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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Meet Kaye Gosline, Director of Design, Milliken Floor Covering

Kaye GoslineMeet Kaye Gosline, Director of Design, Milliken Floor Covering, and a Woman In Flooring.

I know Kaye as the "Queen of Color" because of her intense color passion. Always generous with her color inspiration, she readily shared her color trend presentations so I could further inspire Wear-Dated upholstery fabric customers back in the early Solutia days.

Today, Kaye Gosline is also director of Design at Milliken which she joined three years ago. I consider Kaye a fascinating
Woman In Flooring and had the opportunity to speak with her on July 10, 2009. I had forgotten how full of color and imagery her voice is. Needless to say, the time flew by and I felt as if I had gone around the world with her.

C.B.: Kaye, I read wonderful things about you. You've made a statement with the new Milliken New York showroom and I loved your recent Floor Focus color trend article. Would you tell me more about what you're doing at Milliken?

Kaye: When I first came to Milliken, I was creative director. I'm now director of design for Milliken, overseeing contract floor covering globally. The role includes product development and working with global design teams and also the marketing of products. It's important to be involved all the way to the point of sale.

It involves looking at things differently and working with different products and customers. Milliken truly is a global company with customers in the Middle East, that we service out of the UK, the US, or China. I travel to Asia and China once a year, usually in the Fall for the China Interior Design Association conference, and then to major markets. China loves US design and quality. They are evolving their own cultural expression. I also travel to the UK 2 to 3 times per year.

C.B.: How difficult is it to design product for a global marketplace?

Kaye: Look at the U.S. marketplace and think of the diversity we have. There are plenty of similar differences globally and we follow a similar process for the UK and Dubai. We accept that there are differences. We also believe strongly that it's best to be true to a vision than to try to satisfy everyone. We have two young designers and have charged them with finding concepts that meet a need, being true to that vision and then pursuing it to the hilt. You can always fine tune. Just don't play it safe!

Think of the Ben and Jerry experience. That's what we're looking to do. It's a constant reality check and that's why we have teams of people with diversity and perspectives.

C.B.: From what you describe, it sounds like Milliken has gone through a lot of change.

Kaye: Over the last three years, Milliken has truly embraced a marketing mindset. We've restructured and brought in new talent. We just hired Laura Roman, for the hospitality carpet business. She brings tremendous experience. Mark Clayton, previously with J&J, Beaulieu and Shaw, is joining as business director for the residential division. He, too, brings lots of market experience. And, Barbara Haaksma has just moved from the automotive group to floor covering.

A downturn in the economy is a tremendous opportunity for a private company like Milliken. We're in the mood to grow. We have a young CEO; he's 43 years old and wants to take the company into new areas and grow what the company knows. So, we're restructuring and adding resources where needed to take full advantage of this opportunity.

C.B.: How did you get started in flooring?

Kaye: I attended Auburn University. My mother worked for Monsanto in Decatur, AL. At the time, kids of employees were invited to be summer interns. I worked in the Physical Testing lab, and the dye lab, Decatur. I loved the chemistry and the elegance of things coming out. At Auburn, I had a textile chemistry scholoarship and worked for Monsanto when I graduated.

In 1981, when Monsanto exited the continuous filament polyester business, I was laid off along with everyone at the Technical Center. That's when I was first exposed to a carpet mill - Coronet. I worked there as dye lab manager and met a young designer, Ann Hurley. She would pick colors, I would match them. We got to talking about trends and colors and where color trends originated. It was fascinating!

Then Monsanto called back and asked me to return. I wanted at that point to get outside the lab, be with people, and do sales and marketing. Ben Baker, who was in carpet product development, hired me as the color and design expert. I got involved doing product road shows, joined CMG in 1988, and moved into Ultron in 1992 or 93, marketing Ultron carpet fiber for the contract market. That's also when I truly became the Queen of Color!

C.B.: What do you like most about flooring?

Kaye: I really love the people and customers I interact with in the A&D community. I love working with them on projects. That's truly rewarding. These are the best people, great friends, and a tight knit community. I really enjoy that camaraderie. NeoCon feels like a birthday party. Love trade hows. Dave Caples, president of sales & marketing for Milliken, loves the process of NeoCon; I love the high from the interactions. We are kindred spirits with different personalities.

C.B.: What do you like least about flooring?

Kaye: People just don't appreciate how cool carpet is. It has fabulous texture and there's little awareness and appreciation for how the texture is achieved, that you were able to create an amazing end result that looks good and truly improves performance.

C.B.: What 5 things you would do differently to change the flooring experience?


For NeoCon 09, we created a collection called Ghost artists - inspired by architecture and the beautiful buildings created where - even in high profile buildings - no one realizes who the architect is. I'm thinking of the facade of a building in Chicago with intricately carved details that you may never see, but you might know that they were there. Artists, but ghosts.

I'd love for people who walk through an airport to be able to stop, screen and see the designers who designed the spaces. The Genslers and Millikens and what inspired the product, color, texture, spatial decisions.

I'd love for carpet to be able to tell the story of its creation, including the supply chain of people who brought the product to the end user.

