Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ski Lodge More Efficient Than Doctor's Office!

I'd arrived at Lake Tahoe's Heavenly Valley ski area Friday around 2PM - and I only had the next day to get in some quick skiing before business meetings on Sunday.

Looking to get an early morning start on the slopes Saturday, I decided to stop by the base lodge and rental shop to check things out in advance just after I'd checked in to my hotel.

I was delighted when I found the rental shop offered a very nice feature: early "online" registration. All too often, Saturday morning at a ski rental area means waiting on long lines and filling out endless forms and releases.

But this shop had a computer terminal and I simply entered all my info (age, height, weight, shoe size etc), saved it to their computer, and printed out a reciept.

When I arrived at the shop Saturday morning at 8AM, I handed them my papers and was on the slopes just minutes later (that's a photo of me an hour later, at the peak of Heavenly, with Lake Tahoe in the background).

Contrast this efficient and customer-friendly program with the ridiculous scene that occurs in so many doctors and dentists offices every day all across the country...

"Oh, you haven't been here in 6 months? Fill out these 8 pages of forms. I know, we have the old ones with 99% of the same information but I need these all new."


So you spend 10 minutes filling out the same crap and then some clerk spends 20 minutes typing it in and probably getting half of it wrong. So the insurance company then spends 30 minutes processing a bad claim.

Would it be too much for medical professionals to have some kind of online or computer data entry forms for their patients? Just set up some system on a table in the corner when you first check in?

Seems like it would be a win/win to me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

JuiceBlendz.Com Blows It - The Insanity of Image Advertising

It still amazes me to see companies just THROWING money away on image/brand advertising.

Most recent example....

Last night Peggy and I go to the NHL hockey game at Fort Lauderdale's Bank Atlantic Center, 18,000 people in attendance. Arrive at the arena and each seat has an empty styrofoam drink cup in the seat's drink holder.

We sit down, pick it up, and look at the cup. It's colorful on the outside and says something like "Juice Blendz Smoothies".

I look inside the cup, surely expecting to find a 50% off coupon or some other response device. Nothing.

I look on the outside of the cup again. Maybe there's some print "Bring in to store for free smoothie".


I have to really look hard simply to find any useful information at all. Finally way at the bottom in small type I see "JuiceBlendz.Com". That's it.

Wonder how much JuiceBlendz spent on this promotion? One thing is for sure - whatever they spent, they'll never be able to quantify their ROI.

If they'd added a simple direct response device, they could have done that - and they'd have meaningful data for improving future campaigns based on the results. And they could have collected email addresses too, by driving their prospects to a website.

Instead, today they have nothing but a vague idea that they spent some money on a campaign.

It reminds me of the classic line... roughly this...

"50% of my advertising budget is money well spent, and 50% isn't. Problem is I don't know which 50% is which".

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Carlton, Makepeace, Masterson writing goes in the Toilet!

Send an article or promotion to run in Early to Rise these days, and it could very well end up right here...

And I don't care if you're Gary Bencivenga, John Carlton, Clayton Makepeace or even Michael Masterson himself!

But here's the thing. It's not because the copy might be crappy. Let me explain...

You see, I review a TON of writing (cue strings).

Every word that runs in Early to Rise, every word of every promotion, advertorial, email, JV deals, you name it, I've read it. And that's not to mention the edits, changes, deletions, etc.

I'm not complaining - I love it - but this is a lot of copy and it takes a lot of time.

And so after ten to twelve hours (or more) on the computer at work, I just can't stand to stare into the monitor at home for 2 or 3 more hours at night. (OK, I can to read sports updates, restaurant reviews, microbrew news, travel ideas... but puhleez - no more friggin work!).

But Lord knows, at ETR we have a daily ezine and the issues must go out - and so they must go through our very strict "quality control" gauntlet of which I am just one part.

So lately, I've started a new routine. I print stuff out. Wow, paper - what a concept!

The advantage is that I can then carry it around and review a few pages whenever I have a moment. At a traffic light... At a quick lunch... When I'm waiting for a haircut... or even when I'm in the... well, you know.

Call me old-school, but I like reading from paper. I seem to get a clearer picture. Little problems with promos jump out at me. Of course when I'm doing serious reviews I do them in quiet and in one session. But for smaller blocks of non-urgent copy, I'm getting a lot more done with this new approach.

Are you an old-schooler too who still likes paper? Let me know if I'm not the only one!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Top Ten Blogger Sites - February 2008

Check out the Nielsen Online top ten traffic drawing Blog sites for Feb 2008, via MarketingCharts.Com.

We're not on the list quite yet...

Look at the rapid growth of travel blog Gadling.
Probably worth a look over there to see what they're doing right.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

$597 Million in Free Customer Service Advice!

