Friday, February 29, 2008

Ways to recession-proof your business: Tip #6

Tip #6: Offer a small thank-you for their business.

I'm not talking about a coupon, club card, or a "Buy 10, get one free" card. I'm talking about a gift—a tangible thank-you—that makes the end of their experience memorable.

The first time I went to a particular hairdresser, when she was done styling my hair she added this little clip:

She sold the clips in her store, and I'm sure it wasn't very expensive if she purchased them in bulk. But the fun little surprise of getting a present, no charge, no pressure to return, made a huge impact on me. I continued to see her until she closed her business (for medical reasons), and still have the clip today. She understood the power of surprise, and probably saw this as part of her advertising costs.

The first time we walked into a L'Occitane store, the staff person said, "We're celebrating the verbena harvest!" and handed me this good-sized sample. We hadn't even bought anything yet! It was a great introduction to their product line.

As mentioned before, my massage therapist gives these eco-friendly water bottles to all of her clients on their first visit, to encourage them to hydrate and also to save bottles from the landfill. This is a more expensive gift, but I'm thinking about her every single time I'm in the car or traveling, as this comes with me on trips, clipped to my bag through the airport. It's easy to empty (for security) and fill and doesn't leak.

Takeaway tip: What small gift, themed to your business, would make your experience memorable? How can you set yourself apart from the competition?

I'd like to thank all of my guest bloggers who contributed this month and wish you well, whatever the economy does. And, keep those comments and emails coming in! Here's a recap of all six tips:

Tip #1: Don't skimp on the visible parts of your business.

Tip #2: Focus on your customer.

Tip #3: Reward for referrals.

Tip #4: Re-package offerings into smaller chunks, without discounting.


Tip #5: Communicate your passion in an authentic way.

Tip #6: Offer a small thank-you.


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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Guest blogger Reinier Evers on the February theme

From his amazing free Trendwatching newsletter, the February trend briefing is on what he calls "The Expectation Economy":

Indifference will hit those brands that consumers know are under-performing, and that they can avoid due to sufficient availability of the best of the best. If you’re working for one of those under-performing brands, the scary thing is not just selling less (or nothing). It's that indifferent consumers will stop being forgiving, they will stop being cooperative and giving you feedback on how to be more like other, better performing competitors. They'll just leave and never return, without telling you why. Perpetual irritation is just as bad: this will occur when consumers are forced to buy from an under-performing brand, due to limited or no availability of what they already know is the best of the best.

In this light, pay special attention to fake loyalty and postponed purchases:

* Fake loyalty: consumers will continue to purchase from under-performing brands if the 'real thing' isn't available. To the under-performing brand, all may seem quiet on the western front, until the best of the best suddenly does become available. Good examples of fake loyalty can be found in the airline industry: millions of frequent flyers around the world know that Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, and Emirates offer a superior experience, but since these airlines don't fly on all routes, consumers have no choice but to fly with sub-par airlines, now and then, or all of the time. Count on them to vote with their wallets every time new routes are added by these 'best of the best' carriers, even if they've never flown with them before.

* Postponing purchases: some 'best of the best' brands like Apple actually manage to indirectly convince consumers to postpone certain purchases. Many consumers would rather wait for the iPhone or MacBook Air to become available than to buy a new phone or laptop.

I think the point he makes is one we should all pay attention to. Just because they aren't your competition NOW doesn't mean they aren't raising the expectations bar anyway. And, they could become your competition by moving into your market soon. Will you be ready?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ways to recession-proof your business: Tip #5

Tip #5: Communicate your passion in an authentic way.

Whether you run a service business, a doctor's office, a retail store... customers respond to people who are passionate about what they do. And as recent books on authenticity show us, people want to know that your passion is genuine, not faked.

What does this look like out in the real world?

Kate Stromberger is passionate about the power of beautiful things and serene places to uplift our spirits. Her shop Zazen is a lovely haven. You are welcome here, whether you buy or not.

The owners of the Bay Area restaurants Cafe Gratitude are passionate about changing the world through self-awareness. Everything in their restaurants reflects this attitude of gratitude.

The guys at Pike Place Fish Market have turned selling fish—not the best-smelling job—into a world-famous phenomenon, spawning a number of successful business and self-help books. Read about their inspiring philosophy here.

This is a docent at the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum (The Midway). He's not giving a lecture... he's communicating his passion and experience, having landed a jet plane over 1,200 times on an aircraft carrier deck during his service as a pilot.

