Archive for August, 2010

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SocialĀ Self-Promotion

August 12, 2010

Yesterday Twitter streams everywhere were filled with an avalanche of “SXSW vote for me” requests. The infamous SXSW PanelPicker had opened up and everyone was rushing to gather votes. I know the importance of this because I was one of those people trying to drum up votes.

Please check out my most excellent proposal for a panel at SXSW Interactive.

There were almost 2400 proposals up for vote at SXSW Interactive. It is part of the community-based aspect of SXSW that the voice of the people helps determine the content of the event. This voting component accounts for 30% of the “score” for any proposal. In some ways it is a test of the speaker — generating votes is a proxy for generating attendees at their session. Full and successful sessions make SXSW better. Simple equation.

Please consider voting for my really interesting proposal, “Whatever Happened to Good Design Online” at SXSW.

Everyone involved in SXSW knows it is an event about connections. Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla, etc are all essential elements of the experience. Making self-promotion an element of the session selection makes perfect sense to me. I think that conferences driven by the interests of the attendees are very important. I also believe that attendees should not choose all the content — sometimes they can be surprised and delighted by the unexpected. This gives SXSW an advantage over other “unconferences” where attendees choose everything.

Have you checked out my SXSW proposal? Take a look and cast your vote.

So, we all dive in and get everyone we know to cast their vote. It is a popularity contest, but all social media is a popularity contest of sorts. We put our voices out there and hope someone listens. We look for the call and response of voices from the electronic ether and feel a small sense of validation. It is the world we have created online, for better or worse.

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Gold Stars

August 10, 2010

For years airlines have been working tirelessly to increase brand loyalty (create brand loyalty?) through frequent flyer programs. When the economy was booming the savvy traveler could rack up thousands of miles a month and be able to take lovely vacations at the end of the year. Businesses paid for travel and the whole “brand loyalty” aspect of the programs seemed to work. I know I certainly benefited from it.

Now we are in more austere times and smart businesses have realized that not every meeting needs to be face to face. I know that as a service provider I always look for ways to give my clients the most value for their money and conference calls beat plane trips most of the time. This has made a huge dent in the amount of travel for many of us.

Through one lens this might mean the death of any loyalty to an airline. What matters now is price. A different perspective is that every trip needs to be optimized to gain miles on a preferred carrier. I know my organization is optimizing for price. That just makes sense. The benefits of a frequent flyer program are far outweighed by the benefits of a good bottom line for the business.

So, last year I failed to achieve “gold” status on my preferred airline for the first time on almost a decade. This year will likely be the same. Am I really losing out on anything? Well, perhaps next year’s vacation will require more dollars out of pocket than miles from my account. That might make the vacation all the sweeter.

Fundamentally, that gold card when I go to the airport got me through the security line faster and made it more likely I would be in a first class seat. I miss it a little, but those perks are not really worth the savings to my clients and my business. Besides, I have a new gold card in my wallet.

Yes, I am a frequent drinker. The marketing team at Starbucks finally saw the opportunity they have been missing for years. Many of us visit Starbucks 2-3 times a week; some people go 2-3 times a day. This is real brand loyalty. It might also be “blind” brand loyalty — we are on auto-pilot as we cruise by and grab our latte each morning. However you want to define it, Starbucks has a strong hold on their customers.

The new Starbucks card program rewards frequent drinkers with a gold card after 30 visits. Every 15 visits after that you earn a free drink. There are some other benefits but they really don’t amount to much. When you present your gold card to the cashier you are treated exactly the same as every other customer — friendly and efficiently. You can’t jump to the front of the line and you don’t get to boot someone else out of the comfy chair while you drink your coffee.

What are the real benefits to me besides that free drink once a month (and a gold card with my very own name engraved upon it)? It is the “stars” you earn with each visit. This handy device for tracking your use of the card is the world’s simplest video game. I visit a store and another star drops into my cup. I can see my cup on my computer or on my iPhone through the Starbucks card app. I can also track the balance on my card. As dollars go down, stars go up. How can I minimize the amount I spend per star? Can I treat a friend to a drink just to earn another star? The gaming possibilities here are limited; and that is part of the appeal.

There are a lot of ways to win brand loyalty. The best way is to deliver an outstanding product or service to your customers at every touchpoint. But, don’t overlook the possibility of giving them a gold star for their efforts as well.

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Your brand, subverted

August 9, 2010

If you think you are controlling your brand across all channels, think again. It used to be that a small number of brands (e.g., Rolex, Cartier) knew they were being counterfeited on a regular basis. A street corner scam was practically a shared joke between scam artist and victim.

Now, every brand is subject to counterfeit and exploitation. Consumers can’t tell the real from the criminal without a lot of help. How will you react? How will your brand protect itself?

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Hospital Wars

August 8, 2010

Lately I have noticed an increased visibility of hospital brands in my part of town. For those that know the Seattle area, I live on the “East Side” — across Lake Washington. This is the Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland area — the dreaded suburbs to many a city-dwelling person. The skewed perceptions of suburbia (and of the city) is another topic.

The area is dominated by a few named hospitals: Swedish and Seattle Children’s on the Seattle side of the lake; Overlake and Evergreen on the East side. Each of these stayed on their respective side of provided outstanding healthcare to the region (disclosure: Seattle Children’s is a wonderful client of my agency).

Recently, even in the midst of the Great Recession, all of these institutions have begun to expand. (I realize that the plans for these expansions were likely launched well before the current economic disaster and we are just now seeing the benefit. Seattle Children’s recently opened a facility in Bellevue. Swedish is expanding their small presence in Issaquah into a full hospital and building an ER/Outpatient center in Redmond. Evergreen is building a new facility with ER and primary care in Redmond. Overlake continues to add to its main location in Bellevue. I have gotten three different hospital flyers in the mail in the last month or so.

I am certainly not complaining about this increased availability of world-class medical care. Yay for more hospitals! What interests me is the brand fight going on. How am I supposed to elevaluate the relative value of a brand that is dedicated to health and well-being? What are the decision factors necessary to choose one over the other? Location seems to be everything, but there is a subtle battle here and it is about the placement of each brand along some continuum.

Seattle Children’s clearly is for “children” (well, under 21), but the others rely on a little bit of shared myth and memory about their relative strengths. I don’t have any facts, but Swedish has always been about surgery and babies in my mind. Evergreen, where my daughter was born, is my “local” hospital and gives me lots of glowing feelings. Overlake is where I go to get tests.

What does this all mean? Well, we have a surfeit of good choices in front of us. Everyone seems to win when hospitals exert their brand muscle. My colleague Henk Groenewald recently touched on a similar topic in his blog — How do you brand the invisible — check it out.

(The visit yesterday to the Evergreen Urgent Care because my daughter had a manicure stick pierce her foot contributed to the thinking about this post.)