Friday, September 30, 2005

Catching up on BlackBerry's redundancies

Recently I added a BlackBerry to my communications repertoire so that when I'm out and about, I still have access to critical emails. My BlackBerry is a phone as well as an email reader, so it can be a pretty helpful device. I have three frustrations with its operation, however, which I'll outline here:

(1) The spam filter isn't as sensitive as that with my normal Apple email program. So the sheer quantity of emails I receive on my BlackBerry is sometimes daunting.

(2) Unless I'm missing something in the instructions, I can delete only one message at a time on my BlackBerry. So as I scroll through a hundred or more emails, unless I'm willing to keep them on the machine for the time being, I'm individually deleting. Takes time.

(3) Even when I delete, of course, they're still in my regular computer email box, so I'll see them again. I knew this would be the case, and, fortunately, because of the spam filter on the computer, there aren't as many to deal with in my inbox as there was on the BlackBerry the first time.

Many of the non-critical emails I first see on the BlackBerry I postpone for action when I return to my computer. I'm a 10-finger typist, so "thumbing" on the BlackBerry is comparatively slow for me. And many of the emails I receive have attachments and/or links to web sites that are better viewed from the computer.

That means when I return - as I did today - having been away from my computer, I have a bit of a backlog.

I spent much of the day today catching up on email and phone calls that piled in during two days on a photo shoot. Maybe how busy I've been clouds my sense of irony - and my sense of humor - but a couple of things friends and colleagues have sent me had me shaking my head at the wonder of just how much time some have on their hands.

First example: Doug Brisotti sent along this website for a bogus company called "Huh"! I remember seeing it a year or more ago, but I hadn't thought of it since. Clever, sure, in an ironic sort of way. But the gag doesn't ring so harmoniously as we at BURRIS try to overcome a customer's concern over costs in the wake of being burned by his previous agency.

Next example comes from Beverly Flichman, who said this is a good reason for us to be happy not to be part of the New York ad scene. Go here to see "The Ad Conceptor," a kind of "Subservient Chicken" take-off for the creative industry.

Check out Huh! and The Ad Conceptor and let me know what YOU think.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Starting Over - 2

After meeting with my friend and customer regarding a fresh start in his hospitality business (click here for Part 1), I'd have to say that "starting over" isn't in his plans.

It's not that he's not intrigued with the idea. It's more that he can't get beyond the legacy of his situation, "the way we've always done it."

If it were up to me, if I were CEO for six weeks (or months) - a favorite refrain of mine - here's what I would do:
- Specialize the properties I offer, preferably those that might fit neatly into a "luxury" or "best on the beach" category.
- Elevate my service approach, offering concierge service, kitchen stocking options, and other luxe services that my customers would appreciate...and pay for.
- Limit my reservation services to encourage internet booking. The capability is there, the customer increasingly prefers self-service, and it's clearly more efficient. Put the people hours into service, not here.
- Have the same in-house contact who works with the property owners work with the renters as well. Who better to be accountable?
- Check-ins should be at the property, not in an office. That way the reservations agent will see the condition as the customer does and address anything that needs it right away.
- Ask owners how much they really want their place to rent. Many don't want the wear and tear week after week of rentals can bring. The right model might allow me to rent for shorter than full weeks, still make money for the owner and for me, and keep the place in better condition.
- Have a set of standards for decorating, linens, features such as cable, DVD, wireless, etc. If you're renting from me, each property is different in terms of layout and location, but all are the same in terms of what you can expect to find there.

There's a short list. Next time I'll outline a marketing plan.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Starting Over - Part 1

If you were going to start your business today, what would you do differently from the way you currently operate?

Let me get you started.

I'm working with a customer in the hospitality business. It's not a hotel; rather it's a business that manages privately owned properties and rents them on behalf of the owners. Guests book the properties - some are houses, some condos - pay the rental fee, check in and check out. The owners receive a percentage (usually 55%) of the revenue; my customer retains the balance.

Virtually all of the property management firms in the area operate the same way. During the high season, they offer Saturday-to-Saturday stays. Guests check-out by 11a on Saturday; new guests check-in after 4p on Saturday. In the other seasons, they rent the properties whenever they can, some for short term stays, others for longer terms (preferably for months).

You make your money - whether you're the owner or the property management company - in the high season. You hold on and make whatever you can the rest of the year.

That's the way it works now. The competition works against you in several ways:
- Everyone is fighting to manage more properties. The more inventory you have, the more renters you can serve, and, thus, the more income you can generate.
- Everyone is fighting for quality cleaning day - for five hours - per week. The entire geographic area is turning over its inventory between 11a and 4p on Saturday.
- The key to your business is repeats - from one year to the next - but everyone is also trying to attract new renters to fill up the excess and cover for attrition.

In a nutshell that's how it's working.

