June 09, 2015
Soaring Fees & Declining Airline Service Do More Than Disempower Customers
While I’m not a 100,000 mile gal, I spend a lot of time on planes throughout the course of a year. When it comes to flying these days, I think we can all agree -- it's a far cry from fun. Barely tolerable is what comes to mind.
Photo credit: Outsidethebeltway.com.
The saddening reality is that airlines worldwide brought in $31.5 billion in non-ticket revenue in 2013 -- including passenger fees -- which is MORE than 11 times their non-ticket revenue six years prior, adjusted for inflation according to CNN Money. Unfortunately, there's little that we can do about it. There's no plea here and our voices go unnoticed....otherwise, the price increases wouldn't continue to soar year after year, not to mention new fees being added for incredulous things.
Photo credit: Dave Granlund.com.
Customer feedback no longer matters since it's become an industry that treats people more like helpless cattle in tow than worthful customers they care about "serving." Truth be told, I haven't had a memorable and rewarding experience flying coach in about 8 or 9 years and it's getting worse.
The smile comes on the video screen welcoming you prior to take off and if a video isn't enough to make the whole experience feel less personal, I saw a recent clip where an unnamed airline actually replaced people with avatars.
During that "happy" video, you're reminded that if you didn't bring your own headset, you can get one from them for a mere $5 and that's before you have to pay for the in-flight entertainment, no longer free. I'm old enough to remember when all of the "now" perks were just part of your normal travel experience -- the headsets, the meals, the movie, changing your flight date or time and hell, American used to give away pens and decks of cards.
Meals in coach used real napkins laid out on the side of your plate and silverware -- I'm not sure how I'm going to take a pilot down with a butter knife and silver fork, but hey, clearly they're still worried about it. If it’s domestic, I oscillate between my two favorite U.S. carriers – Delta and American and if it’s international, I try to use one of their partners for the mileage points although frankly, it's becoming less compelling by the day since it's a helluva lot of work to get "status" points and once you've killed yourself on god awful flights to get them, your perks and benefits get set back to zero before you have an opportunity to relish in boarding ten minutes early and that one bag free perk.
I avoid United as they remain as anti-customer as Comcast does on the corporate brand list....the two companies should do joint seminars on how to piss off a customer the most in a one hour period.
Photo credit: www.thefinancialbrand.com
If I don't have a choice to go with a preferred airline partner for international flights, I choose an airline that is known for its service and simplifies traveling for me at a minimum, or in the rare case, doesn't penny pinch me for everything. Virgin of course is the best known in this category stateside and they just came out with a credit card deal that allows you to change your flights for no fee. Remember those days? How bliss: "Customer-driven" decisions like that make me not want to ever fly another airline. When you purchase a car, design, color and safety matter a whole lot, but at the end of the day, the emotional reason for the purpose is how great you feel when you’re driving it.
Does it add to your experience and do you enjoy getting to your destination? The same applies to an airline experience. Too many airlines think they’re in the transportation business when they're in the hospitality, service and customer experience industry, even more than a 5 star resort is and frankly, I'd argue than any other business.
That might surprise you but in a 5 star resort, I’m not counting on service non-stop for anywhere from 3 to 24 hours like I am on a flight. From movies, wine, blankets, headsets, your bag, to a fee for the privilege of sitting in a middle seat towards the front of plane or boarding a few minutes early in a line that is now longer than the regular one. I've even heard rumors that American is going to charge extra if you want to sit next to someone else, even if there are plenty of empty seats available. WTF?
In 2012, airlines raked in around $6 billion according to USA Today, and airlines made over $20 BILLION with my least favorite airline leading the way - United ($5.4 Billion) according to CNN Money. Australia's Qantas Airways made $56.21 per customer -- the highest amount in that particular survey. Apparently the revenue came mostly through selling frequent flier points to partners such as hotel chains and car rental companies.
Airlines that made the most from baggage fees in order of milking you dry (from a 2014 Marketwatch article), include Delta, United, US Air, America and Spirit. Airline fees have risen from $2.8 BILLION in 2007 to over $30 BILLION in 2013 according to CNN Money. Below is a chart pulled from the same piece - original link below the image.
Photo credit: From CNNMoney.
Years later, I still hear arguments that they have to continue to rake us through the coals because of 9/11 and they'll also argue that gas prices have gone up so they need to compensate for that too.
While that may be true, gas has also oscillated and while it was extremely high a couple of years ago, we paid $1.77 a gallon in America's Midwest this past January. And, let's be honest, ticket prices have also gone up and flights are fuller than they've ever been before - it's very rare that I have an empty seat next to me and usually I'm sharing my paid seat with someone else when they can't fit that comfortably in their own. (this happens a lot btw)
It takes the fun and the pleasure out of traveling. Travelaholics or business travelers who hang their hat on airlines frequently will admit that if we could skip the airline process to get to their destination, they would. In other words, it's the worse part of the travel process -- getting from A to B is NOT about transportation, it's about the experience you have on the way.
This is why people smile when you mention the word Virgin -- it's because Richard Branson gets it. I also had the opportunity to meet Richard's CEO of Virgin Produced Jason Felts at Idea Festival last year and he is one of the most down-to-earth souls you'll meet sitting that high at the helm -- authentic and fun! His persona and energy gives you the feeling that he actually "cares" about their customers and I'll take it a step further, their experience of the world -- inside Virgin and out.
When I fly coach, it's such an uncomfortable experience that it's often difficult to imagine the joy I'll have when I finally get Italy, South Africa, Japan or wherever my journey might be taking me. Who doesn’t want to feel great on the journey there?
The problem is that most of us haven’t felt “great” on a journey to their destination in….well, years. We've all become accustomed to airline mediocrity, being treated as cattle (harsh, but true) and nickeling and diming every object we want to use and every move we want to make. As one woman put it who was standing in the security line before me at JFK recently, “now, it’s cattle in, cattle out, and no extra brownie points for being nice to the agent even when they were rude to you."
Most airlines have lost the essence of what matters to customers and forgotten what business they’re in. Virgin gets it right most of the time even though they were forced by competition to follow suit with with some of those ridiculous charges. That said, Richard Branson understands that he’s in the “travel experience” business -- my tagline, not theirs. It makes more sense for entrepreneurs who have successfully run high end theme parks or "high touch" resorts to run an airline since their approach to service and delivering an extraordinary experience are both so far beyond the mentality of most airlines, that their airline would likely very quickly stand out as the "Purple Cow".
Branson realized he had to build in “aha” moments into the Virgin flying experience, from check in to behind the doors of the Virgin lounge and ultimately the on-board service.
There are a few airlines who can get away with being in the transportation business like Ryan Air, where service and quality matters a whole lot less since you're paying so little for such a short flight. In a short flight scenario where the best deal is the order of the day, that free cushioned blanket and not paying for that tasteless processed meal isn't your top priority.
