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Friday, October 30, 2009

Bathrooms & The Hospitality Experience: How Much Is Too Much?

Philip Johnson House BathroomI have a question for you. As it relates to your Hospitality Experience - think hotels - how much bathroom is too much bathroom?

Read through this fascinating New York Times article from 4/5/09 titled "Bathrooms That Are Part of the View." What do you think?

According to the article, open bathrooms are a new trend in hotels, particularly swanky ones or ones eager to communicate in a bold way that these aren't your grandmothers' tubs.

Imagine, having a tub in the middle of the bedroom, or simply a glass partition to separate [and probably contain humidity] the bed from the bath rooms...

Some of it highlights the luxuriousness of the bathroom, which often takes up to 50% of the allocated hospitality space.

Some of it is to disguise space constraints - open, after all, seems bigger.

The article lists benefits associated with such transparency: "Transparency allows travelers to multitask in the tub... watch television, chat with a companion or simply gaze out the window."

Although it really doesn't allow you to shut the world, and others, out physically and figuratively.

Another point: coldness - both visual and physical. All of that glass and openness doesn't do much for keeping a body or a bathtub warm....

So, I ask you, "How much is too much for your hospitality experience?" Are you in the warm, cozy and private bathroom camp or the open, transparent and possibly glass enclosed camp?

Interestingly, the photo above is of the bathroom from the Philip Johnson Glass House, the only non-transparent room in the house... Image Credit: Apartment Therapy, The Bathroom At The Glass House

Happy Bathroom Blogfest '09!

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The Best Bathrooms Remind You Of Home

Watermark Hotel SpaToday's Bathroom Blogfest 09 post comes from my friend and former partner in Carpetology and Bathroom Blogfest crime, Elizabeth Hise.

There’s No Place Like Home

When Christine asked if I wanted to take part in the 2009 Bathroom Blogfest as a guest blogger, I jumped at the opportunity. As I mentioned in my very first 2008 post, I’m practically an expert on bathrooms. The bathroom can make or break an experience, retail or otherwise. Plus, I’d get to work with Christine again — always a bonus.

So I started thinking about the bathrooms I’ve enjoyed (or didn’t) in the past year. I was all set to tell you about an amazing bathroom experience I had just a few weeks ago in San Antonio, Tx. It was at the Watermark Hotel on the Riverwalk and involved a bathroom the size of my living room, spa products on-demand, and a big, fluffy white robe.

But as good (fantastic!) as that experience was, I started thinking about the hands-down very best bathroom experience I’ve ever had. This bathroom is eternally clean, it smells like vanilla and lavender, and it always has a fresh supply of thick towels on hand. I could happily spend days in this bathroom. It is the product of my mom’s industrious hands.

Bathroom Blogfest 09My parents moved about five years ago. Although this new house isn’t the one that I grew up in, I still consider it home. And just like the home I’ve always known, my mom puts a ton of elbow grease — and love — into making it a clean, welcoming and warm environment. The bathroom is no exception. It’s painted a cozy oatmeal with sage and cream accents. Natural sunlight streams through a huge window with a gauzy shade, and there’s enough space for a person to do a little happy dance while waiting for the bathtub to fill.

When you’re designing a bathroom, whether it’s in a retail store, a restaurant, a hotel or at home, take a tip from Mom. Your space — including your bathroom — is an extension of who you are. When you care for your space, you care for your guests — and they can feel the love, down to the very last vanilla-scented detail.

Thank you, Elizabeth! I can smell the vanilla...

Happy Bathroom Blogfest 09!

Photo credit: the Watermark Hotel spa.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hotel Bathtubs Going the Way of the Fingerbowl - Bathroom Blogfest '09

Madeleine Aubry In Her BathThis post about Hotel Bathtubs Going the Way of the Fingerbowl comes from my friend and fellow Bathroom Blogfest 09 contributor, Bethany Richmond. I think you'll enjoy her Reflections on a Life Immersed.

I read something recently that I was sorry to hear. It seems that hotels are doing away with bathtubs. Evidently business travelers are too busy for baths, preferring “a gutsy shower” to a lazy soak. Bathtubs tend to be lawsuit magnets, and females report that there’s something “icky” about hotel tubs. Only 2% of hotel guests say they use the bathtub in a hotel, and even people who normally prefer a bath to a shower won’t sit down in a hotel tub.

I’ve had a lifelong love affair with bathtubs. I was born with a birth defect called club feet, which means I spent the first two years of my life with my legs encased in a series of plaster casts designed to mold my young little bones into more normal shape.

Because I couldn’t get my casts wet, I never got to take a bath. Babies love to play in water, but I could only have sponge baths. Sometime around my second birthday my mother talked the doctor into leaving my casts off for a few weeks. The first thing my parents did was put me in the tub and take home movies of me kicking and splashing.

By the time I turned three, my mother started making me bathe with my 7 year-old brother. One day she rushed into the bathroom to find me screaming and cowering in the back of the tub because my brother had hocked a loogie in the bathwater and was making it float my way. The images of that afternoon still haunt me, but at least I got to start bathing by myself.

I graduated to my parents’ bathroom that had a square bathtub with pink marble countertops and faucets that looked like golden swans. Mom tossed in handfuls of Mr. Bubble and stirred up towering mounds of froth.

In high school I had a bedroom with an attached bath that was small and inelegant, but wonderful because it was all mine. College was a rude awakening with the questionable hygiene of dorm showers. My decrepit but cozy upperclassman apartment had a large, cast-iron claw-footed tub had been painted Day-Glo green by the previous tenants.