It's not just nonprofits that educate. The gals at the South Bark Dog Wash are passionate about the human-pet connection and regularly offer classes to help owners better understand and care for their pets.

Takeaway tip: Reconnect with the core reason behind your work. What got you started in the first place? How can you serve your customers? How can you communicate this in an authentic way?

Here's a recap of all six tips:

Tip #1: Don't skimp on the visible parts of your business.

Tip #2: Focus on your customer.

Tip #3: Reward for referrals.

Tip #4: Re-package offerings into smaller chunks, without discounting.


Tip #5: Communicate your passion in an authentic way.

Tip #6: Offer a small thank-you.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday's Signpost


It looks like this sign at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center at one time had a brochure holder... offering maps of this confusing site perhaps.

Now, it's either very Zen or really hostile.
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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ways to recession-proof your business: Tip #4

Here's an idea that works for any size business:

Tip #4: Break up your offerings into smaller chunks, making it easier to buy.

Note that I am not saying lower your prices.

Instead, are there ways you can break out parts of your products or services into smaller, bite-sized chunks to make them more affordable, and break down resistance to purchasing?

Here are some examples. I am starting to offer a $500 package for small business owners, a "customer experience tune-up." I'll offer a streamlined version of my 8-step review process and be able to serve small businesses at the same time. When they hear an affordable figure (everyone thinks consultants have to cost a small fortune), they visibly relax, surprised, and say "I can afford that!"

A massage therapist could offer 15- or 30-minute foot or neck massages. Or find a workplace on payday and schedule 15-minute chair massages.

A dry cleaner could offer a "spruce up your wardrobe" package, with 5 small repairs or mends for $25.

A florist could offer mini-bouquets for $5, perhaps using flowers with short stems that they would otherwise toss.

Takeaway tip: People still want services, and they still want to feel cared for. As they may be tightening down on spending, think of ways you can make your offerings more affordable while still maintaining your regular pricing structure.

Check out C.B. Whittemore's thoughtful post on this month's topic on her blog, Flooring the Consumer.

Here's a recap of all six tips:

Tip #1: Don't skimp on the visible parts of your business.

Tip #2: Focus on your customer.

Tip #3: Reward for referrals.

Tip #4: Re-package offerings into smaller chunks, without discounting.


Tip #5: Communicate your passion in an authentic way.

Tip #6: Offer a small thank-you.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Ways to recession-proof your business: Tip #3

Today's tip for small businesses:

Tip #3: Reward for referrals.

If this sounds like old news, are you actually doing it? I can only think of one business—my massage therapist—who rewards for referrals. My dry cleaner doesn't, my hairdresser doesn't, no restaurant I've ever been to does... the list is endless.

You can do this a variety of ways...

by asking people if they know anyone who can use your services
by introducing the program with a card or small handout
by showing the gifts you are offering
by setting up an email list and having customers sign up

Whatever works for you.

Think it's too expensive? Let's say you're a dry cleaner, and the average customer comes in once a week and spends $25. That person is worth $1,250 to you in a year (two weeks off for vacation, in case you are checking my math.)

So if that customer brings in one more customer like them, don't they deserve a $10 Starbucks card? Or a free week of dry cleaning? Or an Amazon gift certificate? And if all your customers brought in one person like them, you wouldn't have to advertise any more would you?

This lifetime-value-of-a-customer concept is credited to Don Peppers and Martha Rogers.

An easy and inexpensive way to grow your customer base is through your loyal existing customers. Customer evangelists, coined by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, are the best way to get new business.

Read this post by Seth Godin if you're in real estate, and even if you're not. It's full of great tips that will help during tough economic times.

Here's a recap of all six tips:

Tip #1: Don't skimp on the visible parts of your business.

Tip #2: Focus on your customer.

Tip #3: Reward for referrals.

Tip #4: Re-package offerings into smaller chunks, without discounting.


Tip #5: Communicate your passion in an authentic way.

Tip #6: Offer a small thank-you.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ways to recession-proof your business: Tip #2

Here is another tip to help small businesses do well in this economy.

Tip #2: Focus on your customer.

This might sound obvious, but are you doing it?

What would make your customer's life better, easier, nicer, more joyful, or less stressful?

How might you change your offerings or policies to make this happen?