If you were buying into the market, or if you were starting-up a new business, how would you look at the paradigm, how would you approach your offering, how would you establish your distinctiveness, build your brand?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

"We want to go from being a logical choice to a brand that's loved."

A quote from a brand management exec at Marriott, reported in BusinessWeek's 9/26/05 issue. (Subscription required.)

Reminds me of a discussion I had with Beverly Flichman ( on Friday last. Beverly believes that some strong brands actually evidence a power over customers who may not even buy them. Starbucks, for example, can be admired even by those who don't drink coffee. eBay has strength even for those who have never bought or sold in online auction. Part of the beauty of iPod for Apple is how it has introduced a corporate brand and some of its values to lifelong Windows users.

We - Beverly and I - riffed for a minute or two on the phenomenon, her referring to it as a "brand democracy." So we dubbed it - for now - "brandocracy," and promised to think about it some more.

The quote at the head of this post captures part of it. For many, a brand choice comes from a logical approach. But in a brandocracy, increasingly more decisions come out of an emotional attachment, almost to the extent that the true brand image is now determined by consumers, not by brand managers.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Starting over - Introduction

I have an upcoming meeting with a friend and prospect whom I'll try to convince to totally rebuild his business model.

It's just not working for his company to keep doing what they do the way they've been doing it. They're losing money, struggling with negative momentum, and not standing for anything that really matters to their better customers. And I believe the solution for them is to start over...or get out of the business altogether.

What would you do if you were starting your business now, starting fresh in today's marketplace, against today's competitors, with today's technology?

What market would you serve? What level of service would you offer? How would you price your offering? What guarantee would you offer? How would you insure customer satisfaction?

In my friend's case, his primary business concentrates on high income, high asset targets, and he enjoys a considerable loyalty from past customers. They come back to sell and buy again, again and again.

In the coming weeks I'll tell you more. If this prospect becomes a customer, I'll take you through their transformation. If I can't close the deal, then I'll let you know what I would have done if I were running his business.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Advertising Age is featuring a daily review of what it's like to travel by air in "Airworld," by Greg Lindsay. (Click on the title of this post for the first installment. You'll need to register with Advertising Age, but it's free.)

The culture of the air (my phrase, not his) is unique to the travel industry (well, maybe healthcare). It's where cost and value, price and benefits have little to do with one another, and information to customers is as rare as uncut diamonds. Lindsay examines air travel from a customer and brand perspective.

Amidst the wreckage, he finds Jet Blue as a brand that stands out largely for its consumer acceptance, even loyalty. I've never flown the airline; Jet Blue doesn't serve any of my regular airports and cities. But I'm reminded of my little hometown, High Point, as we anxiously awaited our first McDonald's around 1960. We couldn't wait.

If you travel - or if you are a student of brands, their successes and failures - check out this series.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"The Only Question That Matters"

As some of you know, I've been on a research kick lately, especially as it relates to customer satisfaction. I came across an article in the September Business 2.0, the title of which I've taken at the title for this post.

(Click above and you'll link to the article.)

Bottom line: the best chances for increased product acceptance and growth are in building word-of-mouth, positive viral referrals from existing customers. "This year," the article by Damon Darlin begins, "12.5 million people used Intuit's TurboTax software to prepare their tax returns. Next year the company wants the number to be even larger. So what's the best way to make that happen? Easy. Intuit asks customers one simple question: Would you recommend this product to friends and family?"

Of course the answer presents just a beginning. If "no," then you need to drill into the why's and why nots. Then you fix them. So it's really not so simple. But it is a start.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Delivering the message wherever

I recently returned from my first visit to Pebble Beach, the Lodge and the Golf Links. If you love golf, Pebble is one of the places you have to play. Along with The Old Course and Pinehurst No. 2, it's probably one of the great golf experiences in the world. And anyone can play there, as long as you've got the dough to pay for it.

At Pebble Beach I was reminded that marketing messages to consumers can be delivered almost anywhere. Seems Pebble has gotten a reputation as a place where golf is played v e r y s l o w l y. A round of six hours isn't unheard of. Golfers of all stripes play there, photos are taken all over the place, and the result is, well, a backed-up classic.

Some resorts deal with this problem in different ways, but they have to deal with it. Not only does it affect the experience; it also affects revenues. If it takes 5-6 hours to play, they can sell fewer tee times, and few tee times means less revenue.

Pebble delivers their "pace of play" message in several ways, but none more interesting to me than this:
4 hours and 30 minutes
On the practice balls at the driving range is the message "4:30" - for "four hours and thirty minutes" - the ideal time in which they'd like you to play your round.

Again, the reason is economic. We stayed at Pebble Beach in a beautiful lodge room. Staying there gets you access and a break in the green fee on the great old course. How much of a break? Well, here's the receipt I kept from check-in:
Proof of Purchase
Two people, $425 each, $850 total.

"4:30" indeed.