Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sweet Strawberries at Beerenberg Farm

Located in the picturesque Hahndorf area just a short drive away from Adelaide in South Australia, Beerenberg Farm is a delightful strawberry farm which is a favourite haunt for lovers of that red and juicy fruit. Other than allowing tourists like us to pick strawberries and taste them out in the fields, it also offers lots of items like jams, chutneys, dried fruits, nuts and other products for sale. What's cool is that this farm is also quite social media savvy, with a facebook page, youtube channel, flickr page and a link to a website offering cooking tips and recipes.

Here are some photos of our delicious adventure with our favourite Fragaria species, which apparentally is a false fruit.  Well, they sure don't taste fake to me!

P1050206
Striking a pose in front of the Strawberry shopfront.

P1050207
Lots of sweet and scrumptious delights for you to bring home (for a price).

P1050208
Before we proceeded to the farm, we had to pay AUD8 for a box to store our pickings in.

P1050209
No prizes for guessing where this leads to.  Apparently, some people decided to abandon their boxes of strawberries here.  Hmmm....

P1050210
From far, this looks like a typical row of short bushes.

P1050211
However, when you peek underneath, you see those delicious pock-marked berries.

P1050221
Here are two more for your admiration.

P1050231
Naturally, Ethan immediately got down to serious work.

P1050212
...and got a little help from Mummy.

P1050222
Working hard, we searched, plucked and picked the strawberries.

P1050219
Spreading ourselves along different rows to improve our chances.

P1050215
Of course, in between all that hard labour, we rewarded ourselves with a sweet dessert or two or three or four or.....

P1050223
Ethan showing some of his redder and juicier prime pickings.

P1050227
Our rich and bountiful harvest after a hard afternoon's work out in the field!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Using Your Brain in Marketing


Courtesy of Salesbrain.net

In the hyper-competitive world of marketing and sales, it isn't sufficient just to push out an ad or a sales letter and hope and pray for a response. Consumers and corporate buyers are increasingly spoilt for choice, and selling based on price alone is not sustainable in the long haul.

The solution? Market to one's old brain according to authors Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin (co-founders of SalesBrain) of the book Neuromarketing - Understanding the "Buy Buttons" in Your Customer's Brain. Describing how the primitive old brain (which dates back 450 million years ago apparently) is the decision making centre of human beings, this highly readable volume suggests tools and techniques to create an impact where it matters most.

To hit the six stimuli of the old brain (self-centredness, contrast, tangible input, beginning and end, visual stimuli and emotion), Renvoise and Morin created an easy four-step process:

1) Diagnose the Pain. This involves understanding the fundamental problems and issues that your prospect faces. For example, he or she may really want a beautiful set of teeth rather than a nice tasting toothpaste. Key considerations include the source of the pain (eg financial, personal, health), its intensity, timing and awareness.

2) Differentiate your Claims. This involves creating significant contrast and uniqueness from one’s competitors. Originality (Coca Cola and Levi’s), recommended choice (More dentists recommend XYZ...), or convenience (7-Eleven’s always close but never close) are some of the possibilities.

3) Demonstrate the Gain. This involves coming up with the evidence that your claim works. It can be in the form of a customer story or testimonial, a demonstration (eg the famous iPhone blending advertisement by Blendtec below), data (eg studies by independent research firms), or a vision (using analogies, metaphors or stories).



4) Deliver to the Old Brain. This final step involves coming up with the nuts and bolts of your marketing message. In the book, there are six key message building blocks which are proposed:

i) Grabber – a mini-drama, wordplay, rhetorical question, prop or stories that can capture one’s attention.

ii) Big Picture – the old adage that a picture paints a thousand words apply here. In this case, the picture should be one that immediately shows relief from the prospect’s main source of main.

iii) Claims – these are the unique selling propositions that are specific and defensible. Repetition helps to reinforce them in your prospect’s mind.

iv) Proofs of Gain – the tangible and intangible proofs that you are not just pulling wool over a customer’s eyes.

v) Handling Objections – a very necessary skill. In the book, this is done by restating the objection, stepping into it, waiting for the feedback of prospects, stating one’s personal opinion and presenting a positive side to the objection.

vi) The Close – this is done through repetition of one’s claims and triggering a positive commitment.

