L.L. Bean’s Powerful Guarantee

Guaranteed. You have our word.

How much clearer can you get?

What a powerful customer service guarantee!

Here’s the body copy from L.L. Bean’s Website:

I’ve been a huge fan of L.L. Bean for years and became an even bigger fan last Friday.

L.L. Bean Field Coat Saddle

Last week, I was getting my favorite coat out of my closet for Fall – an original L.L. Bean Field Coat in Saddle – and making my plans to head to my alma mater Kent State’s homecoming.

Suddenly, I realized that I’ve been wearing this Field Coat (created in 1924) for nearly 15 years! I love it and there is still absolutely nothing wrong with it – it’s a terrific coat – but I’ve been wearing this jacket to homecoming every year!

I went through some old photos and proved it!

L.L. Bean Field Coat Stone

So, I went online and decided to get a new Stone Field Coat which is better than my old one and about the same price that I paid years ago! It’s a fantastic coat, but what amazes me about L.L. Bean is how they’ve stayed true to their roots and excelled as a private, family business.

If you’re trying hard to build your business the right way and need a little hope, grab a coffee and read L.L. Bean’s fascinating, refreshing story – their principles when they were small are the same as they are today when L.L. Bean remarked,

“I do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out
and customer still satisfied.”

From my experiences, I’m not surprised that L.L. Bean was once again the first place winner (tops 3 of 5 years) selected by shoppers in the annual NRF Foundation/American Express® Customers’ Choice survey back in January.  According to shoppers, the top ten* retailers for customer service are:

  1. L.L.Bean
  2. Overstock.com
  3. Zappos.com
  4. Amazon.com
  5. QVC
  6. Coldwater Creek
  7. HSN
  8. Lands’ End
  9. JCPenney
  10. Kohl’s, and Nordstrom (tied)

I know it’s hard for small to medium sized businesses to sometimes wrap their heads around the successes and lessons to be learned from larger brands, but you can learn a ton from L.L. Bean’s commitment to customer service, satisfaction, quality, systems and innovation.

Go online and buy something from L.L. Bean or even better, call in an order and you’ll be WOWED!


P.S.: Here’s a great interview from L.L. Bean’s president Chris McCormick about L.L. Bean’s customer service secrets.


New iPad Wine List Rocks

I got my new iPad back in May – a moment in time I’ll always refer to as my “Christmas in May” and am having a love affair with it.

Sure there are things about the iPad that I wished it had, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

When I started to play with the iPad, I started to think thought long and hard about how we can apply it to improve our client’s business.

We do a ton of hospitality marketing work and this past summer, one of our great clients, Kevin Joyce owner of The Carlton Restaurant in Pittsburgh had closed his restaurant for two months for a much needed remodel after 25 years in business.

Kevin called me to go over some new ideas to kick off the new restaurant with a bang –  especially since his reopening was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, August 18 – opening night of Pittsburgh’s new Consol Energy Center with a concert by Sir Paul McCartney.

One of my first thoughts, was what could we do to:

  1. Reaffirm the fact that The Carlton has the biggest and best wine lists (15+ year Wine Spectator Award winner) – Great Wine is a big USP for the restaurant
  2. Complement The Carlton’s new 450 bottle wine library – the restaurant’s soul
  3. Showcase the fact that The Carlton offers the best wine dinners in Pittsburgh

In a snap, we thought, “Create an iPad Wine List to replace The Carlton’s 45 page paper wine list.” Using an iPad wine list would create a “halo” effect of flawless contemporary execution of the Carlton’s 45 page paper wine list and separate them even more so from the pack of restaurants they compete against.

As an aside – I know I may be biased, but I think The Carlton i the best restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh and I thought that fact to be true long before I started working for them…anyway…

Instinctively back in May, we Googled “iPad wine list” and could not find any U.S. restaurant using iPads for menus, but we found a great story about an Australian restaurant that swapped out its menus for iPads.

Kevin and I must have been doing a “Vulcan Mind Meld” at the time, because when we called him, he said he saw the Aussie story  and was ready to rock.

