Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Got the location, need the direction

Macy's was buzzing that mild, sunny Saturday afternoon. The store in downtown Chicago had just completed the annual lighting of the Christmas tree in the Walnut Room, so shoppers were streaming and jostling in and out. We had to move fast to avoid being stepped on.

As we entered, I spotted a sign on the door referencing Facebook Places. I had spent several days researching Places vs. Foursquare recently for a client, so I was eager to check in and check it out.

We found a safe spot to stop in cosmetics, and I logged in. I waited. Nothing. We rode the escalators up to see the tree on the eighth floor. I checked my phone again. Nothing. I went to Places and checked in at Macy's again. Nothing. We admired the tree, and I checked my phone again. Nothing.

I asked a salesperson about the special deal for checking in on Facebook Places. She asked someone else, and they sent us to customer service on the first floor. We asked the staffers there. Blank look in response. I showed them my phone. They called upstairs.

The manager had heard of Facebook Places, but she didn't know what we should get for checking in. To his credit, the very kind customer service staffer walked all the way to an entrance with us to see the sign. There it was, on all the doors, vaguely encouraging shoppers to check in for deals. "There must not be a deal right now," he said.

We did a lot of waiting and wandering and checking that day. I chalked it up to research. But I doubt I'll conduct that experiment again.

Two days earlier, my sister had sent out an email: She had received a free pair of jeans from Gap in a Facebook Places promotion. I'll try that down the street, I thought. So I checked in at Gap. Nothing. I waited. Nothing. I checked my phone again. Nothing. I decided I had better things to do in Chicago.

I asked my sister later how she'd received notice that she had earned free jeans. Did she get a text? An email? A Facebook notification? No, she said. She was in the Gap and asked a clerk about the deal...and they simply gave her a pair of jeans. No check-in required. Well that explains that. Sort of.

I was still hopeful for a deal when I was at JCPenneys last week. I was trying on a pair of shoes when I heard an announcement on the loudspeaker. Text JCP to xxxxxx and receive special offers! I did it on the spot. What timing, I thought! These shoes are looking even better! I checked my messages. I was asked to text the letter Y to another number. I did. I waited. I checked my phone. Nothing. I tried on some more shoes. I checked my phone. Nothing. Five stores later, I checked my phone again: I was now enrolled to receive special offers via text. But there was no deal. Not then, and not yet, a week later.

Each of these campaigns seems to have missed an essential element: execution. Worse, they got what they wanted--their names on my Facebook feed, access to my text messaging. And what did I get? You might know the refrain by now: Nothing.

Yes, location-based marketing and mobile marketing are new territory in which it's easy to get lost. But when you promote something, it's still important to educate your staff about the offer and to be able to deliver what the consumer expects. Or soon, the customer will expect nothing. And that's not a good place in which to be.

Monday, November 1, 2010

15 Meaty Tips on Social Media Strategy

I had the good fortune to attend the Innovation Summit 2010 at the Indiana Convention Center last Wednesday.

The brain power in the building was impressive: venture capitalists, tech whiz-kids, business gurus and research powerhouses. There was an augmented reality flying whirligig from Ball State; a pen with a built-in scroll from Indiana University; and at lunch some very salty yet very dry chicken trying to hide under breading and gravy.

But the real meat of the program for me was the ExactTarget panel on social media, moderated by Tim Kopp, Chief Marketing Officer at ExactTarget, and including Jay Baer, social media consultant, speaker and author and president of Convince and Convert; John Lopes, Chief Marketing Officer of Andretti Green Racing; and Chris Baggott, cofounder/CEO of Compendium.

Though paraphrased and slightly out of order, here are some of their timely points as food for thought (much better than chicken):

1. The goal is not to be good at social media, but to be good at business because of social media.

2. Tracking "number of followers" is like collecting baseball cards: How many do you have? More important is, how many read what you post? Social media is about activating people. Creating advocacy. Get people who like you to be active on your behalf.