But carpet sits quietly. How to connect that story with the end user? [C.B.: My suggestion: wouldn't it be nice to be able to point an iPhone and get that story?]

Finally, color plays an important role is shaping business and the environment. It goes beyond a branding strategy to include the goals and aspirations of the people who work there. It layers goals and aspirations within.

C.B.: What a perfect way to touch on carpet trends/construction, style, color trends. What do you see happening?

Kaye: Read my 2009 Color Trends article in Floor Focus. In it, I discuss the sense of optimism that you see in design despite all of the doom and gloom. At Milliken, we recently started from scratch with our colors and realized how far color had come in recent years. How colors work in combination matters as does color psychology particularly in areas like healthcare. We truly believe that colorful solutions to client issues are what keeps designers motivated.

C.B.: What about blogs, social media, social networks, etc. - how do you use them? How do they afffect what you do in your marketplace?

Kaye: I personally use Facebook, Linkedin and occasionally check one blog or two on travel destinations. Professionally, I have used many color blogs and websites. My attention span is short but not short enough to Twitter. :)

C.B.: Thank you, Kaye! You've certainly inspired me to look upon flooring in a new light.

What are your reactions to Kaye's ideas about changing the flooring experience? Wouldn't it be marvelous to be able to download the creation story of the floor covering that you're about to walk on?

What about being true to a vision while designing floor covering? I sense so much opportunity to develop unique products with that mindset.

Do read Kaye Gosline's Color Trends article. It will surely have you reconsidering color.

Previous Women In Flooring Interviews.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Don't Neglect Customer Experience!

Happy Customer!!! originally uploaded by Linzinator!
Have you been thinking about customer experience? I hope so. In fact, I urge you read The Importance of the Customer Experience in a Down Economy. It features essays from 18 thought leaders, all exploring the benefits associated with focusing on the customer experience.

Customer focus, you see, represents an essential competitive strategy. We need our customers. And, unless we deliver to them the value that they demand, they won't need us which leaves us competing on price and convenience.

So says John Todor who posted about the report in The Importance of the Customer Experience in a Down Economy on The Perfect Customer Experience blog and both edited and contributed to it.

John further adds in his Executive Summary that the current turmoil has customers dramatically reevaluating what they value and find relevant as well as how they go about making decisions. Deliver then on what customers value, focus on customer experience, and differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

I'll highlight a few of the essays that particularly resonated with me:

+ Soothing the Savaged Consumer Soul by Jeanne Bliss -- I love the author's focus on offering customers genuine gestures of kindness. She urges us to Become Wizards at Alternative Solutions; Listen; Then Repeat; Practice Wild Empathy [note: "The humanity and humility that comes with acknowledging [empathy] will bring you closer to your employees and customers."]; Deliver Small Heroic Acts of Kindness; Find Your Best Customers. LOVE THEM!; Play Defensive-End for the Front Line.

+ Customer Psycho-Economics in a Down Economy by John Todor and Bill Todor -- In the current environment, customers are reacting either by hoarding/postponing and fixating on price or seeking out "relationships with companies that engage them in a process of regaining a sense of control." Much better to differentiate oneself from the price focused option and instead win customer mind share by engaging with customers -- both emotionally and psychologically -- and building a trusted relationship with them, that then delivers a memorable experience.

+ Customer Experience & Human Touch by John Turnbull -- The author highlights that satisfied customers rarely become loyal, raving fans. "Passion, loyalty and advocacy are driven most strongly by emotions rather than reason; and emotions are a strongly human phenomenon." Great customer experiences, ones that engage customer emotions, have a lot to do with the human touch that the people in your organization offer customers. "Customer emotions are driven more by how service employees treat customers than by the technical or functional quality of the products or service."

+ Using the Power of Passion to Exploit Tough Times and Win New Customers by James R. Lucas details 7 "manageable business paradoxes... to recapture the power of passion with their teams, use that passion to capitalize on the tough times and win new customers, and dramatically differentiate themselves from their competition."

1. Spread Optimism and Spread the Ugly Truth
2. Broaden the Vision and Narrow the Focus
3. Nurture Customers and Fire Customers
4. Increase Freedom and Clarify Boundaries
5. Expand Creativity and Eliminate Ideas
6. Take More Risks and Eliminate Risk
7. Execute Better and Make More Mistakes

+ From Product to Experience; From Price to Exchange by Rory Sutherland -- Replace the 4 Ps of marketing with Experience, Exchange, Everywhere and Evangelism. At the same time, consider how you might improve the value offered to customers at little to no increase in cost. Consider the following:

- Memory of an experience is not representative of the experience.
- It really is the thought that counts: meaningful gestures matter more than institutionalized ones.
- Upgrades are easier to sell if offered separately from the original purchase.
- Customers do not judge all costs equally.
- Cost isn't the same as price.
- People make choices in sequence, not in parallel. And the brand choice may come late in the decision tree.
- Customers can pay for services with more than just money.
- People are getting more impatient.
- Forget the 4 Ps: use the 4 Es.

This report is filled with gems. Print it out, read it, highlight it and then revisit it regularly. It will definitely remind you that now is NOT the time to neglect the customer experience. Quite the opposite.