Finally, to strengthen one’s marketing message, the authors have suggested seven impact boosters: wordings with “You”, establishing one’s credibility, engaging prospect’s emotions, using contrast (before and after like the famous Dove Evolution ad below), adapting to audience’s learning styles (visual, auditory or kinesthetic), telling stories and the Zen philosophy of‘Less is More’ (which is one of the great truisms of the internet age).



While Neuromarketing doesn’t quite go deeply into the theoretical underpinnings of how one’s brain works, it does provide rather useful and practical tips on improving one’s marketing techniques. Some of its principles are derived from Advertising 101 (think AIDA) while others delve into the art and science of selling. While scholars may poo-poo the idea of exploiting one’s cranium for commercial purposes, it may have to be a necessary evil in times like this.

Overall, a highly recommended read for beginning marketers keen to hone their craft.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Free Entry to 13 Museums on 31 May!



International Museum Day or more affectionately IMD'09 is upon us yet again. This year's nine-day celebration revolves around the theme of ‘Holiday Fun at Home’ and features 40 activities that promises lots of sensory pleasures for children of all ages. Specially catering to kids and families, it features a wonderful smorgasbord of entertaining yet enriching activities specially designed to pique the sense of wonder and curiosity of your little ones.

Even as I write, a couple of exciting programmes and events are already ongoing. Do check out Yesterday.sg to keep updated on what's happening at our museums this year.  Read all about Singapore's last leopard, participate in the various children's programmes at our national museums, or take note of the blow by blow account of what you can do in a week.  Some of the cool stuff you can do this year include meeting Phua Chu Kang and his family at the Singapore City Gallery, learn about environmental sustainability at the Marina Barrage and Newater Visitor Centre, or reliving the genius and artistry of the legendary Renaissance artist cum inventor Leonard da Vinci

Just in time for the opening of Angels and Demons (and Night at the Museums 2) I suppose... ;)

Hang on a minute. I know that you may have missed some of the exciting programmes and activities happening at our museums in Singapore but its not too late. In fact, if you are free this Sunday on 31st of May (and in Singapore of course), you can check out the FREE ENTRY to not one, not two, but 13 museums all around the island! Just select any of those in the list below:



Bring along your friends and family members to our museums and rediscover the richness and vibrancy of Singapore's unique heritage, art and culture.  Explore the lesser known side of Singapore, learn about cool stuff that you didn't really know about our island, plus save money in these difficult times.

Before I go, here are a few words from a couple of kids (young and not so young ones) on what to expect this year from IMD'09.



Go ahead, have a holiday in Singapore this May (and June of course)!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is Social Media Marketing a Myth?


Is social media marketing just a beautiful fantasy? (Lovely artwork courtesy of ninabradica)

I love dabbling in social media in its various forms, be it blogging, facebooking, twittering, youtubing (occasionally), plurking and flickring. Digital conversations are addictive, and I can spend an entire day just reading blogs, following tweets, retweeting, commenting on facebook photographs, chatting on MSN, uploading photographs on Flickr and so on. There is also something magical about watching those digital numbers grow on various charts, tables and graphs depicting your ascent to 2.0 Heaven (or descent to 2.0 Hell, depending on how you fare in the popularity stakes).

While I truly believe in the potential of social media, I am also aware of its limitations. It irks me to see baseless claims about how social media alone can be an entrepreneur's best friend or that one can simply blog/facebook/tweet one's way to superb marketing performance.

In a recent article in Businessweek, Gene Marks wrote a rather hard hitting piece on the myths of social media. Quoting from Gene:

"We've been misled as to the benefits of social networking sites. Many of us are finding that these tools do not live up to the hype, especially for small business."