Travel is all about the emotions and memories you have during your journey, whether it's the journey of getting to a destination or an activity at a destination itself. Think about it. The Eiffel Tower is just a structure – a very large and beautiful structure, but a structure in the middle of a city nevertheless. People have come to associate romance with this structure and as a result, there have been hundreds of proposals in front of it. The emotion that is associated with this structure is significant for many. Paris exudes romance and restaurants and hotels embrace it - it's part of the French culture.
Exceptional service and including standards like a checked bag and more than just peanuts and pretzels on longer flights MUST BE the airline industry’s romance. Service and over the top customer care is to airlines what that memorable romantic experience is to Paris and why so many people flock to this popular European city.
While 9/11 was used as the primary reason airlines started tacking on additional charges, let's face it -- that was a long time ago and business & finance sites have reported how just how well the industry is doing. The additional charges have gone from annoying to ridiculous in some cases, outlandishly absurd in others. Rather than look for ways to innovate around customer service, they have looked for more ways to nickel and dime without creating more value and "high touch" moments for the customer.
Airline service used to be amazing however frequent flyers can attest that the "lack of caring” started before 9/11. And, it's not as if airlines have been at the forefront of innovation. The same inflight magazines and barf bags line the back of the seats together with the traditional safety cards we had so many moons ago. And let’s be honest, the tray tables are cheap and flimsy and really not suitable for drinks. I remember useful cup holders on the back of some airline seats but haven't seen those in years. There's no place to put that cuppa coffee while you’re working on your laptop or even reading a book.
Rather than provide a memorable experience, what I’m left with today is a series of inconveniences, thanks to a direction that some operations head at one of the airlines started and others followed. Let’s look at a series of pissy moments I didn’t have to endure two decades ago, most of which defy logic and are nothing short of infuriating for a customer. That said, they have become so common that outlandish fees have become the status quo and we now live in a world where each trip is more painful than the last.
Photo credit: FareCompare.com.
Booking a ticket: booking through an airline rep or agent on the phone now cost a fee - not the case 20 years ago. Since when did charging for a phone call to SPEND money with a company become okay? Imagine Macy’s charging you extra to make a purchase with a live person.
Booking a ticket online: while in theory, booking online has made things easier since you can jump online at 2 in the morning and purchase a ticket which I've done often, you incur fees and all sorts of cancellation policies that now get applied to the booking site as well as the airline.
Case in point is a ticket I booked through Expedia with Delta last year. When an emergency came up, I needed to change the ticket date and time from a flight from JFK to San Francisco. Expedia informed me that I needed to pay a fee to them as well as a fee to Delta for the change fee, on top of whatever the difference in fare was. After a whole lotta digging, I learned that the very same flight at the very same time 5 days later had many more seats than the original flight I was on, however the change fee for my $318 flight was slated to be $298.
When I looked at booking a new flight for that same route, there was only $14 difference in fare, and yet what I would be faced with was cost of a brand new ticket.
Blankets: Seriously? I once had a stewardess on United slip me a blanket saying she couldn’t bear to charge me because she found it so insidious. While I’m not a United fan, be assured that I have never forgotten that magic moment. Even though I still won’t choose to fly United because of so many previous bad experiences, she was a standout and her "out-of-the-box" attitude should be applauded, a rarity in the airline business today. Imagine a hotel charging for blanket and pillow use?
Headphone Charges: See above. Are you kidding? It is any wonder that there's hundreds of articles out there begging the question, “what’s next on the nickel and dime me menu? Toilet paper or the privilege to use the bathroom?” Oh yeah, lest not forget I can keep them, like I need 25 flimsy plastic headsets at home. At the very least, they don't charge you for using your own though it's probably on someone's list.
Change Fees: In the “we still care about customer service” days, we never had to pay for standby for same day flights if a seat was available in your class. Today, regardless of availability or the situation (see bullet 2 for an example of defying logic), you pay a change fee plus the difference in fare – same day, different day or anything in between. Bravo to Virgin for nuking that rule if you sign up for their latest credit card - oh so very smart! Doesn't it just warm your heart to hear that?
Additional Leg Room Charges: Remember the days when you could move to a better seat if space was available on the plane? Even if something is open in the emergency row or a preferred section (which it never is anymore), you can no longer sit there without incurring an additional $50 fee. Shouldn't seat leg room (and chair room) be ample to sit comfortably for a long haul?
Seats Are Getting Smaller And Yet: See above. It’s so politically incorrect to ask, but have the seats gotten smaller or are too many of us getting larger and larger? When I've raised this issue to other travelers and travel writers, they all agree that I shouldn't publicly bring this up because of the sensitivity around it.
Even if that's the case, if we don't discuss it openly, how can we come to a politically correct resolution? If someone is so large that I have to share part of my space with them in a way that is uncomfortable, then I no longer have a full seat even if I paid extra for that seat in Economy Plus. If I should be forced to pay more for a seat that is simply closer to the front of the plane, shouldn’t I pay less for less than a full seat? It may sound insensitive, but we need to figure out politically correct ways to handle this moving forward, sensitive or not.
More $$$ To Sit Closer to the Front: See above. Beyond absurd, they have created a "class" that applies to sitting closer to the front of the plane even if it's a middle seat – yes a middle seat with no additional leg room.
Paying More for a So Called Better Seat -- What About Paying Less For A Lousy One? If the airline thinks that sitting in a middle seat closer to the front should cost more, what about charging less for the aisle seat right next to the toilet or galley?
Let’s be honest - these are lousy seats, from dealing with the foul smell from the bathroom to the noise and chaos around the bathroom from the door constantly opening and closing. If they’re so hell bent on charging more for a middle seat closer to the front with no added leg space, why not charge less for a crappy seat where you can’t sleep or get any work done or if you get stuck in the back?
Wifi: Seriously, $30 for a flight? For those of you have used the various services know, wifi is rarely reliable for the entire flight. I have had so many touch and go issues with GoGo that I've been too frustrated to write about it yet. The codes either don't work or when they do work, I'm connected but then thrown off 15 minutes or an hour later.
Meals: The worse thing about meals on airlines today isn't even the extra charges even though we never paid for food 20 years ago either. Most of the food is processed or junk food (chips, nuts, processed meat and cheese and candy bars) and they charge a lot of money for the privilege of eating packaged food infused with sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, sugar and too many other unmentionables not worth naming.
For those who eat healthy and eating healthy is an important and integral part of your life, eating on airplanes today is a non-starter unless you're in First Class or bring your own meal on board. Europe still “gets it” and hasn’t dropped to American airline food “flight” standards, at least not yet….
Drinks: Most airlines now charge more for a beer or glass of wine than at a pub or bar, even from an expensive city. And, the prices for the cheap labels they serve keep going up.
Baggage Fees: Fees, fees and more fees. Now of course, you can often get your first bag for free if you gladly hand $100 or more a year for the privilege of spending money on their credit card.
Inflight Entertainment: Now, not only do we have to pay to see movies, but we often have to pay for each movie. The same applies to television. I was on a recent flight whose airline name I’ll omit, and on the TV menu, I had to pay $4-6 per episode.