Do you agree?

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Becky Carroll On Bridging New & Old: Social Media Series

Becky CarrollThis week's guest for Flooring The Consumer'sSocial Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Becky Carroll.

Becky Carroll is founder of Customers Rock!, a consultancy focused on engaging customers through conversation, social media, and WOW customer experiences. She's constantly on the lookout for a Customers Rock! attitude which she celebrates on her blog, aptly named Customers Rock! It's an attitude that's all about customer centricity. Those who get it, live and breathe a serious commitment to customers; they truly appreciate that customers represent valuable company assets.

Becky teaches the class “Marketing via New Media” at UCSD. If you follow her on Twitter [@BCarroll7] - particularly when class is in session - you can participate in it with her as she exposes her students to social media and helps them bridge new and old marketing approaches.

You can hear Becky on the nationally-syndicated Big Biz Talk Radio show. She contributed "Building Walls Against Competitors" to 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]. This snippet from her chapter highlights how important customers are: "There is absolutely no substitute for talking with customers. Companies that spend time listening to and talking with customers are best equipped to help customers get what they want -- and are successful in optimizing the customer experience..."

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

Becky: I started my blog Customers Rock! back in 2006 because I was drawn to the medium of blogging. I am a communicator with a passion for customers, and I felt that writing a blog would give me an outlet to share my thoughts and ideas. Additionally, I was tired of reading blogs that only ranted and complained about how poorly companies treat customers. I decided to create a blog that focuses on the positive stories of great customer experiences so other businesses could read it and learn what works.

Now, I am very active on Twitter as well as Facebook. I keep up with business connections via LinkedIn. However, my two areas of focus are my blog and Twitter.

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

Becky: I love that I can have a direct line of communication with others like me, not just here in California but around the globe. It has opened up my thinking to other ideas and methods of customer focus. I have made many, many new friends (as well as new clients) by way of introductions through social media. However, it is the offline conversations (meeting at events, Tweet-ups, etc) that have really cemented the relationships.

What I like about it for companies is the opportunity to grow stronger customer relationships. Yes, social media can be used very successfully for PR and “buzz building”. However, I think the sweet spot for social media is in nurturing customer relationships, creating two-way conversations, and gaining valuable customer insight that leads to loyalty.

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

Becky: I don’t like the way it has become the “answer” for problems. Everyone is jumping on the social media bandwagon without really thinking through the customer strategy behind it. What do they want to do with social media? Are their customers even using it? If so, do they want to communicate with brands through this channel, or do they only want to use it to connect with their friends? These questions, and others, need to be considered before starting up something with as much potential impact as social media.

C.B.: How has social media changed how you interact with the marketplace as a consumer or customer?

Becky: As a consumer, I find myself wanting to connect with brands via social media for two reasons: immediacy and authenticity. What I mean is that I can very quickly have a conversation with a company in a way that is convenient to me; I like that! Also, I can connect up with human beings who seem to care about what I think and have to say; that aspect of company-customer relationships has been missing with traditional media.

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 – Listen to your customers. Taking part in the conversation requires an understanding of what is already being said so the proper context can be used to engage. There are many great tools, both free and well as fee-based, that can be used to listen to customer conversations about your brand, your industry, and your products.

2 – Create a strategy. Don’t just throw together a Facebook fan page or start a Twitter account without a plan for how to best utilize it. Just like any other marketing tool, social media requires an understanding of how it will be used, who will be the target, and what will be the content. Only then does it make sense to execute the tactics (the “cool social media tools” themselves).

3- Ask your customers where they want to engage with you. It is best to optimize your time (and social media does take up a lot of time!) on those social media tools where customers want to interact with your brand/company. Don’t just guess – ask them where and how they want to talk to you. You might be surprised at their answers!

4 – Be as authentic as possible. Don’t just have your PR or marketing team be the only ones who Tweet/blog. Involve as many of your employees as makes sense. Provide some guidelines, then let your staff do what they love to do – talk with customers. Best Buy just implemented their new @Twelpforce, a Twitter Helpforce, and they are opening it up for participation from all employees – sales associates, store operations, call centers, etc. This will create a very authentic experience where employee personalities can really shine through. For another current example of this, see twitter.zappos.com for a list of all Zappos.com employees that are actively involved with Twitter (Zappos encourages their employees to use social media on the job).

5 – Use your evangelists. Success for social media comes not only in terms of the number of followers on Twitter, the numbers of readers of a blog, or the number of fans on a Facebook page, it also comes in terms of the level of customer engagement. Many people using social media are still Spectators (as the authors of the book Groundswell would put it), but there are more and more active participants who are willing to leave comments, write on your Facebook wall, or re-tweet something you have shared. “Employ” those people to become your advocates, your raving fans that help spread the word about your products or business. Customers like to be on your side, and social media is a great way to help them do it.

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

No – I think I covered that in the answers above!

Thank you, Becky!

Comments, questions, reactions, feedback?

I love this statement that Becky makes: "the sweet spot for social media is in nurturing customer relationships, creating two-way conversations, and gaining valuable customer insight that leads to loyalty."

