Archive for July, 2010

Barnes & Noble Is OUT of the Book-Selling Business

Barnes & Noble is creating a place where people go to comfortably read and think.  Isn’t this what the local library was originally created to be?  Some public libraries have morphed into being dry, dull storehouses of archived information.  Only those libraries that have gotten out of this concept have prospered.  Taking it one step further, B&N believes that if they create a different environment, people will buy the experience by taking the product home as they go through the cash register.  And they’ve proven the concept right.

About once a month, our family likes to spend a quiet evening reading and finding new resources.  Our favorite place to go is B&N.  We like the atmosphere and the ambience.   But we like going there for more than just a bookstore.  Have you ever noticed what they have?  Barnes & Noble is more than just a bookstore.   They are a coffee and snack shop.   They are a magazine store.   They are a music and DVD store.   They are a gathering place with comfy chairs.   They are a children’s place.   They are a library.  You can sit and read all you want. 

I remember when I was about 10 years old going to a local drugstore and looking at the Superman and Batman comic books.  You had to sneak a peak at them because if the manager caught you, he would always say in a gruff voice, “Hey kid!  Buy it or put it back!!”  Has anyone ever said that to you in a Barnes and Noble?  Of course not.  They let you read the books with the anticipation that you will like them and buy them. 

Yes, Barnes and Noble is more than just a book store. Every industry leader does things that aren’t nature to the industry.  This is why they are the leader.  When B&N employees and management attend the bookseller’s convention (rarely) you know how they are treated – either with a lot of respect or a lot of resentment.  No wonder they rarely attend these meetings.   The ones who want to emulate them try to copy them.   The ones who detest them do so because they can’t replicate the B&N experience.  Barnes & Noble is leading their industry because they are MORE than just a bookstore.  They are all I listed above and more.

What are you doing that is OUT of your industry?  You will never lead it, until you get outside of it.

Are Stand-Alone Social Networks Done?

“New stand-alone social networks are a thing of the past,” writes Charles Arthur in the UK’s The Guardian.  “The current crop of social networks meets all our needs, he argues, leaving little room for upstart competitors.”

I don’t think so.

First, beware of anyone who predicts the future confidently.  Sociologists tell us that the world reinvents itself more frequently now and at a faster pace than at any other time in history.  Everything around you has changed and is changing.  It’s a relevant question: Have you? 

Most of us bury our heads when change comes and pretend the changes won’t affect us.  Get your snicker on and read some famous statements in the face of change:

• “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.” -Lee DeForest, “Father of the Radio,” 1926.

• “The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.” – The Literary Digest, 1889

• “What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?”
-The Quarterly Review, 1825

• “The energy necessary to propel the ship would be many times greater than that required to drive a train of cars at the same speed; hence as a means of rapid transit, aerial navigation could not begin to compete with the railroad.” – Popular Science magazine, 1897

• “The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it today. Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient. To this compulsory combination we shall have to adjust ourselves.” – Dr. Alfred Velpeau, 1839 (anesthesia was introduced seven years later)

• “Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein.”  Decca Records remark when turning down manager Brian Epstein’s group, The Beatles in 1962

•“At present, few scientists foresee any serious or practical use for atomic energy. They regard the atom-splitting experiments as useful steps in the attempt to describe the atom more accurately, not as the key to the unlocking of any new power.” – Fortune magazine, 1938

• And my personal favorite: “No woman in my time will be prime minister or chancellor or foreign secretary – not the top jobs.” – Margaret Thatcher, 1970

Second, are you really satisfied with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn?

Most people aren’t Facebook just surpassed cable telecommunications companies and cellular carriers for dis-satisfaction survey results (move over Xfinity/Comcast).

LinkedIn is fast becoming the new Facebook with people doing more than just connecting. Members are now sending out useless messages to their connections a la Facebook (requesting votes for them on web sites, telling what they are doing in a mundane affair, etc.).

I present before thousands each month and ask who is on Twitter. Less than 1% admit it and some of them have no clue how to use it. Few have grasped its potential, as seen by their tweets and postings.

YouTube is still growing and multiplying.

It would be difficult to see an upstart on the horizon, but that is just what Facebook was three years ago before it unseated MySpace.

Who would have seen that occurring then? The answer…No one.  Beware anyone speaking in absolutes and predicting the end of a phenomenon prematurely.  They are almost always prematurely wrong.

Is There a Dinosaur in Your Room?

