What Kind of Halloween Experience Do You Deliver??

halloween.jpgI love Halloween. I guess its just the kid in me that likes the idea dressing up as someone or something you’re not and going door to door to get candy. Of course, at my age that may be inappropriate, so in recent years I have opted to make the night fun for the kids.

Some people deck out their houses at Christmas. I do the same thing for Halloween. It started a few years ago with one or two of those electronic effects you can get at Target or Wal-Mart. Over the years, I’ve made the experience richer with more effects including special lighting, a PA system playing creepy music and scary sounds, giant spider webs, coffins, animated tombstones, fog, a haunted chandelier, etc.

A Great Experience Creates Advocates

I don’t live in a neighborhood with lots of kids. Before I started all of this nonsense, my Halloween traffic was pretty low. In retail terms, I was not located in “prime real estate”. As the experience has grown, so has the traffic. Last year, most of the Trick or Treaters came from outside of the neighborhood. Moreover, they’ve been talking to their friends and the Word of Mouth Advertising has been good. They’ve also been talking to me. Several groups last year told me how much they liked the experience. One group that came earlier in the evening returned about an hour later and brought half a dozen friends. In other words, I have created advocates for my Halloween Experience.

Before I started delivering my Halloween Experience, I was just like all the other houses in the the neighborhood. I got the same traffic as everyone else because I offered the same experience as everyone else. I handed out candy, but it was not memorable.  I differentiated by adding sensory elements that play on the the Halloween theme.  Visual elements, audible elements, tactile elements, elements of surprise.  My Halloween traffic is now 10 times what it was just a few years ago and they aren’t coming just for the candy.

I’m not telling you anything new here, but delivering truly memorable experiences can be the differentiator that will drive business growth. What things are you doing to deliver a differentiating experience to your customers??

I wanted to record a video of the experience for this post, but the light is simply too low. It doesn’t convey the full experience, but I do have a Halloween Flickr album that you can access here.

Do I Respect Media Snackers

mediasnackers.jpgMediaSnackers is an organization based in England that provides insight and consulting in the area of youth media consumption. Last week, Jeremiah Owyang posted a video from MediaSnacker. The video describes “media snackers” as young people, hyperconnected to a wide assortment of digital, on-demand media. They are consumers who are no longer bound to linear media; who “snack whenever, wherever and whatever they like”. Owyang challenged the idea that it’s just youth consuming content in this way and suggested that you must respect snackers if you want to be a part of their lives. With that, he tagged several bloggers to to answer the question: “Do you respect Media Snackers?” and a new meme was born

Several generations later, I was tagged by Geoff Livingston to weigh in. Like many others that have participated in this meme, I’d have to say that in some respects I do respect media snackers, but that I have lots of room to improve.

Here’s what I do to show respect:

  1. I try to offer insights that will be of value.
  2. My posting frequency varies; I don’t blog unless I have something worth sharing (healthy snacks).
  3. I try to keep my post short and too the point (ok, may need some improvement here).
  4. I usually include links to other snacks that relate to my post (are you still hungry?).
  5. I use Twitter for micro-snacks or to link to other snacks.

People blog for many reasons; some more purposeful than others.  I initially started blogging to learn.  Even today, I write about things that I am interested in, but not specifically to create content for others to consume.  Nevertheless, I have developed a regular group of  snackers who consume my content.  So to Jeremiah’s point, here’s what I need to do better:

  1. Get more concise and timely in my messages.
  2. Explore new formats that can deliver content more effectively (video, podcast, microblogging).
  3. Look for new channels that snackers may be using.

To keep the meme going, I tap Steven StreightRick Mahn, Luis Suarez, Ryan Karpeles, and Erin Handy to answer the question.

Even it I didn’t tap you, feel free to weigh in and leave a comment linking to your post.

What Do You Get For $240Million?

facebook-gates.jpgOn Wednesday, Microsoft announced that it will spend $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in the #2 social networking site, Facebook. As part of the deal, Microsoft is now Facebook’s exclusive advertising partner worldwide until 2011. Facebook is expected to earn $30 million in profits on $150 million in revenue so $240 million sounds like a really big chunk of change for 1.6%. To put it another way, that deal effectively values the privately-held Facebook at $15 billion (that’s billion, with a “B”). As with similar deals in the past, there will certainly be those that scratch their heads and say this is crazy.