The owners of Clarity Soap and Candles in the South Park neighborhood of San Diego offer free gift wrapping. Any time. For any size purchase. They do this by spending their money on baskets and ribbon and silk flowers instead of print advertising, and let word of mouth do the rest. I know that I can come in, pick out wonderful handmade candles or soaps or bath oils, and they will create something like this for my friend or co-worker.

As Reinier Evers writes in trendwatching, consumers are now part of the "Expectation Economy," looking for ever more. While I'm not advocating bending over backwards for difficult customers, take a look at how you run your business. Are you set up for your convenience, or for theirs?

This might mean shifting your hours, offering delivery or drop-off service, offering a personal shopping service, adding a member's lane at admission, or simply adding some chairs if people have to wait.

Takeaway tip: With all the competition out there, show your customers you care about them! You can start by asking them what they'd like that you don't currently offer.

Here's a recap of all six tips:

Tip #1: Don't skimp on the visible parts of your business.

Tip #2: Focus on your customer.

Tip #3: Reward for referrals.

Tip #4: Re-package offerings into smaller chunks, without discounting.


Tip #5: Communicate your passion in an authentic way.

Tip #6: Offer a small thank-you.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Guest blogger C.B. Whittemore on the February theme

What happens when the experience economy meets the recession economy?

The experience economy matters more than ever. It's not going away despite times being tough. Let's face it, most of us have all of the stuff we need. Unless something offers an experience, we can postpone a purchase. Furthermore, our society is mature, with the majority of the population being over the age of 40. We've been there, done that. Experience is what differentiates purchases. Now more than ever.

However, with things getting tough, our definition of what constitutes an experience worth spending money on changes. We are less tolerant of sub-par experiences; we demand more; we expect more. If the experience isn't there, we can pass on the expenditure.

Example: My Target has a Starbucks inside. I considered treating myself to a latte, but remembered that the last time I had been to that Target/Starbucks, the wait took forever, and my latte didn't taste how I expected it to. Plus, I had gone in to Target to purchase milk so I could have a coffee at home. The home brew seemed like the better experience to anticipate.

In addition to demanding more of our experiences, we also behave more rigidly with commodity purchases in a recession economy. Take how we purchase gasoline: I'm paying careful attention to where I buy gasoline and for how much. I'm much more conscious of how I drive so I maximize my fuel efficiency. Trips to the grocery store entail fewer unplanned, reward purchases. My emotions aren't really engaged with commodity purchases [they aren't about an experience], so I'm easily able to stay on track.

Mind you, while at Target, I did purchase 2 packs of fun napkins to put into my daughter's lunch box. I considered not doing so because I am due for a trip to BJ's where I could purchase a bulk pack of napkins, but I purposely opted for the fun ones to put some sunshine in her lunch [i.e., to offer her a mom-experience].

This is a wonderful topic to explore. Thanks for inviting me to share my take on it.

C.B. Whittemore
Flooring the Consumer

C.B. I love the concrete example of your Target shopping trip. I agree, when money was flowing more easily we might have treated ourselves to a Starbucks without thinking; now we're being more critical of that experience and perhaps deciding to treat ourselves in a different way—in your case by taking the time at home to make yourself a nice cup of coffee.

Any kind of luxury business or service (e.g. massage therapy) might need to reframe their offerings as necessities in this economy, or figure out ways to keep that experience high-quality so it's seen as worth the splurge.

I also think your point about consumers delaying gratification is one we all need to keep in mind. If people aren't shopping on emotion anymore, then that affects marketing messages, merchandising, and more.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday's Signpost


Is it art?
No it's not an art piece, just a way of catching the rain! The Oakland Museum of California, which was opened to the public in September of 1969, was an early example of what is very trendy today: 'Green' building!

The roof of each gallery is actually the underside of our terraced sculpture garden!

Sometimes we get leaks, but the terraces are so great, it's worth it! If you get a chance, be sure to visit the terraces and witness part of California's architectural history!

I love how they turned a negative into a positive and used humor here. It would have been good to mention their upcoming renovation, which will address these leaks. It's a little heavy on exclamation marks, but as most art museums don't use humor at all, I give it high marks for approachability.
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Friday, February 15, 2008

Ways to recession-proof your business: Tip #1

I hate to use the "R" word in posts, as I don't believe in fear-based communication. However, in talking to small business owners lately, they are definitely feeling the effects of an economic slowdown. So I wanted to put together some ideas to help small businesses do well in this economy.

