'm most certainly interrupting. [Everytime I reach this stage of the transaction, I encounter similar unprofessional behavior]. Yes, I feel really appreciated as a customer.

This post by Tom Vander Well at QAQNA titled 5 Commonly Missed Courtesies discusses how important courtesy and friendliness are in driving customer satisfaction. Although particularly relevant from a phone perspective , reinterpret these tips for in-person interaction.... I don't think food consumption and personal conversation would appear on the list.

As I wait for my car, I chat with Hemant Patel, one of the service representatives. He's taken care of me before and helped me when the car indicated it was low on oil [immediately after a service visit] while driving South on the NJ Turnpike... He's also a good listener. I asked if he would take a look at my dashboard. The car came. Flashlight in hand, I successfully demonstrated to him the dashboard fingerprints. Hemant immediately called a technician, asking him to bring out cleaning products. Guess what? 10 minutes or so of ELBOW GREASE and the right professional cleaning products made the marks disappear!!!

Meanwhile the service manager comments -as he leaves for the day- that I really should have been more careful... Rather than help find me a solution, he was busy pointing the finger, and simply insisted I had done the damage. So much for the customer being right!

However, the problem was quite easily solved and not one other service person actually checked to see what the problem REALLY was and how it could be fixed. They were too busy determining whether they had an in-warranty or out-of-warranty problem so they could be ready to disclaim ownership! If it hadn't been for Hemant, no one would have made the effort to fix my problem. A problem caused by sloppiness and easily fixable given the right tools! Only one person -and not my assigned service rep- acted as my advocate. How many of your sales representatives consider themselves consumer advocates?

Now, do I really want to buy another car from Paul Miller Audi? Hmmmm.

A fascinating build to this negative experience [somewhat similar to a Proustian moment]: a whole slew of memories relating to my entire Paul Miller Audi experience came up for air. None of them terrible, but individual elements highlighting that this dealership doesn't really get consumers, and especially women consumers. When I purchased the car, I was asked to fill out a consumer survey. The purpose: to build a longterm relationship. The questions were mostly about sports preferences. I was offered a baseball cap [and a travel coffee mug that doesn't fit in the car cup holder].

John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has a new book out [also called Duct Tape Marketing. Page 16 refers to "The Client Profile Tracker" which is all about tracking information about your customers so as to provide VALUE to them. You obtain the information by listening to their stories [see What's Your Story?], just like what Jack Mitchell's organizations do day in/out [see A Good Hug is Worth and Ruthless Focus on the Consumer]. You'd think that a sophisticated organization like Paul Miller Audi could do the same.... Right?

I return to the dealership regularly for checkups. To date, there has been no effort to use the information I provided, no effort to make me feel warm & fuzzy about the dealership. Service appointments are by rote at best. What a missed opportunity! Don't they want me to continue buying Audis from them?

I imagine [and hope] that I would have had a different experience at the dealership that Customers Are Always refers to in I'm an Audi Enthusiast.

This posting on Lip-Sticking by AskPatty.com's Jody DeVere, titled Boys will be Boys at the Car Lot, explains that women represent a critical car buying audience, but many dealerships don't understand the need to improve their communication skills to better connect with women consumers, who purchase over half of all new cars. Ask.Patty.com came up recently in What Do Women Want? Thoughtful Solutions as an example of a company addressing a serious consumer need.

Similarly, in the carpet/flooring business, women matter big time. So, as you consider your retail experience from your consumer's perspective, ask yourselves whether your Human Element is all that it can be, or whether you can improve on it.

Pay attention to who your consumer is. Don't pretend to be interested; rather, be seriously interested. Ask her real questions. Listen. Be courteous. Then, do something with the information. And, if nothing else, train your people to be passionate about serving your customers.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

What is Blue?

Ann Hurley, whom you may remember from Managing Consumer Expectations, is not only our manager of product design, but also a renowned industry color expert. She shares the following highlights from our Wear-Dated "What is Blue?" 2007 color forecast.

Here's what's hot for 2007!