Our iPad wine list is not as aggressive as the Aussie menu – we prefer to walk before we run with the wine list first then potentially move to the food menu – but I can tell you that the iPad has significantly improved The Carlton’s brand image of Pittsburgh’s premier dining and wine establishment and improved wine sales too – customers love it!

We’ll soon cut a brief video explaining how the wine list works, but know these things:

  1. The iPad can be used to help lift your business
  2. Look for products and/or service executions that create brand “halo” USPs
  3. It’s better to phase in technology improvements to your business to flawlessly execute and gain an immediate WOW from your customers before someone else comes along and steals your marketing thunder and you look like a market follower and/or a “me too” brand**
  4. Great clients make great marketing firms

**Note: In the time we started to work on and launch The Carlton’s iPad wine list, there have been major news articles about iPad wine lists in use at Central Park South Gate restaurant (7.2.10),  Bones in Atlanta (9.13.10), III Forks in Jacksonville (8.11.10), but hey The Carlton had the first iPad wine list in Pennsylvania! More news to come as we continue to improve our iPad wine list effort.


Always Aim to be the Best

We work with clients of all shapes and sizes – from struggling start up moms and pops to thriving market dominating multi-million dollar enterprises.

Recently, we were blessed to be introduced to Steve and Jen MacBride, a young married couple and co-owner/operators of The Archer’s Edge (TAE) in Oakdale, PA.

We assisted in their Grand Opening this past Saturday on National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Check out this news segment of The Archer’s Edge featuring Steve and reporter Kelly Frey of Pittsburgh’s WTAE-TV (ABC affiliate) which will give you a good feel of the place.

Pretty good priceless PR for rookies – we’re so proud of them.

Proud because they deserve it. Proud because they “bring it.”

I’ve only known the MacBride’s for a few weeks, but I was impressed by them from the start and their desire to do great things.

I’m always surprised and saddened to visit businesses that simply just go along with the flow doing mediocre work and have no processes in place to “WOW” you. It’s all so boring, average, mediocre, dangerous and unnecessary.

Steve and Jen WOW you. Here are a few ways they WOW me.

  1. They have a ton of enthusiasm and passion for their new business, because they love archery and their enthusiasm is contagious
  2. They’re resilient because of their love of archery. They experienced a boatload of unfortunate and unforeseen challenges prior to launch, but their passion overrode all of them
  3. They “bring it” – enthusiasm, attention to detail, passion, excellence to their work
  4. Their goal is to be THE best archery center in Pittsburgh – not one of the best

I’m not a hunter and our business with TAE will not finance my retirement, but I’m a HUGE fan. Sure we’ve helped them a bit along the way with their PR and Marketing and will continue to offer our services. However, because their aim is to be the best (and they have plans to be), their future looks to b a bright one. We’re big fans and we will bust our tails to help them achieve their goals.

Great clients like the MacBrides make great marketing firms like us (we’ve got their back now) and when you build that kind of relationship everyone wins!

Always aim high!

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.”
– Les Brown

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s heaven for?”
– Robert Browning

“If you reach for the stars, you might not quite get one,
but you won’t end up with a handful of mud, either.”

– Leo Burnett


You Take Dollars to the Bank

…not percentages.

Following yesterday’s post about testing, someone asked me about testing promotional offers and wanted to know which has more appeal, a dollar off coupon or a percent off coupon.

After saying, “Test them both,” I told him that in my experience a “dollar off” promotion typically outsells a percent off promotion. Dollar offs, BOGOs (buy one get one free, cash rebates etc.,) rock harder than a simple percent off promotion.


One big reason.

Money talks and you know the rest.

It’s far easier for busy people (aren’t we all) to understand the value of a dollar figure vs. calculating percentages.

But hey, don’t take my word for it

Check out this Marketing Sherpa article which supports my view and highlights how one brand’s test proved that its dollar off promo delivered 170% more revenue.

Test people test.  And, always remember you take dollars to the bank not percentages.

