Are You In The Service Industry? (HINT: We’re ALL in the service industry.)

Every now and then, I’ll see someone throw out the term service industry. Now there’s another one of those mis-used phrases and words. From my perspective, we’re all in the service industry.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that small businesses and start-ups are all about service. Yes, I said before that it’s all about storytelling but that’s what carries your service standards (or lack of them) further.

Think about this carefully: customer service is a huge part of what we do.. Without proper execution and end-to-end support, even the best design and systemization will fail. Knowing this stark reality, we see large corporations still getting it wrong and somehow coasting along. They’re always a quarter away from closing doors or being bought out for that very reason, I’d say.

So, yes, this is another one of my rants but I think this is a discussion we need to have, yes?
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Learning From Apple’s Style: Let’s Play Dress Up! (Delivering Packages That Excite)

A few weeks ago I got my iPad2 thanks to UPS and the awesome #ConversionFest blogging contest. It made me think about packaging and how we play dress up in the business world.

When you look at the iPad2 box, a few things stand out. There’s no product specifications or feature listings. iPad2 appears a few times but not in an over-powering font size or style. The one thing that stands out is the trademark pure white packaging and Apple logo. When you get this box, you know what it is without a doubt.

Hi, I'm an iPad.

Hi, I’m an iPad.

Apple is so confident in their brand power and the popularity of their products that they don’t bother with the extra stuff. The iPad2 box says, “Buy me and open me to see what’s inside!”.

So, what does that tell us about packaging and dressing up our products?

Quite a bit. Let’s explore and go beyond just the box… Continue reading

Support-A-Thon: What’s Your Digital Footprint Say About You?

This Support-A-Thon series was started as a way to help each other out with simple tips and initiatives we can start to implement TODAY. It’s also a great opportunity to share best practices and network further. Today, we’ll look search engine nuances, intellectual property theft, and how SERPs are replacing traditional resumes, amongst other things.

For our purposes, our digital footprint is essentially the collection of your online content. Thing is, content loosely defines a whole slew of things we do online and offline. In cyberspace, content includes, but is not limited to:

  • tweets
  • blog posts
  • comments
  • forums/discussion boards
  • status updates

And that’s just focusing on the stuff that is in public domains. These are all things that can be quoted, archived, forwarded, and, stolen.

With the speed of information delivery today, we must be mindful that any content we put out there can and will be used in some way we may not have originally intended or planned for.

Within minutes, that typo you made will be exposed to hundreds, thousands, then potentially millions of people! EEK. Continue reading

Who’s On First? The Disappearing Niche!

This one is going to be short and sweet.

I offer to you a challenge:

Consider your unique advantage and think, real hard, HOW unique is it? Do you even have a unique advantage or are you focusing on a niche to stay competitive or stand out?

You hear lots of talk about niche marketing and how it’s the “only” way to be competitive in a world of look-alike businesses and copycats. Well, I think niches are a load of crap. Focusing on them can kill your business in the long run.

Here’s why niches are full of suck… Continue reading

Certifications And Service Guarantees: Worth The Money Or More Marketing Spin? (Empty Labels Suck)

Here are a few questions to consider as you read this article:

  • Do you treat your brand as a moniker or image, or does it truly embody your values and focus in work-life?
  • What makes you trust a brand: the promises, the image, or the experience?
  • Does quality stop at design and engineering?
  • What are we REALLY buying and selling, and what’s the value in it?

On The Mundane Chatter Podcast we discussed a slew of consumer-focused and other geeky topics on Episode 9. I was particularly intrigued by the whole “Fair Trade” market and the implications for small businesses, competition, and the consumer. Is it worth buying something labelled or certified a certain way? Allow me to rant a bit.

When I think about labels like THX, Organic, and Fair Trade, I think “marketing spin” (HINT: Spin Sucks) and “propaganda”. Value and proper execution/delivery, not so much. You’re paying more under a marketing pretense, a promise that is likely never delivered. I look at guarantees and certifications like any other line on advertised specifications and features: it’s more perceived value than anything else.. Mere labels (false attempts at dress to impress). Continue reading

Finding the Perfect Toothbrush: A Lesson in Marketing

A few articles back, I talked about Oreo and how their message is simply this: we are America’s favorite cookie. These are the sorts of messages that can backfire but, executed properly, you really boost the perceived value tenfold. The brilliance in Oreo’s current strategy lies in their use of contests and celebrity lick races, promotions that people talk about with others. These are ideas that spread in a viral manner or, as Seth Godin puts it, ideaviruses. The key to this strategy is creating simple, consistent messages that anyone can spread onward; of course, you have to get people excited.

