Friday, August 31, 2007

Goodness is its own e-Reward

I am a member of something called e-Rewards. I'm actually not quite sure what it is and how it works, but it's all tied in with frequent flyer programs - you eat in a restaurant that belongs to the program and you accrue miles. While I am a frequent beneficiary of frequent flyer programs, I actually don't need to pay that much attention to them. My husband and one of his friends are frequent flyer savants, and make it part - sometimes it seems like all - of their life's work to figure out what to sign up for that yields up frequent flyer miles without ever having to actually buy a plane ticket.

In any case, a by-product of membership is being asked to participate in marketing surveys. There has been a whole flurry of requests in the last few weeks, but I haven't bitten on any of them.

That's because the marketing incentives just don't appeal to me.

Here's one that tells me that, if I spend 20 minutes filling in the survey, I'll receive $7.50 in e-Rewards Currency. This "currency" can be cashed in, at the lower levels of $5 - $10, for stuff like a free subscription to Stuff magazine. Just when I'm trying to figure out how to unstuff my life...No thanks.

If you rack up $50 in currency you can cash in for 1,000 miles, which is at least something, but that means taking lots of these surveys. 

 But, let's face it, $7.50 for 15 minutes work really isn't that much of an incentive - especially in this day and age, when every online survey providers info about you that goes directly to the data miners and micro-marketers so that they can use it to specifically target you.

Another one of the e-Rewards surveys offered $3.00 for a 15 minute survey. And one offered $2.00 for 10 minutes. If I wasn't willing to "work" for $30.00 an hour, I'm sure as hell not willing to work for $12.00.

How about 500 miles - now you might be talking. I wouldn't bother to sit down and compute how much it was costing me to accumulate these miles vs. buying miles from the airline. I'd just go and complete the survey.

But that's not on the table.

There's also a kicker, which gives me even greater pause. e-Rewards offers something called "partial credit", in which you get $.50:

...if your survey answers do not meet the criteria to fully qualify for the study OR if the predetermined number of participants has been reached.

They don't specify just what those criteria are, but if it's something along the lines of you really don't use much of whatever product or service the survey is on behalf of, please have pre-qualifying question right up front that will let me know I'm only worth $.50.

Worse, why even let someone start the survey "if the predetermined number of participants has been reached." Sure, this could happen intra-survey if a whole bunch of people responded at once, but if that happens, surely you can either let folks know before they waste the full 20 minutes on the survey - or give them the damned $7.50. (If I don't want to work for $22.50 an hour, I'm sure not willing to work for $1.50 an hour, which is just about what I made working in a combat boot factory polishing shoes a zillion years ago. That was before I got promoted to the office and got a raise to $1.70 and hour.)

"We value your time," is what the e-Rewards folks say at the start of their surveys.

Well, no you don't.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Administrative Note

I just turned off anonymous commenting; some moron is going wild this morning with comment spam of a particular dumb sort, some kind of chain letter like scheme. So now you have to have a Blogger account to comment. Sorry - I'm going to restore the old settings in a day when hopefully this person has gone away or been hit by a truck or something.

Kids, this is why we can't have nice things in the house!

Blogs are Dead! Long Live the Blog!

Did you hear? Blogs are dead. They've over. Everyone's Twittering and Powncing and Facebooking, and blogs are history.

Well, unless you live in reality, that is. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you haven't been following the discussion among the Web 2.0/social media gurus, who lately have been mostly showing us that they are disconnected from the realities of actual people running actual businesses that sell products and services that people pay actual money for.

Basically, a bunch of potentially interesting tools have come along, and the perpetually-distracted gurus have moved onto the next thing. Twitter is now a format for "microblogging," which seems to be a polite way of saying "reducing your blogging to 140-character burps, thus eliminating that pesky insight, personal voice, or need to think very hard."

OK, OK, I'm being hard on Twitter, which I actually use, and find entertaining and - every now and then - useful. However, what I've noticed about bloggers who've started Twittering more than blogging is that they have, in general, become far less insightful or interesting. (In general. There are always exceptions.) Lack of focus and unwillingness to share critical thinking - which generally cannot be done in 140 characters - do that.

And for marketers, of course, there's the little issue that most of the people you want to talk to probably not only don't use Twitter, they probably have never heard of it. Does that mean you should ignore Twitter? Of course not. It means that you should keep a little perspective.

Anyway, BL Ochman over at MarketingProfs has a nice, succinct (but too big for Twitter!) summary of why the discussion of the death of blogging is, to put it as kindly as I can, dumb as rocks. I've seen the same things she has in my work: the bleeding edge, reading TechCrunch on their iPhones while twittering about their breakfast crowd may be tired of blogging, but the business world is just getting going. (And guess who pays a consultant's bills?)

Check it out, and if you get drawn into one of those tedious discussions about the relative benefits of Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce, keep it in mind.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Another quarter heard from

If there's one thing about marketing that seems to be universal, it's that everybody - but everybody - thinks they can do your job. And probably do it better.

Sales guy. Techie. HR. Cleaning people.

I'm not talking about a little second guessing here.

Let's face it. Most of us second guess and armchair quarterback all the time.

Sales guy flub a sale? I think he should have pitched it this way....

HR just announce the new benefits? I wish they'd included mental health days....

Cleaning people just roll their trash cart through? I wish they wouldn't just throw the recycle into the general trash in front of me...

New product release? You call that ease of use....

But even when we're second guessing, most of us aren't presumptuous enough to think that we could actually do someone else's job better.  I mean, I don't really have an opinion on whether the techies or the cleaning people should use Ajax or Dutch Cleanser. That's their province.

Plus, even when we have an opinion about how someone's doing their job - and could be doing it better IMHO - we don't tend to feel the need to continually express it.

So could somebody please tell me why, when it comes to marketing, so many "outsiders" seem to feel that they can do a better job at selecting the font, color, message, ad, polo shirt, brochure copy, stock photo, trade show booth, logo, give-away, product name, or whatever it is that marketing has chosen. And that none of them seems to have any reluctance whatsoever to tell you so?

Is it because marketing people deal in the realm where everyone has experience? We are, after all, used to expressing things like color preference; we're used to criticizing the ads we see on TV; we can all read.

If I can say I like the blue shirt better than the red shirt, why can't I say that the logo should be purple? If I just got done picking the wedding photos that will become part of posterity, how come I can't weigh in on the pictures you're using in the brochure?

Maybe I'm just being sensitive here because I'm in marketing.

And I am a person who is genuinely interested in hearing people's feedback. A lot of times, the end product that goes through the crucible of a lot of different opinions will actually come out better.

But sometimes I just want to scream, "Trust me. I'm the professional here."

How about you?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Scoble: Twitter Needs Spam

In a piece in Fast Company, Robert Scoble says that Twitter is great, but wishes that it could be a source of spam:

Sales and marketing are lagging in seeing the potential here. When I used all these services to tell the world that my wife and I were expecting a child in September, I anticipated hearing from the world's largest consumer-products companies begging me to try their latest diapers, food, car seats, and financial instruments. What came back? Nothing. Where was Procter & Gamble? Given what it and other companies spend acquiring new customers, there's an untapped gold mine in Twitter and Facebook because we're volunteering so much information about what we're doing right now, whether it's working on a project or eating a chicken-salad sandwich. Learning how to tap it correctly--both to sell to me directly and in seeing major trends in the millions of daily public posts--will be the next major challenge for these companies.

I had to read that one twice. Scoble is complaining that when he used Twitter to share information about his personal life, Proctor & Gamble and its peers weren't lurking in the background to spam him with offers for relevant products.

What's really funny is that he then goes on to talk about how things like Twitter will become crucial business communications tools. Because really, nothing drives adoption of a tool like having it used to bombard you with unsolicited sales pitches. I'm sure that lots of Twitter users are looking at their tweets and sighing disconsolately, wishing that someone would try to sell them a new cola.

