Efficiency Vs. Emotion: One Last Thought

Woman standing at the grocery checkout

Update: I have been in the process of moving to a new server. Though I am experiencing a few glitches, the move is almost complete. You can start following me at jwsokol.com/scc/. Though I have a few more posts scheduled here, I hope to have my blog completely moved and running soon. I hope to see you there.

Today’s Post

As a teenager, my first job ever was as a bagger for a local grocery story. It was an interesting job and it played a big role in who I am today. But back then I was just an impatient, naive teenage that didn’t have much knowledge of the business world. There were lessons to be learned all around me and luckily I had several great friends and mentors back then that helped me understand what great customer service looks like.

For me, it was always about being quick. My job was to get our customers’ grocery orders bagged as quickly as possible and then get them to their cars as quickly as possible. In my mind, this is what produced happy customers. But this wasn’t always the best solution.

We had a checker named Sharon. She was an older lady and she had to of been one of the most social people I knew back then. She used to drive me nuts. She talked to everyone and as a result, she was incredibly slow. But there was a lesson to be learned.

Our customers lined up to go through her register. Those customers that were in a hurry simply skipped her line and went to another, but more often than not, they chose to go through Sharon’s line. Back then, I didn’t understand why this was so important, but it has become glaringly apparent in today’s stack ’em deep, sell ’em cheap world.

What matters more to you?

  • Genuine social interaction or robot-like repetition
  • Speed and efficiency or minor inconveniences
  • Quantity or quality

Take a close look at your business and try and discover if you are truly focused on what matters most. If you care about people and about developing deep, meaningful relationships with your customers, then you might want to reconsider becoming overly focused on efficiency.

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Blogs Worth Reading

If you are in marketing, there are literally hundreds of blogs out there that you can read and learn from. The same goes is you are a small business owner. If you run your own blog, the situation gets worse because if you genuinely want to write well and build your own community around your blog, you need to be engaging others via their blogs and social media. It can become a full-time endeavor if you are not careful.

As a marketer that also loves blogging, I’ve found that reading the big blogs isn’t as useful as it once was. Sure, I will read Seth Godin’s blog every once in a while, but not like I once did. Wanna know why? Seth has a massive audience and he doesn’t have to respond to comments I write. It’s just not efficient for him to do so. There are a whole bunch of blogs like Seth’s that read for educational purposes. But when it comes to who I read and interact with online, I have an entirely different approach.

I look for people like myself, people that are interested in building great conversations around topics we love and that want to help others by sharing their ideas, comments and links. Today, I thought I would share a few links to the people and blogs I really love.

Andy G. Cook – I ran into Andy totally by accident. One night I was trying to figure out how to best redesign my Twitter page to fit the new Twitter layout. It started searching around the web for some layout dimensions when I discovered Andy’s site. He had a great post on the issue and I decided to leave him a couple questions on his post.

The next day, Andy emails me three time with links, photoshop templates, etc. Andy came through for me in ways I had never imagined. The amazing thing is that he took a simple question and turned it into a wow for me. I can’t tell you how impressed I was. I have since subscribed to his blog and look forward to reading more of his great ideas.

Suzanne Vara – Suzanne is amazing. I first heard about her from one of Chris Brogan’s posts. Since then I have been reading her posts almost religiously. Suzanne offers something unique to the whole marketing blogosphere – her voice. She always seems to find a unique way to look at the marketing and brings a fresh perspective to all of her writing.

Suzanne is an active blogger. She posts almost every day and comments like crazy. She is genuinely interested in building community and conversations about communications, marketing, and public relations. You might also want to check her out on Twitter.

Jack Macholl – You are going to love Jack’s blog. He is an amazing marker. With over 28 year’s experience, he knows his stuff. Jack is active in the blogging community. He is out there reading and commenting. If you love marketing or run a small business, you need to subscribe to his blog and listen to what he has to say. Thanks for all the comments Jack!

Oh and by the way, if you are interested in e-mail marketing, Jack’s recent post might bolster your reasons for why this is still such a powerful tool.

Josh Chandler – Josh is another one of those bloggers that I found by accident. If I remember right, I ran into a guest post he had written somewhere. I love it and followed it on over to his blog. You have to check out Josh’s site and blog. He has a rather unusual business model, one that I really need to learn more about. He is a great blogger, writer and commenter.

Marjorie Clayman – Marjorie is another blogging genius that I found from a Chris Brogan post. She is an active blogger (with a new site) and active commenter. She is hilarious and has one of the funnest writing styles around. She is also interested in helping others. Make sure you check out her site and start commenting on her posts.

Alex Whalley – I have no idea where I found Alex’s site, but I am glad I did. Alex is a brilliant guy and he is actively working to build a great community. His focus is on keyword and blog optimization, as well as helping others with tips on how to drive traffic to their sites. If you are a blogger or webmaster, Alex is sharing a variety of info that you probably need.

