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Friday, February 27, 2009

The Carpetology Blog Roundup - February 2008

Time for The Carpetology Blog Roundup for February 2009.

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

The biggest news during February is that Mohawk Purchases Wear-Dated Brand. It's exciting and is sure to lead to the introduction of delicious new carpet styles.

Speaking of carpet style, if you're in need of inspiration, check out these posts:

+ Inspired by Las Vegas' Mirage Hotel, I couldn't help but capture on video my hotel room carpet - A Foot's Perspective #22: Wow! Mirage Carpet - as well as the carpet outside my room - A Foot's Perspective #23 - Wow! Mirage Hallway Carpet. What do you think? Don't be shy if you come across examples of stylish carpet. I'll be happy to include them in a post.

+ Thanks to Shannon Bilby, I'm pleased to share with you Carpet Style Trends At Surfaces 2009.

+ Are you into contemporary or modern design? Even if you aren't, do check out Design Reviews From the Floor Up ~ 2Modern Design Talk. You may be surprised by what you see and experience.

+ You have something to look forward to in March. Color and design insights from Ultron Color Trends - Designer Workshops. Next stop is Los Angeles...

From a carpet care perspective, there's Annette's Carpet Corner: Removing Acrylic Paint Stains as well as a summary of the wisdom I've shared on Facebook: Wear-Dated On Facebook With Floor & Carpet Tips.

And, if you're In The Market For Carpet? We'd Like To Help. With lots of valuable tools and tips.

Finally, if you're yearning for Spring or a temporary different reality, you have to read this story about Living Carpet Floors. Ahhhh.

Thank you for reading.

For other posts in this series, see The Carpetology Blog Roundup posts.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Social Media Series: Dan Schawbel on Bridging New & Old

This week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Dan Schawbel.

Dan Schawbel redefines the whole notion of 'personal branding' not just for Gen-Y, but for anyone serious about developing a digital presence. He has set an example with his award winning Personal Branding Blog® and as publisher of Personal Branding Magazine®, head judge for the Personal Brand Awards®, director of Personal Branding TV®, and author of the very soon to-be-released "Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success (Kaplan, April 2009).

Google "Dan Schawbel" and you'll discover a staggering number of results justifying Fast Company's characterization of Dan as a "personal branding force of nature." [If you don't believe me, Google your own "name" and check how many results you generate. Then, compare back to Dan's results...]

No surprise when you realize the number of insightful articles with practical, actionable advice he has written, including for MarketingProfs [Paul Dunay interviewed Dan for the MProfs Daily Fix in a post titled How to Create Your Own Personal Brand] and, most recently, Mashable.

Dan's chapter for The Age of Conversation 2 - Why Don't They Get It? - the book that 237 authors from around the world collaborated on to benefit Variety, the children's charity [please consider buying the book] - is titled "eBranding for the Masses." It starts with the following statement: "What people might overlook or fail to understand is that our lives are already the result of the Internet."

C.B.: Dan, how and why did you get involved in social media?

Dan: I got involved in the social media world during my junior year of college, when someone in my dorm ran over to me and said "I just got Bentley signed up for Facebook, you should join!" We were the 16th college that joined Facebook and I turned it down completely at first. Then after a few weeks I saw the potential and quickly gravitated towards it. After this introduction into the web 2.0 word, I started blogging in October of 2006. My first blog was entitled "Driven-to-succeed" and it focused on providing college students the necessary information they needed in order to succeed at college and get the job they wanted upon graduation.

I got involved with social media because I was curious and wanted to get my ideas out there. That was even before I started the Personal Branding Blog in March 2007. I never really thought of myself as a writer back then, but blogging allowed me to find my voice and become more proficient and fine-tuned with communication skills, such as writing.

C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

Dan: I really enjoy the fact that you can attract people who care about your interests and groom them into loyal community members over time. I believe that a blog showcases who you are to the world and filters those who want to be around you, from others who aren't interested. In this way, it's easy to make friends, build on those relationships and live a better life.

C.B.: What do you like least about social media?

Dan: One of the downfalls of social media is that people who disagree with you, or want to see you fail, will come out and try and destroy your brand. They will camouflage themselves, appearing as a troll in your comments or they will build a website that makes fun of you. Heck, I have a group of people who started a forum that mocks every entry I write on my blog. When you build your personal brand, you should take a stand. This means that people will disagree with you, but I think that the world should be a little more accepting and "friendly."

C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies or individuals to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

  • Understand that there are no rules in new media and gatekeepers in old media. Basically, bloggers can do whatever they want (there are consequences) but the traditional media elite can't because they have to go through bureaucracy.

  • Prioritize relationships because that is how you get good publicity. Relationships are critical in both old and new media and now.

  • If you're a company, you'll want to change the way you do business internally and externally, using social media tools, such as an internal social network for your employees.

  • Individuals should dive right into social media before it passes them by. I think learning from the ground up is the only way to truly understand how things work in this domain.

