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How's That "Make The Customer Angry" Strategy Working For Ya?

I heard the radio ad first.

"Melty cheese...three kinds of cheese...come to Panera."

So - like a tried-and-true lab rat - I did.

"Grown-up grilled cheese, please." (Feeling famished.) "What do I get with that?"

"I can't take your order here." A quick and irritated-sounding response. Finger pointing to the other cash register -- not three feet away. "This cash register is for baked goods only."

Now I was feeling irritated. Sure I bought the greasy thing. It was okay, I guess. But in my head I resolved never to buy that "waste of money" again.

Consider that I have faithfully bought Starbucks' bitter brew for nearly twenty years now. And that they are uniformly willing to take my order, anywhere, anytime, pretty much right away.

How much did that air time cost Panera?

At an otherwise nice hotel, an early-evening request for more of something. A call to the all-purpose "guest careline."

No answer!

Then finally an answer, and this is what I hear:

"Can you call over to (this other number)? Because I don't handle those things."

Hey! It's a hotel! Whoever picks up the phone, should handle everything!

Or, try calling FedEx about FedEx Freight. 

Guess what?

They apparently are not friendly enough to handle each other's phone calls!

Company after company, brand after brand, wasted ad after wasted ad. Cable, wireless, airline, you name it - one call does NOT do it all. 

Verizon Fios. Oh my goodness. A nightmare of phone numbers, customer service representatives, dizzying discussions of services never rendered - because I canceled it before it could go from Point A to Point B.

And this after countless direct mailings and discount offers persuaded me to give it a try. (They even set up a stand handing out fliers.)

Why do big brands waste good ad campaigns by reeling customers in, then spitting them out?

It's really not a mystery: Most think from the inside out rather than the outside in.

If you ask, "why don't you have a single phone number," or "a single web interface" and the like, they will tell you, as if you're an idiot:

"But the inquiries go to different departments!" if stove-piping is natural and it's the customer's problem to figure their byzantine bureaucracies out.

The famous Staples "Easy Button" campaign was a wake-up call. More companies need to wake up.

The businesses I patronize over and over again - the car shop, the pizza place, the doctor and the dentist, the hair salon and the Starbucks - can be big brands but more often are not. Because they know me, I know them, and customer service is never a hassle. (Try Primanti's Pizza in Ft. Lauderdale and you'll see what I mean.)

In the end creativity can take you a long way. But it can't take you away from what business is - a people thing. And when you try to fit people into your internal processes, rather than the other way around, you've just given away your competitive advantage to your competitors.

One living, breathing, instant-gratification-seeking, can't-be-hassled-anymore-than-necessary, just-wants-to-deal-with-a-decent-human-being customer at a time.

Are You Really Suited For Social Media?

Social media is the buzzword nowadays, but honestly not everyone is meant for it. Here are some thoughts that might help you discern whether it will ever be part of your comfort zone -- or not.

I. There are three basic kinds of social media:

A. Primary content - you are the author

* Words
* Photos
* Graphic design
* Video
* Audio
* Applications/games

B. Secondary content - you produce it in a secondhand way

* Commenting on content or news
* Integrating two or more pieces of the same kind of content
* Mashing up one kind of content over another
* Redoing, rethinking, remixing old content - updating it

C. Third hand content - you share

* Any of the above (A or B)
* News
* Opinion (e.g. a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to someone else's more lengthy commentary)
* Coupons, promotions, deals

II. Here's what people who consume social media want:

A. Authenticity - it has to seem real - and you cannot lie
B. Utility - it has to be useful to them in some way, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually, artistically
C. Immediate gratification - it has to be useful right away
D. Shareability - they have to be able to tell someone else
E. Mobility - increasingly, they have to be able to use it on their smartphone

III. The world of social media is different than the world of normal people:

A. Extremes are good versus in real life extreme people seem odd
B. Highly intellectual is good versus in real life people are more likable when they're not brain jockeys
C. Introverted is good versus in real life extroverts have the edge
D. Free is good whereas in real life expensive items are more valued
E. Opinionated is good whereas in real life more laid back is more tolerable

The most important thing to know about social media: It's a non-stop, 24/7/365 conversation. You are not supposed to dwell on any particular thing, or sit in a corner and talk to yourself, but rather stay in the flow.

If you can handle this world it's a blast and a half. If not, it's better not to participate. It's not a water faucet - you can't turn it on and off like ads you pay for. It's about being there for the long haul, consistently a part of the party.


When A Culture Fails To Adapt & You Fail To Understand Culture

"I'm sorry if this sounds stupid."

"No, what?"

"What is a hookah?"

"Excuse me?"

"In South Beach they show something called 'hookah' all over the place. It looks illegal."

"Oh, HOOKAH. Pass the peace pipe."

"Come again?"

"Muslims can't drink so they smoke together. Cherry flavor, vanilla..."

"Do they change the tip?"

"Here in the West they do. But authentic hookah, no. They share."

I have been going for years thinking that hookah is marijuana. Not understanding why they don't arrest all those people who sell it and use it.

I thought hookah was like a "bong." Where did I get that?

Don't laugh - from watching "Greg Brady" who had one on "The Brady Bunch."