In the Red color family:
· Red is still influenced by yellow and we’ll continue to see orange gaining in popularity for the next 2-3 years.
· Blue-reds will be more plum influenced with undertones of brown.
· Reds are frequently used to create a dramatic color statement and used in analogous combinations such as red, pink and orange that are reminiscent of the ‘60s.
· The red family will be greatly influenced by 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as other global trends from India and Central America.

In the Blue Color Family:
· Blues were forecasted to be the new “color of the Millennium”, reinforcing the automotive forecast that the blue family would gain significant influence by the late 2000s.
· Blues are moving in two parallel - yet divergent - directions, both yellow cast and violet influenced. These directions create a sense of calm, security and long term appeal.

In the Green Family:
The new greens are clearer & mid-to-lighter in value. They continue to be yellowed or blue, spa-like. Darker values are more complex with olive and bronze influences. With widespread design sensitivity and consumer environmental awareness, the green family is now widely accepted as a new neutral.

In the Neutrals:
· Beiges are either tinted with green, blue, or peach.
· Greys move lighter and warmer.
· These new neutrals are highly tinted and burnished, with undertones of steel, bronze and warm terra cotta.
· These neutrals express an atmosphere of relaxation when used in combination of light & deep values.
Pay attention to the textural quality as well as the contrasting combinations of cool and warm colors. Neutrals all mix well in combination with each other to create a sophisticated environment.

Now, you may remember that I am Mad For Color and that color forms the basis for my Fashion Statements. I am not alone! Color and texture form the basis for most consumers' fashion statements. And, if you are serious about connecting with your customers, serious about creating the kind of retail experience that women consumers can identify with, then be sure to showcase what's hot for 2007, especially in flooring!

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Searching For Meaning - the hakia way

My wonderful friend and fellow Columbia Business School alum, Melek Pulatkonak, has a request. She is involved in the development of a new search engine called hakia and needs user input. Could you help her spread the word and get feedback?

This is a unique opportunity to help shape a search engine. If you are as avid an internet searcher as I am, then you know that this represents a golden opportunity to find true meaning in your searches!

It's also a unique opportunity to be a part of the 2007 NYC Times Square VIP New Year's Celebration!

Dear friends,

Can you help me spread the word about hakia’s “New Year, New Way of Searching” Celebration at Times Square in NYC?

We will be a sponsor of the Times Square New Year’s Eve festivities and would like to share the joy with friends (you) who help us improve the search engine. Please read the announcement below, fill out the feedback form and forward the text to friends!

Many thanks…

Would you like to join hakia at the TIMES SQUARE VIP Party on New Year’s Eve? If yes, then simply take the hakia survey to qualify for the raffle:

1 - Search at hakia.com. Try something like “why do people sing in the shower?”
2 - Click on the FEEDBACK button to do your survey

Are you not yet searching for meaning? You probably have not yet had a chance to check out http://www.hakia.com/. At hakia, we are building a new engine to help you search for meaning and are hankering for feedback on how we are doing! Come and throw some of your meanest/toughest/longest search queries our way along with your favorite search engine. Do we bring more meaningful results and save you time? Tell us!

If you can spare a New York minute, give us feedback @ survey hakia and your name will be dropped in the hat for the raffle for Times Square VIP party tickets in the New Year’s Eve in New York City.* For more on the raffle, check out the hakia blog.

Now, gather up your thoughts and questions:
1. Go to http://www.hakia.com/ and ask away! (Bear in mind the spell checker module is not online yet)

2. Take the short feedback form (8 questions) and drop your name in the hat for the Times Square VIP party ticket raffle.
You will hear on December 22nd if you are the winner. Forward this email to your friends to share the joy!

Happy searching at hakia.com!
*At the VIP party, you will enjoy hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, and dancing with New York’s hottest DJ. Then, shortly before midnight, you will be escorted to an outdoor viewing area a few hundred feet from where the ball drops. It will be your chance to get up close and personal with a moment in history. Of course, you will be doing all that in great hakia company!

By the way, these are some of the searches I tried on hakia:
What does Paco Underhill say about the retail experience?
How important is marketing to women?

I can feel that my searches for meaning are taking me to a higher level of understanding.... and I am closer to reaching total consciousness...

NOTE: I will NOT be rubbing elbows with the hakia VIPs on New Year's Eve, but I am interested in strong search engines!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dove - What Is Real Beauty?

