5 inspirational ideas and 2 revelations from an adventure to Chicago – Guest Post – Karen Post

This past weekend I journeyed to the Windy City of Chicago. A little business and a lot of fun produced these inspirational ideas and a couple revelations too.

I was in Chicago to meet with a client that I’m building a new website for and to get a big city fix of culinary, cultural and entertainment experiences.

I arrived Friday night. Flew on Continental with my One Pass miles, first class, love that reward stuff! My flight was nice until we were about to land and I realized I forgot my cell phone in Tampa(Revelation #1 – forgetting your cell phone totally sucks). I was mad at me for being an airhead and also I was a little freaked out, because without a cell phone in our modern world, you are very disconnected, pay phones are in the same museum as dinosaurs.  And since I don’t know how to send smoke signals and I needed to let my driver know I had arrived, it was time to bum a phone from a fellow traveler. Fortunately a kind man helped me out. I buzzed Diva Limo (that really is their name), I’m here.

Just as I gave him back his phone and he jumped in his car, it hit me, I didn’t tell them where I was. Damn, I need a freakin phone. This was bad, stress full throttle. We are all so dependent to our gadgets. This will teach me, travel item check lists are not that goofy. So I flag down another kind man, may I please use your phone for a quick call?

Headed to downtown. The traffic volume is on steroids. It takes almost two hours to get to my hotel. I finally get there, what a great city!

Here are my trip highlights and inspiration (in no special order).

1) Visual details count.
Downtown Chicago is beautifully landscaped and clean. This visual detail adds to the world class experience of the destination and Chicago’s brand.

2) Distinction can be leveraged in any industry and segment.
98% of all Sushi restaurants look and feel the same, that was until I experienced Friends Sushi.This quaint neighborhood spot takes sushi to a new place. Imagine a retro, hip lounge with white vinyl furniture happy, cheery atmosphere. That is Friends Sushi. Not only was the food awesome, the staff way friendly, but the overall experience very memorable. Their name, logo and all touch points were delightful.


3) Slick and professional is not always the answer.
We went to Second City for our fix of comedy and improv and on the way stumbled upon a retail gem called The Spice House
Old-fashioned with a sensory-explosion, this spice boutique has been serving up flavor in small bottles for over 51 years. Nothing is fancy and that makes it so cool. And there is not shortage of human interaction and experience. You can taste, mix, blend and talk to hard-core spice experts. The authentic, no slick approach to this brand is simply irresistible.


4) Methaphors are so powerful.
Sunday I hung out in the Wicker Park area. This funky, artsy pocket of interesting businesses is worth checking out. Piece Brewery and Pizzeria is another amazing little find. This neighborhood dinner combines pizza and brew, sports and a united spirit of casual and calm. The name Piece, certainly applies to the slice you get of New- Haven style thin crust pizza, but the logo has a much bigger story of peace. Beyond the signage, all of their merchandise is branded with a brilliant graphic mark (piece of pizza) and a very nice Karma-enriching symbol of peace. I even felt nicer when I walked by the place.


5) Packaging is a compelling story teller.
Just when I thought I’ve seen every which way you can spin soap, I discovered Mojo Spa. Mojo Spa began with one woman’s quest for the perfect lip balm. Amanda Kezios, a personal chef turned beauty product innovator, made use of her talents in the kitchen to concoct a unique & natural lip balm that could cure her dry chapped lips. Mojo Spa creates over 200 bath & beauty products inspired by comfort foods & nostalgic treats. Their products utilize natural food ingredients, aromatherapy blends, positive affirmations, healing crystals & sound therapy. All our products continue to remain handcrafted, in small batches, with lots of care & attention to ensure quality & freshness. From the tastefully inviting window display to the culinary packaging of beauty potions as cupcakes and other goodies, this place delivers on their promise, where beauty meets comfort.