2 Creativity Tools that Will Knock Your Socks Off!

lateral action blogI have been in a slump as of late. Between burning myself out with some rather intense workouts and a rather stressful few weeks as work as we go through some major growing pains, I finally hit the wall in a big way. I was tired, my body hurt a bit more than usual, and I really was struggling with motivating myself.

The solution was simple – I made sure I got a little more sleep; I switched up my diet; I changed my reading habits from solely reading business books; I forced myself to start having a little more fun; and I made concerted effort to immerse myself in some new projects. Along the way, I discovered two amazing tools that I wanted to share with you, especially if you are interested in honing your creative thinking abilities.

A Blog for Creative Action

I cannot remember how I happened upon the Lateral Action blog, but you should definitely check it out. Their whole mission is to help their readers tackle the challenge of becoming more marketable by becoming an amazing creative thinker. Currently, they post once a week, so you won’t become overwhelmed with reading. I really like this approach. Instead of putting out tons of material, they focus on providing one quality post a week. (note to self – remember this for future blog development)

They have also developed a free course. I signed up for it when it first launched and I continue to be impressed with the quality material they are sharing. If you are in marketing, are a creative, or just want to improve your own creative thinking skills, this is a site you should add to your feeds.

Sometimes All You Need is a Good Whack In the Head

No, don’t hit yourself, but if you are stuck on a problem, have I got the solution for you! I am always interested in finding new ways to approach a problem. There are a ton of free books out there, but the problem with all of them is that once you put the book away, returning to it can be a problem (maybe you left it at home, a coworker borrowed it, etc.). What if you could have a creative problem solving tool right in your hand whenever and wherever you need it?

Enter Creative Whack Pack. It is an iphone app that was developed to help you break out of your old thinking habits and help you develop new ways of thinking. I downloaded Whack Pack about a week ago and have used it several times, both with personal and professional issues. I am amazed at the apps simplicity and effectiveness. The app was created by Roger von Oech. He has a great site/blog that you might want to check out as well.

What are some of the tools you use to keep your thinking fresh and energetic? How are you injecting creativity into your life? What are some of your favorite creativity tools?

Check out Lateral Action and grab yourself a copy of Whack Pack today. You won’t be disappointed.

#1 Zombies: Are You Marketing to Zombies?

zombies take to the streetsToday’s theme and the #1 all-time best movie monster – zombies.

They have been depicted in the movies for several decades now. They are the undead. Once human, now infected by a raging virus that stirs up an unquenchable hunger for human flesh. Some are slow. Others have super human physical strength. But one thing stands out about these hideous creatures – they are dumb and are driven to devour uninfected humans.

Zombies are pretty easy to kill. Typically a good shot to the head is all it takes. Zombie hunters worldwide have used all sorts of weapons against them – guns, flamethrowers, dynamite, axes, swords, frisbees, records, boards, golf clubs, bats, etc. Just about anything works. The trick seems to be to lure them in and catch them off guard. Throw out an innocent victim and wait. Once it approaches, sneak up from behind and whack!

Did you know that some marketers actually treat consumers like zombies? They try and lure them in with a cheap price or shiny new product. And then, WHACK! They’ve got ’em. Right? Is this how it really works?

Why Zombie Marketing Doesn’t Work

You cannot treat your customers like zombies. For the most part, they are well-intentioned, caring human beings. They have genuine needs and wants. Though they might fall for the occasional gimmick, they aren’t likely to become a loyal customer unless you provide a product or service that is meaningful to them.

Zombie marketing is easy. It might deliver short-term results if you are lucky, but don’t count on it to drive long-term, sustainable results. If anything, if you use too much of this type of marketing, you risk offending and driving your potential customers away.

Meaningful marketing is tough. It requires you to plan, to be creative, to have a keen understanding of what your customers really need from you. Sometimes it costs a lot of money, but in reality, it does not have to. What it really takes is patience because this type of marketing takes a long time to implement and get results from.

Are your customers zombies or humans? Are you focused on short-term pricing games or long-term business results?

image credit – minordetailspodcast.com

Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular: #2 Aliens

It was late. My parents’ television was turned up a little louder than normal and woke me up. I climbed out of bed and snuck up to their room. Whatever they were watching sounded pretty scary. I quietly approached their room and snuck a peak at their television…

There on the screen was probably one of the scariest things a second grader could ever see. It was the most evil creature I had ever seen before and it would haunt my dreams for weeks on end.

It was Ridley Scott’s Alien.

I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more evil, efficient killing machine around. The alien was literally designed as the perfect hunter. It was fast. It had multiple weapons, a hard exoskeleton, and acid for blood. They were smart and hunted in packs. Basically, if you lived to kill it, it could still kill you with a splash of it blood.

