Sunday, November 22, 2020

Does Your Brand Communicate with Customers?

Like many of us during the covid pandemic, I shop more online than in the pre-covid days. This translates to purchases made via websites that in the pre-covid era, I would have visited stores in person to make my purchases.

One recent item consisted of three dozen colorful plastic hangers. While this item was not a necessity, it added some smiles when hanging clothes during the challenging covid era.

I chose some teal, purple, red, and yellow hangers on a retailer's website, and completed the online purchase. A few weeks later, in a timely manner, the teal, purple, and red hangers arrived on my doorstep. They were just as advertised, and immediately, they "met" some clothes and were placed in my closet.

But something was wrong. I noticed that the yellow hangers were missing. Soon after the box's arrival, I received an email indicating that the yellow hangers were not available from any nearby stores, but they would arrive shortly.

I don't know about you, but "shortly" means "soon" to me, certainly, within a week or two. Otherwise, the store should have sent another email and either provided a delivery update or asked if I wished to cancel my order.

Two months later, and still no yellow hangers. I only purchased five yellow hangers for a total less than two dollars. But where is the update from the retailer? I have sent a couple of emails asking for an update, and I have received no response to any of my communications.

I understand that we are living in a different world, but if a brand offers to sell products, and those products are not available, and the brand accepts payment, then it owes its customers an explanation or a refund. 

You can probably guess the name of the brand I'm talking about.

What would your brand do in this scenario?

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Branding and the November Elections

While it is advisable for brands to remain neutral when it comes to American politics, brands should definitely be aware of current events that impact the community-at-large, consumers, customers, and fans. The recent November elections are a perfect example whereby brands should not choose candidates but they can still promote voting.

Here are examples of how five brands participated while staying neutral.

This nonpartisan nonprofit was founded in 2016 with a simple mission: make "democracy delicious by delivering free food for all to polling places with long lines." If you see a line at the polls, go to the website, provide the address, and free pizza will be delivered. Both small pizza joints and large pizza chains are used for deliveries. This happened on election day in 25 cities across America.

Most online news content comes at a cost. But on election day, The Wall Street Journal offered its content for free.

Election day is not yet a holiday, and it may never be, but many people still had to go to work. Zoom provided a background promoting "get out the vote" and "voting" to get users in the mood and so that users could add a vote-themed background to their online meetings during election day.

Many people who voted wore their "I Voted" sticker on election day, so it was cute to see a familiar face, or in this case, a familiar M&M chocolate candy, in this case, Yellow, showcasing his stickers.

If one wore his or her or their "I Voted" sticker to Krispy Kreme, a free original glazed doughnut would be provided.

What brands stood out to you on Election Day? Please chime in and share.

Image Credit: Pizza to the Polls, The Wall Street Journal, Zoom, M&Ms, and Krispy Kreme via Instagram.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Three Instagram Brand-Building Tips from Halloween


Instagram is an easy-to-use and fun social platform for brand-building. Brands use it to share engaging images, thought-provoking quotes, and timely product or service launches. If a post grabs viewers’ attention, they will comment or like it – thus increasing brand awareness.

While holidays present an opportunity for memorable posts, Halloween provides three useful tips for brands to apply toward other holidays later in the year like Thanksgiving, the December holidays, and New Year's.

Color is a universal way to tell a brand’s story. What brand is associated with red? Coca-Cola. What brand is associated with brown? United Parcel Service. What color provides the nickname for IBM? (Big) Blue. Once October begins, all variations of orange take front and center. Recall the beverages served by your favorite coffee houses and doughnut stores at this time of year: pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin iced coffee, pumpkin spiced iced latte, to name just a few.

My two favorite examples are a post by Pantone, the color company brand, and a post by Sherwin-Williams, the paint store brand. Candy corn, the most popular candy from Halloween is featured, and it is comprised of several colors. Pantone showcases the specific colors that align with candy corn. In Sherwin-Williams’ post, jelly beans are featured, and one specific color is called out. Does your brand integrate color in a creative way during October, November, and December?