(Revelation #2) – Brand equity is a forgiving force.
I’m a loyal fan of Starwood properties. I patronize all of their brands and have never had a disappointing experience, until this trip to Chicago. We stayed at the Westin downtown. From the moment I stepped in the lobby it felt stressful and rushed. I’ve stayed at the Westin in Times Square and never quit felt this vibe, maybe it was just a crazy week. The staff all seemed to be on a high dose of grumpy pills too, except for Lorenzo the doorman. He shared with me that he had been working at that location for 47 years. Wow. I can see why, he was a stellar brand asset, kind, friendly, with a no rush attitude, made you feel like a movie star, until you had to ask the concierge a question, not so nice. I understand sometimes life does interfere with delivering on your brand promise “Relax here” and  like I said, I’m a loyal Starwood customer, so I forgive them and will not harbor this bad experience, in fact I’ve already erased it from my mind and will be booking another Starwood property soon. Had this been a brand I didn’t have this relationship with, I would have surely kicked them under the bus for good.

Happy branding! Till next time.

Your customers are talking, shut up and listen.

Yesterday I had to call a company that I do business with, and by the time the short three or four minute call was over, I was somewhat irritated.  The reason for my irritation was that the CSR on the other end of the line never shut up, to put it bluntly.  I had to fight to get a word in edge wise and if that wasn’t bad enough, when I did get an opportunity to speak, it didn’t appear that she was really listening.  I had to keep explaining the same things to her over and over and at one point I even asked her if she was not understanding me, or hearing me because I felt like I was talking to myself.  My opinion of this company was much less by the time that short phone call was over than when it began and it goes to show that three or four minutes on the phone with the wrong customer service rep can completely change one’s view of an organization.

I think as a business it is crucially important that CSR’s are trained to listen, listen, listen.  How can you help someone without understanding what their issue is, what their problems may be, if you are continuously talking?  You cannot assume that every call falls into a predefined category, you cannot predetermine what someone’s problem is if you do not take the time to listen to them.  My grandfather used to say that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason and that reason is we should listen twice as much as we talk.  I find this to be completely accurate when it comes to customer service, it is impossible to help someone without really understanding what they want and need, and they will appreciate the fact that you listened to them and then tried to find a solution to their particular problem.  This all comes down to training CSR’s and pounding into their heads the need to listen,  I always told my agents that the order of every call in both sales and customer services is listening, then action.  No other way will work, and if you are not listening to your customers, you can bet that one of your competitors is more than willing to.

Every organization should have a training program that includes how to deal with customers and how to listen to what they are saying, this should not be one-time training; this should be ongoing training.  If you are hiring an outside company to handle your customer service on your behalf, it is important that you are satisfied that they are handling customer service issues the way you would and that they are taking the time to listen to what the customer has to say.  Customers are the life blood of every company and there is no advantage whatsoever of not listening to what they have to say.

Emailing prospects makes the sale.

As I have been preaching for years one shot advertising rarely works, in order to have a successful sales pipeline it is imperative that you continue to market to the same group of prospects consistently.  Driving someone to your website once is not enough, even if they are interested in your product or service and spend a considerable amount of time on your site doesn’t mean they are going to buy right then and there.  Once someone has requested more information from you just because they have not bought doesn’t mean they never will, so how do you turn that prospect into a future sale? Email.

Once someone has requested more information from you or registered on your site and provided you with their email address they have given you a way to contact them on a regular basis.  While it is common practice to manage an email list of existing customers and to email them various promotions and offers that they may be interested in, many businesses  miss the boat on prospective customers.  Like I said just because they didn’t order doesn’t mean they never will.  I have seen prospective clients order months after their original inquiry, so it’s important to not write them off.  The best way to keep those prospects in the loop is to email them on a regular basis, anywhere from once a week to a couple of times per month, but not much more than that, you want your email to be informative and a way of keeping them up to date on current promotions and services, but not become a nuisance so that they unsubscribe from your list.  Research has shown that the 3 to 7 consistency rule is a good rule of thumb for marketing, meaning three to seven marketing attempts often have to be made before someone actually takes action and the best way to market to them is by building a list of prospects and emailing them on a regular basis.

