Smart Brands Tell The Best Stories

Seth Godin says, “Great marketers don’t make stuff. They make meaning.”

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

It doesn’t matter if we are selling a product or service, promoting a service or brand…if we aren’t telling a meaningful story about who we are and what we do we shouldn’t plan on having a long relationship with our customers or constituents.

There’s a good piece on The Content Strategist that does a great job unpacking this entire idea. Here’s a snip from the article:

You’ve probably heard the big commandment of content marketing: Don’t talk about the brand. If you do, the theory goes, you’ll drive consumers away. After all, they want to read about the things they love, not about you.

But what about the people who are interested in your brand? What about the investors and potential investors? What about the employees and vendors with a stake in your success? Or, for that matter, what about the super-users who just can’t get enough? Shouldn’t you talk about the brand to them?

The answer, undoubtedly, is yes.

Do you think there’s a balance to how much you talk about your brand? Is there a line that you need to be aware of?

Authentic In Mission Is a Magnet

People are attracted to others who are authentic – who are the real deal. That same attraction also carries over to brands and organizations that are authentic. When an organization is authentic to their mission others will be attracted to it.

Authentic: Mission

Why do you do what you do? Are you trying to be all things to all people or are you focused on delivering a specific product or service and experience to a specific group? There is an energy that is generated, when we stay true to our mission, that attracts others. When people see us and our organization passionately focused on a specific mission they want to be a part of it.

Staying true to mission drives every part of our organization from product development to hiring people to establishing processes. If you have ever been to a Whole Foods Market you know that everything they do and everyone who works there is committed to their mission. The culture of Whole Foods is soaked with their mission.

If an organization isn’t authentic and true to their mission and purpose their employees, customers and supporters will see it. When this happens trust begins to erode and eventually that shows up through lack of sales and financial engagement leading to the mission and purpose not being fulfilled.

What examples of brand and organizational authenticity have you seen?


Customer Experience: How Do You See Your Customers?

At a time when almost every product and service has become a commodity what is that ensures your customers will be loyal to you and your business?

  • Is it the quality of your product? Sometimes, but not all the time.
  • Is it your price? Sometimes, but not all the time – think $5.00 cups of coffee.
  • Is it convenience? Sometimes, but not all the time – think Magic Kingdom (unless you live in Orlando).

Customer loyalty is built on customer experience. What kind of experience do we provide when someone walks through our doors? What kind of experience do our customers have when we answer the phone or respond to an email or tweet?

Do the experiences we create fascinate or frustrate? Are we thrilled someone has chosen to connect with our organization or has the person we need to respond to interrupted our day?

One of my all-time favorite examples of a company that takes pleasure in serving their customers is Chick Fil A. It’s their pleasure because it’s their pleasure from the CEO to the part-time high school student on the front line. Each employee at Chick Fil A is trained to view each person who walks through the doors as an individual with a unique story.

What type of experience are you creating? Is it one that will keep your customers coming back again and again? Is it one that will turn your customers into evangelists for your business?

Its Never Not Our Department


not my job

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  • Our desk may not be located in the lobby but its our job to make sure the first impression is amazing.
  • Our desk may not reside in the finance department but its our job to be good stewards of our organizations resources.
  • Our desk may not sit in the HR department but its our job to build teams through strong relationships.
  • Our desk may not be located in the customer service department but every customer or potential customer is our responsibility.
  • Our desk may not be located in the bathroom or the break room but its our job to pick up the paper towel off of the floor and empty our lunch container, aka science experiment gone bad, out of the refrigerator.

Our department and our responsibility is wherever and whenever we find ourselves.

Disconnect The Autopilot Switch and Engage

Do you remember the famous 80’s song Mr. Roboto?Mr. Roboto

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto,
(Thank you very much oh Mr. Roboto
For doing the jobs that nobody wants to)

The video for the song was a classic on MTV (when MTV played music videos) and featured the lead singer battling and resisting becoming a robot. The premise of the song was that technology was taking over and de-humanizing people. That tune and message of the song hasn’t changed much over the past 30 years as technology has developed at the speed of light. Today, more than ever, it’s easy to let “technology” become the face and sometimes, the heart, of our business.

Have you ever caught yourself in robot mode? Have you found yourself on autopilot when it comes to engaging with and serving your customers? It’s so easy to let the “tasks at hand” consume our thoughts and actions that we forget the most important thing we can and should be doing —providing a wow experience to our customers.