Through the swirling vortex of my life, I have remained a devoted soaker. My current bathroom has a commodious tub with jets I don’t use because I don’t like the noise, and I take a bath almost every night. I bathe sometimes in the morning, too, rinsing my hair under the faucet. I read novels, work on crosswords, and sometimes take naps in the bath.

Bathroom Blogfest 09I travel fairly often to conferences and trade shows for my job with the Carpet and Rug Institute. I enjoy meeting new people, but standing for hours on concrete floors makes my back ache. On a recent trip to Chicago I stayed at the Palmer House, the historic hotel built in 1871. The elegant old bathtub was long and deep, (and sparkling clean) and I took to it every chance I could for relief.

I know sometimes I use my tub as a place to hide from the world and my responsibilities in it. But mostly I’m just trying to find a little transcendence that’s affordable and close to hand.

Because, at home or away, there will always be loogies floating in the bathtub of life. Just give me plenty of hot water. And maybe a little Mr. B.

My favorite movie bathtub scene – Joan Crawford in The Women.

Thank you, Bethany!

Happy Bathroom Blogfest 09!

Note: the image above of Madeleine Aubry In Her Bathtub comes from The Blue Lantern, and more specifically a post titled Maxim's of Paris.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Charmin & Bathroom Blogfest 09

Charmin, Garden State MallWhat would a Bathroom Blogfest be without Charmin? I, for one, can't imagine it...

Since first discovering Charmin's Times Square Pottypalooza - unfortunately too late for the first Bathroom Blogfest in 2006, I've enjoyed monitoring their enthusiastic activities.

I referred to them in Pounding Las Vegas Pavements [here is the link to David Polinchock's article Charmin Bathrooms in Times Square on FutureLab].

And in Brand Manifestations In The Bathroom: Advertising...

And Bathroom Blogfest '08 - Advertising.

Garden State Mall bathroomsI continue the Charmin tale here for Bathroom Blogfest '09.

Interestingly, it starts back in May 2009 when I met Damien Patton for lunch at The Garden State Mall in Paramus, NJ.

I decided to use the ladiesrooms there and had the ultimate Bathroom Blogfest retail experience moment!

Essentially, it was a Pottypalooza moment.

I couldn't get enough of the amazing creativity, delicious humor and marvelous playfulness of the Charmin redefinition of what is typically a blandly utilitarian experience.

Garden State Mall ladiesroomsI snapped photos.

I wandered from stall to stall.

Each had a different theme.

Each had different details.

Even the stall doors contributed to the experience.

Now, step back. To create this delicious effect, Charmin used wallpaper.

Yes, wallpaper of high resolution photos of marvelous bathrooms.

Definitely clever, but not super high-tech.

What a terrific solution for transforming an otherwise bland space.

Garden State Mall Charmin LadiesroomsIs this an idea you might be able to implement in your retail space?

I bet it would generate conversation...

In other conversation-generating news, P&G is looking for Bathroom Bloggers. More specifically, the company is searching for five dedicated and enthusiastic "Charmin Ambassadors" to "work in the Charmin Restrooms in Times Square from Nov. 23 to Dec. 31. Job requirements include interacting with hundreds of thousands of bathroom guests, maintaining their own blogs and content on Charmin-branded Web sites and popular social media sites, and sharing family-friendly video from the restroom space and surrounding areas."
Garden State Mall Charmin ladiesrooms
The Charmin 2009 campaign is called Enjoy the go.

Learn more by visiting the EnjoyTheGo website.

If you apply, would you let me know? I'd love to hear about your experience.

Particularly if you're chosen...

But, even if you aren't.

I'm so pleased to share Charmin news with you during Bathroom Blogfest 09!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bathrooms & The Retail Experience

Green Deport storefront NYCIn case it isn't obvious, my delight for the Bathroom Blogfest starting with the first one in 2006 has a lot to do with my passion for the customer experience, for marketing to women and to improving the retail experience for her.

Women, who make or influence the majority of purchase decisions, notice details. Those details communicate to her how well she can expect to be treated. Which means that how well a retailer or any establishment owner handles the bathroom experience says something to customers.

The opportunity is in managing those communications so they reinforce what your organization is all about. Right? In a positive way...

The long and the short of it is that bathrooms matter to the retail experience and that bathrooms represent opportunities, too.

These two posts help illustrate my point: from Stephanie Weaver, look at these two examples and how they reinforce a brand to visitors and from Linda Wright, this amazing facility facelift.

One of the latest marketing to women books - this one from Bridget Brennan titled Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World's Most Powerful Consumers - even includes several references to the importance of bathrooms - particularly clean ones - to women consumers.

The author's recommendations include sweat the details and ask for feedback.

Green Depot ceilingThat's right. Put your heart and soul into making sure details are taken care of and invite your customers to share their views on what you are doing.

As Andrea Learned often reminds us, and recently in this post about the revamping of the Blue Nile website:

"...the goal should be to serve the high expectations of your female customers transparently. Your core male customer, who has been there forever and is your biggest fan, will also notice and positively respond to those changes..."

If you address your women customers' higher expectations, you will also delight you men customers, too!Green Depot bathroom Talk about win-win all around!

To illustrate my point, I include here pictures from the Green Depot in Manhattan.

The store itself is filled with delightful details and products, and all reinforce the notion of environmental living and building. For example, there's the green filter that Green Depot applies to what it carries and the Green Depot icon system.

In anticipation of this year's Bathroom Blogfest, I was interested [and prepared with a camera] in how the bathroom would reinforce Green Depot.