Gene went on to highlight five myths of social media marketing, namely

1. Social media sites are free.

While social media sites are mostly free to use, the time spent in updating it is not free. This includes "responding to visitors' questions, posting brilliant thoughts, adding graphics, and monitoring activity — basically trying to generate buzz."

2. Social media sites are a great place to find new customers.

In Gene's view, major sites like Facebook and MySpace are populated by "pimply adolescents and goth teenagers" and perhaps the occasional "fortysomethings" who wish to "check out boyfriends and girlfriends from youth to see how fat and bald they've become". Most of them won't be appropriate customers. Small businesses should instead seek social networking sites specific to business owners.

3. You need to be on all the big sites.

One shouldn't spend all the time on all the major sites but focus on the few that will generate the greatest response. Spreading oneself too thin is a no-no in this game, claims Gene.

4. Social networking sites are for marketing.

Social networking sites are more for providing service to existing customers as opposed to seeking new ones. In Gene's words, "whenever someone tells you that you should explore social networking "marketing," you should run in the other direction."

5. Social networking is the future.


Here, Gene cited a few sobering statistics, such as how the "percentage of Twitter users in a given month who return the following month has languished below 30% for most of the past year", that "MySpace recently suffered a decline in monthly visitor traffic" or that vintage site Geocities is going to be shut down by Yahoo! While social networking may be a permanent phenomenon, its players are likely to change with the times.

While Gene's prognosis appear unduly harsh, there may be merit for us as marketers and communicators to re-examine the fundamentals of our social media strategy. However, like any other traditional marketing strategies, leveraging on social media requires both diligence and intelligence.

Social media channels are primarily useful for building relationships and establishing one's reputation and thought leadership. They can help to disseminate entertaining multi-media content through multiple networks and communities. However, social media platforms aren't particularly good in generating direct sales or customer acquisition - e-commerce or CRM applications are far better at doing that.

Betting the house on social media marketing to triple one's sales isn't a feasible strategy. However, employing it as a tool to cultivate relationships, establish brand reputation or gain the trust and respect of online communities may be a much more profitable venture.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chicken Eating Crocodiles at Dundee's Wildlife Park

Located off the Murray River just an hour away from Adelaide, Dundee Wildlife Park is a charming little old-school zoo focusing primarily on native Australian birds, reptiles and animals.  A boutique-sized establishment catering largely to families and kids, it occupies a fairly small area and can be easily covered in an hour and a half (or less).  This privately-owned establishment includes a restaurant and hotel too, so one can literally eat and sleep with the animals (ala Doctor Dolittle).  As this was the first wildlife park that my family and I visited, Ethan was naturally all excited about it.

The theme for this visit? "Food Glorious Food!" and you will see why as we go on.

P1050081
Looking fairly nondescript, with a simple and disarming facade, Dundee Wildlife Park was quite a "no-frills" park although prices are not exactly cheap at $10 per adult and $7 per kid.

P1050083
The moment we got in, Ethan had to get up close and personal to a crocodile, albeit the furry and non-living variety.

P1050099
Feeding was the order of the day, and our first beneficiary was a brown, white and furry llama.

P1050179
Our next culinary candidate was this donkey, which wasn't quite as stubborn as we imagined it to be.

P1050109
We next saw a huge buffalo and a highly irritable looking emu.  Thankfully both were behind a fence (though it looked rather flimsy).

P1050146
More gastronomic adventures ahead, this time with a cute and docile wallaby.

P1050145
These furry bunnies apparently had their lunch and were about to have a mid-day snooze.

P1050119
From furry animals we next visited some colourful feathered friends like this parakeet and parrot. 

P1050157
We also saw a brown rooster...

P1050154
...and the king of the bush himself (a Kookaburra) apparently having an insect for a snack.

P1050188
Something more palatable perhaps is this bowl of fresh apples and carrots.

P1050166
The favoured food of the stone curlew, a long-legged wading bird.

P1050155
We next move onto close encounters of the scaly kind, and saw this nicely patterned python.

P1050200
As well as this baby crocodile who was having a nice nap.