What do you think about her reasons for connecting with brands via social media, for immediacy and authenticity?

And how would you go about engaging your evangelists?

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

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Retail Outward Not Inward: Time To Refocus

network originally uploaded by dsevilla.
network"Leave your blog!" says Mack Collier when asked for advice on how to grow a blog. The same principle applies to the offline retail experience. Hence the subject of this post: retail outward not inward!

In a time of plenty, consumers readily walk into retail stores. You can depend on them -- perhaps more on certain days or times of day than others -- and you schedule your floor coverage accordingly. They come.

Nowadays, they don't. And, salespeople stand around, looking bored, with nothing to do. They're waiting within the store, inwardly focused, for customers to come to them.

And, nothing much happens. Well, maybe sales associates have their hours reduced or are let go. Perhaps store hours are shortened. Or, product replenishment ceases... Maybe phone calls to past or pending customers happen less frequently. That's retail inward. Sounds like a downward spiral.

Imagine instead refocusing outward, looking outside the immediate retail environment to discover ideas and explore serendipitous interests that eventually draw customers into the store. It's the equivalent of 'leave your blog.'

It allows you to interact with others and create connections beyond your store. The interactions are based, not on your store, but rather on what others are interested in and the connections you have to those interests. It's certainly a more meaningful way to develop authentic relationships, don't you think?

Then, it's a matter of maintaining those connections... perhaps using some of the new digital and social tools available, or email or an e-Newsletter to continue that retail outward focus on people, on visitors, on customers, and what matters to them and how you can bring them value and stay connected!

Certainly a different model from the one we're used to. More appropriate for today's environment, yet also strangely reminiscent of how business used to be done. No?

We need to go back to to going outside our comfort area, beyond our personal turf, to where others are so we can establish those meaningful relationships which might lead to business.

Makes sense to me, although we're out of practice. I've come across some good examples, though, to get you started.

Take Lisbeth Calandrino and her recent TalkFloor interview series.

She recommends that retail owners think creatively about how to generate business, how to network outside of the store. Consider all of the suppliers and community organizations you've done business with -- business insurance provider, realtors and similar resources -- can you present at their meetings about your products and services? Can you get referrals from them?

Retail salespeople need to be out in the community, networking with potential customers. They, too, might be making presentations at the local Chamber of Commerce, or interacting with folks on Facebook. Please note, thought, that this has nothing to do with cold calling [i.e., otherwise known as interruption based marketing].

Facebook allows retailers to connect with customers, by building an online community, inviting customers to connect and interacting around common interests. Lis mentioned a retailer who was passionate about horses, who shared that passion with customers. The result: a strong horse related community from which many new customers came.

She also shares the story of new client Greg Zorian from Sim's Barbershop, a barber in the Albany area with 5-6 barbershops, whom she met while doing a presentation at the Albany Chamber of Commerce. Greg's challenge was how to bring his high end barbering/shaving services and experience to a new audience. The solution was retail outward and get into the community. He partnered with a local country club, brought in barber chairs during a cigar night/whisky tasting, and offered cuts and shaves. During St. Patrick's day, at a ski resort in the Berkshires, he did another 40 shaves. These events drive word of mouth and connections in the community.

The equivalent in floorcovering? Do an in-store party, a girl's night out to which you invite several vendors [e.g., jewelry, purse party, wine tasting]. It takes place in your store, introduces people to your store, they get to know you, feel comfortable, and, when ready to buy, they think of you.

Patricia Harmon in the July 6/13, 2009 issue of Floor Covering News' Clean Sweep [reg. requ'd] says "Too often we become complacent and forget the value a fresh perspective can bring to our marketing efforts, sales or daily operations." She suggests that you:

+ Spend time away from the business.
+ Take time to network.
+ Get more involved in your trade association.
+ Attend a class related to work, but offers a new take on the information.
+ Don't forget to have some fun.

This Washington Post article titled "Pearls Before Breakfast" offers another -extreme- example of Retail Outward. Imagine what even the most talented and proficient musician can learn from performing outside of his normal venue.

Finally, think how Fiskars now embraces the principle of outward focus with its Fiskateers [see Fiskars: 360 Years Young & Innovating with Customers].

So, what are you waiting for? Take a walk outside your store; go be inspired by another retail environment. Go talk to someone; ask him or her questions; get to know that person better and figure out how you might offer value. Connect with each on his/her turf and terms.

Because, you have to leave your store. You have to retail outward, not inward. It's time to refocus.

Once you do, what do you think will happen?

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Subscribe To News From Simple Marketing Now!

Simple Marketing Now NewsletterLaunched this week, the Simple Marketing Now Newsletter!

I'm excited beyond belief as it represents a milestone, and would love for you to check out the inaugural July 2009 issue.

Perhaps you might even consider subscribing to it!

And possibly even invite others to subscribe?

On the Simple Marketing Blog, I give you a summary of what's covered [in case you'd rather wait to check it out, perhaps to build anticipation?].

Once you have checked it out, would you let me know what you think?

And what you might like to see included in future issues.

Thank you!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nesh Thompson on Bridging New & Old - Social Media Series

Nesh ThompsonThis week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Nesh Thompson.

