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Thursday, May 29, 2008

May Carpetology Update

June is literally around the corner. With that comes a momentous event in my life....

The launch of our redesigned Wear-Dated website!

You'll be hearing lots more about it in upcoming posts, but if you'd like to be among the first to feast your eyes, then mark your calendars for June 1 and go check out Wear-Dated. We are expected the new site to be fully propagated by then. [If you don't see a touch of pink, and a hint of toes, then check again a few hours later...]

Back to goings on over at The Carpetology Blog...

If you are new to Flooring The Consumer, The Carpetology Blog is the official Wear-Dated blog about all things carpet... design, inspiration, care and stories carpet-related. Please do check it out and let me know what you think...

During the month of May, here's what's new:

Carpet maintenance and how best to care for your carpet is a hot topic. For the industry as well as for consumers, with vacuuming being step number one through twenty. Sweeping Beauty: Your Carpet's Best Friend Is Your Vacuum offers advice about vacuums.

[By the way, Annette Smith and I spent an hour this week speaking with Bill Kerns from Kerns Carpet One about Kerns' committment to carpet cleaning. What an opportunity we have as an industry to help consumers understand how best to care for their carpet investment! Look for more from us on that topic.]

We've posted two more entries in our Color Around The World series [this updates the Color Folio 2008: A Field Guide To Color post]:
+ Blue Around The World
+ White Around The World

And, two more video episodes:
+ A Foot's Perspective - Episode 4
+ A Foot's Perspective - Episode 3

Several stories about carpet:
Way-Finding With Carpet
Goodbye, Metrorail Carpet!
NY-NY Casino Abandons Branded Carpet

And, practical as well as unusual uses for those carpet scraps you're left with after your carpet installation:
+ Why Save Carpet Scraps From Your Installation?
+ In The Garden, Around The House: Endless Uses for ...

Finally, a story focusing on an extremely versatile and colorful carpet style: Carpet Style Provides World Palette of Choices.

As always, please let me know if you come across any intriguing ideas to showcase, or whether there are specific subjects that come up when you discuss carpet with customers, friends and family.

Enjoy, and Thank You for reading and subscribing!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Brand Building Via Web 2.0 - A White Paper

Web 2.0 and its ability to create relevant and authentic conversation - and then community - around a brand fascinate me. It's a topic that sits at the heart of The Age of Conversation - Why Don't They Get It? It's also a topic that I explore in a white paper titled "A Firsthand Tale of Adopting Web 2.0 Technology to Build Brand" that recently appeared in Perform.

Perform: The Marketing 2.0 Authority is Montgomery Research's newest publication. Its inaugural issue went live on Monday, May 19th, 2008. with the following Preface:

The Web has changed marketing forever.

Global 2000 companies continue to struggle with integrating a multitude of fragmented campaigns while maintaining a globally consistent brand. Marketers throughout all industries are caught between the need to deliver short-term results and the imperative to implement forward-looking brand management strategies.

These are among the stay-awake issues we’ve addressed in the premiere issue of Perform: The Marketing 2.0 Authority. We link the “why” of thoughtful strategy and branding to the “how” of effective tactics and implementation. This broad range of exclusive and uniquely powerful content written by analysts, consultants, vendors and industry experts provides you with a thorough board-level briefing on the most urgent topics facing marketers today.

We pay special attention to ROI. Exactly how do you measure the effectiveness of your online marketing and advertising efforts? Why is the “last ad” methodology not up to the task? What can you replace it with to get a more accurate snapshot of what you’re getting in return for your online marketing dollars? Our experts pose some of the most provocative thought leadership on these topics that you’re likely to find anywhere.

We raise – and answer – other questions as well. How do you build customer communities without alienating users already skeptical of marketing? How can you create your own viral marketing events? What’s the most effective use of blogging? How do you manage the two-edged sword of user-generated content?

Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more. The insight contained in these pages will forever change the way you think about online advertising – and inspire you to take action in ways that will have an immediate and dramatic impact on your online marketing and brand management strategies.

The publication topics include:
+ Strategy 2.0,
+ The New Brand Dialogue,
+ Marketing 2.0,
+ Media,
+ Lead-Gen and Search, and
+ Delivering the Customer Experience.

My chapter description reads: As marketing evolves into a two-way conversation that technology enables, it changes how we interact with customers and the value we offer the marketplace. Traditional marketing – based on interruption, forcing oneself on others and being loud and mostly irrelevant – becomes obsolete. It [also available via pdf here] appears in the New Brand Dialogue Chapter along with:

12 Essential Tips For Success in Social Media by Chris Kenton, SocialRep.
Whether you call it social media or consumer-generated content, there’s no debate over the accelerating popularity of Internet sites and forums where consumers share opinions and experiences about every product and service imaginable. From blogs and podcasts to wikis and social networks, social media allows consumers to rate and review products, advise fellow consumers and even make their own commercials praising or bashing businesses and brands.

Amplify Your Brand Through The User Experience
Web Associates produces award-winning creative and innovative online marketing delivered through a single technology layer.

Engage or Perish: The Choice Is Yours by Lewis Green, L&G Business Solutions.
Like the Industrial Age, the Conversation Age (often referred to as Web 2.0) requires businesses to change and recognize that the status quo is unproductive and unacceptable. If your company is to remain competitive, increase market share and grow its business, the time to reinvent yourself is now. That means it’s time to invest in social media, specifically blogging, and add it to your marketing and branding toolbox.

Listening and Participating by Toby Bloomberg, Bloomberg Marketing/Diva Marketing.
Social media is providing marketers with an array of tools and opportunities that offer an unusual entrée into understanding the good, bad and ugly of how customers use and perceive brands, your company and even your employees. In today’s world, it is increasingly critical to understand your specific customer needs and to build business relationships both on a local and global basis.