As a teenager, I was fascinated with this creature. I watched all the movies, read Aliens comic books, and collected some awesome action figures. Call it a strange admiration. This creature was fascinating. The backstory was interesting. It was a creature that had been genetically designed as the perfect killer. If I understood the history correctly, another alien race had developed the alien to use as a weapon against other races.

Adaptability Matters

There’s nothing romantic about this evil beast. It was bred to kill. It was incredibly efficient at what it did and it had no conscience. There was no hesitation, no silly speeches, no niceties. But what made the alien the deadliest killer of all was its ability to adapt to almost any environment it was exposed to.

The alien could literally be exposed to heat, water, cold, zero gravity, the cold depths of space and it kept coming after its victims. And if you want to be great at marketing, you have to be every bit as adaptable.

We live in an incredibly fast paced world. Technologies are shifting quickly. Consumers are finding new ways to consume media and are taking control of their lives in ways we had never imagined. They are empowered and are actively seeking ways to remove unnecessary marketing and advertising from their lives. If you want to succeed in this industry or if you have a small business and need to market yourself, you must learn to adapt. In your own way, you have to be every bit as good at marketing as the alien was at killing.

Being Adaptable ≠ Being Evil

While aliens can get away with being purely evil, we in the communications business have to look for better ways to connect with consumers. Though many of our old tools still work (billboards, television advertising, junk mail, spam, etc.), we can still win with consumers if we are willing to listen to them and find innovative ways to communicate with them.

Here’s a great example of what I mean. There are a ton of companies out there that will willingly sell you their email distribution lists. You can then turn around and send your marketing and advertising to their customers. Sounds pretty cool, right?

This approach comes with some serious risks. You fire off your email messages to a whole bunch of people that may or may not want your stuff. They might just ignore you and delete your span. On the other hand, you might make them mad and the resulting word of mouth could lead to distrust among consumers.

Growing your email lists is good thing, but you might want to rethink your approach to this. By far, the best way to go is to grow your lists organically. Be authentic. Sell great stuff. Run amazing promotions. Tell beautiful stories. Make it easy for customers to sign up and opt out of your email list.

When it comes to marketing, pr and communications in general, there are some fantastic ways to communicate with customers. If we are willing to listen, work hard and innovate, we can be every bit as driven and efficient as Ridley Scott’s aliens; however, if we are to thrive and change our reputation, we must learn to play nice.

Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular: #3 Werewolves

werewolfWe are half way through our Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular and my #3 monster is the werewolf.

These big, bad beasts roam the night during a full moon. Much like vampires, these villainous creatures suffer from a curse – they walk the earth as humans until a full moon hits whereupon they transform into a half-wolf, half-human beast that hunts other humans. If you are lucky enough to survive one of their attacks, yet were bitten, you can now count yourself among the damned.

Werewolves, Your Business and Social Media

The big difference between a vampire and werewolf is the ability to choose. Vampires can choose – though driven by an insatiable thirst for blood, a well-disciplined vampire can resist and find other ways to survive. Werewolves have no choice – once the full moon rises, the human host’s mind disappears and the beast takes over.

Now ask yourself this – when it comes to social media, is your business a vampire or a werewolf? Let me put this another way – do you have a choice between using social media? Can you compete in today’s marketplace without a presence on the Web? Have you been able to resist the urge to jump on board the Facebook or Twitter trends?

Yes, I’ve Resisted (Good Vampire!)

It is perfectly possible to thrive in today’s world without a presence on the web. Thousands of small businesses do it everyday. Let’s say you’ve developed an amazing business that people love. Your customers are taking about you. They love your products and/or services. But…

Every time they try to contact you, they can’t find you on the Web. Here’s the problem you face. That big yellow book that shows up on your doorstep every 6 months or so and quickly lands in your recycling bin (or trash), isn’t getting used like it once did. More and more people are jumping online expecting to find your website or blog. Desktops, laptops and increasingly mobile phones are becoming the de facto way people find you business. If you aren’t there, they will find one of your competitors.

I’m a Werewolf

The truth of the matter is that if you want every advantage possible, using the Web and social media really isn’t a choice any more. You have to let go and become a werewolf. But that doesn’t mean you should run off, spend tons of money on a website, set up a blog, facebook fan page and a twitter account. Unlike the crazed werewolves you see in movies, you have to a smart werewolf.