  • Do what is right for your brand. Don't have a Facebook page because it's "cool." Create it because you want to engage with your community on it.

  • C.B.: As the personal branding expert, are there any watch outs to using social media to create your personal brand when some organizations are still very traditional?

    Dan: I think you have to really understand what your brand is first and then set goals around it. If you've just started out, you'll really want to figure out what you're passionate about, your expertise and the resources you have at your disposal. Aside from using these tools to promote yourself, you really need to figure out your life plan, or the tools won't help guide you to your destination. I would be very mindful what you put on the web because everything is public, the truth will come out and Google is your permanent record.

    Within your company, there will be a lot of obstacles. You'll want to be at a company that is cool with allowing you to speak on behalf of it or on your own terms. You might be able to be your company's social media *expert*. It will be impossible for you to show short-term ROI because social media, like any brand building strategy, is long-term. Creating your personal brand inside your company can lead to a lot of exciting opportunities because people will know you based on what you're an expert in.

    C.B.: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers and companies.

    Be the real you because everyone else is taken and replicas don't sell for as much. You need to hold true to your own values and be honest with yourself. If you aren't transparent now, you will have no choice in the future, as all media collides, and consumer-generated media will force your real face to be out there. Just have fun with it and write what you love.

    Thank you, Dan.

    Comments? Reactions?

    Do you agree that there are no rules in new media? How might traditional media bureaucracy be more effectively streamlined? What about prioritizing relationships? How has that worked for you? Do you agree that participation in social networks, like brand building, is a long-term endeavor? Have you seen quick-hits with sticking power? What ways have you discovered of bridging use of these new tools with traditional approaches?

    For additional insights from participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old please visit The Entire Bridging New & Old Social Media Series.

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    Monday, February 23, 2009

    Oh Malls, Where Art Thy Retail Experiences?

    Doha-Mall originally uploaded by knightoyo.
    From previous posts you may recall that mall construction is down and being replaced with 'lifestyle centers.'

    However, per Knowledge@Wharton's The Mall Pall: Have America's Biggest Shopping Centers Lost Their Allure?, the most recent Verde Group study on customer dissatisfaction indicates that neither the traditional mall nor the new lifestyle format thrills shoppers. Are you surprised? I'm not.

    Here are the complaints: "consumers are aggravated and uninspired by the sameness and predictability of shopping malls."

    Furthermore, "the two most frequent complaints cited in the survey are first, a lack of anything new or exciting at the mall and second, a limited selection of restaurants. These criticisms were each cited by 35% of those surveyed. The third most-mentioned problem, cited by 28% of respondents, was that too many of the stores carry the same merchandise. Parking was the fourth most frequently mentioned problem, with 25% of shoppers experiencing trouble in mall parking lots. While mentioned less frequently than sameness as a problem, survey respondents told researchers they feel parking is the most serious problem they face on a visit to the mall."

    This goes for traditional and open-air lifestyle centers.

    Imagine, shoppers all around aren't inspired by the sameness of choices available. They regret the lack of a sense of discovery. Does it bring to mind some of what I discussed in Consumer Choices And The Retail Experience?

    Note the comments about comfort and cleanliness. Please, make sure your bathrooms are spotless!

    Interesting to note the observations relating to loyalty and how much time is spent: "those who spend more than two hours in a mall are more loyal, visit the most stores, report a better shopping experience and spend more money."

    Note, too, the information relating to shopper gender differences: "Men say they experience more problems than women, have more trouble parking and finding their way around the mall, and are more turned off by the sameness of malls than women. But while men have more problems, women are more likely to tell others about it. Working women were more dissatisfied than other women with malls, complaining about a poor selection of restaurants, and a lack of interesting shops and special events."

    What that reinforces is that meeting the higher standards and better articulated needs of women shoppers serves a dual purpose by also satisfying the needs of men shoppers.

    Extrapolating from this research to apply to individual retail stores, I suggest looking at common areas. Are there ways to collaborate with other retailers to create common spaces for events, thereby drawing in shoppers to relax and interact with? What about showcasing product in combination or juxtaposed with unexpected items? Say carpet with shoes and handbags?

    Another suggestion states that "malls create more environmental, educational and entertainment programming." I consider this an area of exciting opportunity. If consumers are to be enticed away from their homes and other activities, what better way to do so than by developing programs and activities that rise above simple purchases? Imagine creating a forum for discussing how to help eradicate poverty in the community, or expose children to visual and performing art?

    What other thoughts come to mind that would help re-inject discovery and adventure into the retail shopping experience?

    Previous posts relating to malls and the retail experience:
    + Atlanta's Atlantic Station - A Lifestyle Center
    + An Architect's View of Better LifeStyle Centers
    + Southlake Town Square - A Lifestyle Center
    + Authenticity At Retail
    + A. Alfred Taubman: Overcoming Threshold Resistance
    + Book Review: Threshold Resistance by A. Alfred Taubman

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    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Five In The Morning Guest Post

    Five's originally uploaded by ArtByChristy.
    Are you familiar with the "Five in the Morning" series that Steve Woodruff has created? Every morning he posts links to five interesting posts he has come across - often at 5 AM.