New Channels Help You Find Your Missing Audience by Cory Van Arsdale, Microsoft Corporation.
If it’s getting harder to reach your target market with TV and online ad campaigns, it’s likely because your audience has left the building. Or it could be they’ve entered another world – a virtual world. But not to worry: you can still connect with them.

Q&A: Dennis Morrow from Web Associates.
As director of information architecture and usability, Mr. Morrow leads Web Associates’ holistic approach to combining user interface design, human factors and usability practices, resulting in positive user experience initiatives for the agency’s family of global brands.

Q&A: Keith Pigues from Business Marketing Association International.
Keith Pigues is chairman of the board of directors for the Business Marketing Association International and a member of the Executive Leadership Council. In 2007, he received the Frost & Sullivan Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award and was recognized by B2B Magazine as one of the leading senior marketing practitioners. Since 2007, Mr. Pigues has served as corporate senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Ply Gem Industries, Inc. He was previously VP of marketing at CEMEX USA , where he led all branding, marketing and market development for the U.S. operations of the world’s largest building materials company.

The Art of Creating A Community from Guy Kawasaki, Garage Technology Ventures
I admit it: I’m a user-group junkie. I got my first taste of user groups when I worked for Apple – speaking at their meetings was one of my great pleasures. Their members were unpaid, raging, inexorable thunder lizard evangelists for Macintosh and Apple II.

The Customer Advisory Board: A How-To Guide for The Internet Age from Ross King, King Research.
Good market intelligence is imperative in today’s increasingly competitive environment. Product segments are commoditizing; product life cycles are shortening; and with smart competitors in almost every segment, CMOs and their teams need all the good market intelligence that they can get to develop and implement their marketing strategies.

The New Pay-to-Play Model in the Blogosphere from David Binkowski, Haas MS&L
The old model of journalism is dying, at least online. Relationships between companies and media writers have been supplanted by a new business model. My European colleagues, particularly those in Germany, clued me in to how public relations “works” in their countries: If you want your material to appear in newspapers or magazines, you must purchase advertising. Of course, there are exceptions, but in these countries, public relations is considered part of advertising and is budgeted for media spends accordingly. Fabricated terms like “branded content,” “infotainment” and “edu-mercials” immediately come to mind.

The Power of Corporate Blogging: Some Guidelines for Doing It Right from Paul Gillin, Paul Gillin Communications
On May 31, 2006, The New York Times published an article by columnist Thomas Friedman that featured some pointed criticism of General Motors.

The Rise of Social Sales and Marketing from Ken Pulverman, Oracle
The jury is in. Evolution hasn’t really caught up with humanity’s highfalutin attitudes about our species’ uniqueness. Less than 100 years ago, human existence was purely about survival in most cultures. Our survival depended on our ability to work as a group. Like it or not, we are still essentially animals grouped in packs. We hunt in packs; we farm in packs; and, indeed, we buy in packs. It turns out that even our longevity is affected by the extent to which we engage with other groups of people.

Think Liquid from Geoff Livingston, Livingston Communications
Regardless of technological change, the future of social media will be dictated by the community’s rapid adoption of new media forms. Change occurs dynamically in online communities as new applications develop. Though behavior changes, relationships must be maintained. That means successful marketers must use flexible strategies as they move forward with their online efforts.

Each chapter is equally filled with insightful perspective on Web 2.0 from amazing authors. I urge you to browse and read and learn. That's what I'm doing.

You can also browse by White Papers if you prefer not to explore by Topic.

Thanks to Diva Toby Bloomberg for the encouragement. This white paper takes my Biz Blog Profile Series: Flooring The Consumer, Wear-Dated one step further and deeper as I continue my Web 2.0 journey.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Age of Conversation - Why Don't They Get It?

Narrow focus originally uploaded by Dragonize.
Theodore Levitt's "Marketing Myopia" greeted me as I started business school. It was our first assigned reading, in anticipation of case studies where we needed to remove blinders and ditch preconceived notions.

I was stunned and mesmerized. The article placed trains - and other industries - in a new framework. It forced on me broader marketplace perspective and greater customer appreciation. It opened my mind to possibilities.

When Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton announced the theme of the next Age of Conversation [see The Age of Conversation: What's Next?] - Why Don't People Get It? - and the 8 topics [see below] to be addressed, I gravitated toward Business Model Evolution. I let the topic wash over me for a few weeks, and Marketing Myopia came to mind.

My chapter is titled "Don't Be Myopic About Social Media." To whet your appetite, here is a snippet:

"Do you remember Theodore Levitt’s “Marketing Myopia” about defining something too narrowly? Move forward to today’s Age of Conversation, enabled by social media tools - like wikis, blogs, social networks, and RSS - that many define too narrowly."

Given the wide range of topics, I expect this Age of Conversation to be even more thought-provoking and entertaining that the last... Consider the topics:

+ Manifestos -- Declarations, up front, on the Age of Conversation. Why don't people get it? What about companies? Where are things going? What can you help clarify?

+ Keeping Secrets in the Age of Conversation -- With everyone talking so much, why do we need secrets? What is the role of privacy? What about different personas and identities? Why don't consumers understand that their online conversations are tracked and can come back to haunt them?

+ Moving from Conversation to Action -- Talk is cheap, or so they say. What are the practical steps that businesses and brands can take to move from conversation to something more valuable to their business? And if it is so easy, why don't they just do it?

+ The Accidental Marketer -- People "fall into" marketing. They may study and qualify in a different discipline but somehow find themselves in marketing and advertising. What is the attraction? Or...have you known a company or brand who just seemed to naturally fall into marketing success? How do you think that happened?

+ A New Brand of Creative -- With the changes in the way that people communicate and collaborate online, marketing and advertising companies are needing to reach out and work with a new type of creative team. What do these "creatives" look like. What are their skills? Why do they evangelize digital and new media? And what are the challenges that they face?