How to be a Smart Werewolf

Web marketing is far from a perfect science, but there are some things you can do to help you be successful:

  1. Talk to your customers and find out what services they are using. Share your ideas about developing a website or blog and find out what online tools and information they would like to see you offer. Ask them what social networks they currently use.
  2. Talk to your team. Find out what they use and what expertise they might have. Get their feedback on what information they would like to see offered on a site.
  3. Think very carefully about the site you might develop. One problem that I have seen small businesses make over and over again is that they build gigantic websites and then leave them sitting there unchanged. Here’s a tip, unless having a big website and spending a lot of money on development is key to your business, you might be better off thinking small. Build a single page website that offers your basic info (contacts, addresses, etc.) and support it with more substantial social media tools like a blog, facebook and Twitter.
  4. Let me repeat point 3 again. Think small. Build a simple site. Support it with social media
  5. Before you build a site or start any social media efforts, sit down with an old fashioned pencil and paper and write down 1) your vision for what you hope to accomplish with your Web efforts, 2) your business objectives, 3) how you will measure your successes and failure, and 4) how you will used each tool to communicate with and engage your customers.
  6. Take your time. Build each tool properly, make sure it works to your specifications, and then move onto the next tool.
  7. Think about integration. Decide how your web-efforts will look from one tool to the next. If you run a promotion on your blog, how will it show up on your facebook page or on twitter? Does a promotion have to show up on all of your sites or just one? If you are using multiple tools, will they all have the same content? Ultimately, you want to do one of two things – either drive you customers to your retail location or to your online “homebase” (site or blog) where you can provide them with valuable information about ongoing/upcoming promotions, events, and other content.
  8. Thing about value – why should your customer visit your site? Are you offering them something they really need or want? If not, you might want to step back and figure this one out. If you don’t, your Web efforts might end up stalling out before you ever get any real momentum.
  9. Measure results. Look back at your business objectives and constantly measure your online efforts against them. If they are not helping you get results, make adjustments and try again.

Are you ready to become a small business marketing werewolf? Ouch! You’ve just been bitten. Resist all you want. The moon is full.

Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular: #4 Vampires

In case you haven’t noticed, vampires seem to be all the rage these days. I’ve heard of people sporting “bite me” license plates on their cars and there is a whole assortment of bumper stickers, jewelry, clothing and other merchandise that displays an insanely desire to be one of them.

Undoubtedly, the recent string of Stephanie Meyer books (amazon affiliate link), including the Twilight saga, have ratcheted up attention about these evil fiends.

While stories about vampires have been around for centuries in some form or another, Meyer’s gave us a whole new spin. Instead of being evil, she romanticized these characters as cursed beings who had a choice between being good or evil. Talk about having a good PR agent. Meyers has taken one of the most evil of all monsters and cast the vampire as a teenaged hunk with a slight biting problem who is simply looking for the love of his life.

Think about the genius behind what Meyers has done. She is probably one of the best marketers around. It’s like taking Charles Manson and turning him into a teenage heart throb. Now consider the flip side of her vampire characters. Behind the perfectly chiseled looks there is something else going on all together. When you read about vampires almost anywhere else you learn that they are cursed. They are doomed to walk the Earth for an eternity and must prey on other men for their blood. They are constantly in fear of being hunted down and destroyed. There is simply nothing romantic about it.

Let’s face it, millions of teens worldwide seem to love Meyer’s version of the vampire. I, for one, don’t. They scare the crap out of me. But I do admire Meyer’s skills and there it a valuable lesson for all of us marketers and small business people to learn from – great marketing can sell even the most evil of products (but this doesn’t make it right).

Propagandizers, Evil PR Agents and Crooked Marketers

Let’s face it. Those of us in the marketing, advertising and public relations business often get a bad wrap. But often, it is a well deserved one. We live in a country where our trade has been used for all kinds of bad stuff:

  • Wars
  • Political campaigns
  • Bad agendas
  • Spinning bad companies out of messes
  • Hiding celebrity and political messes
  • Selling teens on warped image of beauty
  • Making America fatter
  • Diet fads
  • Countless bad products
  • Rampant consumerism

It isn’t a stretch to say that our industry has a reputation that is very similar to that of the traditional vampire. We’re evil. Our job is to sell stuff, sell ideas. And the most evil among us use their vampire-like abilities to prey on a public that doesn’t always need what we’re selling.

There’s a Choice

I will admit it, I read Meyer first book. I had to see what all the fuss was about and though I respect her abilities, I really hated the book. I’ve always preferred the other image of the vampire – an evil creature of the night that was meant to be hunted down and killed. The nice thing is that we in the communications industry have a choice.

Unlike fictional vampires, we are not cursed or doomed. We can make a decision to help good causes. We can use our skills to help raise awareness about great companies that actually care about the communities they do business in. We have the ability to help great products win when they really deserve to. We can take an active role in making this nation into the greatest it has ever been.

Sure, there will always be those annoying people out there that send me spam via every possible route they can. These folks will continue to ruin great things like email, Twitter and facebook. The nice this is that we as consumers can choose to ignore it. That’s the beauty of America. While we have the right to freedom of speech, we have the right to be educated and to ignore or block out the stuff we don’t want in our lives.