Can you really build a succesful company based almost entirely on Customer Service?

If you look at online shoe sellers Zappos, the answer has to be a resounding "yes".

I've written before in Early to Rise about my exceptional C/S experiences with them.

But does that translate into cash? Let's look at the numbers:

Zappos Gross Sales

2000 $1.6 million
2001 $8.6 million
2002 $32 million
2003 $70 million
2004 $184 million
2005 $370 million
2006 $597 million

I had a chance to meet briefly with their founder and CEO Tony Hsieh last week in Austin. (He's the one that looks about 17 years old):

Stay tuned to Early to Rise next week where I'll be relating more on that experience - and giving you some of his best advice for building a half-billion dollar company in 6 years!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Solve Your Reader's Problems - Not Yours

Picture your consumers/customers/readers as the cat.

Picture yourself as... well... the guy.

Your marketing message is not about you!

Humorous Pictures

The message may seem obvious - and yet so often I see copy that just out-and-out blows it.

Latest example came at a NHL hockey game, walking amongst the crowd during intermission...

Along comes a young lady holding a sign: “50/50 raffle – get your tickets here”.

I walk right by, briefly wondering what's a "50/50 raffle". I see a few more people holding similar signs, and ignore them (like just about everyone else).

Next week, go to another game. Same people with same sign. Finally, I stop one of them...

"What's the deal with this?" I ask.

"What do you mean?" she says.

"What's the deal with the raffle?" I elaborate.

"Oh, the winner gets 50% of all the money from the tickets sold. It's usually about $1000".

Ahhh - now we are getting somewhere.

"Maybe your sign should mention that," I offer.

"Oh, okay, thanks." she says.

I'm going to a game Friday night. We'll see if they changed, but I'm not counting on it.

Too bad.

How many more tickets do you think would they sell if the sign read "Win $1000 Tonight" instead of "50/50 Raffle"?

Or they could even address a deeper benefit: "Win Free Hockey Tickets Tonight!" (and explain that with the cash you could pay for future tickets).

Wouldn't that be an improvement? What would your raffle sign say?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Airline's Useless Words: This Will Serve as a Blog Post

If airlines want more satisfied passengers, perhaps a small start would be to skip the bizarre lingo and speak like normal people...

Airline: "This will serve as the final boarding call for flight 1123 to Atlanta."
Real Human: "This is the final boarding call for flight 1123 to Atlanta."

Airline: "Be careful as luggage in the overhead compartment has a tendency to shift."
Real Human: "Be careful as luggage in the overhead compartment may have shifted."

Airline: "Please watch your step as you deplane."
Real Human: "Please watch your step as you leave the plane."

What "stupid airline trick" drives you crazy? Let's discuss in the comment section below!

Attention: This will serve as the final sentence in this post. The cabin doors have been opened and at this time you may feel free to deblog.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sheraton NCAA Wave: Instant Social Network Case Study?

Want to witness the launch of a huge, corporate Social Network -building effort as it happens?

Social media maven Shiv Singh from Avenue A/Razorfish advises you to stayed tuned this week for Sheraton Hotel's massive promotion.

Their goal is to get involvment by letting the online community build a sports "wave" for the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament. (You know, like "The Wave" at a real stadium).

A few of Singh's bullet points on Social Influence Marketing:

  • Become your consumer - get closer to them, be like them.

  • Aggregate information for your consumer.

  • Articulate product benefits better.

  • Amplify favorite business stories.

  • Participate where your comsumers are.

  • Don't do it all at once.

You can no longer leave the conversation to marketing!

Zuckerberg / Lacy Meltdown at SXSW: Twitter, Meebo to "Blame"?

Gosh, maybe some of the speakers at SXSW should have read my post last week on managing Live Conference presentations in the new "Age of Meebo".

Grumblings from one session I attended (and was Meebo-ing myself) are now making the rounds as "SXSW Interactive Day 2: Audience Revolt at the Metrics Panel."

And on a much larger scale, things really fell apart in a big way at yesterday's jam-packed Sarah Lacy interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. While Lacy fiddled on stage, Rome was burning in the audience via Twitter and Meebo.

Documentation of the meltdown is spreading like wildfire, a testament to the power of both Meebo and the Blogosphere.

Why You Definitely MUST Sweat the Small Stuff

In copywriting we constantly talk about the importance of specificity.

For example, in Early to Rise we discussed it on June 10, 2006 and on Novemeber 4, 2004 and even on May 12, 2005.

Small details bring writing to life and make your story credible. Michal Masterson once told me "Vagueness, generalization and summaries are death!".

Details count in products as well. Kathy Sierra of "Creating Passionate Users" gave a packed talk yesterday on "Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users" at SXSW.