    It's a wonderful and user-friendly way to offer readers a window onto other thoughts and thinkers in the blogosphere 5 links at a time.

    When I expressed my awe to Steve, he explained that the series has helped him stay atop of his feeds - something I've been struggling with for a while.

    He also invited me to participate in "Five in the Morning" and get my own taste. Hence, today's post!

    Here are my "Five in the Morning" links for Friday, February 20, 2009.

    • I am a visual thinker and visuals delights like the ones that Carol Gillott brings to life in Paris Breakfasts make my heart and soul sing! I have visited the streets and walked by the stores that Carol captures in her photos and artwork. I can smell the bread and pastries from her images, and hear the sounds of Parisian traffic.
    • Another visual treat for my soul is Elizabeth Perry's Woolgathering. Every day she shares another creation inspired by the most improbable source around her. These are fresh impressions that celebrate what's marvelous around us.
    Consider these two sites perfect starting points for a daily brainstorming session. Let your mind loose as you absorb how pen, ink, a dash of color, camera and an unusual perspective can transform your outlook on your gnarliest issue.

    • Lisbeth Calandrino says Get Smart, Be Different, and Try New Things using Anthropologie as an example. Understand who your customer is and what she wants so you can develop the kind of relationship that Andrea describes, and show the kind of love that Maria alludes to.
    Are you ready to tackle the world and make a difference? Excellent! Now, go to it!

    Steve, thanks for this wonderful opportunity to step back and appreciate the wonderful wisdom and inspiration available from people I admire... and make progress on being caught up on my feeds!

    Subscribe to Steve Woodruff's StickyFigure blog and follow him on Twitter: Steve Woodruff.

    And, if you are new to Flooring The Consumer, consider subscribing. You can also follow me on Twitter: CBWhittemore.

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    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    Social Media Series: Kristin Gorski on Bridging New & Old

    This week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Kristin Gorski.

    Kristin Gorski brings a different perspective to this series: that of a journalist. She's insightful, probing, knowledgeable and open to possibilities. Consider her article for The Age of Conversation 2 - Why Don't They Get It? Titled "Crossroads: When Micro Storytelling Meets Social Media," it ends with an interesting yet social media relevant challenge: "to learn how to slow down, thoroughly survey the social media scene, decide what stories we want to tell, and then utilize this powerful arena to maximize their reach..."

    Perhaps you've encountered Kristin via her blog, "Write now is good." or The Huffington Post where she has written about technology, new media and the U.S. presidential race for "The Huffington Post's Off The Bus" series. You'll also find her intensely involved with media literacy site NewsTrust -- a non-profit, non-partisan site committed to helping citizens make informed decisions about democracy -- as editor, host and reviewer. [She just ended a News Hunt about Top Stories on Education.]

    C.B.: Kristin, how/why did you get involved in social media?

    Kristin: I started blogging almost three years ago after hearing constant talk about it. I had worked in media and magazines for over a decade, and for part of this time, I designed and managed Web sites and technology projects. Becoming a blogger was a natural next step for me.

    Also, I wanted to have a regular outlet for my writing, and I knew the pressure of having an audience and self-imposed deadlines would keep my writing skills sharp by encouraging me to write more.

    C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

    Kristin: Social media constantly reinforces the importance and power of conversation and communication. It has made the world both wider and more personal to me; I've met people from all over the world through outlets like blogging and Twitter, and they've become part of my digital community online–something I didn't have three years ago. My definition of community has expanded, and the connections I've made have spurred greater creativity in my own projects and have allowed me to be part of online writing opportunities, as well. Social media has made it possible for more people to express themselves easily and to be heard. When we talk with each other online, we understand each other better and learn more about the world around us; social media, in its ideal form, supports this. While bloggers may not always agree with each other, the level of debate over time has become more consistent and respectful. With regular practice, bloggers have become used to reading and assimilating differing viewpoints and responding in constructive ways.

    C.B. : What do you like least about social media?

    Kristin: I like most aspects of social media, but occasionally, an entity will use it in anti-social ways. One example is Twitter spam, which happens when a Twitterer sends out 140-character advertisements. It turns into a monologue, as the offending Twitterer has nothing substantial to say. Nobody will put up with being on the receiving end of an unwanted one-way conversation for long. I don't like telemarketers during dinner; why would I like tweet spam anytime? (Luckily, tweet spam is easy to ignore – just don't follow the offenders!)

    Companies which push the user-privacy envelope use social media in negative ways, and ultimately, hurt their own bottom line. Facebook's Beacon experiment, and any future derivative of similar tracking and targeting, will not work because it betrays users' trust. Users are real people, not just avatars and accounts online, and are protective of their online lives. Social media companies have to figure out revenue models which will not haphazardly play with their users' most treasured personal details.

