I’m very proud to have helped launch The Expect More Excellence Tour for my longtime client, Expect More Arizona. The Excellence Tour is a portal to see and share excellence in education across Arizona. Although we know there is still a long way to go before we see the type of world-class education Arizona’s students deserve, it is important to recognize and celebrate the models of excellence in our state. This reminds us that not only is excellence possible here, it is already happening across our state right now. Now, we must demand that excellence for all of Arizona’s students.
There are just a few highlights about the site I want to point out, and then I encourage you to visit, vote, and share.
A Google map is embedded where you can visit different areas in Arizona to see local submissions.
A “Thumbs Up” ticker on the map measures engagement with each example of excellence submission. It’s fun to watch those numbers climb throughout the day.
Each submission has its own unique URL, with buttons to share that page via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and e-mail.
Visitors can vote for their favorite videos, encouraging submitters to utilize their networks (and their networks’ networks, and so on) to share their submission. You can only vote for a video one time per day, to encourage repeat visitors.
The user-generated content gives participants ownership of the site, and the friendly competition gives them a vested interest in driving traffic.
But, mostly, in an environment that often focuses on the negative, this is a nice way to stop and acknowledge great work that is happening in an increasingly challenging arena. It’s a way to say thank you to those who are expecting more of themselves and raising the bar for education in Arizona. And, personally, I don’t think we can say thank you enough.
La Cage Aux Folles isn’t the best show I’ve ever seen, but it does have one of the best performances I’ve seen in a while. The show itself isn’t much to speak of; it’s campy and fun, with an entertaining script and couple of songs that stick with you, but a score that is mostly forgettable. The production is clever, making the large Gammage Auditorium feel like a cabaret.
Although the cast is uneven, Christopher Sieber’s performance is worth the price of admission.* Sieber, as the flamboyant and fabulous Albin, brings the most humanity to the stage, in a role that could easily become a caricature (see Birdcage). He is seamlessly subtle and vulnerable, yet commanding and powerful. His delivery of the Act 1 closer “I Am What I Am” is heartbreaking and empowering all at once, and handled with a raw honesty usually eaten alive by an auditorium of this size. Sieber’s booming voice seemed to fill Gammage unaided by his microphone as he brought the house down.
I also want to mention Childsplay’s production of The Color of Stars has one more weekend of performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts. I can’t recommend it enough; a must-see, with or without kids. Click here to read a review and click here for tickets and information.
If the witches and wizards in Harry Potter had a magazine, it would probably look a lot like Sir Richard Branson’s new Project. The iPad-only magazine brings a science fiction level of interactivity to a once inanimate medium. Opening the inaugural issue on your iPad, a well-designed, seemingly traditional magazine cover comes to life (see video below).
From there on, every page turn (or swipe) reveals a surprising new interactivity. An article on upcoming cable TV series allows you to watch previews of each show. While reading about an innovative French record label, you can simply tap a band’s photo to listen to a sample music track. Looking for things to do in Tokyo? Project not only gives you insiders’ tips on some of the best locations, it takes you on a 3D walking tour of the city to get there. Even Project’s only advertisement, for Lexus, has slick functionality.
A concept like this can’t survive on flashy programming alone. This issue provides satisfying content, access to updated and current information, and a promise of a second issue before Christmas. Project is available for download from iTunes app store for free. You then can purchase the issue for $2.99, which will be billed to your iTunes account.
Here are a few books that have helped shape my approach to word of mouth marketing. I’d recommend them not just to marketers, but anyone looking to approach their business in new ways, particularly non-profits (which always need to find ways to do less with more).
Last night, my girlfriend and I decided to go to Sauce, the great informal pizza place from Fox Restaurant Concepts with a handful of locations around Phoenix. The closest one is about 15 minutes away at 7th Street and Glendale (Hey, Fox RC, Central Phoenix needs a Sauce!), so we headed over ready to eat. When we arrived, I looked in the storefront and found all the furniture moved to one side and the restaurant looking empty of all but a smattering of employees working to finish a remodel. A couple of them noticed our sad and hungry faces as they were walking back in.
They stopped and chatted with us and explained that they had been closed a few days to polish the space a bit, and reminded us of some of the other locations we could go to. All of them were in another direction from home, so we were still undecided and disappointed. “I’ll tell you what,” one said. “Head over to the Scottsdale Waterfront location, I’ll call and tell them you’re coming, and I’ll buy your dinner.” He handed me his card, and then Mike G., Vice President of Operations – Fast Casual for Fox Restaurant Concepts, took us in to show off all of the changes they made in the remodel. When we got to Scottsdale, they were expecting us, and our dinner was on the house.
Now, there are reasons that Fox Restaurant Concepts seems to be the only Arizona business to grow in the last few years. I’m sure one of the biggest is that they have fostered a corporate culture that values the customer, and whether it’s their intention or not, that mentality is the single best tool for generating positive word of mouth. Their food, of course, is top notch, and their array of restaurant concepts is diverse and always appealing, which are both good reasons to tell your friends. But, give a customer a good experience, and he or she will almost always tell their friends.