P1050171
My wife Tina probably felt like catching 40 winks of her own too, while we waited for the crocodile shows.

P1050200
Remember that baby crocodile in the water?  Well, here it is, rudely jolted from its slumber!

P1050203
The highlight of the day was the feeding of a salt water crocodile who leapt out of the water for a fowl feast.

P1050203
And swallowed it whole after maneuvering it in his mouth.  

Here's a video of that live eating action for your enjoyment (the action is live, not the chicken):



The moral of the story as Captain Hook would say is "Never smile at a crocodile"!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Emotional Marketing the Hallmark Way


Courtesy of will-lion

The above saying by Saatchi & Saatchi aptly describes the world of marketing, where it is vital to reach the heart in order to generate a buying response.  While the rational part of us would sort through the price, features, and logical needs we have for a particular product or service, it is the emotional part - the feelings, benefits, wants and beliefs - which determine the purchase decision.

To delve deeper into the topic of emotions in marketing, I recently read the book Emotion Marketing written by Scott Robinette, Claire Brand with Vicki Lenz of Hallmark Loyalty Marketing Group, a subsidiary of the hugely successful Hallmark Cards Inc (a US$4.5 billion privately-held company), which is responsible for zillions of heartfelt greetings around the world.  Providing various examples of companies like Ritz Carlton, Harley Davidson, Disney, Apple Computers, Hertz and of course Hallmark itself, the main premise of the book focused on Hallmark's Value Star (sm) which is broken into five components as illustrated:


Hallmark's Value Star (sm), (c) Hallmark Cards, Inc.

As a successful and long-term marketing strategy, companies should look at both the Rational and the Emotional side of their business.  While Product and Money are important elements to get into the game of any business in the first place, it is the three Es - Equity, Experience and Energy - which determines the companies that win the race for the hearts of consumers.  The breakdown of what the components mean are as follows:

Product - Features and functions, quality, design, availability, and uniqueness

Money - Cost, price, promotions and other economic drivers

Equity - Brand identity (what company conveys) and brand image (what consumers perceive), covering both tangible and intangible values. This helps to engender trust.

Experience - The collection of touch points between companies and consumers, eg environment, customer service, loyalty programmes, and events.

Energy - The convenience to a customer, eg making product or service more accessible, easier to consume, more worthwhile or personalised.

According to the book, companies which possess strong brand values, positive consumption experiences (beyond the purchase decision), and convenience to their customers will win the game.  They should invest in a proper customer relationship management system/loyalty management system which doesn't just apply a uniform blanket rule.  Instead, they should look at their customer's buying cycle (termed the Emotional EKG) from acquisition to assimilation, cultivation and reactivation, and tailor their offers, messages and frequency of mailings accordingly.

On the topic of marketing communications, one needs to consider the relevance of the mailings, its timing, relationships between senders and recipients, frequency of the messages, and the perceived value.  With the Internet (and now social media), companies have more ways than ever before to provide quality content to their customers, understand their purchase patterns, and strengthen relationships with them.

An especially useful point covered by the book was the role of employees - the other E.  The same principles of caring for one's customers should be applied to employees.  According to the authors of the Service Profit Chain, the more loyal and engaged employees are to the organisation, the better the quality of service they provide to customers.  This in turn will result in a virtuous cycle of increasing customer loyalty, profitability and value. Using the Value Star as a framework, similar strategies could be employed for employees along the dimensions of equity, experience, energy, product and money, as well as the employee life cycle stages.

