Saturday, June 30, 2007

Goodbye to "Good Nights"?

Just got back from dinner a few minutes ago. Went with my lovely soon-to-be-wife to Champps, a sports bar and grill chain. Had a tasty meal and an enjoyable night out. Even able to walk there and back because the weather was so pleasant. All in all, it was a nice little "date" that didn't break the budget.

Now for the "but". At this restaurant, there must be at least 20 people working during dinner time. And I couldn't help but notice that as we walked out we passed at least 5 or 6 employees and not one of them looked at us or said, "Thanks for coming" or "Good night". Indeed, when I had mentioned this fact to my fiance during our walk home, she even noticed that too.

So does this mean I will never go back to this particular restaurant because a handful of people didn't acknowledge us on the way out? No, it's far from being a dealbreaker. But with countless restaurant options within a five-mile radius of my house, it does mean that every little bit of hospitality goes a long way for each establishment. A red carpet and rose petals at my feet is not necessary, but feel free to give me a smile and a salutation! The old adage is true-- it's the little things that count.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Inflatable Rats and Tired Tactics: Time for New Marketing for Unions

Pardon me as I do a brief Jerry Seinfeld impression:

"Have you ever noticed these inflatable rats that union guys put up?"

For the past few weeks, I've driven by a construction site for what appears to be a new bank. Every morning like clockwork I also see one or two sorry looking guys standing out on the sidewalk with signs on their chest, milling around a giant inflatable rat, like the one pictured at right. It's a rather surreal scene.

I can't help but think that there's gotta be a better way to protest the growth of a non-union building, as they're attempting to do.

Here's how I see it:
  • In general, union memberships are down from historical highs in the 1950s when about a third of all workers were in a union. Today it's plunged to around 13 percent, according to this Encarta article.
  • Whether properly deserved or not, unions have a checkered image in today's world. From the Jimmy Hoffa days of mobster ties, to today's impression that union workers are unproductive, unions need all the help they can get if they want to survive.
  • It's 2007 and marketing has become a virtual science on changing people's decisions and behaviors. If you have a positive association with a "brand", you are much more likely to buy that brand over a competitor's brand. Case in point-- would you rather have a Lexus or a Ford Pinto? That's branding power (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
  • The "brand" of unions pretty much bites the big one. Though unions stand up for the rights of their workers, which I think is generally a good thing, there's no way unions will survive if they don't improve their image. It's really that simple.
So back to the inflatable rat image. Suppose you're a parent with a 10-year-old child in the car driving past this inflatable rat. Junior asks you why they have that big scary rat by the building. Without getting technical, what are you going to say? Perhaps explain what a union is all about and the cause they're trying to support. But inevitably, that kid is going to connect the huge ugly rat with workers' unions and pretty much be totally disenchanted with the union "brand" because he made the connection between "ugly" and "unions". And for that matter-- so will many adults! This article from FastCompanymagazine claims otherwise, citing a union leader as saying that businesses go bonkers when they see that inflatable rat outside their store, but my hunch is that that's just a temporary frustration, rather than any kind of a long-term effect that might incite change.

Ok, so in sum, the point I'm trying to make here is that image is everything, and the image of unions is that of strong arming, inflatable rats, and smoke-breaks, which is not going to help recruit new members any time soon in my humble opinion. Granted, I'm not suggesting that stringing up inflatable butterflies and flying kites in front of non-union businesses will do the job of changing people's minds, but in my opinion a cleaner, friendlier, smarter image will be needed if they want to prove to the public that they're still a viable option in today's world.

"What's the deal with these inflatable rats?"

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What Happens to E-mails Sent to General Inboxes?

I'm an e-mail guy. Sometimes at work I'll want to contact a company about something that's on my mind (a question, a compliment, a criticism, etc.), but I don't want to call on my company's dime (not to mention sit on hold for 20 minutes) so I'll shoot a quick 1-minute e-mail, generally to the address listed on the token "Contact Us" page. It's convenient for me and should be convenient for the company I'm trying to reach. The theory being that we can both communicate whenever time allows.

In theory that works well... in reality, I'd say I get responses on less than 50% of the e-mails I send. And most of the responses I do get come several days later, which, in modern times, is like an eternity. In other words, that's downright shameful. Terrible way to do business.

So what happens to the e-mails I send to these general inboxes? Are they totally ignored? Are they not getting through the system? Does a magical leprechaun snatch them and hide them in his pot of e-gold? Do they get tumbled through a dryer and never come out, like a sock? What's the deal?

