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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.

It’s probably a golden rule for marketers to not choose favorites, but, if you know me, it’s no secret that Expect More Arizona is easily my favorite client. It’s not just the amazing people I get to work with (from the Board on down to my colleagues I drive all over the state with) or the really cool work I get the freedom to do, but to believe so firmly in the organization’s mission and to get to contribute to its success continues to be rewarding on a daily basis.

This year, we’re taking our message up several notches with a non-partisan campaign designed to make education the top priority in this year’s elections. With that in mind, last week we launched the “Vote 4 Education” campaign. You should start to see the signs and other materials pop up in communities across Arizona any day now. And, definitely, visit the Expect More Arizona web site to read the 4 questions and 4 actions to help you Vote 4 Education.

But, one part of the campaign that I’m really excited about is the Voter Resource Center. Here, we’re trying to make it really easy for people to share the campaign materials, both online and off. We’ve included all the campaign materials that you can download and print, and we’ve supplied widgets and images so anyone can embed campaign images on their web site or blog (as seen in this post). We also provide images that we’re encouraging friends to use as their social media profile pictures

Expect More Arizona and the “Vote 4 Education” have the potential to make a significant change in a struggling Arizona. Education must be a priority now. We can’t wait to fix education until after we fix our economy. Education – building a stronger workforce, creating an education system that will attract new businesses and top talent, instead of deterring them – is the key to restoring our economy. So, join me in voting 4 education, beginning by voting Yes on 100 on May 18.

Sign up at ExpectMoreArizona.org and connect with the organization on Facebook and Twitter.

My first encounter with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) was in June of 2006 in San Francisco. I was working at an ad agency in Phoenix in the PR department, frustrated with the model of traditional marketing. Writing press releases and pitching journalists on stories they rightly had no interest in didn’t feel like relating to the public to me. I wanted to connect the public to my clients, and trying to convince a reporter for the LA Times that she should write a story about a tiny spa in Bullhead City, AZ just wasn’t cutting it.

Fortunately, the agency sent me to the WOMMA conference in San Francisco, and my life changed. Finding WOMMA was like finding professional religion to me; I was quickly converted and devoted to finding a way to practice word of mouth marketing. That conference, led by then CEO Andy Sernovitz, was full of enthusiasm and passion. It was a group people trying to build a marketing movement; it felt like the Obama campaign trying to win the Iowa caucus. The highlight of the conference was Jackie Huba’s compelling keynote address, where she opened our eyes to the power of enabling customers to become evangelists (that speech is still the best marketing presentation I have ever seen). Sernovitz and crew were creating more than an association; they were creating a discipline and wanted me on board along with anyone else with the passion and skill to move this thing forward.

Fast forward to last week in Vegas. I have my own word of mouth marketing business and some really great clients. I went to the conference looking to gain new, fresh insights on how to harness the power of word of mouth for my clients and my business. I returned poorer and frustrated, but with as much passion as ever for the discipline of word of mouth marketing; unfortunately, now I feel like my passion is not shared by the association that holds the discipline’s name.

When I registered and at the conference, WOMMA staff tried to convince me (with an albeit soft sell) to become a paying member. That’s not going to happen any time soon. Here’s why:

WOM is not all about social media. At the very beginning of this conference, social media was introduced as a “subset” of word of mouth marketing. What other subsets did they mention? None. This was not a word of mouth conference; it was a social media conference. I mean, the tagline of the conference was: “Beyond Social Media.”

WOMMA Summit Banner

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG believer in the power of social media. I use it for my business, my clients, and myself all the time. But, social media is a tactic that helps generate and amplify word of mouth. It is not the whole of the discipline. Read Sernovitz’s book. No, seriously, READ SERNOVITZ’S BOOK! It’s about people, ideas, and conversation. He writes about word of mouth marketing, and yes, social media is in there as a tool for enabling the conversations. WOMMA is now solely about social media, mostly Twitter. This conference didn’t teach me a thing I don’t get in my inbox everyday from a surplus of “social media experts.” Andy Sernovitz was nowhere to be found at the WOMMA conference; I don’t know him, and I don’t know why he wasn’t there, but I’m guessing his vision doesn’t exactly jibe with WOMMA’s so much anymore.