Green Depot bathroom 2Other than not being painted green [the blue is very soothing!], I thought the bathroom was effective in reinforcing the Green Depot messages and communicating how seriously Green Depot took environmental stewardship.

Clean, sparse, yet hip.

Low water consumption toilet.

No paper towels. Instead an efficient, high air flow hand dryer.

Bathroom Blogfest 09
I also felt recharged by the cool blue colors and ready to go back to exploring and educating myself with the store and its products.

So, what about the messages you communicate? Are they the ones you care about communicating? Do all of the details within your store and especially your bathroom reinforce your messages and create the kind of retail experience that not only appeals to women consumers, but also forms the basis for fervent word-of-mouth referrals? I hope so!

Happy Bathroom Blogfest 09! And, don't forget about the retail experience Kaboom contest...

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Retail Experience Kaboom Contest: Bathroom Blogfest 09

Kaboom sponsors Bathroom Blogfest 09Per my post yesterday - Bathroom Blogfest 09: Off & Running - I have in store a Kaboom contest to celebrate the 4th annual Bathroom Blogfest.

Kaboom, you see, is the Official Bathroom Blogfest 2009 Sponsor - a first in the history of our event.

What it means is that some of us participating in the 2009 Bathroom Blogfest expressed interest in learning more about Kaboom [from Church & Dwight, the makers of Arm & Hammer, OxiClean and others] and in conducting a giveaway with our readers. [Note: I've never done a giveaway before... so I'm excited!]

First, details about the products.

We received a free sample Kaboom cleaning kit to experiment with for ourselves. In the photo, you see what I received:

Kaboom Cleaning System

Kaboom Bowl Blaster
Kaboom Foam-Tastic
Kaboom Scrub Free!

I, for one, had never used Kaboom products although my nephew swears by OxiClean [a product I have seen in action]. I was intrigued.

The product looked fun [love the purple and green].

I really don't look forward to toilet-cleaning. We have very hard water and I've been at wit's end trying to come up with a successful solution that doesn't wreak havoc on the septic system or accelerate the deterioration of the toilet mechanism rubber gaskets, and smells clean.

I wasn't sure, though, what to expect from the foaming and color-changing effects.

This next photo shows you the 'guts' of the Kaboom Scrub Free system. Of the three items, this is the least 'showy.' It's easy to install and I can smell that it is working. But, it's a quiet participant in the cleaning action...

Kaboom Scrub FreeThe other two items are just pure fun. They smell absolutely marvelous [yes, I do believe that a delightful smell is an important element that communicates cleanliness in a bathroom experience] and the toilet action is memorable. Bowl Blaster in particular brings to life "Flush The Recession!"

See for yourselves in the short videos on the Kaboom Bathroom Blogfest Deal site.

I'd love to share with one of you a similar Kaboom experience. Which brings me to my contest.

Now, the contest details.

Between today Monday, October 26 and through Friday, October 30, 2009 I will select a winner.

To be a winner, you must post a comment on Flooring The Consumer describing an amazing, memorable, game-changing retail experience that involves a bathroom. In your comment, you must include "#ladiesrooms09" [at the end is fine].

If your story is too long to fit in the comments, feel free to email me your story [cbwhittemore [at] gmail [dot] com] and indicate in your comment that an email is coming. Don't keep me waiting too long for your email, though.

Please keep your comments 'clean.'

Note that I intend to republish some or all of those comments, so if you aren't comfortable with that, don't comment.

However, I hope you will want to share with us your story of a retail buying experience positively affected by a bathroom, one that brings to life "Flush The Recession & Plunge Into Forgotten Spaces."

Please let me know if you have questions.

Happy Bathroom Blogfest 09!

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bathroom Blogfest 09: Off & Running

Bathroom Blogfest 09As I mentioned to you last week in Annual Bathroom Blogfest Returns & Welcomes Sponsor and announced in the Bathroom Blogfest 09 Press Release, it's time! The 4th annual Bathroom Blogfest is now officially off and running!

Here's what you can look forward to this week here at Flooring The Consumer....

Monday: I'll detail my Kaboom contest.

Tuesday: I'll address bathrooms and the retail experience.

Wednesday: What would a Bathroom Blogfest be without Charmin?

Thursday: I'll share with you a guest post from Bethany Richmond.

Friday: Bathrooms and the hospitality experience

Please look for my posts on The Simple Marketing Blog. Also, I came up -last minute- with a wonderful Bathroom related story that I'll post on the Carpetology Blog.

Don't forget to check out the special Bathroom Blogfest Kaboom Deal. And, do visit the participating bloggers for Bathroom Blogfest ’09:

• Susan Abbott at Customer Experience Crossroads http://www.customercrossroads.com
• Reshma Anand at Qualitative Research Blog http://onqualitativeresearch.blogspot.com/
• Shannon Bilby at From the Floors Up http://fromthefloorsup.com/
• Shannon Bilby and Brad Millner at My Big Bob’s Blog http://blog.mybigbobs.com/
• Laurence Borel at Blog Till You Drop http://www.laurenceborel.com/
• Jeanne Byington at The Importance of Earnest Service http://blog.jmbyington.com/
• Becky Carroll at Customers Rock! http://www.customersrock.net
• Leslie Clagett at KB Culture www.kbculture.blogspot.com
• Katie Clark at Practical Katie http://practicalkatie.blogspot.com/
• Iris Shreve Garrott at Checking In and Checking Out http://circulating.wordpress.com/
• Julie at Julie’s Cleaning Secrets Blog http://cleaningsecrets.greatcleaners.com/
• Marianna Hayes at Results Revolution http://www.resultsrevolution.com
• Maria Palma at People To People Service http://www.people2peopleservice.com/
• Professor Toilet at Professor Toilet’s Blog http://www.professortoilet.com/
• David Reich at My 2 Cents http://reichcomm.typepad.com/
• Bethany Richmond at The Carpet and Rug Institute Blog http://www.carpet-and-rug-institute-blog.com
• Carolyn Townes at Becoming a Woman of Purpose http://spiritwomen.blogspot.com
• Stephanie Weaver at Experienceology http://experienceology.blogspot.com
• C.B. Whittemore at Flooring The Consumer http://flooringtheconsumer.blogspot.com and Simple Marketing Blog http://www.SimpleMarketingBlog.com
• Linda Wright at Lindaloo.com: Build Better Business with Better Bathrooms http://lindaloo.com/

Thank you to Lolly Borel for Announcing Bathroom Blogfest 09!

Wishing you all kinds of inspiration as we "Flush The Recession and Plunge Into Forgotten Spaces!"

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Annual Bathroom Blogfest Returns & Welcomes Sponsor

Bathroom Blogfest 09Next week, the fourth annual Bathroom Blogfest returns to celebrate and elevate the customer experience. Are you ready?

Our theme for this year is Flush The Recession & Plunge Into Forgotten Spaces.

We have 20 bloggers participating via 21 blogs [yes, I'll be posting here and at Simple Marketing Blog]. You may recognize some of them. Others are new - including Bethany Richmond from The Carpet and Rug Institute Blog!

We also welcome an official sponsor of the 2009 Bathroom Blogfest: Kaboom.

I encourage you to be thinking about your most amazing and memorable bathroom experiences - ideally in a retail environment - because I may very well have a Kaboom giveaway contest....

Check out the Bathroom Blogfest Facebook Fan Page. Consider becoming a Fan!

Kaboom: Bathroom Blogfest 09 SponsorFollow us on Twitter @BathroomBlogfes.

And search for #ladiesrooms09 to keep up with the Bathroom Blogfest.

Here is a link to the Bathroom Blogfest 09 press release with more details including the names and blogs of all of the participants.

Thank you to Maria Palma for getting the word out in Bathroom Blogfest 2009 Next Week and Iris Shreve Garrott for promoting the Bathroom Blogfest in Flush The Recession & Plunge Into Forgotten Spaces.

So, while you're waiting for the 2009 Bathroom Blogfest to get started, start telling everyone you know about it and be thinking about your amazing and memorable bathroom experiences. I'll invite you to share them here in the comments, post them on the Bathroom Blogfest Facebook Page or email them to me at cbwhittemore [at] gmail [dot] com so I can publish it here.

Many thanks and Happy Bathroom Blogfesting!

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Behind The Retail Scenes & Anticipating The Holidays

Behind the Scenes -- PDX Strobist originally uploaded by Mr. Monroe.
Behind the Scenes -- PDX StrobistContinuing on the subject of Christmas Creep and Retail Trends, I'm intrigued with how retailers are preparing for the holidays - working behind the scenes and anticipating what's to come.

Here's the article that got me thinking: 10 ways to prepare your website for Christmas.

Although it is indeed focused on websites, it holds equally true for the brick and mortar expression of your retail experience, and for integrating your overall experience.

It also holds regardless of how critical the Christmas holiday season is to your retail business.

The article recommends these 9 approaches [yes, the title says 10, but I can only find 9]:

1. Get customers' attention with a freebie
2. Give your SEO a seasonal tweak
3. Have a social media strategy
4. Make sure Santa's cave is full
5. Ramp up your email marketing efforts
6. Can you handle the traffic?
7. Test it out
8. Get a gift certificates program
9. Prepare for the New Year

The first recommendation draws attention to an opportunity all retailers have and that is highlighting value that goes beyond the merchandise. Although customers come into a retail environment [online or in a store] to purchase a product, more often than not that product is part of a bigger picture solution in the buyer's mind. By recognizing that, you are able to offer additional value to a customer. The more value you can create around that product, the more you separate yourself from a commodity and price-based retail experience. Think value in terms of information you can provide around how best to use the product, how to care for it, how to accessorize it...

The second refers to Search Engine Optimization: assuming your retail business relates to the holiday shopping season, do you reflect that seasonality in your website content as well as the website itself? For that matter, are your preparing your store so it reflects holiday appropriate cheer, too? The article recommends searching for yourself to gauge how prepared you are. I recommend looking at your store with a fresh set of customer eyes to ensure that your store is prepared!

This article - Generate Extra Revenue this Holiday Season with These 5 PPC Tips - offers valuable PPC suggestions. The third one "Create a holiday gift finder landing page" struck me as a way to get customer attention and offer value. And, although specific to a website, imagine creating an analog version of a gift finder in your store: showing how products coordinate together, suggesting accessories, or a gift card?

Having a social media strategy should not be limited to the holidays. Quite the opposite! Your social media strategy should be fully integrated into your overall marketing strategy and support customer engagement and relationship building all year round. Did you know that Best Buy launched a Twitter based customer support group called Twelpforce? Per this 10/1/09 AdAge article, Optimistic Best Buy Preps Holiday Marketing Push, Twelpforce has answered 20,000 questions since its launch. Best Buy will be featuring Twelpforce in several brand focused TV spots for the holidays, but you can well imagine that Twelpforce will extend far beyond the holidays.

