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.

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.

The Two Biggest Business Blogging Challenges (Blogging for Business)

blogging keys, blogging for businessI was working with a local businessman and we were discussing his online platform. He had a good set of tools developed for his business, including a nice website, a facebook page and he was starting to get into Twitter. As we looked at each of his efforts, we discovered a few things:

  1. He has a website with some decent content, but the site had not changed at all since he first had it built.
  2. His facebook fan page was growing steadily and he had a direction for what he was doing with it.
  3. Twitter was still largely a mystery, but he was working hard to figure it out.
  4. These were the only platforms he was currently using and he didn’t see a reason to expand from here.
  5. His entire online communication effort was one direction. He was talking to customers, not with them.
  6. No where in this mix was he telling his business’ story.
  7. He had no real strategy behind his online effort.

We then set out to address some of these issues and made some decent progress, but one major challenge remained – he had a website that contained static content and he didn’t understand how to update it. So we then began a discussion about blogs.

“A blog? Their kinda for geeky guys who sit at home and never get out into the world,” he said. “Just kiddin’. But don’t they take a ton of work? What in the world would I write about anyway?”

He had nailed the two biggest challenges that businesses face when considering whether or not to start a blog.

Fact: Running a Blog Takes a Lot of Work

As we discussed, his efforts, one thing became clear. He was time crunched and he had chosen social media tools that would allow him to spend as little time as possible online. But with some discussing, he started to open up and realize that he was missing a huge opportunity to engage his consumers with some deep, meaningful content.

There is no doubt that running a blog can be painful. Depending on how often you blog, you can easily end up spending several hours or more a week writing. That doesn’t include time for research, brainstorm (or mindmapping) future subjects to write about, managing blog comments, etc. Then there is the issue of setting up the blog, designing it, and all the fun of worrying about backups, updates, new widgets, and the like. Blogging is a lot of work.

So our next step was trying to figure out how to take away some of the “work” and free him up so he could manage a blog. We wanted him to be able to focus on making this a success and I would be helping him with the basic development and maintenance of his blog.

With limited time, he wasn’t sure how often he could blog, so we set a basic goal – one new post per week. This goal would allow him to still maintain his other online efforts without adding too much weight to his current load. We had also decided to integrate his blog with his other three tools so that when he updated his blog, his posts would feed out to his site, facebook page and be tweeted out to his followers.

Myth: No One Wants to Read About My Business

We then dived into his site content. After some more convincing and a look around a bunch of other blogs, things sunk in. Consumers care and they will engage with a business online in some pretty fantastic ways when a business opens up to them. Without much effort, we then nailed down a variety of topics he could write posts about:

  • Company history
  • Vision of the future
  • Community outreach efforts
  • Team member stories
  • Upcoming promotions
  • Secret promotions and deals
  • Customer service stories
  • Contests

With this many topics in mind, he actually considered bumping up his number of posts per week, but we kept the goal at one per week for the first six months. We would reevaluate at that time.

Going through this process helped him realize that he had plenty of interesting topics to share with his customers. Most of the content would provide more interesting and deeper ways to engage with his customers than he currently is with his site, facebook fan page and Tweets.

His situation is probably not unlike yours. He is busy but he also wants to do the right thing for his business. Using a blog was something he needed to explore. If you are interested in using a blog here are several things you can do today to get started:

  • Determine what you will use the blog for. Ask yourself, in a year from now, what do I hope to have accomplished with this tool?
  • Find a friend or hire someone that can help you overcome the technical side of blogging. For the most part, if you can email a friend photos from your computer, you have the skills you need to run a blog.
  • Identify a platform to run your blog on (your techie friend can help with this). If you want simple, consider going with Blogger or Posterous. If you want more control and flexibility, think WordPress.
  • Write down all of the potential topics you could write about. Don’t worry about specific posts, just start with the broad categories. Ask yourself, what are all of the fascinating things we do as a business to deliver a great experience for our team, customers and the larger community? If you get stuck, talk to a few of your regular customers and find out what they would like to learn about.
  • Think through your current schedule and find a regular time to write your posts. Having a routine time to write is absolutely critical. Set a time. Stick to it.

Running a blog can be challenging, but you will find that it will allow you to share your story in more depth than almost any other advertising medium available.

Now get out there and start building your business blog today!

Developing A Social Media Plan

The other day I set up a facebook fan page for a project I have been working on. It is a nice feeling when you step back and realize that you joined the ranks of tens of thousands of other businesses that are also on facebook. Have you ever looked closely at what some of your competitors are up to? If you have, you might have noticed something interesting.

Take a look around facebook, twitter, myspace, etc. and see what your competition is up to. You’ll probably discover some that I did as well – social media is full of businesses who have fallen into the “me too” trap. They are there simply because their competitor is there and because of this most business social efforts are completely lame.

There’s no doubt that most businesses can benefit from social media in some way. But you should think carefully about how it will benefit you and in what ways you are willing to truly engage your customers.

Book Review: Guy Kawasaki’s “Art of the Start”

Guy Kawasaki's "Art of the StartGuy’s book, “The Art of the Start” (amazon affiliate link) was released back in 2004. Some might consider this dated reading; however, as a fan of his, I couldn’t resist picking up the book when I found a good deal on it recently. What I discovered was that Guy was on to many of today’s business trends long before anyone else.

As the title indicates, the book is geared for entrepreneurs that are looking to seeking out venture capital and angel investments. But don’t let this fool you. The book is as much about how to build amazing businesses, build great teams, and launch disruptive products and services as it is about being an entrepreneur.

Guy begins the book with an great overview of how to quickly build and launch new businesses. One of the keys he talks about was incredible – you must start with purpose. Guy talks about the importance of finding a purpose and then embracing it with all your might. I cannot emphasize this point enough. Not only is this a key when building great teams, your customers will be much more likely to buy into what you are selling.

This is actually one of the trends that Guy seemed to be ahead of the curve on. Over the last year, we have seen a number of radically new business models being launched by ivy league, MBA toting entrepreneurs that focus as much on improving the world as profitability. We have also seen the rise of businesses like Zappos, Apple and Trader Joe’s that have flourished during one of the most difficult economic times since the Great Depression. Guy knows his stuff.

Another section of the book that is useful for almost any business person is Guy’s art of pitching. We’re not talking about baseball. We are talking about taking your ideas and selling them to others. His advice is sound and it can be used for more than just pitching venture capitalists. Guy touches on everything from developing your pitch to slide design. He also includes a few tips that definitely contradict conventional presentation teachings.

I’ll be using Guy’s book in a couple ways. I’ve been working on a few side projects and Guy’s advice is more than appreciated. I will also be taking a lot of what I learned and will use it in my day job. Guy’s wisdom and insight is powerful and every bit as applicable today as it was when the book was first released. Don’t miss out.

If you have read “Art of the Start” what were your impressions? What other Kawasaki books would you recommend?

Jason's Signature

Emotion vs Efficiency: SBM 101

father and son work on a classic carHave you ever become angry when your computer booted up a little slower than usual or when a traffic jam delayed your trip home an extra ten minutes? Admit it. Most of us have placed greater importance upon our time than we have the actual quality of the experience. We live in an efficiency culture. There is no getting around this; however, my real question is what costs does efficiency come with and are there opportunities for marketers to take advantage of.

Efficiency is essential. Is it really?

  • You can get a decent cup of coffee at McDonalds in about 2 minutes.
  • An oil and filter change takes about 15 minutes at Jiffy Lube.
  • Netflix allows you to serve up a movie via your “watch instantly” queue in under 45 seconds.
  • If you are a reader (and I hope you are), Apple, Barnes and Noble and Amazon all allow you to download a new book and start reading it in less than 30 seconds.

It is amazing to think just how efficient technology and the amazing companies that know how to use it well have made our lives easier. It’s a big deal too. Many of us spend more time working and commuting to/from work than we did just ten years ago. With less time to devote to our families, passions, hobbies and other personal pursuits. Businesses that help us save a little time become valued friends. I can’t tell you how much time Amazon has saved me over the years.

But at what costs?

I’d venture to say that all of the efficiencies come at a some cost. I recently visited a local bookstore just to browse their selection. It was the most relaxing thing I had done in a while. Not only was it relaxing, there was the sensory experience that came with it. The smell of the old books. The feeling of discovery that came from pulling books off the shelf and thumbing through their pages. The comfy lounge chair that sat in the corner of the shop. The creek of the old wood floors.

The bookstore had its own coffee bar. It took ten minutes to get a cup, but the wait was worth every second of it. I got to watch it being made by a quirky barista with dreadlocks and tattoos. Her voice was raspy and filled with the wise laughter that comes from a well-lived life. The aroma of the coffee mixed with that of the books.

Can Amazon or McDonalds deliver this type of experience? What happens when consumers wake up and realize what they have lost in the pursuit of more?

Do you have memories from your childhood of working in the garage with your father – a regular oil change became an opportunity for fathers and sons to bond. In many ways, it was a right of passage and now fathers and sons sit in a smelly lobby waiting for the car to be done. What is meaningful about that?

At what costs have we so easily allowed efficiency to replace our inefficiencies? Will consumers ever push back and want to return to simpler times? Will the current economy force us to rethink our current system?

Where marketing is missing to point.

We live in a world where everyone seems to be moving at the speed of light. We strive to get more done in less time. We sacrifice experience for speed, hoping to amass extra time somewhere in order to spend it doing something we “really want to do” only to end up sitting in front of the television fighting off exhaustion that comes with modern life.

As business people and marketers we seem to be constantly looking for ways to make our customer’s shopping or service experiences more efficient – faster checkout, faster downloads, lower costs, speedier service. Is this really what they want or is there an opportunity to use inefficiency as a way to create deep, meaningful experiences with customers and to help them find ways to create amazing stories in their own lives? Could you rethink your business and figure out a way to do this?