+ My Marketing Tragedy -- A topic only for the brave ... Do you know a project that failed? Was it yours? What prevented success? What worked? And most importantly, what did you learn? Who didn't "get it" -- was it your client, your boss, the board, or (dare we ask) you?

+ Business Model Evolution -- Just as the markets and people are changing, so too are the business models around both clients and agencies. What is your take on this? What is working and what is not? Where will things go? What happens if an agency doesn't "get it". How do you measure "it" ... and where will things go?

+ Life in the Conversation Lane -- Bringing it all back to the individual -- how is life in a digitally connected, social world impacting our lives? What is the personal cost and what is the attraction? Is there a balance or are we just kidding ourselves?

Furthermore, the book will showcase 275 blogger voices this year, compared to 103 last year. Amazing!

We have all handed in our chapters, and the book has started its journey into production. It will be released for sale on Lulu.com on August 21st, with the proceeds once again benefiting Variety, the children's charity.

Cheap Thrills' Ryan Barrett put a call out to the authors in Teeny tiny snippet from my Age of Conversation chapter - contributors, send me one from yours! and has captured the resulting contributions in The Age of Conversation 2008: Excerpts in case you want a taste of what's to come.

The Age of Conversation 2008 is now on its path to production.

The 275 contributors appear below. I can't wait to read the final product, The Age of Conversation - Why Don't They Get It?

Adam Crowe, Adrian Ho, Aki Spicer, Alex Henault, Amy Jussel, Andrew Odom, Andy Nulman, Andy Sernovitz, Andy Whitlock, Angela Maiers, Ann Handley, Anna Farmery, Armando Alves, Arun Rajagopal, Asi Sharabi, Becky Carroll, Becky McCray, Bernie Scheffler, Bill Gammell, Bob Carlton, Bob LeDrew, Brad Shorr, Bradley Spitzer, Brandon Murphy, Branislav Peric, Brent Dixon, Brett Macfarlane, Brian Reich, C.C. Chapman, Cam Beck, Casper Willer, Cathleen Rittereiser, Cathryn Hrudicka, Cedric Giorgi, Charles Sipe, Chris Kieff, Chris Cree, Chris Wilson, Christina Kerley (CK), C.B. Whittemore, Clay Parker Jones, Chris Brown, Colin McKay, Connie Bensen, Connie Reece, Cord Silverstein, Corentin Monot, Craig Wilson, Daniel Honigman, Dan Goldstein, Dan Schawbel, Dana VanDen Heuvel, Dan Sitter, Daria Radota Rasmussen, Darren Herman, Darryl Patterson, Dave Davison, Dave Origano, David Armano, David Bausola, David Berkowitz, David Brazeal, David Koopmans, David Meerman Scott, David Petherick, David Reich, David Weinfeld, David Zinger, Deanna Gernert, Deborah Brown, Dennis Price, Derrick Kwa, Dino Demopoulos, Doug Haslam, Doug Meacham, Doug Mitchell, Douglas Hanna, Douglas Karr, Drew McLellan, Duane Brown, Dustin Jacobsen, Dylan Viner, Ed Brenegar, Ed Cotton, Efrain Mendicuti, Ellen Weber, Emily Reed, Eric Peterson, Eric Nehrlich, Ernie Mosteller, Faris Yakob, Fernanda Romano, Francis Anderson, G. Kofi Annan, Gareth Kay, Gary Cohen, Gaurav Mishra, Gavin Heaton, Geert Desager, George Jenkins, G.L. Hoffman, Gianandrea Facchini, Gordon Whitehead, Graham Hill, Greg Verdino, Gretel Going & Kathryn Fleming, Hillel Cooperman, Hugh Weber, J. Erik Potter, J.C. Hutchins, James Gordon-Macintosh, Jamey Shiels, Jasmin Tragas, Jason Oke, Jay Ehret, Jeanne Dininni, Jeff De Cagna, Jeff Gwynne, Jeff Noble, Jeff Wallace, Jennifer Warwick, Jenny Meade, Jeremy Fuksa, Jeremy Heilpern, Jeremy Middleton, Jeroen Verkroost, Jessica Hagy, Joanna Young, Joe Pulizzi, Joe Talbott, John Herrington, John Jantsch, John Moore, John Rosen, John Todor, Jon Burg, Jon Swanson, Jonathan Trenn, Jordan Behan, Julie Fleischer, Justin Flowers, Justin Foster, Karl Turley, Kate Trgovac, Katie Chatfield, Katie Konrath, Kenny Lauer, Keri Willenborg, Kevin Jessop, Kris Hoet, Krishna De, Kristin Gorski, Laura Fitton, Laurence Helene Borei, Lewis Green, Lois Kelly, Lori Magno, Louise Barnes-Johnston, Louise Mangan, Louise Manning, Luc Debaisieux, Marcus Brown, Mario Vellandi, Mark Blair, Mark Earls, Mark Goren, Mark Hancock, Mark Lewis, Mark McGuinness, Mark McSpadden, Matt Dickman, Matt J. McDonald, Matt Moore, Michael Hawkins, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Michelle Lamar, Mike Arauz, Mike McAllen, Mike Sansone, Mitch Joel, Monica Wright, Nathan Gilliatt, Nathan Snell, Neil Perkin, Nettie Hartsock, Nick Rice, Oleksandr Skorokhod, Ozgur Alaz, Paul Chaney, Paul Hebert, Paul Isakson, Paul Marobella, Paul McEnany, Paul Tedesco, Paul Williams, Pet Campbell, Pete Deutschman, Peter Corbett, Phil Gerbyshak, Phil Lewis, Phil Soden, Piet Wulleman, Rachel Steiner, Sreeraj Menon, Reginald Adkins, Richard Huntington, Rishi Desai, Beeker Northam, Rob Mortimer, Robert Hruzek, Roberta Rosenberg, Robyn McMaster, Roger von Oech, Rohit Bhargava, Ron Shevlin, Ryan Barrett, Ryan Karpeles, Ryan Rasmussen, Sam Huleatt, Sandy Renshaw, Scott Goodson, Scott Monty, Scott Townsend, Scott White, Sean Howard, Sean Scott, Seni Thomas, Seth Gaffney, Shama Hyder, Sheila Scarborough, Sheryl Steadman, Simon Payn, Sonia Simone, Spike Jones, Stanley Johnson, Stephen Collins, Stephen Cribbett, Stephen Landau, Stephen Smith, Steve Bannister, Steve Hardy, Steve Portigal, Steve Roesler, Steven Verbruggen, Steve Woodruff, Sue Edworthy, Susan Bird, Susan Gunelius, Susan Heywood, Tammy Lenski, Terrell Meek, Thomas Clifford, Thomas Knoll, Tiffany Kenyon, Tim Brunelle, Tim Buesing, Tim Connor, Tim Jackson, Tim Longhurst, Tim Mannveille, Tim Tyler, Timothy Johnson, Tinu Abayomi-Paul, Toby Bloomberg, Todd Andrlik, Troy Rutter, Troy Worman, Uwe Hook, Valeria Maltoni, Vandana Ahuja, Vanessa DiMauro, Veronique Rabuteau, Wayne Buckhanan, William Azaroff, Yves Van Landeghem