Nesh Thompson truly captures the spirit of Bridging New & Old media tools. He writes about sales on the Sales Bloggers Union and Don't Survive... Thrive, his company's B2B blog about sales performance management systems. At the same time, he is sales system developer and webmaster for SymVolli, a U.K. based B2B sales performance management system, built around a company’s unique sales process and focused on helping managers and individuals find out how effective their current sales process is and how to improve it. [In this post, TSSI, a new client describes how SymVolli has added value to the business.]

Nesh, then, develops sales systems - which requires intense listening and understanding of clients' needs as well as what technology can deliver - without losing sight of what the sales role involves: connecting with people and developing relationships.

I first 'met' Nesh in May 2007 when he commented on my Disney STORY post. He was obviously engaged in social media on a personal basis. We've since reconnected via Twitter, and I now have the opportunity to appreciate his professional involvement with social media tools. [Note that SymVolli has a Twitter as well as a Facebook presence.]

I'm delighted to share with you Nesh Thompson's perspectives on Bridging New & Old.

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

Nesh: In our business, we rely on long term relationships that are mutually beneficial to both parties. Many companies operate in the same way so why then is a company’s online presence, one of the most likely places where prospective customers will encounter your company, not an ideal place to build relationships? Yet, to build a relationship one has to communicate.

It was with that in mind that I started to explore blogging as a way of communicating the personality of the company, so that people who did pass by could understand the people behind the company and could start to form those relationships. Social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter were adopted some years after but basically the same principles were applied – to communicate the personality of the company and to start discussions; the foundation of all social relationships.

I have often thought that the soul of a company consists of the people that run it; social media is a means to communicate that soul.

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

Nesh: What I love about social media is the absence of certain barriers. Connecting with people from different walks of life, backgrounds, upbringing, social circles etc. is so much easier, and by being able to mingle freely with people you wouldn’t normally do so, due mainly to geography, you can learn different things, different points of view and new ways of approaching situations. I think that people who embrace the idea of sharing ideas truly get the most from using social media tools. Those that do aren’t afraid of offering their expertise to whoever asks for it. As such, I think that social media (for now) can be a little bit more utopian than we are normally accustomed to.

Social media lowers other barriers as well. Real world networking and business communication is dominated by big personalities. For the milder mannered business person, social media is an opportunity to flourish where the bold hold less sway. There is also an argument to say that those careful thinkers in the business world have more advantage in social media circles as their ideas come to the forefront more so than the personality of how it is communicated.

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

Nesh: Though this isn’t exclusive to just social media the one thing that I most dislike is the few who approach it as a short cut. Social media may be a quick delivery system for information, but it isn’t a necessarily a fast business tool and it takes dedication. Relationships aren’t quick things. For those who are serious in using social media as a tool, I advocate patience and endurance as a quality over any short term scheme.

Part of this short-cut mentality has to be attributed to people’s obsession with the numbers game, which incidentally isn’t as important as it is made out. Who cares if you have 20,000 followers on twitter, or 200 unique visits a day to your blog? If those people aren’t connected with you in some way or another they are just strangers. So why worry about the numbers? If you connect with one person and you learn and connect with that one person, then social media is a success.

At a networking event, which strategy would be considered the most likely to form a really good relationship? Spending a minute each with dozens of people and obtaining their business cards or spending half an hour connecting with a few people who you really share an understanding with? The same question is applicable to social media.

C.B.: How has social media changed how you interact with the marketplace as a consumer or customer?

Nesh: This depends a lot on the type of consumable. For instance, as a high street shopper, I don’t think that social media has changed how I operate. However, as an online consumer, I am always following recommendations and checking out reviews and opinions. If I see an interesting story, I am always likely to follow and check out the source to form my own opinions. In that respect, as a consumer of information I am avidly hooked on what social media offers and, in some cases, it supersedes traditional news channels as stories are more likely to break through social networking sites and blogs than before I visit a news site.

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. Stay focused – The internet is full of bright lights and great applications, not all of which are relevant to your business. Getting distracted is by far the most likely drain on social media activity. The same can be said of people too. Stay focused on the people who really matter to your business. Not everyone is going to be ideal business contacts. I recommend being careful about automatically reciprocating advances from other people. Do a little research first. Visit their website. Check the quality of their posts or tweets. Do they appear to be people you want to get to know better?

2. Provide the right mix of content – By all means broadcast interesting things about yourself and your company. Promote your products and services, but balance it with a liberal sprinkling of other material. Link to other people, ask questions, promote other people and above all have conversations. I found that after a lot of social media activity, I was reading more than I was writing because so much more information was opened up to me. That content that is opened up is a valuable source of new material to talk about and start new conversations.

3. Be yourself – Unbelievably, even in such a medium as twitter where you have 140 written characters to use, personality can be seen. It can also be seen through if you are trying to be someone you aren’t. Your greatest asset is yourself, so let it out. Don’t be afraid to share. Laugh, joke, be serious.. but remember to always be respectful.