Welcome to the dangers of losing the ability to think critically about technology, something all too common among the Web 2.0 gurus. Ironically, it's something that Twitter encourages; I suspect that trying to copmress all those thoughts into 140-character burps has an effect on the through process itself. At its best, it might make people be concise; but follow some of these Twitter feeds and you find that it's more likely to stunt thinking.

Especially when it comes to Twitter itself, which is a mildly entertaining distraction that undoubtedly has some social networking uses. But if you are interested in the potential of things like this, pray that the marketing folks at P&G aren't reading this stuff, or we'll see the onset of Twitter spam that will kill whatever potential is there in its infancy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

When is a rodent not a rodent?

Well, I wouldn't want to be any number of Boston restaurants after this Sunday's Boston Globe wrote up a number of upscale restaurants for their health code violations. I suspect that  Boston's restaurant-world marketing and PR people will be busy over the next couple of days figuring out just how to position this news.

Fortunately for them, it's a summer weekend and I'm guessing a lot of upscale diners are out of town.

Still, news like this doesn't creep in on little cat feet, it scampers around on little mice paws, and I'm sure that people who go for pizza on Todd English's Figs on Beacon Hill will be casting sidelong glances at the next tables not to see what they're having, but to check out whether there's a mouse nibbling on the left over crust. If I went in for gussied up pizza - think figs and prosciutto - Figs would be my neighborhood pizzeria. Mostly I like pizza-pizza, so I get my pizza at Upper Crust.

Upper Crust is not as pricey or chi-chi as Figs, but it's not without it's own uppercrustiness. They prominently display the page in Jack Welch's book in which he praises the UC pizza as "to die for." I don't always agree with Jack, but he's right about the UC pizza.

(Note to self: just in case you do go to Figs, don't order anything with capers.)

But Figs wasn't the only restaurant with rodents.

Bringing us to the Union Oyster House. Or, as it is sometimes called, Ye Olde Union Oyster House, which was cited several times for "rodent droppings."

Interestingly, the reports seemed to say "remove evidence of rodent droppings", rather than "get rid of rodents," which would, I'm thinking, be more to the point. And it wasn't just the inspectors who were seeing rodents: patrons were phoning City Hall to complain about rodent sightings.

I was certainly not surprised to hear about Ye Olde UOH.

It is, after all, right around the corner from Haymarket, home to some of Boston's food wholesalers and site of the Saturday market free-for-all, which some folks swear by but which I always swear at - swearing that those mold-covered strawberries looked perfectly fresh when I'd bought them an hour ago. 

Walk through that area on a Saturday night after the market has closed and step lively. They literally come in with bulldozers to clear up the rotting produce that gets left behind. And mice? Hah! We're talking rats.

But this is a city, and rats are certainly an outdoor hazard at minimum.

And sometimes an indoor hazard.

Years ago, I worked one summer as a waitress at Ye Olde (whe, I will concede, it was under prior ownership). This was during a time when the place was, indeed, rat infested. Some evenings, when we were cleaning up, the rats would come scampering out. When that happened, we were allowed to go home and clean up in the morning. But who wanted to face clean up in the morning? So we hurled big heavy spoons at the rat holes and that would keep them at bay until we were finished. Occasionally, there were rats in the dining room while patrons were still dining. If you screamed when you saw a rat, you would be fired. So we learned not to scream.

One day, the dish boy found a drowned rat stopping up a sink. Great hilarity followed in the kitchen.

(If you ever come in out of the rain and someone tells you that you look like a drowned rat, I can assure you that you look really and truly dreadful.)

That was over 30 years ago. I can't imagine that they have rats now.

Although they do apparently have something rodent-y.

But when the owner was asked about "the rodent issue", he said:

"I take objection to the word 'rodent.' It's mice droppings." And mice, he said, "are in the same family as squirrels."

So that's the answer to the question "when is a rodent not a rodent?"

It's when it's a mouse. Or a squirrel.

I understand that the owner was really trying to differentiate "mice" rodents from "rat" rodents. Who wouldn't rather deal with a tiny little mouse than a big dirty rat?

But for the life of me, I can't imagine that he would believe that people would be any happier with "squirrel droppings" in a restaurant.

And they say marketing people like to spin!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Obfuscation. Delivered.

I realize that picking on AT&T is easy, but the company regularly manages to reach new heights of terrible service that betray its general attitude toward its customers, which is more or less like that of a parasite to its host.

Consumerist has an interesting piece of the $10/month DSL plan that AT&T is required to offer under the terms of an agreement with the FTC. They are "offering" it in the sense that it exists as a hypothetical service. However, they seem to making it impossible to actually sign up for it, and if you have trouble on the web site - as everyone in the comments seems to - don't call them or email them; they won't talk to you.

From a legal perspective, I think AT&T is just begging for a class action lawsuit from an aggressive AG in one of states where they do business, because this is starting to smell of fraud.

From a marketing perspective, it's even worse; who wants to do business with a company like this? (I do; they're our local telecom, so I have a bare-bones land line from them, mainly for my house's alarm system and for dire times like hurricane season; I also have a mobile phone from them. Cingular always gave me good service, but I am afraid that the AT&T virus will now infect them.)

If you treat your customers like you hate them, like you can lie to them and charge them extra for no reason, they will find options: VoIP services, cable internet, and so on. They won't be so eager to buy your new digital TV service or your cell phones. And when you keep misrepresenting yourself and failing to live up to agreements with the federal government, sooner or later that will come back and bite you.

I'm old enough to remember the breakup of the old AT&T. Now that the company has become so large and powerful and, at the same time, abusive, the logic of that breakup is starting to resonate again.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Taking Stock of Stock Photos

Like most marketers, I've used stock photo  or stock art in ads, brochures, and web sites. Especially these days, it's really inexpensive and a lot of it is really good. Unless you have an idea that is so particular - or so far out - you can likely find some stock photo to support it.

Of course, you also run the risk that the same stock will show up somewhere else, unless you buy perpetual and permanent rights to it. Even if you think, hope, and pray that you're the only one in your industry that's using it, these days there's no escaping the fact that someone might run into "your stuff" somewhere else.

Thus, we see the same pensive looking young professionals leaning over the computer in an ad for financial services and on a web site for a consulting firm. And if I see those spectacles resting on the pile of dollar bills one more time....

But for the most part, stock photos work.

Which is not to say that they work in all cases.

And one of the cases in which stock photo will decidedly not work is when you use it where someone might reasonably expect to find the pictures of people who actually work in your company.

Shots of the company picnic should actually be taken at the company picnic. Head shots should obviously be the shots of your executives' real heads. And any overall photo used on your management page should be of your management team - or something that looks undisputedly managerial.

I can think of two humorous instances when this was not the case.

One was pointed out to me a while back by fellow Opinionated Marketer John Whiteside, who showed me a site in which the picture on the management bio page was of an empty conference room. Maybe they were trying to get across that their management team is about action, not meetings; about external, not internal. Whatever they intended, it just came across as weird. A few steps up from showing empty suits on hangers, but still weird.

My favorite use of stock photo, however, was something I saw years ago on a web site.

From the names of the members of the management team, it was relatively easy to conclude that in all likelihood the members of the management team were men. And it was easy to conclude with nearly the same certainty that these men were all white.

Yes, anything is possible. (A few years back, the beat cop in our neighborhood had a name like Brian O'Riley, and he was African American.) But in the case of this web site, a reasonable person would have concluded from the first names, ethnicity and bios of the management team members that they were, in fact, all white males.

So what did a company with a management team with names that were not that far off from Nikita Khrushchev, Vladimir Lenin, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Leonid Brezhnev, and who'd all pretty much graduated from Moscow Tech, use for their team photo?

A very nice assemblage that included an Asian woman, a black man, a man who appeared to be South Asian, a white woman, and two white men. Even the number count was off. Not to mention the average age, which was shaved by a good twenty years.

The bottom line: most stock photo is just fine. But if you're going to use pictures of real people to represent your real people, you might want to make sure that they bear at least some resemblance.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Look at Our Ads... or Else!