Campaign for Real Beauty originally uploaded by thegloaming. Read the story at Remaining Relevant.

Note: This post and Shelly Lazarus On The Future of Advertising refer to embedded YouTube videos that can only be viewed from Flooring The Consumer.

Dove has created such a powerful buzz around the notion of real beauty that it inevitably comes up in discussions about integrated marketing and marketing to women. More specifically, it featured prominently in Bernice Kanner & Marketing To The Sexes and Anthony Cirone's comments and -more recently- in Shelly Lazarus On The Future of Advertising.

Dove began the "Campaign for Real Beauty" in 2004, first in the UK and then in the US. Rather than hire professional[ly] thin models, they worked with regular women in everyday sizes and shapes. Via the Dove Fund for Self-Esteem, they are looking to elevate the conversation [as suggested by Lazarus] to one that recognizes beauty within us all. Women's Wear Daily in a 10/8/04 article titled "Dove Ad Campaign Aims to Redefine Beauty" states "Dove... thinks 50 is fabulous... [and] is taking a bold step to challenge societal views on age, body shape and race..." Furthermore, "the beauty brand has provided a public forum for consumers to cast their votes [about beauty]." [This and other articles available on Campaign For Real Beauty.]

It's a fascinating discussion made that much more relevant by modern society's adoration of impossible youthful perfection. I'm so used to seeing unrealistic images of women, that I've trained myself to completely ignore them. However, now that I have a young daughter, I am concerned about protecting her from any negative images.

This 7/7/05 USA Today article titled Ad campaigns tell women to celebrate who they are by Theresa Howard explains that Dove and "retailer Bath & Body Works, in a deal with American Girl, are ditching the traditional "aspirational" marketing messages that tell women and girls that if they buy a particular health or beauty product, they can look like the supermodel in the ad.... [They] are promoting their products with a message of "real beauty" by encouraging women and girls to celebrate themselves as they are... [Dove is] recognizing that beauty comes in different sizes, shapes and ages..." Note the inspirational product names [e.g., Full of Hope Soap].

Taking the marketing message to a higher level is powerful. This 11/3/06 Advertising Age article titled Study: Kids Connect with Social-Conscious Marketers by Brooke Capps explains that Millennials [aka Gen Y] care about causes "and [are] more than willing to reward or punish a company based on its commitment to a cause." It can't, though, be just any cause. "It has to be something that's very ingrained in who your brand is; it has to be believable."

These comments match up with those from an early post Doing Good which details the results of the "Doing Well by Doing Good 2005 Study Results". For both Millennials and women it's important to not only be genuine, but also to let all consumers know about your commitment. Engage them, as Dove has.

The 10/30/06 Advertising Age issue has several articles relating to Dove and the 'evolution' video [viewable below]. A real beauty: Dove's viral makes big splash for no cash by Jack Neff discusses the sheer power of a strong viral message compared to a paid one. Per Dove, "the strong consumer insight behind "Campaign for Real Beauty" gave the effort "viral legs" and the particular message was "more powerful because it came from an objective source"..." Dove also believes strongly that "the emotional response the "Campaign For Real Beauty" has evoked from women has substantially strengthened brand loyalty."

And it has generated significant word-of-mouth endorsement as you can read from this post from In Women We Trust titled I passed The Dove Video. Did You?.

The other article, Tackling ugly truth, Dove effort evolves beautifully. New Spot Punctures Our Anorexic, Breast-implanted, Tricked-up Barbie Doll Fantasies, by Bob Garfield specifically reviews the 'evolution' video and mentions another video about young girls - equally powerful. "Here ... is a rare opportunity for a commercial advertiser to define an important debate worldwide and transcend the petty venality of commerce. The bonus is, if they stay with this message come what may, they'll also turn over lots and lots of whatever it is -apart from uncomfortable truth- they're selling."

