Creativity Tip: Ask, ask, ask

November 17, 2006

Images2_3 In my day job, I have to be creative on demand.  As I am sure you can relate…some days, I don’t feel very creative.  I can’t wait until the muses arrive.  I need to be innovative, original and engaging. Now.


So I collect creativity triggers.  Games I can play, ways to twist the common into something fresh and brainwipes…ways to clear my head of all the expected, to make room for new ways of looking something.  If you too need this sort of creativity thumping now and then, I’m going to post some creativity tips every once in awhile.

Here’s one that usually serves me well. 

Be like a reporter.  Query the situation, problem, product that you’re needing to be creative about.  Not a who, what, where, how kind of an interview, but more of an in depth character study.  Do it out loud if you have to, but really dig in.  Ask probing questions.  Assume the persona of your interview subject to "feel" the answers.  I know it sounds a little silly but you’ll be amazed at the interesting insights.  Give it a spin and let me know how it works for you.

P.S.   If you want a big bundle of creativity, check out Roger von Oech‘s books, blog and tools.  My favorite is his Creative Whack Pack — a deck of cards with creative thinking strategies and tips.  You’ll love his stuff!

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Is that your hand in my pocket?

November 16, 2006

Images1_4 Identifying your pricing strategy is a business element that purists will say is more operations than marketing, but I have to tell you, they are wrong.  Pricing is all about marketing.  It is about perception.   It’s part of the customer experience.

Let me give you a concrete example.  But first, a confession.

I am annoyed.  I’m actually beyond annoyed.  I am ticked.  And feeling taken advantage of. If you ever have a client express those feelings about your prices, heed the warning.   Bad things happen when you have a customer feeling that way.  This is what the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) will tell you is called bad buzz.  Watch it in action.

I’ve had a business relationship with an Iowa based bank, Bankers Trust, for several years.  For the past few years, I had a letter of credit with them.  I paid an annual fee of around $300.  I no longer need the letter of credit.  The annual renewal is January 1st, so I wanted to cancel it before I incurred the annual fee.  I got the cancellation confirmation letter today.  With a bill for $115!  When I e-mailed them to inquire why I was paying a fee, since I was specifically closing it to avoid the fee – they said:

“To cancel the letter of credit requires action on our part.  We charge the final fee of $115.00 to cover the cost of issuing the letter, updating our records, following up on retrieving the original after it matures and the cost of the courier fee. “

I’m stuck.  I have no need for the product.  There is no “early cancellation penalty” and yet, even though I paid for the privilege of having the letter of credit, now I am paying for the privilege of NOT having it?

Ridiculous.  And demonstrating a complete lack of customer awareness.  Their pricing strategy is about them, not me.  And they have lost a customer over it.  Worse for them…they have aggravated a blogger, community volunteer, and business owner who is going to tell this story over and over.

The dumb part of this is that it’s an easy fix.  No customer is going to be happy about being double-dipped.  So why not build the cancellation fee into the first year’s annual cost of having the letter of credit?  Call it initial/closing administrative costs and be done with it.

As with most things, it’s not what you say/do, it’s how you say or do that has impact.

Read more about how pricing = marketing at BizMord Search and Marketing Blog.   And weigh in on this:  What inadvertent impact might your pricing have on clients? 

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Hey Scrooge, is that you?

November 15, 2006

Images1_3 Every year it seems to get earlier and earlier.  This year, some of the major marketers launched their holiday campaign before Halloween.  They argue that over 40% of us begin our shopping by then, so why shouldn’t they be out there.  Maybe they’re right.

Advertising Age (a trade pub for the advertising industry) is doing a survey this week.  I thought we’d borrow their question.

Do you think consumers will be resentful of retailers and other marketers that begin Christmas advertising before the end of October or even before Thanksgiving?

Share your thoughts here and also…if you are a marketer, do you market any differently during a holiday season?  Are you a President’s Day special kind of business?  What do you think of that as an advertising strategy?

(After we vote, I’ll tell you what the Ad Age readers have said.)

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Hey Goliath, I think you’re going down!