Mary Schmidt wrote about one of the more butt-stupid things to turn up lately online - a web site that blocks Firefox users because some of them (not many, I'm guessing) use a plug-in to block ads from appearing.

They say that they are being robbed, and since a small number of Firefox users aren't viewing the ads, all Firefox users are blocked.

This is extreme, but it's a story that's been going on for a long time in online advertising. People started blocking and ignoring pop-up ads (because they're annoying) so sites came up with new interstitial formats that get past the blocking software. When someone figures out how to block those, somebody else comes up with another new format.

The question that doesn't get asked is, "Is it a good business practice to spend all this time creating content that users hate and figuring out how to keep them from avoiding it?"

Meanwhile, people flock to YouTube to watch product ads because they're entertaining, people set up fan sites for brands they love, and generally show an amazing eagerness to consume advertising - when they get it the way they want it, and they enjoy it.

The Firefox blockers are a bit like spammers who say, "Okay, 'viagra' triggers the spam filter, so now we'll write "v1agra!'" Only stupider, because they are then announcing to the world that their desire to annoy people who don't want to be annoyed makes them the heroes of the tale.

I don't know what the original web site is that Firefox users aren't allowed to see, but my guess is that nobody cares anyway. After a mention on Slashdot, the "Die, Firefox user, die!" page is probably the most popular bit of content they've got.

Here's a clue for marketers who want to be effective: create content that people find useful, interesting, entertaining, or otherwise desirable. Give people tools to create their own content. Talk to people, don't try to pry their eyeballs open and force them to pay attention. It's amazing what engaging people instead of browbeating them can accomplish.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Everything's up to date in Marketing City

I'm sure we've all had one conversation or another with just about all of our customers about how, why, and when to use the Web for marketing. It doesn't really matter much whether the customer is a Web 2.0 wunderkind or the online store for Luddite Beach Plum Jams, the questions come up: email vs. snailmail; to blog or not to blog; embrace wiki or ignore wiki.

All this is on my mind these days because I'm currently involved in a couple of market research projects, so I'm snooping around the Web even more than usual, which is plenty enough to begin with.

In gathering info on a potential partner for a customer, I saw that they had some wiki thang going. Wicked good, I thought as I clicked through to it.

Wicked nothing when I got there: a lame, one-paragraph overview on the company of interest, written by their CTO, with a hyperlink to their main product that yielded NOTHING: a nearly blank page with a message saying something along the lines of "wouldn't it be nice is someone actually put some product information here."

But most of my problems are with some of the company blogs I'm finding.

'This looks promising,' I tell myself, only to find I'm on the receiving end of ancient information, or an action-packed blog with two entries: the last one updated 18 months ago.

And, by the way, I'm not talking about Luddite Jams here. The companies I'm looking at for my market research projects are largely B2B technology vendors.

In all these cases, the intentions were so right: we're going to take advantage of the Web, and demonstrate to the world that we're a hip happening company with a grasp on where things are headin'.

In all these cases, the executions were so wrong: a little flurry of get-something-out-there, then nothing. The dreaded thud factor kicking in!

So, if you're a small, B2B tech company, and you want to get something going, here's my advice.

  • First things first: figure out whether you have enough to say that's of interest to anyone to begin with - and anyone on board to say it. (Nothing to say and no one to say it? Phew, you're off the hook.)
  • If you're not sure, you might want to start out as a commenter, visiting blogs of interest and adding to whatever debate is going on with relevant and intelligent comments. (This will give you the added benefit of coming up with ideas on things to write about. And when you do cite someone else's posts, as often as not, they'll start reading your blog, too.)
  • Or start out as an "amateur" (i.e., not as part of your company's web site) to see if you have what it takes to post regularly on the topic at hand. (You can always transfer the good stuff over to corporate.)
  • If you do decide to blog "for real", keep a running supply of at least a couple of weeks worth of material (a couple of months if you only plan on posting weekly). You'd be surprised how quickly the due date comes around. Freshen your supply regularly. 

If you do end up making a false start at blogging, get rid of it. There's nothing worse than finding a stale blog out there - it's definitely not the image you want your B2B tech company to convey. Instead, take what content you do have and shape it into a viewpoint piece. Or find a publication (or blog) in your industry that can use the material.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Good Explanations

When much-loved IP telephony service Skype had a major outage, users wanted to know why. Their explanation sounded pretty weak:

The widespread failure of Skype’s Internet telephony service last week happened when millions of Windows users tried to log in to the system at the same time, after downloading a software update from Microsoft and rebooting their machines, Skype said Monday.

Users encountered problems logging on to Skype’s VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service early Thursday morning, leaving them unable to connect until Saturday.

Skype said that the load placed on its system as computers rebooted after receiving a routine set of patches from Microsoft’s Windows Update service revealed a previously unknown bug in the Skype software.

So everything crashed because everyone rebooted and tried to log on. (Yes, there's more to it than that... but the problem speaks to some basic capabilities of Skype's network.)

Whether it's smart or not, a lot of people have come to depend on Skype; this isn't exactly a confidence builder. (And I can't help but wonder if Skype's software didn't have the obnoxious default of logging in when you start your computer if they might not have had this problem.)

And so people aren't buying it:

Microsoft releases its security patches on the second Tuesday of each month, so this type of widespread restarting is nothing new. Skype hasn't said what in particular about August's updates led to the network crash, and its vagueness on the issue is causing some Skype users to cry foul.

"What was different this time from previous [Microsoft] updates?" asked Jim Courtney, a business consultant based in Mississauga, Ontario, and a contributor to the Skype Journal Web site.

Skype business partners want to know what went wrong and, more importantly, what steps the company has taken to ensure the problem won't happen again. "They've got to explain what they've done to increase the peer-to-peer network resources ... and they haven't done that," Courtney said.

Andrew Hansen, whose company designs software to work on the Skype network, said he's scratching his head over Skype's explanation of the problem. "What was released by their PR agency doesn't make any sense at all," he said.

When things go terribly wrong, as they did for Skype, a company has to be very open - particularly with business partners. It sounds like these partners just getting the same press releases as everyone else; is it any wonder that, with their own businesses riding on Skype's ability to provide its service properly, that they're not too happy about what they're hearing?

Sounds like Skype needs some crisis communications help.

Monday, August 20, 2007

BofA's (Green) Monster of an Ad Campaign

I got to be a Bank of America customer the easy way. They came to me, by way of Bay Banks, which was gobbled up by Bank of Boston, which was swallowed by Fleet, which was - what's left? eaten alive - by BofA.

Their service, by the way, has been fine, and I do appreciate the ubiquity of their cash machines. (Which is why I got to be a Bay Banks customer to begin with.)

What BofA does do that's particularly wonderful is run a series of billboard ads that can be seen as you hurtle down the Mass Pike heading into Boston.

The billboard looks like the Green Monster scoreboard at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play.

In these parts, the Green Monster (a.k.a., The Monster) is - to give it it's proper due - iconic. Its scoreboard is certainly one of the last in the major leagues that's updated manually, by a couple of guys who sit in a room behind The Monster. When they update the MLB scores (as opposed to the inning-by-inning for the Sox, which is an inside job), they come out on the warning track between innings and use a step stool to post the numbers. All very quirky, and part of the charm of Fenway. (Last season, there was a bit of hilarity when our eccentric left-fielder, Manny Ramirez, opened the door to the scoreboard area and went in and visited the guys working there during a break in the action. I went to Friday afternoon's game, and Manny was at it again.)

BofA changes the message on the Green Monster billboard every couple of weeks to reflect what's happening in Red Sox Nation: the arrival of new pitcher Dice-K Matsusaka, the start of spring training, Opening Day, etc. They spell out their message across the scoreboard, just where the inning-by- inning numbers would appear on the real thing.

