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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ahhhh.... Now A Viral Garden Top 25 Marketing Blog!

Mack Collier from The Viral Garden has been posting a listing of the Top 25 Marketing Blogs for the past 58 weeks based until now on Alexa rankings.

Here is when he started on the compilation: Viral Garden's Top 25 Marketing Blogs. It's really fascinating to read the commments, look at the list and be amazed at how many folks had just created their blogs at that point, and how many have done so since then... 58 weeks ago is not that long ago in people years.

I remember coming across the list and being stunned by the wealth of resources to explore. And, then, Mack started the Z-list.... [See Methinks Z Listers Are Winning] creating another amazing list of resources to explore.

Well, Flooring The Consumer has hit the big league coming in at #19 of the Viral Garden's Top 25 Marketing Blogs - Week 58. I can now proudly 'wear' the 'served fresh weekly' icon.

And, Mack, thanks for changing the ranking system from Alexa to Technorati! [Thanks, too, for the Z-list!]

Here are the standings for Week 58 based the new ranking system [conceivably, this could be considered the Top 25 T-List]:
1 - Creating Passionate Users - 8,460
2 - Seth's Blog - 8,452
3 - Gaping Void - 3,728
4 - Logic + Emotion - 1,406
5 - Daily Fix - 947
6 - Converstations - 914
7 - Drew's Marketing Minute - 800
8 - The Viral Garden - 742
9 - Jaffe Juice - 736
10 - Church of the Customer - 710
11 - Diva Marketing - 706
12 - Duct Tape Marketing - 701
13 - Servant of Chaos - 671
14 - What's Next - 666
15 - Influential Interactive Marketing - 651
16 - Hee-Haw Marketing - 648
17 - Brand Autopsy - 618
18 - Community Guy - 571
19 - Flooring the Consumer - 563
20 - CrapHammer - 560
21 - Customers Rock! - 547
22 - Shotgun Marketing - 534
23 - Coolzor - 532
24 - CK's Blog - 525
25 - Tell Ten Friends - 521

Note: This list is now based on Technorati "Authority" rankings, relating to how many blogs link in to each blog. The higher the number of links, the higher the blog ranks.

Mack, thanks for keeping things so interesting!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Customer Focus in Good Times and Bad

Desert Morning originally uploaded by Mr. Geoff.
Carrol Lasswell, our Wear-Dated Representative in Phoenix, AZ - whom you may remember from Mining March Madness - shares the following wisdom from one of her flooring dealers.

Now, you'd have to be hiding under a rock to be oblivious to how tough things are out there. Between rising gasoline prices, spiraling healthcare costs, the drop in housing and housing-related activities, escalating global tensions - to name a few - we all have a lot on our plates. Despite all that is negative, here's a tale of someone who is focusing passionately on the customer:

I wanted to share a statement with you that one of my dealers made.

This dealer - as are most flooring retailers - is down significantly compared to last year. However, no one has been let go [the usual response to bad times]. And the attitude in-store remains upbeat despite the slowdown in business.

I commented on this and the owner told me: "When times challenge you, the best thing to do is focus on all of the challenges you bring to the business and to the customer."

At first, this made very little sense to me. He could tell I didn't get it.

So he explained further: "We sell fashion and comfort. We often try to sell passion, but passion is developed, not sold. "

"We give the customer choice after choice and expect her to easily make decisions in a business that most will never understand. We need to help her."

"We provide her with delays and must dos that are for our benefit rather than hers. We need to limit these."

"Keeping the business simple and providing true customer service will get us through the hard times. That means supporting our experts, keeping our staff, selling the right products and providing exceptional service to the folks who are in the market. It means that we continue to advertise, meet customer expectations, adapt to the times and treasure every footstep that comes through our doors, keeping ourselves in a position to excel. If we do our job right, then times - good or bad - will manage themselves."

Now at the end of the day what I walked away with from this dealer is:

+ We need to keep ourselves ready to be the best we can be - regardless of the market environment. Positive attitude and approach will carry us through.

+ Good times and tough times require the same customer focus, but not necessarily the same approach.

I think each person takes away something different from this advice. I walked out of this store feeling that I had been given not only insight into a owner's passion for the customer and the business, but also a chance to review my own.

Thank you, Carrol, for sharing this wisdom.

How do you express your passion and customer focus regardless of whether it's good times or bad?

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Monday, May 28, 2007

12 Lessons From The Giant: What NOT To Do

Wal-Mart Nogales, AZ originally uploaded by djcn0te.
Whenever I have a Wal-Mart experience, thoughts percolate. I'll come home, shake my head and mentally walk through every step to recap all that was unimaginative, uninspired and unpleasant. And, then, I'll compare it to the whimsical, delightful and thoughtful experiences that I inevitably have at Target.

So, when I read this 4/30/07 Business Week cover story titled Wal-Mart's Midlife Crisis - Declining growth, increasing competition, and not an easy fix in sight by Anthony Bianco many of those percolations led to the following brew of lessons and observations about what NOT to do if you are serious about providing a consistently memorable and delicious consumer experience.

Early on, the article declares: "For nearly five decades, Wal-Mart's signature "everyday low prices" and their enabler—low costs—defined not only its business model but also the distinctive personality of this proud, insular company that emerged from the Ozarks backwoods to dominate retailing." But, what worked so successfully for so long, is no longer the magic formula.

The article refers to "botched entry into cheap-chic apparel", and "overdue improvements such as the store remodeling program launched last year"... More fundamental, though, is whether Wal-Mart is alienating those who brought it to the dance in pursuit of Target consumers.... Hmmm.

Regardless of those speculations, here follow my 12 lessons on what NOT to do if you are truly committed to delivering a memorable customer experience:

From a store perspective:
1. Don't allow your stores to become dingy, un-cared for, dated or unpleasant. Have a store remodeling plan in place and be sensitive as to whether you need to speed your cycle up or not. Consumers pay attention and it is critical to have an ongoing plan to keep stores looking fresh, fashion focused, engaging. Consider having an 'expiration date' [see Change And The Store Experience].