Of course, it’s unlikely that Mike was instructed by his marketing department to offer visitors to the closed store a free meal in the event that they would post a blog about the experience. He just did it because he and his employer value their customers and instinctively operate in their best interest (which, in turn, is in the best interest of the company).
Before you head to 7th Street & Glendale with your best sad face, hoping for a free meal: the remodeled Sauce opens for lunch today. But, head up there anyway, knowing that you’ll get great food at a great price, prepared and served by people who really value you as a customer. And, while you’re there, think about your own business. Do you do instinctively show your customers or constituents how much you appreciate them? How do you do it, and what can you do better?
Show Fox Restaurant Concepts some love… follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
By the way, the Federal Trade Commision requires I tell you that Robbie is also a client. I am, however, under no obligation to tell you that Robbie is a great golf instructor, a pretty darn good golfer, and a really nice guy. If you are looking for some golf lessons in the Phoenix area, definitely give him a call (or, you can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).
Childsplay pitches a near-perfect game with this production, the first of its 2009-10 season, with winning performances from company regulars… Beautifully staged by director Dwayne Hartford and a talented design team, it’s easy to find the right sports metaphor for this show: home run.
Here’s what I ask in return: Tell your friends! Tweet that you’re going (feel free to use the names @ChildsplayAZ and @BlabbermouthAZ in your tweets), post a link to the review on Facebook, blog about it, blab about it, tell other parents, baseball fans, theatre fans. Post a comment on this blog below that you are a recipient of the free tickets, and then post again after the show to let us know how much you enjoyed it.
This is a great show from a world-class theatre company, and you can bring your family for free. All I’m asking is… (PSST, PASS IT ON)!
My favorite local sushi joint – Hana Japanese Eatery – understands that it has a league of loyal customers who rave about their food to friends, family, colleagues, and, probably, complete strangers. In the marketing world, we call those people evangelists. At Hana, they call them “Hardcore Hanacore”.
Our fans are… special. They wait for our tweets each day and then flock for the sushi. They start fan groups. When one of them spies us bringing in a full size bluefin tuna to butcher on the sushi counter, cell phones all over town light up until there’s a crowd here like a circus.
Like I said, special. So we’d like to acknowledge that kind of crazy by branding you a Hanacore. Feel free to post this sucker to your blog or site- paint it on the side of your car, or hey- see what your tattoo artist can do with it.
We’ll be paying special attention to these suckers, and we’ll be watching our Hanacores. Who knows what surprises may come their way?
They have embraced social media as a tool to amplify their Word of Mouth, but they are doing it right (mostly). Hana begins – as all good Word of Mouth stories do – with an amazing product. Chef Koji-san selects only the best fish, and takes pride in what he serves. Plus, they take great care of their customers, often serving a complementary appetizer and a dish of pickled wasabi. I don’t want to turn this post into a restaurant review, but, the other night, Koji-san served me a perfect plate of tuna sashimi and some uni that was buttery and subtle. The star dish, however, came from the hot kitchen; when you go, if they have a special called “scallop edamame,” don’t miss it.
A great product and great customer service then turns to relationships. If you’ve heard me talk about social media before, you know that building relationships – on- and offline – is the key to successful Word of Mouth. Your loyalists gain a vested interest in your success when they have a relationship with you. Customers at Hana are treated like family, and, in turn, are even more driven to help the restaurant succeed.
They also embrace their customers’ evangelism by offering tools on their blog to help their customers share, like the “Hardcore Hanacore” logo and even linking to a customer created Facebook group. This is a wonderful way to reinforce the passion of their Hanacore. However, Facebook is the one area I’d like to see them improve. A group is not the best way to use the most effective communication tool on the web. They should start (or ask their loyal customer to start) a Facebook fan page. The fan page will push their posts out to fans’ news streams and also allow fans to tag them in a status post (creating a hyperlink to their fan page). It’s a great way to stay connected with customers, whereas a group page usually sits there unnoticed.
Hana’s Word of Mouth – both online and off – has been a success story for the restaurant and the neigborhood. I’m definitely a member of The Hanacore, and I urge all of you to rush to Hana to give it a try. The only downside of their Word of Mouth success is that I can’t get a seat there anytime I want anymore.
Continental's Ads boast the newest planes in the sky, but they've been around long enough to gather some dust. This is a shot of the panel above my seat. Yuck.
When passengers on Captain Denny Flanagan’s United Airlines flights encounter an unexpected delay, they have an experience they are sure to tell all of their friends and families. But, these passengers aren’t talking about the delay, they’re raving about how Capt. Flanagan left the plane to find a McDonald’s in the terminal and returned with a bag of 200 hamburgers to pass out on the plane. Last week, when my Continental Airlines flight was diverted from Newark to Pittsburgh, we sat on the plane hungry for 9 hours total without being allowed to deplane. Now, I know Continental can’t control the weather, and I’m grateful they aren’t allowed to try to land the plane in a lightning storm, but they can learn from the experiences Capt. Flanagan provides his passengers that turn bad experiences into Word of Mouth opportunities.