Tip #1: Don't cut back on visible parts of your customer experience.

Recently I was one of my favorite little storefront eateries. The chef/owner makes very fresh food—with love, to order—with high-quality ingredients. I've never seen it busy, even though it's in a high-traffic strip mall in a happening part of town. On that day, I was her only customer. We were talking about the economy and how it was affecting her.

While we were talking, a couple came in. She gave them a friendly greeting as they looked around, and invited them to read the menu. They looked at it for a moment and then walked back out.

Now, it could be that it just wasn't their kind of food. But from the way they fingered the menu, I think it was the menu itself. The menus are old and sticky, while the plastic is peeling apart. They don't give a good impression about the food or the cleanliness of the place (which otherwise seems fine). Then I noticed that the welcoming message on the big chalkboard above the counter was gone, replaced with a negative message about how long you can park in the parking lot. These critical cues are not encouraging diners like this couple to take a chance.

It's a shame, because the food is just delicious. But I hope the owner takes a look at her first impression and spends a little bit of money on it, in order to get customers to sit down and eat her wonderful food.

Takeaway tip: Don't give your customers a reason to go somewhere else. Review your first impression—make sure all the details work together and aren't playing any false notes.

Here's a recap of all six tips:

Tip #1: Don't skimp on the visible parts of your business.

Tip #2: Focus on your customer.

Tip #3: Reward for referrals.

Tip #4: Re-package offerings into smaller chunks, without discounting.


Tip #5: Communicate your passion in an authentic way.

Tip #6: Offer a small thank-you.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Guest blogger Joe Pine on February's theme

What happens when the experience economy meets the recession economy?

It's hard to say for sure, but my hypothesis is that recessions focus consumers even more on wanting goods and services to be commoditized—bought at the lowest possible cost with the least amount of time. Then, they can spend their hard-earned money—and hard-won time—on the experiences that they value the most.

Of course, many people will also dial back their experience plans, but they won't forego engaging places. Instead of heading to Europe, some will keep to the US and go to, say, Walt Disney World. Some that would've gone to WDW will instead go to, say, a National Park within driving distance. Some that would've gone there might instead go to more local experiences like water parks, museums, shows, and so forth.

So I believe it will primarily be a shift in where, when, and how much people experience, versus foregoing experiences. Of course, at some point the Experience Economy (note those caps!) will mature, at which point experiences will begin to be commoditized as well, and then experience stagers will be more susceptible to recessions. When that happens, consumers will spend less time and money on experiences, and it will be transformations that will remain more or less recession-proof.

In any case, the lessons for experience stagers are clear: be sure to refresh your experience to be engaging all the time, and look to go beyond experiences to transformations—to guiding your customers to achieve their aspirations. Those should be key goals no matter the macro-economic environment, the achievement of which would make most any business recession-proof.

Joe Pine
Strategic Horizons

Joe, I like the point about people exchanging higher-expense experiences for ones closer to home. Perhaps business owners (and attractions managers) should think about upping their advertising to draw locals in, and work on developing those relationships.

See what blogger Maria Palma has to say at Customers Are Always.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday's Signpost




This "human sign" appears around tax season. Do I want a tax accountant with a sense of humor? Are they attracting the right kind of attention with this sign?

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Guest blogger Jeff Kallay on the February theme

What happens when the experience economy meets the recession economy?

Stephanie:

What a great question.

When Joe and Jim wrote the book it was during the go-go '90s.

But I think there's more to The Experience Economy than just garnering a higher price. It's really about the evolution of our economy (theory of economic progression). Our economy has evolved from agarian, to industrial, to service/information, and now we're seeing more experiences. And throughout this progression there have been recessions and depressions, yet our economy transforms into the next step up the evolutionary ladder.

If you study the American economy we've had a very cyclical 27-year-or-so boom, followed by a 10-12 year bust.

When the experience economy meets the recession economy people will become more demanding with their money. Those experiences that are in need of a "refresh" or "update" might come on hard times. Perhaps it will purge out the bad or less authentic experiences.

Jeff Kallay
Experience Evangelist blog

Jeff, I agree that people are becoming more demanding, and more careful about how and where they spend. So it's even more important for businesses to have relationships with their customers, so that customers feel some loyalty.
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Thursday, February 07, 2008

February theme: Customer experience in a down economy

This month's theme can be summed up with the question: What happens when the experience economy meets the recession economy?