2. Don't create an environment that burdens your consumer. Make sure your stores are clean and uncluttered, that product can easily be located, that you minimize any kind of wait time [checkout, delivery, installation...]

3. Don't become complacent and think that good enough is OK. Banish mediocrity! Mediocrity goes hand-in-hand with indifference, and indifference drives consumers away.

4. Don't fall in love with expansion and lose sight of existing stores and customers. Great size is not necessarily a plus. Better to extract more value from existing resources, than always try to pursue new ones.

5. Don't understaff your stores. It sends a bad message.

From a strategic perspective:
6. Don't focus completely on being the lowest priced retailer. Price represents an ephemeral competitive advantage. Better to focus on your total experience to the consumer and the total value package you offer her.

7. Don't be a schmuck. Rather, be honorable. Be a good corporate citizen and community member. Be good to your employees who are your customer ambassadors. Be good to your customers who are your community and business ambassadors. Be honest and stay focused on how your business can improve your customers' lives.

8. Don't lose touch with the marketplace. Be aware that the marketplace changes constantly, that competition gets better, and don't ignore who your most critical customer is [hint: a woman].

9. Don't have tunnel vision. Do integrate your back-end [yes, controlling inventories remains critically important] into the whole of your operation to deliver the best possible experience to your staff and customers.

10. Don't ever underestimate the power of quality, convenience and customer service. They represent value to your customer.

11. Don't ever alienate your core customer base. Otherwise, you are dead in the water.

12. Don't wing it! Have a plan and integrate all of your elements to deliver that plan consistently and successfully to your customers.

In case you don't believe that focusing solely on price isn't enough: "To the selective middle-income shopper, quality, style, service, and even store aesthetics increasingly matter as much as price alone. "Here's the big thought Wal-Mart missed: Price is not enough anymore," says Todd S. Slater, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets."

I chuckled at how Sam Walton made decisions for the carpet in his stores: "Aesthetics counted for so little that when the retailer finally put down carpet in its stores it took care to choose a color that matched the sludgy gray-brown produced by mixing dirt, motor oil, and the other contaminants most commonly tracked across its floors. To Wal-Mart, the beauty of its hideous carpet was that it rarely needed cleaning." Wow! How practical! No maintenance needed...

I compare that with the bright Target red carpet I saw being made at Mannington Carpet where we were informed that Target has a terrific maintenance program [one more reason to shop Target] and takes great pride in its red carpet and keeping it clean.

[The new simulated-wood vinyl floors that I experienced in Wal-Mart Plano: Like No Other Store! and newer stores may be aesthetically more pleasing, but it also requires considerably less maintenance than the hideous never-maintained carpet.]

In case you don't believe that the people aspect of your business matters: "While the look of its stores is primarily a function of how much Wal-Mart chooses to spend on them, the retailer is unlikely ever to come up with an ambiance conducive to separating the affluent from their money without changing its whole approach to labor. The chain's dismal scores on customer satisfaction surveys imply that it is understaffing stores to the point where many of them struggle merely to meet the demands of its self-service format."

Now, here is a thought. Wal-Mart may cater primarily to 45 million low income Americans, but aren't they, too, entitled to excellent service? What kind of message does that send?

The article mentions "In the past few years, Scott has reluctantly brought Wal-Mart out from behind its Bentonville barricades. Virtually from scratch, this famously conservative company has built a large public and government relations apparatus headed by Leslie A. Dach, a veteran Washington political operative of pronounced liberal bent." The 4/2/07 issue of The New Yorker in Annals of Spin. Selling Wal-Mart. Can the company co-opt liberals?? by Jeffrey Goldberg focuses on the public and government relations work [and the many PR challenges created...]. Although it seems more about suggesting that Leslie Dach sold out to Wal-Mart, the interesting information comes at the very end where we realize just how bare bones and subsistence-based the Wal-Mart model is and how much it is dependent on frequency of transaction for profitability....

"Mona Williams, the chief spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, disagreed. When she was asked why the company could not simply give two-dollar-per-hour across-the-board raises to its store employees, her reply was free of obfuscation. “Wal-Mart’s profit per associate is six thousand four hundred dollars,” she said. “If we were to pay two dollars more an hour to associates, that would cut four thousand dollars out of our per-employee profit. If anybody ever stopped to do the math, they’d see this. It would take two-thirds of the profit if we gave everyone two dollars more.” She added, “You could raise prices, but what about the woman who is shopping for Easter shoes for her kids? We can’t raise prices on her.”

Are you convinced yet that the 12 lessons from the giant on what NOT to do are sound? Here follow examples of retailers taking these lessons to heart:

+ The 05/14/07 issue of Boston.com Macy's sees food as the way to the wallet: in-store restaurants and cafes enable customers to take breaks without leaving the store premises, improving the Macy's experience and creating a strong point of differentiation. "The longer retailers can keep customers in stores, the more they will spend, said James Dion, president of the consultancy Dionco Inc. 'Combining services so shoppers can grab a bite to each and shop in one place plays right into the lifestyle of a lot of consumers.'" [Sounds like something Paco Underhill would say!].

+ USA Today's Fast repair a priority at Geek center article by Dylan T. Lovan, on 05/13/07 describes the new warehouse/repair center opened in Kentucky specifically to speed up repairs and give "the customer a better experience".

+ The 5/23/07 issue of The Seattle Times features Nordstrom: A fashion-forward future by Monica Soto Ouchi describing enhancements [e.g., perpetual inventory system] and ongoing improvements [e.g., remodeling and relocating stores] to maintain its strong customer service reputation.

Midlife is certainly no time to become complacent. In fact, complacency is what leads to crises. To avoid the level of complacency that Wal-Mart seems to have adopted, consider Martin Linstrom's 10 components to creating strong brands in Religion: Inspiration For Brands from Branding Strategy Insider. They certainly reinforce the 12 lessons from the giant on what NOT to do and offer sound advice on how to deliver a memorable customer experience.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Women Hold The Power of The Sale

From the August 21/28, 2006 issue of Floor Covering Weekly, my article titled "Women hold the power of the sale".