Inventory seems to be an even greater Bogeyman than usual this holiday season. The Hard Sell lists several approaches that retailers are taking to deal with the combination of troubled economy and increasingly frugal customer. JC Penney is holding back 60% of finished product and fabric inventory in warehouses to better respond to customer demand. Gap identified dye-able fabric for a complex multi-shade denim collection to increase flexibility.

The Hard Sell discusses creative ways that retailers like Container Store, Saks and Neiman Marcus have embraced for 'kicking the discount habit.' Some stores like Sears and Best Buy are expanding into new product categories under the assumption that shoppers want to simplify their shopping and find what they need in fewer stores...

How committed are you to email marketing? Are you gathering email addresses from your customers? And not just online, but also in-store. Definitely capture that information and get into the habit of sending out communications on a regular basis.

Handling traffic: not just online, but also in your store. How's your parking lot situation? Is your store tidy? Laid out in a logical manner? Can customers get through the displays? How clean and welcoming are your bathrooms? Spend time preparing.

How much testing do you do? An amazing aspect of the online world is the ability to do side by side testing [A/B testing] to determine which layout or offer connects with buyers. Have you tried doing the same in-store? What else can you do to prepare and anticipate? Definitely go behind the scenes and make sure you are ready.

Do you have gift card programs in place? How do you promote them? How successful have they been for you?

Finally, are you ready for after the holidays? For the New Year? For Valentine's Day? Do you keep a calendar listing regular upcoming seasonal events and do you plan ahead for them?

Both website and retail store must look fresh and updated to create the best retail experience. How do you go about preparing behind the scenes and anticipating holidays?

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change & Retail Experience

Blog Action Day #BAD09It's Blog Action Day 2009. The topic: Climate Change. One that seems so much bigger than any one person that an immediate reaction is to simply ignore it.

Imagine, though, if you could make a difference today and into the future starting with small steps within your control.

Perhaps by making your children aware of Climate Change and helping them figure out how to be part of the solution. That I discuss today on the Smoke Rise & Kinnelon Blog where I share some of what our local school does to raise awareness and develop leaders [see Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change & Kiel School].

Another is to Simplify and encourage creativity around Climate Change. That's what I explore today on The Simple Marketing Blog in Blog Action Day: Climate Change Simplified.

But, there's another angle that is particularly relevant to the consumer retail experience.

That is creating conversation around the topic of Climate Change with customers and employees, generating discussing about what practices work and don't work within your organization and for your customers, and then jointly brainstorming for solutions. Crowdsourcing, if you like, or even co-creating solutions.

For example:

1. What about recycling? How active are you personally, your business offices and your store in recycling paper, cans and bottles?

2. Can you eliminate instances of styrofoam? And bottled water? Can you use mugs and glasses instead? Give out reusable bottles for drinking water out of? Brand them with your name.

3. What about the packaging around your products? Can it be minimized? Eliminated? Reduced? Reused? Recycled?

4. Can you encourage carpooling? Walking to work? Bicycling?

5. What about how you schedule visits to customers? Can you do that more efficiently?

6. From a product offering perspective, have you considered that better quality products tend to be more durable which means that customers won't be replacing [and sending to a landfill] products as frequently? Which gives you the opportunity to establish a longer term relationship around product care and maintenance...

What other ways can you think of for supporting climate change, becoming part of the solution and making it part of your retail experience?

My previous Blog Action Day posts:
+ 2007: Blog Action Day for the Environment
+ 2008: Blog Action Day for Poverty

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Terry Starbucker on Bridging New & Old: Social Media Series

Terry StarbuckerThis week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's social media series: Bridging New & Old is Terry Starbucker.

Terry Starbucker, author of Ramblings from A Glass Half Full, redefines the notion of 'glass half full' and of seeing the positive in every situation. He refers to it as “Half-Fullism” or 'realistic optimism' and is it ever engaging, inspiring and liberating. Take a recent post titled Supertramp Talks Social Media - 30 Years Before It Exists. It stopped me in my tracks and had me re-appreciating songs, lyrics and bands that I hadn't thought of in a long time. He does the same with subjects like The Secret(s) of Work, Personal Development and Leadership.

Talk about finding connections that most neither notice nor celebrate and bridging from the tried and true to create new meaning and possibilities.

Terry also contributes Half-Fullism to Joyful Jubilant Learning.

And, then, there's this marvelous event that he and Successful and Outstanding Blogger Liz Strauss imagined - SOBCon - and made happen three times. The next one, SOBCon 2010, takes place April 30 through May 2, 2010 and you can register for it now. Here's Liz's account of her first conversation with Terry.

Ever since taking part in the Starbucker Meme, I've developed a strong visual reminder for dealing "with the literal world in a positive way": my glass is definitely full. I love Terry's practical positivism for what social media enables and that Terry is a fellow WFUV enthusiast.

C.B.: Terry, How/why did you get involved in social media?

Terry: It was really by accident, CB – back in 2005 I had heard about this “blogging thing” from a friend and as a lark set up a blog of my own on Blogger. A few months later I started to see the huge potential of the medium and spent a lot of time on other blogs – and then I left my first comment on Liz Strauss’ site, Successful Blog. We quickly struck up a friendship and a year later my biggest Social Media activity, our annual SOBCon conference in Chicago, was born. That event allowed me to learn even more from the best practitioners, and meet many, many great people (and eventually led me to you!). I’m now quite immersed in Social Media primarily through my blog and my Twitter account [@Starbucker].