What’s the benefit to me exactly? Each time I’ve been approached to become a member, I ask what the benefit will be to my company. Other than being able to say I’m a member and get a discount on the conference (which doesn’t make up for the $1,000 membership fee for a small business), I’ve been unable to determine a benefit. In fact…

I shouldn’t have to compete with my own trade association. WOMMA was very excited to sell us on their new Learn It, Do It! series that is “offering Brands, Agencies, and Non-Profits on-site education about Word of Mouth and Social Media Marketing” for the low, low price of $1250. Well, that’s one way a lot of word of mouth marketing consultants, like myself, make a living. Sometimes we’ll have to compete with each other for jobs, but we shouldn’t have to compete with WOMMA for work. I thought they were supposed to help us succeed, not take away opportunities from their members. If an actor has to compete with his agent for jobs, it’s times for the actor to fire the agent.

Costs too much for a very small business like mine. Like I said.

So, I’ve whined and griped (without even mentioning how amazing and right-on Emanuel Rosen was), but now I’ll tell you a bit of my vision for a better WOMMA. I’m not sure if WOMMA is interested and I’m not even sure that a better WOMMA for me is better for most its members, but for what it’s worth:

“Beyond Social Media”: Social media could – and should – be the biggest focus, but let’s look at the other subsets, and how to start offline conversations before we amplify them with social media. Let’s look at how to create the big ideas, the experiences, the products and services that get people talking, and then let’s give them a place to shout about it. And then, when we do talk about social media…

Look to the future. Jackie Huba talked about Shakira’s use of fan-generated video in 2006. In fact, it’s all in her last book. SERIOUSLY, READ BOTH OF HER BOOKS! Most of us know how to use YouTube and Twitter; we need to know what we’re going to use in the near future before it happens. I didn’t hear any content about Google Wave or Foursquare, much less whatever 3D-hologram-virtual-reality-social-community-marketplace is coming after them (hopefully including a jet pack).

A little humility, please. You don’t get credit for the popularity of social media. If I had seen Mark Zuckerberg or Biz Stone on the board or even a panel, it might’ve merited the amount of backslapping. We’re an industry about building relationships; being a little more approachable will go a long way. I will admit a lot of you have amazing hair, though.

On that note. I know you’re proud of the FTC thing, but now what’s next? Other “marketers” are abusing our channels in many ways. Most of my Twitter friends have let me know how to “make money online with Google.” Daily, hackers, spammers, and phishers are negating efforts of true relationship building. I have always respected how early WOMMA came out with its code of ethics. How can you help enforce more than just full disclosure on blogs?

Look, I’m not saying that other people or businesses shouldn’t join WOMMA. In fact, if you look at the Twitter stream from the conference (of which I was an active part) you’ll find that most commenters found value and show a lot more enthusiasm for the event. If you are a large brand with a big budget and a traditional marketing team that doesn’t already use social media, WOMMA may be exactly what you need. I’m saying that it isn’t what I need. And that sucks. I’d love to have the old WOMMA back to support and inspire me. I’d love to join 2006 WOMMA, but at least for now, that doesn’t seem like a possibility.

Did you see the article on NYTimes.com  How to Market Your Business With Facebook? Most of the clients I’ve consulted are on board with using Facebook as a marketing tool. But, like with all social media tools, they have one big fear… Will it last?

They were around when everyone was saying, “You have to get on MySpace.” Some of them bit, created a MySpace page, built a following, and then left it alone for a while. Now, if they hear MySpace mentioned at all, it’s: “Nobody’s on MySpace anymore!”

Some of you want to jump in to these social media tools, but you’re afraid of wasting your very limited time in something that’s going to go away pretty soon. Ask me if Twitter will be around in 5 years, my answer – maybe. Will MySpace? Not as a social media site.

Will Facebook be around for a long time? My answer? YES!

Of course, it’s my opinion, but here’s my thinking:

Remember switching from records to cassette tapes and then tapes to CDs? What about BetaMax tapes to VHS and VHS to DVD?

We’re always reluctant to changing media devices, because we already built up libraries. We think, “I already have all of these VHS tapes, I don’t want to start over with these newfangled DVDs!” But, we ended up making the change, because the DVDs worked better. If we could have upgraded the functionality of our VHS tapes, we wouldn’t have made the switch.