I wish I'd been taking better note of these ads, but, since I only see them when I'm flying by at 65 (OK, 70) m.p.h., I haven't. I think that around Opening Day, the message was "The boys are back." For the All Star Game, the message was "5 All Stars." (When I first wrote this, I hoped I had gotten it right, going from memory: Manny, Papi, Beckett, Pap, and Okajima. The great thing about sports: you can look it up. I did. I wasn't right. It was "6 All Stars." I forgot Mike Lowell. Sorry, Mike. How could I have forgotten Mikey Twobags, which is what we've been calling him since he clobbers a lot of doubles?)

Anyway, the billboard messages are clever and fun. They help dispel the fear that BofA - which bought out the last standing major bank in New England - was going to impose a bland. homogenized corporate-ness on doing business here. Instead, BofA is playing this one exceedingly well, tapping into the hold that the Red Sox have on the area in a very entertaining way.

I read somewhere that this ad campaign has won an award, and it certainly deserves one. The copywriters so completely get Boston and the Red Sox, I'd be amazed to find out that they hailed from anyplace else. And what a fun job writing these ads must be.

If anyone knows where there's a link to the full series, Red Sox fans will certainly get a kick out of them. And if there's something similar in any other city, that would be of interest, too. (And my apologies to the blogger from whom I grabbed this picture of the billboard. I carelessly did not make note of where the credit should go.)


Of course, if BofA really wants to get into the swing of things, they'll start channeling the true feelings of Red Sox Nation, which right about now are not all that positive.

The Olde Towne Team has, after all, gone from a 13.5 game lead in the AL East to a measly and tenuous 4 game lead (as of Sunday August 19) over The Evil Empire (a.k.a., the Yankees).

Yes, "we" are still as of this writing enjoying the best W-L record in the majors but, the Red Sox being the Red Sox, and The Nation being The Nation, "we" are starting to panic - not so much at the thought of not making it into October as at the thought that the Yankees will be there and the Sox won't be. (Last year, for all intents and purposes, "our" World Series was watching the Tigers croak the Yankees.)

So if BofA were truly attuned, the signs would be reading:


Sweet Caroline, the joys of being a Red Sox fan.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Powerless in the Face of PowerPoint?

We love to hate PowerPoint, as Abhay Padgaonkar observes over at MarketingProfs. But is it PowerPoint, or just people using it badly? Does PowerPoint deserve more ire than, say, Word (used to create unreadable documents) or Excel (used to create meaningless spreadsheets)?

Padgaonkar says:

Remember, PowerPoint is simply a means to an end. It is only a visual aid. Don't hide behind it and don't let it overshadow the protagonist—the speaker.

Indeed. The article includes some good tips on using PowerPoint, but there's just one overarching point I'd make: the PowerPoint presentation should be the last thing you do. You should have thought things through, written your supporting documents, and crunched your numbers before you use PowerPoint to create visual aids that will help you tell the story.

PowerPoint won't tell the story itself, unless the story is so simplistic and dull that nobody should be wasting their time sitting in front of you to hear it. And this is why I think PowerPoint, the program, does deserve its bad reputation.

The idea of it is fine: a tool for creating slides and showing them to people. The problem is that Microsoft, in its usual fashion, then tarted it up with templates and formatting and tools that are supposed to help you create the content. And they are horrible, because they are designed to make you stupid about your content.

I once had a boss who did kick-ass presentations with PowerPoint. Of course, his slides usually consisted of a headline or a few words and images that illustrated his point. Without him speaking, they would be meaningless. With him speaking, they made you remember what he was saying and pick out the key points of his presentation.

To make PowerPoint a useful program, I recommend deleting every template that comes with it. When you are ready to work on your presentation, take out a piece of paper and pen and start sketching what you'd like it to be. Only when you have some ideas down should you fire up PowerPoint and get to work.

Otherwise, PowerPoint will be doing the thinking for you. And you know what? It's not nearly as smart as you are.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Midwest Nice: more to say about customer service

A while back, I posted on the unbelievably excellent customer service provided by CDW of Vernon, Illinois, when I placed an on-line order for a privacy filter for my laptop. (I actually don't particularly want or need a privacy filter, but I did want and need something that would cut the brighter-than-a-thousand-suns glare emanating from my screen.)

Privacy filter arrived on time, and it is pretty much doing the glare-reducing trick.

One small problems: the little plastic sticky-backed tabs that hold it in place seem to come loose and fall off - not enough to make the filter useless, just enough to make things annoying.

I decided that I needed a supply of the sticky tabs, so I sent an e-mail to the generic customer support account at CDW asking whether they supplied them.

I have to report that I did not receive a return e-mail.

No, what I got instead was a return phone call, from one Robert Nixon, who was the customer support rep who had followed up with me on my original order.

Robert gave me the disappointing news that they did not carry extra sticky tabs, but gave me a number at 3M to call.

Which I did.

Where I got another Midwest-nice Robert (Bob sorry-but-I-don't-know-his-last-name), this one from Minnesota, not Illinois, on the line.

3M Bob has sent me a new set of tabs, which I now know are called tab mounts or slide mounts. (I think mine are slide mounts.)  He has also sent me a business reply card that asks for feedback on the mounts, which is addressed to another real person at 3M, Linda T.

What's not to like about this level of customer service?

Here I am, a small CDW customer, who has placed one small order in my entire time as a CDW customer. Yet they have not only provided me with excellent customer service, they have even provided me with excellent customer service from the same fellow. (Again, I'm assuming that Robert Nixon is an actual person and not, as I speculated in my prior post, the Betty Crocker of CDW.)

Kudos to Robert Nixon, customer service rep extraordinaire.

Kudos to Bob 3M, another customer service rep extraordinaire.

Midwest nice? Really good business practice? A little - make that a lot - of both?

Anyway, when we read about companies shedding their non-profitable customers, and/or treating all their customers shabbily, it is entirely refreshing to have had this experience with both CDW and 3M.

Next time I need something tech-y, I will certainly check out CDW (and see if there's a 3M product to fit the bill). Until then, I will make repeat visits to Staples to pick up 3M Post-It notes in all available colors.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fill Up That Feed, Please

I've always found partial RSS feeds - the ones where you get a teaser of the beginning of an article, but not the full text - really annoying. I read all my feeds (blogs, news feeds, etc.) in Google Reader, and being forced to navigate elsewhere just annoys me. Most often, I scan the beginning and if it's not really captivating, that's the end of it. Maybe I'm missing some good stuff, but I decided that if the blogger or provider doesn't think it's worth putting in their feed, it's unlikely to be worth my time. It's a busy world. There are lots of other things I can be doing besides chasing down your content, folks.

At the same time, I understood the thinking behind partial feeds - get people to the main site so that they will see the ads and you can collect money.

So this item suggesting that full feeds lead to more page views is really interesting:

However, in our experience, full text feeds actually does lead to more page views, though understanding why is a little more involved. Full text feeds makes the reading process much easier. It means it's that much more likely that someone reads the full piece and actually understands what's being said -- which makes it much, much, much more likely that they'll then forward it on to someone else, or blog about it themselves, or post it to Digg or Reddit or Slashdot or Fark or any other such thing -- and that generates more traffic and interest and page views from new readers, who we hope subscribe to the RSS feed and become regular readers as well. The whole idea is that by making it easier and easier for anyone to read and fully grasp our content, the more likely they are to spread it via word of mouth, and that tends to lead to much greater adoption than by limiting what we give to our readers and begging them to come to our site if they want to read more than a sentence or two.

Imagine that - if you give people the content in a way that suits them, they're more likely to read it, share it, and talk about it. This Web 2.0 is tricky!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Little Touches that Kick Ass

Just two happy customer service stories.

Number one: it's indoor season in Houston. This may be hard for those of you who don't live in hot, muggy, swampy places to relate to, but August is the time of year when Houstonians spend lots of time inside. It's not like the happy days of November or February, when we can don our shorts and run around outside. It was about 100 here yesterday, air thick as pea soup, and so we stay inside. And we don't open our windows. (In my neighborhood of historic bungalows, there was apparently a craze to seal your house shut years ago: there is exactly one window in my house that can be opened. That's one more than my partner has in his. I've seen real estate sheets that breathily exclaim that "the windows open!" as a special feature for older houses.)