When brands introduce characters into their posts, they often showcase humor, and humor is a universal way to attract interaction and support. Who wouldn’t laugh at the Muppets, the Energizer Bunny, or the M&M characters? Does your brand have characters that tell your brand’s story? If not, how can your brand integrate characters and humor into your Instagram posts?

My favorite example is a post by M&M’s chocolate candies. Two chocolate characters, Brown and Red, are featured in a field full of pumpkins. Everyone can associate with the two characters because everyone would like to have fun with their family and friends in a field of pumpkins.

When brands integrate elements of tradition into their posts, their posts become embraceable. When we think of the fall season with colder weather, the beginning of the holiday season, leaves changing color, we often think of times spent with family. And food is often associated with family gatherings. Starting with Halloween and pumpkins, there is the arrival of pumpkin pie. What’s more traditional than pumpkin pie?

My favorite post that demonstrates tradition is by Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. This post shows how its pumpkin beverage was created by the traditional pumpkin pie. Do your brand’s posts show how your product or service originated or began?

How will you apply these three Halloween tips to your brand storytelling during the remainder of the holiday season? Chime in to share.

Image Credits via Instagram: @MMSChocolate, @Pantone, @TheCoffeeBean, and @SherwinWilliams.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Inspiration from RBG - A Tribute

During the days following the recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, people who knew her personally reflected on their memorable experiences and memories. But for those who watched her from afar, we reflected on her actions and words. I've assembled some of my favorite RBG quotes below.

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.

Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.

I'm a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.

So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.

Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.

Don't be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time.

I pray that I may be all that (my mother) would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons.

I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.

Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception.

We are at last beginning to relegate to the history books the idea of the token woman.

My idea of how choice should have developed was not a privacy notion, not a doctor’s right notion, but a woman’s right to control her own destiny, to be able to make choices without a Big Brother state telling her what she can and cannot do.

You can disagree without being disagreeable.

When I'm sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, 'When there are nine,' people are shocked. But there'd been nine men, and nobody's ever raised a question about that.

And lastly, about RBG:
No other justice in history has become a popular icon in the way RBG did. She modeled for all of us in how to spend a life working to make society and individual lives better. We only can hope for a new justice in her mold. ~Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law

Image Credit: Paying tribute to RBG while attending an exhibit in her honor at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in February 2019.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

What Happens When Leadership, Service and Encouragement Join Forces?

Over the last decade, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing leadership experts. One of these experts is James Strock – who I met in 2011 – a speaker, author, and reformer in business, government, and politics. His book is a must-read, Serve to Lead 2.0: 21st Century Leaders Manual. Connect on Twitter @jamesstrock and visit his website at We recently had a discussion about leadership, and highlights follow below.

QUESTION: One of your pearls of wisdom is, "When your ultimate concern is those you’re serving, your vantage point necessarily is from the outside-in, not the inside-out.” Can you please explain? 
JAMES STROCK: Quite understandably, many people analyze their life and work from the inside-out. They approach the world seeking, as it were, to sell the notions they’ve spun, the perspectives they created, the knowledge they’ve accumulated. This is encouraged by the ways in which most people are formally educated, with focus on their individual performance.

An alternative is to work from the outside-in, to transcend self-focus to attain a service mindset, focused first on those one would serve. This can result in much more effective value creation for customers and others. It can also be of significant value in building a strong psychological basis for one’s work and life. Various studies have borne out that when we’re focused on serving others, many of the stresses and anxieties that can inhibit performance are reduced or redirected positively.

