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Jewish Olympics

Here’s a crazy story from my experience today at LA Fitness. I won’t even go into the convoluted reason they had me cancel my membership and sign up again (annoying), but this led to meeting Sales Manager and Sales Guy (we’ll call them that the purpose of this post).

When I met Sales Manager a couple of days ago with my girlfriend, he informed me that I have a Jewish last name and then proceeded to bid me “Shalom.”

They couldn’t sign me up that day (again, annoying), so I returned today to meet with Sales Guy. As we’re sitting there, Sales Manager sits down next to me, and begins to unload more crazy.

Sales Manager: Hey, Sales Guy, did you know that Jeff is Jewish?
Sales Guy
: (Blank stare)
Jeff
: Um…. Okay.
Sales Manager
: That means we need to pick his brain on how to make money.
Sales Guy
: (Panic stare)
Jeff
: Ummmm… that’s a little offensive.
Sales Manager
: No, it’s okay. I’m Dominican. People call me Mexican all the time.
Jeff & Sales Guy
: (Confused and awkward silence).
Sales Manager
: I’m Christian. But, at my church we believe in Israel. (Pause) Are you militant?
Jeff
: Ummmmmm…. No, not really.

This small snippet of a larger exchange begs a couple of questions. First, are there Christians who don’t believe in Israel? Great! First Santa, then the Jewish OlympicsEaster Bunny, now this? Where do they believe Natalie Portman is really from?

But, the bigger question is: How does a business combat stories like this that will lead to negative word of mouth? (The obvious answer is prevention, but, hey, things happen).

Do I think Sales Manager meant to be offensive? No. (As Sales Guy explained when he took me aside and apologized, “That’s just how he is.”)

Will this prevent me from remaining a member? No. (But only because I play racquetball with friends there).

But, here’s the big thing: Will I tell this story EVERY TIME someone mentions LA Fitness in my presence? Absolutely! Will many of the people who hear it retell it to their friends? You bet.

So, here’s what LA Fitness should do to try to fix it.

First, publicly make it right.
This is 2010, when most of us have a story to tell, we tell it online where countless of our friends and their friends can read it (or watch it or listen to it). Hopefully, a large brand like LA Fitness monitors online mentions of their brand (via Google, Twitter search, or pay for a social media listening service like Radian6). Once aware of this blog post or Tweets about it, they should use those venues to comment, apologize (if that’s what they feel this merits), and find a way to make it right. (LA Fitness, please don’t do anything drastic like fire Sales Manager. The guy means well. You just haven’t trained him on how to behave in the workplace).

Next, give me a better story to tell.
This is huge. Like I said, I will tell this story every time I hear of LA Fitness.  Why not give me a better story to tell? Give me something else positive to say whenever I hear the name… or, at the very least, give me an ending for this story that will put a positive spin on it.

I guess I am militant after all. Not about Israel (whatever that means), but about word of mouth. Your employees are your brand. Like it or not, Sales Manager defined what LA Fitness means today. So, LA Fitness, it’s your move.

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)!

Have you wondered what generates authentic, quality, off-line Word of Mouth? Here’s an experience that happened to me that highlights what a company can do to encourage customer evangelism. 

After a recent kitchen remodel, I was in the market for a high quality coffeemaker. I became obsessed with the $4000 touch-of-a-button espresso perfection machines, but could never justify that kind of expense on a coffee maker. Nevertheless, I would go into Williams-Sonoma and stare at them longingly on a regular basis.

About 6 months ago, when I made my regular visit to stalk kitchen appliances, I ran into a former client and her friend. When I explained my desperate longing for high quality brew, the two of them turned into a professional coffeemaker sales force. “No. That is not what you want,” my former client declared. “This is what you want…”

 

My Nespresso Le Cube

My Nespresso Le Cube

They escorted me to a different section of the store and introduced me to the Nespresso Le Cube. Instantly, I was turned off, being a coffee snob. Nespresso uses coffee in pods, which I was convinced was going to be merely sugary, syrupy flavored nonsense. They objected. Nespresso sells only high quality, ground espresso beans vacuum-sealed in pods for freshness and convenience, they declared. They flagged an official salesman, who allowed me to brew my own cup. Moments later, I was drinking a near perfect pull of espresso with a glorious crema on top. My former client and her friend watched me make my purchase (for a few hundred, rather than a few thousand dollars), and even followed up with me the next day to make sure I was still satisfied with my selection.

These two women don’t work for Nespresso; they are loyalists and evangelists (as I have also become). But, what makes them so devoted to selling this product if they don’t receive any incentives or compensation? Is quality alone enough to generate sustained Word of Mouth like this? Quality is definitely a good start, but let’s take a closer look at how Nespresso engages their loyalists to encourage such a following.

  • Exclusivity. When you purchase a Nespresso machine and espresso pods, you don’t become a “customer,” but a member of a club. The exclusivity is not gimmicky, because they follow through with opportunity and a modicum of prestige. Placing a phone order from Nespresso feels more like making arrangements with a concierge at a 4 star hotel. They also have boutiques in various cities that offer club members VIP perks, including tastings, but they don’t have one in Phoenix so I can’t give any first-hand details.
  • Customer Collaboration. Yesterday I received an e-mail survey from Nespresso that basically asked what kind of company I wanted them to be and how I would like to be treated as a customer. The company consults their consumers on everything from product design, to which advertisements to air, to which limited edition roasts should become permanent. By giving customers a voice in the product, Nespresso also gives them a vested interest in its success.
  • Promote Quality. I have yet to see Nespresso offer me a “deal.” They never downgrade their brand image by offering sale prices. They do, however, offer promotions featuring limited edition products. I might buy coffee when I don’t need any simply because I’m given the opportunity for a unique experience (I might pay a little extra too).
  • Tools to Blab. This is actually an area where Nespresso has a lot more opportunities to take advantage. They do have a decent Facebook fan page with some resources including online video, polls, and promotions. They have user-participation contests and more, but not enough focused on helping consumers evangelize the products. For example, there’s a ton of Twitter chatter about Nespresso, but the company itself has no presence. Their Web site has no feature to “tell-a-friend” that I could find, and, in fact, the site is really clunky and difficult to use; it’s hard to find a page that I would want to share. The desire to share is there, and if Nespresso helps it along a little more, I think we may see world coffee domination.

Nespresso’s Word of Mouth success starts with a great quality product, but they have also built a business model that encourages their members to Blab. What could your company or your clients do to encourage similar experiences like the one I had to purchase my Nespresso Le Cube? What else could Nespresso do to build on the Blab?