TV used to be free for unlimited viewing and you never had to pay for a movie or the fee for a cheap plastic headset. In some cases, you can buy a bundle deal for a longer flight, but it's not cheap, especially if you have fidgety children at your side.
Arguing with Airline Staff About Why X is Wrong or Some Hidden Fee: while we may have add to endure a frustrating moment when our flight was cancelled, delayed or we were re-routed, airlines used to sort it out and even apologize profusely for the inconvenience.
Even when it wasn’t a technical issue, you were sent to a nearby hotel and given a meal voucher – in other words, you felt understood and cared for, and that they felt sorry for the situation, which can sometimes result in missing a family reunion, an important birthday gathering, wedding, business meeting or worse. I chatted with about a dozen people on a recent flight who were over 35 but under 60 (it was a long delay) and I was disheartened by their countless horror airline stories.
Perhaps there should be an "Airline Stress Tax" that gets reimbursed to the flyer? The toxic stress you often endure from flying is significant and has a price and yet airlines don’t seem to put a value on it. Trust me, frequent flyers do and, they are, but sadly there are few options today if any that make flyers feel empowered as a customer.
As extreme as you might think my bullets are, I’m simply trying to prove a point. These insidious add-ons have become so commonplace that we forget how emotional taxing each and every one is and how the combination of all of them has moved us out of an era of great service, something America was once notorious for, and into an era which focuses solely on increasing corporate profits over customer joy. A couple of exceptions are worth noting, something that would have been a normal airline customer experience in the past.
Sometime in the last six months, I ended a business meeting early in New York and wanted to get back to the west coast early. The thought of enduring the “fee” process or even calling to find out how ridiculous the additional charge would be, I decided not to make the call because of the stress involved in doing so, so simply headed to the airport instead. An odd thing happened. I was interjected in the queue by an overly friendly Delta representative who asked what flight I was waiting to check in for and when I explained that I had hoped to get on an earlier flight but wasn’t optimistic for all the reasons outlined above, he opened up a closed gate which led me immediately to a private area.
When I reached the service agent, I was checked into the earlier flight (4 hours before my original one) without getting out my wallet. A new boarding pass printed out with an aisle seat (my preferred choice) very close to the front on the 1 pm. No fee or some saga story about "it's our policy, I don't make the rules." What happened? I pinched myself not believing it was real and that I had somehow been transported back in time to a more formidable time.
Getting home earlier that day transformed my week given the grueling schedule I had gone through the previous ten days. I remember a time when it was simply a standard protocol for how an airline took care of their customers, an era where we weren’t nickeled and dimed for every transaction and every move, an era where we felt as if we mattered and our repeat business mattered.
A similar situation happened with American Airlines a week later when my baggage was 5 pounds overweight and the gleeful service agent let it slide. I was stressed about it for two days before my flight knowing that my bag for that trip would be heavier than most since I was heading to Vermont to review a ski resort and the temperatures were slated to be in the teens.
Most of the time, my bag weighs in at between 35 and 42 pounds, so why shouldn’t that one trip with a slightly heavier bag slide? In the above two cases, both service reps decided to let "policy" slide which resulted in memorable airline moments and a more loyal customer.
Maybe the Delta rep saw how exhausted I was and maybe the American Airline ticket counter agent liked my smile or saw that I had just taken an American flight three days prior, OR maybe they are just rare individuals who don’t think of their roles as airline employees but as vehicles for customer happiness. (Note my current frequent flyer status on Delta is significantly higher than American)
There is a huge value to be placed on a happy customer, a loyal one who will not just come back again and again but sing their praises when they're not flying. Most airlines have lost sight of who and what they represent as a business. When brands have been around for awhile, they can become complacent. Look at how god awful United’s brand was for years and while avid travelers still complain about them, their image has somewhat improved, but only marginally so.
Most people know the story of Canadian musician David Carroll whose guitar was broken by United -- on YouTube as of writing this, his protest song has received nearly 15 million views.
As for soaring fees and service going down the drain, it appears that customers are powerless at changing the current status quo. The first shot in the war over bag fees came in May of 2008, when American Airlines announced it would be the first legacy carrier to impose a “first checked-bag” fee (Spirit and Allegiant had such a fee at least as early as 2007 from the research I've dug up).
According to a useful article on airline fees from Christopher Elliott (link below under useful resources), the North American airline industry collected an estimated $8.2 billion last year for just fees for items such as checked baggage, premium seat assignments and early boarding privileges — a $700 million increase from 2013.
Isn't it time that these rules got reversed?
A question to the airlines heads making these “fee” decisions at home base: do you want to be seen as a transportation company that gets a customer painfully from A to B or would you like to be in the “ultimate experience” business, creating memorable moments for your customers in the way that Zappos has done so successfully over the years? The airline who truly figures this out will transform the travel experience forever.
Useful Articles on Airline Fees
- How Refundable Are Airline Fees from Elliot.org: http://elliott.org/the-navigator/refundable-airline-fees-not-much/#more-35966
- Airline Fees Are Out of Control But Who Can Stop Them: http://elliott.org/blog/airline-fees-are-out-of-control-but-who-can-stop-them/
- Are Airline Fees Being Properly Disclosed? http://elliott.org/blog/are-airline-fees-being-fairly-disclosed/
- Are Airline Fees Anti-Family? http://elliott.org/blog/are-new-airline-fees-anti-family/
- Maybe we should stop calling them Airline Tickets: http://elliott.org/is-this-a-scam/maybe-we-should-stop-calling-them-airline-tickets/
- 2010: Spirit Airlines breaks a new bag barrier by imposing a carry on bag fee (something Rick Seaney predicted one of the airlines might do, nearly a year before it happened)
- 2008: In August, JetBlue announces it will charge $7 for a pillow and blanket (but you can keep them, like I really want 25 of these at home after a year's tally of flights)
- 2008: US Airways begins a highly criticized practice: charging for all drinks (including water, coffee, and soda)
- 2009: US Airways stops charging for all drinks (mainly because no other airline dared join them)
- 2009: Airlines began adding surcharges to tickets for “peak travel days” in September of ’09; originally this surcharge was imposed on the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods.
- A great article on airline fees across most airlines from AirFareWatchDog: http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/blog/3801087/airline-fee-chart.html
- Airline Fees Ultimate Guide (another great resource from SMARTER TRAVEL -- you can even download as a PDF): http://www.smartertravel.com/blogs/today-in-travel/airline-fees-the-ultimate-guide.html?id=2623262
May 26, 2013
Embracing & Owning Your Imperfections Opens More Doors, Not Less...
People who know me well know that I'm a sucker for a new read. As long as there's not six other books in queue or the recommended book is so uncompelling I can't get through it, it's mine for the taking. When I was beating up on myself recently, a friend recommended I look into the work of Brene Brown.
I started with her TED talk and then moved to her book: The Gifts of Imperfection -- oh such a compelling title in a country that deems itself more perfect than any other. Some may call it a personal self help book, and while aspects of that may be true, the category has gotten such a bad rap lately that I'd prefer to call content what it is designed to do: help you get from A to B through whatever wisdom the author shares through their vantage point and skillset. If that's self help, fine.