And so it gets stale inside. And so I like candles. Soy candles, specifically. They don't throw so much crap into the air. They make it smell nicer inside, until summer ends and I can throw open my window, or open the doors, and let fresh air in.

I had heard several people mention these folks, so I ordered a couple of candles. And then I got an email from the owner telling me that he was so happy to get my order, and when they were going to make my candles, and when they'd ship them.

Totally personal, totally nice. I loved it. No, most businesses can't do this. But they can - so they do.

Number two: Apple. A while back I bought some music on iTunes using their "complete your album" feature. (If you have two tracks from an album you can quickly get the rest of it.)

Out of the blue I got an email telling me that they'd messed up and charged me 1 cent too much per song. I never noticed. To make it up to me, they sent me a $10 gift certificate to the iTunes store.

Now, they probably overcharged me by less than a buck. But to make sure I didn't get upset, they gave me $10 of music.

And I didn't even have to catch their error. (I never would have, honestly.)

That kicks ass. Is it any wonder their customers are so loyal?

Force fed: on acquiring a new cell phone

I didn't want a new cell phone. I was, after all, perfectly happy with the old one.

Well, maybe not perfectly happy, but happy enough.

But it wasn't holding its charge for all that long, so I trekked in to the Verizon Wireless store to get the battery replaced.

As it turns out, I am a victim of built-in obsolescence.

You'd have think I'd walked in with a 10 pound, Bakelite rotary dial phone trailing a cloth-bound cord the way they looked at me. Replacement battery for that relic? You must be kidding?

Of course, I'd gotten that relic just a couple of years ago to replace the other obsolescent relic I'd been perfectly happy using.

So now I'm the owner of a sleek new phone that, while sleek and new to me, is no doubt on the lower end of the Verizon phone spectrum, and will no doubt be obsolete within the next year or two. (Speaking of a year or two, I think I had to extend my service contract out two years to get the money back on the replacement phone.)

Naturally, it has all kinds of crapola that can be done with it that I do not care about. (Although maybe this time I will break down and figure out how to take a picture, if not a video.)

Forget about the crapola I'm not interested in. I now have to learn an entirely new set of tricks for sending-receiving-muting. I now have to spend time picking a new ring tone and figuring out my wallpaper.

But all this time spent on learning my new phone. Time I would rather spend doing just about anything else: pumicing the dry skin on my heels, cleaning underneath the fridge, staring off into space and imagining how blissful it would be to be completely disconnected for an hour or so...

Of course, I do have to admit the phone itself is cooler. That the interface is nice. That they really are doing good things with the form factor. Maybe I will end up downloading Tetris and turning the damned thing into a juke-box.

Meanwhile, I gave them my old phone and charger, since they told me that they do something or other with them. I'm envisioning that it will go to some deserving soul in the Third World who won't mind how clunky and out of date the phone is. If they're just going to throw it on the slag heap in some cell-phone elephants' graveyard, I don't want to know about it.

I must away...have to go listen to all those new ring tones I get to pick from.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Everything's Gone Green

There's nothing inherently wrong with green marketing - if your product or service helps the environment, why not talk about it.

Some things are a stretch, though, like this email I received from my fax-to-email provider:

Smartfax promotes a no-paper communications network. By lessening the use of paper in all offices, Smartfax helps in the preservation of one of the world’s most used resources – trees. Around 210 billion sheets of fax paper a year are used by companies in the USA alone. That makes our environment 17 million trees poorer each year.*

Aside from helping in the preservation of our trees, energy conservation is also an objective worth attaining. By sending/receiving faxes directly from your computer, Smartfax not only removes the paper requirement, but also saves electricity by leaving out the use of fax machines. Fax machines require constant power as they have to be powered-on all the time while waiting for fax transmissions.

We would like to send our gratitude to everybody who supports Smartfax. Just by choosing and using Smartfax as a paperless fax solution, you are contributing to the preservation of our natural resources.

And then there's information on a customer referral program.

Now, it's true that it's a good thing when faxes don't get printed on paper which is then often thrown out. I try to minimize the paper in my life - though that's more because I'd rather not have physical stuff floating around.

But as I read the email, I thought, "I wonder what a thorough analysis that takes into account the energy used by their server farm, the plastic and metal and toxic stuff from those machines that will end up in landfills, and so on would actually show."

Don't get me wrong; I think that fax-to-email is a great thing, making an antiquated service (fax) more useful in a digital age. But green benefits? I am skeptical.

I'm also really curious how many people actually choose to use fax-to-email to save the earth, rather than for the many other benefits it offers.

Monday, August 13, 2007

P.W.S.? Puh-leeze!

I'll admit it. Having just ordered a cool aluminum bottle to carry it around in, I'm a newly baptized tap water snob.

I'm lucky. I live in New England, and our water tap water is downright excellent. So, in fact, is our most prominent brand of non-tap water, Poland Springs, which actually does spring from Poland Springs - not from the tap of someone who happens to live, say, in Poland, Maine. (A few years back, a local TV outlet ran an exposé on some of the bottled waters available locally. They traced back the source of one of them - which had a name something akin to "Vermont Pure Mountain Glen" - and found that it's headwaters were located in the bathtub in someone's three-decker flat in the Dorchester section of Boston.)

So I'm amused to see all the brouhaha over Pepsi's Aquafina, which is being pushed into changing its labels to more cleanly and crisply spell out that its mighty fina aqua comes from the tap.

They've apparently had the P.W.S. designation on the bottle for years. Now they're going to write it out for us: Public Water Source.

As reported in an article I saw on, an outfit called Corporate Accountability International:

...has been pressuring bottled water sellers to curb what it calls misleading marketing practices. The group has criticized PepsiCo over its blue Aquafina label with a mountain logo as perpetuating the misconception that the water comes from spring sources.

They're also pushing Coca-Cola/Dasani, and Nestle Pure Life to come clean as to their sources, too - apparently without much luck.

The beverage providers, of course, defend themselves by pointing out that the water they bottle up is "purified," but I'm sure they're all alarmed about all this scrutiny. Bottled water is BIG BUSINESS - the wholesale figure for 2006 is $11B.

Once people figure out that they can get equally good water from their tap, or - if they really want to purify it - equally purified  water using a Brita Filter - they'll start cutting back on all those plastic bottles.

I've cranked about this over on Pink Slip, but I'll do it again here: all those plastic bottles being shipped around, chilled in freezers, and dumped in landfill, are NOT GOOD FOR US.

Yes, sometimes it's convenient and/or necessary to buy the bottled water. But keep reminding yourself that the environment, your pocketbook, and even your own personal body, is better off drinking out of a metal bottle or a glass.

I'm glad that the bottled water folks will be putting the "public water source" info on their bottles. Maybe it will get people to think a bit more about what they're drinking, and the container they're drinking it from.

As for the complaints that Aquafina's mountain logo leads people to think they're drinking from a pure source? I'm willing to grant them marketing license. Come on now, what bottled water marketing person worth his weight in salt water is going to put a a kitchen sink or a Kohler tap on their label?


If you want to read more ranting on bottled water, here's a link to a post on Pink Slip.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Weekend Bits: Web 3.0, Social Networking, Declining Attention Spans

Some odds and ends from the "blog me" list...

1. Google's Eric Schmidt answers a relatively silly question well in this video. The question: "What's Web 3.0?" (My smart-ass answer - "a bug-fix release!") My favorite part about the question is the comment that came with it: "I'm sure Google has lots of sound bites about this." Ooh, sound bites - much more digestible than thoughtful answers! Schmidt gives a thoughtful answer anyway, albeit one that happens to point to Google as the king of Web 3.0.