In this article, I’d like to discuss a marketing strategy that is a little less buzz and hype-driven yet still viral in nature. Let’s look at a simple thing that everyone uses (well, mostly everyone): a toothbrush. Traditional marketing and old money business people will tell you that the better toothbrush will sell more but what does “better” actually mean? It depends what your target customers are. For kids, both big and small (some of us are still kids at heart), cartoon-stickered and music-generating toothbrushes are the epitome of oral hygiene devices.

Does this cow do anything for you?

For the rest of the world, style still matters but effectiveness, practical use, becomes a greater distinction. Think about the last time you purchased a toothbrush and how often you make this decision. What affected your decision? Did you go for the toothbrushes in the front or did you look further back on the shelve? Was it an impulse buy, perhaps triggered by a clever end-cap display or cashier counter arrangement? Did you even notice how hard or soft the bristles are? Was the type of grip and general structure of the toothbrush a big focus for you? What was the final tie breaker (assuming you were initially indecisive)? The chances are that, if you were put in a group of 50 people, your decision-making process would be quite distinct. Once we recognize that not all consumers think the same way is a humbling experience for all business people…

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Toonami Ten-Year Anniversary

March 17th 2007 marks the 10-year anniversary of Cartoon Network, for Toonami, that is. For anyone that would proudly call themselves a geek or at least a fan of Anime, this is truly a major milestone for that special cable network that holds a special place in all of our hearts (well, most of us). Over the years, Toonami has been home to some of the most butt-kicking toons to date, including many Anime favorites!

Cool Toonami Bot Wallpaper - w00t!

Toonami’s Tom is yet another example of brand marketing. Almost anyone that watches Toonami knows Tom. There have been so many different flavors of Tom yet you can always tell it’s the same old Tom. Toonami in itself is a powerful brand as it has more information-per-inch than most catchy names out there. The word “Toonami” merges “toon” and “tsunami”, which is readily-identifiable by any audience member. The image of tsunami carries a power to it, which makes for an easy segway to action focus of the Toonami cartoon block.

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Promotion: Oreo Lick Race Challenge

Get ready for what will be quite possibly my shortest post, especially for a blog, EVER! ::drum roll:: I will quote myself from today’s WOMM (Word Of Mouth Marketing) effort, for added effect:

Vote for my bro, Antonio (a.k.a ToNy4MVP, for those of you who played ARC or traverse the interwebz a bit) of St. John’s University, at (or after) 3:00pm EST at – he is one of 15 finalist out of thousands upon thousands of entries. Very excited for him… Los Oreo’s SON MUY DELICIOSOS!!!!

Tell your friends, link to this article, spread the word… The future of Oreo’s is in your hands. I thank you and so do Oreo lovers everywhere!! =oD

This just in: Tony’s video now at the top of the vote. I see a few of you folks clicking through to the site and voting. Many, many thanks. While there is a nice prize package and commercial deal involved for the grand prize winner, the really nice thing is that Nabisco will give $30,000 to the charity of the winner’s choice. Sweet deal – literally! I wonder if that is tax-deductible… *wink* Just kidding, folks! It really is a good cause so let’s show people the power of the blogosphere – spread the word!

Oreo Speed Racer - GO GO GO!!!
[ Image provided courtesy of Jayski’s Silly Season Site ]

Let’s all chant: Deliocioso! Deliocioso! Deliocioso! Yes, “deliocisio” is mis-spelled but we’re going to coin that cause it’s just that hot. It’s WAY more “fetch” than “rediculous”! Anywho, Oreo has a stellar promotion here and it goes to show you the power of brand marketing. Everyone knows the Oreo is the best cookie in the world – w00t!