November 13, 2006

David and Goliath.  A pretty famous tale.  Little guy takes on the big guy.  Logic tells us the big guy should win.  But, instead, he goes down.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger Goliath than Microsoft.  They usually win the fight.  But this time, I think they’re going to go down.Images_9

This week, Microsoft releases Zune, their answer to the iPod.  Their beige answer to the iPod.  Over at the True Talk Blog, Tom Guarriello great job of comparing the two products.

Here’s the problem.  Microsoft’s size begot a dash of arrogance and they made a classic marketing mistake.  They forgot to ask the customer.  In fact, they forgot all about the customer.

  • People buy the iPod because its cool.  Cool colors.  Cool online store.  Cool features. 
  • People buy the iPod because its convenient.  Convenient to use.  Convenient to find accessories.  Convenient access to music, movies, TV shows and music videos.
  • People have invested a significant amount of money in iTunes downloads and iPod accessories.  They are not likely to switch.  They are likely to add to their iPod collection with either an updated version (so they can move all their files) or more iPod stuff.

Keep in mind the #1 target for mp3 players like Zune and the iPod are the tweens and the teens.   They are all about cool and fitting in.  That trumps functionality and screen resolution any day.  And they are mortified if they appear to be "posers" or people are trying to be cool, but didn’t quite make it.  I suspect Zune owners will be viewed as iPod owner wannabes.

The smart strategy for Microsoft would have been to either out cool and out convenience the iPod.  But they aren’t doing either.  They are counting on the holiday advertising push and the wifi feature (you can share music…but it evaporates after a few plays/days) to topple the iPod.

I don’t think that’s going to happen.  Tomorrow, more on why not.

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Who are you calling an SOB?

November 12, 2006

Those of you who know me won’t be all that surprised that I got called an SOB today.  But in this case, it was actually a compliment!Sobbutton3

Liz Strauss of Successful Blog recognizes a few blogs every week that, in her words…

"They take the conversation to their readers, contribute great ideas, challenge us, make us better, and make our businesses stronger.  I thank every one of our SOBs for thinking what we say is worth passing on.  Good conversations shared can only improve the blogging community."

I’m honored to be included among Liz’s very esteemed list of bloggers who have something of note to say.   Check out this week’s list and Liz’s past honorees in her Hall of Fame links.

Thanks for the nod Liz…I will do my best to live up to your moniker SOB!


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Ease into the week — who creates a lovefest for you?

November 12, 2006

Portrait of Walt Disney, 1 January 1954 Here i...Image via Wikipedia

I don’t know about you but Sunday nights are time for me to catch up.  On my reading, on my work, on my relationships — all with an eye on Monday morning and knowing that the 180 mph pace is about to resume.

Sundays also seem to be my day for deep thoughts.  I thought it might be fun to ease into the week together with a question that is sort of about branding and marketing but also has a personal element to it as well.  A chance to get to know each other AND talk shop.  Perfect for a Sunday night.

We’ve all read and heard about experiential marketing.  Marketing that goes beyond features and benefits and actually makes the customer a part of the selling/buying experience.  Great examples are some of the themed restaurants like Rain Forest Cafe or shopping/road testing a Harley.  These businesses have captured a powerful marketing truth.  People buy what they love and what they feel a part of.  So here’s this week’s question:

What business or retail establishment best envelopes you into the buying experience, creates a lovefest between you and them, and makes you feel like a member of the club?  And, of course,  how do they do that for you?

My answer?  Walt Disney World.  (not just any amusement park or theme park — just this one) I step onto the grounds and I change.  Physically, emotionally, mentally.   I’ll bet if you tested it, my blood pressure would drop 15 points.  The smells, the sounds, the visual stimulation — it all connects with me, heart and soul.  Its hard to explain and sounds a little nutty I suspect, but its like going home for me.  More on this later…

P.S. I plan on doing a 9-day blog series, "What marketing lessons can we learn from Walt Disney" in a few weeks, when my family and I make our annual pilgrimage to the mouse house.

P.S.S.  Runners up for me in this question…the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble.