In today’s world with the technology available at our fingertips it is easy to build a list of prospects and using email to get to them is not only efficient it’s cost effective as well.  Using a service like Admail.net is a great way to manage your list and the cost is low.  So don’t blow those prospects off just because they didn’t buy, with consistency you can still turn them into a sale.

Some marketing can’t be bought.

My mother is friends with the manager of a mobile home park and for the second time in two years she accompanied her friend to the annual corporate convention where they provided her with a hotel room, free meals, and all expenses paid.  My mother found this to be uncharacteristic of a company especially since she was not an employee, just the friend of an employee.  While there she had several opportunities to speak to the owner who asked if she was enjoying herself and was just in general a kind person, as were most of those from corporate.

I tell you this because my mother left the convention after three days feeling good about the company that her friend worked for and commented to me that more companies should be like this, and I couldn’t agree more.  While it is the ultimate goal of every company to create revenue and make a profit, there is some marketing that just can’t be bought; I call this the marketing of good will.  Just decent human kindness and concern for your fellow man/woman goes a long way.  While many of us were raised to treat people with respect, to be charitable and to take the needs of others into consideration this doesn’t always come across in business.  The saying “It’s just business” is something I don’t agree with and I must admit I am guilty of saying this myself in the past, but really it’s not just business, because businesses are run by people that are serving other people, so it’s just business is really “just personal”.

Like I said while the purpose of a business is to create revenue and make a profit, it doesn’t have to end there, sometimes it is okay just to do something because it’s nice, its kind, its charitable and it doesn’t always have to be about PR and how good you look as a company.  My mother always told me “Good things come to good people” and I would like to believe that is true when it comes to business too.

If you can’t afford my services, why are you calling me?

Like most marketing and advertising firms we do a lot of quotes that do not convert for one reason or another.  Sometimes people find a company they are more comfortable with, or maybe the services that we are offering are not in line with what they are looking for or maybe there just isn’t any synergy between us, and that’s ok, we don’t expect to close every person that calls us, that’s part of doing business.  However, what really bugs me is when someone calls and we spend time going over our various products and services with them, we ask a lot of questions to find out exactly what it is they are looking to accomplish, we spend time with them showing them what we think would work best for them, and giving them different options to choose from just to find out that they can’t afford to do any marketing at this time.

What?!? You let us go through all of this, you allowed us to take time out of our busy schedule to listen to what it is you need,   what you are trying to accomplish, we assigned a sales person to you and then you tell us you can’t afford to do any marketing?  Why did you call us then?  Why did you waste our precious time?  To me it would be like going to a steak house, sitting down, have the waitress bring you water, look at the menu, ask various questions about the different entrees, and then tell her you are not going to order because you don’t have any money to buy dinner.  Most people wouldn’t do this right?  Then why call a marketing company and waste their time?  We always say we are here to serve our customers and we are here to help them, and this is true, but we are assuming that they have money.  I once spent over 45 minutes on the phone with a guy going over various strategies, and what I thought he could do to increase business, just for him to tell me that he was broke, that business was bad and that he could barely afford to keep the lights on.  Then why in the hell did you let me go on for 45 minutes and why did you let me give you free advice on what could be done in your business? I personally find this to be rude and self centered for someone to think that my time is not valuable and that it is okay for them to waste my time when they had no intention of purchasing right from the get go.

I now make it a policy to always ask prospects what  their budget is, and while many don’t want to answer this question because they feel that whatever number they give is what they are going to be charged, and I understand that this probably is true in many companies, and so even if they are not willing to give me an exact amount, I try to get a roundabout figure as to what they can afford so that I know that they can afford to do something so that I am not wasting precious time.