3. Engaging followers and fans requires an intimacy; it means offering them an exclusive, something they can't get anywhere else.

4. People want to buy stuff from people whom they like and trust, and social media gives you a chance to do that. Social media is branding 2.0: It feels personal and human, and drives loyalty.

5. B2B businesses have an advantage—they already have relationships with people and interact with them like humans.

6. Today, 83 percent of web traffic comes from search. People are unplugging, saying they can't parse all of the invitations to connect. They are trained to ignore marketing. The thought is: When I have a problem, I will type words into a box; someone had better show up and make an offer. Customers control the message, and they want it on-demand.

7. You solve a problem or you don't exist. Tell a story about how people have benefitted. Tell the story of how what you do is useful, has benefit.

8. One of the greatest selling tactics is the similar story. Social media give you lots of similar-situation stories being told.

9. If no one is searching for you, you have to create stories that give them something to talk about. Social chatter. You have to make your own content and make it super search-oriented.

10. The content creation strategy is to always make it bigger than the category that you're in. No company is so interesting that they can write only about their stuff. It's not about the company, it's about the movement.

11. It’s forcing marketers outside of their comfort zone. You have to give them something extra to create that stickiness. If you hold back you're going to lose market share.

12. And if you can be hyper-relevant, you will succeed. In an opt-in culture, people don't look until they need.

13. Every company is becoming its own TV station, its own magazine. Media used to be the middle man. But the middle is fading away quickly. Now, everybody in a company is in marketing and customer service.

14. Social media doesn't create negativity; it just puts a magnifying glass on it. It shines a light on those experiences and allows you to address it. If you're not there participating, you're at the mercy of the haters.

15. Your brand is the sum of the conversations about you. Social media is where those conversations are being held.

Notable is the fact that this discussion, held at the Techpoint Innovation Summit, didn't touch on platforms or tools. It talked about talking--innovations in communicating. If you don't know how your audience expects to communicate now, the platforms, tools and technology are just gravy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Too flashy

If a site won’t open in the Apple forest, does it make a sound?

This appeared recently as a news story in the Wall Street Journal:

“As the critical holiday shopping season approaches, an ongoing software feud between Apple Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc. is frustrating some U.S. retailers.

Purveyors of high-end clothing and accessories have spent extravagantly to enliven their e-commerce websites with video and animation that run on Adobe's pervasive Flash technology. Even mid-tier retailers such as Macy's have invested in Flash technology to spice up their online storefronts.

Apple, however, refuses to support Flash technology on its mobile Web browser. As a result, some of those websites don't function properly on Apple's iPhone and iPad tablet computer, interfering with retailers' sizzle…”
Some Flashy Retail Sites Come Up Short on the iPad, 10/20/10 by Rachel Dodes and Yukari Iwatani Kane

Apparently the fact that Flash doesn’t work on Apple products still is news to some, even though the Flash/Apple battle has only escalated since last spring.

Wherever one stands on the platform, the fact remains for now that if you want to build your site in Flash, you have to give up a big bite of the Apple audience. That’s a fairly huge decision to make, and it happens in the conception stage—way before you take an idea to a web designer or programmer and ask him or her to execute.

Building or redesigning a website may seem to be about text and photos and links and features, but underpinning all of that are some crucial technological choices that may make your gorgeous site impossible to find in a search; impossible to open on certain technology; or so slow to load that it annoys would-be users.

Would you develop the most clever, focus-group-approved, message-appropriate, call-to-action national TV commercial ever and try to film it using your kid’s Fisher Price video camera that won’t fully download to editing equipment?

On-page content…images…intra-site links…keywords…page titles…tagging…metadata: They should be a part of the same creative conversation from the start. Or a great idea might be a flash in the pan.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My latest in the Chicago Sun Times

Below is my latest story in the Chicago Sun-Times, a little edited but awesome to see in "print" nonetheless. And awesome to write. There are few things I love more than meeting people who are as passionate as I about food, wine and all the culture/pride in craftsmanship/history/community that goes with it.