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

Terry: The people like yourself that I’ve met and become friends with – these are folks I never would have known if it wasn’t for Social Media. It’s really just an advanced form of communication that shrinks our world tremendously. It opens up so many possibilities – and I’m living proof that your life can change (for the good, of course).

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

Terry: The use of it for a “quick buck” –particularly the spammers. They are not there to read my blog or laugh at my Tweets – they want my money. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not at all against using Social Media to aid in selling or promoting a business. Just get to know me first – why else do they call it “social”?

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

Terry: This is funny, CB - I am quite the conspicuous consumer, but I have yet to really interact with a service or product provider using Social Media. I guess I’m from the old school of actually talking to a human. At the same time, I know that interacting virtually also has its advantages, since I see it every day as an active SM user, and the company I work for just set up a Twitter account. I surmise it’s really hard to change old habits, since I’ve been a consumer much longer than I’ve been a blogger. Much longer. :)

C.B.: Terry, 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 the analog part of the business right first – that is, all human interaction must be optimized so Social Media doesn’t become a battlefield.

2. Put on your Social Media training wheels and learn how to communicate on the medium before you try to use it as a way to improve your business.

3. Check to see how many of your customers are actually using Social Media- you could be jumping into an empty pool.

4. Make sure you know how to handle “negative” – are you ready to absorb and respond to essentially public critique?

5. When you do actively use Social Media, speak like a human, and put on a human face – logos and “corporate speak” don’t cut it out there.

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.

Terry: Go make some friends out there, by being honest, open, and helpful. Don’t be afraid to cultivate evangelists by inviting them under the tent. Those friends and evangelists will pay you great dividends down the road.

Thank you, Terry!

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

What are your reactions to these suggestions:
+ have you optimized your human interactions
+ are you ready to experiment with social media before using it for business?
+ have you thought through worse case scenarios and developed policies?
+ are you comfortable getting away from 'corporate speak'?

For additional insights from other participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, please visit The Entire Bridging New & Old series, which includes a link to the e-book based on the first 26 interviews in the series.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Christmas Creep & Retail Trends

Traditional ChristmasHalloween preparations are in full swing by us: the leaves are turning, my daughter has her costume figured out and we've started plotting out the trick or treat route. Although I've noticed a few Thanksgiving reminders, I'm pleased to report that - so far - Christmas creep [aka onslaught as noted in Elmo Saves Christmas, But Not From Retailers] seems discrete. Might this be a sign of retail trends to come?

If there's willingness from Retailers [to] Shift Strategy, Sync With Seasons & Other Novel Approaches, don't you think that highlighting and showcasing holiday products closer to the actual holiday makes sense? Especially for a consumer who's been battered by unprecedented economic forces?

I have to admit, I got worried in July when I came across these articles: Stores Take Christmas In July More seriously [hat tip to Aneta Hall] and 'Twas 147 Shopping Days Before Christmas... and then It's beginning to look like Christmas - in September.

Sears, Kmart and Toys R Us are mentioned in the first two articles.

The first also refers to Hallmark's 20 year tradition of unveiling half of its holiday collection in July. I like traditions and that kind of a consistent approach strikes me as authentic. As does QVC's annual Christmas in July event, mentioned in the second article.

The third describes Macy's Holiday Lane shop rolled out in September to 'prime the consumer spending pump' given how critical the Christmas Holiday shopping period is to many retailers [~ up to 35% of annual sales] and how poor retail sales have been.

Seems to me that's a sure what to exhaust shoppers prematurely.

What do you think? How critical is Christmas to your business and how do you handle Holiday sales, promotions, communications and decorations?

These two articles by Anne D'Innocenzio highlight retail trends more in keeping with what I observe going on. In Stores think old-style, Anne refers to a return to traditional holiday themes with the goal of offering comfort, support and relevance to shoppers. An example is Neiman Marcus holiday catalog nods to recession. The retailer has rethought its famous holiday catalog for 2009 and close to half of products are now less than $250! The Christmas book's introduction reads: "Tokens of affection don't have to be extravagant to be brilliantly received."

Fascinating, no?

Although an extreme example, it does reinforce some of the retail trends in the works, which according to Retail Customer Experience's Top 10 brand and marketing trends for 2010 include:

1. Value is the new black
2. Brands are increasingly a surrogate for 'value'

3. Brand differentiation is brand value

4. 'Because I said so' is so over

5. Consumer expectations are growing

6. Old tricks don't/won't work anymore

7. They won't need to know you to love you

8. It's not just buzz

9. They're talking to each other before talking to the brand

10. Engagement is not a fad. It's the way today's consumers do business

Does these trends coincide with what you've observed? What would you add to the list? And, what are your thoughts on the Holidays and the retail experience?

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Integrating Social Into Traditional: MProfs Daily Fix article

Integrating Social Into TraditionalHave you wondered how you might integrate social into some of your traditional marketing activities and possibly even organize a blogger event? Look no further than my most recent MProfs Daily Fix article titled "Integrating Social Into Traditional: 10 Tips For A Remarkable Blogger Event."

Although I focus on a Blogger Event, these tips hold for any kind of event you might organize - be it a consumer in-store trunk show type event, to a customer brainstorming session, to an employee appreciation event, with or without bloggers...

So, please check it out and add your ideas and success stories to the discussion taking place in the comments.

Thank you!

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tish Grier on Bridging New & Old: Social Media Series

Tish GrierThis week's guest for Flooring The Consumer's social media series: Bridging New & Old is Tish Grier.