Any marketer worth his salt out there knows that receiving feedback is a top priority for the company. If the company has no idea what the consumer is thinking, how can the company adapt and grow? Or if the customer has a question, that's a prime time to learn how to help the customer and encourage a sale. But apparently e-mailing feedback or a question is a no-no for most companies.

If you have any thoughts on this topic, feel free to e-mail me. Perhaps I'll respond by next year or so. Using a message in a bottle.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Q: Blockbuster, Barnes & Noble, and Bears... What Do They All Have in Common?

A: None of them have kiosks set up to preview a movie.

(Okay, bears I can excuse from this marketing miss, but the others I can't.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I was at Barnes and Noble this weekend... twice actually. And while I was there I meandered into the music and DVD department.

While in this section, I stopped to preview some tracks on the various little stations with headphones, something that B&N wisely encourages since that helps give a taste of the great music out there in Melodyland.

But why not do the same for DVDs?

They should have small kiosks, like they do for the music section, but with the ability to play trailers or clips from movies that are available to purchase. It just makes sense doesn't it? Preview before you buy. Get excited about your upcoming purchase. Hit 'em while they're hot.

Same goes for Blockbuster. Though I haven't been there in ages (and not because I subscribe to Netflix, more because I just don't watch movies all that often), but whenever I went there it was a struggle trying to find a movie that I wanted to rent. Sometimes I'd forget the name of the movie I was looking for, or I'd come across one that sounded familiar but the lame description on the back didn't help, or I was looking for one with a particular actor, or I was just looking for something different that didn't necessarily jump out at me just by wandering around. A preview kiosk would have piqued my curiosity and helped me pick a movie in no time.

Maybe there's a reason for not having preview stations set up at these stores, but I can't conjure one. The trailers for movies are made to be attention-grabbing, marketing wonders. So why not sell this "sizzle" and not the "stock"?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Organic Book, How to Be A

Just got back from Barnes & Noble. Really should go there more often because I love books, but I digress.

Saw an enticing new book about living an organic lifestyle. Forgot the name and couldn't find it on because there are so many other books on the subject, but if I come across it again, I'll update this blog accordingly. But I digress.

The book caught my eye because it was colorful and solid, a coffee table book with actual interesting information like how to grow an apple tree and cooking organic meals. Bold pictures, engaging topics.

I turned to the back cover to check the price. $25. And what do I see under the price, in large capital letters?


So you're telling me that a beautifully printed book with a plethora of tid-bits on how to live an organic lifestyle (presumably to make life better for the reader, and subsequently live off the earth more efficiently), but you're going to have the book printed in China?

Ponder this for a moment.

Here's a brief background of what probably went into the production of this book:
  1. Trees chopped in either USA, Canada, or Brazil, most likely, since China is rapidly becoming scarce on natural resources like, say, trees.
  2. Chopped trees shipped to China for processing to turn into paper.
  3. Ink-- well, quite frankly I don't know where ink comes from, but you can fill in the blanks about where it may have originated.
  4. Books printed in China, packaged in materials shipped from USA.
  5. Books shipped back to USA for selling.
Think about the "un-organic" nature of this process. And think about the organic nature of the book's contents. It's easy to say you're "green" or "organic" or "environmentally sound", but apparently not so easy to perfect in real life.

Just a suggestion... if you're going to print a book about being organic, don't digress. Go all the way and make it an organic book too.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Power of "Different"

On an average warm day in public, you would likely find me wearing a solid-colored, short-sleeved, collared, polo shirt, a la the photo at right. Pretty standard, really, as Dr. Evil would say.

Well Saturday afternoon I wore my Team USA soccer jersey that dates back to about 1996 or so. I was out getting gas, and whilst I was squeegeeing my windows, a gentleman approaches me and asks if I had any affiliation with the US soccer team.

This question caught me offguard, to say the least.

"Nope, I'm just a fan!" I replied.

"Oh ok, it's just that I don't see too many people wearing Team USA shirts."

"I know, it's pretty unfortunate isn't it?!" I said. "Are you a big fan?"

"Yes I am," he said. And then this is where I realized the power of being different: "My son-in-law played for the team back in the early 90's"

Wow! That's pretty cool, isn't it? Here's a guy with a connection to a big-time soccer player and I would have never known it if I didn't wear this jersey out in public. Had he and I more time to chat, perhaps it could have lead to something really interesting. But regardless, this chance encounter reminded me how important it is to be different, even just a little bit, in order to make life interesting. In marketing, being different can mean being noticed, and remembered. In life, being different can mean being noticed, and advancing your life in some way.

Just something a little different to think about...