Related Links:

Brand Marketing: When Perceived Value Wins

In my previous post, I talked about the marketing phenomenom known by many as “Starbucks”. In my opinion, Starbucks is one of the most powerful marketers in present day, up there with powerhouse brands like Disney and Apple. I highly recommend reading this post along with my previous post. I realize they are more long-winded than usual but that just means the articles are loaded with lots of useful gems and nugget of knowledge!

Reviewing my brief Starbucks case study, one of the key points I made was about how consumers often go with what is convenient and familiar, rather than what provides better quality or “value”. After writing that piece, I came across a brand marketing/power of presence blog by Lance Winslow which inspired me to revisit this topic. He is right on-point when he states that the power of presence and brand marketing theories apply to just about every facet of society. Starbucks definitely has the power of presence nailed, especially in Washington and New York. The interesting thing about the Starbucks brand is that many people can’t figure out what the logo really is yet they can spot it from a mile away – now THAT’S powerful!

The beauty of the Starbucks brand, to me, is that they are selling status – yes, STATUS! People figure that, if you can afford Starbucks on a regular basis, maybe two or three times a day, you are doing well for yourself; after all, spending $7-35 a day for coffee and perhaps a snack seems like such a frivolous expense when there are cheaper alternatives. Strabucks has become so viral that many company cultures revolve around people treating others to their products. I can recall many a workplace where there would be designated “coffee guys” that would go on runs for several people at once. Often, these coffee runners would be expected to pay for the coffees of those they are trying to suck up to. Amazingly, this gesture goes a long way. Buy your boss a coffee from the food cart on Main Street and you’ll get a funny look but buy him/her Starbucks and you get the “job well done” look.

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The Gaming Console Wars: Initial Thoughts

The latest next-gen gaming consoles are all the buzz this holiday season but is there really anything new here other than more of the same stuff in nicer packaging? Perhaps. My simple response to this question is that, for generations beyond 16-bit, the console wars have been all about marketing hype and aesthetics. This time is no different.

Ask a gamer what they feel about a system and their response is rarely about the features provided by each system, it’s not even about the tech specs. The first thing most people will say is “wow, that game LOOKS amazing”. It’s all a big show and, this year, we’ve seen quite the circus. The PS3 launch alone was ugly as people practically mauled each other to get their hands on a box.

Old-school gamers, especially us purists, feel that nothing much has changed. The games are uninspiring and, for the most part, just rehash the same tired mechanics. Cynicism aside, I think the major players on the console market are realizing that they can no longer rely on long-time favorites, powerful brands, and strong franchises to hold on to their market share. In reality, you’re either expanding or shrinking. Franchises are part of the power of presence equation but shouldn’t be your only strategy. Believe me, I love my Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and all that good stuff but these well-established franchises, powerful brands in themselves, will not be enough. We need something fresh and new.

Right now, Nintendo seems to be the most devoted to making gaming more accessible. Aiming to the masses is risky but, really, I think it’s what the console market needs. You see, PC gaming has long ago pushed the envelope on gaming but, since not everyone is technologically savvy nor can they afford the equipment, consoles stand to benefit while computers still create a facade of elitism, as if computer gamers belong to some sort of exclusive club. This holds true in spite of the fact that computers have a greater product cycle (life span assurance and overall product longevity beats the pants off of the short-lived consoles), endless third-party support, far more expandability, and a huge library of games.

If you look closely at the market now, the XBox line of products tries to offer a PC experience at an entry price. Playstation is more focused on those that love the epic single-player experience and don’t care too much about multiplayer (though Sony Home will change this.. maybe) or socializing, beyond water cooler discussions about the latest Silent Hill, DMC, Final Fantasy, or Dynasty Warriors. Nintendo’s systems, since day one, have focused more on family gaming, gaming for all, but has earned the rep of making purely “kiddy” games. The snobbery of those that are loyal to the Microsoft or Sony brands keeps them from experiencing a diverse world of gaming on the Nintendo side of things.

Truth be told, each system caters to a very specific gamer, for the most part, but Wii really is trying to welcome all by making games that are as intuitive as they are fun. When you’re not worried about cumbersome controls or technical issues, it’s much easier to get into a game and encounter something called replay value. I tell you: it’s a beautiful thing. To me, when you buy a game, it should be an investment. It should do one of the following:

  • Give you a truly immersive gameplay-focused experience worth repeating again in the future.
  • Provide a story and content so rich that you truly fall in love with the characters and essence of it all.
  • Focus on multiplayer rather than throw this in as a mere after-thought.
  • Be dynamic enough that you are not merely using cookie-cutter moldings or doing the “grind”.