At her talk she gave an example of the WOW factor caused by just one little detail...

Have you seen the iPhone?

Have you scrolled it?

Have you noticed the little "bounce" when you stop?

Cool, right?

Just a little detail, for sure, but Sierra explained that the little details add up to the difference between a mediocre product - and a cultural phenomenon like the iPhone.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

From Good to Great - LL Bean Does it Again

Good companies live up to their customer's expectations...

Great companies exceed them.

And sometimes the difference is just a nice little surprise. Take, for example one of my favorites, LL Bean. They surprised me again just this morning.

I take their Nightfinder II Travel Alarm Clock on the road with me. For $19 it's worth having a FAMILIAR alarm of my own instead of fumbling with hotel contraptions.

So I wake up this morning and my hotel alarm clock and the one on the microwave in the kitchenette both say 5:37.


Daylight saving time started Saturday night and it was actually now 6:37.
And what, somehow, did the LL Bean clock say? 6:37 of course.

Again this was just a little thing... but when I saw that correct time I thought to myself
"Wow, LL Bean - there they go again."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

How to Read Your Audience's Mind with Meebo

Taking a step further, Meebo allows all the attendees in a conference session to chat online amongst themselves.

This could actually be most useful for the speaker. Have an assistant monitoring the conversations and giving you feedback via an earpiece.

"You're losing them... may want to cut this short..."

"You hit a nerve here, they want more info, keep talking..."

Could be horribly distracting for a speaker - but might work if done right.

What do you think? Good idea or no?

Austin, Texas, Beautiful March Evening

Friday night in Austin Texas ...

Is Twitter for Twits?

BTW, notice I specifically did NOT recommend using Twitter.

Here's what becoming a Twitter-head can say about you...

"I'm an idiot who doesn't have control of my own life. I want other people to control it via interruptions, where they tell me what to do."

It's almost as crazy as the circa-1997 desktop "push" programming movement.

Sure - be a supplicant to someone else's agenda. That's cool, right?

No - Get a life!!! (your own)!!!

I couldn't agree more with Tim Ferriss and Michael Masterson on ignoring the so-called "urgent" issues and sticking with the "important" ones.

Next post has some photos I took walking around Austin tonight... uninterrupted...

It is quite a town.


UPDATE MARCH 14 2008...

I may have to change my thinking on this a bit.

Twitter could be handy in exactly the situation of being at a conference with a group of like-minded people. Then, shut it down until the next event.

More later...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Some Leading Edge Social Time Management Tools

There are some very nice new tools out there for coordinating your time/schedule at busy (aka multi-track) conferences.

Just got out of an opening roundtable at SXSW featuring an "Internet Star" lineup...

* Tim Ferriss (Four Hour Work Week)

* Ian Lloyd ( - Web accessability tools)

* Rannie Turnigan ( )

* Jason Toney (Disney Online Developer )

* Matt Mullenneg (WordPress founder) @

* And the entertaining "Internet bon vivant" Min Jung Kim (
Some of the cool new things they mentioned...
Every complex multitrack event going forward should have a nice online feature like this: Go ahead a play around with it even if you're not at the conference!

Mobile social software Dodgeball ( can also come in handy as a sort of less annoying and more managable Twitter if you're trying to stay in touch with a group of friends or colleagues in a particular major US city.

Sending an “@ location” message (where the location is a restaurant, venue, bar, etc) to Dodgeball will forward your current location to your entire list. If your friend doesn't know where that place is, he can ask the system “location?” and it will ping the person back with an address.

Ian Lloyd produced an interesting site just for the event - it's a list of the"fun social events" - using an upcoming technology called Microformats - which cutting edge SEO folks and bloggers might want to keep an eye on.

Techies may want to do View Source on the html.

More from Austin tomorrow. It's Friday evening and time for some serious BBQ.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Bizarre Mystery of the Wireless Network Name

Is there some dastardly reason hotels and airports like to keep their wireless network names a big secret?

How many times have you seen this in an airport recently....

Several people in a waiting area... laptops open...

"Excuse me...are you getting a signal?"

"Yeah, I'm pickup up a few but none of them seem to be working."

"Is there real service here, or are these other people's laptop network's?"

"Beats me."

I've seen this scene played out many times at Washington's Reagan National (DCA) US Air terminal... at Newark (EWR)... and lots of other places too.

C'mon guys... Would it be too tough to post a few signs with the available wireless network name???

And now, I just checked into my hotel here in Austin. It's a nice Marriott, I get up to my room, and good news: Free Wireless! OK, that's a bonus, a lot of hotels charge $10 or more (Paradox: At cheap hotels it's free, at exclusive luxury hotels, it's a fortune).