    Looking to the future, social network players must carefully frame their interaction with users keeping this in mind: extinction is just around the corner, as another Facebook could spring up. Internet trends can shift rapidly and often, so popularity dips for Facebook, Twitter, et al are just a matter of time. Remember when MySpace was viewed as THE social media deity, gracing business magazine covers and being constantly talked about? Its demographic and marketshare have changed over the years, and Facebook is rules as "most buzz worthy" in mainstream media these days.Recently, MySpace users participated in a coordinated “Delete Your MySpace Account” day. I don't have statistics on how many users actually delete their accounts during these groundswells, and I sense the numbers are quite small, but the sentiment behind them speaks clearly and to something we all sense: these social networking sites are not perfect. What is wrong with social networking sites is both completely obvious and extremely subtle, and differs widely among users.I remember when Friendster was "it", and now it's definitely not (though it still is "it" to some users, and there's a lesson in that...). Pownce and Jaiku exist as partial ghosts in the Internet machine, as Twitter lives large. So current champions Facebook and Twitter have to continually ask themselves, “Am I meaningful to my users? Do I offer them value? My users give me a lot of their time and precious bits of their lives, so what am I giving them in return?” Without users, these sites will simply not exist. Will social networks ever go beyond trend and last "forever" (e.g., top of the heap for roughly 5-10 years)? Only if they are beneficent and extremely useful.

    It may be hard to imagine completely new social media outlets on the horizon, but two years ago, did any of us think we'd be so actively using a service like Twitter? Twitter continues to morph in its usefulness, also, as third-parties create applications based on Twitter's basic tweet structure. Innovators are out there, programming and scheming under heavy caffeination late into the night, dreaming of the Interwebs' next big thing, determined to make it theirs. (In the end, this is good for the users, as this offers more choices of potentially higher quality; as for social media companies involved, only the most relevant will survive.)

    C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

    1. Make sure you want to talk with the consumer in the first place. Just having a Facebook group or Twitter account is not enough. Consistent engagement IS the bridge between old and new media. Customers, both old and new, need time to take in new messages from a trusted (or new) source. If the commitment is not there to engage fully and clearly in some form of social media, then companies should wait until they're ready.

    2. Know your story. If a company is not clear on its message and goals, customers pick up on this instinctively. They don't have time to stick around and figure it out: companies have to make their stories clear and compelling for people from the get-go.

    3. Have a plan. Lack of organization and an absence of a timetable kill many projects before they even get off the ground. How often should the company tweet? Which employee will take on this responsibility, and what content will be tweeted? Are there resources for YouTube content, and who will take care of a company's YouTube "channel"? Writing company blog posts, answering reader comments, learning about related blog communities, building authentic connections–all this takes time.

    4. Keep up the conversation and keep up your end of the bargain. Successful social media connections are a commitment. I always think of Seth Godin's belief that there is no such thing as an overnight sensation: success is often built over many years of wins and losses, of re-evaluations and re-tooling, and not giving up. This goes for forging new connections through social media, too.

    5. Always look for new connections. Be flexible in bridging these connections. Listen to the customers and adapt. If customers aren't responding, think of a new conversation starter, as customer input can guide you. Don't take this customer interaction for granted–not just in a poor economy, but at any time. (Strong bonds with customers forged in stable market conditions probably will help companies better survive a poor economy...)

    C.B.: Kristin, any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers?

    Kristin: When any customer wants to talk with your company, it's a gift and should be appreciated. WOM marketing is still stronger than anyone realizes, and those corporations unaware of the power combo of [WOM + Blogs/Twitter/Facebook/Email + mainstream media] sometimes learn of it the hard way: an unhappy and vocal group online publicly discusses some company's shortfall and then a news outlet reports negative information about the company as actual news that the entire world should hear about (even though it may have no relevance to our lives). In the Blogosphere or Twitterville or Facebooklandia, there IS such a thing as bad PR. Tweets are short, but a resulting bad-PR migraine might be eternal (or perhaps last for just a very long week).

    Take heart: companies shouldn't be worried about vigilante mobs of social media rumor mongers running rampant all over their carefully created brands, but they should keep one wide-open ear to the rumbling social media ground. That is prudent advice in a world where information, business and reputations play out so much online, and will do so increasingly.

    One last point: social media is simply a set of tools. As such, these tools should help people do real things in the brick-and-mortar world. The social media world is not just a virtual world, it is an extension of our flesh-and-blood lives. When we forget this, social media loses relevancy; when social media complements our work, communities, and friendships, we become more powerful and effective. Companies that use social media in just the right way could see more connection and relevance to their users' lives, too.

    Thank you, Kristin!

    Questions? Comments? Reactions?

    What about social media platform extinction and the next iteration? What might it look like? What do you think is missing from the current ones?

    I love Kristin's characterization of the social media world: "it's an extension of our flesh-and-blood lives" making it critical that we figure out how best to bridge the two for relevance. How do you see that best happening in your world?