Is it self help when you need to learn a specific management skill and an expert who has the wisdom shares it through a book to get you unstuck? We look down upon wisdom that might help elevate ourselves and our sense of humanity but praise things that help our skills and ability to accomplish and succeed. You get my point.
Frankly if you dive deep enough into most things we do of "external value," there's always an underlining emotional issue that gets in the way. Take money. While clearly there's a skillset in trading, investing and allotting the right money to the right buckets, selling too quickly or making the wrong decision often comes from a place of emotional fear rather than following a code of what works and what doesn't. The best guys on Wall Street keep their emotions out of it but not all of us can. The same applies to raising kids, keeping a marriage together, staying healthy or running a company.
While most of Brown's references are personal ones, the gift that this "read" gave me was largely professional. Here's why. While clearly we all have moments where we're afraid to be honest with ourselves and others, throwing our vulnerabilities out there with a friend or group of friends tends to be easier, at least for me. I'm more likely to lift the shield in a personal environment than in a professional one. The former can expel me from their group while the latter can fire me, impact my revenue, reputation and most importantly, self esteem.
When I read that Brown was a "shame researcher," my immediate reaction was: how much is there to research about shame? Really? It's so specific that I couldn't imagine a professor dedicating her entire career to something that specific and yet, there are professors who dedicate themselves to ants and write lengthy scientific papers on the latest Melanesian ant fauna which end up as a TED talk, so why not?
Little did I know. Shame is not as specific as you might think. Through reading her book and doing some additional digging on my own, I can see how prolific it is in our lives, weaving its way into all aspects, from how we interact with family, peers, and loved ones to the person who hands us our double latte in the morning.
To deny that "shame" shows up in my personal life would be to deny being human, for we've all experienced it, however the piece which most resonated with me is how it awkwardly plays into professional relationships and dynamics, a place that doesn't use the word "shame."
Getting beyond it requires courage and compassion daily in order to live what she refers to as a wholehearted life. It requires practice. Malcolm Gladwell said it best in his 10,000 rule analogy. How can you ever ace something you don't spend time practicing over and over and over again? The same applies to our personal lives. In other words, proactively practicing courage, compassion, connection and empathy is how we ultimately cultivate worthiness.
Time and time again, I have witnessed people not asking for what they're worth and "owning it" while they're at it. I've been there - we all have. Given that PR in general is often perceived as being useless, provides little or no value and can't be measured, I find that many practitioners and consultants undersell themselves or charge on a transaction basis to bring the cost down in order to get the business. It's an act of desperation when you do this - it not only commoditizes our business and our value but delivers an "action" rather than the "value of that action."
Women often have a harder time feeling worthiness and the moment we attempt to prove our worthiness is the moment we've lost the game. Often, we feel as if we have to prove ourselves particularly when a CEO or worse, a COO suggests that what we do didn't move the needle today. The problem at least in my industry, is that branding, communications and marketing doesn't move a needle in a day, or a week or even a month, although sometimes it can. It's a process, just like building relationships is a process. We cannot and must not ever measure our worthiness based on that formula and model.
Because of the nature of my industry, it's even easier to undercut our worthiness than say a doctor, who performs a surgery and suddenly a limb is working again. At the heart of what we do as communications pros is storytelling. Aren't the best stories the ones which are authentic, intimate and vulnerable at their core?
I often feel that when I begin to go there with a client, fear gets in the way...not just on my side but on the client's side as well. The more I rely on emotion, intuition and creativity which is the essence of what makes me thrive at what I do, the more the client throws up roadblocks or devalues the deed because it's so untangible. Beauty, art and yes, even moving the needle often comes from untangible.
Is a brand that you buy again and again always tangible? Sometimes it is (it's faster, more durable) but more often, it's a feeling you have about the brand that brings you back again and again. This feeling is the result of years of storytelling and messaging, not six month's worth. And, consistency is key.
One of our inherent gifts as professionals is that we excel at not just creating that story, but delivering it consistently again and again. It's an art and our clients need to understand that it's an art, not a science. Own that art and you own your worthiness. We shouldn't have to 'sell or prove our worthiness' again and again as if somehow showing a stat suddenly proves that our "art" is worthy.
Brown talks about owning our story and I'd ask you to think about how what she says here shows up or doesn't show up in the workplace. Where she refers to love, belonging and joy, replace the words with self respect, connection and courage.
She writes: "Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, belonging and joy -- the experiences that makes us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
She also quotes Pema Chodron, a Buddhist writer who is one of my favorite authors. "In cultivating compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience: our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounder - it's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
Hear hear Pema.
Here's another little bit of wisdom for those who have a hard time with imperfection and asking for help. Depending on what circles you travel in, some have a tight network (let's not forget the old school boy network, which yes, does still exist, especially in Washington), they rely on and often, they don't even have to 'ask' for help. It shows up just because they're part of that network. Others have different networks who help them out from time-to-time and others try to do it themselves...all the time: parenting, managing, creating, producing and running with very little delegating along the way.
Asking for help is hard when we are conditioned to strive for perfection, even if its something we disguise as perfect. From that place, we often feel that if we ask for help, we're indebted to someone and that lays over us like a negative card. Within the confines of that negative card, it's as if we're always trying to figure out how to repay for that help, even if the help wasn't a financial one.
This is how it shows up in many of our lives. While the following statement may sound counter-intuitive, it's true and she's right. Brown writes, "until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help."
This is also true: "Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us....because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."
While I know many a narcissist in my business circles and on the flip side, others who have gone through the hard journey to get to self-acceptance, many of us still struggle with pieces of it from time-to-time. When that piece shows up in our professional lives, we second guess our decisions when our intuition tells us its the right one or we don't ask for what we're worth because a client widdles us down or leads us to believe our value isn't worth a specific amount.
Suddenly we're in a place of proving that we matter when we matter for just showing up and sharing the gifts we can deliver better than that client or possibly anyone else. Bottom line, we should be paid well for it: the value of it, not the task of it even if some of that value can't be measured right away. I know people who have gone to psychologists for ten years - does the value of their work show up after a visit or does it take time to get results? What about a tennis coach? Does the value of a dentist's work show up after one time or let's put it another way, how would your teeth look and feel if you didn't have those bi-annual check ups and cleans?
Value shows up over time and if you believe in yourself, your client needs to believe in your value too or don't work with them. Walk away. I mean it - walk away. It's the biggest gift you can give yourself. When one door closes, another one opens. And if you're feeling fearful about that statement, think about Helen Keller's fabulous quote: "when one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us."
Live from a place of true worthiness, self-respect and authentic living and as Brown puts it, a wholehearted life and things will blow open for you. While it may not happen overnight, it will happen as long as you trust in the process. As an old wise monk said to me on a hike in Nepal many years ago, Patience, grasshopper, patience.
Photo Credits: Original Impulse. Andrew S. Gibson. Tiny Buddha. Jenny's Endeavors.