However, not everybody should be treated like a king (queen or prince).  The value of a customer will determine the extent of the offers and special deals made to them, and more generous concessions should be provided to higher value customers.  Hallmark has suggested that unattractive low value customers should be ignored to conserve a company's precious (and limited) resources, limited potential customers should be maintained, high potential customers pursued, while high value customers honoured. This is illustrated in the chart below:

Customer Value

Overall, I find that the book is useful for companies keen to implement a loyalty management system hoping to make an emotional connection to their patrons. Emphasising practical applications over theory, it comes with a useful assessment tool to develop one's "Caring Index" - the first step to developing and implementing an emotional marketing strategy. The case studies were also relevant, especially insights from Hallmark itself and how it applies principles of Emotion Marketing to both external and internal customers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Seth Godin Talks about Tribes

One of my favourite marketing gurus Seth Godin shares his ideas on how tribes are changing the world, community by community, in a grassroots evangelistic sort of way. In the age of social media with its platforms and tools - blogs, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Twitter, Plurk etc - the barriers to entry in starting any movement is considerably lowered. The democratisation of publishing and content production means that anybody can leverage on these tools to create pockets of influence wherever they are.

While not every one of us can be as convincing or charismatic a speaker as Seth, his speech does give us much food for thought on what we can do as marketers, as communicators, as publicists and as leaders. Perhaps it is time for us to start our own movements today?



PS - I just heard from Jackie Huba (via Twitter) of Church of the Customer that Seth's looking for stories for his next edition of Purple Cow. Sounds like a great way to get your local stories of extraordinary products and businesses in .... if you can meet Seth's high standards! I will start to consider some options now...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mainstream Media Still Rules Online


Still the most influential website based on links
Just had a quick glance at the Technorati Attention Index from Technorati's blog.  This is a list of the 50 top sites with the highest number of blogs linking to them in the past 30 days.  

Other than YouTube, which has continued to surge ahead largely due to the immense interest in its ever growing pool of user-generated videos, it is interesting to note that mainstream media related websites are still the most influential in the list.  While American websites have dominated the list, several British content providers like the Guardian, Telegraph and BBC News have received attention.  Many of the media firms are also concentrated on a few cities (or megacities) in the United States like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC, and Houston.
This shows several things about social media influence:
1) The lure of sight, sound and motion (sisomo according to Kevin Roberts) is still influential, whether online or offline.
2) Mainstream media players still wield incredible influence on social media debates and discussions.
3) Majority of the news which get disseminated online are highly concentrated on mainly American and some British cities.  
4) It is a spiky world after all (ala Richard Florida).
I wonder how the rankings of Asian news providers are like online in terms of links and influence?  I am sure that many of those aren't captured by Technorati somehow though.
Here's the full list of the top 50 websites and blogs by links:
Overall Rankings and Attention
 1.   YouTube 60,644
2.   
The New York Times 17,374
3.   
guardian.co.uk 8,039
4.   
The Wall Street Journal 7,513
5.   
The Washington Post 6,891
6.   
CNN 6,330
7.   
Telegraph.co.uk 5,380
8.   
Yahoo! News 5,070
9.   
MSNBC 5,036
10. 
The Los Angeles Times 4,536
11. 
Reuters 4,314
12. 
FOX News 4,001
13. 
The Boston Globe 3,838
14. 
USA Today 3,619
15. 
Daily Mail 3,530
16. 
Time 3,524
17. 
BBC News 3,399
18. 
NPR 3,189
19. 
NY Daily News 2,588
20. 
Forbes 2,534
21. 
San Francisco Chronicle 2,420
22. 
Slate 2,187
23. 
CBS News 2,156
24. 
Google News 2,093
25. 
Wired 2,062
26. 
Financial Times 2,056
27. 
PBS 2,053
28. 
NY Post 2,025
29. 
San Francisco Examiner 1,968
30. 
BusinessWeek 1,949
31. 
The White House 1,929
32. 
Salon 1,928
33. 
Chicago Tribune 1,924
34. 
Newsweek 1,880
35. 
CNNMoney 1,712
36. 
CBC 1,696
37. 
Yahoo! Finance 1,642
38. 
The Economist 1,565
39. 
New York Magazine 1,550
40. 
philly.com 1,288 
41. 
The Houston Chronicle 1,120
42. 
Science Daily 1,093
43. 
MarketWatch 1,076
44. 
People 1,066
45. 
Miami Herald 1,049
46. 
The Seattle Times 1,049
47. 
Yahoo! Sports 1,047
48. 
The Dallas Morning News 939
49. 
San Jose Mercury News 879
50. 
Star Tribune 877

Monday, May 18, 2009

Anticipatory Marketing

P1030713
Anticipatory marketing is like a water cooler in a park on a hot day

When a customer purchases a product or consumes a service, are there are unspoken needs that you can meet?  Are there supplementary services which can augment his or her encounters with your company?  