Email Timing and Testing Best Practices

For our clients, I find that emailing campaigns early in the morning and early in the week provide better results. Early morning emails work better for us because it’s easier to get people’s attention before they jump into their daily activities. See B2B Magazine article here and this eMarketer chart which both agree. I’m sure early morning deployments work well for both B2C and B2B businesses alike.

Giving people ample time to react and respond along with a respectful reminder works wonders too. Marketers forget that not everyone opens their email every day and often their addresses are personal (non business) and may only get opened once a week.

Email timing is critical to the success of a marketing campaign. And, deciding the right time of day, and the precise day to deploy your email message is as important as the message itself, but many brands don’t pay enough attention to timing.

You need to get the timing right because your message competes with every other message received by land line phone, mail, social media and smart phones.

Pivotal Veracity discovered that the average elapsed time between when messages are first sent to when they are first seen is growing to about 26 hours.

See their report here: pivotal_veracity_email_engagement_index_q1_q3_2009

In addition, another email marketing best practice involves testing.  Email testing is pretty easy to do and I continue to be amazed by the lack of it by brands of all sizes. eMarketer reports that only about 63% of Marketers test their email campaigns! Ugh!

According to a recent ExactTarget study, 40% of email marketers’ lists are unengaged recipients and another 44% have a low level of engagement.

Different strokes (messages) for different folks is key to having an engaged database.

So, what can you test?  What should you try? Well, just about anything and everything! Check out just some of the opportunities in this chart:

Marketers need to  maximize message relevance and avoid sending email subject matter to people who do not care to receive it.

Try creative copy split-run email tests by taking your list and divide it in half (or thirds) and simply test two/three different subject lines or calls to action or other features such as copy, design, offers or more.

Start testing your email marketing campaigns. It’s easy…just do it!


AMA Pittsburgh Marketer of the Year

Over the next two days, we’re participating in two separate presentations to the Pittsburgh American Marketing Association at the Duquesne Club downtown and to students at Chatham University.

My client John Graf – co-owner of the Priory Hospitality Group – and I are co-presenting and will review the success of our Winter White Wedding program which has driven first quarter wedding bookings by 400% and continues to rock – it helped us win the Pittsburgh American Marketing Association’s Grand Marketer of the Year Award!

The Priory’s Winter White Weddings are a true testament to the success of  “Blue Ocean Strategies” that profitably transform brands by pursuing low cost brand differentiation that makes your competition irrelevant.

To help you sail in Blue Oceans, click this link to review the Priory’s PowerPoint deck:
AMA Pittsburgh Marketer of the Year Priory Hotel 3.16.10


Dominos Calls Baby Ugly and Doubles Profits

As a brand marketing consultancy, people pay us to, “call their baby ugly” and discover profitable ways to make it more attractive. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when the business owners or leaders you’re consulting with happen to be the ones who gave birth to the baby you’re critiquing.

A few months ago, I caught the news and television commercials about how Dominos Pizza executives blatantly called their baby – a pizza pie – ugly. They announced that they had listened to their customers (inside the company and outside the company) and had taken strong, bold steps to clean up their act and improve their product.

I applauded their authentic, open approach and knew if they were true to their words with actions and walked their talk, their honesty would be rewarded in spades.

Here are the steps Dominos took:

1. They first listened to their customers (internal and external) and agreed to take action because they believed what they were hearing – that is, their product was not good. They started to revamp their recipes more than 1.5 years ago following a ton of focus group and social media site criticism. Remember, the first step to transforming (see rehab) a brand or yourself is admitting you have a problem and need help.

2. They “started over” (total transformation) from scratch by revamping their pizza recipe (new sauce and cheese combination and herb-and garlic-flavored crust)

3. They launched an honest documentary style ad campaign (in short, “we’re sorry…we agree with you that our baby tastes like cardboard…we did something remarkable about it…we think you’ll love it…please try us again”)

The result? A ton of curious customers rushed to try the new Dominos pizza and rocked their sales. In fact, Dominos Pizza Q4 2009 profits more than doubled!