Tish Grier blends passion for journalism, community and social media. Combine that with extensive experience in retail, a thorough understanding of the tools of social media, firsthand and intense exposure to online communities, and a keen eye for observing the world around her, and you not only have someone adept at Bridging New & Old, but also one who thinks constantly about innovation. Think citizen and hyperlocal journalism, and crowdsourcing type innovation and how to improve communications and communities.

Tish is the author of The Constant Observer, about better living through technology and popular culture. She is also a social media strategist - with a deep understanding of how best to analyze data relating to weblog/site traffic and participation rates - and community manager for Placeblogger.com, a site for "citizen journalists" or others passionate about place and what makes their place unique.

Tish is the first blogger I met at the June 2006 event Corante Marketing Innovation Event that took place at Columbia Business School. I sat next to her, and, as we spoke and I learned more about her, I discovered that she and I had both attended Smith College and that she was the author of the Spring 2006 Smith Alumni Quarterly article titled "Reach Out and Blog Someone" that I had been carrying around for several months.

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

Tish: Well, first let me address the how: the first time I ever saw anything that looked like social media was back in the early 90s. I had friends who were working for Hewlett Packard at the time, and were on these email lists. One was for something called NE Raves. This was how a whole bunch of geeky young people used the Internet to gather together and form communities. This is what 'social media’ is about—gathering together, making things happen. And this was 1992! Truly social media’s infancy. (BTW, I knew some folks who, around ’93 were testing something called ‘node to node communication.’ One of these was the guy who developed Apache. This was a prototype instant message system.)

I got my first real computer, and my first taste of the Internet, and the next phase of social media when I attended Smith College on the Ada Comstock Program. Full scholarship. Pretty amazing for a working-class girl from NJ. This was 1998 and we were required to have computers for our personal use. We also had unlimited Internet access in our dorm rooms. So, lots of people got into the whole chat room thing, and ICQ was huge. I ended up on the New York Times Film Forums—a discussion board.

My college days were really dark for me—trying to make the best of my scholarship, plus going thru a divorce. One would have been enough, but to go through both was horrific. I had a very difficult time making friends on campus, and retreated nightly into the Forums. This is where I learned the power of communities of affinity, as well as learned the ways and mores of online communities. As I participated, I also watched and learned a whole lot about people’s behavior online. When I decided to do an honors thesis—on 20th c. biblical epics—the late night crowd on the Forums were a great help and support to me.

This was probably the “toddler stage” of what we now call social media. People were using chats (AOL, ICQ, etc.) and they were posting wildly on bulletin boards and forums. We were making friends online, then transcending the boundaries of online and bringing those friends into our real-world space. Marketers, too, were trying to find a way into this space. I remember hearing about Disney and (I believe) Campbell’s soup trying to infiltrate chat rooms, and many of us saying that they just wouldn’t be able to do it because they didn’t know how to talk to people.

Hmmmm…..the more things change, the more they stay the same :)

In 2004, I got to blogging. When I got to blogging, my head just exploded! The potential for it was amazing! I’d first seen LiveJournal back in ’98, but when I saw the updated Blogger, with its WYSIWYG features, and how easy it was to figure out the template HTML, I went berserk. In the summer of 2005, I quit the multiple jobs I was working (long story on that one, I won’t get into it—suffice to say that a liberal arts degree does indeed well prepare you for a job in retail ;-) ) and decided to pursue “professional blogging” before there was even such a thing!

In the fall of ’05 at the Corante Symposium on Social Architecture, I first heard Stowe Boyd use the term “social media.” Then a light-bulb went off in my head. That’s it! All these chat rooms, and forums, and message boards, and blogs—it’s all something called “social media!”

I knew right then and there that social media was where I wanted to be. I wanted a career in social media—not in marketing or in journalism or anything like that. I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do in social media. There weren’t any social media jobs per se back in 2005.

I got my first social media job writing for Corante in January of 2006. They were one of the first online outlets that were paying a decent wage for online editorial work. I will always be grateful to Francois Gossieaux for giving me that first break (and several others :)).

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

Tish: It can be an amazingly creative thing, and can be used by so many companies to bring back old-fashioned direct customer relations (both sales and service) while bringing them into 21st century technology. I recently landed my first independent social media client, and one of the main goals is to bring a company that’s stuck in the early days of the web into the new web—into a place where you can’t just slap up a website, walk away, and expect it to generate money for you. The women that I’m working with who handle customer orders/customer service are really excited about using new tools to connect with customers. These are things they’ve used in their own lives, but had no idea exactly how they could be used for their company. That’s what I’m showing them.

The thing I’ve never stopped doing, and have done from the beginning, is what friends have dubbed “amateur anthropology”—that’s when I sit back, watch behaviors, and figure out what it is that people are doing online, who’s saying who, who’s kvetching about civility and the devil of anonymity and the terrors of a culture that doesn’t have gatekeepers. It’s both hysterical and horrific. Kind of like being on a roller coaster.

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

Tish: There are two things: I like least the folks who think they know it and don’t—the massive numbers of charlatans flooding into the field. You know the kind: the ones who’ve been blogging and tweeting and facebooking for six months or so and then open up shop as social media consultants. Some of these folks think social media consulting is offering to maintain people’s LinkedIn and Facebook profiles . Why would you want to write and maintain someone’s LinkedIn profile for them?? To me, that’s taking advantage of people’s ignorance and laziness, and not social media consulting. And you’re not helping your client to truly understand social media.