In other words, have you attempted to "read the minds" of your customer and anticipated the problems that they face or the additional help that they need, even before they utter a single word?  

In the increasingly crowded consumer marketplace, companies and businesses should look beyond product features and benefits to studying the total context of their customers.  Examine how your customers use the particular product or service, and how you can help them to perform better at whatever they are doing.  Provide advice, solutions, and tips that go beyond the obvious.  If necessary, get your customer to be a part of a community of users who are able to assist each other and trade knowledge.

An example of Anticipatory Marketing at work is the retailing of kitchen ware.  While pots and pans are relatively mundane purchases, you can enhance the experience by including a free booklet offering tips and recipes.  Better yet, get your customer to sign up online to be a member, and get access to free recipes as well as cooking classes (at a discount) or talks on family nutrition.

Another example is the selling of mobile phones.  The last time I visited a mobile shop, I recall the litany of features being rattled off to me by the salesperson, without any consideration of how it fits into my lifestyle.  Instead of focusing on its fabulous functions, why not show me the possibilities?  Rather than ask me which model I want, why not start by asking me what my lifestyle needs are like?  Surely, a teenager's usage of a mobile phone would be significantly different from a silver-haired retiree.  

Rather than coding each mobile plan by labels like "classic", "premium", and "professional", telcos could consider categorising them according to user groups and their anticipated needs. They can offer flexibility on the SMSes vs data volume vs number of free calls equation based on previous usage patterns.  Helping one's customers save money may mean greater customer loyalty over the long-term.  This translates to greater long-term profitability for the company.

B2B companies and businesses can also benefit from Anticipatory Marketing.  If you are selling widgets to a factory, it may be useful to look at past records to determine how often orders come in, as well as their preferred sizes, packaging options and dimensions.  Spend a day or two studying how your spare part is used in the production process, and customise what's being offered to best meet your client's business needs.

Anticipatory Marketing means looking beyond the usual 5 Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, to the next P which is Process.  Roll out ancillary services that make it easier for your customers to do business with you, and offer valuable information that can help them.  Live a day in your customer's shoes to understand what her pet peeves are, and see if you can offer a solution (a tip, or an online forum with FAQs to tackle all eventualities).  Suggest ways in which he or she can enjoy your product or service to improve their overall utility.

One of the exemplars of Anticipatory Marketing is Amazon.com.  By tracking your past purchase behaviours, the leading e-tailer is able to suggest items that you should consider and reduce the number of steps needed to make repeat purchases.  You can also read peer reviews on the website, and browse similar titles on the same topic if you so desire.  Such practices make it enjoyable for customers to purchase from them, and this has led to their unabated growth.

Another example of anticipatory marketing (well previously at least) was the offering of umbrellas for sale at a lower price at Giordano (a value-for-money fashion brand) when the weather was wet.  This move not only met customer needs but delighted them, resulting in considerable positive word of mouth.

The next time you market a product or service, think about what else you can do to delight your customer beyond the transactional experience.

PS - You can find a good definition of Anticipatory Marketing here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The World's Largest Lobster and Murray River

One of the more prominent destinations in the state of South Australia, Murray River stretches all the way from the border of New South Wales, across the entire state of Victoria, and ends with its mouth at South Australia close to Adelaide. A popular location for water-based activities like boating, canoeing, fishing and going on river cruises, the river's waters are pretty placid most of the time. While it isn't quite as wide or broad as the Mississippi or Missouri, it does evoke that sense of riverine adventure with Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer floating along on an old-style river boat.

