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How much extra for nice?

If I pay $1000 extra for a first-class seat, odds are the flight attendant will be nice to me.

If I pay $2000 extra for the presidential suite at the hotel, odds are the front desk clerk will be nice to me.

If I give the valet $50 to park my car, odds are he’ll be nice to me as well.

So, here’s the question: if all I want, the only extra, is for someone to be nice to me when I visit your business, how much extra does that cost? How much extra to talk to a nice person when I call tech support? How much extra to find a nice receptionist at the doctor’s office? Would you pay $9 extra for a smile when you dealt with the Social Security bureaucrats and were filing a form?

I know you’re rushed and stressed and stretched. I know your team deals with hundreds or thousands of customers, and a lot of them aren’t very friendly or warm. And I know that some of your customers (maybe a lot) would happily pay a little extra to get that one thing they want most of all…

I think there’s a huge gap between what people are willing to pay for nice (a lot) and what it would cost businesses to deliver it (almost nothing). Smells like an opportunity.

Best of the blog

Here are a bunch of posts, culled from this list.

Vote them up or down or suggest your own.


What advertising can’t fix

If you spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars on an ad campaign for a tech company, people will talk about it. If you give Jerry Seinfeld, the most famous comedian ever, $10 million to be in a few of the commercials you do, people will talk about it even more.

Microsoft has fallen into a trap that befalls many large companies in search of cred, buzz or respect. They’ve decided to buy some via advertising.

For more than twenty years, Microsoft has relentlessly commodified itself and the software it makes. It has worked to become a monopoly, a semi-faceless organization that cranks out very good (or pretty good) software that gets a job done for the middle of the market. It’s been a profitable strategy.

But now they have Apple envy.

The Zune plays music, the iPod is the badge of a tribe.

A PC laptop runs Excel. A Macbook Air generates buzz and creates joy.

The answer must be to run better ads! And lots of them.

Question: When was  the last time you met an Apple employee who was truly passionate about the products she made or sold? My guess is this happened the last time you went to an Apple store. When was the last time you had a similar experience with a Microsoft employee?

If you talk to Google employees, odds are that they are totally engaged and on a mission to change the way people interact with the internet and with information. Talk to a Microsoft person and they will be happy to talk about reliability or standards they set or the way to engage the bureaucracy of the organization.

Microsoft may very well not be broken. The world needs reliable bureaucracies that mollify the needs of corporations and individuals in the center of the market. But if it is broken, advertising isn’t going to fix it.

[Before the legions of committed and engaged Microsoft employees reading this write in, please consider my point. I’m not saying that there aren’t large pockets of innovation or joy at Microsoft. I’m saying that Vista and PowerPoint and Microsoft’s other core non-game products are largely devoid of personality and are optimized to be sold to organizations that prefer it that way. Microsoft can change this if they want to, but until they do, running ads pretending to be something other than that is a waste of money.]

Thinking bigger

"How do you like the draft of the new brochure?" asks the boss.

There are several responses available to you, in order of wonderfulness:

  1. It’s great.
  2. There’s a typo here on page 2.
  3. What if we changed the size of the headline?
  4. Are you open to considering different typefaces and colors?
  5. Where are you going to distribute this?
  6. Why use a brochure? Couldn’t we spend the same money more effectively?

Where are you on this scale?

You could hire a brilliant graphic designer to take your bullet-filled powerpoint and fix the fonts and clean it up. But would it change the game?

When in doubt, challenge the strategy, not the tactics.

Simple example of thinking bigger: What if you hired Jill Greenberg to Photoshop well-known people in your industry to turn them into memorable images instead?

Every day you have the chance to completely reimagine what it is to communicate via Powerpoint. What Marc Andreessen has done is to completely reimagine what it is to be online. That’s where the win lies, when you reinvent.

The bigger point is that none of us are doing enough to challenge the assignment. Every day, I spend at least an hour of my time looking at my work and what I’ve chosen to do next and wonder, "is this big enough?"

Yesterday, I was sitting with a friend who runs a small training company. He asked, "I need better promotion. How do I get more people to take the professional type design course I offer at my office?" My answer was a question, as it usually is. "Why is the course at your office?" and then, "Why is it a course and not accreditation, or why not turn it into a guild for job seekers, where you could train people and use part of the tuition to hire someone to organize a private job board? You could guarantee clients well-trained students (no bozos) and you could guarantee students better jobs… everyone wins."

I have no idea if my idea for the training company is a good one, but I know it’s a bigger one. That’s when marketing pays for itself. Not when we find a typo or redesign a logo, but when we reconsider the question and turn the answer into something bigger than we ever expected.

But you’re not saying anything

Cory points us to this collection of logos from Saul Bass. Twelve giant companies, all with basically interchangeable logos.

And that’s the point. These big companies didn’t want the logo to be part of their story, they just wanted it to fit in with all the other big company logos. The only thing the logo said was, "we’re a big company with a big company logo."

The same thing goes on with pricing. If you price your products like the competition does, you’re not saying anything with your pricing. "Move along, there’s nothing to see here." Which is fine. It just means you need to tell a story with something else.

Marketing storytelling is not about doing everything differently. You do many things the same, intentionally, because those ‘same things’ aren’t part of your story. It’s the different stuff where you will be noticed, and the different stuff where you tell your story.

The layout of this blog is intentionally bland. The books I write intentionally have standard covers and paper and are sold in standard stores at standard prices (most of the time, anyway). That’s because the distribution and pricing isn’t part of what I’m trying to say.

If you’re not telling a story with some aspect of your marketing choices, then make sure that aspect is exactly what people expect. To do otherwise is to create random noise, not to further your marketing.

Non profit riffs

A free half hour audio lecture I just did for non-profits that want to grow is right here. Please skip over the first few minutes of silence and announcements…

You can see all of Network for Good’s presentations right here.

Over the top isn’t…

over the top any more.

The bar keeps being raised. That service you thought was so remarkable is now standard. Sorry.

The small-minded vision of the technology elite

"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home."

                                     Ken Olsen, ceo of DEC,

Only 31 years ago. DEC was one of the leading computer companies of the day, but not for long.

Take a look at the geek discussion boards and you’ll see an endless list of sharp-tongued critics, each angling to shoot down one idea or another. And then take a look at the companies that show up at the various pitch shows, and you’ll see one company after another pitching incremental improvements based on current assumptions.

The reason is simple: technologists know how to make things work.

When an engineer has a proven ability to ship stuff, to keep things humming and not crashing, it’s easy to fall into the trap of rejecting anything that hasn’t demonstrated that it can work, that hasn’t proven itself in the market.

Competence is not the same thing as imagination.

PS the marketing elite have precisely the same problem.

In search of value

The stock market is going to be bonkers today.

And for most people, it won’t matter so much. Because most of us aren’t focused on flipping assets. We’re building value by creating interactions that work, by writing stories that spread or by designing products and services that actually create something worth paying for.

That sounds like a treacly mission statement, but it’s easy to get distracted by external noise instead of focusing on what counts. Hint: They started Google in the middle of the dot com melt down.

The short-term consequences of an unstable stock market are real and uncomfortable. More (and better) adult supervision would have gone a long way, imho. But we can’t control this, all we can do is focus on what matters.

Hang in.

The power of lists

The web loves lists almost as much as it loves video.

Consider this list from Chris Brogan.

Or take a look at this PDF

(exclusively published here) from Ed (with editing help from the triiibe).

I’d give you a list of lists, but there are already plenty of those. Your turn to add a list to the list.