The music industry has suffered through years of decreasing sales and one hit wonders. They’ve created a model where they serve up the latest talent, milk them for what they are worth, and move onto the next band. We are bombarded with new CD releases every week from bands we’ve never heard of and really never feel connected to. Concerts have been transformed into impersonal, cheap food, over-priced, sell to the masses big stadium events where we end up watching a big screen television because the artist is a speck in the distance.

Digital downloads are definitely the way to go, but could the concert experience be changed in order to maximize profits while creating an experience fans will relish and really talk about? What if bands gave up on the big stadium events and moved their concerts to smaller venues where they can take advantage of scarcity and profit from more expensive ticket prices. Instead of spending one night in town, they could stage three or four concerts and take advantage of word of mouth, sell way more merchandise, and develop great relationships with those fans that come night after night.

Think of the last restaurant you went to. Did you feel rushed? Was your waitress in a hurry to get you out of the door so the next couple could get your table? Or, were you encouraged to stay, enjoy the food, chat with the waitress, have a couple extra drinks and wrap up your evening as the restaurant was about to close up for the night?

Inefficiency matters

Often times marketing programs and campaigns are built around the measurable. I would agree that we should measure whenever and whatever we can. But this mindset has its limits. How do we measure love or happiness accurately? Can we adequately measure a customer’s loyalty with a simple NPS score?

There are companies out there that have placed inefficiencies above efficiencies. They still measure where they can, but at the end of the day they are way more interested in creating a relationship with their customers. They aren’t stupid in how they deploy this strategy. They still measure. They still are profit oriented. They still make changes when the situation dictates. They understand that the long-term relationships are much more important to their long-term viability, growth and sustainability than short-term profits.

I spent an afternoon in a coffee shop not long ago working on a few things. The entire time I watched for the efficiencies and inefficiencies. If you went into this place with an efficiency scorecard, you’d probably want to shut it down. And you would have missed the real-life, business lessons that were going on. The gal running the place talked to everyone. In fact, she knew quite a few of the people that walked into the place. She was slow and methodical as she worked on people’s orders. It is a place where inefficiency has become an art form and their customers love it. It is place where you can kick back and relax. The coffee is spectacular. The ambiance is what it should be – calm, quite music plays in the background, local artwork adorns the walls, and the furniture begs to be sat in.

Help build memories.

Walk into almost any auto parts store and what do you see? They all carry the same products sitting on the same shelving sold by annoyed grease monkey surrounded by the same NASCAR decor. Why? Why not reach back in time and help customers remember what it was like to help their fathers out in the garage? Why not inspire them to create their own memories with their children? Could they invest some money in a classroom where they teach inspired fathers how to perform some of their basic auto maintenance tasks on their own?

Almost any food related business can benefit by engaging their customers differently than they do today. Why be in a hurry to get customers out of the door? Those who want to will find a way; however, you local customers want more. Why not offer them something your competitors never will? Get them involved in menu selection. Hold classes and teach them how to be better cooks. Ask them what they would like to see. Spend time talking to them and find ways to make your shopping experience much more pleasant and inviting.

Why not help customers slow down their lives and create the memories we all long for? Are there things you could do within your business that could become meaningful experiences instead of conveniences?

Thanks for reading,

Jason's Signature

The Emotions: Increasing Customer Loyalty (SBM 101)

Small Business Marketing 101Are you a photographer? Do you enjoy taking photos as a way to record, share and remember the various events of your life? As a child, did your parents do the same? One of the greatest marketing campaigns of all time understood that our ability to record life’s many events and help us remember and relive our greatest moments is an incredibly powerful way to connect with consumers.

Almost every single holiday that I experienced as a kid was accompanied by a massive instant camera. Unlike today’s digital cameras, the instant cameras allowed you to take a photo and instantly print it. The film would loudly roll out of the camera wit a mechanical “wrrrrr” sound and you would gently wave the photo in the air giving it time to dry and process. About two minutes later, you’d end up with a photo.

Charlie the Shih TzuKodak came up with the “a photo is worth a thousand words” campaign knowing how incredibly powerful it can be when a company’s product or service connects on an emotional level with consumers. This campaign was so powerful that Kodak has resurrected it today. They now run a blog called Kodak: A Thousand Words where Kodak users can share their stories and photos from meaningful times in their lives. One of the cool things about this is that we love learn about and hear other people’s stories making this a powerful marketing tool.

What it comes down to is simple – we want to live extraordinary lives and companies that can help us do this in one way or another have an opportunity to build long-term, sustainable relationships with consumers.

Let’s turn back to your business. Are you just selling products or services or are you finding ways to make them a valued part of your customers’ lives? How are you connecting with them on an emotional level? Are you looking for ways to extend your relationship with customers such that they feel you are a sincere partner in their lives? Are you helping your customers live better lives and make better stories?

Here’s to your marketing success,

Jason's Signature