Consider this: The majority of retail operates in a world designed, owned and managed by men for women consumers. Think grocery or apparel stores, car dealerships, even flooring stores. So said Paco Underhill during his recent Science of Shopping Conference.

As power shifts across categories to consumers, we see traditional institutions wobble. The successful ones reinvent themselves; the less imaginative ones fall by the wayside. What about department stores? Most have failed and become irrelevant for not connecting with their woman customer.

Connecting successfully means truly understanding who that person is, how she interacts with your store and what value she obtains from you. Although she may have tolerated the way things have been, she increasingly prefers environments that recognize her, welcome her and acknowledge her as having the means to make significant purchases.

Do you accept that your principal customer is female, and has many other places to buy from? The Internet – via sites like Amazon, eBay, and others, where consumers compare features, benefits, availability and prices – has driven this change. Consumers comfortably drift between digital and real environments. When they choose to go into brick-and-mortar stores, they expect the store to offer an experience not available in the digital world.

In case you remain skeptical, here are the hard facts:

Women represent 51 percent of the overall population. As the population ages, it becomes increasingly female.

Women are better educated than men, representing the majority of college students. They earn more than half of all bachelor degrees, 57 percent of masters and 42 percentof doctoral degrees.

Sixty percent of women work. They represent 47 percent of the labor force. Women are taking on greater responsibility and becoming not only chief purchasing officers at home, but also in business: 10.6 million women business owners generate $2.5 trillion in sales and employ 19.1 million workers.

What about money? In 55 percent of US households, women make half (or more) of their family’s income. Thirty percent of women out-earn their husbands. They represent 47 percent of Americans with assets greater than $500,000. They control more than 50 percent of private wealth, and manage family finances in 75 percent of households.

Also, baby boomer women are benefiting from a double inheritance factor as they outlive their spouses. They stand to acquire more than 85 percent of the $12 trillion growth in US wealth between 1995 and 2010.

This matters because women are the major purchase decision makers for:
– 61 percent of major home fix-up projects
– 66 percent of all home-computer purchases
– 83 percent of all consumer purchases
– 94 percent of home furnishings
– 91 percent of home sales – single women are the 2nd largest group of homebuyers at 21 percent and 18 percent of all first time homebuyers [vs. 9 percent men].

Women carry 76 million credit cards [8 million more than men]. Yet, they are thoughtful about spending; quality matters when making major purchases, ahead of price. Think how powerfully strong brands succinctly communicate quality to consumers, particularly to women who are more brand loyal than men, in complex and potentially expensive categories like flooring.

Women are more profitable than men. Not only via shorter repeat purchase cycles, but they freely give referrals [and depend on referrals for their decisions]. Companies like Starbucks, Whole Foods and Anthropologie count on word-of-mouth referrals -- considering them the strongest and most effective marketing tools available.

Your in-store environment counts today more than ever with this powerful consumer. So make sure to understand who she is and how your store meets her needs.

If you’re not convinced, ask yourselves the following:
- Why do Home Depot and Lowe’s offer how-to workshops for women? Why are they improving their store layouts, lighting, etc.?
- Why is Best Buy creating different consumer segment store experiences? [e.g., Jill, Buzz, Barry…]?
- Why has Sony created Sony Style stores to provide women consumers more information about high-priced complex products?

Those retailers who get it stand to sell. Those who don’t, won’t. And, by the way, selling to men won’t reach women, but when you successfully sell to women, you also sell to men. Who do you want to sell to?

NOTE: This wonderful article from the 10/4/06 issue of The Denver Post The home repair trend: Do-it-herself. Industry adjusting slowly to customer gender shift By Elana Ashanti Jefferson from The Denver Post 10/4/06 recaptures many of the same points. It ends with the following quote:

"The deep, dark secret that has been shared with me by many men is that these approaches, ostensibly geared toward women, are actually welcomed by men as well," Wolf says. "Because many of them feel like they should know [about home improvement], but they don't."

The April/May issue of Floor Focus magazine has an article by Alisa Pucher on the subject of marketing to women. It hasn't yet been posted online; however, the Jan/Feb 07 issue of her
Shop Talk column is available and offers similar advice.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

E-Book: Chock Full of Wisdom for Graduates

It's deep Spring, a time for graduations, new beginnings and endless possibilities.

And, thanks to Drew McLellan from Drew's Marketing Minute, those new beginnings and endless possibilities now have plentiful wisdom, directions, advice and suggestions to offer those about to enter the working world.

If you remember from Words of Wisdom For Graduates, I shared with you Drew's vision, his invitation and my contribution.

Well, the most brilliant minds in the blogosphere responded to Drew's challenge and the result is now available - in two formats! He makes those available in Helping college grads get a job - FREE e-book: "50 pages of sage advice. All for grads. All for free."

I also include them here. The gem -- and to me the Must Distribute format -- includes photos [3.36 mb]: Download collegegrads.pdf. Or, the text only version [300 kb] : Download collegegradsnofoto.pdf

Here follow those who contributed wisdom to this e-book for graduates:

Aaron Potts, Andy Brudtkuhl, Andy Nulman, Andy Wibbels, Ann Handley, Ann Michael, Anne Simons, Becky Carroll, Bob Glaza, C.B. Whittemore, Carolyn Manning, Chris Cree, Christine Brown, CK, Darren Barefoot, David Reich, Delaney Kirk, Derek Tutschulte, Designer Mike, Doug Karr, Doug Mitchell, Drew McLellan, Joan Schramm, Kevin Hillstrom, Lewis Green, Liz Strauss, Mario Sundar, Mark Goren, Mark True, Mary Schmidt, Nick Rice, Patrick Schaber, Paul McEnany, Phil Gerbyshak, Roberta Rosenberg, Roger von Oech, Rosa Say, Seth Godin, Sharon Sarmiento, Stephanie Weaver, Steve Miller, Steve Sisler, Terry Starbucker, Toby Bloomberg, Tony D. Clark, Valeria Maltoni

I encourage you - whether a graduate or not - to download and read the e-book. And then, be sure to share it freely. The wisdom is sound and comes from many hearts.