Action Items:

Build an emotional connection by talking about the shared values and mission you have with your customers. Use social media, email and direct mail to tell your story and make the connection.

  1. Social media isn’t just another fad, it’s not fading away and if you haven’t embraced it yet there’s no better time than the present.  Your most satisfied and loyal customers are following you on Facebook and Twitter so make sure the conversation is happening every day. Keep your social media channels loaded with fresh, relevant and fun content. Add pictures, videos and check-in rewards that keep your customers “looking” for “what’s next” from you. Give your customers a reason to like, follow, connect and share.
  2. Email marketing is still a workhorse that produces results. Don’t stop collecting email addresses and building your email list. And don’t just make your emails about promotions. Include testimonies from your customers about how your stores products and service has helped them. Telling the story of changes lives and wow experiences build a stronger and ongoing emotional connection with your customers.
  3. Direct mail is by no means dead. Connected customers respond to direct mail twice as much as customers who are just familiar and satisfied with a retailer.

Don’t succumb to the temptation of putting things on autopilot. Resist Mr. Roboto and let your humanness rise by establishing and maintaining emotional connections with your customer.

The time has come at last, (Secret secret, I’ve got a secret)
To throw away this mask, (Secret secret, I’ve got a secret)
Now everyone can see, (Secret secret, I’ve got a secret)
My true identity

Customer Experience & Root Canals

I recently had the “pleasure” of having my second root canal. Based on the experience of my first root canal I was not looking forward to this one.

My first root canal went something like this. I arrived at the oral surgeons office (a specialist at performing a root canal). Upon my arrival I was greeted by a cold and unfriendly receptionist who pushed the clip board towards me and told me to fill out each box. After waiting 30-40 minutes the doctor arrived at the door to let me know he was ready to see me. He led me to the chair, put the dental bib around me and then told me, “the nerves in your tooth are dead so you won’t need any anesthetic.” I was a lot younger with my first root canal and more naive and didn’t question the professional – I believed him when he said it wouldn’t hurt. Needless to say, as he began to drill there was pain – enough pain for me to grab his hand, pushing it away from my mouth and yelling, “give me a shot!” As you can imagine he wasn’t thrilled with my reaction – he grabbed his needle, jammed it into my mouth and said, “I’ll be back in 15 minutes”. The root canal was a success but the journey was less than pleasurable.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I had my first appointment to determine the need for my second root canal. I arrive to a warm welcome at Dr. Alex Holland’s dentist’s office (a general practitioner, not a specialist). Within 5 minutes of my arrival I’m taken back to the dental chair. The hygienist was very nice, asks why I’ve come in and I explain. From there she takes a couple of x-rays, develops them and gets them to the dentist. 10 minutes later Dr. Holland arrives to discuss my x-rays and what I’ve been experiencing. After a few minutes of talking and Dr. Holland answering several questions (older and wiser I am now) we determine I need a root canal.

Last week I arrived for my root canal and experienced the same warm welcome and prompt escort to the dental chair that I was going to occupy for the next three hours.

Dr. Holland arrived shortly and proceeded to give me a few shots to ensure I would not be feeling anything this time around.

The anesthetic worked just fine and while I had some mild discomfort from keeping my mouth open for a few hours there was no pain around the tooth being worked on. Throughout the procedure Dr. Holland asked how I was doing, if I was experiencing any pain or discomfort and if I needed anything. The root canal was a success and I walked away feeling much better.

So, what does my root canal have to do with customer experience. Here are some of my takeaways.

  1. First impressions matter – we never have the opportunity to make a second first impression. Warm welcomes, happy attitudes and friendly faces set the tone for the rest of the experience.
  2. Respecting others’ time – if you set an appointment with someone be on time, preferably early. Don’t make your customers wait – you are there to serve them so take care of them as quickly as possible.
  3. Communication is key to any relationship and the relationship with your customer is no exception. Listening and responding appropriately secures the relationship. Asking and answering questions will build a strong foundation with your customers.
  4. Take the necessary time to get to know and understand your customers. If you are only about making the quick sale without having the view of a long term relationship don’t expect to be in business too long.
  5. Use the tools and technology that are going to provide a great experience for your customer. In the case of my root canal those tools were a good anesthetic and the most current technological dentistry/root canal instruments.

