May 24

Why Big Companies Actually Aren’t Failing at Social Media

It is 12:14 a.m. I’ve just spent about four hours on the phone with Expedia, only to find out that the errors that caused my woes were 1.) a propensity for Expedia to get flagged for fraud and 2.) a representative who misspelled my email address even though I spelled it for her three times. I like the Expedia website but am not sure if it’s worth going through this again.

I really don’t like ranting. I feel it often fails to give people direction. I just see the state of greed in our country sometimes and I can’t help it.

The problems with big companies and social media isn’t a social media problem. It’s a customer service problem. It’s a moral problem.

It’s really hard for @Expedia to make me happy when it is incredibly obvious that their Indian call center employees are given metrics that I suspect push reps to 1.) sell trips over the phone when customers are perfectly able to book them on the website and 2.) get me off the phone as soon as possible rather than helping me solve a problem. Like it’s not bad enough that the phone connection to India is miserable and they can barely understand you as it is. Now a 15 minute task becomes as dreadful as watching a four hour drama starring Paris Hilton.

I genuinely feel sorry for people who run social media accounts for companies like this one, because they end up picking up the sloppy mess “metrics” cause in large organizations. I just wanted to book the first real vacation I’ve been on in almost two years. Had I not caught the mistake, I would have paid for the same flight twice. This wasn’t a pair of shoes from DSW. This is an international flight we are talking here.

Human beings aren’t numbers. When you treat people like numbers, they will treat you like a bill. Now, they have things like Facebook, blogs, Twitter, etc. and can call you out when you treat them like crap even though they’ve literally spent tens of thousands of dollars with you.

The future of marketing is to be able to analyze the data a customer gives you and deliver the exact experience they would want. It is not a matter of treating them like commodities. That’s so twentieth century.

Jul 13

REI and the Impact of Company Culture

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
–Albert Einstein

REI is a cool store. From the moment I walk in, I feel the former athlete in me clamoring that I just don’t get outside enough.

The employees are fit. They all do outdoorsy stuff. From the wood walls to the visually blech-but-oh-so-snuggly NorthFace jacket, REI is all about getting that inner kid in you back outdoors. They have “Family Adventure Programs”. Oh, and you aren’t a customer of REI–you are a member.

I can just see the out-of-touch bean counting accountant going, “Wait, we are paying for our employees to go to the Muir Woods? Jigga wha?”

To the average bean counter, none of these things make sense. It does not make sense for REI to be a co-op instead of a corporation and hire people based on their kayaking skills versus last years’ quota figures. What it does do is promote loyal customers. There is no measurable ROI you get when a loyal customer buys a cool new bike from REI, shows it off to his friends, and then says, “You have to talk to Jorge about your next bike. He is the BEST.” REI’s ridiculously lenient return policy for members is a bean counter’s nightmare but does ensure that customers always start their search for outdoor goods there.

Apparently REI’s model makes sense because they have stores in 28 states and have been in business 72 years. Who knew?

Sep 14

The Air Jordan Effect–It’s Not Just for Shoes Anymore

Product Development as MarketingPeople often focus on getting huge numbers of followers behind a product. They pour all of their efforts into getting more, often before a product is ready for release. This inevitably amounts to more confusion because your crowd will have different needs, values, and dedication to what you are doing. What does it take to create a great product?

One key person.

The example I frequently use for this is Air Jordan shoes. Michael Jordan is the tour de force that took Nike from being a running shoe company into the biggest athletic shoe company in the world. When he first graduated from North Carolina, Jordan actually had no interest in Nike and instead wanted to pursue Converse or Adidas. Neither company had any interest in Jordan, and it was actually Jordan’s agent David Falk who saw the opportunity in a potential Air Jordan shoe. Jordan was paid $2.5 million over five years, a ridiculous sum for the time.

Jordan’s shoe was black and flashy instead of the standard white. It was different, so different that the NBA actually fined Jordan for wearing them. Oh well, it added to the appeal. Air Jordans have consistently been one of the top selling basketball shoes in the world since their inception. You can find all sorts of generations of Air Jordans still available online.

Nike went after someone they considered the next superstar. It was a risky, irrational move that made them billions of dollars and secured their spot as the dominant shoe company in the world.