If you are in that camp, I recommend that you read Jeramiah Owyang’s post, “How Microsoft Got Their Passport Afterall“. Facebook currently has 50 million users and a userbase that doubles every 6 months. Those users voluntarily provide all sorts of detailed information about themselves. Owyang writes:

  1. Facebook knows who you are: your name, your gender, where you live, your martial and political status, sexual preference, age, where you work, the list goes on. The funny thing is, you’ve voluntarily given that information up.
  2. They also know who you connect to, who you talk to, and what you say to them (you don’t own those private message ya know).
  3. Sure, up to one third of all profile information is bogus, but what about those unsaid gestures: What people do is more important than what they say. What apps you use, how frequent, what and who you click on.

Forget the fact that Microsoft was desperate to beat Google at something. Microsoft wants to be a player in the lucrative on-line advertising business.  This new partnership gives them access to goldmine of personal data with which they can potentially build highly efficient advertising vehicles .  Owyang reminds us that advertising is all about accuracy and margins.  The more accurate an ad is at hitting the target group, the lower the cost.  He also points out that where “Google sells ads based on keywords, FaceSoft can now sell ads on something far more accurate: people“.

Owyang goes on to discuss what the next generation of on-line advertising might look like, suggesting that it will become much more targeted and much more social, and with that comes the risks associates with giving up control.

I think Jeremiah nailed it.  What do you think?

Customer Experience – Hertz

hertz2.jpgNow that I’ve joined the ranks of the traveling professionals, I am getting a first-hand lesson in travel related services. This morning, I had my first experience renting a car as a Hertz #1 Gold Club customer. #1 Gold Club is Hertz’ premium loyalty program. It carries an annual $60 fee, but for business travellers, it is well worth the expense with the ability to bypass the counter at 40 major airports in the US.

It works like this:

  • You enroll, indicating your preferred car type, optional coverages and payment method.
  • Make your reservation up to 2 hours before pickup time
  • Get on the Hertz shuttle at the airport
  • The driver asks if you are Hertz #1 Gold. If you are, you give them your name
  • They confirm your reservation.
  • When you arrive at the Hertz lot, you will see your name and a space# on an electronic board.
  • Go to the space where your car is waiting, with the trunk open, and the paperwork inside.
  • Show your drivers license and the paperwork at the gate and you are on your way.

Now that’s easy. I’m sure that other car rental companies have similar”bypass the counter” features, but having the trunk open is one of those little things that really differentiates the experience.

What little things are you doing to differentiate the experience for your customers?

Update:  Check out Becky Carroll’s follow-up to this post!

Little Things That Make Your Company More Human



There’s been quite a bit of buzz about Zappos.com this week. The story goes something like this:

  • A woman buys shoes from Zappos for her elderly mom.
  • Five pairs were to be sent back, but in the aftermath of mom being hospitalized and subsequently passing away, she forgets about sending them.
  • Zappos sends e-mail asking about the shoes and the woman replies telling them about the situation.

This is where it get’s interesting….

  • Zappos arranges for UPS to do a pickup at the woman’s home.
  • Zappos sends the woman flowers.
  • Woman blogs about it telling people to buy from Zappos.
  • The story gets picked up and shared all over the place.

This was not something that Zappos planned for PR purposes. It is likely not something that they do by policy either, but through the kindness of the people that work at Zappos, positive PR was generated and new customers were made.

What kind of culture does your company have? Do you have rules and procedures at your company that would discourage this type of action or do you encourage your employees to show the human side of your company?

If Porcupine Tree Can Create Advocates, So Can You

Steven Wilson - Porcupine Tree

Porcupine Tree is the best band you’ve never heard of. They also serve as a pretty good object lesson in how to deliver great experiences that turn customers into advocates.

This UK band headed by singer and guitarist Steve Wilson have produced some of the most amazing music ever put onto CD. With a catalog that spans twenty years and covers multiple genres including ambient, acoustic, psychedelic and metal, Wilson is never content to let Porcupine Tree stay in one place. He has continuously reinvented the sound of the band while at the same time maintaining the lush vocal harmonies, catchy melodies and soaring lead guitar work; characteristic trademarks of Porcupine Tree.

Porcupine Tree is not a ‘brand” you will hear about through the US music industry. They don’t have songs on commercial radio and they don’t play large venues. Nevertheless, their popularity in the US is steadily rising, primarily through word of mouth promotion from their fans who, almost universally, are advocates for the band.

What can businesses learn from a band like Porcupine Tree? Let’s take a look.

Start with Great Talent

Progressive Rock compositions are often more elaborate than the standard rock or popular verse-chorus based song structures, and the arrangements often incorporate elements drawn from classical, jazz and avant-garde music. This typically requires a higher level of proficiency on the part of the musicians. Porcupine Tree does not characterize their music as progressive rock, but they have clearly been influenced by the genre and are all highly accomplished musicians.