One last takeaway is in comparing the two doctor’s who performed the procedures. The first one was a specialist who should have had the techniques, tools and technology to offer a superior experience. Whereas my second root canal was performed by someone who is a doctor of general dentistry. There’s a difference in having the tools and knowing how to use them – make sure you connect with people who know how to use the tools and make sure you know how to use the tools and technology.

What’s most important to you when it comes to customer experience?

Leave your comments and experiences below.


Communicating in Crisis

It was reported today that Zappos was hacked and that millions (24 million to be exact) of customers information was stolen. I’ve been a fan and customer of Zappos and CEO Tony Hsieh for several years and will continue to be. Their commitment to their culture and customers is outstanding as documented in multiple blogs, articles and books. So, I’ve been anxious to see how Zappos shipping Zappo’s handles such a significant breach of trust with their customers. Yesterday Tony sent an email to employees and also posted the information on the Zappos’s blog keeping everyone posted on what had and hadn’t happened. One thing I haven’t seen and am wondering about is the absence of communication on the homepage. It will be interesting to see how their communication in the coming days and weeks unfolds.

I heard a speaker make the following quote several years ago – he said, “In the absence of clear communication people will assume the worst.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a hacker, customer service problem, personnel issue or a family matter – if people don’t understand what is happening they will default to assuming the worst that can happen IS happening. The word has been overused the past few years but it does apply in any kind of situation where a crisis or potential crisis is unfolding and that is “transparency”.

As leaders we have to be wise in our communication on any issue. Obviously there are things that can and cannot be shared regarding certain issues but to the degree that we can be, we need to keep people informed and be transparent. This one act alone can maintain trust and protect our businesses, team member and customers.

Have you ever been part of a crisis within in your company? How did you and or your company respond?

Valuable or Just Loud?

Seth Godin had a great post the other day about struggling to be heard – see it here. His bottom line was that we can either make noise or make a difference.

Just because someone can grab the attention of others by their volume doesn’t mean what they have to say will make a difference. After the noise disappears and the dust settles what’s left behind from our message is what people follow and believe in. There are other times that not saying anything, that our silence, can speak louder than any words we could have shouted. That’s where, as communicator’s, we must know our audience and what will connect with them in the most relevant way – both in delivery and content.

When our product or service provides value and makes a difference (or doesn’t) in someone’s life that person will be the one who turns up the volume and becomes the loudest spokesperson for the company.

Value is where it’s at.

Create A Happy Retail Experience

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

For many of your customers and many of the people in your community this song from Louis Armstrong is probably not something they seem to be humming these days. So, why not take the opportunity and engage in a guerilla marketing tactic I’m calling – “ROTRFL – Rolling On The Retail Floor Laughing”. Make you store a destination for fun, joy, laughter and smiles.

Over the past few months I’ve seen some great examples of simple, fun and engaging tactics used by retailers in the Christian Retail industry. Earlier this year the crew at Lighthouse Christian Supply in Dublin, CA created an event called the Ultimate Chicken Dance Off. They invited customers to get their “Chicken Dance” on IN THE STORE for a chance to win prizes and have some fun. Not only did the grand prize winner sna an iPad but event engaged customers, created buzz but it brought a lot of fun and laughter to the store. They integrated offline and online marketing to create a very interactive experience for their customers. You can visit Lighthouse Christian Supply on Facebook at and scroll down to their updates in May of this year to see how everything unfolded.

Another fun example that I observed earlier this year was a retailer who invited customers, via their Facebook page, to bring in jokes and receive a discount on their purchase. They promoted the event in store, on their website and through their Facebook page. It cost them very little time and virtually no money to pull off the event.

Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing and put you on the road to bringing a smile to your customers face.

Comedy Night – Leverage the rise of Christian comedians like Chonda Pierce, Jeff Allen, Anita Renfroe and others and host a comedy day or night in your store. Play the latest comedy DVD’s and offer special discounts on all of your comedy or family friendly DVD’s. Take this idea to the next level by inviting local Christian comedians to perform in your story on a Friday or Saturday night.

Carnival day – Everyone loves a party and games. Partner with local churches and youth groups to host a carnival in your store. For a list of great carnival game ideas check out

Make the staff laugh – Invite your customers to tell you a joke, humorous story or perform a funny act and then give them a small discount on their purchase. Add a little more fun by marking off an area around your cash register area where they can “perform” – set up a camera (video or still) and catch them in the act – then post their performance on your Facebook page to add some viral marketing potential.