Thank you, Drew!

[Pictured above are my recent-graduate nephew, my soon-to-be-graduate niece, and my future-graduate daughter.]

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Flooring It Differently - Carpeteria, San Diego

I greatly admire a welcoming retail environment. And if it happens to be a flooring store, even better! It's definitely time to celebrate!

To that end, I am introducing the "Flooring It Differently" series on
Flooring The Consumer to share with you these flooring store celebrations. It's a way to highlight unusual approaches and experiments that demonstrate a strong commitment to creating magical retail experiences for consumers. These are stores that are truly 'Flooring It Differently'!

This post focuses on
Carpeteria and -- more specifically -- the store located at 8400 Miramar Road in San Diego. Our Wear-Dated Representative Candace Heidenrich considered this store's creative approach to cross-merchandising particularly unusual and beneficial to consumers. Here is what she writes:

Cross-merchandising is catching on.... This is evident at the newly renovated Carpeteria store in San Diego where Mel Markarian developed a cross-merchandising concept with a neighboring furniture store.

The furniture store brought in an elegant leather sofa and loveseat, small end tables, modern glass bubble lamps and decorative accessories and placed these inside the flooring store. All items were priced and a placard noted the name of the furniture store located nearby.

This allows the store to have a very upscale sitting area for clients while promoting the furniture store at the same time. It also gives consumers an opportunity to think about how flooring ties in with their home furnishings, fabrics, accessories and rugs...

So, why not get creative and talk to businesses nearby to develop ways to cross-merchandise with them? And while you are at it, get your staff thinking like a designer...bring in paint chips, assemble a photography portfolio of your stellar home flooring projects, use our What is Blue? color forecast chart to discuss new color trends or design-a-room on our Wear-Dated website using carpet styles, furnishings and paint....

Thank you, Candace, and great job, Carpeteria and Mel Markarian! The reaction from consumers has been extremely positive. They enjoy having somewhere to sit, relax and think things over...

How might you be 'Flooring It Differently'?

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Book Review: Chocolates On The Pillow Aren't Enough

How seriously committed are you to reinventing your customer experience? If you aren't, you may want to reconsider as Jonathan Tisch's latest book titled Chocolates on the Pillow Aren't Enough: Reinventing The Customer Experience offers many compelling reasons to do so.

"Today's consumers are looking for something more - a relationship with an organization that will truly enrich their lives." That means providing them with experiences that are "unique, memorable, delightful, comfortable and deeply rewarding" - something that an accomplished hotelier like Tisch is committed to!

We've certainly heard before how many of the tried and true ways of doing business just don't work anymore. We live in a world where consumers feel diminishing loyalty towards many brands, increased price sensitivity, and innumerable choices. Furthermore, she's newly empowered, armed with information and greatly suspicious. No more taking customers for granted. No more assuming they will be satisfied. No more assuming they will stay with us 'til death do us part!

Not only does traditional mass advertising no longer work, but our traditional methods of keeping track of our customers' attitudes [i.e., intrusive surveys, focus groups and diaries] are simply ignored. After all, who has the time?

However, IF we craft customer experiences of such caliber and amazement that our consumers willingly return for more and zealously promote us via word-of-mouth recommendations, they will then generously offer their opinions, suggestions and attitudes. So why not focus on creating better experiences to forge stronger and longer lasting ties with our customers?

So explains Tisch using a multitude of wide-ranging examples.

Tisch refers to Proctor & Gamble's efforts to better understand how consumers live, and identify their frustrations/irritants. Armed with that information, they can develop products that absolutely delight consumers. This article from the May/June 2007 issue of THE HUB titled Moments of Truth focuses on Dina Howell at P&G, and the company’s shopper marketing efforts. It discusses efforts to not only understand how people live, but also how they use products. Note the reference to 'shopper marketing'.

Tisch's emphasis on the total consumer experience delights me. If you refer back to STORY Brings Brands to Life, and the statement 'it may not be my fault, but it is my problem', you start to capture the mindset that the book describes. Refer, too, to Stephanie Weaver and Customer Experience Definitions - Finale. The opportunity is to transform the thinking about customers into considering them as guests. Which means that we need to act like HOSTS and welcome our guests at every opportunity.

As I read the book, I can't help but have flashes of Paco Underhill's insights... Luckily, Tisch refers specifically to Paco in a section about the Art of the Welcome. However, before that section he makes points about the need to be a consumer [or a retail anthropologist for that matter] and pay attention to how you interact with your experiences. In other words, become totally customer-centric; understand every aspect of your experience, including those of your employees. After all, they are the ones to deliver the experience to customers.

Here is the wide range of companies that Tisch highlights: In N Out Burger, Dell Computers, Tufts University, Sephora, and Commerce Bank. He touches on the reinventation taking place via Lifestyle Centers and the influence of New Urbanism [see Southlake Town Center: A Lifestyle Center, Atlanta's Atlantic Station - A Lifestyle Center and An Architect's View of Better Lifestyle Centers]. He addresses healthcare transformation with new models like Virgin Life Care, and Revolution Health that borrow successfully from hospitality to offer patients a more holistic approach.

He considers spaces that welcome referring to Morris Lapidus and the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Here is how Tisch codifies Lapidus' rules:
- eliminate corners
- use sweeping lines
- create unusual effects with light
- use plenty of color [my personal favorite]
- create a sense of drama
- keep changing the floor levels
- keep people moving
- remember that people are attracted to light [the moth complex]

About Paco Underhill he says: he captures the "fascination with the challenge of creating great public spaces and an intense curiosity about people, their emotions and behaviors." Tisch brings up: Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People all retail environments that are "less about selling to customers than about welcoming them and enveloping them in a world that is relaxing, engrossing, surprising, and rich."