P1040996
First, a fond farewell to Kingston SE and Larry the Humungous Lobster.  

P1050024
A shot along the river close to where the delta is (ie where it connects to the sea).

P1050053
An old steam train that has taken on a second lease of life as a tourist's photo opportunity.

P1050039
Rustic scene by the river, where you can see a happy wife, exploring son, outboard motor boat, deck chairs, and a powerboat in the distance.

P1050050
A closer view of the powerboat - just perfect for lazing in the Sun, fishing, or swimming if you so desire.


P1050069
As in most stop-overs,  a playground is here to keep little ones entertained.  In this case, my wife decided to join in the fun.

P1050075
Nothing like pies to fill those hungry tummies after a morning's peaceful stroll.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Getting (and Teaching) Your Customers to DIY


Its the journey and not the destination (courtesy of dadadreams)

What is the best way to capture your customer's hearts and minds?  How do you make them feel a sense of ownership for your brands, products and services?

The secret I think lies in getting them involved as much as possible.  Don't serve it to them all completed and garnished on a platter.  Instead, get them to do some of the work themselves.

In an increasingly turbo-charged technology-enabled world, powered by the ubiquitous web and hyper-efficient processes (SCM, ERP, CRM and others), consumers to exert increasingly less effort to consume  a product or service.  Communication technologies and competition have made everything available in the snap of a finger (or click of a mouse), 24 by 7, with a no questions asked money back guarantee.  If your pizza is delivered late by 15 minutes, you get another one free.  

The wheels of commerce are running so smoothly that there isn't much that a customer has to do anymore to get anything done (provided one has the cash).  While saving the time and energy of customers is a positive thing, it may also lead to the transaction experience becoming increasingly impersonal, cold and robotic.  Effortlessness could lead to restlessness and finally apathy as hyper-efficiency becomes commoditised.  

The way around this?  Get your customers to do it themselves.  Sometimes, the more they invest their personal effort and attention into something, the more they will relish its end result.  And love you for it too.

Just look at the popularity of steamboat restaurants in Singapore.  Why do they still flourish despite the need for customers to participate in the hot, sweaty business of cooking raw meats and vegetables, deshelling their own prawns and crabs, or cracking that raw egg into the boiling cauldron?  I suppose nothing tastes better than something you have personally scalded.

Recent phenomena like the make-a-teddy-bear business is another clear example of the value of involving your customers in creating their own products.  By investing his or her own creativity, ingenuity and perhaps sense of humour into that ball of fur, that cute cuddly animal will be far more real than one bought from the shops with the label "Made in XXXX".

Other examples of businesses that have leveraged on the power of Customer DIY include restaurants that allow you to make your own popiahs or pizzas, art and craft shops for kids, tailors (who will allow you to select your own fabric, styles and cutting), cake shops that allow you to customise your celebratory confections, and ice-cream or bread-making kits.  

The rise of Web 2.0 and user-friendly web applications and platforms like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Youtube have led to the growth of what some pundits called user-generated content (or UGC).  By lowering the barriers of entry to publishing and marketing one's own media-rich content online, social media has given rise to an entire army of "prosumers".  People are not just satifised with passive consumption - they want to actively produce something too.

A word of caution though.  Don't let your customers do the nasty and messy bits themselves.  While they may enjoy licking the cake bowl or squirting the icing on the cake, few would want to wash up after that.  Knitting a sweater from scratch takes a fair amount of work and few would want to do that, but allowing customers to create a beautiful pattern on the almost-compleed cushion cover may just do the trick.

Other than leaving your customers to customise their own products or services, you should also teach them how to do it.  I often find it amazing why the sellers of digital cameras don't bother to teach amateur photographers how to best use their equipment (many electronic retailers are downright rude and descending in Singapore).  Or why retailers of kitchenware (except for expensive equipment) seldom include cooking classes or to bundle a few simple recipes from the onset.  