May 26, 2013 in America The Free, Books, On People & Life, On Poems, Literature & Stuff, On Spirituality, On Women, PR & Marketing, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
April 20, 2013
Reflections on Community & HAPIfork's Kickstarter Campaign
I've done so many launches in my life that I'm not even sure I could count them all and yet a launch in and around crowdfunding is a relatively new experience for most of us.
Some launches alert the world that a product is shipping, that there's an IPO or a new partnership, that there are four new features than the previous version, that there's a new management hire, that the CEO is speaking on a panel, that product Z just won an award, or that an office is opening in Singapore...the list goes on. I've done them all.
Kickstarter, while not a new concept for the early adopters and technologists within my circles, my sisters who live in an East Coast small town have never heard of it nor have my friends in Florida, Minnesota and Canada. In other words, it's still a relatively new way for consumers to order a product, especially one which in many cases hasn't been built yet and there's only a basic prototype to show when the campaign goes live.
We're in day four of the HAPIfork Kickstarter campaign and plenty of press gave HAPIfork some love this week as part of the kick-off, the kind that is, that would cover this kind of announcement. The good news is that as a result of heightened media activity this week which comes on the heals of over 900+ media hits worldwide from its initial unveiling at CES in January, more and more mainstream press are intrigued and want to play with the fork.
From Dr. Oz, Good Morning America, Good Housekeeping, Penthouse and Men's Health, we've had discussions and coverage; it's a no brainer for their audience since its the kind of device mainstream consumers would want to try out just as they did when electric toothbrushes first hit the market and dentists confirmed that they can clean your teeth more comprehensively than a regular brush. In both cases, there's a "mindful component" to it.
Why wouldn't consumers reading consumer magazines want to learn about a new digital device that can help them eat better, improve their digestion and eat less, thereby consuming less calories. In an eager-to-consume everything and anything country with astonishing obesity rates, the timing of HAPIfork couldn't be better. Even ABC News was intrigued and Jay Leno and The Colbert Report gave the smart fork a call out in mid-January while NBC News Scott Budman covered it the day after Kickstarter went live.
It is precisely the kind of device that will make people think more carefully about their eating habits and suddenly, a "new pattern" of thinking and eating more mindfully kicks in. The goal is to modify "speed" behavior at the onslought and then extend into more mindful habits beyond a plate of food over a meal.
The Benefits of an Early Community:
While there are clearly other ways to get funded, Kickstarter helps to identify the early adopters and fans who really understand the inherent value of a "smart fork". Beyond a fad, people who jump on board early assume faith in a product that embraces a way of thinking that goes something like this:
"A connected fork isn't the only way to get healthy and lose weight, because at the end of the day, it's always my own decision about what I eat, when I eat and how fast I eat. While human input is a big part of leading a healthier lifestyle, I for one, could use a little help. HAPIfork can remind me, prodding me with each bite I take, to eat healthier, slower and be more mindful in the process. Most importantly, I understand this is a starting point and realize that this fork can act as a digital coach to help modify my behavior over time...and alone, is an important first step to the path of mindful eating and living."
The above mantra or statement if you like, isn't an official statement from the company...it's how I personally think about HAPIfork as an enabler of healthy habits, starting with food.
Education will be a big part of this campaign, starting with Kickstarter and well into the coming months ahead. With Kickstarter, we will see the formation of an early community who is willing to take a healthy step into that universe, one that leads to a HAPier and more fulfilling life.
Building a community isn't new, nor was it new at the birth of social media. Smart marketers have always understood that the customer is king and he/she leads the way, not the CEO. Customers aka your community is critical at the beginning of a product launch and throughout its entire lifestyle.
30 years later and I still flash a smile and feel an emotional bond when I see the Pillsbury Doughboy on TV. Great branding? You could say so, especially since I'm not their target audience. For decades, they achieved sustainable success inside their community (moms and women who bake with their products) and outside their community, people like me who have a warm and fuzzy feeling about their brand even though I'm not a user.
Regardless of what kind of product launch you're doing -- inside a crowdfunding paradigm like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or out -- it always goes back to the customer and making them happy again and again and again. In recent years, I've seen far too many companies forget how important customer feedback is, for without them, there is no sustainable growth. There is no product. There is no company.
For HAPILABs and HAPIfork, it's the start of learning about a community that embraces the concept of happiness, mindful eating and health early on. It's been a thrilling ride to be driving the marketing and PR efforts since the prototype kick off, but as I watch the Kickstarter numbers rise hour after hour, and excitement runs up and down my spine, I remind myself that this is just the beginning. The exciting days are ahead as we learn from customers using the fork, how it has positively affected their lives.
Here's the link to the Kickstarter campaign if you are interested in supporting the campaign at whatever level - as a supporter, or simply because you can't wait to get your paws on one of these magical HAPIforks.
April 19, 2013
HAPIfork on Kickstarter: Nearly 3 Days Into the Campaign
I remember being in the offices of a well known mobile and software company ten or so years ago after having lunch with the CEO. They had just completed an IPO and as we walked into the main office space, increasingly becoming overcrowded with cubicles, he noticed how many employees were watching the stock price on their screens.
With me trailing behind him, he abruptly stopped and addressed his teams with a sense of urgency that surprised me. He said in a bold voice: "I don't want to see you starring at numbers on your screen all day - spend your time doing whatever you can to make our existing customers happy."
Hear hear. At the start of the HAPIfork Kickstarter campaign two days ago, I found myself obsessed with checking the screen constantly, even during meetings. The addictive nature of a campaign that has $$'s attached to it is impossible to ignore. After day two, I stopped and returned to a quick check every other hour, as a way to quickly check the progress but not be consumed by it.
That said, a campaign of this nature takes on a life of its own. After four hours, the Kickstarter HAPIfork campaign was 10% towards reaching its $100K goal and on day three, we are at 42,544 at the time of writing this blog post.
Here's a glimpse of my addictive screen grabs on Wednesday and Thursday.
We're off to a great start and kudos to the HAPILABS team, which is operating across five time zones. Please support us on the Kickstarter HAPILABS page so we can make inventor Jacques Lepine's dream come true.
Here's a sample of the fabulous media coverage since our campaign hit two days ago.....
- CNET - Donna Tam | 4/17 | HapiFork: Vibrating novelty or health revolution?