By targeting influencers and building products around them versus focusing on building sheer numbers, you’ll know that your product will be able to hold its own versus the competition. Why? You are focusing on the user of the product–not the product itself. Just don’t drop the ball when it comes to taking care of those who end up buying it.

Jul 01

Dear Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell & Chris Anderson: You are All Right about “Free”. Now Shut Up.

“In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”

Are you kidding me? “Free” with a capital F? What are you, Effing Jesus?

Chris Anderson seriously needs to slow down. I saw him at South by Southwest and felt his “content should be free” shtick was more of a marketing ploy to push his book than genuine advice to help people build a business model. It was very disappointing, and at this point, I’m not sure his free book is worth the time it takes to read.

Well, Malcolm Gladwell wrote this New Yorker article stating that when you give something for free, people assume it has no value. He pointed to YouTube, which has yet to make money for Google. Okay.

THEN Seth Godin jumped on the Free (note the capital F so as to not offend Chris Anderson) bandwagon and went on an ad hominem attack stating that Anderson’s Wired is making money with free, while the New Yorker, who Gladwell writes for, is not. Apparently, free gets people’s attention in an A.D.D. world.

Guess what? You are all right. Now shut up.

Chris Anderson. You need to appreciate that not all people want their content to be the same as everyone else’s. When things are free for everyone, we do not have that choice. The Wall Street Journal will ALWAYS be able to charge people for content, so long as that content provides their readers with a competitive advantage for their jobs. If money is an exclusive barrier that makes subscribers part of a club others can’t afford, they’ll pay for it. People like the exclusivity that money affords them. Just ask the people who actually venture to TED. If it makes me money, saves me more time, or makes me happier than what I can get for free, charge me money. Apple does it and it works just splendidly for them.

Malcolm Gladwell. You need to acknowledge that the web crashes barriers. Web hosting is DISGUSTINGLY CHEAP unlike print. The best thing the New Yorker could do to preserve itself is to kill its presses, go web-based, and hire bloggers who fit their style. As soon as you launch a paid subscription, someone else will come up with a cheaper or free subscription with something similar, and it can be just as good and paid for by ads. Maybe they’ll even go user generated and just hire some editor who is brilliant but lives in his mom’s basement. Seth is right. You need to learn to leverage the web better.

Seth Godin. “In a world of free, everyone can play.” True, but not everyone can win, or even stay afloat. Free IS a relatively cheap way to get attention, but not always able to keep that attention. People want content to do certain things for them. If the free stuff doesn’t do it, they’ll pay for something else.

Oh, and don’t tell me that free is the future and then blog using TypePad instead of the superior AND free WordPress. Seriously. Software is code, and code is content too.

Free content can suck. Proprietary content can suck. Just don’t suck at delivering the content that your current and potential readers want and you are okay. I feel like I’m watching a bunch of kids throw sand in each other’s faces in the playground.

Jun 01

Bummed About the Economy? Buy Indie!

Like most Americans are apparently doing, I am doing what I can to save more. I appreciate that whether this economy goes up or goes down, it can’t hurt to have a little more saved in the bank for a rainy day or a great opportunity.

Just this past Sunday, I spent more than I care to spend on clothes. Why? Because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about sweatshop labor and it creeps me out that style comes at the price of someone else’s sanity and well being. So I finally found a place called Parts + Labor off of South Congress that is essentially a marketplace for local independent designers to sell their purses, clothing, and jewelry. I bought clothes that were made with recycled fabric by a line called CurryBeth. I paid a bit more than I normally would, but I know that what I’m wearing is unique and actually empowers someone rather than exploits them. I feel good putting these clothes on. Even if I had to sell them, I’d get much more than I would for the latest forgettable Gap dress.

Here’s the coolest part. I needed another dress I bought altered. The people at Parts + Labor called the gal who made it and she’s going to fix it herself. Craftsmanship. Love it.

Consuming goods made by well intending people who are happy feels good. Watching shows made by people who enjoy what they are doing instead of worry about ratings all day is gratifying. I wonder to what extent this economy will make all the people who are getting laid off decide that they want to fix this bottom line-obsessed culture to create rocking stores like Parts + Labor.

P.S. When I write posts like this, people accuse me of getting paid by the people I’m writing about. That weirds me out a bit. This is not the case and if it were, I’d always disclose it. Cheers.