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Fortune 500 Corporate Blog Review Series: Apple

November 11, 2006

Image representing Apple Inc. as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase

When I read on Easton Ellsworth’s blog about the Fortune 500 Corporate Blog Project, I decided I wanted to participate.  The premise is simple…volunteer bloggers choose one or more of the Fortune 500 companies and do a little legwork to see if the company has an official blog.  Post it wiki style and voila, together we have created some pretty impressive knowledge.

I chose one of my favorite companies, #159 Apple. (AAPL) I have to admit, I made the assumption that of course they’d have a corporate blog.  I mean, come on…it’s Apple.

Typical of Apple, they aren’t doing it like most others.  Instead, on their homepage is a link to what they call Hot News with an RSS feed.  But the Hot News is a blend of internal news and links to outside sources, like O’Reilly Digital Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

There are no opportunities to comment or trackback.  So not exactly a blog, but more than a website. 

There are plenty of unofficial blogs focusing on Apple, their products, et al as you might imagine.  Technorati lists over 4,300 of them.

If you haven’t grabbed a company to research — grab one soon.  I’m off to add my 2 cents to the wiki.

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Listen up! (How all companies should use blogs)

November 11, 2006

Images1_2 Despite a bazillion new blogs being started every day, business blogging still seems to be in its infancy.  Many companies are still wondering why they would need a blog.  And maybe they don’t.  Creating and maintaining a blog is not for everyone or every organization.  But that doesn’t mean blogging isn’t an important business tool.

You should use blogs to listen to your customers.  You’ll be amazed at what they’re saying.  Here are a couple links that say it better than I can.  Mike’s post tells you how to do it.  Tom’s two-parter will give you a remarkable example of how a company turned a rant into a rave…all by listening to blogs.

Mike Sansone’s How To Listen In post.

Tom Vander Well’s Real Life Example posts.  Part one.  And…part two.

Read…and learn.  And start to listen.

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Our glass was WAY past full this morning!

November 10, 2006

Did you feel it?  About 8:30 central time (US)? A slight rumble underfoot?  An eerie aura or sense that it was no ordinary day?

Me too.  Because here in Des Moines, IA (the blogging capital of the world) we had a gathering.  And a guest.

Starbucker of Ramblings From a Glass Half Full was in KC for business and decided he had to come up and see what the blogging mecca of Des Moines was all about.  As you can see, he had dinner with Tim Johnson of Carpe Factum last night and then got some good rest so he was ready for “DSM Goes a Blogging”  (no, not clogging Tom VW) this morning.

What ensued was quite a bit of raucous laughter at Panera, as we online friends put faces and voices to the thoughts and ideas we’ve been sharing together for months.  It was tough, after more than 90 minutes, to drag myself away and actually get to the day job.  But I have no doubt we’ll get together again.

Here’s a snapshot of the motley crew.  In order, from left to right (or as I like to think of it…most handsome to….)

Sandy Renshaw of Purple Wren
Tom Vander Well of QAQNA
Tim Johnson of Carpe Factum
Mike Sansone of Converstations
Starbucker the guest of honor (gotta love a guy who only uses one name!) of Glass Half Full
Mike Wagner of Own Your Brand


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Don’t talk to Strangers!

November 9, 2006

Images_8 The mantra of mothers everywhere.  "Don’t talk to strangers!."  At least it was the mantra of my mom.  When my daughter was little, it shifted to "stranger danger!"  But the message was the same.  We talk to the people we trust.  People we know.

It’s no different in marketing.  Consumers are fed up.  They are tired of being talked to.  They are tired of the unwanted invasion. They want to engage in a conversation.   With someone they trust.  Someone they know.

There’s a great book that talks all about this called Waiting for your Cat to Bark.  It’s an insightful read about how the inmates have taken over the prison!  The consumer truly is in charge today.  As we sit here and blog, we are living proof of that.   The Do Not Call list is living proof of that.  Spam filters — yup, living proof.

Valeria Maltoni, over at Conversation Agent, has a great post about "the consumer revolution."  In the post, she offers 10 great questions that speak from the customer’s voice about how they want to engage in that conversation.

So, here’s my question for you.   What are you doing to move your brand from stranger to trusted friend?  I fear if we don’t — we’re going to be very lonely because pretty soon, we’re not going to have anyone to talk to.

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