He examines the news world, made familiar through his experience with Open Exchange. CNN has successfully challenged viewer assumptions. The Harrisburg International Airport, Target with their new approach to prescription drug packaging, and Microsoft's focus on security have all successfully anticipated users' needs.

EZ Pass, NYC 311, TripAdvisor, and FlyerTalk represent examples of organizations that not only facilitate the dissemination of information, but also are transparent in how they make information available. In fact, the transparency eases the dissemination.

Examples of companies that have embraced customization include Tc2 or Textile Clothing Technology Corporation, Land's End and My Virtual Model, PhotoStamps, and Build-A-Bear Workshop. In so doing, they delight their customers.

Models for community building [which by the way leads to unbelievable loyalty and word-of-mouth endorsements] include Harley-Davidson and its HOG members, eBay and PayPal, MySpace, and politics as exemplified by Howard Dean and the Democratic Party's site.

Tisch talks about the publishing industry and it just so happens that the New York Times ran this article titled The Greatest Mystery: Making A Best Seller By SHIRA BOSS on 5/13/2007. There's an opportunity waiting to be discovered!

The museum industry also represents opportunity to redefine the customer experience The Children's Museum of Manhattan [interestingly, in the Tisch building], as do Starbucks and HearMusic.

Here are some of the followup questions I submitted to Mr. Tisch. I will post his responses when I receive them.

+ How has the book affected the evolution of the Loew's customer experience? Did some examples/cast studies hit home more than others? Which ones?

+ Re: the chapter on diversity. Some hotels have made a big effort in recognition of women's changing roles in business [and increasing work-related travels] to attract them. How is Loew's reacting? Has that caused any friction and how have you addressed that? What about other non-traditional groups?

+ Consumers' value equations are changing across categories including hospitality. They expect more for less money, and are getting it. How is Loew's reacting?

+ What are the various tools that Loew's uses to monitor consumers and changes in the marketplace? Which are most valuable? How do you manage all of these tools? How do you transfer the insights to the organization? How do you keep the process fresh?

The book title generates discussion. When I brought it with me to a dentist appointment, I wound up in an intense discussion with my dentist's sister who had been an avid viewer of Now Who's Boss? [this is a program transcript CRM Mastery E-Journal].

Chocolates on the Pillow is an excellent read, filled with non-traditional and wide-ranging examples that will definitely get you thinking about the customer experience in general, and your customer experience specifically.

For other perspectives on the book consider the following:
+ Customers Rock! Are Chocolates On The Pillow Enough?
+ Customers Are Always Jonathan Tisch Helps Reinvent
+ Experience Manifesto's Chocolates On The Pillow and Amazon.com: Chocolates on the Pillow
+ Converstations' Review Chocolates On The Pillow
+ The Orlando Sentinel Chocolates On The Pillow
+ Ad Age's Bookstore Review of Chocolates On The Pillow.

Finally, this Forbes Magazine from 2004 provides a background on Tisch's previous book, "The Power of We".

Disclosure - I received a free review copy of this book.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Time For Decorating From the Floor Up!

Not only is Thom Filicia a 'psychologist with a swatchbook' [see Come Decorate From the Floor Up With Thom Filicia in Boston], he's also a Sherpa guide intent on demystifying design for all. And, based on reactions to the Boston event, he's extremely talented at both!

Lis Calandrino [featured in
What Consumers Really Think and Lis Calandrino: Tips From The Trade] pictured here with her friend, Tony, attended the Boston event and contributes the following:

As a 20+ year consultant in the flooring industry, I find myself more on the teaching side than the learning side of design. One of my flooring friends in Minneapolis called me last week about an event offered by Karastan Carpets and hosted by Thom Filicia, from the show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", being held on Saturday afternoon at the JFK Library in Boston, MA. Since Boston is only 3 hours from my home, I convinced a friend to go with me and off we went to Boston.

I didn't realize how much fun I was in for and how much I would learn. First of all the JFK Library is a magnificent building, on the Boston waterfront, designed by the famous architect, I.M. Pei [wikipedia article or official biography]. The weather was magnificent as was Thom Filicia who was charming, funny and informative. I received a lovely little 'designer" pink and chocolate tote bag from Karastan, filled with shelter magazines and a bottle of water -- a cute touch. It was also nice that part of the proceeds was being donated to Susan G. Komen For the Cure.

Even more important, I was amazed to see a room filled with over 100 people, mostly consumers, asking great questions about color, style and design.It just seems like everyone was hungry for ideas. I particularly liked Filicia's ideas of "timely and timeless." According to Filicia, design is about combining "what's in" with how we live today; modern, clean lines combined with comfort.He brought several participants from the audience onstage to help him with colors and design. It was obvious that he has quite a consumer following.

After the event there was a "meet and greet" with Filicia where he continued to be charming and no worse for wear even though he had talked for two hours straight. He signed autographs, took pictures with the guests and gave more design tips.

[Note: Thom graciously got down to my daughter's level for this photo. She was impressed that he created 'fashion girl' rooms - her notion of really hip and beautiful - but didn't want him to know that. During the presentation, she stepped on a plastic cup that broke loudly, stopping Thom mid-sentence. We couldn't hide: we were in the front row. Nonetheless, he sweetly addressed her, commented on her colorfully dressed mother and moved right along! We are pictured here with my friend, Ronda who went home with many ideas.]

I hope there are more of these events. Hats off to Karastan for starting the ball rolling.

My friend Tony, much to his surprise, also enjoyed the event. He said he liked the idea of pulling "color splashes" from the rug to help design the room. He also mentioned that he wished there were more "design" rules for men so the whole process could be "more exact". Despite the lack of rules, I remember him saying that he thought he would go home and start rearranging his living room.

Thank you, Lis.