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Brand & Customer Experience Blogs That Make Customers Sing

5 62644.jpg originally uploaded by uruandimi.
Buzz Canuck's Sean Moffitt urges us to do some serious customer-focused summer reading in Brand & Customer Experience Gold - 36 Blogs That Make Customers Sing.

He says: "whereas, the majority of ads get missed and 70% of the population would like to skip them completely, beyond-the-expected, customer service and branded customer experience has a profound effect on purchase decision-making and customer advocacy."

It goes back to that lukewarm customer service we discussed in The Middle is Gone. Indifference just won't cut it!

So, Sean put together a detailed reading list to last from June 1 through July 4th of on-the-mark brand and customer experience blogs. This list includes gems by many friends, and is guaranteed to inspire new thoughts around how to delight customers and make them sing not just Christmas Carols [as captured above], but also arias, folk songs, and anthems.

Here's the list for June:

1 - Experience Curve (Karl Long)
2 - The Perfect Customer Experience (Dale Wolf)
3 - Customer Experience Crossroads (Susan Abbott)
4 - Customer World (Sivaraman Swaminathan)
5 - Experience Solutions (Ali Carmichael/Damian Rees)
6 - How To Create Powerful Customer Experience (Kim Proctor)
7 - Experience the Message (Max Lenderman)

8 - Get Elastic (Jason Billingsley/Linda Bustos)
9 - Creating Passionate Users (Kathy Sierra)
10 - Customer Experience Leaders (Brian Lunde)
11- Customers Rock! (Becky Carroll)
12 - Customers Are Always (Maria Palma)
13 - Seth Godin (Seth Godin)
14 - ConverStations (Mike Sansone)

15 - Experience Matters (Bruce Temkin)
16 - Get Satisfaction (Thor Muller and team)
17 - Logic + Emotion (David Armano)
18 - The Brand Builder Blog (Oliver Blanchard)
19 - IdeasonIdeas (Eric Karjaluoto)
20 - Social Customer Manifesto (Christopher Carfi)
21 - Web Strategy by Jeremiah (Jeremiah Owyang)

22 - Brand Autopsy (John Moore)
23 - Service Untitled
24 - Customer Service Experience (Glenn Ross)
25 - Flooring the Consumer (C.B. Whittemore)
26 - Your Customers Matter…Don’t They (Lori Adrianse)
27 - The Experience Economist (David Polinchock)
28 - Experienceology (Stephanie Weaver)

29 - Six Pixels of Separation (Mitch Joel)
30 - EMF Blog (Neil Burns/Erik Hauser)

And, for the July 4th holiday:
1 - Jack 360 Degrees (Jack Morton’s team)
2 - Advent Marketing Blog (John Roberson & Company)
3 - Alternative Marketing 101 (Kristopher Saim)
4 – Buzz Canuck (Sean Moffitt)

Thanks, Sean, for including Flooring The Consumer, and for focusing attention on the customer experience.

Happy reading, all!

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Middle is Gone

Hourglass originally uploaded by the other Martin Taylor.
The middle is gone, from a multitude of perspectives.

It's grim in Europe where households are squeezed like never before as this 5/1/2008 article titled "For Europe’s Middle-Class, Stagnant Wages Stunt Lifestyle" by Carter Dougherty and Katrin Bennhold describes. Imagine not being able to afford a baguette!

Not that it's limited to Europe. The American Dream also seems under attack as we try to figure out how to adjust to mortgage crises, rising gasoline prices, inefficient cars, increasing food costs and a future of significant national debt.

Although grim, it's also fascinating as we discover new ways of doing things. My friend Cathy's son - who's just learning to drive - realized with shock that paying to refill the gas tank makes riding the bus not only cool, but also really smart!

How are businesses reacting?

Some have opted for Trading Up, others for the Treasure Hunt concept. The reason according to author Michael J. Silverstein - from a Knowledge [at] Wharton article titled "Death in the Middle: Why Consumers Seek Value at the Top and Bottom of Markets - is as follows: "In the U.S. and around the world, the consumer markets are bifurcating into two fast-growing pools of spending. ... At the high end, consumers are trading up, paying a premium for high-quality, emotionally rich, high-margin products and services. At the low end, consumers are relentlessly trading down, spending as little as possible to buy basic, low-cost goods and services."