4. Have an open mind – At some point I too was a cynic in the use of certain tools. For ages I resisted the urge to jump on the Twitter bandwagon because I didn’t want to be following the masses in another social fad. I also didn’t get twitter at all. How can you communicate in 140 characters, and me a self-confessed text-language phobic? Only after a few weeks of trying twitter did the penny drop and suddenly I saw the potential that it could be as a communication tool. Only after trying over a consistent period of time, will you see if social media has any benefit for you.

5. Be happy to do it – There are some people who seem to think that just because social media exists they have to use it, even though they are unhappy doing so and are uncomfortable with using it. They have been preached to about the wonders of being online and suppose that they should keep up with the common consensus. Those that do so with such a mentality are easily spotted and don’t last long. An open mind is necessary to explore what social media can offer you but if you aren’t happy doing it, then don’t. If you find that social media isn’t for you, find someone in your company who does and give them all the support they need.

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

Nesh: A question often asked (usually about Twitter) is whether social media can directly affect sales. Has participation in social media ever resulted in business? This is often a leading question aimed at negatively showing social media as a waste of time. The question I think is incongruous.

In the same way that you wouldn’t expect to close a sale after a first introduction to a prospect, social media isn’t a standalone sales activity. As an aid to the sales process it is valuable in researching prospects, engaging conversation with business partners and keeping in touch with current clients, but it isn’t a replacement for any other part of the sales process. Face to face meetings, emails, phone discussions, events, seminars, websites etc. are all interlocking parts of an overall process and social media has an important part to play in it.

Thank you, Nesh!

Comments? Questions? Reactions?

Consider what Nesh says about relationships: "Social media may be a quick delivery system for information, but it isn’t a necessarily a fast business tool and it takes dedication. Relationships aren’t quick things."

I love the idea that "social media is a means to communicate the soul of a company."

And, "An open mind is necessary to explore what social media can offer you but if you aren’t happy doing it, then don’t." After all, you can't express and share your passion if you are unhappy.

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

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Change and the Retail Experience

Safeway Supermarket, 1960's originally uploaded by RoadSidePictures
Safeway Supermarket, 1960sHave you been shopping lately? Have you noticed changes? I have. Some have to do with me and my changed expectations of the retail experience. Some have to do with the decisions stores have made to deal with the current economic environment.

Some stores have cut back on the number of people they have available to help. In those stores, getting in and out quickly has become impossible. And, when I've interacted with associates, they've been surly.

Other stores have modified their check out process. Both my Mom's Safeway in DC and my TJ Maxx in Pompton Plains, NJ, for example, have created a Border's like common checkout line. The solution has greatly improved the speed and ease of checkout and the visual appeal of the space.

Safeway has also added a Starbucks counter inside the store, which isn't large, but with the checkout change and the addition of the Starbucks it seems more spacious and certainly more welcoming.

I don't shop as much as I used to. I know I'm not alone. When I do go shopping - as I did when my parents visited a few weeks ago and my mother insisted that we go to a mall - I find that my tolerance is more limited than ever before. Fighting for a parking spot fills me with dread. Pushing against crowds makes me want to bolt directly to the Internet. And, having to process the onslaught of mostly unappealing and undifferentiated merchandise reduces me to a puddle of hostile passivity. It's not good.

It needs to change. Retail needs to recapture the magic that comes from bringing people and products together in an unforgettable in-store experience that truly engages shoppers, turning them into loyal buyers and enthusiastic fans.

Don't you think? Otherwise, why bother venturing beyond a home computer to purchase anything?

Two articles captured my attention: Economizing the store by Jessie Bove from the February 2009 issue of DDI Magazine and 10 Principles For Bad Times That Work in Good Times, Too by Philip H. Geier, Jr. from the 4/6/2009 issue of AdAge. Both agree that now is the time to make change and be poised to benefit from the better times ahead.

The first article refers to the need to Prioritize and Simplify to accomplish more with less and make it easy for customers to "say 'yes' to shopping." Figure out how to improve the in-store customer experience. Help customers find what they need, check out faster and generally reduce any of those time-wasting activities that generate negative feelings.

Next, Focus on the Brand Message. What is your brand? What do you stand for? How are you different from the other choices your customers have? Build relationships with your customers. That means that you learn about them, keep in contact with them, offer them opportunities to find solutions to the issues they face. "'Needs' are more important than 'wants' in today's climate, and any retailer equipped to convey this to the consumer will do better." Not only must you truly offer value, but you must also be perceived to do so. "The in-store message needs to project value and quality without clutter and confusion - reiterating the theme of simplicity and efficiency."

The second article also urges a focus on the brand as well as the need to prioritize efforts [including the need to integrate marketing strategy]. However, it brings in people:

+ Motivate your work force. "Make sure employees hear and understand the strategy."
+ Communicate. "Make sure your key constituencies - customers, employees, business partners and investors - understand what you are changing and why."
+ Inspire customers. "Along with innovation, optimism has been a key ingredient in inspiring consumer and building great brands through the last 10 recessions."

And, it reminds us to adapt business strategy to marketplace changes, innovate like crazy ["if you are not thinking about revolutionizing your business, someone else will."], and seize new opportunities, while retaining credibility.

What would you add to this list?