    In true journalist fashion, Kristin leaves us with a summary of her sources.

    --- "Facebook's Beacon More Intrusive Than Previously Thought" -- from PCWorld by Juan Carlos Perez, November 30, 2007
    -- "Facebook Strategy? Bloggers, Agencies Beware!" -- from Servant of Chaos by Gavin Heaton, February 17, 2009
    --- "January 30th is International Delete Your MySpace Account Day" -- from Mashable by Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins, January 21, 2008
    --- "Making Progress on Spam" -- from Twitter's Blog by Evan Williams, August 7, 2008
    --- "Misjudgment or Transparency? How a Single Tweet Caused A Stir With A Client" -- from Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang, January 24, 2009
    --- "Overnight success?" -- from Seth's Blog by Seth Godin, May 22, 2006
    --- "The age of Facebook vs. MySpace" -- from TechnoMarketer by Matt Dickman, January 5, 2009
    --- "The MySpace Generation" -- from Business Week (cover story), December 12, 2005
    --- "Twitter Fast Growing Beyond Its Messaging Roots" -- from WIRED by Michael Calore, February 10, 2009
    --- "Word of Mouth" -- Wikipedia entry

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    Monday, February 16, 2009

    Consumer Choices And The Retail Experience

    Weekend treat! originally uploaded by Shagadelicbabe.
    If the marketplace is over-stored, if consumers have too much stuff already, and if the choices available at retail are humdrum-boring, why would anyone bother shopping? Especially now.

    Think about it.  Do you need to replace your car if the one you have works fine? Who needs another pair of jeans or a t-shirt if your closet is overflowing with jeans and t-shirts? Do you really want to buy more utilitarian beige carpet when that's what's already in your house?

    Many of the choices available to us at retail just aren't that inspiring. They may be considered 'safe' options, but they do absolutely nothing to make my heart sing and convince me to part with my hard-earned and scarce assets.

    I fear, though, that the choices available will only become more dismal. Consider this 2/3/2009 WashingtonPost.com article titled Supplier woes may mean fewer choices from shoppers by Anne D'Innocenzio.  It just doesn't sound encouraging.  In fact, why not just put a sign out saying "Nothing new and exciting here. Come back when the recession's over!"?

    I wonder if it's time to start sewing my own clothes again. 

    What a missed opportunity.  After all, shopping still serves an important purpose.  It's a social activity.  It's a vibrant opportunity for retailer interaction with customers [i.e., conversation] and a tangible, physical time for shoppers to come into contact with product in a manner that engages the senses, sparks curiosity and inspires the mind.

    According to this 2/5/2009 article titled 'Shopaholics will be shopaholics' by Christopher Muther at Boston.com, "the reason we shop ... has just as much to do with self-exploration and discovery as it does with gathering blouses and scented candles.  "Shopping is a way that we search for ourselves and our place in the world," says Benson... "It can promote self-expression, self-definition, creativity, even healing when it's not done to excess."  Paco Underhill weighs in on the matter saying that "retail therapy is alive and kicking."

    Now, I'm not denying that these are really tough times, and the solutions aren't easy. We are faced with conflicting imperatives: the need to cut costs, to rationalize, while at the same time maintaining or improving the experience our store offers customers.

    That's right. The retail experience becomes even more critical at drawing shoppers into our stores, encouraging them to engage with us and our products, and eventually purchase.

    Consider this 2/4/2009 article titled Stores need to excite, execute, entertain. To survive in 2009, merchants have to aggressively court reluctant consumers with exciting products, prices and services. by Parija B. Kavilanz from CNNMoney.com.  It says that the "worst thing retailers can do in this environment is hunker down."  Better to actively take control of the situation and figure out what it takes to survive.  Definitely "keep a laser focus on evolving to the changing needs and wants of ... shoppers."

    Some other advice:
    + "Don't neglect customer experience."
    + "Avoid discount mania."  Much better to differentiate yourself "by giving shoppers value beyond price."  This is where product choice plays an important role.  You want to give consumers enough breadth and depth of choice without overwhelming and turning them off.  
    + "Have the right number of employees at the right time."
    + "Play offense."
    + "Reevaluate your stores and close underperforming locations."

    On the subject of product: can you bring clarity to the product range you offer and through the choices you offer diminish the paralyzing effect of over-abundant choice? Clarity goes hand-in-hand with transparency so the customer doesn't feel that you are denying him/her relevant options.

    There's absolutely no denying that consumers have gotten 'frugal.' That doesn't mean that they will never again make a purchase. Quite the opposite. It does mean, though, that we have to be very clear about the value we offer them. In my mind, that's a fantastic opportunity!

    In Consumers get frugal, so retailers get creative by Jayne O'Donnell and Sandra Block, USA Today from 1/29/2009, the authors state that mindless spending is gone. Shoppers now demand products that "deliver long-term value, not just empty calories." Disposable is gone. Quality is in. Hurray!  