Silverstein first wrote about these trends in 2002. They seem ever more true today as we observe the marketplace being turned upside down.

Says Silverstein: "Markets were bifurcating, which meant that the top and bottom were growing and the middle was in horrible decline -- and that is creating quite a few casualties." Hence the transformation of the traditional marketplace pyramid into an hourglass. The middle is on its way to being gone. In some cases, the middle is gone!

Although grim, it's also exciting as consumers decide where to find value. "It is about consumers living a rich, balanced life, being careful with their money, and buying a handful of products where they trade up and others where they trade down. It's about consumers comparing, contrasting, experimenting and bargaining. It's about relentless behavior that is primarily female. It's about the female head of household operating in many situations like a purchasing agent, separating truth from charade, and marketing claims from real benefits. It is a powerful force in the global economy, creating both opportunity and threat."

Even more true today. According to the Wall Street Journal, Luxury Retailers Pin Hopes on Outlets [reg. req'd]. The New York Times says that Discounters Fared Well in Quarter.

Patrick Hanlon [see Creation Stories] says companies have two choices: to be the "low-cost provider (which almost no American company can achieve faced with foreign competition) or they can create sustained differentiation by surrounding themselves with a community of enthusiasts who flock to the brand and stick to it no matter what."

For those still in the middle [perhaps many flooring stores?], you, too, have two choices. "If you're in the middle market, you have to understand that you fundamentally can't do both things. You have to decide who you are and whom you serve. It's very much the Warren Buffet model of running a company, which is to delay or reduce spending and focus in on delivery of a very successful pricing formula. ... The other way is to turn up the heat on innovation and to think about the emotional characteristics of consumer needs and to give them goods that they can crave, goods that will allow them to celebrate their lives and celebrate their successes," says Silverstein.

Applying that thinking to today's retail experience, consider Jon Trivers' recent Retail Notebook article in Vol. 3, No. 9 of FCW Prime in which he talks about this very subject. "First off" he says, "the low end is not necessarily low-end products. For our industry, it is those who sell just product and do not offer any installation.... In 10 years, these product-only retailers have grown by 800 storefronts or 13.8 percent... [when] full-service floor covering stores have decreased by about the same percentage."

Trivers makes a critical distinction. We aren't necessarily talking about 'cheap,' but rather about value to the consumer. It brings to mind Innovating with Experience Co-Creation for Blue Oceans and Innovating with Blue Ocean Strategy and Experience Co-Creation. This "low end" of the market, where treasure hunting occurs, is where innovation is taking place, redefining what is luxury and what is not. Think Coach handbags, Starbucks coffee, Apple iPod, even Target and IKEA....

Here's another aspect of the retail experience where the middle is gone: customer service. As Kizer & Bender describe in You cannot afford to be lukewarm!, "Lukewarm doesn’t cut it anywhere. People are happy when service providers are nice to them but we all desire over-the-top, white hot service." This matters particularly if you cater to the high-end of the market, but it also matters at the low end. And, if you can't provide me with competent service, then you had better have a top-of-the-line automated checkout system in place!

Isn't lukewarm comparable to indifference which drives customer defection --by 68%...?

Or, what about a store's product assortment? No longer can you you offer only 'safe' middle-of-the-road products [reminds me of walking into a department store several years back wanting to buy, only to find a sea of relentless beige clothing items. Nothing stood out. Everything mumbled 'boring.' I immediately walked out.]. You must take a stand with your products.

Risky? Yes. Necessary? Yes! And, even riskier not to!

Products must be differentiated. Use your expertise to edit and focus only on The Best of The Best, with a selection of remarkable, solid-performing, unusual and stylish products. Be sure to have a solid reason for including every product, and don't have 50,000 versions of that same product to confuse matters and signal that you're still in the middle.

Same goes for your retail experience. Figure out what makes you different in your market and focus on that [see Banish the Hard Sell - Focus on Value, Not Price!]. Middle of the road stores, and products, bore. They don't compel purchases, they don't engage emotions.

'The middle is gone' even came up during BlogHer Business 2008 when the Budget Fashionista, Kathryn Finney, spoke. Her mission, since 2003, has been about making readers' lives easier/better by providing expert fashion advice and trends for real women. In retail, she says there's luxury and there's budget. And nothing in the middle.

The middle is gone. If you don't believe me, you'll be gone, too.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Jon Trivers - How To Create Your Own Flooring Empire

588-2300 originally uploaded by TCM Hitchhiker.
At Surfaces 2008, Jon Trivers presented "How To Create Your Own Empire" in reference to Empire Carpet [now flooring or rather Today], the shop-at-home resource.

I'm fascinated with unusual business models, particularly in flooring. Although Empire is not a new organization, it is one that has successfully carved out a respectable market segment, in a focused way.

Before specifically addressing Empire Today, Trivers drew the audience's attention to recent failed attempts to bring a national flooring presence to the country. More specifically, Home Depot Expo and The Great Indoors.

In Trivers' opinion, both have failed because they were unable to institutionalize personal customer service. Bigness is counter-intuitive to personal customer service. Customer service combined with cleanliness combined with beautiful stores combined with people. For example, Home Depot takes 8.5 minutes to greet a shopper, when customers expect to be greeted within one minute. That's a major gap!

Empire Today started out in 1959 as Empire Carpet in Chicago. It was sold to an investment group in 2002 - "more secretive than the CIA" according to Trivers - and can now be found in 55 markets across North America.

What's fascinating about the Empire business model is that they have no physical stores, no employees [i.e., salespeople are on commission and installers are subcontractors] and focus heavily on advertising through local television. Empire is known for 'roadblocking' with advertising [i.e., running the same ad at the same time across multiple networks]. And, they've been effective: their advertising has been so consistent with the Empire Man and the Empire Jingle [588-2300] that both have achieved notoriety and impressive unaided recognition. [Read the notes to the photo above for additional historical perspective.]