Here’s a great Dominos turnaround video explaining how it all went down.

And, here is a link to a current Dominos commercial challenging Papa John’s claims and a link to the story about their amazing results.

So what are some of the steps you should take when your company or client is performing poorly and you recognize radical change is needed?

Here are 2 suggestions.

1. Be careful and smart with your language. You need to be careful to not to just slam the poor quality of your brand’s systems, products, people, processes etc., because the people you’re trying to influence may be defensive. Have concrete facts.

2. Concentrate all positive energies on transformational business building ideas. Focus on specific business building ideas to help them achieve their KPIs (key performance indicators).achieve their business objectives. Discuss how you’ve experienced similar challenges and relay to them potential outcomes and blue sky possibilities.

Be a marketing ambassador of hope and handle those ugly babies with kid glove because when you do, their brand parents will adopt your way of thinking!

P.S.: I love all babies.


Irish Asked to Boycott Denny’s

File this Blog post in your, “What were they thinking” folder!

From very reliable and ticked off sources, I understand that Denny’s restaurants have been airing a disrespectful television commercial degrading the Irish by offering unlimited pancakes or fries in celebration of the ending of the Irish Famine.

Mama Mia!

If this is a joke, it’s not even close to being funny. The Irish Potato famine (An Gorta Mor) which caused the suffering and death of 1.5 million Irish due to forced starvation and related diseases is nothing to celebrate.

It’s a blatant insult to the Irish and they’re mobilizing.

For you Brands involved in Social Media Marketing watch how this unfolds.

I’m sure Denny’s will pull the Ad, and some talking head (whose head and whose mini-me heads should roll) will say, “I take full responsibility…yadda…yadda.”

But, is a simple apology enough? I don’t think so.

Watch the Irish mobilize and give Denny’s their own version of a Grand Slam – the marketing bozos at Denny’s deserve it!

Here’s a protest letter (AOH Denny’s Letter) from the president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

First, they offend African Americans (who knows how many other people since) and are made to pay $54 million in Race Bias Suits, and now this asinine insulting ad?

As a marketer (and a restaurant and hospitaly marketer too), I’ve been amazed by the amount of positive coverage (Super Bowl Ad) in the mainstream marketing media about Denny’s Free One Day Breakfast campaigns.

As for me, I prefer a Denny’s tagline in Time Magazine, “Denny’s: Where the Food Is Free and Drunks Can Pee!” because I believe in truth in advertising!

Full disclosure – I’m 50% Irish and a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. And, I haven’t been a big fan of Denny’s since the African American incident. I go out of my way to get my eggs over medium at a local independent Mom and Pop joints and will continue to do so.  I suggest you join me.

FYI – I called the following Denny’s Customer Service number (1.800.733.6697) to demand that they pull this ad off the air, and they said, “I apologize and we’re aware of people’s concerns and we’re working to pull the ad.”

Some answer.

Note: The old days of a customer telling 9-12 people of her negative experience is way over.  With Social Media, it could be thousands. Brands need to raise their game, because if/when you pull a stupid act like Denny’s, you’re going to get blasted!


Banned for Bad Tipping

When I caught this headline, “Banned for Bad Tipping” on CNN.com today, I just had to check it out since we do so much work for restaurants and the hospitality industry.

View the story here:

I’m not sure who is right here, but my gut says the customer.

Even if the owner is correct when he says that his customer is not a good tipper, she still paid her bill for the basic food and service she received.

Now, I consider myself a pretty good tipper, but more and more I’ve been working to get back to tipping based on the quality of service I receive. There are far too many people and businesses in my life (and I’m sure yours too) where they feel entitled to a reward for doing basic or even sub par work.

It’s got to stop.

I’m not sure where or when this entitlement gig got started, but my guess is that it started sometime about 35 years ago in kids sports – especially baseball – where “Tee-ballers” started to hit baseballs off of tees (instead of having the ball pitched to them) and everyone started to get trophies regardless of where their team finished.

Oh yeah, I’m blaming it all on Tee-ball!