Now, it's not just young kids that Dove is connecting with. It's not just normal, everyday women. It's ALL women, even those above the age of 40, 50, 60, 90, or 100+! That's right ALL WOMEN many of whom traditional advertisers normally disenfranchise. What a concept! This fascinating post from Media Blog titled Live Not Save from 11/27/06 makes wonderful points about the aging of the population. The focus is on Europe, but is equally relevant for North America: "This is the mega trend, companies must face and adapt to, as the power of people 60+ will increase and they will decide what's hot and what sells. They will decide which companies survive." Think: Boomers. And, it's a point that David Wolfe makes in his book and blog Ageless Marketing.

This is our consumer. Are we connecting with her?

In the 11/15/06 issue of Knowledge@Wharton article, we learn more about Unilever [Dove's parent company] in Unilever's Michael Polk: It's All about 'Dislocating Ideas'. Polk refers to significant trends affecting consumers that must be taken into account: "experimental society [enriching life]; individualism [solutions for me]; a need to belong [getting connected]; complexity [simplify my life]; anything goes; physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing; securing a better world [environmental] and trading up and down." The better you understand the consumer, the more potential for a powerful connection. "Marketers need to have crystal-clear consumer insight; concepts that change the frame of reference and expand category relevance; brands that take a point of view, and ideas that stretch the value proposition."

This last article from the 11/2/06 issue of The Dallas Morning News titled "Fighting beauty that's only screen deep; digital touch-ups adding pressure for perfection" by Macarena Hernandez puts into real terms [echoing Bob Garfield's comments] the strong cultural connection that Dove and its "Campaign for Real Beauty" makes.

And now, the video! According to Shelly Lazarus, the video you are about to see has generated 2.3million downloads in 10 days, lots of press, unforgettable impact. It has elevated the conversation to talk about beauty rather than a beauty product in a way that matters to our global culture! It is titled "evolution". It is powerfully universal. It gives me goosebumps each time I watch it. See for yourselves, and think of the women around you - particularly our young women [daughters, granddaughters, sisters, friends, ...]. Don't you want to change the world that they are growing up in? In so doing, you create a connection with your most important woman consumer AND all of her constituents!

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Shelly Lazarus on the Future of Advertising & Marketing

Photo: Sebastian Mlynarski
In a previous post, Upcoming NYC Event - 11/3/06, I highlighted Columbia Business School's 2nd Annual Marketing Conference. Titled "From Tuning In to Plugging In: The Future of Integrated Marketing", it offered many thought-provoking perspectives on the change afoot in marketing. I will share those here and in separate posts.

Shelly Lazarus, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, has been in the news lately. Most recently, Advertising Age interviewed her in the 11/20/06 issue in an article titled " Lazarus wants media back at the table" by Matthew Creamer. The article discusses the need to redefine advertising, and bring together ALL of the creative disciplines [interactive, traditional advertising and public relations] at the ONSET of any project to start the thought process jointly.

At Columbia, Lazarus spoke about the future of advertising and marketing given the rise of digital technology including blogs, social networks, youtube.com, etc... Consumer-driven [or generated] media such as these create buzz around content which can drive viewership or awareness in a far more powerful manner that traditional advertising and marketing. It needs to be included in the communications mix.

The rapid pace of change has created confusion. Nevertheless, it is the new reality for advertising and marketing. Consumers are now in control and they choose whether to avoid mass market messages or not. If a brand engages them, then consumers will interact with it. The result is that commercial communications can be both more relevant and measurable.

We are in an exploding multi-media world far different from traditional advertising approaches! Just look at the breadth and scope of what has been created [note: examples are Ogilvy & Mather creations]: AMEX has created webisodes with Jerry Seinfeld as Superman, Cisco readily offers training webinars; IBM has developed a virtual space where one can walk up for information; DHL has a video game approach for shipping schedules; and Dove had set the stage for a real beauty referendum via the Campaign for Real Beauty. This is powerful!

These are brands built through a wide range of influences that include mass, but not limited to mass market advertising. All of the different forms have been woven together to amplify and strengthen the message. Most critical is identifying 'moments of truth' to focus all creative efforts on [to develop buzz and word-0f- mouth that connect]. We are evolving toward 360 degree brand stewardship.

Print is down. Newspaper readership has decreased 3% over last 6 months. People, though, are still accessing information. So, how are they doing that? Through different digitally based means. Essentially, it is the distribution of the content that has changed and content providers need to adapt. This indicates a need to shift spending to the internet and to opportunities [e.g., event sponsorship] that TOUCH customers. [If you'd like to read about someone who has come up with an extremely creative and successful way to marry print and digital content, consider this article Hyper-Local Hero by Chuck Salter. It's fascinating!]