                                           Let It Die

“The dinosaur’s eloquent lesson is that if some bigness is good, an overabundance of bigness is not necessarily better.”
-Eric Johnson

Who’s In Your Room?
Have you ever heard the expression: “the elephant in the room”?  It can refer to an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed.  It also applies to an obvious problem no one wants to discuss.  Because an elephant in the room with us would be impossible to overlook, those in the room who pretend the elephant is not there are more likely to be focused on small and irrelevant matters, never coming to terms with the looming big one.  Think what’s going to happen when that elephant moves!

Archaeologists tell us that the dinosaurs probably died out and became extinct because they weren’t equipped to adapt to a changed environment.  As the environment became different, they couldn’t, or wouldn’t become different.  But other species on this planet survived because they were able to adapt and they became different with the different environment. It is called survival of the fittest.

Your environment has definitely changed.  But there are obvious practices, problems, attitudes, beliefs, employees, inventory, customers and items that you believe are holding you back from changing.  They don’t allow you to become what you can be.  When you resist changing them by refusing to adapt to a changed business environment, global marketplace or economy, they hold you back from making the decision required to move forward.  Whatever excuse you choose for avoiding change, it will lead to your extinction.

Sadly, everyone can see it but you.  It might be a fashion style you think makes you stand out, but instead is being ridiculed by onlookers.  It might be your stubborn belief in a product or item in your inventory that you just know someone will want to buy if you push it hard and long enough.  It might be meetings with your employees that are useless, time-wasting, or simply self-aggrandizing.  Whatever name it goes by, it is costing you more money to hold on to it than to just get over it and move on.

How Despicable Companies “Punish” their Customers

In an earlier post I said, “When the sentence opens with ‘Our policy is..’ it won’t end in your favor. When the sentence closes with, “This is for your security,” it isn’t for your security – most of the time.  It isn’t for your convenience either.

It is to explain why it is convenient for the company, government insitution or terrible sales person.  If you are being inconvenienced and they have to tell you it is for your security or safety, it isn’t.  It is to accomodate them.

My brokerage company changes my online password every six months, whether I want them to or not.  When I called to ask why I can’t keep the same access code or change it to what I want they said, “This is for your own security.”  So for my own security, I changed…brokerages.  It was easier and less hassle.

Have you ever had to go through multiple voice recording loops to identify yourself (name, account number, telephone number, etc.), only to be asked the SAME questions when a live person answered the phone? “This is for your security.”  No it isn’t. It is because you can’t tie in your voice mail with your live customer dis-service representatives.

Today, many companies use phrases like this to hammer their customers. If it is more convenient for you and less for your customers, you are not making it more secure. You are driving them away. You can learn ways to attract more people and not punish them for doing business with you in the process.

If you have to be remined it is for your security, it isn’t. It is easier and more secure to change companies.

Your Culture Defines Your Community

Everyone has customers.  People who “buy” from them.  Reinventing your community involves finding out why people like you and what they feel they receive from you.  Nothing makes people take notes more when I am leading a presentation on reinvention than when I ask, “Who is buying from you?  What do they buy and what do they wish you would do more of for them?” 

Your culture defines your community.  What is the experience like in doing business with you?  Who is in your community?  It is easier to find a new audience to appreciate your culture than it is to find a new message to deliver.   If one group isn’t listening to what you say and you are too married to it, then find a new audience.  Reinventing your community means finding an audience who accepts your message whole-heartedly.  It means researching who you want to reach and targeting everything you do to that market.

Is there a new community or audience you can attract with the value you deliver?  What does the culture of your organization lend itself to?   Who hasn’t heard your message yet?  NOT people who don’t want your message, but a community who you already have a message for but are unaware.

There is a community that you haven’t tapped into yet and they await your reinvented image and persona.  They want to hear what you have to say directly to them.  Who is buying from you?

Why Don’t People Care About Your Content?

Several friends asked me why I wrote great articles in newsletter each month, like “Your People Hate You” but the title of the newsletter was  “January Newsletter.” They told me I was hiding my content.  They were right. The the title left everything that is absorbing  about the content out.

So I reinvented my newsletter, tweets, Face Book posts and blogs. Why? No one cared. Well some did, but most weren’t interested in the content. Don’t misunderstand me, it was good content but the titles were running people off.  It is difficult to get busy business leaders interested in “March Newsletter.” Or a blog post titled: “Travelin’ in Mexico.”  Or a tweet called: “Reinvention Tip #569.” Who cares???