Same thing goes with Facebook. There are well over 300 million Facebook users. And, most of us have built up our networks of friends, colleagues, people we went to elementary school with, and more. We don’t want to have to find all of those people all over again when “the next big thing” comes out and tries to replace Facebook.

But, unlike VHS tapes or records, Facebook has the ability to upgrade itself constantly (which it does, and we are reluctant every time, until we get used to it). Say what you will about Zuckerberg and crew, but those guys are smart. They aren’t worried about competing with they “next big thing,” they are always working to make sure that Facebook continues to be “the next big thing.”

So, if you’re waiting to use Facebook as a communication tool because you’re not sure it will be around… I say stop waiting and climb on board. I’m confident it will be useful for you for a while (as long as you  remember it is not like traditional advertising, but a place to build relationships — but I digress. That’s a conversation for another time).

What do you think? How long will Facebook dominate social media? How do you think we will be using it differently in 5 years? 10 years?

Lucky readers of my blog, Childsplay is offering you free tickets to its season premier, Honus and Me. The show opened last weekend to rave reviews and runs until October 11.

From the Arizona Republic:

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 you have to do: The first 5 readers to e-mail me requesting tickets will receive up to 4 tickets to the performance of your choice. (Click here for show times.)

Israel Jiménez and Joe Kremer in Honus and Me

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)!

Im a member of the Hanacore!

I'm a member of the "Hanacore!"

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”.

From Hana’s Blog:

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.

So, you have a great product, and people are ready and willing to tell their friends. Why not make it easier for them. Giving people who want to share easy access to tools that will help them share is a great way to encourage positive Word of Mouth. Widgets – when done right – provide a great tool for sharing an experience.

I’m going to New York in a week to go to my good friend Clayton’s wedding, and while I’m there I’m going to take in a Broadway show. The producers of Billy Elliot created this widget for me to share my experience:


Notice there’s a link to click to find out more information about the show. Now that you know I’m going, you might ask me about the experience after I’ve seen it. The widget sets up the opportunity for Word of Mouth both before and after the show. You’ll also find Billy Elliot on Facebook and Twitter.

I’ll let you know how I like the show.

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:

I created this video for Entrepreneurship at ASU. It’s a really great program that helps student entrepreneurs succeed by providing resources, including access to business veterans, office space, startup grants, and more.  Not enough students and faculty at ASU know the great opportunities available through this initiative, so please share with your friends.

Also, find Entrepreneurship at ASU on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

People are always asking me what I do at Blabbermouth, and – to be honest – I’m not great at answering that question yet. Blabbermouth is not even a few months old, and I haven’t figured out the best way to tell my story. Yet.

I came to the Ragan Social Media conference in Las Vegas to learn some more tactics to use in getting out the word about my clients. But, thanks to Blend Tec VP of Marketing George Wright, the best thing I learned today has me closer to answering the “What do you do?” question. 

Surely, most of you are familiar with Wright’s Will it Blend campaign, which has become one of the most viral marketing efforts in history. With a budget of $50, Wright created a campaign that has seen a 700% increase in sales of the Blend Tec consumer product.

Will it Blend was born like many great marketing ideas, by paying attention to what makes the brand unique. Blend Tec CEO Tom Dickson is diligent about testing his products. Regularly, he would take a 2×2 board to one of his blenders to make sure it was strong enough. Wright really wanted to watch his boss shove a board into a blender, and the light bulb went on over his head. If he wanted to watch that bad, surely others would too. It was an idea that was compelling and reinforced what made their products great.

The idea had been right there all along, with the sawdust all over the floor, but it took Wright’s vision to realize it. George Wright says, if you are looking for your next big marketing idea, ask yourself, “What’s the sawdust on my floor?”

That’s what I do at Blabbermouth. I help my clients figure out what their sawdust is, and then create ways for their consumers to tell others about it.

On another note, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, gave a very inspirational opening keynote speech. In Hsieh’s opinion, there is no such thing as social media – it’s simply about creating a great culture and amazing customer service. The rest will follow. If I hadn’t just started Blabbermouth, I’d definitely be trying to get a job at Zappos right now. And, if I got hired, I most certainly wouldn’t accept the $2000 he offers new hires to quit!

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