    Retailer survival tips include:
    + Highlighting value - figure out how you and your products make your customers' lives better, simpler, easier.  Focus on new/fresh/unique products to get shoppers interested in making a purchase. Know your customers and create unique product offerings relevant to them.
    + Offering better prices
    + Emphasizing local ownership
    + Going green

    A good quote from the article: "cheapness is not the same as value."

    Finally, don't forget to Look More Closely At The Lipstick Effect by Sarah Mahoney at MediaPostNews from 2/12/2009.  Note the discussion about price transparency. Consumers are paying close attention to what goes into products and how like products compare. Don't give them reason to not trust you and your pricing.

    Remember, too, that the new austerity isn't sustainable and that consumers will be back.  Our opportunity, though, is in making connections with customers now so that, when they are ready to spend, they return to us.  Which means we must focus on the retail experience and the choices we have to offer.

    Do you agree?

    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    Round The World Envelope Race Recap

    I promised you a while back in Next Stop On The Great Round The World Envelope Race that I would recap the results of this momentous undertaking.

    This refers to a round-the-world blogger relay race pitting two teams - Manila and Power-Tac - against one another. The team to send its envelope - complete with logsheet and local memorabilia - first back to London would win.

    I was part of Team Power-Tac.

    After receiving my envelope, I sent it off to Jodi in Australia. She describes it all in The Great Round The World Envelope Race [fun to see the same envelope elements!] before sending it off next to Simone in Italy.

    Although I had hopes that Team Power Tac might win, I learned that the winner of the Great Envelope Race was Team Manila -- our most worthy opponent! I love Ruben's [from britpopcorn.com] reaction to the news. Congratulations!

    What fascinated me originally with the concept was the combination of old and new. Old in terms of using envelopes and the mail to move physical items from point a to point b. New in terms of using social media tools to keep track of the the phyical item's progress around the globe.

    There were unexpected surprises. For example, I was stunned that the contents of my envelope [2 tea bags] engaged my sense of smell as they did -- something that no web-based experience can capture. I'm hoping that what I sent Jodi equally engaged her senses as I tried to capture a tactile experience with dried leaves from New Jersey trees. [I also love the smell of dried leaves.]

    There were disappointments. I expected to be able to keep better track of the progress of our team's envelope. That happens best through links back to the previous sender's blog or post on the subject. After Jodi, I totally lost 'sight' of it.

    In fact, I notice that Team Manila created far more online buzz than did Team Power-Tac. To me, that means that the right team won!

    Thank you, Lolly, for the opportunity and the experience of taking part in an around-the-world-envelope race that combines both new and old!

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    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Social Media Series: Arun Rajagopal on Bridging New & Old

    This week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Arun Rajagopal.

    By day, Arun Rajagopal is advertising copywriter at Wunderman Oman working on leading airline, real estate and corporate brands in the Sultanate of Oman. At all times, though, Arun is our amazing "Man in Oman" who single-handed put The Age of Conversation, the collaborative and global book about the social media enabled times that we live in [sales of which benefit Variety the children's charity], on the cover of the Dubai based Khaleej Times Weekend. Have you checked out Arun Rajagopal's blog?

    His chapter in The Age of Conversation 2 - Why Don't They Get It is titled "The Smart Beast in the Creative Jungle." In it he writes: "Embrace new ideas in consumer experiences, media, technology and productivity.... Most importantly, get away from the desk and step into the real world of consumers."

    Arun epitomizes the spirit of this series. He bridges new and old in his interests - from trains and travels to social media. He also wants to spread the word about social media and its value, having made a promise to social media guru Connie Reece [whom I hope to feature here in the not-too-distant-future]. Given that he was a keynote speaker at the recent New Media Event in Dubai, I believe that we will be hearing much more about Arun and social media.

    C.B.: Arun, how and why did you get involved in social media?

    Arun: I started blogging with an interest in travel writing. In December 2006, I went on a month-long backpacking trip across India and put up an extensive travelogue on my blog. A few months later, I heard about Drew McLellan’s call to join the collaborative book ‘The Age of Conversation’ and I joined in the effort. The work I did in promoting AOC in the Middle East, both offline and online, was well received and one thing led to another, and soon I got on the social media bandwagon.

    In April 2008, I had a great time connecting with a wonderful community of marketing pros from around the world who used social media to come together at Blogger Social’08 in New York. My involvement with AOC and the work I did in helping set up KR Bright Sparks, the first corporate blog from Oman got me a lot of recognition in the region. A high point in my social media journey was speaking on corporate blogging at ‘The New Media Event’ in Dubai in December 2008. Buoyed by these experiences, my current goal is to help individuals and organizations in the Middle East understand and engage with social media better.

    C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

    Arun: For starters, I think engaging in social media changes the way you view the world, helps you discover interesting people and gets you learn about new things. Working in advertising, I find social media has exposed me to better ways of talking to people, which is so important in marketing communications. Today, social media gives you opportunities that cut across time zones and connect people from diverse backgrounds that were hitherto impossible, especially when it comes to networking, collaborating on different projects, building a brand, creating meaningful relationships etc.