As just one example that may be familiar to many readers, consider public speaking. This is a necessity for most of us, to one degree or another. Nonetheless it is often one of the greatest fears for many. If one removes self-consciousness, replacing it with an audience-consciousness, one’s performance may be enhanced. Going further, if one is aiming the performance of speaking or other tasks toward transcendent goals, the further one goes beyond self-concern the more effective the result can be.
QUESTION: Due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders for many employees, what new practices can businesses implement to collaborate with other businesses/strategic partners in the future?
JAMES STROCK: 2020 is emerging as a hinge moment. It may well be a year that is recalled in the way of 1914, 1919, 1929, 1939, 1941, 1945, 1963, 1968, 1974, 1979, 1989, 2001, and the Great Recession beginning in 2008. Which is to say, 2020 may be a year which divides the past from the present and future. We’re very much in the midst of 2020—and it’s a very crowded year thus far—so any observations are provisional.

One change that’s already manifesting is that telecommuting is rising to a new level. Rapidly improving communication technologies are a factor. So, too, the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing many physical offices to close—along with schools—has meant that many employees were directed to work from home. Many bosses who were a bit out of date were brought up to speed rapidly, learning that employees can work at least as effectively from remote locations in many cases. This will change management approaches. It may lend itself to new office arrangements and schedules. CV-19 will prompt distancing in workspaces. This will coincide with the prospect of reducing commercial real estate requirements. Cities and states may incent distributed work arrangements for the benefits in reduced air pollution and infrastructure wear. This may come quickly in areas with extensive mass transit, which may face reduced usage because of distancing concerns.

So, too, the rising capacity for a distributed workforce may incline more enterprises to retain talent as contractors rather than full-time employees. This will add to a surging political debate on the regulation of independent contractors, already stirring because of the controversial AB 5 legislation in California, which seeks to push Uber drivers, for example, from independent contractor status to full-time employees with the prospect of unionization. One anticipates that many employers and employees may be receptive to new arrangements after the forced shut-down reset their views of long-established customs.

For business, as for other institutions, the pandemic has accelerated existing trends and exposed areas of weakness. Ultimately, two overarching trends may face examination and recalibration. One is the financialization of business over the past forty years, including its relation to international trade and supply chains. Another is the transition from an industrial economy to a service economy. We may end up with a hybrid built around updated notions of national sovereignty, with a rise in the US, for example, in manufacturing capacity. However that sorts out, it will be necessary to update social insurance arrangements from the past century that were created for an industrial economy emerging from an agricultural economy, rather than a service economy.

In sum, there are numerous issues that will arise. The great thing is that ultimate outcomes are difficult to predict because we’re likely on the verge of an explosion of innovation, particularly in the US. The next decade holds the prospect of being extraordinary for entrepreneurs of all kinds.
QUESTION: You last appeared on my Blog back in 2018, and I asked you, "How can leaders (Presidents/CEO’s) explain their vision to employees so that they also embrace it?" How has the current COVID19 situation changed your thoughts about this when many businesses are closed? (Referenced link provided at end of this Q&A.)
JAMES STROCK: The specific practices change, but the principles of leadership communication remain the same. There have been numerous instances of excellent use of Zoom and related communication technologies by CEOs during the pandemic. Regrettably, there have also be dispiriting misfires. As with other areas, the pandemic may have constituted a stress test, with some enterprises and CEO’s emerging with flying colors – while others fell short.

QUESTION: Which three brands are your favorite industry leaders, and why?
JAMES STROCK: My favorites tend to be brands that customers and other stakeholders view as occasioning relationships, far deeper than merely transactional. This is consistent with Kevin Roberts’s notion of “love marks.”

May I offer a somewhat idiosyncratic group? One is The Beatles. This is an astonishing brand, conveying creativity, excellence, experimentation, joy, and a stunning capacity to reach across time and space.

A second would be Apple. It’s no accident that Steve Jobs constructed the Apple brand in no small part from the inspiration of The Beatles.

A third would be Southwest Airlines. In an industry that in the best of times is noted for strained labor-management relations, Southwest stands apart. So too their customer-centric approach to management has created exceptional customer loyalty. With the transportation, entertainment and hospitality sectors reeling under the pandemic lock-down—and the likelihood of ongoing distancing—Southwest is benefiting from its best-in-class service.