I get newsletters every day entitled, Debbie’s Newsletter, or Angela’s E-Zine.  One is from a Time Management “Expert” who is up to Number 355. (How am I supposed to manage my time and read 355 articles?).  The content may be great, but I get lost in the abundance of the word newsletter. I read a newspaper, but not the whole thing. The headline is what grabs me.  I discovered that I needed to say something that made people go from scanning their Inboxes to READING my material.

Then my video producer sent out a blast to his clients with the caption: “What do Zombie’s, a Grandfather and Atlanta Business Video have in Common?”  I bit the hook and opened it. Wow! What a great idea!

Before you send out the next email, blog post, newsletter or tweet, ask yourself, “WHY anyone would open and read this?” Why should they care what you think if it is pointless?

Here are some random thoughts as I read today’s busy Inbox:

  • Don’t tell me you’ve been to England.  It’s like having to watch your home movies.  Tell me something provacative about the English you learned that impacts my life or business.
  • Don’t call it Tip #347 . It’s like walking into a movie 2/3 into the plot.  That overwhelms me and makes me wish I had seen the first 346 of them to catch up to this one.
  • Don’t give me 12 management tips.  That’s boring title and too much to remember.  Give me “3 Proven Essentials to Survive the Present Crisis.” THEN put in a link to read the next 3, and then the next 3.  Now I am hooked (if your content is any good).
  • Don’t send me alerts for things that aren’t urgent to ANYONE but you.I am not interested in your deadlines that don’t motivate me where I am.  I noticed that Fox News puts up an “Alert” every time anything bland happens. An alert should be for real crises, like “Bombs are dropping: Get under your desk!”

Ask questions that I want to know the answer to.  Make statements that bring out my curiosity. Give me a title that grabs my attention. Turn me from an email, blog, twitter scanner into a READER.  Hook me on your content and I promise you, I’ll come back for more.

My goals is to help business leaders reinvent themselves  and their marketing by any means necessary.  But if no one benefits, it won’t happen.  They need to care about my content.  It starts with the title and builds from there.

Does anyone care about your content?

When the Sentence Opens with, “Our Policy Is…”

I went to return a defective item at a home improvement store in Georgia this week. The store Returns Department customer service person was very nice.  She apologized for the problem and offered to make it right by replacing the item with no hassle.  That was the best part.  I like the “No Hassle Treatment.”  

She said, “Now if you want to buy something else,  just tell them at checkout that I replaced the item and if they need to verify, they can call me.”  She gave me her name and smiled.

I liked the store so much, I shopped some more, with my replaced item in tow. They marked it so there would be “no misunderstanding.”  As we left the check-out clerk inquired about the replaced item.  I told her the story and showed her the sticker on my box.  Big mistake; big hassle.  “Our policy is that we don’t replace items, sir.  We only refund you the money and DO NOT replace it.”  Huh? I told her about the nice lady at the Returns Department.  “Oh,” she said. “If she handled it then that is alright.” Then she added firmly, “Just know, our policy is that we don’t replace items, though.”

Did I need to know their “policy” after the fact?  What good was quoting a rule that didn’t apply to my situation do?   In fact, what good does quoting an unwritten (or written rule) to a customer do?  DO your loyal customers need an education in your private policy manual?  Do they CARE about your policy manual?


Tell me this: Have you ever been quoted a policy by some pencil-pusher who doesn’t care about you or your problem?   Have they told you they can’t do something when they really meant to say they WON’T do it?   In my opinion, when the sentence opens with, “Our policy is…”, the rest of it isn’t going to end in your favor. 

I had a customer dis-service representative tell me last month on the phone, “Our policy is to not allow customers to speak to a supervisor.”  I answered, “MY policy is that I get to speak to any supervisor of any service provider.”   She hung up.  I called back to speak to him.   He said that is NOT their policy.  It is, though.

Are policies more important to you than people?  Here is a quick way to find out.  If you are emphasizing policies, then you are having less people – both working for you and as customers. 

One of the most frequent complaints I hear during strategy sessions with executives is that their people don’t use creative ways to cross-sell, or extend themselves with customers.   Then I find out that the workers are afraid to step out of the rules (or don’t know them well enough to be empowered to act) in trying out ideas.   They don’t feel they have permission to satisfy the customers.  They are afraid of retribution from their supervisors. 

What policies do you have that have to be reinforced to your customers over and over?  What rules do you have in place that stifle your employees’ creativity?   What rewards or incentives can you put in place to turn them around?  Give bonuses to people who extend themselves beyond the rules and make your company/organization a winner.  Empower your people to satisfy your customers beyond the manual.  People do what gets rewarded.  Recognize them publicly so that everyone will get the idea that this behavior is what gets rewarded.

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July 2010


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