In my eyes, those are the things that make a game memorable and highly replayable. My standards for gaming have gone up greatly once I got heavily involved in the development of games myself. I have seen just how many corners these big brands cut just to get product out. Quality controls essentially fly out the window, if you ask me.

In spite of the ugly trends that we’ve seen in the past, I am optimistic and believe that folks really see the urgency in doing things right and sticking it out for the long haul (a’la product longevity). My hopes are that, instead of trying to make the NEXT next-gen system, developers will stop slacking and learn how to program properly; that is, take advantage of each system’s strengths and create quality content, optimized for the specific platform. The software is where the money is made, not the hardware. Heck, Microsoft always makes sure people know that they are selling XBox units practically at cost. BOO HOO.. You make up for it elsewhere, M$!

Getting a bit more focused here, this war depends on something more than a killer app. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo need to stick to their positioning and really hone in on their focus. Microsoft seems to be leveraging online multiplayer mostly and Halo 3 is their killer app, supposedly. I’m not holding my breath. I felt from the beginning that Halo was all the hype and, since I’ve seen games like and better than Halo on PC way before it came around, I am definitely not swayed so easily.

XBox has some exclusive titles to their credit which will help but, currently, they share a lot of the same titles as the Playstation. Interestingly enough, there are barely any shared titles on the Wii except for those that have their own flavor on every major platform. Games like Call of Duty 3 and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance are two of the few games that are being offered in different packages on each system. Undoubtedly, the PS3 versions have the best graphics while the WII versions offer some unique and fun mechanics. To me, the XBox 360 just doesn’t have enough appealing titles. I mean, I am tempted by games like Gears of War and Rainbow Six: Las Vegas but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

In all fairness, I realize that there’s still many things in the works and we’ve only begun to see what each of the three “big ones” can do right now. I really like Nintendo’s approach to the online gaming community. Their allegiance with former rival Sega is brilliant and, at the same time, surreal for a gaming veteran like myself. Throw in some retro gaming offerings and it is gaming euphoria. This could be the last console needed for a long time. The backwards compatibility makes me very happy because I HATE when people abandon products – that’s just bad business!

Even with my connections, I am not particularly interested in jumping on any system and, if you want some good advice, I recommend this: don’t be an early adopter unless you have a good reason. Being the cool kid on the block will lose it’s novelty when your system’s bugs come to surface and you see your friends buying the same system for much cheaper months later. I make it a point not to get on-board with anything that is overly-hyped or first generation. Too much risk. Of course, there will always be early adopters and bless their brave souls. The ones that count the most are the unbiased folks, the non-fanboys, that can deliver the hard facts to us.

I know I seem biased but, believe me, at this point I like all the home gaming consoles equally, each for very distinct reasons. I am ranting here because I am seeing this all from two perspectives: that of a gamer and that of a developer. This battle in the ongoing console wars is certainly one of the most interesting in the last ten years. There have been many great fallen soldiers, like the Sega Dreamcast (one of my personal all-time faves) and hopefully things won’t get so ugly now. For the most part, the technology has been pioneered as much as it can be as the manufacturers borrow pages from the PC gaming market and the lost cookbooks of the little systems that could-have-been.

In the end, it’s all about marketing. We’ve all been told stories and, depending on what we choose to absorb and what we want to believe, these stories will be hit or miss in our minds. Microsoft seems to have the least marketing power right now. They’re essentially strong-arming things by locking down some exclusive content and buying out the competition, as they always do. Nintendo and Sony have carved out strong niches. The Wii seems to be untouchable because, really, they’re not even in the same playing field. It’s interesting stuff indeed.

More on the gaming console wars to come – don’t forget to send me your feedback – also available (scarcely) via Google Chat!

Related Links:
* The Gaming Console Wars: Initial Thoughts
* The Gaming Console Wars: Marketing Analysis
* XBox Dominates the Multiplayer Arerna (For Consoles)
* Dirty Selling Tactics, Price Drop Nay-Saying, and Project “Zephyr”
* Price Drop Considerations – Aggravated Gamers