There are, of course, many more, but these three stand out in most any consideration of brands.

QUESTION: What is your favorite leadership quote, and why?
JAMES STROCK: I have so many favorite leadership quotes that choosing one seems a bit random! One that speaks to me is the epitaph selected by the late British politician Tony Benn: “He encouraged us.” When we truly encourage one another—inspiring courageous thought and action—many, many good things can follow.


My gratitude and appreciation to James for appearing on my Blog a fourth time and for sharing his inspiring leadership insights!

Sharing Timeless Leadership Lessons – from 2018:

Leadership Is All About Serving Others – from 2014:
Serve to Lead – What a Visionary Concept – from 2011:

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

What's Your Favorite Fourth of July Brand?

Some brands include “America” or “American” in their names, and here are some:

  • American Airlines
  • American Apparel
  • American Broadcasting Company
  • American Eagle Outfitters
  • American Express
  • American Greetings Corp.
  • Bank of America
During the months of June and July, brands can take advantage of the “America” or “American” portion of their names for advertising and memorable promotions.

The reason behind the advertising time extension can be explained by a simple advertising fact. Businesses want to capitalize on the buzz of the moment. In the case of June and July in the United States, that buzz is Independence Day, that takes place on the Fourth of July.

If your brand had “America” or “American” in its name, what would you do during June and July to capitalize on Independence Day or the entire month of July? Certainly, product or service discounts are an option, or maybe, the launch of a new product or service, or perhaps, the implementation of a new loyalty or referral program. But whatever announcement your business makes, you will definitely have an audience.

Another spin on this topic is if a portion of your brand name is tied to a national park, national monument, theme park, hotel resort, etc. There is no doubt that your brand has a head start on brand awareness if the name of your business is Mount Rushmore Cement Company or Yellowstone Coffee or Liberty Bell Music Store.

In all of these scenarios, the first goal of all marketing campaigns has been achieved. There is immediate brand recognition.

However, don’t lose sight of your brand strengths and the competitive positioning that you’ve worked hard to achieve.

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey (featuring American Greetings, American Airlines, and Bank of America)

Monday, June 22, 2020

Tips to Focus on Your Customers During #COVID19

The best part of social media, and especially my favorite platforms Twitter and Instagram, is the people I meet from all over the world and the information they share. Recently, I met Augie Ray on Twitter, and due to our shared passion for customer experience marketing, I invited him to appear on my Blog to share his expertise. Highlights of our conversation follow a brief introduction.

Augie Ray is Vice President, Analyst at Gartner. He publishes research and offers guidance on topics relating to customer experience (CX), including CX strategy and governance, the ROI of CX, voice of customer programs, and the role of personas and journey mapping as tools to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.  Augie has also led the Gartner for Marketer’s research response to COVID-19. Prior to Gartner, Augie was Director of CX action at American Express and led social media at two Fortune 500 companies.

QUESTION: How do you clarify the difference between "customer experience" and "customer experience management?"

AUGIE RAY: I see CX and CXM as different sides of the same coin. CX is the customers' side, and it's their perceptions and feelings accumulated from all of the experiences they have with a brand. The definition of CXM comes from the brand’s side of the relationship, and it is the practice of anticipating, planning, and reacting to customer interactions to meet their expectations and improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. That last part is essential: customer experience management is about what we do strengthen customer relationships and deliver strong retention, frequency, cost to serve, referrals, and other business benefits.

QUESTION: Which social platform is the best tool for creating a quality customer experience, and why?
AUGIE RAY: This is a trick question. All CX should begin with an understanding of a customer’s needs and expectations. As a result, there is no single answer. A given audience and persona may need, want, or value experiences on Facebook while another may desire brand interactions on TikTok. Or, a given persona may not value having social media engagement with brands in the first place.

As a CX advisor, I recommend listening to what customers want and evaluating their feedback for drivers of satisfaction and dissatisfaction before deciding on a channel for CX. In other words, the question shouldn't be which social platform is best for CX (with the implicit assumption that one must be best). Instead ask, "What are customers' needs and drags on their loyalty, and are social platforms equipped to help your brand deliver on expectations?"