Brand impressions built on a cultural connection are extremely powerful. For example, Motorola China rather than advertise in newspapers or on TV relied on 2 popular lip-synching college students. The result: 60 million downloads of the video and phones sales up 250%. This Business Week Online 5/15/06 article titled China's Online Ad Boom by Dexter Roberts provides more information on the campaign and another perspective of the shift from print to digital:

"When Motorola Inc. (MOT ) launched a new line of youth-oriented mobile phones in China last year, it didn't bother advertising on TV or in newspapers and magazines. Instead, it hired a pair of college students from the southern city of Guangzhou who had become an Internet sensation with their homemade videos of themselves lip-synching Western pop songs. Dubbing the duo the "Back Dorm Boyz," the phonemaker built an online marketing campaign in which the two lip-synched "As Long as You Love Me" by the Backstreet Boys."

Think of how we as consumers use the internet to search. Think about how American Idol has become interactive TV by encouraging viewers to use IM. Think of the new ways in which advertisers reach audiences [e.g., a New Yorker issue with only Target ads]. Think how many digital tools exist empowering consumers to be self-guided in their approach to consumerism and to vocally express delight OR dismay.

New technology has created a consumer paradigm shift from 2 perspectives: utility and entertainment are converging [think cell phones/PDAs/ cameras/MP3 players, etc.] and the consumer controls the technology, providing him/her with a multitude of alternatives at his/her convenience. It is no longer possible to command and control the consumer.

Digital technology has democratized creativity. We can all be creative, be seen, express our opinions, share perspectives/videos/images/etc... That means a lots of stuff, noise, and competition for attention. So, how does one market in such a cluttered world? Through creative expression and if it connects, it will so entice and seduce the consumer that s/he can't say no, becoming engaged of his/her own free will.

The two following successful examples have been so effective that consumers have chosen to re-experience the messages over and over again. They are asking how to view them and experience them! This is successful advertising and marketing.

Ellen DeGeneres for AmEx. My life: work with animals.

The second example, Kodak/Gallery I wasn't able to find a link to. However, I did find this blog posting from Duncan's TV Adland titled Kodak Gallery Tour Back On. It gives you a taste....

An excellent example that goes beyond a cultural connection, rather tapping into a cultural nerve is the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty which developed out of a profound global insight. Women around the world were asked "do you think you're beautiful?" and only 2% said yes. Dove decided to start a debate on the subject via billboards, asking questions. Consumers were encouraged to go to the website to respond and talk about real beauty. In addition to engaging consumers in a dialog via the website, Dove has benefitted from massive [i.e., 2.3 million downloads in 10 days] attention from a youtube.com video [evolution] and created a conversation more about beauty than soap, and culture rather than consumerism. Dove is making a difference. [Note: I will cover Dove in more detail in a separate post.] Per the Ad Age article above, so much of the Dove success "has been driven by the public relations piece. That kind of thinking needs to be present at the start when you're thinking about communications for a brand."

Our challenge as marketers, then, is to think more broadly and deeply to build a meaningful exchange, and a great brand experience for and with the consumer. Brand building is broader than advertising. Everything about the brand has to be consistent and integrated to deliver an exceptional consumer experience.

From a flooring retail perspective, be sure to constantly audit every point of contact with your consumers. View your world from your consumers' perspective. Ask them how they feel about you, your store, your experience. Listen carefully, probe, watch and respond accordingly. Think about how to involve your consumers in developing your brand and reputation. Never has there been a time where so much is possible given passion, vision and a deep desire to be relevant to the consumer.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Elmo Saves Christmas... But, Not From Retailers

Have you experienced the movie about how Elmo, from Sesame Street, saves Christmas? He wished for Christmas every day, only to realize that even the best things in life lose their meaning when they happen too frequently. They become ho-hum, taken for granted, boring, and even dreaded. You'd rather avoid them!
Well, that's the feeling I get when I notice that Christmas starts earlier and earlier each holiday season.