2. At ZDNet Mitch Ratcliffe talks about social networks as dead ends:

The whole approach to friending, which typically grants carte blanche access to a person’s information or to a Facebook application provider, treats personal data as though it was the least valuable feature of the social environment. Instead, it is the most precious thing, something that we struggle to share selectively throughout our lives. Simple categories of access to personal information, suggested by social network providers, such as “friend,” “family” and “colleague,” will not suffice, either, because we don’t have uniform relationships with our friends, family members or coworkers.

Here’s the rule of social success: Our personal data shouldn’t become someone else’s asset. Instead, we need to be able to turn it into value for ourselves. Yes, a network provider can claim some of that value for facilitating the interaction, but not all of it.

Social networks as they are conceived today are cul-de-sacs where our personal data goes to die, returning minimal value before it becomes the property of a company or part of the public record.

Most social networking involves a lot of effort to maintain relationships with low-grade "friends" that don't really do much for you. The best social networks are those with some defined, useful purpose - for example, using LinkedIn for business networking. Whenever I'm on a site like Facebook I find myself thinking, "I hardly have time to keep up with my real-life in-the-flesh friends... what is the point of this?" And I'm just waiting for the day that one of these networks gets bought by somebody with a less privacy-oriented approach to personal data and they become major sources of technically-not-spam advertising for users.

3. In a piece in Advertising Age, Steve Rubel talks about the supposed decline of blogging, as it is replaced by "micro-blogging" media like Twitter. One of the reasons for this that he identifies is the "Attention Crash" -- we just don't have enough time to take in so much information.

Of course, things like Twitter simply use up some more of that attention and it's worth asking if we're not just substituting frequency for depth. So instead of reading a blog post from somebody like Steve telling us, "I read this article, here's what it said, and here are my thoughts on it," we get brain farts on Twitter that say "reading this now!"

Perhaps a better response to the "attention crash" is not ever-shorter bursts of information with decreasing levels of depth and thought, but tools that help us choose where to put attention to get more thoughtful information.

Or, I suppose, we could just become a society where nobody can focus on anything for more than 20 seconds.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Stupid Customer Service "Innovations"

I'm on hold right now with MacMall. Here's why: I placed an order with them. They called me while I was on another call and my account manager left a message asking me to call him about my order.

So I did, and I got a brief message saying, "I'll be right with you, I apologize," and now I'm on hold waiting for him. My guess is that he's on another call or something. 

I've been on hold eight minutes. You know, I would have been happy to leave a voicemail and get a call back; I, like him, have other things going on during my day.

I imagine somebody thought this would be a great way to avoid playing voicemail tag. Instead, I'm getting this message loud and clear from MacMall: your time is worthless. Please wait until we have time to talk to you. 

Oh, and of course, I gave them an email address when I placed the order, so why couldn't they just email me and let me know what's going on? 

Stupid, stupid, stupid. I just keep reminding myself that I'm saving a decent bit of money over ordering from the Apple Store directly. It's not making me wish I'd chosen differently, though.

(I just got a person. He was calling to make sure I downloaded the rebate forms. That's nice, but emailing them would have solved the problem. Now I'm being sent to the credit department to verify the information that I gave them  already, and to discover that despite sending me an order confirmation with the correct shipping address, they now have changed it to my credit card billing address. Jeez. What a mess and a waste of my time. I've ordered from them before without this kind of hellishness, too.)

Nordstrom's (ads) come to Boston

Better yet, Nordstrom's is coming to Boston. And I'm truly and honestly looking forward to it.

The free lance life - quite blessedly - does not require the purchase of the amount of clothing that the full-time corporate life used to. Still, once a shopper....

And if you're going to be a shopper, Nordstrom's is a pretty good place to shop.

I like Nordstrom's because they carry shoes in my width. Normally, I order shoes online. But I can go into a Nordstrom's with pretty high confidence that they will have some selection in 10 AAA.

I like Nordstrom's because the racks aren't so jammed together that you feel like you're going through the brushes at the car wash when you try to move around.

I like Nordstrom's because the service is so good - from little things like the clerk walking around the counter to hand you your shopping bag, rather than having you have to lift it down from the counter, to bigger things like taking care of emergencies and treating them like emergencies. Years ago, I traveled to Seattle with a colleague whose bag was lost. We had an afternoon call, and stopped first thing at Nordstrom's where they kitted Scott out - including some minor tailoring - in a couple of hours.

Everyone I know who shops at Nordstrom's has a similar "great service" story.

But in addition to being a Nordstrom's fan, I'm a crank. And an occasional obsessor. And an occasional literalist. And a cranky occasional obsessor literalist.

Which is why the very arty ad that I saw for the Nordstrom's that's opening soon in Natick, just outside Boston, drives me nuts.

Yes, I know it's artistic license, but the city scape depicted in the ad bears no relationship to the actual cityscape of the city of Boston.

It's got all the right elements. It's just that they're so jumbled up, they make no sense.

The buildings on the pier (i.e., the ocean waterfront) are on the Charles River.

The Zakim Bridge looks great, but just where is it supposed to be in relation to the rest of Boston.

And that thing that sort of looks like the statehouse. It also sort of looks like the Christian Science mother church. The statehouse's golden dome is, well, gold.

And what's that curvy thing. Is it supposed to be Harvard Stadium? Or is it supposed to be someplace in Natick.

The ad, by the way, is very nice to look at. Unfortunately, I am a crank, and an occasional obsessor nit-picking literalist.

The ad hurts my head.

I wish it were supposed to be of someplace other than Boston. Then it wouldn't hurt my head so much.

P.S. I'm still looking forward to Nordstrom's coming to town. I really am.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"How Ya Doin'?"

There's a nice little item on Daily Blog Tips about ways that bloggers evaluate their success, and the metrics that are available. If you've started blogging and are wondering, "How am I doing, anyway?" it's good reading.

They are, I think, overly kind to Alexa rankings, pointing out that they only count visitors with the Alexa toolbar installed (in other words - atypical users). I think anything that skewed is inherently worthless. And they mention the two metrics that I think are most useful for most bloggers: Technorati rank and number in inbound links.

Blogging is, after all, about the connections you make with other bloggers and being part of an online conversation; while it's obviously important that you have the right incoming links, a growing number of them is a good sign.

The most important point in the article, however, is this:

Each blog has its own unique goals that can’t necessarily be tracked by any particular ranking system. These measures and rankings are useful, however, especially in a number of situations that we’ll look at later in this article.

As a blogger, what are your goals? Do you want to sell products, make money on advertisements, promote and sell yourself as an expert on the subject, or do you just want to use your blog as an outlet to share your thoughts and opinions?

You don’t necessarily need a top ranked blog to meet your goals. With that in mind, don’t let ranking systems overshadow your goals.

Amen! If you're writing a blog about the latest insider buzz on clothing made from organic hemp, you are not going to be the highest ranking thing on Technorati or have a ton of readers. If you're writing that blog to promote your business of selling hemp fashionwear, that's fine; most of the people out there perusing blogs don't care about you and aren't ever going to buy from you, so the focus of your blog should not be on them.

But once you do know what you're trying to accomplish, this article gives you a nice roundup of the tools you can use to try to assess how well you're doing.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Voice Over I-Pay

No matter how hardened and secure everything is, when I'm making some sort of electronic transaction, I often wonder about whether I'm about to become a victim of ID theft.

At the ATM, I make sure that no one has mounted one of those little info-stealing boxes over the card swipe. When I have to give my "social", I plug in the ethernet cable rather than "trust" wireless. When I buy online, I never leave my credit card number for future reference (although this would probably make as much sense from a security point of view as rekeying it in every time). I try to patronize only those restaurants that give you a receipt with everything other than the last four letters x'd out.

I look forward to the day when we have all kinds of fancy biometrics that prove I'm me: flutter of an eyelash, cheek swab, or voice recognition.

Well, the other day (I think it was in The Economist), I saw an article on a new company called Voice Pay, which uses voice recognition technology to create a secure payment environment.