How I think reflects my upbringing, psychology, class, gender, education, geography, religion, family history, and so on. Everyone's "recipe" is unique.

My perspective is tiny, limited. It is helpful therefore to be purposely "stupid" so that I can learn about others'.

If you don't know and do not ask you assume things wrongly. This makes you handicapped. Unable to relate. Prejudiced. Alone.

In New York ultra-Orthodox Jews are currently struggling to cope with several long-swept-under-the-rug cases of pedophiles protected by the community.

There are cultural forces at play. One is fear of non-Jewish authorities. Another is shame. We are not in Nazi Germany anymore however - and there is increasing social endorsement of honesty over the "smiling and perfect face."

The culture is dysfunctional because its survival mechanisms belong to a different time and place. Understanding that is key to reaching formerly religious Jews who have walked away disengaged and disillusioned.

I am currently watching Season I of "Homeland." It challenges every concept about who is a terrorist and who isn't. Who is mentally ill versus "normal." What family and friendship mean. What is loyalty? Because the characters are authentic, and carefully rooted in multiple cultures--military, national, religious.

Before you say anything about a thing--before you draw conclusions--you have to understand it well. They say that the more you study Torah the more you realize you don't know. That is very true, and it applies to people and culture too.

Your Personal Brand In 2013

What are you going to do differently next year?

Over the holidays my dad sent me a picture from a Chanukah party in upstate New York. It showed an aunt and uncle I hadn't seen in many years. My uncle was wearing one of those t-shirts with a tuxedo painted on the front.

It was a funny shirt. I laughed.

My mother's brother is a pretty no-nonsense kind of person. He is a doctor and takes his work seriously. But never too seriously to be a little humorous. To help the family or community. My aunt is similarly a "mensch."

I saw an old friend around the same time. She too was down to earth, relaxed and happy. It was like time had never passed.

How do you think about your personal brand? Do you draw up strategies? Or do experiences just fill you up like gas, until you exhale and take your life in a different direction?

For me it's usually the latter. I have a vague idea, then interactions and observations wake me up a little.

My plate was a little too full last year. I made it that way, trying to do it all, all the time. Seeing that photo and my friend was like the final shot of helium to burst my balloon of working too hard. Narrowing activities, and kicking back now and then, is good all the way around.

Next year, with G-d's help, I plan to do the following:

1. Professionally, focus on a few key items and execute them consistently and well.

2. Personally, take a little time to relax and breathe.

3. Methodologically, as a life process, avoid naming or pinning down my exact direction - let it be natural and creative and evolve.

Embracing a few realistic key ideas or elements is the core of any good brand strategy, personal or organizational. You cannot and should not try to write a dissertation or to accomplish one.

When you choose your own simple steps - or allow them to choose you - it enables you to achieve concrete and meaningful progress.

Media Consolidation vs. Fragmentation: Action Steps for Government Communicators? (Updated)

Right now we are seeing increasing fragmentation/personalization of the news through the pervasiveness of web-based outlets. At the same time, a few large companies own the vast majority of American media:
1. Fragmented/personalized media
According to the Pew Research Center "State of the News Media 2012" survey:
* Revenue is down for network TV, local TV, magazines and newspapers but increasing for online TV, cable and audio (meaning radio or streaming web audio)
* 54% get news on at least one "digital, web-based device"
* 9% of U.S. adults "get news on any digital device very often through Facebook."
2. Consolidation of mainstream media in the hands of a few
Media Consolidation: six companies own 90% of American media: GE, Disney, News Corp, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS (Infographic here)
How can government communicators turn this data into insight - to deliver information to the public more effectively? What concrete actions should we take? I am reflecting on this and welcome any comments.    

Some of my own thoughts--
To me the data tells a consistent story.
* Many in the public actively mistrust government - there is always tension between the federalists and the anti-federalists. See recent Gallup numbers below.
* Mistrust of government combined with aversion to "corporate owned media"  fuels the development of alternative news, blog, social media, etc. by the public. (Free technology also enables as does culture of self expression through social media.)
* The appropriate response from a communications point of view would be to do things that increase trust in government (obviously) by increasing the quality of information provided to the public. (This from the public's perspective) AND making sure they know about it and can access it.
* Sample areas of focus could include making government data "mashable," customer service as Amazon provides it - email, chat, or phone options; and developing FAQs based on visiting social media sites and then responding both there and at the original government site.
* In general I would move the focus away from the government website and toward the interactive model where the site mainly holds data and repositories of information posted on social media sites.
* I would also form a cadre of virtual information ambassadors who would reach out to the public to provide information.
These are just some ideas, but I hope that others here who are engaged in projects of this nature can add.
Item #1

Item #2
Screenshot sources: Gallup (Annotations by Dannielle Blumenthal)

The 10 Eternal Rules of PR

1. Be who you are.

2. Apologize only for breaking your promise.

3. Go all the way with your message or not at all.

4. Play offense not defense.

5. Respect differing views and others' sensitivity.

6. Admit it when you have a crisis.

7. Know when you are a lightning rod for other issues and respond accordingly.

8. Stick to the facts.

9. Connect emotionally.

10. Trust your gut over opinion polls.