- Cult of Android - Eli Milchman | 4/17 | Hapifork Tattles To Your Phone About How Much You’re Eating [Kickstarter]
- Engadget - Christopher Trout | 4/17 | HAPILABS launches HAPIfork Kickstarter campaign, we go hands-on and in-mouth
- Fodors: http://www.fodors.com/news/best-new-travel-tech-for-2013-6387.html
- Forbes - Larry Magid | 4/17 | A HAPI Meal That You Eat Slowly
- Fox - New York - Luke Funk | 4/17 | Fork vibrates when you eat too quickly
- Fox 10 TV - Alabama - Lenise Ligon | 4/17 | HAPIfork; Bluetooth enabled fork
- Health 2.0 News - Laura Montini | 4/17 | An Afternoon with the HAPIfork
- International Business Times - Esther Tanguintic-Misa | 4/17 | Problem Controlling Weight Gain? Curb It With Hapifork…
- Mashable - Chris Taylor | 4/17 | Hands On With the Fork That Tells You to Eat Slower
- Medical Daily - Susan Scutti | 4/17 | Vibrating Forks to Help You Lose Weight? The Unusual Intersection of SmartProducts and Crowdsourcing
- Nature World News - Tamarra Kemsley | 4/17 | 'Smart' Fork Vibrates When You Eat Too Quickly
- Science World Report – Kathleen Lee | 4/17 | Don't Put Your Fork Down, HAPIfork Vibrates if You Eat Too Quickly
- Slash Gear – Craig Lloyd | 4/17 | HAPIfork Kickstarter campaign officially launches
- TechCrunch – Gregory Ferenstein | 4/17 | Eating Fast Is Destroying Your Body. The HAPIfork’s Buzz Can Help
- The New Zealand Herald – AFP | 4/17 | Would you buy a vibrating fork to stop you getting fat?
- The Washington Times – Jessica Chasmar | 4/17 | Obesity battle gets French weapon: Forks that vibrate on quick eaters
- TUAW – Mike Schramm | 4/17 | HAPIfork Kickstarter campaign goes live
- Ubergizmo – Hubert Nguyen | 4/17 | HAPIfork Starts Crowdfunding on Kickstarter
- Venture Beat – Rebecca Grant | 4/17 | World’s first connected fork could help you eat healthier, slower, and less
- Wall Street Journal – N/A | 4/17 | HAPIfork Now Available for Pre-Order on Kickstarter
- Xconomy – Wade Roush | 4/17 | Testing Kickstarter’s Appetite for a Digital Fork and 'Positive Punishment'
- Boot Camp - Fred Fishkin | 4/18 | HapiLabs opens Kickstarter campaign for the HapiFork
- Financial Everyday - N/A | 4/18 | HAPIfork Now Available for PreOrder on Kickstarter
- Gearburn - Bianca Budricks | 4/18 | Is HAPIFork a dumb fad or smart new eating tool?
- Gizmag - Dave Parrack | 4/18 | HAPIfork smart fork hits Kickstarter
- Health Care Asia - AFP | 4/18 | Vibrating Fork Helps Combat Obesity
- CBS Radio & Larrys World - Larry Magid | 4/18 | HAPIFork Helps You Eat More Slowly
- NBC - Bay Area - Scott Budman | 4/18 | 'HAPIfork' a New Tech Diet Tool
- NBC News - N/A | 4/18 | HAPIfork Now Available for PreOrder on Kickstarter
December 27, 2012
Paul Gillin's Attack of the Customers: Don't Be A Victim
I now have a copy of Paul Gillin's book Attack of the Customers, available on Amazon, which I'll dive into just after CES. The jist of it is how customers are rising up to have their voices heard: Why critics assault brands online and how to avoid becoming a victim.
He raises the point that an attack from a customer or a flurry of customers can go global and viral ina matter of hours, not days or weeks. The impact to a big brand once something negative goes viral can be traumatic.
Attack of the Customers explains how social media can be used to destroy as well as to build. It offers actionable strategies to prevent and prepare for disasters before they strike a company, demonstrating ways that creative engagement can turn critics into raving fans.
Read an excerpt from the book Gillin published many months ago before the book was published using the example of when Procter & Gamble announced the most significant technical advance in disposable diapers in a quarter century. The new Dry Max line featured an absorbent gel that improved diaper efficiency while cutting materials and costs by 20%.
He uses real examples from some of the biggest brands today. He asserts that customers complain because they care and when they care, you can turn a disaster or potential one into a positive outcome using social media and other effective ways to communicate online.
Additionally, Paul's blog post on the book's unveiling offers a discount code for 30% off.
August 26, 2012
PR Summit: Who Owns the Message? PR or Social Media
The PR Summit is an all day pow-wow now in its third year. The August 27 event held in San Francisco will take on a wide range of topics from discussing PR for Startups & Early Stage Companies to the dynamics between social media and more traditional PR.
The morning kick-off panel will discuss how to blend traditional media outreach with social media tools with Elliot Tomaeno from The Morris + King Company, Kym McNicholas from PandoDaily.com, Ricky Yean from Crowd Booster, Mike Barash with Knock Twice and Robert Scoble.
I'm on a panel entitled: Battlefield 2.0 - Social Media versus PR (Who Owns the Message?), with Y’Anad Burrell from Glass House Communications, Harry McCracken, Fred Bateman, PRSA's Gerard Francis Corbett and Teresa Rodriguez.
Bad Marketing or Bad Timing will discuss how companies can avoid failure in crisis? Cathy Brooks moderates the panel with Peter Delevett from SJ Mercury News, Venture Beat's Jolie Odell, Jason Johnson from Founders Den and Abraham Hyatt from ReadWriteWeb.
ROI, Metrics, Measurement, & Engagement panel will be moderated by Alastair Goldfisher from Reuters. Panelists include Murray Newlands, Connie Zheng, Oliver Starr and Jiyan Wei.
Ben Parr and Kim Bardakian take on winning pitches: turning your idea into a national news story.
Keynote addresses include Michael Tchong with Ubercool: “Social Revolution: A good week for crowdsourcing” and Porter Gale on the "3 Degrees of Separation." There will be a few workshops as well scattered into the mix and a fireside chat with Brian Solis and Kara Swisher.
June 13, 2012
Fotobabble for Websites, Facebook Timeline & New iPhone App Release
Fotobabble announced three new updates this week: Fotobabble for Websites, Fotobabble for Timeline and a new iPhone App release.
Fotobabble for Websites is a new application that for the first time lets an organization run photo and audio-driven campaigns and promotions directly from any website. Through the visual impact of photos, the emotion of voice and the power of social media, brands and businesses can increase web traffic and audience engagement.
Everloop.com, the leading online social site for kids and tweens, selected Fotobabble for Websites to power its INSPIRE contest with international pop star Greyson Chance. Kids were invited to take a photo of what inspires them, add their voice, and enter to win an iPad and autographed posters.
Fotobabble for Timeline is the only Facebook application that engages fans with the visual impact of photos and emotion of voice. Easy to install, brand and customize, the app lets organizations launch creative Facebook marketing contests and campaigns.
Fotobabble features such as photo contests and voting; "like-gating" with Talking Photos; customized photo galleries; and more are now fully Timeline compatible.
Creating Talking Photos with Fotobabble’s iPhone App allows you to make iPhone photos bolder and more beautiful with just a couple of simple clicks. Powerful effects, filters, cropping tools and more help you create Talking Photos that you’ll want to share with everyone.
- Effects – Choose from ten gorgeous effects ranging from vivid color to washed-out retro.
- Filters – Enhance, adjust, and perfect your photos with one-click editing tools.
- Cropping and rotate tools – Flip, crop, and rotate your photos to position them however you want to.