Here's how it works (according to their web site):

With Voice Pay mobile, customers can buy from a shop, gain access to an event, and even buy from a TV commercial or magazine, instantly. Customers just call their national Voice Pay phone number, authenticate themselves and just speak or key the code that appears next to the product that they want to buy. We confirm the price that they are being charged and the customer confirms the purchase.

The customer, of course, has to have set up an account and given them your voiceprint (and, a la PayPal, your credit card or bank account number).

And even if someone can imitate your voice, we all apparently have unique (or thereabouts) voice markers. So, using Voice Pay doesn't hold the risk of a stolen credit card (where someone can just turn the card over and see your secret three-digit code) or bank account. (It also sounds safer than the thumbprint ID. Although I think those are now set up so that the readers can det ect whether the thumb is attached to a live person or not, at least in the movies I saw digits hacked off to subvert biometric scanners. At least no one can hack out your voice box and get it to work.)

It will be interesting to see if companies - retail, restaurant, online - embrace this technology. Or whether consumers do.

It sounds like it's probably more secure than a lot of the methods we use. But it also seems like a lot more work than just sliding your credit card through the slot or waving your smart card around.

But the other day at a 7-11, the guy in front of me was using a debit card to buy two bottles of Gatorade. While I was standing there tapping my foot, and wondering just who uses a card for a cash transaction of $3.58, I watched the fellow swipe his card, enter his pin, hit the OK, and replace the stylus. Didn't seem like that much more effort than calling a number, keying in a transaction code, and saying 3-5-8.

But for 7-11 transactions, I intend to stay strictly cash.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

AT&T's Unwanted Product

As a condition of approval of the merger of SBC and BellSouth into telecom giant AT&T, the company had to agree to offer two services that they really, really don't want to offer in the areas where they are the local phone company (including Texas, where I live): a $10 DSL package (slow DSL, but DSL) and "naked DSL," a broadband service that customers can order without having a land line.

Now, AT&T obviously would rather sell you a faster (and more expensive) DSL service, and would rather sell you a land line along with broadband. (Like an increasing number of customers, I really don't use my landline; I have it because I want my alarm system to be able to dial for help if the house is burning down, and because here in the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast, we have regular reminders that a phone that works when the power's out and the mobile circuits are jammed is a very nice thing to have. If I had reliable alternatives, I wouldn't bother with a land line.)

The "naked DSL" isn't available yet, but in 22 states, the $10 DSL is. Sort of. You have to find out about it. And you have to order it. AT&T is making both of things difficult, because they recognize that this will cannibalize some of their current low-end DSL sales, and the naked DSL will kill some landline sales.

Well, that's not what they claim. They claim nobody wants it.

I checked a few weeks ago because this service will be ideal for my parents, who have been hanging on to their cheap dial-up. (Frankly, I was ready to pay for broadband just so it would be available to me when I visit them.) There was nothing on the AT&T web site; there is now, though it's not terribly obvious.

Given that it's exactly the same service AT&T currently charges $15 for, you can see why they're not eager to promote it. But that's just so short-sighted, and their CEO's comment that the $10 service is not very good (but the identical $15 service is, apparently, just fine) just makes it clear how little interest they have in meeting customer needs.

At $10 per month, there's no reason for anybody in AT&T's service area to have dial-up internet. Yes, they will lose some money from some customers who were going to get the $15 service but will pay $10 instead (if they happen to know about it).

But how many people are there who could become new broadband users - some of whom will decide that they love having broadband, and want to upgrade to faster service - to make up that difference? A lot, I suspect.

And more importantly, they have to offer the service, so they might as well use it as an opportunity to add customers and create a great story about how they're making broadband more accessible to the public, instead of pretending that it's not there.

None of this is surprising; AT&T is one of the most customer-loathing companies you can find, in an industry that's known for its terrible treatment of customers. (The only reason I am a customer at all is that the other option in Houston, Comcast (until recently Time Warner) is even worse; their broadband is faster, except when you have five one-hour-plus outages in a week.

Still, it's sad to see a company with the market power and resources to be a leader behaving this badly. This is, of course, the same company whose executives complain that content providers like Google are getting a "free ride" on their network (who knew Google didn't pay to connect its data centers to the net?), apparently completely unaware that without content, a network is useless.

I expect more shenanigans like this from AT&T. At some point in the near future I'll be ordering that $10 DSL package for my folks; I expect it to be a frustrating experience. We'll see if AT&T, as it usually does, lives down to my expectations.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Top Ten Things Not To Say in a Sales Call

In the wonderful way of blog begats, Charlie Green over on Trusted Advisor, had a recent post entitled "Top Ten Things Not to Say in a Sales Call." Well, that's about as straightforward and truth-in-advertising as you can get, so I've left Charlie's title intact.

Charlie, in turn, was keying off of a Brad Trnavsky post,  Ten Things a Good Salesperson Should Never Say, and Why

To hell with neither a borrower nor a lender be. I'm going to go ahead and borrow from both - title and idea from Charlie, post itself from Brad. (You can go read them both.  And as for the title of this post: I guess it's false advertising, since I'm not actually listing the Top Ten Things, but, rather abstracting from them.)

Some of Brad's "Ten Things" are howlers, starting with "I was just in the area and thought I'd drop by," which, as Brad points out, will just get you wondering why the guy has nothing better today. Okay to drop by and drop off something that he's expecting. Other than that...

(Charlie goes Brad one further: he doesn't even think that the local chimney sweep should use this line, and that person actually could be in your neighborhood. As long as they don't drop down your chimney...)

Years ago, I remember traipsing around Washington DC with a sales rep who hadn't managed to set up a full round of "real calls" for my vaunted "product expert" visit from home office. So we went a-calling. If sales reps think cold calling is difficult, try just showing up. How completely, irredeemably humiliating. I remember that one place we dropped in on was a southern railway which had as its symbol the turkey. Their building was an old art deco beauty, with bronze turkeys all over the walls and over the elevators in the foyer. I remember thinking how apt that was as we slunk out the door after a receptionist told us that Mr. T. was not available to see us.

Brad doesn't like "Have you got a minute," either.

Now this just sounds like a matter of personal preference.

If I thought about it for a minute, it would annoy me. But I probably wouldn't and, as long as I wasn't annoyed to begin with, I'd give a sales guy a pass on this one.

I've never been a sales person, but I've been sold to, and there are a few others on Brad's list that I found equally innocuous.

There were some I completely agreed with.

"It's not my fault". Well, whose fault is it then? Surely, it's not my fault as a customer that something has gotten completely bollixed up. Whiney. Weak. Defensive. No sales guy should ever say "it's not my fault." (Worse: "It's the fault of Joe Blow in our development group...." Blaming someone back at the ranch? Come on, aren't we all in this together.)

 I don't like "What would I have to do to get you started today?" either. Realistically, if I'm talking to a sales guy I'm probably not going to get started today, and this is just going to sound way too slick to me. ("What you'd have to do is leave my office immediately so that I can call the competition and get started with them.")

Brad's final one: Trust me.

Nothing to say about that one.

But there is one that Brad missed, and it's one that I've seen in action - both on the part of someone trying to sell to me, and on the part of a salesperson I was working with.

"I need to talk to your boss."

Now, you may want to talk to my boss. You may, in fact, even need to talk to my boss. But how about asking me, since I'm the one you've got in front of you? Maybe my boss asked me to take this call. Maybe my boss is going to rely on me for a recommendation.

I have had salespeople assume that I'm blocking their access to the decision maker, who they somehow believe, is just sitting there waiting to decide immediately in their favor - if only I'd let them through. I've been in situations where I'm the only ally the salesperson has in the company, and where the "higher ups" have explicitly said something along the lines of "Keep this guy away from me." Yet the lunkhead sales person keeps pressing to go higher - even threatening to go higher in the organization to report my blocking tactics. (My response to this one was, be my guest. If you think you can get to them faster than I can, have at it. I'm guessing that my phone call or e-mail that warns them to expect a call from a pushy, obnoxious salesperson is going to get there before they do.)