Secrets of the food pros
Chicago purveyors answer their most-asked questions

October 13, 2010

Have you ever eaten raw shrimp on accident? Opened a new cheese for a cocktail party only to find it’s the stinky kind? Wound up with too few steaks at your cookout or rubbed them with spices so strong your guests sneezed until they went home?

Some specialty foods and beverages are challenging. There’s a certain level of knowledge required to choose a wine or cheese, meat or seafood, and there’s a certain cost — we really don’t want to mess up those purchases.

Never fear. We’ve sought out the experts and asked some of those never-a-dumb questions for you. Don’t be shy — each pro we talked to has been asked every question in the book. They’ve seen it all . . . including the man who went home and ate his shrimp raw.

Here, a few things to know before you shop, based on the most-asked questions from six Chicago specialty retailers.

How much do I need?

Buy a pound per person if it’s a bone-in cut; a 1/2 pound per person for boneless cuts.

Those are generous portions — if you’re serving light eaters, figure 14 ounces per person, bone-in; 6 ounces without.

Buy 1½ sausages per person, unless they’re all women or children; in that case, one per person should be enough. With chicken, allow for 4 ounces per person.

Your question for the butchers at Paulina Meat Market, 3501 N. Lincoln, will elicit a whole lot of questions in return: What are you using it for? What else are you serving?

“It’s all about preparing the item from beginning to end,” says Bill Begale, who started at Paulina as a butcher and is now owner of the full-service meat shop and gourmet market in Lake View.

If you’re trying something new, bring in the recipe, Begale says, and the butchers can tell you what you need based on the picture.

Stuck at home with a question? Go to Paulina’s Ask a Butcher service online at and get a response from a real butcher.

The newest common question at Paulina: Where does your meat come from?

All of the meat at Paulina is humanely treated and locally raised (with the exception of the lamb, which is from Colorado), Begale says. And yes to your next question: Paulina grinds its own meat.

How do you cook it?

That depends on what you’re buying. Isaacson and Stein Seafood, 800 W. Fulton Market, has recipe cards at the counters that tell customers how to cook most items they sell.

Customers’ questions about preparation are followed in short order by “When did it come in?” and “Where is it from?,” says operations manager John Poulos.

The shop gets fish in fresh on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. “Wednesday is a good day,” Poulos says, “because we have a big container of seafood come in from the Mediterranean.”

The store also gets shipments from Alaska, Hawaii, Ecuador, shrimp from Nigeria that weigh in at a half-pound each, and salmon from New Brunswick, Canada.

Because of that diversity, the oil spill in the Gulf this summer didn’t affect the store’s supply, he says. Shrimp prices went up a few dollars, but the shop’s oysters are from the East Coast.

Poulos recalls one customer who had purchased a package of brown shrimp from Brownsville, Texas. Soon after, the man brought it back in and said it was no good. The staff asked a few questions about what he did with the shrimp, to which he replied that he took it home and started eating it. He thought it was cooked.

The staff explained that the shrimp was raw and that he did need to peel and de-vein it before cooking, Poulos says. Clearly, there is something to fear more than asking a “dumb” question.

Just wine
What’s a good wine?

The answer? More questions. How the wine is to be enjoyed? Are you having food with the wine or is it an aperitif? The weather also is a factor.

Yes, your visit to Perman Wine Selections, 802 W. Washington, may start with a bunch of questions — not yours, but questions from owner Craig Perman.

“This isn’t a test,” he says. “I just want to get as much information out of them in order to get that right bottle in their hands.”

For the novice wine buyer, one piece of information, however, is key: “Try and remember the name — including producer name and wine name — of one or two favorite wines,” Perman says, and even a few you don’t like.

If you can share this information with a wine expert, he or she can help you find — or steer clear of — something similar.

“This is very important, because most people use wine terminology differently,” Perman says. “Sweet and fruity is a classic example. People may call a certain Sauvignon Blanc sweet, and then say they don’t like this.