- More – Fix red-eye, brighten or saturate your photos and more.
April 10, 2012
LocalSocial: The Bridge Between Mobile, Proximity Marketing & Great Deals
LocalSocial is all about the bridge between mobile and proximity marketing. Targeting business owners, retailers, merchants and venue owners, they're trying to make it easy to create offers and loyalty points rewards that can only be unlocked on the premises.
The goal of course is to drive footfall, repeat visits, and provides deep insight and social context for new and existing existing visitors. It turns anonymous walk-ins in to real people, enabling merchants to better engage with your customers in a way that's convenient and fun for them.
What they're doing is not new, but it is relevant and it is tapping into a massive market, one which a ton of players are banking on the fact that the power of proximity and location mapped with interests and culture will be a goldmine for brands.
LocalSocial's proximity framework uses Bluetooth and other technologies to detect physical proximity to other people and devices to enrich user experiences using multi-player games and marketing apps, presumably useful ones that will provide value to consumers not detract.
Here's How it Works:
Say you run a pizza takeout restaurant, a hair salon, coffee shop, pub or convenience store, LocalSocial allows you to create custom special marketing offers, ads and deals customers can 'grab' on their phones in real-time, so you can better engage with new and existing customers nearby.
The business model is pretty simple and makes sense. There's obviously inherent value in customer data, particularly data on a customer when they're close to your shop. Data this 'targeted' and 'relevant' can increase your customer base and turn existing ones into extremely loyal and "sticky" fans.
Essentially, businesses pay a monthly fee to participate in the network and a little extra for premium analytics.
Brands and Advertisers are already paying for this kind of data and analytics yet may not have the most accurate "proximity" and "behavior" figures. LocalSocial has a compelling "GridView" so you can see deals arranged by shop. What's most useful here however is that "proximity" is flagged, so that as a user, you know which shops are “right here, right now” and have offers of interest and value to you precisely at the time you're nearby.
If you're a retailer or small business, the service seems like a no brainer to check out, particularly if you have locations in various regions. are simply trying to drive more traffic to one of them or your only one.
If you're a Foursquare user or a "social media app" addict, it seems like you could just get hooked. After all, deals just might be more interesting and lucrative than what is being offered in the "fluff" pipeline today. If you're not an early adopter but just thrive on a good deal, it's also an interesting concept.
Remember that the company is still small and hasn't yet expanded to global cities, so give them time to expand their network before you get frustrated that they're not yet available in your country or city yet. The idea however holds a great deal of promise so keep an eye out for their updates and 'new market announcements.' LocalSocial is a very promising start-up with a mobile solution that offers something of value to both customers and small business.
April 10, 2012 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Europe, On Branding, On Geo-Location, On Mobile & Wireless, On Technology, PR & Marketing, Social Media, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 16, 2012
10 Ways to F-K Up Marketing Yourself at #SXSW
Truth be told, I go to a lot of conferences and events throughout the year and have been a regular attendee at SXSW (South-by-Southwest Festival) for about a decade. One of my favorite things to do at conferences is observe what vendors do well (rarely are my socks knocked off) and of course, where they make obvious marketing faux pas (more often than not).
Many of the things on my list will apply to pretty much any show, however the below incidents actually happened during my trip to SXSW this past week. And I couldn’t help but think: It is 2012 isn’t it? There are some basics. What Not To Do:
1. Throw an Event and Target the Wrong People:
Let’s call it a B-Brand, aka, not a Ford, Pepsi Co or Kodak but let’s say a company in between Instagram and Adobe as far as name recognition goes.
Targeting early social media adopters, musicians and music “lovers” would have been the right way to go. Upon arrival, I was escorted to the VIP section (nearly every event I went to had one of these yet it surprised me how little the venue cared since they certainly didn’t go out of their way to cater to that section, which btw, housed the sponsors who actually paid for the event).
After meandering around for a couple of hours and asking people why they were there and how they knew about the ‘brand,’ I was amazed at how unaware they were, not to mention it simply wasn’t their target audience. The other half? Too drunk to carry on a conversation. I had to ask to find out who the key ‘sponsors’ were as well as the Twitter ‘handle’ and hashtag which no one seemed to know. Marketing 101 folks. It’s a social media event.
On another note, sometimes you can invite ‘cool cats’ to your bash but they won’t actually move the revenue needle or bring you customers. And, while you may think they’ll bring you ‘brand’ klout, ask yourself how they will do that exactly before you add them to your list.
2. Shake Hands While You’re Meeting Someone Without Actually Looking at Them:
I’ve been noticing this pattern more frequently in the past year, especially in Silicon Valley with yeah, okay, I’ll say it, the generation behind me. Call me old guard if you will, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with meeting and greeting someone while you’re looking somewhere else. This happened to me five times at SXSW, it was during the day and each one of them was sober.
An industry friend had the same thing happen to him and he was dumbfounded, but he spends his time between New York and Europe more often than he does on the west coast. Welcome to unaware living in the technology world I said. Imagine shaking someone’s hand and saying great to meet you while your eyes are darting elsewhere to see who’s around and who’s not.
Even if you’re not trying to “market” yourself, every exchange is you selling yourself, even if it’s a ‘soft sell’ of who you are, what you represent in the world and how much you care about someone else other than yourself.
3. Meet Someone New and Then Look Down at Your iPhone:
This is related to #2 and quite honestly, has been an increasing occurrence. This btw, isn’t necessarily a generation thing, but moreso an “attention overload” thing related to all the things that grab our attention while we’re on the move. On our devices, we are hit with social media networks, check-in services, addictive online games, email, Twitter, Facebook updates, yadda yadda yadda. This theft (it’s a good word because that’s how I feel about it) of our time and of our attention results in a depletion of our energy, our overall awareness and how much time we give to a human vis a vis a device.
If you haven’t seen a group of people sit down for a meal at a restaurant and then take out their phones, zoning out of the human component around them in order to zone into the digital world one in their hand, then you’re not paying enough attention.
I even sadly saw this at 5 star restaurants in Paris, Dublin and Prague over the past year. So, it ain’t just the yanks although it does seem to be more prevalent the further west I travel.
If you’re more interested in a device than our exchange while I’m talking to you, why on earth would I want to work with you, or trust buying products from you? Disingenuine comes across as disingenuine and bottom line, it just doesn’t “feel good” to be on the other side. It makes me quickly want to move on and talk to someone else. My time is valuable too.
4. Spend A Whole Lotta Money on Hiring Our Cute Girls & Boys To Wear Your Product But Don’t Tell Them Anything ABOUT the Product:
There was a really creative marketing stint at SXSW this year from the Cool Sculpting folks. They even had a hash tag for it - #letsgetnaked. A group of young and pretty well sculpted early twenty year old guys & gals in skin-tight suits which were flesh-colored, paraded around Austin shouting “Let’s Get Naked.”
Their energy was enthusiastic, their smiles electric and they seemed to be having a good time. Simply put, it was hard not to engage with them. I remembered the “lets get naked” slogan afterwards but not their brand name and when I asked about the product itself, I didn’t get a clear idea of what it was other than a ‘suit’ to reduce the number of visible bumps your body displays to the outside world.
