Friday, April 29, 2011

Everything I Learnt about Voting was from Survivor

I have voted at every election since I turned 18.  I always voted for the candidate in my riding that best fit with my personal beliefs.  I figured that was the way it was done.  Then I started watching Survivor.  For 22 seasons I've watched the highs, lows, twists, alliances, cat fights, crazies, idols and of course the master of all hosts Jeff Probst.  And as I prepare to vote in our upcoming Federal Election I realize my attitude towards voting has changed. And much of that comes from Survivor. 

And while much of the voting in Survivor is against someone else, many of the theories still apply.  So what have I learnt?
  1. There is no fair way to vote.  Dr. Sean Kenniff learnt that in Season 1 with his fair alphabetical system of voting.  Almost all of his votes were throw aways and he still pissed people off.
  2. The "Rats and Snakes" speech also applies to politics.  Susan Hawk strongly felt that everyone in the game was either a rat or a snake.  Political advertising often feels like the same speech, edited by highly educated speech writers.
  3. No matter how much you like someone if they aren't in the right alliance then they don't get your vote.
  4. Sometimes you can't vote for the person you want to win, but against the person you don't want to win.
  5. Vote splitting is risky but can be used to masterful results.  Of course there are no hidden immunity idols in politics, but after a number of minority governments it feels similar.
  6. Tribal Counsel and a Candidates Debate are strikingly similar. Although the debates could really use Jeff Probst to mediate.
  7. You want to trust, but really you can't.
  8. Sometimes the tail coat rider wins.
  9. Sometimes you can come back and win it all - Redemption Island, crazy twists where people get to come back or all-star seasons.  You never know if someone is really out until the final votes are counted.  Or after Jeff Probst does a crazy transportion montage to the LA studio.
  10. Causing discord at camp can be used to your advantage. 
  11. The people who you may piss off while in office are also the ones who have to vote for you in the end.
  12. You have to vote to stay alive in the game. 
And that last one is the most important. No matter your alliances, strategies or beliefs you need to vote to stay alive in the game. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Follow Me on Twitter

This phrase "follow me on twitter" is starting to bug me.  It all started when The Bay (@thehudsonsbayco) radio ads added "..and you can follow us on twitter".  I've tried to engage with their brand on twitter several times and have had no interaction. When I look at their twitter stream I see some interaction but they, IHO, are not truly engaging.   

"Follow me" or the FB version of "Like me"  infers a one way communication.  You follow them , they provide information. Likely the same information they have traditionally pushed out through other channels - sales, events, new product info.  It feels like the marketing department said we really HAVE to get on twitter - everyone else is there.   So they got an account.  But they have not yet developed a true strategy to engage with their "followers".   They likely have in depth strategies on how they will position themselves in all their other channels - why not twitter too?

I've tried to engage with @thehudsonsbayco and several other brands on twitter over the past few weeks. I've asked very deliberate questions.  Questions clearly directed at them, not just conversations where you flag a brand. I've asked questions that should be easy for the corporate tweeter to answer.  None  have been answered.  Now I don't expect 100% of my mentions of a brand to get answered.  But when I form a deliberate question directed to them I would hope that at least some would get an answer.  Maybe not right away. I understand that many brands do not have 24/7 coverage on social media.  But I do hope for an eventual answer. 

The other end of the spectrum is @xboxsupport. I tweeted a comment about a problem with our kinect. It wasn't a direct question.  So I wasn't expecting an answer.  10 minutes later I had a reply with a link to a potential fix to my problem. They then followed up with a DM to get my feedback on my level of service.  If you check the @xboxsupport twitter bio it clearly indicates they are there to engage. It also includes the hours the account is serviced.  Xbox clearly has a customer service strategy for their twitter interactions on this account (and they have other accounts that engage people in different ways).

Another brand that I've found a lot of fun to interact with is @canadianliving.  I tweeted something about a recipe of theirs I was trying.  They replied, pretty quickly on a Sunday, that I should post photos.  We had a little conversation about muffins.  And then I asked if the recipe could be done with whole wheat flour.  The tweeter told me she'd check with their test kitchen the next day (it was Sunday).  On Monday I had an answer and suggestions.  The next time I made that recipe I tried their suggestions and then I posted photos.  Not only was I happy with the customer service, but it increased the perception of their brand with my followers. Many of whom piped in about the muffins and the recipe. 

It takes a clear engagement and positioning strategy for twitter.  Just opening an account, telling people to follow you and then using it to push corporate announcements isn't enough today.   Yes it takes a lot of work to manage a successful brand twitter account.  But it has always taken a lot of work to build relationships with your customers. I don't understand why brands seem to think social media is going to be any different.  Their is this "get rich quick" mentality to using these free tools.  But twitter isn't a Kevin Costner movie, if you build it they will NOT necessarily come.

So don't just tell me to follow you.  Give me a reason to have a conversation with your brand.   Even the pied piper gave people a reason to follow him.