    C.B.: What do you like least about social media?

    Arun: I wouldn’t say there’s anything less to like about social media per se. It’s more about how people are approaching social media the wrong way – there’s a tendency to overlook the real value that social media brings, there’s an obsession with results before stepping into the waters, there’s pressure to make social media work like a marketing channel when it is really not.

    C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies - particularly as you go about spreading the word about social media in your part of the world - to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

    1· Understand social media is not a marketing channel, but an effective way to communicate with your audience.

    2· Do your homework well. Learn how other companies and people are successfully working with social media.

    3· Go for the long haul. If you can’t make the right investments when it comes to time, energy, money and an attitude to be social, it’s better to stay away.

    4· Be prepared for criticism and ready to act upon feedback.

    5· Always strive to be human and try to give value.

    C.B.: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers.

    Arun: My big picture for brands using social media is simple! It’s not about the flashy tools you use – your mega corporate blog or snazzy YouTube videos or even your Twitter presence. It’s about you applying the big lessons of social media: listening to people, understanding their needs, talking to them at a personal level and creating those ‘wow’ experiences around your products & services so that your customers become your greatest evangelists.

    Another interesting way is to find better ways to integrate new ways of communicating with your customers (social media) with the traditional ways of talking (advertising). That integration will give you better opportunities to infuse new creativity into your messages and give greater value to the people you are talking to.

    Thank you, Arun!

    Comments? Questions? Reactions?

    How do you see people approaching social media the 'wrong' way? What successes have you seen from infusing new creativity in your messages?

    For additional insight from participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old please visit The Entire Bridging New & Old Social Media Series.

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    Saturday, February 07, 2009

    The Entire Bridging New & Old Social Media Series

    Bridging New & OldAs announced in Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, I launched a new series about Bridging New and Old Media on December 2, 2008. It is sparking discussion and actionable ideas on how best to reach all customers and include them in discussions about the value we offer. I'm delighted at the perspectives that participants in the series are sharing.

    This post will capture links to all of the interviews.

    Here is who has participated so far:
    + Mack Collier
    + Ann Handley
    + Steve Woodruff
    + Toby Bloomberg
    + Amber Naslund
    + Lewis Green
    + Laurence Borel
    + Susan Abbott
    + Arun Rajagopal
    + Kristin Gorski
    + Dan Schawbel
    + Chris Kieff
    + Alan Woody from Carpets By Otto
    + Karin Hermans
    + Mario Vellandi
    + Jay Ehret
    + Lori Magno
    + David Polinchock
    + Peg Mulligan
    + Yvonne DiVita
    + Rich Nadworny
    + Doug Meacham
    + Valeria Maltoni
    + Jeanne Byington
    + Kristin Golliher from OtterBox
    + Andrea Learned

    Based on the first 26 interviews, read Book I of Social Media's Collective Wisdom: Simplifying Marketing With Social Media, published September 2009.

    + Phil Gerbyshak
    + Jason Baer
    + Nesh Thompson
    + Becky Carroll
    + Anna Farmery
    + Paul Chaney
    + NatalieMacNeil
    + Aneta Hall
    + Tom Guarriello
    + Roberta Rosenberg
    + Sister Anne Elizabeth Fiore
    + Beth Harte
    + Tish Grier
    +Terry Starbucker
    + Maria Palma
    + Stephanie Weaver

    Hat tip to Danny Brown for the suggestion to create this separate post for listing all those who have participated in the series.

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    Wednesday, February 04, 2009

    Social Media Series: Susan Abbott on Bridging New & Old

    This week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Susan Abbott.

    Susan Abbott focuses on "branded customer experiences and how to create them" in her blog Customer Experience Crossroads. There she offers insightful and delightfully fresh perspectives on the world of customer experiences. The range will surprise you. They do me. They will also have you thinking and rethinking experiences and perceptions generated.

    As the founder of Toronto, Canada based Abbott Research & Consulting, Susan applies qualitative research to develop business-specific, customer-relevant actionable solutions for memorable customer experiences. She adds to both business and blog an innovative mindset. You can get a taste for that in her book The Innovative Organization which is a "practical exploration of sparking innovation in the real world ... based on the experiences and observations of the business managers and executives who participated in the two-year research project" as well as other articles and resources she has created.

    Susan brings to this series a large organizational perspective -- from having worked in the financial services industry -- as well as that of the smaller, entrepreneurial business.

    C.B.: Susan, How did you get involved with social media?

    I was interested in the possibilities for connection with customers even using the basic web, way back in the last century, when I worked at a major financial institution. Some of the simple marketing goals I had then – giving our target market easy access to relevant information, visibility, brand building – haven’t changed that much.

    After becoming a consultant, I proposed a blog to a client as a way for a large project team to keep in touch, share success stories, and so on. The client said no, so we were stuck with an intranet, and the inevitable happened: thousands of e-mails and keep-in-touch meetings.