So, there, you have it! Thom had valuable tips for everyone [check out this article which offers additional "Thom Tips": HomePortfolio's Designer Dish - Thom Filicia] and we all left impressed with the inspiring yet common-sense advice. Consider: you have a layout where you want to have wall-to-wall carpet throughout, but not the same color/style in every room. How might you unify the effect? Per Thom, within the different rooms create a 'border' from the common hallway carpet and insert the other carpet selection in the middle [i.e., similar to placing an area rug on a hard surface].

Worried about mantelpiece design? Go for balance rather than symmetry.

Hanging pictures? Hang them low. If near a lamp, hang them below or above the top of the lampshade.

Imagine if these were the kinds of suggestions that flooring retailers routinely offered their flooring consumers. Wouldn't that create a radically different retail experience! Consumers might even change their flooring more frequently....

Thank you, Connie Berry and Dennis Thiets from Karastan [pictured here with Thom] for generating so much enthusiasm and discussion around Decorating From the Floor Up. And stay tuned for the next stops in Thom's national tour!

[Per Wikipedia, Thursday 5/17 is Thom's birthday. Happy Birthday, Thom!]

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

STORY Brings Brands To Life

DISNEYWORLD 1998 originally uploaded by hytam2.
As promised in I Have Met The Mouse!, there's more relating to my Disney Institute visit.

Our facilitator - Rob Morton, Business Programs Consultant with the Disney Institute - held us captive for several hours. Although he could easily have impersonated a pirate like Captain Jack Sparrow [which he has], he didn't need to, we were so engrossed with the subject matter. First with the knowledge and then seeing it all come together in downtown Disney. Rob's presentation was titled The Power of Story: Bringing the Brand to Life.

S-T-O-R-Y captures how Disney creates its Magic. To underscore what a major undertaking this represents, consider that DisneyWorld has 60,000 cast members on site in Orlando [DisneyWorld is the largest single site employer in North America.]. On average, a guest will interact with 60 cast members per day. Each one of those has the potential to be either magic or tragic moments. [Kind of puts into perspective getting everyone in one store or a handful of stores focused on bringing your brand to life... It has to be easier, right?]

S-tudy the audience
T-ailor the experience
O-rchestrate the details
Y-ield long term relationships
Study the audience. This is not only about observing and understanding visitors, but also knowing your own role and how that affects interactions with visitors - adapting vs. rigidly adopting, asking "so what?" to understand the repurcussions of decisions, and thought processes.

Guestology refers to Disney's study of the audience. Rob differentiated between knowledge [demographics, feedback from face to face surveys, telephone surveys 45 days after the visit - i.e., when the bill comes, utilization studies to pressure test supply/demand ~ quantitative] and understanding [i.e., think/feel] through listening posts, focus groups and shoppers' programs [~qualitative].

The power or the Disney Magic comes from knowing customers and looking beyond the words being used to figure out how to exceed guest expectations. Something that happens on-site may not be our fault, but it is our problem. And that means that it must be fixed to exceed expectations.

Disney even has a Guestology compass: Needs - basic, Wants - preferences associated with needs, Emotions - the positives, and Stereotypes - maximize positive stereotypes/minimize negative ones.

Tailor the experience. This captures the Disney definition of quality service: to exceed guest expectations, pay attention to details of delivery. [Vision without execution = hallucination.]

Key drivers of satisfaction for BOTH cast member and guest - which come from guestology insights - include:
+ make me feel special,
+ be knowledgeable,
+ respect my children,
+ treat me as an individual.

To align everyone around the service theme, Disney uses the following:

We create a WANT [an emotion ~ happiness]
By providing the finest in entertainment...
For people of all ages, everywhere.

It's then up to each individual cast member to determine what his/her purpose is in delivering on the service theme.

Orchestrate the details. Disney is famous for creating an experience that reveals itself over time! The richness of details is such that new layers can be discovered with each additional visit. To illustrate this point, we learned about the concept of "how do you BUMP the lamp?" A reference to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which mixed cartoons with real life and included a bumped lamp that made the scene that much more believable. It wasn't necessary, but it added tremendous complexity and richness to the story. Disney uses this as a metaphor for how to get customers to say WOW!.

[This article by Terry Hadley from 3/22/2006 titled 'Bump the lamp' - go the extra mile, Disney style provides additional perspective.]

Here's how you 'bump the lamp' - by adhering to Service Standards. These include: Courtesy that recognizes every one's individuality. Treat each one as each wants to be treated. Efficiency. Safety. Show.

And, to help illustrate the Service Standards, Snow White's Seven Dwarfs come to the rescue:
1. Be Happy: make eye contact and smile.
2. Be like Sneezy: greet and welcome every guest. Be contagious.
3. Don't be Bashful: seek out guest contact.
4. Be like Doc: provide immediate service recovery. If you mess up and can fix the problem immediately, you generate a greater level of satifaction.
5. Don't be Grumpy: display appropriate body language at all times.
6. Be like Sleepy: create dreams and preserve the magical guest experience.
7. Do'n't be Dopey: thank each and every guest.

Naturally, there are delivery systems for the service standards:
+ Cast - the front line = the bottom line. "Right fit" matters, particularly from a cultural perspective. Is there passion for Disney traditions [heritage, values]. Performance training [be part of the show].
+ Setting - [real or virtual] be sure to send the right message. Guide the guest experience. Employ both visual and non-visual details. Separate on/off stage, but always maintain the setting.
+ Process - affects the guest experience. Best studied from the trenches. Must serve the exception as well as the masses. May be simple or complex!

If you imagine a matrix similar to the one pictured, you have a visual guide to use in decision making.

For example, as a cast member, I can't eliminate lines, but I can try to alleviate the waiting time by interacting with visitors, reminding them about safety precautions or entertaining the kids....

Relate is about building emotion into the experience to create those magical moments. "Take Fives" represent spontaneous events or random acts of kindness/magic. Cast members are encouraged to find ways to delight.

Yield long term relationships acknowledges that people visit Disney - they may prepare for their visit months ahead - and spend a great deal of money for the experience. A magical experience creates loyalty encouraging people to return often and engage in viral word-of-mouth marketing so others visit, too!