So I fire up the laptop, and here's which neworks show up from my 11th floor room:


There's a nice brochure announcing the free wireless but no Network name - argh!

Hmmm. I guess it would be too hard to make one called "Marriott Wireless".

I ended up taking a chance on stayonline, and it turned out to be the right one.

Tell me your war stories of annoying practices with computer access on the road...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Can I Bring You Along With Me to SXSW?

OKAY... here’s a list of just SOME of the very interesting-looking sessions and/or speakers (I’ll bet you recognize at least a few of these).

What question would YOU like me to ask one of these presenters if I get the chance?

Maybe I can get the latest inside stuff from folks at Flickr, Yahoo, Google, Twitter, Facebook and others.

Let me know what ONE question you would ask - and I’ll see if I can get you an answer… It's next best thing to being there. (But sorry, I can't send you that Texas BBQ or great Austin Mexican food I'm hearing about).

Check it out...

Micah Alpern, Yahoo! Inc
A/B Testing: Design Friend or Foe?

David Altounian, iTaggit
Following the Lifecycle of an Idea

Simon Batistoni, Flickr/Yahoo! Inc
Taking Over the World: the Flickr Way

Jim Benton, AdBrite Inc
Online Advertising for Newbies

Rohit Bhargava, Ogilvy
Core Conversation: 10 Easy Ways To Piss Off A Blogger (And Other Mistakes Marketers Make)

Michael Buffington, Grockit Inc
Worst Website Ever: That's So Crazy, It Just Might Work

Daniel Burka, Digg/Pownce
Social Design Strategies

Stuart Candy, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies
Futurists' Sandbox: Scenarios for Social Technologies in 2025

Alan Citron, TMZ

Peter Cole, AKQA Inc
Creating Findable Rich Media Content

Adam Conner, Facebook Inc
Friend Me! Vote for Me! Donate Now!

Blaine Cook, Twitter Inc
Scalability Boot Camp

Henry Copeland,
The Suxorz: The Worst Ten Social Media Ad Campaigns of 2007

Christian Crumlish, Yahoo! Inc
Online Identity: And I *Do* Give a Damn About My Bad Reputation

Jeff Eaton, Lullabot
Content Management System Roundup

Michael Eisner, Tornante LLC
A Conversation with: Michael Eisner

Matthew Esber, NCSoft Corporation
Following the Lifecycle of an Idea

Tim Ferriss,
The Art of Speed: Conversations With Monster Makers

Jason Fried, 37signals
10 Things We've Learned at 37signals

Steve Ganz, LinkedIn
Social Networking and Your Brand

Seth Goldstein, Socialmedia Networks
Peas in a Pod: Advertising, Monetization and Social Media

Will Graham, The Onion (Onion News Network)
Behind the Scenes at the Onion News Network

Janet Greenlee, Fleishman-Hillard
Just Over 50 and Not Dead Yet

Quentin Hardy, Forbes
Managing the Media Blur

Eric Hellweg, Harvard Business Online
The Care and Feeding of Your Startup

Chris Heuer, The Conversation Group
Self Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing

Tony Hsieh,
Top Ten Lessons Learned in E-Commerce

Guy Kawasaki, Garage Technology Ventures
True Stories from Social Media Sites

Tim Kendall, Facebook
Peas in a Pod: Advertising, Monetization and Social Media

Gary Leland, Podcast Pickle
Core Conversation: Marketing to Real People in Second Life

Ynema Mangum, BMC Software Inc
Social Marketing Strategies Metrics, Where Are They?

Simeon Margolis, Utterz
Scoop the Story on Your Blog

Brian McConnell, Worldwide Lexicon
Lost in Translation? Top Website Internationalization Lessons

Thomas Myer, Triple Dog Dare Media
Lead Generation on the Web

Denise Shiffman, Venture Essentials
The Age of Engage: Reinventing Marketing for Today's Connected, Collaborative, and Hyperinteractive Culture

Jeffrey Veen, Google
The Elephant in a Creative Designer's Living Room

OK So which industry hot-shot should I grill with YOUR question???

Let me know what (and who) you want to ask, by clicking the "Post a Comment" or "x comments" link below...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Heading to South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW)

Later this week I'm off to the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) conference.

I've been wanting to attend this for years. Looking forward to hearing from (and reporting back to you) on cutting edge idea-generators such as MIT professor and futurist Henry Jenkins, Mark Zuckerberg (23 year old founder of Facebook), Tim Ferriss (Four Hour Work Week), Frank Warren (of the viral "My Secret" postcard phenomenon) and lots more.

I can't wait to see what happens when Ferriss (Mister "Turn off your life's interuptions") sits on the same Keynote Panel with one of the principals from Twitter ("Spend your entire life being interrupted").