Someone uses this one on me, what I want to tell them back is, "I need to talk to your boss, too."

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Weekend Fun Post!

It's the weekend! Nothing serious today.

Location, Location, Location

Here's an amusing bit showing 15 rather unfortunately placed ads. The environment around your creative does matter...

Ministry of Logos

Logos for government agencies tend to be rather traditional, at least here in the US. And Defense logos usually are designed to give a feeling of strength, power, and solidity. At least, that was my assumption. What's interesting about this blog post showing 23 Ministry of Defense logos is that my assumption is based, perhaps, on some cultural factors in the US that don't carry over to other lands.

I thought the logo from the Netherlands was particularly odd; sort of a "defending our little country is cool and modern and not scary!" feel.

The Japanese logo, meanwhile, looks like it's giving the world a big hug.

Comparison Shopping

If you know your customers are comparison shopping, you need to give them ways to compare.

I'm planning to buy a new Intel-based Mac this fall (probably not till the new OS release is out, so I can get that with it), and one of the important things I want is the ability to run Windows apps. (I'm happily replacing the Windows laptop because I don't have to own one of the damn things for those occasions when I must run Windows software). Currently there are two ways to do this. The simplest is Boot Camp, Apple's free utility (which will be a feature of the next OS release) that lets you boot your machine into either Windows or OS X. The slicker solution is a program called Parallels, which lets you have both going simultaneously.

A third option will appear this month: Fusion, another virtualization package which, from what I've read, does the same thing Parallels does and costs the same, but it just newer.

So the obvious question when I get my new machine is: Parallels or Fusion?

I went to the Fusion site hoping to find some answers, and while there is lots of information about the product, there is nothing to tell me, "Here's why we are better than Parallels, the current product that's gotten excellent reviews."

I'm sure the folks at VMware who created Fusion don't want to hear this, but they are releasing a me-too product. There's no shame in that; if it's a good product, that's fine, and that keeps the incumbent on their toes. If it's a me-too-better product, it's good news for users.

But I have no way to tell. I did a few Google searches and found a few things - a review that said Fusion seemed to run a bit faster, another that said Parallels has more handy features - and so if I were buying today, here's the reality: I can order a Mac from one of the major resellers with Parallels and Windows already installed out of the box, so I don't have to deal with it.

But if there's some compelling reason to use Fusion, I'd go through the hassle of installing everything separately.

The product web site reads like no one has ever done what they are doing before, and that's just not reality. Sure, nobody gets enthused about having to position themselves with respect to a well-known player that got to market first. But if that's your reality, you'd better; otherwise buyers (like me) will have no idea why they should even think about your product, when they've been hearing how great the other one is.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Little Foil Seal of Approval

A few weeks ago, my husband got a postcard mailer, an "IMPORTANT NOTICE", congratulating him on the 30th anniversary of his company and suggesting that he might want to think about ordering his Anniversary Seals right away.

Now, 500 embossed foil seals for $69.00 may be a pretty good deal, but I doubt that Jim has sent out 500 pieces of correspondence during his first 30 years, let alone need that many to celebrate his company (a.k.a., himself) anniversary.

But I was curious about the company that sent the mailer out, I went and looked them up.

The Stephen Fossler Company of Crystal Lake, Illinois, has been "one of the leading manufacturers and providers of Embossed Foil Seals" since 1970. Foil seals are what they do, and what they do best.

The Stephen Fossler Company....Doesn't that just sound homey? Kind of like Stephen Foster, don't you think.

And Crystal Lake, Illinois. For all I know, it's part of the mega-sprawl around Chicago, but it sure sounds purty.

But what's really interesting is their emphasis on touting your company's experience.

We read so much nowadays that "built to last" is a thing of the past. That nimble, in-and-out, short-lived companies are the thing. Short-term is beautiful, long-term ain't nothing to brag about. It no doubt means you're lumbering, lagging edge, so yesterday.

Yet it's certainly easy to think about what being in business for a long time does, in fact, say about you. It says that you're making enough of your customers happy to keep you in business. It says that you're doing something right. That's not all bad.

The Stephen Fossler web site has a slew of testimonials that some of us marketer's can only dream of.

The labels are beautiful.

The notes you place with orders and invitation to purchase make the whole process feel personal and easy to say yes.

(Boy, in 25 years of marketing I've had yet to hear anyone tell me I'd made it "easy to say yes."

We love you guys.

Well, that's another one I've never heard.

You're doing a great job promoting your and our business.

Keep up the good work.

Okay. None of the little testimonials have gotten me to actually recommend that my husband go and buy some anniversary seals. But there's something really sweet and touching about the company and their approach. The postcard they mailed out even had a stamp on it, not a postal permit. The picture on the stamp was of an old woodie station wagon.

And here's a P.S. from Stephen Fossler: "Send No Money. As an organization that's been successful for 30 years, your credit is good with me."

As I said, we won't be buying now, but if I ever need an anniversary embossed seal - or know of anyone who needs one - I'll be sure to keep the Stephen Fossler Company in mind.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Web Redesign: a Reaction, not a Strategy?

Another good post for Gerry McGovern at Giraffe Forum about why if you think you need to redesign your web site, you may have a deeper problem:

Website redesign is nearly always a bad idea because it reflects a project-based management approach. The best websites are not managed simply as projects but rather as processes.

A website redesign approach is usually embraced by organizations who are reacting to the fact that their websites have fallen into disrepair. Something is not working and the belief is that a nice redesign, some nice new graphics and colors, and perhaps the purchase of some fancy content management software, will solve it.

This approach is papering over the cracks. The cracks are a lack of resources to professionally manage the website on a day-to-day basis. The cracks are a lack of genuine customer focus, and a lack of continuous testing and evolution. The cracks are a lack of a rigorous review process to ensure that only quality content remains on the website.

His point, of course, is that if you aren't keeping your web site up to date - in tune with the needs of people visiting it - a big redesign is not going to help, because down the road you're just going to have the same problem.

Gerry says that redesigns are "almost always" a mistake; I wouldn't put it that strongly, but his point is well taken. While there are sometimes very good reasons for a big overhaul, if you let the last fantastic new web site turn into a mess, what will you do to make sure the new one doesn't suffer the same fate? Make sure that if you feel you need to do a redesign that you are designing a new process as well as a site.

As always, one must keep site users in mind. When you go to a familiar site and find that it's been transformed, you probably don't think, "Oh, goodie! Everything's in a different place now!" The disruption to your regular visitors had better be worth it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Thunderstruck: iPod's unintended "feature"

Well, who hasn't found themselves with some unintended product features on their hands?

Sometimes they're good ones. Who knew that the accounting application could also be used to automate world peace?

Sometimes they're not so good ones. Who knew that it you left the accounting application running over night it would not only eat the user's hard drive, but the guy's in the next cubicle's, too.

For iPod, the unintended "feature" is decidedly on the downside.

Tuning in during a storm, it turns out, can result in severe burns, ruptured eardrums, and a broken jaw.

It's not just iPods.

Apparently using any "portable electronic device" outdoors when there's thunder and lightning can be dangerous. The devices aren't lightning rods, per se, but if lightning strikes nearby and bounces your way, the metal in the "portable electronic device" can act as a mighty fine conductor and you end up worse off than if you'd been device-less.

All this was written up in a recent AP article I saw on Comcast.

And it's no urban legend, either.

So, now that it's summertime. And since every last one of us is more or less permanently glued to some electronic device.  BE CAREFUL OUT THERE.

If you're quasi-chilling in the hammock with your laptop in your lap and you want to take a quick peak at your e-mails. If you're visiting the Lincoln Memorial and you want to use your cell phone to show everyone you're there. If you're strolling by the water's edge listening to Patti Paige croon "Old Cape Cod" on your iPod. And if it look's like there's a storm brewing:

  • Turn off your portable electronic device.
  • Get inside.

I know that it never would have occured to me that something unplugged could be dangerous during a storm, apparently that's not the case.

Sometimes what you don't know CAN hurt you.