Do you favourite brands you follow in social media?   Do you have examples of brands who seem to get it?  Or those that are just hoping for people to show up.  Feel free to answer in the comments or @tjrossignol.  I respond within normal waking hours.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Buying Both a Business and a Brand

It seems logical common sense to me that when you decide to buy an existing business that you realize you are buying more than just a business.  You are buying the existing business' product/service, as well as its brand, its reputation and its relationships with its customers.  But this is apparently NOT common knowledge.  I've seen several cases recently that make me shake my head.

There are some real benefits to purchasing an existing business. They have done the initial set up for you. They have an existing (and assuming successful) product/service, clients, processes, etc.  But you need to look beyond the balance sheet to see what makes that business tick and why its customers give them their business vs their competitors.

As some of you might have heard Vancouver is a bit of a coffee city.  In fact there are 4 independent coffee shops within a 3 block radius of one of my client's offices.  And there are 3 Starbucks within an extra block walk.  Each of the independent shops has its own unique brand.  Something that differentiates them from the rest.  The three that I frequent regularly include:
  • Coffee culture place - They have the single estate roasts. Their staff compete in the regional barista competitions.  Little chit chat here, unless you are talking the merits of coffee.  They offer high quality, and really just a bit too highly priced sandwiches and goodies.
  • Caterer that could pass for your "local" if it was a pub - they love their food here and their kitchen is just as big as the coffee shop. They know my name, they know my order before I walk through the door, they know that one of my coffee cups has a lid larger than my head.  There are regulars sitting there that must have jobs, but how can they because they are always there.  I half expect a "Norm" to be called out Cheers style as people enter.
  • Funky coffee shop with unique sandwich and soup combos.  This is where I go to get my flavour shot coffees, with a tuna melt and some crazy soup.  I chat with the owners about vintage jewelry and make sure my coffee card gets stamped.  The owners are relatable and friendly.
Part of my consumer behavior is the location for each of these shops.  The "local" is close to the parking lot and gets my morning visit where I pick up my decaf mocha, a great bran muffin (developed from the owner's grandmother's recipe) and sometimes a cool and yummy salad for lunch.  Then the funky coffee shop is closer to the office and easy to pop into for my afternoon jolt, or perhaps lunch once or twice a week.  The coffee culture spot is left for the days I want an excellent Chai NOT made from some super sweet mix. Note that the coffee culture is the closest to the office. But I frequent them the least.

Now the funky coffee shop was recently sold to a new owner.   While she has kept all the products the same, she started putting her stamp on the business right away.  The obvious is the new artwork -- and a wall fireplace.  These changes are (I'm assuming) supposed to make the place more high class.  But what made its customers love this place was its funky, arty, community vibe.

Then there is the staff.  The old owners had a great balance between chatty and leaving you to your business.  And they really set that funky, art, community vibe of the place.  The new owner is not chatty, and while she smiles a lot she isn't really that friendly.   Now that in itself is fine, because if she understands the brand of the business she bought she can hire staff that can help make up for her weaknesses.  But she hasn't. 

There was also an old fashioned neighourhood feel to the place.  I forgot my wallet at the office one day. No problem. Catch them tomorrow.  I caught up the next day.  Apparently a few other people ran a more regular tab (a rare thing in this day and age).  They must have been slower to pay than the new owner liked.  Because there suddenly appeared a list of outstanding tabs on top of the loyalty card box.  Nothing like publicly shaming regular customers to lose customers. 

There also appeared a new hand written note on the cash register noting that debit transactions less than $5 would incur a 20 cent charge.  The new owner has clearly, and quickly set up her top priority, profit!    Not relationships with her existing customers.   It is no longer a funky, alternative place to get a great sandwich (at a good price).  The sad part is she clearly doesn't understand the brand she has purchased.  I know that some of the regulars from my client's office are going there less often.  They aren't boycotting the place, but one or two less visits a month by her regular customers is going to eat into her profits. 

And she isn't offering anything "new" that sets her apart from her competition.  She bought a great niche business and is whittling away at that difference.

Unfortunately I predict that as her traffic counts decline she will start to "adjust" her product mix to make up for it. And once those yummy sandwiches and unique home made soups change her business will eventually be lost.

The other example I have is more extreme.  Vancouver is also know for their bubble tea. People are really passionate about their bubble tea.  There is a lot of bubble tea in this town. But only a few places doing it really really well.  Places where you can get a fresh fruit bubble tea, with perfect pearls  These places have line-ups from the moment they open to the moment they close.  One of these has clearly been sold to new owners.  The signage still indicates a list of fresh and  powder bubble teas. But the "fresh" fruit now tastes like syrup.  And when asked if it is fresh you get these blank "yes" of course looks.  But they clearly are no longer fresh.  And the pearls are mushy.  The product is so bad and the change so obvious that long time customers are refusing to go EVER again after just one visit. 

In the case of the coffee shop you could argue that the new owner understands some of the core pillars to the business (the product quality has not changed) and is trying to elevate her new business to represent her vision for its brand.  But if you are going to do that you better be clearly defining a new brand differentiation for your business.  And not making yourself more like the rest.

In the bubble tea example the new owners don't even seem to care about the existing business they bought.  Neither really understand the brand they have purchased. And that puts both of these businesses at risk.