    I started my own blog after having coffee with Grant McCracken when we were the outside creatives on an innovation project. I asked him about his blog and he was so encouraging on the topic I took the plunge in December 2004.

    Two things really drive my involvement with social media now.

    First is keeping my professional profile high, so that people looking for someone with my skills are more likely to find me, and to find me credible. Things like LinkedIn are a natural for me, as it is basically an open directory listing. I also list in various trade directories. (The side benefit of blogging is that you meet amazing people and your writing really improves.)

    The second is about monitoring trends so I can offer my clients some meaningful guidance on where things are going and what they need to do about it. My clients are mainly inside major corporations and their work lives are so stuffed with meetings and internal networking that they have to outsource environment scanning. Quite a few are in situations where the firewall blocks blogs and Facebook, so they are actually prevented from staying in touch with their customers/consumers. That may sound amazing, but it’s true.

    In my customer insight work, I also use qualitative research platforms that are built on very similar technology as social media – things like interactive bulletin boards, private blog journals and web meetings.

    C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

    Susan: The tools are easy to use. If I was starting my business today, I’m not sure I would bother with a conventional web site, as people mainly find my blog first (www.customercrossroads.com). And it costs almost nothing to run.

    I love it when really clever interesting people connect with me online. And some of these folks really do become true connections; they’re not just Facebook friends.

    For businesses, social media tools allow for a dialogue and for insight into the mind of the market that is simply unparalleled short of hosting cake and cookies events all the time all over the world.

    From a pure learning and knowledge sharing standpoint, social media have led to sharing on an unprecedented scale. One of my favourite places is Instructables.

    And new models are emerging, like Innocentive, and peer-to-peer lending that I find intriguing. I’m enchanted by the possibilities of consumer-generated or customized products, like customizable Keds.

    C.B.: What do you like least about social media?

    Susan: I really dislike evangelists who claim to have all the answers. And there’s a lot of verbal bludgeoning going on. Marketers in big companies aren’t dummies and they are responsible for caring for important brand values. Few organizations tolerate failures in the name of innovation (even though they should), and professional credibility is always at stake. You can’t blame them for moving with some caution.

    I also think the quality of commentary on many public forums is unbelievably poor. And that can be dismaying.

    Human motivations and needs are not changing. What changes is how we meet those needs and social media is just giving us new ways to connect. Some people want to find a life partner. Some want to share their creations with others. Our tools give us new and better ways of doing things we already want to do.

    From a personal perspective, there are times I find the pipeline of contact and content quite overwhelming. It’s simply impossible to connect with everyone who wants to talk. And it’s difficult to keep a large network fresh.

    C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

    [1] Repurpose existing content or give it fresh life. For example, you have a checklist for carpet buying on Carpetology. There’s a ton of this kind of material inside places like banks or on their corporate web site. If they put it on a blog, bit by bit, along with knowledgable but friendly commentary this material would become more accessible and more interactive. People could even ask questions!

    [2] Leverage the media-savvy people inside your company. In my world, at least one bank economist gives an interview just about every day. These are senior people, well schooled in the ways of talking for publication, and the best ones are interesting, smart and full of personality. They are typically good writers, too. I’m baffled that so few have a blog. Instead, much of their content shows up as a PDF on an 8½ x 11 page. It’s not designed for on-screen reading and there’s no potential for interaction. It’s such a waste of good content.

    It would be great to go to YouTube and have a genuine expert explain things, supported by good graphics. I think of this as educational branding. It doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be an ad. It should be good information, clearly and simply presented.

    My hairdresser has instructional videos on YouTube and my trainer told me she’s working on one, too. I think ad agencies have a huge role to play here, but they have to find ways to get compensated without broadcast media budgets.

    [3] Run promotions that bring online and offline together. I read about a campus promotion where pictures were taken of students and their friends during the first week back at school The company had some kind of a big funny couch. Students could pick up the images online, send them to friends, and so on. Brilliant, fun, simple, engaging.

    [4] Rethink your sponsorships. I conducted a study on sponsorship best practices recently and at the end of it concluded that it is one of the most effective kinds of marketing you can do. A good sponsorship now provides many ways of interacting, some of them online. This is a great place for any organization to start into social media.

    [5] Run a social media bootcamp for your leaders. I am surprised by how many executives in some industries have no personal experience with the things consumers are involved with. We are not our customers! More than ever, marketers and executives need to work hard to stay immersed in the world of their customer or consumer.

    C.B., it was a pleasure to give some sustained thought to your excellent questions. Thanks for the opportunity to participate.

    Thank you, Susan!

    Comments? Questions? What do you think of Susan's suggestions for small and large organizations? Have you tried any? Do you have examples of others that proved successful?

    Previous posts in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old include:
    + Laurence Borel
    + Lewis Green
    + Amber Naslund
    + Toby Bloomberg
    + Steve Woodruff
    + Ann Handley
    + Mack Collier
    + Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old

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