In an age of increasing customer dissonance, it may pay dividends to get them back into the picture again as co-producers and co-creators of their final product.  And if they do not know how to fish, you should teach them how to do so. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Don't Lose the Plot - a Lesson from Leon Comber


Leon Comber - polymath and overall great guy.  (Courtesy of Chinatownology)

Yesterday afternoon, I had an enjoyable time meeting Dr Leon Comber, honorary research fellow at the Monash Asia Institute of Monash University. 

A charming man with a wry sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye, Leon is a polymath of diverse interests and talents.  Oh, and did I mention that he is 85 years of age but looks at least two decades younger?  Leon has multiple degrees, can speak multiple languages, and possess multi-disciplinary interests in subjects as wide ranging as history, political science, intelligence, terrorism, book publishing and business. 

Formerly a major in the British Army during World War II who played a role in routing the Japanese occupiers, Leon was also previously an Assistant Commissioner in the special branch of the Malayan Police, had spent 25 years in publishing (heading Heinemann Educational Books in Asia), and was even appointed as a publishing consultant for the People's Republic of China for UNESCO. 

Last year, Leon was a visiting fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore for about four and a half months.  During that time, he managed to publish (or get accepted for publication) three academic articles in leading journals. 

That's probably better than most academics who are half his age!

But wait, there is more. 

Leon also has a total of 22 books published under his belt, some which have sold so well that they have gone into multiple reprints!  One of them is the well referenced Chinese Temples in Singapore.  He also has about 17 referenced academic articles and journals under his name (probably closer to 20 now).  

It was certainly inspirational speaking to this sprightly and energetic octogenarian who doesn't look or act like he will be retiring anytime soon.  In fact, he is about to make a trip to Singapore in two weeks time, and will be attending the launch of a book (he wrote the forward for that title).  Leon has spent so many years in Asia that he probably knows the sub-continent better than most of us.

How does he do so many things and accomplish so much?  Is there a secret to leading such a long and fulfilled life?

The key thing which I learnt from him was to be focused in what you do and to stay the straight and narrow path.  That was the main point which I seemed to pick up from him - whether intentionally or inadvertently so!  

You only have this amount of time and energy on your hands in the course of your lifetime, and you should choose to concentrate on the things which you are most passionate about. 

In other words, don't lose the plot.    

There will always be temptations to veer away or be distracted by something else which captures your fancy.  This is especially true in the writing of books or academic articles, when a thousand and one different ideas and thoughts beckon seductively.  

Be prepared to throw out most of the stuff that you have read or come across.  Interesting as they may be, they could often be irrelevant in the main narrative.  You could revisit them later if time and energy permits, but only do it after you have completed the task at hand.

I find that this nugget of wisdom rings especially true in the age of social media.  We now have so many different ways to distract us that it is getting harder to produce anything of enduring value.  With emails, blogs, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Flickr, Plurk, MSN Messenger, and a whole host of other social media channels open to us - 24 by 7 - one can choose to just stay perpetually in a social media limbo.  Forever receiving little bits of information, digesting occasional bytes of trivia, resynthesizing them, or disseminating them to our hapless followers.

Heck, even putting up a single well articulated blog post is so difficult that many have given up. After all, tapping 140 characters is far easier than a 500 word essay.  Let alone a *gasp* full-volumed and indexed book!  

The hard question to ask though is whether this will all lead towards something tangible and memorable at the end of the day.  Will it be something that you will look back in your golden years and say that "yes, it was something I have achieved which I can be proud of."

Like Leon, I want to publish books (at least one or two, if not three) in the course of my lifetime.  I also want to start something that will be indelibly marked as my own - a new school of thought, an original management insight, or maybe even an enterprise.  Something unique, special and meainingful that can add to my own personal legacy.  

Not so much for the purpose of public pride or glory (which has little value to me) but that sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and self-actualisation.    

To do that, the first lesson that I need to learn - and I would encourage the rest of you to do so too -is to stay focused and not lose the plot.  Zoom in on what you need to do to succeed.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

I certainly look forward to our next meeting and will see if I can suss out more life lessons from this most extraordinary officer and gentleman.