“In reality, while some Sauvignon Blancs technically do contain a bit of residual sugar, the majority are considered dry, but with an overt fruitiness that the consumer terms sweet.”

Wine and cheese
What wine goes with what cheese

A crisp, dry Spanish rose served alongside fresh goat cheese with herbs de Provence and green Picholine olives is a classic pairing.

Buying the right cheese is challenging enough. Buying cheese and wine together is another thing entirely, says Greg O’Neill, founder and owner of gourmet food shop Pastoral with Ken Miller. For many customers, “putting the two together is the height of uneasiness,” he says.

That’s why Pastoral offers “TLC” service at its three Chicago shops: tasting, learning and converting. They offer a tasting of the week and post it in their stores, on their blog and on their Facebook page so customers can try their recommendations.

As for learning: Staffers describe the family farms and small producers who supply Pastoral. “We want [customers] to understand . . . what goes into making it and what makes it so special,” O’Neill says. The store also offers classes.

Pastoral is a particularly valuable resource for world-be hosts. “We carry things that work well together,” O’Neill says, such as baguettes and olives. “We try to send them home with the whole package.”

How should I store it? In the freezer?

The best way to store your coffee is at room temperature, away from direct sunlight and in an airtight container. If your coffee comes in a bag with a one-way valve, you can keep it in that bag on the counter.

For coffee, freshness is imperative.

“That’s the reason we won’t sell coffee at our store that’s over a week past the roast date,” says Seth J.A. Alexander, general manager of Metropolis Coffee Company, 1039 W. Granville.

Even the best bag of coffee will lose something with the passing of time. If it’s more than six months old — or if it’s been stored improperly — the flavors will be compromised or depleted, Alexander says.

And no, you should never store coffee in the freezer. “It’s going to start tasting like whatever you have with it in the freezer, and nobody wants that,” he says.

Rather, you want to taste your coffee in all its bright or bold glory. Each varietal has a unique flavor that can range from a rich earthiness to sparkling citrus. Alexander suggests trying different kinds, especially light roasts.

“You might find certain growing regions that you prefer over others, or certain characteristics that you like,” he says.

What is good on steak?

The No. 1 seller at the Spice House (five locations in Chicago and Milwaukee) is Back of the Yards Garlic Pepper Butcher’s Rub. The coarse-cut seasoning rub has two particle sizes of garlic and two of black pepper; each releases its flavor during different stages of cooking.

Put it on steaks before grilling or broiling, approximately 1 teaspoon per pound. The blend contains black Tellicherry pepper (ground in-house), garlic, kosher flake salt, sugar, red bell peppers, shallots and parsley. It’s $1.89 per ounce, or 4 ounces for $5.29.

The most frequent question at the Spice House might be about steak, but many other questions usually follow (How long does dill last? What’s the difference between these three types of cinnamon?).

Staffers are culinary school grads and foodies eager to help.

“I try to direct my staff to assume every person walking into the shop does not know how it works, and to make them feel at home,” says Patty Erd, who owns the business with her husband, Tom.

Staffers can measure portions as small as an ounce into a plastic bag or, for longer storage, into a glass shaker. Ground spices, blends and seasonings have a one-year shelf life.

“Old spices will not make you sick, they just will not deliver any flavor to your food,” Erd says.

Julianne Will is a local free-lance writer.

Chicken and coffee are on the minds and likely in the kitchens of many Chicago area cooks, according to Google. Here are the search engine’s fastest rising food- and drink-related search terms in 2010.

1. Chicken
2. Zucchini bread
3. Guacamole
4. Pizza
5. Bruschetta
6. Cake
7. Wings
8. Pie
9. Pasta
10. Cookies

Non-alcoholic beverages
1. Acai
2. Frappe
3. Macchiato
4. Smoothie
5. Tea
6. Pepsi
7. Coke
8. Kombucha
9. Frappuccino
10. Pomegranate

Source: Google's Insights for Search