Press release Let the local media know about your store spreading joy. Invite them to come out to one of your event and interview you and your customers about how your are helping encourage people in your community.

Pick a month and promote it as “Happy Month At Your Store”. Post jokes and funny stories to your Facebook page during “Happy Month”. Encourage your customers to post their jokes and stories to your page as well and pick a winner each week. Hand out smiley stickers to everyone who comes through your doors.

Happy banners – hang a sign over your front door or right inside your entry way that announces to your customers that they are now entering an “Encouragement or Happy Zone”.

Roadside clowns – Go old school sandwich board marketing by positioning clowns at the road in front of your store holding signs with big smiles on them, directing them to your store. Don’t rule this tactic out too quickly. In my local town of Kernersville, NC we have a gold, cash and antique store who employs a guy named Kenny who dances while holding a sign that points people to the store. In a recent interview the owners of the store said that 1 in 3 people who come into the store do so as a result of seeing Kenny.

Answer the phone with a smile and fun salutation – We have all heard it before but it’s always worth a reminder. People can hear you smiling or frowning on the other end of the line. When you smile and talk your spreading a good mood to the person you are talking too. Try a salutation like, “Thank you for calling (insert your store name) – how can we add some happiness to your day?”

So…how can you use the “punch line” to impact your “bottom line”?

Have you created or been a part of creating an event like this?

Brain-Trust Marketing

Maybe the term brain-trust or think tank marketing is new to you so here’s how I define it and how you can use it to your advantage. We’ve all heard the saying that “two heads are better than one”. Brain-trust and think tank marketing put this principle into action. If you want to really understand what’s happening in your community and become a vital part of its fabric you have to connect and become immersed in it. You need to expand the crowd you associate with and tap into the brainpower they possess.

Here are some ideas for gathering the crowd and brains to begin discovering ways to strongly integrate your business and mission with your community.

1. Secure a central location for your meeting: someone’s office, a room at a restaurant, a conference room at a local bank – anywhere that you can comfortably meet at for a few hours in privacy. Don’t forget, everyone appreciates a little food and sometimes it’s a great hook to get the group to show up.
2. Identify members who will bring insight and ideas on how to connect with your community in a stronger way. Here’s a short list to get your started:

  • Community outreach leaders: Crisis pregnancy centers, rescue missions, Teen Challenge and other similar life issue ministry groups.
  • Other local business owners and managers – think of businesses that can compliment what you do or that you could potentially partner with that would be of equal benefit. These could include restaurants (food and refreshments for events), print shops (flyers, business cards, brochures), hobby and craft stores – continue to think of other business leaders that can bring a different perspective to what you are doing.
  • Media:  radio and television personalities, newspaper journalists, local bloggers and social media influencers.
  • Your customers! Our businesses exist to serve our customers so inviting them to be part of a group that will help you connect and serve even more customers needs to be part of the mix of the group.

3. Spread the word and begin to gather!
You’ve identified a venue for your group to gather. You have spread the word. You have a group who is ready to start lending their brain-power to you. Now it’s time to put together the agenda for your meeting. Here is a simple outline to get you started:

  • Introductions (name, company, their responsibilities and expertise) from those attending the group
  • Share your goals for the group and how everyone attending can benefit
  • Ask questions and open the floor to begin to let the ideas and insight begin to flow. Sample questions:
  1. What are the biggest challenges our community is facing?
  2. What products and/or services do we offer that can help with those challenges?
  3. Are there products and/or services that we don’t currently offer, but could, that would make a difference?
  4. How can we (the people in the group) work together to create events or outreaches that will have a positive impact on our businesses and our community?
  5. Is there a local outreach organization like a rescue mission or soup kitchen that all of us could use as a focus point for generating awareness and support? Maybe a new organization could be identified and supported each year.

Set realistic expectations for this group. Understand that this is a beginning and a building process. Overnight success will probably take over several months and years. But the success will be solid and on-going.
Obviously the main goal of this group is to generate ideas that will increase sales and extend the mission of your business. But the ideas that are implemented as a result of this group will also produce: positive word of mouth, customer loyalty and long-term goodwill.

Have you created or been a part of a group like this?