The Empire promise is "Empire Today, Carpet Tomorrow." In other words, when the customer is ready, Empire is ready. Even though the reality is that the consumer isn't ready tomorrow. However, when she is ready, you had better be able to install fast! What that requires is a narrow assortment, quickly shipped, installed immediately. All of the elements must work together to MOVE fast!

Empire focuses primarily on young families [25 to 45], where both parents work, middle income bracket, willing to sacrifice assortment/selection for speed and willing to pay a premium for convenience and speed of response. Both are Internet savvy: 65% of Empire customers use the website and fill out the online form rather than use a phone.

This market segment has nothing to do with Boomers! Boomers demand too much, and believe in retailers who "raise the authenticity quotient" rather than the convenience quotient.

The overall market has bifurcated with the middle disappearing. The middle used to represent 80% of the market [think Sears, Penney's, Wards and other mid-level department stores]; it is now closer to 6% [i.e., visualize a pyramid turning into an hourglass]. 12% of the population now wants no frills [e.g., Sam's, Wal-Mart and dollar stores] and the rest wants full-service, high-end specialty stores with selection. That represents a great opportunity in the next 16 years to sell beautiful products.

However, another segment values convenience. That's the Empire segment.

Specialty flooring stores should consider taking part, focusing on what they can do that Empire can't, keeping Boomers in mind. Weaknesses in the Empire model represent opportunities for specialty stores.

1. Empire offers a limited assortment - very narrow and vanilla. 6 price points, 12 colors, all in inventory. No special orders.

2. The customer experience is high pressure [i.e., hard sell]. If the salesperson leaves without the order, s/he doesn't earn a commission. Furthermore, the salesperson has only one chance to close. Once out the door, the order is lost.

3. The price is negotiable, starting very high. Again, without closing the sale, the salesperson doesn't get the order.

4. There are no stores, therefore no opportunity to show variety and concepts to spark ideas.

5. Salespeople and installers are sub-contractors and employee turnover is high.

Trivers offered 3 choices:
- Offer in-home service in addition to what you offer
- Establish a separate operation, with the same name [Trivers' recommendation]
- Create a standalone operation with a different name.

The separate operation is critical because the mindset differs radically from that of in-store selling, and the customer must believe that you are fully committed to shop-at-home, and able to move fast. She expects instant gratification when she is ready to make a decision.

The operation must have a separate 800#, a dedicated sales staff, separate and limited products [all available by quick ship or in inventory]. However, the business name should communicate what you do and associate the business with your established retail brand.

The dedicated sales staff must be able to handle in-home selling which is not the same as selling in-home to customer who has visited store first. The sales staff must be ready to contact the customer within 12 hours of receipt of request, visit the home within 48 hours of contact, probably at night. The sales staff has to be prepared with questions to ask to pre-select products for customer.

[This reminds me of a young BMW salesman at DiFeo BMW in Tenafly, NJ who took on the Internet leads because none of the established salesguys took them seriously. Boy, were they ever sorry!]

According to Trivers, there is nothing to lose! It's not a major investment, and it's an opportunity to participate in a residential replacement niche that you otherwise would never encounter, with a new customer that you have the opportunity to build a relationship with and expose to your store at the same time. With a goal of closing 65% of leads in home, and bringing another 35% into store, you have everything to gain especially if you avoid the hard sell!

Some other caveats: don't mess with pricing. Incorporate this service in every company ad or commercial. Incorporate it in the website and make sure that consumers can fill out an appointment form online and access the 800 to call. Finally, buy Empire Carpet as key words!

Having learned more about Empire Today from Trivers, I was tickled to come across a press release New Empire Today™ Internet Blog 'Empire Carpet Stories' Voices ... in which "Leading home improvement and home furnishings provider Empire Today announces new Customer Testimonial Blog ..." There are actually two testimonial sites:

+ http://carpetstories.empiretoday.com/
+ http://flooringstories.empiretoday.com/

You'll find that they are filled with positive experiences that satisfied customers share. I was disappointed to find no negative stories. They have to exist. Sure enough, I found them on sites like http://empire-carpet.pissedconsumer.com/ and Complaints Board Empire Carpet. What a missed opportunity to develop and strengthen relationships and build word-of-mouth. How much more powerful to include those on the same site and respond directly!

Something tells me, though, that it's a matter of time before Empire Today catches on. Otherwise, I wouldn't have come across the empire carpet's photostream [5/23/08 Note: the photo I originally included above from Empire Today and the entire photostream have been removed from Flickr. Perhaps they were too commercial?]

At the same time, if traditional specialty flooring retailers figure out how to make the flooring retail experience convenient and fashion-focused, consumers might actually be floored again!

I am not the Empire consumer. However, I am time-stressed. I do want convenience, with beautiful, high-quality carpet selections to choose from . I don't want a hard sell, but I do want someone who will take the time to understand my needs and make relevant recommendations. I want someone who will ensure that my installation is flawless, and who will be there if I have any concerns.

That's the way to create a Flooring Empire!

Related Surfaces 2008 posts:
+ Las Vegas and FAO Schwartz
+ Tom Jennings - Installation is Not a Dirty Word
+ Kizer & Bender - First Impressions: The Art of Sto...
+ Sam Allman - How To Survive & Thrive During a Slow...

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Monday, May 12, 2008

What's In Your Neighborhood? The High Point Brewery

Have you checked out what's in your neighborhood? Perhaps there's something you've overlooked...

It just so happens we have a gem in our neighborhood: the High Point Brewery in Butler, NJ, makers of Ramstein beers [lagers and wheat beers] and "the first exclusive wheat beer brewery in America."