Perhaps that’s enough of a selling point, but I would have liked to learn more. When I asked if they were on Twitter, they weren’t sure and no one knew the Twitter name so I had to look it up.
Same goes for the Chevy drivers with their #catchachevy campaign. The marketing team they hired was from an agency that represents Chevy. As an aside, the group was professional, friendly, fun and trained in great customer service, but they didn’t know a whole lot about Chevy cars or whether they had a social media presence. I had to once again look it up.
That said, the fact that their marketing folks were so amazing and having cars available for attendees more than made up for it. The latter is a brilliant marketing stunt and they absolutely executed again, their third year doing it.
5. Have an Event FAR Out of Town When There’s Limited Taxis & Pedi-Taxi Drivers Won’t Take People Up Hills:
There were a few companies that held their events too far out of town, including one of my favorite airlines. I was thinking: why not team up with Chevy or another car company (co-brand it) and bring folks out to your event, at the very least press and VIPs. We called a cab to get back into town and after an hour of a ‘no show,’ I ended up having to walk back into the city with a heavy bag on my already sore shoulder.
Once we were there of course, they had it nailed. Fun demos, great food, casual atmosphere and plenty of knowledgeable and engaging in-house and agency folks to interact with and ask questions. Customer engagement & Hospitality gets an A+.
A few companies did the Salt Lick Barbeque van trips, which I’ve done myself with a client in the past. It’s great on one hand because it celebrates something local and is unique, but on the other hand, the transportation out and back eats into other events that guests may want to attend so it presents an extra reason not to show up.
Make your venue easily accessible, easy to find (signage) and whenever possible, avoid other major event conflicts so you don’t force your guests to choose.
Don’t even get me started with the traffic jams and pedi-cab incidents you have to deal with SXSW week. An Irish bud was literally thrown out of a pedi-cab because the ‘kid’ had never driven one before and it was his first day. Unfortunately, he spent the rest of SXSW limping around and popping strong pain pills.
6. Spend a Whole Lotta Money on a Booth Gimmick & Have the Wrong People Work the Booth:
There were a few creative ‘gimmicks’ at various booths yet while their booths had passion and all the trimmings, the people working the book didn’t. If you’re spending a fortune on a booth, design, collateral and more, make sure you bring people who not only live and breathe your product, but have the kind of energy that will get others to climb on board as well.
In a few cases, it seemed like they couldn’t wait for the day to end so they could begin party hopping. It’s not that I don’t resonate with it – it’s exhausting working a booth for 8 hours a day, having done it more times than I’d care to remember. That said, there are people who dig talking to people and pitching over and over AND over again. Find them, nurture them, educate them DEEPLY on your product or service and do whatever you can to keep them so they don’t go elsewhere.
7. Get So Drunk That You Can No Longer Talk Effectively About Your Product OR Yourself:
I realize that SXSW is more like a summer camp for social media afficiandos, geeks, film makers and musicians than it is a traditional conference, but let’s face it, it’s not as if the whiskey, beer and wine served are top shelf at 95% of the events, even in the VIP sections.
Aside from your product or service, I may actually want to learn more about you as a person, whether that is because I might be interested in partnering with you at some point in the future, hiring you, buying something from you or who knows, even writing a book together. Amazing collaborations can come out of SXSW (and have), so realize that you’re always marketing yourself, even between midnight and 3 am. You’re always selling at SXSW even when you think you’re not.
8. TWEET While You’re As Drunk (See #7):
Those of us who are online often will likely all admit that they’ve sent something out, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere that they’re embarrassed about or was inappropriate.
The same applies to video btw. People can shoot you somewhere and in days if not minutes, your mug, your voice, and your drunken self is public for the world, your employer, your business colleagues and your family to see.
9. Carry Cluttered Business Cards That Make It Hard to Find You:
Ever notice how “cool” it is now to carry a business card with only your name and a website on it. The logic of course is that if you’re really interested in them, you’ll go to their website for all the data that you need, which of course drives traffic to their site. For those with too much time on their hands or those you do end up having a meaningful or long conversation with, then that may in fact work.
Most of the people I end up wanting to talk to longer than ten minutes at a cocktail reception tend to be extremely overbooked, busy people. Sometimes I attend 3-4 events a week, which adds up to a whole lotta cards. Imagine how many I end up with after a week at SXSW covering not just Interactive, but Film and Music? I don’t even try at this event and end up with 100 by the time I get home.
Sometimes I’ll tweet out a ‘cool’ thing about a company or person in that moment if I was ‘moved’ by something, a task I’m 99% less likely to do the next day or the next week. The industry simply moves too fast and the always on, social media culture has only accelerated things.
The majority of cards I got at SXSW didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter handle listed…at a conference where Twitter exploded, at a conference full of bloggers, tweeters and social media consultants, at a conference where “in-the-moment” tools like Foursquare are used hourly. Yadda Yadda Yadda you get the idea.
And so, most of those companies didn’t get a call out because I was too busy to take to pull up their site and even for a few sites I did go to, it was difficult to find their Twitter handles. Marketing 101 folks. It’s a social media event.
10. Have No Cards At All:
Every time someone doesn’t have a card at an event, the response is: “I ran out of cards or forgot them or if someone wants to find me, they will.” Fair enough, you don’t want to be found and you really don’t want people to contact you.
If you’re at a level in your career where you’re either an ‘industry celebrity’ and simply don’t want to be bothered or think you are an ‘industry celebrity’ and just too arrogant to be courteous, then fine – be mysterious or too important to carry them.
To be fair, I get it. When I dish out a card, I worry that I’ll be thrown onto some inappropriate mailing list or onto a media list that isn’t targeted to what I write about (I ended up on an enterprise software company’s mailing list in the last year and one of their sales reps actually called my house at 8 am in the morning trying to sell me a 3K solution for my business), or someone will follow up asking for free consulting it disguising it as a simple question to get my unique perspective or insights.
That said, I always feel I can learn something from someone new and often I learn something new about myself and how to handle complex situations from the people I least expect. Sometimes when I think I’m the teacher, I end up becoming the student and vice versa.
Bottom line, I think it’s disrespectful not to carry a card and I wasn’t born in Asia. Sure it’s a game, but in the networking game, it’s part of the protocol.
Sometimes people say, “I just came here to meet up with a few friends.” My thought is: cool, then why did you come to a networking event in the first place? Why not go to a private bar where you’re not surrounded by new people and catch up with old friends? It’s like playing golf on a South African golf course and not wearing the ‘socks.’
And, for those who live in a digital-only world and that’s your excuse, remember that not everyone else does. If your response to that is: if they’re not playing in the digital world and can’t Bump me their data, then they’re not relevant, then you shouldn’t be in a role that IS marketing-driven. You never know where your customer is going to come from or when. Protocol 101. Be respectful. Carry a card, even if you decide later on to never talk to them again.
January 17, 2012
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