Is customer experience more or less important?

Should you, as a business owner or manager, spend more at this time or cut back?

And, what should you spend on?

What aspects of the customer experience really matter?

Where's the ROI in customer experience?

Is it possible to "recession-proof" your business?

I can't promise I'll have all the answers, but I do have some thoughts. I'd love to hear from you, readers.

How do you think an economic downturn will affect your business? Customer spending?

And, what can we do about it?
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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Client spotlight: San Diego Natural History Museum

Last month's client spotlight featured a short project I worked on with Descanso Gardens. My work involves a variety of projects, depending on client needs.

From April 2006 to June of 2007 I worked on a long-term project with the San Diego Natural History Museum to develop the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition. You can read my full post here, where I describe the many, many amazing team members who contributed to this exhibition.

People have asked me what exactly I did as part of the team, so I've chosen some images to highlight my contributions to the exhibition. Please keep in mind that all decisions came about as a collaborative process with the other two content team members and the larger exhibit team. As with any project, there are some ideas that I championed or fleshed out, which is what I'll focus on here.

When doing the background reading for the Discovery and Science section, what first hit me was the lack of consistency in the "facts." Unlike other interpretive projects I've worked on—say, what an African antelope eats—every single reference source had a slightly different story about how the scrolls were discovered, who discovered them, what year, etc. This presented an interesting storytelling challenge. If we couldn't present the "facts" as the museum's point of view, what were we to do? The scrolls also continue to generate controversy even today. How were we to portray those varying voices in the exhibition?

Another thing I wondered about was what it felt like to be the first person to read the scrolls and recognize how old they were. It must have been thrilling. So I started looking for first-person quotes. Once I found them, we realized what a great storytelling device it would be. Why not use the words from the Bedouin shepherd himself who found the scrolls, or the scholar who first read them, or the Israeli conservator trying to protect them now? So we found a series of point-of-view quotes and sprinkled them throughout the entire show.

The panel to the right of the photo is the quote from Muhammad edh-dibh, the Bedouin who is credited with finding the scrolls (with or without help from his cousins!) I also searched for a photo of him by his tent in the desert, instead of the often-used "glory shot" of him all dressed up (shot in a photographer's studio and looking like silent film star Rudolph Valentino).

Another question I had: What did the area look like before it was excavated? In all the books, the only photos showed Qumran fully excavated. But no one had taken any notice of the site until the scrolls were found, so it couldn't have looked like much. Through our curator and our wonderful contact at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, we eventually acquired photos of the site pre-excavation. And one of the magicians at Giant Photo used a NASA software program to "stitch" them together into the panorama of rubble you see here.

Choosing photos to tell the story is one of the most enjoyable parts of an exhibit developers' job. I kept searching for a shot of the antiques dealer named Kando (my favorite character in the scrolls story) that I felt captured the feel of Jerusalem at the time. Once we saw this image from an archive in England, it was an easy decision to blow it up nearly life-size, so visitors could feel they were stepping into the shop. I love the guy carrying the espresso. Kando is in the center, wearing the fez.

The photo in the tent is of the archeology team eating lunch at the dig in the 1950s. I found this photo by studying published records, books, and articles. There were very few color photos available from this era. These caught my eye in an article, then we tracked down the source (again, the wonderful Ecole Biblique) and asked them to send us digital copies from this photographer's Ektachrome slides. There's a wonderful quote we paired with it (from a different source)—about drinking brandy in "rude tin cups"—that brought it to life for me.

The final gallery of the exhibition was intended to show how the Bible "evolved" over the last 2,000 years. This was a really tough content section, as most of the manuscripts had to be chosen long before the story line was written. (And, it wasn't our intention to produce a show about religion.) After much back and forth and input from the team, I finally had the crystallizing thought—Ideas Over Time—and clear titles for three sections: Ideas Survive, Ideas Spread, and Ideas Inspire. Once this jelled, all the pieces fell into place and all the manuscripts we had (rather magically) fit and told the story.

While it was the hardest writing I've ever done, it's also what I'm most proud of.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of this team, and I'll always be honored to have contributed to the experience that nearly 400,000 people enjoyed.
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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sunday's Signpost


Thanks to a reader for sending in this sign from China. Always helpful to know when you're going to have to pony up some cash to use the facilities.
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