And, how are you going about changing the retail experience?

What do you see having the greatest benefit on your business?

[For the record, I did find a lovely outfit from Coldwater Creek that my parents generously purchased for me. Thanks, Mom & Dad!]

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Social Flooring Index: Blogs - Beta

Social Flooring Index Wordle from Flooring The Consumer
Social Flooring IndesAnd, now, part 3 of the Social Flooring Index: Blogs -- brought to you by Flooring The Consumer!

I started out with The Social Flooring Index - Beta Version: Twitter, which introduced you to Flooring The Consumer's new Social Flooring Index and tracked flooring-related Twitter activity. Next, in Social Flooring Index: Facebook - Beta, I shared with you flooring-related Facebook activity. In this post, I list flooring-related blogs.

It's exciting. I've noticed a great deal more social activity in the past 6+ months in flooring. Through the Social Flooring Index, I plan to capture who in flooring is doing what with social tools and share that with you on a regular basis.

I'm interested with the Beta versions of the Social Flooring Index in completeness. If you know of an organization in the flooring industry taking part in social media who isn't listed, would you let me know?

As with the Twitter listing, to rank blogs I've used HubSpot's website grader. As the Social Flooring Index evolves, I may add other parameters.

Once again, I welcome your comments, feedback and suggestions.
Special thanks to Shannon Bilby who suggested missing Twitter accounts and blogs for these listings.

[Note: I discovered that Carpet One Floor & Home has a YouTube channel as does Empire Today. And, many flooring retailers promote themselves on YouTube via the YellowPages.com YouTube channel or YellowBook's channel.]

Blog Grade
http://blog.builddirect.com/ 99.3

http://FlooringTheConsumer.blogspot.com 98.3

http://blog.builddirect.com/industryinsights/ 95.9

http://blog.builddirect.com/buildingmaterialsprocurement/ 95.5

http://blog.builddirect.com/greenbuilding/ 95

http://www.hardwoodsurface.com/ 95

http://Carpetology.blogspot.com 92

http://floortalk.wfca.org/ 91

http://www.flooringnews.com/ 91

http://www.carpetsbyotto.com/ 90

http://blogs.findanyfloor.com/green/ 89

http://www.flooringnow.com/ 89

http://www.mckayflooringblog.com/ 87

http://blogs.talkfloor.com/ 86

http://blogs.findanyfloor.com/consumer/ 86

http://basementflooringguide.com/ 86
last activity 2007
http://flooringstories.empiretoday.com/ 83

http://www.carpet-and-rug-institute-blog.com 83

http://www.floorfacts.com/floor-blog/ 81
last activity 2008
http://blogs.findanyfloor.com/corporate/ 75

http://www.bigbuilderonline.com/blogs.asp?sectionID=362 75

http://fromthefloorsup.com/ 75

http://blogs.findanyfloor.com/pro/ 73

http://www.zabitatz.com/profile/OntheFloor 65

http://www.flooringprofessor.com/flooring-blog.html 63
last activity 2008
http://www.woodyoulikefurniture.co.uk/ 62

http://www.venconusa.com/greenerflooring/wordpress/ 60

http://www.askthebuildingexperts.com 60

http://hardwoodflooringnut.blogspot.com/ 59

http://www.tilemagonline.com/CDA/blogs 57

http://carpetonefh.blogspot.com/ 41

http://flooringmania.blogspot.com/ 38
last activity 2008
http://www.carpetology.com/articles/ 36
last activity 2007
http://portfolioofwork.blogspot.com/ 33
3 posts in 2008
http://jefflikescarpet.blogspot.com/ 27

http://rscarpet.blogspot.com/ 25

http://flooringgallery.blogspot.com/ 25
only 2 posts
http://carpetgirl.wordpress.com/ 23
only 2 posts
http://fireclaytile.blogspot.com/ 20
last activity 2007

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Jason Baer On Bridging New & Old: Social Media Series

Jason BaerThis week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Jason Baer.

Jason Baer exudes contagious enthusiasm for connecting with people and building communities using social digital tools. As President of Convince & Convert, he offers corporations and public relations firms social media strategy, consulting and training, and advanced email strategy, to assist them in "harnessing the awesome power of social media strategy." His focus, though, is "think social media tools last, not first" -- a message that comes through in Convince and Convert [which just turned one] and in person, as I experienced recently at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston when we sat next to one another at dinner [and I received the really cool bottle opener business card].

Jason is no novice to the world of Internet marketing and strategy; he's been involved in it since 1994 and has just been named one of 5 Top independent bloggers about email marketing in Top Independent Email Marketing Blogs. Pretty cool!

You'll find Jason actively engaged with Twitter as @JayBaer . Since October 2008, he has bridged the two platforms via the Twitter 20 Interview Series, a thought-provoking interview series on Twitter with luminaries in social media and digital marketing, recaptured on his blog. Imagine, twenty 140-character questions answered in real-time.

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

Jason: I've been in digital marketing since the inception of the medium in 1994, with an emphasis on strategy and ease of use. I've seen the transformative power of the Web first-hand. After the dot bomb period, I knew there was another wave coming, but I wasn't sure what it would be. I felt "Web 2.0" was too tools and technology focused, and while providing tremendous information retrieval conveniences, left the user in the cold.