This year, I noticed the first signs around Labor Day when our local garden store - Max Is Back - displayed those large inflatable outdoor Christmas globes. Lowe's counteracted for a few days. Luckily, I was able to push it out of my mind.

October - normally Hallowe'en territory - was inundated with Yuletide stuff. And, forget about November! My 5 year old noticed and commented on it! Can you imagine? The youngest members of our society consider it strange! She said "Mama, why is there Christmas stuff out? It's not even Thanksgiving."

I'm not sure whether I feel validated or simply sad when I read others' commentaries on the subject. Brand Experience Lab's David Polinchock shares this rant about his town's decorations in Advertising Age - Christmas Marketing Creeps Backward Into October and refers to the 11/12/06 article from Ad Age Christmas comes but once a year-in October with subtitles "Christmas Marketing Creeps Backward Into October - Lowe's, Sears, Wal-Mart Rush the Season" by Mya Frazier. She states "..some consumers found themselves rooting through the Christmas candy to stock up for trick-or-treaters." Absurd!

Now, although I appreciate that Best Buy has been doing a lot of work to better connect with women consumers and that their October [Holiday] print ads were part of a "...new strategy to reach out to women shoppers better and understanding they start shopping earlier and never finish shopping", does that really mean having to be heavy-handed about Christmas? Aren't there more subtle ways to communicate with customers about product ideas and gift-giving concepts?

The 11/30/06 issue of The Seattle Times features this article titled Holiday retailers can't wait by Monica Soto Ouchi. It, too, offers examples of 'Christmas Creep' with Old Navy coming out with decorations before Hallowe'en, and Cost Plus before Labor Day. Ugh! It also shares some excellent stats. Despite all of this creep, it seems that consumers procrastinate more each year. Could it be that - like the beneficiaries of Elmo's every-day-is-Christmas-curse - consumers glaze over these almost desperate in-store holiday pleas???

George Whalin shares some interesting data from the National Retail Federation in Black Friday: The Battle for Consumer Dollars!: "14% of consumers begin their holiday shopping before September, 6.5% in September, and 19.9% in October." Nonetheless, does that really justify broadcasting 'Christmas' on LOUD starting as early as September? Or does it? Some consumers are constantly in shop-mode for Christmas, starting as soon as the current holiday is over. So perhaps we should indeed have Christmas every day!

Wouldn't consumers respond better to retail messages that were more clever, more varied, more season appropriate? That would certainly get my attention, and prevent me from tuning out. Of course, such an approach would go hand-in-hand with a merchandising mix unique to the store and a retail experience second to none! It would mean truly understanding and meeting the needs of consumers and providing stellar service [which The Seattle Times article suggests is what good retailers will be emphasizing]!

Retail Design Diva lists the Top 10 Retail Trends for the Holiday Season. Of those, I consider scent marketing fascinating. I'm noticing it more and more both in-store and in the news.

The other interesting trends are webbier and storemediaintegration. So far, everything I've purchased for the holidays [granted, not much, and purchased earlier in the year!] [and except for one-of-a-kind pottery from shows at the Art School at Old Church and especially the 32nd Annual Pottery Show, which showcases pottery by the country's most renowned potters] has been online because the in-store experiences have been lacking. I am so grateful to retailers with seamless web/store environments! My stress level immediately diminishes. It's fascinating to note which retailers use web/technology in-store to expand store selections and inventory. For example, Borders is offering more in-store web access, and Sears readily makes online ordering available for its Land's End products especially when items in-store are out-of-stock. Smart.

Isn't the end goal to make it so easy for a consumer that she will have no desire to go anywhere else? And, by not making it a matter of price wars [because your product/service are differentiated], margins benefit, too. Methinks Elmo would approve. Make the true Christmas Holiday season special in-store, and come up with different, creative ways to capture holiday magic at other times of the year. Right?

By the way, isn't it interesting that Nordstrom respects the traditional Friday-after-Thanksgiving time frame? Per the AdAge article, "Nordstrom is surprisingly subdued, and there's not a string of lights or evergreen to be found, yet it's packed as shppers flock to the luxury-department-store chain's half-yearly sale. The chain sticks to the after-Thanksgiving rule once uniformly obeyed across the retail industry and waits to even setup holiday decor until the day before Black Friday." Why am I not surprised?