The next leg of the trip saw another 4-hour delay, where I sat in the hot terminal with no seats, no free wi-fi, and nowhere to plug in my fading iPhone. Again, I don’t expect you to take off with no co-pilot or flight attendant (who were delayed out of Michigan), but throw us a bone here.
In bad times, invest a small amount of time and money in making your passengers happy. The return on your investment can be a fleet of shiny brand loyalists who will evangelize their experience to friends and families. Here are some ways an Airline can turn a bad experience into a bearable one and get people talking:
WWDD (What Would Denny Do?): Read the WSJ article on how Captain Flanagan treats his passengers. Create a corporate culture that inspires similar behavior. Make sure pilots know they can expense 200 cheeseburgers and empower them with the tools to treat passengers like valued customers.
Information: Look, the FAA is in charge here, most of us know that. But, let us know what’s going on. If we understand the situation, we can deal with it better. In Newark, there were very few seats in the terminal, and you had to find one even if it meant going to a different gate. Information at the gate was sparse, but if you weren’t there you got nothing. How can you keep us better informed?
Connectivity: In Newark, you had to pay for wireless internet service (some airports offer this free). If I were running Continental Airlines, I’d make an arrangement with Boingo (Newark’s wi-fi provider) to buy wi-fi passes in bulk. It’s a small investment for a large return… Time passes much faster when we are playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.
Buy Some Power Strips and Extension Cords: We hate being stuck in an airport because we feel cut off. Our phones and laptops help alleviate that feeling (see Connectivity above), but there are about 12 outlets in the whole terminal. If I were you, I’d buy a bunch of extension cords and power strips, providing more outlets and locations to plug in. It’s a low-tech solution, but, trust me, we’ll REALLY appreciate it.
Liquor? I Barely Know Her: Sorry, but free headphones for the remake of Escape from Witch Mountain only makes matters worse. Offer to buy us a drink. We won’t all accept it, but it’s the thought that counts. I’m not suggesting turning the airplane into a keg party. One drink – it will take the edge off for a few people, and the gesture will be appreciated.
I should mention that Continental isn’t the only offender. I mean, look at US Airways… When the best PR you’ve had in a decade is crashing a plane in the Hudson, you’re not doing it right. Even Captain Flanagan’s airline got in major social media trouble for breaking guitars:
Airlines, you’re in a tough situation. We hate to travel, and it’s only become more annoying in the last 8 years. We’re tired, we’re cranky, and we just want to get to where we’re going. But, creating a corporate culture that encourages your staff to make it just a little better will do wonders for your positive Word of Mouth. McDonald’s doesn’t even make a great burger, but if you buy us one, we’ll talk about how much we enjoyed it.
Sometimes it’s nice to hear your favorite band stripped down of all of the production and amplification often heard on recordings and in concert. This is how you really get to know their talent; it’s the most authentic performance.
We’re always searching for authenticity in marketing. Sometimes the best way to find it is to pull the plug on your marketing efforts as well. Finding the ways to generate offline word of mouth can be the trickiest, but also the most valuable. It starts, of course, with offering an amazing product (or service). It continues with high quality customer service. And, it all comes together by being different than the rest. If you can offer your customers a unique, easy, exceptional customer experience, they will talk.
Last week, I began to talk about a company that didn’t even finish the job. Efficient Attic Systems provided me an estimate for adding much needed insulation to my hot Phoenix home. The installers showed up the next morning ready to tackle my historic home. After spending some time in my attic, they came down and explained that due to the old design of my home – particularly the low pitch of the roof – they didn’t believe they would be able to properly install the insulation in a way that would offer me a reasonable benefit for the cost. They sent a manager out to inspect and confirm, apologized profusely, and left.
Now, I know next to nothing about insulation. They could have spent a couple hours in my attic, sprayed some foam around, collected their money and left. I never would have known the difference. Times are tough, and I know the company lost money spending half a day at my house for no payment. They showed great integrity in their honesty, and although I’m disappointed that the job couldn’t be completed, I find them incredibly worthy of my praise and recommendation.
They earned Word of Mouth simply by offering a unique experience – a home improvement company more concerned about treating their customers fairly than their bottom line.
Here’s the catch, though: If U2 only performed unplugged for small crowds – no albums, no sold-out arenas – they wouldn’t have the success they have today. Bands need to turn up the volume to build support. And so it goes with Word of Mouth marketing.
Using social media shouldn’t be the reason your customers are talking about you. Social media is the amplification that helps them get heard by a broader audience. When combined properly, on- and offline Word of Mouth efforts generate authentic, positive experiences, and expand their reach further and faster than ever before.
What kind of customer experiences do you provide to encourage offline Word of Mouth?
Below, enjoy an “Unplugged” performance, courtesy of The Office’s David Brent: