Aug 27

Black October

Today's post is dedicated to Peppercom Co-founder, Edward "Aloysius" Moed.


Peppercom opened Suit_1920sfor business 17 years ago this Friday.
That's when two men, burnt out by the red tape and politics of big agency life
and chomping at the bit to capitalize on a bullish economy, gave the
entrepreneurial life a go.

And, Ed and Steve had a tough slog in the beginning.

The first month was dedicated to creating an
infrastructure, so they set up a checking account, had business cards printed
and did all the other things an embryonic, two-person business needs to do.

The duo's second month was spent on business development.
So, while Steve wined and dined former clients, prospects and the heads of
global agencies (asking the latter for any morsels too small for their
digestive tracts), Ed was smiling and dialing.

Between them, the co-founders set two new business
meetings each and every week of the second month. And, sure as the leaves fall
in an Autumn storm, every single prospect canceled at the 11th hour. Ed called
it Black October. Steve opted for Bleak October. Either way, it was one grim
month to be sure.

Then, in early November, their luck changed like the
seasons (this is starting to sound like a Sinatra song, isn't it?). It began
with a memorable lunch at The Yale Club. They were there with Ben Case, a former
client at Duke University. The entrepreneurs begged Ben to give them his
account. He played hard to get, saying they'd be so focused on building their
own business that they wouldn't pay attention to his. The trio agreed on a
compromise: three free trial months. If Peppercom delivered, Ben would put them
on retainer. They did. And, he did.

Being able to name drop Duke as an existing client worked
wonders with prospects. Soon, Ed and Steve landed two or three more accounts.
And, they never looked back.

Epilogue: I liken entrepreneurship to a roller coaster
ride. In fact, we're helping a client right now to build a new website aimed at
entrepreneurs. I suggested a roller coaster visual. They agreed, and will be
using it as one of their main visuals.

The roller coaster ride came to mind because there are
far more downs than ups in business, and resiliency is critical to an
entrepreneur's success. So is preparation.

That's why I advise any Mark Zuckerberg wanna-be to read
'The Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell. It describes the importance of first
logging 10,000 hours of practice before grabbing for the brass ring.

Mozart, the Beatles and Steve Jobs, among others, all put
in countless hours of blood, sweat and tears before they achieved their
success. Ed and I did the same at two prior agencies, where we amassed our
10,000 hours of practice.

As a result, we already knew who would do what and how
we'd differentiate ourselves on day one. It made all the difference in the
world. It also enabled us to survive Black October.

Feb 25

You aren’t what you say you are (unless the customer agrees)

Shout out to Emily Yellin for suggesting this idea.

image from farm4.static.flickr.com It’s interesting to think about brands that have touted their strengths or points of differentiation in taglines only to have the customer experience turn out to be the polar opposite. Consider just a few examples:

  • BP’s ‘Beyond petroleum.’ There’s no need to recount how many journalists, pundits and comedians lambasted the initials and tagline in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill.
  • Merrill Lynch’s ‘thundering herd’ of financial advisors were a breed apart. They sure were, especially after the firm experienced a massive meltdown as the real estate bubble burst and the markets collapsed. Today, what’s left of the thundering herd is corralled inside parent company, BOA. 
  • Toyota’s ‘Moving forward’ which, after a series of highly-publicized accidents caused by acceleration pedal problems, became a nasty, daily reminder of the automaker’s crisis.
  • And then there’s the perpetual bad boy of branding: Comcast. Thanks to its horrific customer service, Comcast’s ‘Comcastic’  boast may be the gold standard for never living up to a brand promise.  

There’s an amazingly simple way to avoid these disconnects: put yourself in customer’s shoes before ever attempting to frame marketing messages. 