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[Disclaimer: my husband is a potter and affiliated with the Art School at Old Church. The school really does have unbelievably gorgeous pottery shows. And, the annual show is a don't miss opportunity to meet the best potters in the nation.]

Monday, November 20, 2006

Giving Thanks

give thanks originally uploaded by organicpixel.
I love Thanksgiving. It's such a warm and friendly holiday, focused on hospitality and appreciation for the good things that have happened. And, it's a prelude to further merriment.

Thanksgiving being such an American holiday, it's often difficult to explain to non-Americans. To my Parisian family [my Mom is French], we found it simpler to describe Thanksgiving as the feast during which Americans ate as well if not better [!] than the French [Mon Dieu!] - and left it at that. Which is probably why I found this Art Buchwald story titled A Turkey Dinner With French Dressing absolutely hysterical when I first came across it in the late 70s/early 80s [then, it was titled "Le Jour de Merci Donnant". BTW, the premise of the article works with just about any language, so if you were to consider "Spanish Dressing" Thanksgiving would become El Dia de Gracias Dando].

In the spirit of giving thanks, I'd like to highlight some folks who have been wonderfully giving in the blogosphere. I heartily recommend that you visit their sites, if you haven't already:

Mike Sansone from Converstations offered me my first blogtip in October 1st: Blogtipping. I heeded his advice and immediately benefitted by connecting with Susan Abbott [see below]!

My second blogtip came from Drew McLellan at McLellan Marketing Group's Drew's Marketing Minute in Blogtipping -- November '06. Drew, I have trackbacks enabled.

My third and most recent blogtip came from the creator of blogtipping himself, Easton Ellsworth at Business Blogwire in November 2006 Blogtipping Cuisine: Served Fresh and Hot.

I'm extremely proud that Maria Palma's Customers Are Always has inducted Flooring The Consumer into the Customers Are Always Hall of Acclaim in Customers Are Always Incredible Hall of Acclaim Week Two Inductees.

I really appreciate what my guest contributors have posted:
+ Deb Binder with Putting Women In Their Place Front and Center;
+ Sarah Goodman with Going the Extra Kilometer with Iron Girl Judy Molnar and Passing the Torch: Marketing to Moms AND their Daughters;
+ Lisa Contreras with Bloomingdale's Bathroom Makeover;
+ Scott Moore with An Architect's View of Better Lifestyle Centers.
They have added a rich dimension to the conversation. Don't wait too long to contribute more, okay?

Thanks to Susan Abbott from Customer Experience Crossroads and Stephanie Weaver at Experienceology for inviting me to participate in the Bathroom Blogfest. What an amazing ride joining them along with Reshma Anand at What I Do For A Living, Sara Cantor at Curious Shopper, Jackie Huba at Church of the Customer, Maria Palma at Customers Are Always, Linda Tischler at Fast Company's blog FC Now and Sandra Renshaw at Purple Wren. And, thank you to our Wear-Dated reps. for sharing so many wonderful perspectives! I promise you, there will be many more opportunities!

I'm really grateful to my Mom for sharing her story in My Mom is in the Market For Carpet [be sure to read all 3 parts]. Do you know she was surprised that my French cousins knew all about her saga when she was in Paris 3 weeks ago? I wonder which friend or family member will be next? If you have a story, don't be shy. Send me an email.

Thanks, all, and Happy Thanksgiving! Joyeux Jour de Merci Donnant! !Feliz Dia de Gracias Dando!

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Hugs or Relentless Customer Focus!

Jack Mitchell and Pamela Miles extended a huge hug to me in response to A Good Hug is Worth and invited me to visit them. So, on September 21st, I went to Richards of Greenwich, CT and spent an inspiring morning experiencing firsthand the power of hugs!

Jack Mitchell - if you remember - is the author of Hug Your Customers and CEO of Mitchells/Richards/Marshs. Pamela Miles is his most gracious Director of Business Development, and an excellent 'hugger'!