Delivering a great customer experience takes work and skill. It doesn’t matter whether your business is retail, food & hospitality, manufacturing or any number of services, having top talent is critical to being competitive. If the people that your customers interact with aren’t as good as they can be at delivering your product or service, your customers will know it and will eventually find a better alternative.

Set Expectations and Execute Flawlessly

In live performances, Porcupine Tree executes their music flawlessly. Each member plays a distinct role that, when combined, creates an experience that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Many artists today substitute Production for Performance. Modern recording studio technology makes it very easy to engineer heavily produced content, making an average performance sound great. Unfortunately for many artists, what sounds great in the studio does not always come off that great in live performance. Concert attendees, who may pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket, expect live performances that sound like the recording. This is extremely difficult to execute and many artists resort to using pre-recorded tracks to compensate for what they cannot reproduce live (can you say Ashlee Simpson).

Porcupine Tree fans know that the performance will always be “live” and executed flawlessly. Before recording their most recent album, “Fear of a Blank Planet”, the band toured for six months playing the material live. In the studio, the band essentially recorded the what they had already been playing for audiences, ensuring that subsequent live performances faithfully reproduced the recording.

Your business customers have high expectations. To deliver a consistently great experience, you have to ensure that each member of the team knows and plays their part flawlessly. Production is important, but great performances require practice.

Surprise & Delight and Keep It Fresh

I mentioned earlier that Porcupine Tree has continuously reinvented itself. This has not been done blindly. The musical directions that Wilson has taken the band reflect not only his changing personal tastes, but that of his audience. It is this spirit of innovation that has kept the band from becoming stagnant and has allowed them to gain new followers over the years.

Porcupine Tree tours constantly, stopping only occasionally to record new material. Each time they perform, there is new material, even if there is not a new full-length album. For example, In Spring ’07, they toured the US supporting the release of “Fear of a Blank Planet”. They are now touring the US again and the performance includes several “archive” pieces that were not played on the first tour, as well as four new songs that were recorded in July and recently released. Although I had seen the band in May, I knew that the October show would have some Surprise and Delight element.

One of the most critical competencies for businesses today is the ability to adapt to the ever-changing marketplace and to the needs of customers. Businesses must be able to “sense” what’s going on around them and “respond” appropriately. For some businesses this may mean continuous reinvention (Is Starbucks a coffee shop or something else these days?), but like Porcupine Tree, it’s important to maintain the “characteristic trademarks” that set you apart. Over the short run, it is also important that each customer experience has an element of Surprise & Delight. Strive to exceed their expectations in some way.

Are you doing these things in your business? If not, then why arent you? After all, if Porcupine Tree can create advocates, so can you!

Photo courtesy of Fusaka

Reviewer or Critic?

My new Twitter friend Justin Kownacki wrote a great post last night on the subject of criticism. Justin talks about the role of the critic and the impact they can have on an an artist’s success. He also makes the point that everyone is a critic and challenges people to consider our own personal motives for recommending or trashing a book / movie / TV show / song.

Justin asks:

“Is a critic’s primary function to be a guide for the audience or the artist? Should a critic support the work of an artist who has the potential to become great, even if that work isn’t yet fully commendable, because the risk of smiting that dream too early might mean the absence of new work that could someday change the world?

Or, should a critic be exceedingly harsh and unrelenting, fostering an environment where only the strongest survive?”

There are a number of excellent comments addressing the question. Here’s my take:

There’s an interesting take on the question “What is a critic” over at filmreference.com.

It says that the people who write about the latest release in papers are “reviewers”. They may call themselves critics, but the write to deadlines and their primary goal is to entertain, which drives their writing style. They are concerned with recommending the things they review (or not) to a readership assumed to be primarily interested in being entertained. Like you said, they know their audience and don’t tend to stray too far from what the audience will agree with.

To the point of your question, I believe “critics” should be guides for the artist. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. What we have in our high-consumption, instantly-disposable culture are “reviewers” who, by necessity, are guides for an audience that doesn’t have the time or patience for serious discussion.

You point out that we all have the opportunity to be “critics”. I would add that we can also be (and often are) “reviewers”. The next time you write about something “critically”, are you going to be a “critic” or a “reviewer”?

Niche Marketing – Toyota & World of Warcraft

Last week, I guest blogged over at Greg Verdino’s Marketing Blog and reprised a post that I had done here back in June on Niche Marketing. The central idea is that by targeting very specific groups who will relate to and find differentiation in your offering, you are no longer a commodity and you can increase your margins by charging a premium. Do this over and over with different products and services, and you can generate volume and growth that makes up for your narrow targets.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you product or service has to appeal only to a narrow segment. Products with a very broad application can be marketed to very narrow groups by focusing on the things that that niche finds appealing.