Ian Wylie, a Forrester analyst, tracks customer service and blogged about a rare, best practice in Fast Company. In the text, Wylie profiled David McQuillen of Credit Suisse, who continually places himself and his C-suite bosses in the shoes of the customer (note: McQuillen has moved on since the 2007 blog was written and is now with OCBC Bank in Singapore). For example, he’s made the top brass visit local branch banks, stand in line, exchange foreign currency and ask customers questions. He’ll then take them back to the office, have them surf the company’s web site and attempt to check interest rates and fill out application forms. He brought a meeting of the bank’s 200 top managers to a complete standstill when he pulled out a speaker phone and dialed the customer service line. McQuillen said he saw ‘…fear in their faces, because they didn’t know what the experience was going to be.’ McQuillen said the bank has five million customer interactions a month and questioned how many, if any, managers had any clue about the quality of those interactions. 

McQuillen is one of the few visionaries in an emerging field that recognizes inside-out marketing no longer works. Time Magazine may have declared you and me (the consumer) as ‘person of the year’ a while back, but the vast majority of marketers don’t get it (we recently surveyed 75 CMOs and found that 75 percent had never experienced their brand as a customer). For the most part, marketers still craft campaigns that tout their best-in-class product or service without ever experiencing said product or service from the customer’s point of view.  

We’re digging deep into this yawning gap and are slipping into the shoes of CFOs, moms and other ‘consumers’ to experience a brand online, on the phone and in person. We’re also determining exactly where a purchase consideration is being made. 

We’re not nearly as street smart as McQuillen who, in an attempt to make his bank do more to help customers with disabilities use its branches, offices, web site and call centers, made each member of his team spend a day in wheelchair. They also wore weighted suits to re-create what it’s like to be 70-years-old and had them eat lunch in the dark, courtesy of local Zurich restaurant called the Blind Cow (where all the waiting staff are visually impaired). What a superb way to understand the customer before making the necessary tweaks to better connect with them! McQuillen’s even gone on the speaking circuit to explain what it was like to be wheelchair-bound for a day. 

I’m no McQuillen, but it’s pretty easy to see what he’s seen: You aren’t what you say you are unless the customer agrees. So, paraphrasing the Hippocratic Oath, ‘marketer, heal thyself.’”

Nov 04

Stickiness is so 1999

November 4 - Webinar_Sticky3 Remember what a big deal stickiness used to be? Dotcom executives loved using the word. First, they'd talk about eyeballs on their site. Then, they'd wax poetic about stickiness. 'Steve, guess how long the average visitor stays on www.fallenarches.com? Three minutes! That kills our competitors' numbers. Kills! Buries! Annihilates! We are so friggin' sticky!'

 When the dotcom bubble burst, it took those annoying executives and their eyeballs along for the ride. But, somehow the word stickiness survived.

In fact, stickiness is still considered by many as a key barometer in today's social media world.

Stickiness is used to describe the time a visitor spends on a website. Conventional wisdom holds that the stickier the site, the more enriching the end user experience (and the more successful the site).

Not so, says Sam Ford, Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green, who will join me for a webinar on the subject this Friday at 1p.m. EST (Register
here for this free webinar, "Moving from "Sticky" to "Spreadable": The
antidote to "Viral Marketing" and the Broadcast Mentality
")

Messrs. Ford, Jenkins and Green are affiliated with M.I.T's highly-regarded Convergence Culture Consortium, whose mission is to provide some clarity and make some sense of the seismic digital changes happening all around us (note: Sam Ford also happens to be Peppercom's director of customer insights).

The trio believe web success is all about spreadability and not stickiness. Spreadability, they say, should be the watchword of the day. It's not about how long someone stays on a site but, rather, how they share (or spread) the information contained on it and with whom.

Spreadability is critical to success in social media. But, understanding how to create content that others will find spreadable isn't easy.

On Friday, Ford, Jenkins and Green will share best and worst practices, tips on how to create your own speadable content and explain why 'viral' may make sense in medical nomenclature, but shouldn't be included in your tech talk.

Just think: a Friday afternoon with Repman and three academics discussing spreadability on the web. Aside from another Phillies victory, what more could you possibly ask for?