The other is the people who believe their local teenagers or kids can do the job of social media experts. Two reasons for a s/m consultant to hear that: clients trying to get rates down and lack of knowledge about social media. I recently explained to a client about weeding thru the hype so that I can help them use the right tools. There’s a boatload of hype, and part of knowing how to advise a client properly is knowing who to trust and who needs some time to develop.

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

Tish: For me, I’m far more vigilant about product reviews than I used to be. Ever since PayPerPost, and how I saw the way so many people weren’t bothering to disclose that they’d been paid to write glowing reviews of things, I am less inclined to consider the recommendations of someone I don’t know. And by “don’t know” I mean in the sense of not knowing them one to one, in person. If it’s someone I only know from online, I would have to know them really, really well before I’d take their recommendation. But I’m certainly going to take with a huge grain of salt the reviews that I read on many of the blogs I see.

I’m also going to take with another huge grain any time I see totally glowing reviews for a service or restaurant online. With the growing number of defamation cases going on, IMO people might start shying away from leaving negative reviews or comments for fear of getting sued. Hence, we will be right back where we started—there will be no transparency, businesses will get what they want (to stay in business even if they suck) and social media will be broadcast media once again.

On the plus side—I’m a big fangirl of certain shows and movies, so when a show/movie gives me something cool, I’m going to become more excited about it, and talk more about it. And for some companies, if they can tie some sort of participator or cool thing to their product, I might be more inclined to give them some good WOM. Two examples:

AMC’s “Mad Men Yourself” avatar creator: My friends and I—all marketing and web designers and journalists—are super into Mad Men. I found out about it from a journalist friend of mine in Detroit. Then I spread it all around my friends in Western Mass. We’ve all had so much fun with it, and it got us really psyched for Mad Men’s season premiere. It was a great piece of marketing that spurred on a whole bunch of WOM in social media circles. Too cool! I’m still using my avatar on Facebook and Twitter because I don’t have a good recent pic to put up there.

The other is one I stumbled on today. Was discussing strong coffee, and remembered Café Bustelo (a ground coffee used for espresso—been around for years.) Pre-Internet, my friends and I used to call it Café Bust-a-Move (as in it gives you so much energy you’d want to break out and bust a move) On the shelf, Café Bustelo’s packaging hasn’t changed much, so I had no idea if the company even had a website. Sure enough! They do: http://cafebustelo.com/.

From there, I clicked on the Culture tab, which took me to an ad for a new CD by Mario Grigorov titled “Paris to Cuba.” To hear some music for free, I clicked again and got to their Java Cabana site. I like the music so much, I’m actually thinking of buying the CD. Will this then get me to buy some of their coffee? Maybe. What it did do is get me to talk about Grigorov’s music, which then led me to disclose where and how I found it, which then sent friends over to the Café Bustelo site and Java Cabana. Who knows where it went from there—but I know I just exposed a whole bunch of new people to a new coffee and new music. Nothing’s more fun than that! (well, maybe making Mad Men avatars….)

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?

Tish: Many of the ideas below come from “lessons learned” from social media experiments, from experiences I’ve heard about after my lectures on social media at Marlboro College, and from my experience with my current client.

1. Forget most of what you know about old media and its ideas about conveying the message. Only remember the basic ethics of old media—about disclosure, about libel—as they will help you do social media with integrity.

2. Listen first, talk later. In other words, find out what people are saying about your products by observing a variety of forms of social media related to your product. Find out what people like, what they are saying about your product/service. This will give you a good barometer for how to approach people. (the Internet is, after all, full of people.)

3. When a company decides to do social media, put together a team. Not just your marketing person, not just one customer service rep. One person in your organization isn’t going to know enough nor have enough energy nor hours in the day to be able to effectively do all the social media. Spread around the effort. This will also help when you’re looking for new directions to take your social media. That’s what I’ve found is working great for a client of mine, and it’s lessening the “learning curve” for the whole office.

4. One of the lessons I learned from WOM guru Andy Sernovitz is to give people something to stimulate WOM. This works in social media too. Whether it’s music, or a sample of your products, give people something to remember you by. This will create customer loyalty as well as give them a reason to follow your social media presence.

5. Involve your customers! Crowdsource them for product ideas, to help figure out a new campaign, to add pics to a catalogue or brochure. There are so many ways to crowdsource and the information can tell you so much about not only who uses your products, but who you might be missing. Both are important. Right now, one client is running a crowdsourcing campaign on Facebook for new pictures for their catalogue. So far, it’s going well. People are submitting wonderful pictures using their products. Putting customers pics in the catalogue will not just be cost effective for this small company, but is also going to create a lot of good will and good buzz in a rather competitive beauty product field.

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?

Tish: Listen don’t pontificate. Don’t manage the conversation inasmuch as stimulate it and participate in it. If customers need help (which is usually what’s behind complaints) help them. And if you can’t help them, go back to your drawing board and figure it out. Just because you’ve got something that sells good already, you can improve your market share by communicating better with all your customers, not just the loyal ones. Learn when to differentiate between someone who really hates your product, and someone who may be providing constructive criticism veiled as a kvetch. Read carefully before responding!

Thank you, Tish!

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

What do you think of these concepts?
+ That social media can be used by so many companies to bring back old-fashioned direct customer relations.
+ The need to do social media with integrity.
+ Finding out what people are saying about your products by observing a variety of forms of social media related to your product.
+ Involving your customers.

I love that Tish recommends spreading around the social media effort within your organization.

For additional insights from other participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, please visit The Entire Bridging New & Old series, which includes a link to the e-book based on the first 26 interviews in the series.

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