I was always a big networker - I was that guy at different business happy hours five nights a week. As Blackberries and the rest of the craziness that has eaten into our time took root, I began searching for ways to reliably replicate my networking online. I was an early adopter of LinkedIn for that reason. When people started to actually accept my LinkedIn invites and not peg me as a stalker, I figured we'd moved past the "it's all kids hanging out on MySpace" and toward a new means of connection.

I sold my previous digital agency, Mighty Interactive, and almost exactly a year ago started Convince & Convert to help brands and agencies connect authentically and meaningfully with their constituencies.

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

Jason: I am consistently awed and encouraged by social media's ability to change brand perception and increase loyalty and advocacy. As KD Paine said at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum recently, the real measure of social media success is whether people exposed to you in social media think differently about you than they would have otherwise.

Somewhere in the last 50 years, business and marketing became more about science and quants, and less about people. Every numeral on the spreadsheet represents a real person, with real needs, and real feelings about your product or service. Social media to me is about one thing - humanization. And its ability to bring companies closer to their customers is unparalleled - when fully embraced.

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

Jason: Like all things digital, especially those that jump the chasm of geekiness and become part of the larger culture, social media today lends itself to purely tactical thinking. "Let's do a Facebook page!" "Let's start a Twitter account!" The good news is that interest in social media among companies has never been higher. The bad news is that many of them are viewing social media as just that - media. A new, tactical place to spread brand messaging.

That's why the two things I most consistently write and speak about are social media being better served as a customer loyalty mechanism than a customer acquisition mechanism, and the critical importance of integrated social media strategy.

C.B.: How has social media changed how you interact with the marketplace as a consumer or customer?

Jason: As a social media consultant, I'm probably a bit atypical in this regard. But, I definitely find myself creating a lot more content about brands that I am pleased (or displeased) about. I'll tweet about a bad hotel experience because I want to see if the brand is listening or engaging in social media. I'm also much more likely to consume brand-generated content if it's interesting, authentic, and tells a story.

It's also very interesting to see humanization at work. When I think Ford, I think Scott Monty. When I think Dell, I think Richard and Lionel. When I think Radian6, I think Amber Naslund. The companies that are making the transition from logo-centrism to people-centrism are the ones doing it right in my opinion.

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. Get your house in order. Social media won't solve your problems, it magnifies them. If your product or service aren't dialed in, focus on that before you get involved in social media.

2. Create a helpfulness plan. At its core, social media and humanization remove friction and uncertainty from the customer<>company relationship and transaction. Companies have marketing plans, operations plans, financial plans, disaster recovery plans, and a lot more. But they never have a helpfulness plan. Work cross-functionally within your company to come up with 10 concrete ways to help your customers. Make their lives easier. That's the nucleus of your social media efforts.

3. Develop a social media strategy. It's okay to NOT be involved in social media. It's not a requirement yet. But if you're ready, think through with whom you're going to interact. Prospects? Customers? Repeat customers? Realize that social media users are not homogeneous. Not every customer is going to create a video just because you ask them too. Social media has gotten so broad, and you have to focus your efforts on particular segments of the population that interacts with your brand. Figure out what success look like before you start, and determine how you're going to measure it.

4. Tell a story. Features and benefits don't usually work in social media, because they aren't inherently interesting enough to get customers excited. Do some brand anthropology (actually, it's best to get agencies or partners involved, as it's very hard for employees to see the forest through the trees), and figure out what's the soul of the brand. What's the "one thing" that sets the company apart, and how can you build engaging content and connectivity about it? Zappos is great at this. They aren't in the shoe business or the apparel business. They are in the customer service business. They are Nordstrom's 2.0. That's their brand story.

5. Don't expect overnight success. Yes, social media can change the nature of how brands are perceived. But that happens on an individual or small group basis, not by the thousands or millions. Social media wins hearts and minds one at a time. It's not as efficient as TV or other traditional marketing efforts, but it can be more powerful (due to authenticity), and it's a lot more long-lasting. That's why social media "campaigns" can be very effective and innovative, but they have to be supported by ongoing dialog between the brand and its fans that's more customer service 2.0 than marketing 2.0.

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

Jason: Your strongest social media assets are your people. Period. Give them loose guidelines for social media engagement, and then turn them loose. Social capital is accrued by individuals, and loaned to the brands they represent. Each of your employees growing their own networks by being helpful, interesting, and awesome will benefit your company as much or more than any "official" effort. That's why the community manager trend is so exciting. Companies are realizing that sometimes it's better to make the people of the company the stars, not the products or services they provide.

Thank you, Jason!

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

Jason says: "Social media ... is about one thing - humanization. And its ability to bring companies closer to their customers is unparalleled - when fully embraced." How succinct and completely relevant!

What about social media as customer loyalty rather than customer acquisition mechanism?

I love the notion of a 'helpfulness plan' with focus on customers and helping them. Do you have one? How do you focus on your customers?

Then, what about your people? How have you empowered them to deliver on helpfulness to customers?

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

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