Rob referred specifically to Reichheld [this early post mentions Reichheld: Good Tea. Nice House.] in discussing the value of loyalty : a 5% increase in loyalty can increase profitability by 25% to 85% - significant value to associate with ensuring that a customer returns!

The loyalty connection is Disney's simple model for loyalty. It's where:
+ Contacts build RELATIONSHIP
+ Brand aligns with individual IDENTITY [self expression]
+ Experience delivers superior VALUE

This 12/03/2001 article by Mark S. Fulton Customer Service, Disney Style from Inside Business recaptures many of the points that Morton Made.

Finally, on my way to this event, I started reading How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC. The overlap in sensibility [not to mention the word Magic] was eery in its relevance and appropriateness.

Case in point: both refer to Tarp Data about why customers leave. Why do you think customers go elsewhere? Because of better deals from the competition? Yeah. But only by 9%. Because of dissatisfaction? Yes, but only by 14%.

The most critical driver of customer defection is a PERCEPTION of INDIFFERENCE. By 68%. Staggering.

Rethink your experience. Your brand. Your relationship with employees as well as with customers. How might you use STORY to bring all of these to life and banish forever the evil of indifference?

How might you engrain deep into your organization's being the belief that "it may not be my fault, but it is my problem" to delight and exceed customer expectations?

Let me know. I'd love to hear!

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Come Decorate From The Floor Up with Thom Filicia in Boston!

If you are in Boston on Saturday, May 11th, consider Decorating From the Floor Up with Thom Filicia, host of Dress My Nest. It's a really fun design seminar with one of Queer Eye's [f.k.a. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy per Wikipedia] Fab Five!

[Disclaimer: Wear-Dated is a sponsor of this event!]

The folks at Karastan came up with Decorating From the Floor Up [Thom will be in two more cities in October - so stay tuned] while thinking about how consumers deal with design projects. Although sources of delight, these projects can also intimidate, frustrate and confuse. So, why not share a master designer's wisdom and take some of the mystery out?

I'm just back from the first event which took place in the stunning Field Museum in Chicago on Saturday May 5th, and will attend the Boston one [which means that I won't be able to attend SOBCon '07 in Chicago taking place the same weekend. Have a tremendous event, Liz and all of those participating! I'll be there in spirit.].

Here are highlights from the first event:

According to Filicia, your home should tell YOUR story. It should look just like you. [By the way, this is how really good retail salespeople describe what their customers are trying to achieve in their homes.] It should be an interesting and smart backdrop for your life. Never be satisfied with an impersonal room! There is nothing worse.

Interior design is often a mystery for people. The first thing Filicia does when he meets people is figure out what makes them tick; who they are and what's important to them. Then, he can explore possibilities with them. He considers himself a "psychologist with a swatch book" [isn't that a great image?].

Great room starts with something that inspires you. Then, use that inspiration throughout the rest of the room. A beatiful rug is a great source of inspiration and an opportunity to bring color, pattern and textures into a room. It's a great way to build a room: simply start with the floor when designing a space [i.e., consider the floor the 5th wall].

The photo above captures the two rugs Thom used as the basis for the two distinct design concepts he created rooms around: Timely and Timeless. Aren't they beautiful? I am mad for the one on the right, called 'Plum Blossom'. The Head Designer whom I met said that consumers have warmly embraced both of these styles.

Timeless consists of a fresh look at traditional. It's beauty, elegance, understated design

Timely represents a more livable version of contemporary -- often perceived as cold and severe -- emphasizing comfort, simplicity and freshness.

Using his design stage [see right photo], Thom pulled all kinds of swatches and samples to demonstrate Timely and Timeless. In addition to the two rugs above, he also showed how broadloom [a.k.a. wall-to-wall] carpet could be used.

Thom was entertaining and warm. He brought members of the audience on stage to participate in the process, answered questions and graciously shared talent. The audience [including those on stage] looked like they had a blast!

My takeaways:
+ Be confident [show your personality with an unexpected color]
+ Pull inspiration from a fun rug
+ Definitely make a personal statement
+ Make sure that the overall effect is comfortable [so you can live in the space!]

If you're in town - or you know anyone with a design project to do or who enjoys the design process - come visit and see how Thom Filicia mixes color, texture, space and ideas to create a comfortable living space. There's still time to register. You'll benefit a great cause - Susan G. Komen for the Cure, have the opportunity to meet Thom Filicia in person and get a new perspective on what's possible from a design perspective.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Change And The Store Experience

A Change of Seasons originally uploaded by Jeffcl_2000.
Two articles from the January 2007 issue of National Floor Trends caught my attention.

Designs in Style: Customers are changing… What if you changed too? by Annette Callari asks whether your shopping experience "truly appeal[s] to shoppers on as many SENSORY levels as possible." She offers practical suggestions that stores can readily implement to adapt to changing consumer sensibilities, and explores a series of "What If" customer scenarios that will get you thinking.

Showroom Management: Should Your Store Design Have an Expiration Date? by Janet Carter asks an extremely pertinent question. In fact, you absolutely should have an expiration date associated with your store design to FORCE a more frequent revamping of your store environment.

I love her characterization of "tired-looking stores that are long overdue for a redesign." I have several of those by me [including the one with the permanent broken sign and the ever present - but only seasonally lit - Rudolph in the window] and bet you do, too. Please don't be one of them!

The reason to be concerned? These tired details communicate in no uncertain terms that your consumer - and particularly your woman customer - should go elsewhere if she wants to be delighted with product choices [i.e., fashionable and up-to-date], customer service and the overall retail experience. On the other hand, the sensory touches state on multiple levels that this is a store that understands marketing to women and meeting the needs of the primary decision maker. After all, the consumer has changed, evolving into a sophisticated and knowledgeable being with plenty of retail options to choose from particularly if she doesn't like your experience. It's quite simple. If you can't evolve with her, then you're in the wrong business!