In the hospitality business, you’re supposed to be “hospitable” it’s the basic greens fee part of the gig. Tipping is supposed to be based on what someone does over and above the call of duty.

I mean my hot food should be hot and my cold food should be cold. Servers are supposed to deliver my food to me in a reasonable time with no foreign objects in, on or around it right? I’m supposed to tip you for that? C’mon people.

I checked out Magellan’s Worldwide Tipping Guide to see where we American’s rank and right there, I  confirmed my suspicion that we American’s are one crazy bunch of people. We tip more than just about every country in the world, and I’ll bet you agree that for the most part your customer satisfaction level with the majority of business and people is average to below average!

The interesting thing about my argument is that the majority of customer satisfaction scores in industries have statistically improved (see American Customer Satisfaction Index here).

Yeah, but my gut and head says that what people say and what people actually do and feel aren’t always coordinated. I believe most people have internalized their customer satisfaction expectations (read – lowered their bar) because for the most part, they’ve been let down so many times that they simply learn to accept and deal with sub par performance.

Here are a few of “Marketing Tips” for you today to help your Brand excel.

  1. Get away from assumptions and entitlements – cast them aside
  2. List your Brand’s basic greens fees of performance
  3. From that list, work up a few cool ideas to “surprise, delight and impress (read – WOW)” your customers> Make sure these ideas are ones that your core customer base considers valuable and are not offered by your competitors.
  4. Implement these new cool ideas.

Now – watch your tip jar explode!

P.S.: Years ago in a performance review session, one of my team members thought she should get a bonus (read tip) because, “I always come to work on time.” She was wrong to assume, but I was more wrong because I wasn’t clear in my expectations of performance training.  I never made that mistake again.  Big lesson.


Pittsburgh’s New Innovative Giant Eagle

Twenty years or so ago, I had several conversations with marketing colleagues about how supermarket chains lacked creativity. The general experience was underwhelming and one that most people dreaded.

During those years, I would take Cadillac, Oldsmobile and McDonald’s clients into Wegman’s supermarkets throughout western, New York to show them how great they were and to learn merchandising, customer service and overall retailing lessons they could take back to their car dealerships and restaurants.

They were amazed that you entered the store through the produce department instead of the typical trip past the cash registers as was the general industry practice way back then. Their merchandising strategies had no peer.

Wegman’s then and now, is one of the most innovative and well-run supermarket chains in America. It’s no surprise to me that they’re ranked #3 on FORTUNE “100 Best Companies to Work For.” They are consistently ranked as one of the top supermarket chains in the country and have received a ton of well deserved awards.

Stew Leonard’s – the world’s largest dairy store – was a hot case study of discussion too.

And way back then, I could not understand why the innovation I saw across the country was not occurring in my own backyard.

About 10 years ago, I got some some luncheon meat from the deli at my hometown Giant Eagle supermarket and was ecstatic to receive it in a plastic bag instead of paper! I mentioned my discovery to a colleague of mine whose spouse worked for the company and told me that the store received the bags as part of some deal and they were simply testing to get some use out of them. Amazing – it was a huge boost to my satisfaction.  This little simple new touch was so well received that it quickly spread throughout their stores and became a permanent part of their system.

Well, something must be a bit different in the water these days in Pittsburgh’s three rivers (especially the Allegheny River) because Giant Eagle has been on a tear of remarkably innovative new product launches such as its:

And now, Giant Eagle is testing in four concept stores it’s latest innovation for HBW (health/beauty/wellness) which could become a huge profit center by linking its supermarket pharmacies with its HBW departments. What a stroke of innovative genius.

I’m happy the new Giant Eagle has finally landed in “innovation land.” Their story should demonstrate to older established brands that it’s never too late to innovate.

To profitably increase your market share you need to establish an innovation plan and follow it. Don’t wait for competitors to come into your neighborhood to force you to do it. Self inflicted innovation is the preferred route to take.

P.S.: Not all innovations have to be big and expensive – think deli meat plastic bags.