They also offer tours on the second Saturday of the month from 2 to 4pm. That's when you get to meet the owner, Greg Zaccardi [below holding one of his creations], and learn from the tour guide, Brian Boak, a brewer in his own right.

Per Beer Travelers Visiting High Point Wheat Beer Co., and a story that originally appeared in Brew Your Own magazine in November 1997:

"Zaccardi is founder, president and just about any other title you want to give him at High Point Wheat Beer Co. in Butler, N.J., the first post-Prohibition brewery in the United States to produce only wheat beers.

Zaccardi was introduced to weiss beers while touring Bavaria with his wife, Simone, whose family directs brewing at the Liebinger Brewery in Ravensburg, Germany. "I tasted the hefe and I said, 'Wow, there's nothing like this in the United States.' "

After graduating from college in 1989 and returning home to New Jersey to work for the Environmental Protection Agency, Zaccardi became a gonzo homebrewer. He was a certified beer judge, ran the New York City Homebrewers Guild and started to make plans to start his own microbrewery."

Zacardi founded High Point Brewery in 1994, adopting the name 'Ramstein' after the German town located close to U.S. Ramstein Air Force Base. "High Point wanted the name of its beers to reflect a marriage of German tradition and American innovation.

We had a really good time!

In my husband's words:
"During our visit, we mingled with a crowd of about 40 people, ½ or more for the tour, and the other half just to get their kegs or growlers filled. FYI, a growler is a half gallon rubber stopped glass stein fillable with the draft and draft only beers and ales they have. [Here's information on the -possible- origin of the name 'growler'.]

The first half hour before the tour the crowd hangs in the anteroom/bar where you can drink any of the beers they have available that day in exchange for one of the 5 free tickets you are given as you come in the door.

NOTE: This anteroom/bar looks like a pub. It's welcoming, friendly, homey and exudes Gemütlichkeit, complete with German music... Thought went into creating this space and making it a part of the brewery.

You only get ½ pint cups per ticket, but 5 half pints will do ya in the middle of the afternoon. [They offer plenty of chips, pretzels, cheese, and nuts.]

The beers and ales are very good. They actually import their wheat, barley, hops, and yeast from Germany [from Bavaria]. The tour, such as it is, is an explanatory walk around the very nice, but fairly small (100’ X 50’ 20’ high room in the warehouse) area where the very beautiful and modern equipment is arranged. It takes about 25 minutes. After that you can hang out and drink beer, or, as we did, buy a growler, fill it with “double platinum blonde” draft wheat beer, and take off.

PS You can go any day during business hours, 9 to 5, to fill up a keg or a growler."

Zaccardi intended originally to locate the brewery in the town of High Point, named for the highest point in New Jersey, which stands 1,803 feet [note the monument on the brewery's logo].... "However, High Point didn't have the suitable infrastructure (water, sanitation and building) for a brewery, so they ended up in Butler. Butler was built up around the American Hard Rubber Mill, a sprawling historic building where the brewery shares space with a dozen different businesses. " [from the 1997 article].

Water represents an important ingredient in the brewing process as we learned from tour guide Brian Boak [pictured here below], a brewmaster in his right and creator of Boak's Beer [some of his beers were fermenting as we toured].

Brian is also founder of the Jersey Association of Home Brewers and took us through the six steps of the brewing process.

The water in this part of New Jersey is so good that even Mario Batali has chosen it [and High Point Brewery] as the preferred source of water for Del Posto.

From New York Magazine features, "... The restaurant’s water originates in a New Jersey spring. It’s piped to nearby High Point Brewing Company and put through a cellulose-fiber filter, then a carbon filter, then heated to 170 degrees for ten minutes. Minerals (calcium and magnesium among others) are reintroduced for “flavor.” It took three months of taste tests with Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich to hit on the right “recipe.”"


No surprise, High Point Brewery has garnered many awards, including being rated as #7 of the best 25 breweries in the USA by Beer Advocate Magazine December 2007.

Here's what struck me about this experience. With so much focus lately on connecting with the neighborhood [e.g., Starbucks and Applebee's to name two], isn't it wonderful to encounter people who really are part of the neighborhood? So authentic a part of the neighborhood that crowds form in anticipation of the event. In fact, if it hadn't been for the crowd, we might not have known where to go to find this working beer factory.

And, better yet, isn't it impressive that these neighbors invite your in and make you feel welcome? The monthly event draws the neighborhood in; visitors linger in this third place, chatting with friends as they fill their growlers. If you can't wait for the next monthly tour to refill your growler or keg, you are welcome to drop by during the week. That's friendly. It's also smart marketing.

So, what kinds of events are your creating to connect with your neighborhood on a regular basis? How do you invite neighbors in to continue the relationship?

Related Stories: Northern New Jersey and Me: Perfect Together!

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Color Folio 2008: A Field Guide To Color

Wear-Dated has just released Color Folio 2008, A Field Guide to Color. It is inspired by John J. Audubon's work.

Ann Hurley, our Wear-Dated and Ultron carpet fiber color expert, shares the following information relating to A Field Guide to Color.

When it comes to color, it is the interplay and relationship that is most interesting and inspiring. As we studied trends and selected colors for our 2008 forecast, we were drawn to the historical work of John J. Audubon. We were inspired by his paintings and discovered how relevant the beautiful color combinations of Audubon’s birds were for our forecast, and for the way in which we apply color to interior spaces today.

Sensitively and intimately in concert with nature, no other artist of his time or since has recorded birds in their natural habitats as animated, and in such a likeness of scale. Audubon produced more than 450 plates of these beautiful creatures. For many, in his time, Audubon’s paintings were the first glimpse of the wild. One French art critic recalled his works and said they brought to Europe a fresh poetic vision of America in all its wild abundance!