Case in point: Toyota, who just release a new 30-second spot targeted at gamers. Shot in the on-line game, World of Warcraft, the spot is for the Tahoma pick-up truck, a product that appeals to an extremely wide array of customers. Toyota has released a couple of ads that convey the truck as being invincible. Last year there was one that depicted the truck escaping from the Loch Ness Monster. The new spot, which parodies the legendary WOW Leeroy Jenkins video, will have immediate appeal to WOW gamers.

If you aren’t familiar with WOW, you probably won’t get understand the spot’s appeal, but to gamers, it rocks! In just one day on YouTube, it had been viewed close to 400,000 times and word of the ad is spreading quickly through social networks.

Toyota isn’t the first brand to create a TV spot directed at WOW gamers. Coca-Cola China created a couple of WOW-themed ads last year, but this is the first US ad that I am aware of. It’s also the second gaming-related ad for a US brand in recent weeks. Southwest Airlines recently parodied widespread reports last year of Wii remotes being thrown into TVs by gamers whose wrist straps had failed – or who hadn’t used the wrist straps at all.

Both Southwest and Toyota have done something very smart here. I suspect that the typical gamer (early twenties, male) is in the sweetspot of the Tahoma’s target market. The same holds true for Southwest. By creating ads that speak directly to gamers, these brands will gain significantly more credibility with that niche market than with a generic ad.

What do you think? Is this an effective slant on Niche Marketing?  What other niches groups could “mass brands” be more effective with?

Is “Conversation” Cliché

I’m in Washington, DC this week getting new hire training from IBM. As fate would have it, three of my favorite on-line friends were also in town to speak at the Era of Conversation event. Last night, I had the opportunity to have dinner Geoff Livingston, Valeria Maltoni and CC Chapman. After dinner, Geoff suggested that we make an impromptu video, so we did. After an awkward couple of minutes trying to decide what to talk about, Geoff asked if the word “Conversation” had become cliché. Here are our answers:

Shouldn’t Every Week Be National Customer Service Week?

cust-svc-poster.jpgCustomer Service Week is a national event devoted to recognizing the importance of customer service and honoring the people on the front lines of the service revolution. The International Customer Service Association (ICSA) began Customer Service Week in 1988. In 1992 the U.S. Congress proclaimed Customer Service Week a nationally recognized event, celebrated annually during the first full week in October.

The CSWeek website suggests that companies use this week to:

  • Boost morale, motivation & teamwork
  • Reward frontline reps
  • Raise companywide awareness of the importance of customer service
  • Thanks other departments for their support
  • Let customers know about your commitment to customer satisfaction

Several businesses have jumped on the bandwagon, using the event as a marketing vehicle. This temporary focus on Customer Service seems rather odd to me. Although the American Customer Satisfaction Index (not to be confused with the ICSA) has a recent study showing customer service scores for retail improving, they are generally not great.  For many retailers, customer service is given lip service, but is not an “incentivized” part of the culture.  In general, a retailer’s front line employees, the ones that are the face to the customer, are often among the lowest compensated people in the organization.

I like the five ideas listed above, but think companies would be much more successful if they did these things every week. To use this week as the only time to “let your customers know about your commitment to customer satisfaction” or to “raise companywide awareness for the importance of CS” leaves 51 other weeks of opportunity on the table. What would happen to an organization’s culture if they took advantage of that opportunity? What if the tag line was “Doing Our Best With Every Request, Every Day”?

Do You Stand Behind Your Products?


Most consumer products come with some sort of limited warranty. Once the warranty runs out, the customer has the burden of paying for repairs. If the product is not designed and built well, then you are probably in for a repair bill; usually soon after the warranty runs out. Otherwise, you should get many years of service out of it before this becomes an issue.

I had a great experience last week with United States Thermoamp, a small company that manufactures a special heat pump for pools and spas. I bought one of their products six years ago. Last week, the fan motor went bad. I had failed to lubricate it as specified in the owner’s manual and the bearings seized up. I called the company to inquire about how to get service. Sue, the technical support person replied by telling me that she would send me a new motor free of charge that I could easily install myself or contract a local service technician. and the two year warranty .

Free? Really? The warranty on that component expired four years ago, but you are just going to give me a new one??? Wow, that’s what I call standing behind your product.

If you build a great product that typically lasts much longer than the warranty period, is there any value to be gained in solving your customers’ problems on your dime after the warranty is up? You bet there is. A great experience helps drive customer retention and a great experience shared leads to new customers.