Everyone I met was intense and focused. I arrived early in the day on a Thursday. The weekend was ahead and the pace was about to get much busier. The sales associates were relaxed, interactive, but busy. Busy doing followup with their key customers. Busy getting product together for upcoming customer meetings. No one was lounging about!

From reading the book and hearing Jack's speech, I knew that database systems were important to the tracking of customer information and I was curious to see the 'playbook'. Well, the playbook is essentially a printout of information that captures the play cues for the week: who to call about birthdays or a golf outing, or a special trunk show. Whose garments would be ready for pickup, for alteration... In essence, the golden nugget reminders to followup with key customers based on information gathered from previous interactions [i.e., this is the Client Accumulation Program - inspired by Michael Yacobian who works with Nordstrom on training], sales history, new product arrivals, etc... Each person had his or her own style for making use of those nuggets. That part didn't matter. What did is that the organization empowered its folks to focus ruthless attention on their customers and then got out of their way.

What a concept! To have the organization do the tedious detail work so the associate can shine with the customer, using technology to automate the non-value added work by taking chunks of data and turning those into meaningful and actionable bits of information. [A wonderful resource - Blue Lacuna - has helped us do some of that.]

This retail organization uses the retail cycle to its advantage. More specifically, we all know that peak retail times are during the weekend. Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be yawners; things get a bit more active on Wednesday; on Thursdays things start chugging along and then - bang, it's Friday, watch out for the weekend! Well guess when Richards/Mitchells/Marshs conduct many trunk shows or special events? That's right - on the slow days. The day before my visit [i.e., Wednesday] Richards had had a special Italian chamber of commerce event. It yielded great results!

Given the hug strategy, consider this 7/28/2006 article from Business Week online titled Ruthless Focus on the Customer by Jeneanne Rae. It discusses how critical the customer experience is in ensuring loyalty, profitability, referrals and brand zealotry.

In addition to referencing "Moments of Truth" [a concept that Disney focuses relentlessly on; i.e., all of those critical points of consumer interaction where -if any one goes badly- she can choose to leave you], Rae addresses "Brand Values" ["In a world of competing alternatives, brand values provide the guidance and constraints for creative teams to design appropriately." ], "Technology & People", "Co-Creation" ["The next level of value for product and service companies is not only mass customization, but co-creation of the entire experience." ], an "Eco-System Approach" [i.e., think how Apple has put a personal entertainment delivery system [a.k.a. iPod] into so many consumers' hands by reinventing the whole category and experience], and "Start With the Customer". Think about and like the consumer, experience what the customer experiences, and try Walking in Her Shoes: the insights will be priceless!

In the "Technology AND People" section, the article refers to the role of technology in enabling ruthless focus on the consumer: Link information-technology strategy with human-resource models to create mass customization. ... we have found that companies whose systems are turbocharged to deliver sophisticated insights regarding customer behavior and lifestyles have an edge in developing great customer experiences... to drive better, more personalized, experiences for customers, and more profit for the corporation at the same time. Studies have shown the highest return on operational investments comes from fostering repeat customers—making training, and incentives for front-line staff of critical importance.

Good advice, right? Well, also totally practical. That's what makes the Hugging Strategy so powerful. It's ruthlessly and relentlessly focused on the customer. Any action that isn't about the customer has no reason for being. It is ALL ABOUT THE CUSTOMER!

Yes, you do need information systems [your brain and a manual tickler system will go so far] to empower your people, to arm them with knowledge and make them smarter and quicker and more thoughtful than normal. But, that information MUST be about the customer. Your brand value represents your commitment to your customer's experience and how consistently you implement that day in/out. If you are serious about your customer's experience, you will even encourage her to customize her experience with you [a.k.a. co-creation]. Pamela shared the example of a valued customer caught between a rock and a hard place with work obligations and needing to go shopping for her daughter. Her Richards sales associate solved the matter by taking the daughter shopping. Wow! I bet that customer is not only loyal beyond belief as a result, but has also told everyone she knows!

Maria Palma at Customers Are Always captures these actionable and practical 10 Ways to WOW Your Customers. They are all about showering your customer with hugs. As you consider all of the retail choices that your consumer faces, how will you choose to differentiate your retail experience? How will you demonstrate your unflagging, ruthless and relentless commitment to her experience?

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