Nature offers a spectacular vision of color with countless nuances and shades of every hue. This Audubon inspired vision of nature with its intriguing color combinations is relevant today. It inspires our palette for 2008, a bit more conservative and slightly more complex, perhaps; an influence of nature, absolutely.

The Reds:
+ Red continues to reflect the influence of yellow. Consider Elderberry.

+ Orange, as reflected in Flicker or Mesa, gains in popularity for another 1 to 2 years.

+ Blue-reds, like Aubergine, 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 the upcoming Beijing Olympics and global trends from India and Central America.

The Blues:
+ Blue, the new “color of the Millennium,” reinforces the automotive forecast stating that the blue family would gain significant influence by the late 2000s.

+ Blues are moving in two parallel - yet divergent - directions, both yellow cast [Calypso] and violet influenced [Plumage]. These directions create a sense of calm, security and long term appeal.

The Greens:
+ The new greens - clearer & mid-to-lighter in value - continue to be yellowed [think Rolling Hills or Foliage] or blue, spa-like [Coastal]. Darker values are more complex with olive and bronze influences [e.g., River Grass]. With widespread design sensitivity and consumer environmental awareness, the green family is now widely accepted as a new neutral.

The Neutrals:
+ Beiges are either tinted with green, blue, or peach [or with Dogwood, Skyline or Mimosa].

+ Greys move lighter and warmer [think Cumulus or Gossamer].

+ The new neutrals are highly tinted and burnished, with undertones of steel, bronze and warm terra cotta.

+ They express an atmosphere of relaxation when used in combination of light & deep values. Textural quality and contrasting combinations of cool and warm colors matter. Neutrals mix well in combination with each other, creating a sophisticated environment.

A Field Guide To Color also studies the culture of color. One color may have multiple associations depending on its use in a particular country and culture. As an example, white is a symbol of purity and innocence in the U.S., and of mourning in some African countries. Each color family is examined for cultural associations enriching the specifier’s understanding of color application in today’s diverse business environment. We detail those separately in The Carpetology Blog in Red Around The World, Green Around The World, White Around The World, Blue Around The World, Yellow Around The World [added 7/22/08] and Black Around The World [added 9/12/08].

We've also developed a 2008 Color Folio Resource List if you'd like to learn more about John J. Audubon.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Why Variety Matters For [Retail] Selection

M c I n t o s h originally uploaded by imapix.
The Flickr notes for this photo state:

"There are over 7000 varieties of apples, but only about 100 are grown in North America. In Canada, 73% of last year's commercial apple crop was represented by just five varieties: McIntosh, Red Delicious, Spartan, Empire and Idared........... and this is a .... McIntosh!...."

Customers like variety. But, they don't want to be overwhelmed. That makes sense, right?

That means that although there's a place for Big Box stores that offer a limited cross section of products, what many customers look for is a wide variety of relevant choices to select from.

In some ways, not too dissimilar from the need for biodiversity to ensure that we have continuity of food supply despite any natural disasters.

Near Arctic, Seed Vault Is a Fort Knox of Food by Elisabeth Rosenthal from the 02/29/2008 New York Times offers a fascinating glimpse on what's happening behind the scenes to create "a global network of plant banks to store seeds and sprouts, precious genetic resources that may be needed for man to adapt the world's food supply to climate change." There's real urgency to the effort because "already three-quarters of biodiversity in crops has been lost in the last century" and "many farms now grow just one or two crops, with very high efficiency." Also fascinating is the open sourcing of knowledge about seeds best suited to specific climate situations that the effort entails. It's truly a global endeavor [and one that probably conflicts with the approach described in Vanity Fair's May 2008 article titled Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele. Thanks, Mike!].

I chatted with Wiggly Wigglers' Heather Gorringe during BlogHer Business 2008: Hats Off To Wiggly Wigglers about some of these issues. She told me about the Herefordshire Food Festival and the Apple Day exhibition sponsored by the MARCHER APPLE NETWORK [RHWYDWAITH AFALAU'R GORORAU - Reviving the Old Apple and Pear Varieties in the Southern Marches]. Imagine a festival that's all about tasting different varieties of apples. Kind of like of wine tasting. [Don't you love that there are so many different wines to try out? It's an adventure, to explore and discover new ones. Right?]

Variety matters for selection, including for retail selection. It benefits the retail experience and the retail landscape.

Think of the sea of retail sameness that we regularly encounter wherever we go. So many malls with the same retail outlets across the entire country. It's a boring retail landscape made up of lots of a few stores. I believe that consumers are thirsting for more.

What about local flavor and uniqueness? Look at programs like Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Tony Bourdain's No Reservations or even Flavours of Herefordshire 2007 ["now in its 10th year, recognises and rewards the best of Herefordshire's restaurants, pubs, B&Bs, tearooms and shops that source their food and drink produce from within 40 miles of their business, to create imaginative menus reflecting the distinctive cuisine of Herefordshire"]. They celebrate unique flavors and experiences. It's the variety of marvelous differences rather than the sea of sameness. And it's exciting!

For some stores or product categories, taking a totally local approach may be neither realistic nor appropriate. However, one that celebrates variety - with products unlike those available in the store next door - captures the spirit of biodiversity, improving retail selection.

But, we also have to ensure that variety doesn't overwhelm our customers. The way to help a customer make sense of variety is by "providing some sort of categorization scheme" as Prof. Iyengar explains in Hard choices made easy. Such a scheme might have to do with a brand vision or a mission [e.g., Trader Joe's comes to mind] where passion comes through, making for retail selection, exciting variety and relevant choices for consumers to select from.

It makes sense. Doesn't it?

Related Posts:
+ Trader Joe's - Where Values Drive The Brand
+ The Problem With Too Many Choices - And The Opportunity
+ Are There Too Many Choices?
+ Musings on Choice, Culture and the Retail Experience
+ Lost in the Supermarket

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