Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thank You Notes

It sounds like corny advice from your mother, but I have been reminded twice this past week on the power of saying thank you to those who you depend on.

It doesn't have to be big, elaborate, or expensive, but sincere and delivered in an appropriate time frame.

They carry more weight than we really ant to admit.

Start writing.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Top Shelf

Being really good at what you do has two advantages:

If you are in a crowded space, being the best grants you some separation from the commodities, and allows you a price premium.

If you are creating a space, you will automatically scare off competitors as they can only compete on price. Claiming the top end makes the whole category less attractive.

Being really good might be more work than being a commodity, but there are greater rewards in it.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Advantage Through HR Competency

Thirty years ago Michael Porter wrote about how companies can gain competitive advantage through every part of the company, including HR. Excellent HR starts with its ability to recruit and retain talent, and appearing to have your act together goes a long way.

In other words, don't send an email telling an applicant they have advanced to the next round on Friday, followed by a flush email on Monday. It doesn't leave the best impression, and makes an applicant question the competency of the whole operation.

Little things can carry enormous weight.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011


A friend sent me a link to a live video stream of a conference he had gotten on his corporate website. He was very proud of it, as it required changing many policies within IT, finding funding to pay for it, and convincing the conference operators that a live stream would be good for their event. The stream represented several firsts for his organization.

The stream also looked like streams I had worked on- back in the 90's.

There is often a gap between a first for your group and a first for the industry. My friend was making the mistake of promoting a first for his group as some kind of cutting edge service. Since his perceptions didn't match the perceptions of the market, he appears a bit clueless. The better message would have been to not mention that the stream was a first for your organization, but simple tell the interested that it was available- since they may have assumed it was anyway.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I spent some time at an expensive boutique hotel last weekend, and enjoyed both the stay and watching the place at work.

Waiting for a friend in a side lobby I was able to watch the staff tidy up after a social hour. This was more than the cursory pick-up-glasses-and-wipe-down-tables exercise. Each chair had an exact position to return to, as they were as much a part of the architecture as the windows and doors. Most were moved, then checked, adjusted, and checked again before moving to the next one. The staff took their work seriously, and they were meticulous.

This required two things: staff who were willing to be extraordinarily diligent, and the time to be diligent. You must have both.

The room only took about 15 minutes to fully reset to its perfect default, but could have been done in 5 if clean was the only goal. Some would think that's a poor use of manpower, taking three times as long to do everything as the minimum, building inefficiency into the system.

I suspect for that hotel, serious margins come mostly from those inefficiencies.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Follow Up

I followed a sponsored link to a product that I was interested in, looked around the site, and inquired through the provided link on the price.

Nothing. No follow-up. I was 80% sold, but now I will continue looking.

If you aren't prepared to follow up on leads, why advertise?


Friday, May 20, 2011


I wish there was a way to put college Freshmen in actual "This is what the job is like" situations to weed out those who aren't going to like the real job four or five years later.

If you don't like calling people up to ask them a bunch of questions, you should get out of journalism.

If you don't like heavy math, engineering or finance probably aren't for you.

Often finding a career you like involves learning what you hate, then eliminating related careers. Choose from the remaining options. Too many of us (including the author) learned these lessons well after college.


Thursday, May 19, 2011


I always chuckle when I hear local economic types are putting all of their chips on bringing in an office for a Fortune 50, with, say, 100 jobs.

Yet for the same effort and no travel, they could help 10 local companies add 100 jobs total, jobs that are hard to lure away with lower taxes or cheaper labor or other such carrots.

Businesses often put lots of effort into bringing in the new client, while taking their current clients for granted. The low hanging fruit can be harvested, or at least nurtured, with a phone call.

Start close, then work out.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Marginal Improvement

Every product category has several price points, and at each one you get an improvement in some factor: quality, design, useability, durability, prestige, etc.

Few of us have the budget to enjoy the best of everything. Instead, we pick and choose, sacrificing here to indulge there. Ramen noodles for dinner in exchange for expensive coffee in the morning.

I find I'm seldom disappointed in buying the higher quality product, and they have a lower cost of ownership over their useful lives than cheap things. The hard part is determining what items will really be of value to me long-term.

One yardstick is good design. I find that companies that put a lot of thought and effort into good design of the product and packaging have probably put the same thought and effort into everything. The odds of it being worth the cost go way up.

In a crowded market you have to eliminate options quickly. I start by pushing the ugly choices off the menu.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I'm all for keeping current updates on your home page, and pushing upcoming events where users can learn about them.

The key word is current.

A notice of an upcoming event that is 10 weeks old only tells me that you aren't really paying attention or you don't care.

Whatever bits of marketing you choose to do, do them all the way, or don't do them at all. A few things done well is far better than a bad scattershot approach.


Monday, May 16, 2011


If a member of your staff pulls something out of the proverbial fire, you should thank them.

If you are the one who started the fire on accident, you should buy that person lunch.

If you started the fire on purpose, committed a bit of workplace arson, and yet you don't have a flake of soot on you, well, we both know who now has the power in the relationship.



I understand the need for pre-roll ads before web videos. I know we'll need more of them as we move forward.

But the timer on the video player should play down, not up, while the ad runs. Knowing the length of the delay makes it far more bearable to our brains that to watch a running tally of how long the delay has been.

I suspect a test with each style of timer would result in a dramatic difference in bounce rates.

Make your site a pleasant experience in every way possible.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Trying to wring every last nickel out of every single deal may feel good in the moment, but is a long-term losing strategy.

At some point the person across the table will decide that regardless of how wonderful your widget is, the process is too painful to continue.

Pick a margin where you both win, then calculate the five year value of that relationship. That's the number you should be focused on.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


As humans, we don't like to change much. We relish our routines. Since we're prone to doing the same thing again and again, we self-justify why we make the choices we do.

If I eat lunch at the same place every Tuesday, I will quickly understand the range of deviation in my experience at The Tuesday Place. The more trips, the more I can explain away a bad lunch, because I have so many more positive lunches to balance against it.

In other words, it only takes two or three consistent experiences to lock in, for better or worse, where you will live in that customer's mind.


Monday, May 9, 2011


We all have those things that we happily pay a premium for.

The well designed product that does more than promised. The vendor that always pulls off your ridiculous request. The barista who asks "The usual, Pete?" when you get to the counter. You perceive value above the price premium you pay, and as long as you continue to find that value, you will happily continue paying extra.

The hard part is finding ways to deliver that level of value to others. It's often more complex than learning customer's names and regular orders.


Friday, May 6, 2011


A National Park Ranger once told me his biggest problem is hikers blazing their own trails. The new trails are not to explore unopened country, but rather to create shortcuts. Thousands of people go to great lengths of time, effort and money, only to make their hikes as short as possible.

There is a reason people cut corners- it's the shortest path in the near term, the less expensive, and involves the least amount of physical or emotional pain. We're wired to avoid the difficult and gravitate towards the easy.

But the easy is usually expensive in the long-term. Rework, replacement materials, being unprepared physically and emotionally, lacking the right tool for a job- all of these are symptoms of an earlier shortcut.

Resisting the shortcuts is sometimes the biggest success of your day because of the rewards they yield in the future.


Monday, May 2, 2011


You never have perfect information. In the end choices are educated guesses based on past experience and input from those you trust.

You weigh your options, then you go. In my book action is better than inaction, because you will at least learn something along the way.