For added perspective and ideas on how to keep your store looking fresh, interesting and relevant to your customers, consider these two previous posts : A Store That Floors: Aggieland Carpet One and Engaging The Consumer... Via Store Windows.

Change that keeps pace with your evolving customer can only benefit the store experience as well as your bottom line.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Conversation Age - Enabled

Helen Keller originally uploaded by dbking.
Have you ever wondered what life must have been like for Helen Keller - before Anne Sullivan shared with her the gift of communication? And how her world opened up once she 'got' that magic?

I hit me both physically and emotionally when I shared Helen's story with my 5.5 year old daughter. And it still affects me even when I read the Wikipedia article on Helen Keller.

Helen Keller's experience is the starting point for my contribution - titled "The Conversation Age - Enabled" - to a marvelous project conceived by Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton: an e-book titled "The Conversation Age" to which 100 bloggers have contributed their perspectives on this conversation-enabled world that increasingly surrounds us.

Proceeds from sales of the book will benefit Variety, The Children's Charity, to honor the memory of Sandra J. Kerley, CK's mom.

To learn more about the original concept, read Drew McLellan's Here's To The Conversation and Gavin Heaton's The Age of Conversation.

Mark Goren from Transmission Content + Creative invited me to participate when he posted about the project in Conversation Ageing. [Thank you, Mark!]

To whet your appetite for what will be the most thought-provoking and relevant book not only of the blogosphere, but also of 2007, a few of the authors have posted excerpts:

+ David Reich titles his chapter "Conversation - The Ultimate Customer Service".
+ Mack Collier's Which Conversation Are You Having?
+ Lewis Green's Can Gavin Come Out And Play?
+ Valeria Maltoni's The conversation age

Here follows the list of contributing authors - a who's who list of former Z-listers [see Extending buZZ...], insightful thinkers and very talented marketers. It's an honor to be caught between the virtual covers with this group!

Gavin Heaton, Drew McLellan, CK, Valeria Maltoni, Emily Reed, Katie Chatfield, Greg Verdino, Mack Collier, Lewis Green, Sacrum, Ann Handley, Mike Sansone, Paul McEnany, Roger von Oech, Anna Farmery, David Armano, Bob Glaza, Mark Goren, Matt Dickman, Scott Monty, Richard Huntington, Cam Beck, David Reich, Mindblob (Luc), Sean Howard, Tim Jackson, Patrick Schaber, Roberta Rosenberg, Uwe Hook, Tony D. Clark, Todd Andrlik, Toby Bloomberg, Steve Woodruff, Steve Bannister, Steve Roesler, Stanley Johnson, Spike Jones, Nathan Snell, Simon Payn, Ryan Rasmussen, Ron Shevlin, Roger Anderson, Bob Hruzek, Rishi Desai, Phil Gerbyshak, Peter Corbett, Pete Deutschman, Nick Rice, Nick Wright, Mitch Joel, Michael Morton, Mark Earls, Mark Blair, Mario Vellandi, Lori Magno, Kristin Gorski, Krishna De, Kris Hoet, Kofl Annan, Kimberly Dawn Wells, Karl Long, Julie Fleischer, Jordan Behan, John La Grou, Joe Raasch, Jim Kukral, Jessica Hagy, Janet Green, Jamey Shiels, Dr. Graham Hill, Gia Facchini, Geert Desager, Gaurav Mishra, Gary Schoeniger, Gareth Kay, Faris Yakob, Emily Clasper, Ed Cotton, Dustin Jacobsen, Tom Clifford, David Pollinchock, David Koopmans, David Brazeal, David Berkowitz, Carolyn Manning, Craig Wilson, Cord Silverstein, Connie Reece, Colin McKay, Chris Newlan, Chris Corrigan, Cedric Giorgi, Brian Reich, Becky Carroll, Arun Rajagopal, Andy Nulman, Amy Jussel, AJ James, Kim Klaver, Sandy Renshaw, Susan Bird, Ryan Barrett, Troy Worman.

You will definitely be hearing more including how to obtain your copy of this much sought-after publication, so stay tuned!

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

BlogTippingDay - May

Here it is - May 1st. Another BlogTipping Day as proclaimed by Easton Ellsworth of Business BlogWire fame in Announcement: May 1, 2006 will be blogtipping day! - and a one-year anniversary, too!

This month's blogtippings focus on the brand experience, the evolution of marketing, and the power of the positive.

This short clip from Marketing Headhunter on Tom Peters and The Brand is The Talent captures the essence of Tom Peters, getting right to the point.

Maria Palma in Eight Reasons Why Nordstrom is a Customer Service Legend reminds us of what we need to focus on to deliver an amazing customer experience.

John Jantsch's Duct Tape Marketing is a gem of common sensical marketing advice. What Have the Senses Got To Do With Marketing? touches on the positive sensory elements that your brand or business should incorporate to be memorable.

The Perfect Customer Experience features this post by Dale Wolfe on Great Companies Are Great Employers. Face it: "Employees are the most critical driver of improved customer advocacy because they shape and deliver the experience. "

Co-creation came up during my Disney trip [see I Have Met The Mouse!] and I will be discussing it further. In the meantime, check out Susan Abbott's post on Co-Creation & Fashion Brands. Not only does it make a great case for the future of strong brands, but it also explains how 'co-creation' can strengthen the experience or the bond with consumers [i.e., involving them in the creation process].

David Meerman Scott has strong thoughts on the evolution of PR and marketing. If you are fascinated with where marketing, communications and public relations can take us, do check out Welcome MarketingSherpa Viral Marketing Hall of Fame readers.

Get Shouty's Katie Chatfield has a post that is guaranteed to make you smile. Manufacturing Happiness will get you thinking about the experience you create. She refers to Mack Collier's Viral Garden and Australians taking it upon Themselves to create a vibrant community. How might you offer more smiles and foster greater happiness through your experience? Remember how powerful 'random acts of kindness' can be?

Finally, Purple Wren's Wordless Wednesday: Bleeding Hearts brings a smile to my face, reminding me of the beauty and magic of Spring!

Happy May!

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