QUESTION: Have you had any exceptional customer experiences during the current COVID-19 era? Please elaborate.
AUGIE RAY: The number of disappointing customer experiences I've had during the COVID-19 era is much greater than the exceptional ones, but there is a local restaurant whose pivot to curbside pickup has been outstanding and is a wonderful model for other restaurants.

While other restaurants simply shifted their full menu to take-out or delivery, Buckley's ( gave some real thought to providing the best experience under the circumstances. It limited the menu to focus on things the staff could best produce that would travel well. The restaurant updated its website with prominent information about its COVID-19 offerings. And, the thing I really like is that the food comes with instructions for reheating and assembling.

Other restaurants' food comes lukewarm, soggy, and in need of reheating, which only diminishes the experience that much more. Buckley's food takes a tad bit more work to complete the process but is warm, fresh, and tasty. (And the handwritten thank you note in each order is a nice touch, as well.) While some restaurants merely shifted to the take-out or delivery services they already had, Buckley's reconsidered how customers can best enjoy their food despite the challenges.

The funny thing is that I wasn't that big of a fan of the place before COVID-19, but they've become my go-to neighborhood restaurant during our stay-at-home period, and it's changed my perception of the place. I suspect I'm not alone, as the lines of cars waiting for curbside pickup demonstrate.

QUESTION: On your blog, you wrote, "In an increasingly social, mobile, and real-time world, brands are created not by the messages they broadcast but by the experiences they offer — ones that create empathy, build trust, earn loyalty, spur Word-of-Mouth, encourage collaboration, and provide ever greater value to customers in innovative ways." How would you propose that brands improve their messaging for the post-COVID-19 era?
One thing brands must do during COVID-19 is to avoid relying only on messaging but to lead with actions. It's one thing to say you're empathetic but another thing entirely to be empathetic. It's faded a bit now, but in the first month of the COVID-19 crisis, brands filled the airwaves with lookalike ads competing to convey how deeply each brand cared about employees and customers. They all felt alike, and thus, did little to differentiate the brands.

Also, people got sick of those ads quite quickly because they didn't need brands to express their care for employees and customers but to actually care. Don't just say you're grateful to your frontline workers; show them your appreciation by adequately compensating them and providing the necessary protection. Don't just buy an ad to tell customers you support them; consider the challenges customers face and proactively offer solutions. Before you spend one dollar on messaging during the pandemic, make sure your actions speak louder than your words.

In addition, I try to avoid talking about “post-COVID” with my clients. We’re not likely to be post-COVID for 12 to 18 months and possibly longer. There’s a long road ahead, and I urge brands to focus on the lengthy and difficult period of uncertainty we face throughout 2020 and into 2021 rather than trying to predict and plan for a “post-COVID” world quite yet. Most brands face far too many difficulties in the immediate future to start jumping to conclusions of what 2022 might be like, in my opinion.

QUESTION: What are your three favorite brands, and why?
AUGIE RAY: I'm a big fan of Disney, particularly the quality of its content and the experience at its resorts. I joke that one of the reasons I'm a CX professional today was that my first Walt Disney World experiences were so remarkable, I had no choice but to read about the culture, practices, and leadership that could deliver those experiences.

I think Best Buy has done a remarkable job of navigating the challenges of the digital and brick-and-mortar experience. They're an example of how the online and offline channels can work together and feel like extensions of each other rather than the sort of awkward online/offline divide I see from so many other retailers.

And, I respect USAA a great deal. I had the pleasure to work for USAA and got to see how the brand prioritizes the member from the inside out. My employment experience with USAA continues to inspire me for how customer-centricity can be made such a big and important part of a company's culture.

My gratitude and appreciation to Augie for appearing on my Blog and for sharing his inspiring insights.

Image Credit: Augie Ray outside Buckley's.