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I was speaking to an group of marketers in Seattle last week, and along the wall were vendors (sponsors) of the event. Two of them were tchotchke vendors. You know, logo stuff, trinkets, give-a-ways.

There was some debate at the conference as to whether or not your customers really care. Is it worth the expense? Can you still justify it? Is there a return on the investment that you can measure?

I have no idea. All I know is, I want some.

I borrowed a pen from a friend this week-end and it had VIAGRA written on the side of it. I wanted it. That’s funny.

I have a pair of running socks from the Filene Research Institue that I’ve practically built a shrine to.

I ate at the Stepping Stone Cafe in Northwest Portland yesterday where their mugs have their logo and tagline written on them:

“You eat here because we let you.”

I want it. I will buy it. They weren’t for sale. Very cool. Even better. Now I REALLY want it.

When Portland Teachers Credit Union announced they were changing their name to OnPoint Community Credit Union (don’t even get me started) I knew they would also be dumping their great pens. For as long as I can remember, they had these bright orange pens that had no caps, were three-sided so they didn’t roll, and were pretty ugly. BUT that’s what made them so great. They were so recognizable and they would put them in the lobby by the bucketful.

Merchants loved them because….they didn’t have a cap to mess with, they didn’t roll away and were so ugly customers didn’t steal them. You would see those pens everywhere in Portland. I walked into their Lloyd Center branch before the name change and helped myself to an arm load. I know they’ll be collectors items some day and I may sell a few on E-Bay.

I was searching for a coffee cup in an employee lounge recently. I found a “competitors” mug in the cupboard. All pretty and etched.

That’s when I decided it was time to practice what I preach. Brand is NOT your logo or a snappy tag line. It is your reputation. So, if you have a logo or tag line it should truly reflect who and what you are. What you value and practice. Up until recently I didn’t really have a logo or a tag line. But now, I feel I’ve earned one.

I asked my friend Gina Nass to design a logo for me. She knows me better than almost anyone when it comes to my business model. She edited and illustrated my first book. She’s an amazing artist and a beautiful person.

I have always loved the notion of a flying pig. The phrase “when pigs fly” has always made me more determined. I question everything – especially when it comes to the status quo. I think pigs could fly, if we would just let them. And encourage them. Why not? Question EVERYTHING.

Gina emailed me the jpeg of her first draft. She nailed it. And so, to Zazzle I went. And t-shirts and mugs (and soon pens) are crowding my office. I have tchotchkes.

What have tchotchkes done for your business?

I just got out of the shower (where I do my best thinking) and had this amazing thought. What if we had a world without marketing. And by marketing I mean product pushing of any kind.

Here’s what my day would look like.

My phone would only ring if it was someone I knew. I would still need caller ID but I would actually get up and look at it rather than screen all my calls.

Yesterday, my mailbox would’ve been empty (when was the last time you didn’t get ANY mail?)

My shredder would get dusty.

I might turn on my radio again in the car. And the radio stations would have to act so differently because now they are REALLY competing for my iPod time.

VOGUE magazine would be 10 pages.

I would still use my TiVo but just to record shows when I can’t watch them live. When I channel surf it would be so much fun. You could REALLY see what’s on. All the time. I think at first, TV would go off the air again. Just until they could find stuff to fill the 12 hours a day on 800 channels that we would no longer have. Infomericals, gone. I guess we’ll have to actually sleep at 3 am.

This morning when I launched my email box I would’ve received 4 emails, instead of 37. My JUNK mailbox would go away.

Imagine how clean websites would look? At first that might be kind of eerie. But then maybe we’d fill them with art. Pleasant images (not shiny happy people) but actual art. Things wouldn’t POP UP in your way of finding what you are looking for. No one would anticipate my needs electronically.

Imagine driving down the road and pop pop pop all of the billboards would vanish? How much more sky there would be? Are you with me? And sandwich boards on sidewalks — poof, gone. The poor guy dressed like Uncle Sam (okay – out of a job) and store windows you could actually see in.

Scotch tape sales would plummet.

What would YOUR world be like?

I just got back from speaking to a wonderful group of credit union marketers in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
I have to admit, I wasn’t real excited about flying to Wausau Airport, driving 25 miles South to a Holiday Inn. I mean, come on. This hotel’s website boasts an indoor water park. Not the kind of resort “the princess” usually stays in. Boy was I wrong.

First of all I have to give the H.I. big snaps for really building a reputation of solid, dependable, clean and friendly hotels. This hotel was beautiful, nicely appointed, super reasonably priced and the employees beyond friendly.

After speaking all day I was exhausted. Didn’t feel like driving anywhere, or being a hermit with room service so I decided to venture down to the “Little Bar” and get a Shnack. Like the name implies, it’s a little bar. A couple of little tables with chairs and a pretty good sized bar, kind of curved with comfy bar stools. I got one of the last seats at this bar. It immediately felt like a party, and now I know why. Dennis, the bartender.

Dennis shook my hand, introduced himself and then accurately guessed my preference for martini. Bombay Sapphire, up. It was perfection. I told him so. Dennis told me that he’d been bar tending for 44 years, it should be good. As each person came into the bar Dennis not only introduced himself, but flawlessly introduced the new arrival to all the other bar guests. Turns out the Little Bar does not serve food. No worries. I got my food (took Dennis’ recommendation and ordered the salmon) delivered from the restaurant next door. Dennis knows people.

As soon as my fish arrived, I was thinking, hmmmm chardonnay would go nice with this. Swear to god, I did not say it out loud. Dennis came up to me and said, “Shall I get you a glass of white wine to go with your meal?” Impressive.

It was hard to leave the Little Bar. But since I had to get up at 3:30 the next morning to fly home, I bid my new friends a fond farewell. Then I asked Dennis if I could take his picture and post him on my blog. Well, of course I could and I got a great big hug to boot. Everyone in the bar waved and said goodnight to me. When was the last time that happened to you?

It’s not often I get to meet people like Dennis. He embodies the spirit of customer service. It’s truly not a job for him, it’s his passion. You can tell he loves his life, his wife, and serving people. Dennis, thank you for the experience. I look forward to my next trip to America’s Dairyland.

SIDEBAR: We had an awesome discussion at the conference about the California Happy Cows campaign. Seriously. How can they be happy with all that smog? Have you been to Southern Cal lately? You can’t eve see the sky. You don’t see too many restaurants boast “California Cheddar” on their menu. You CAN buy that cheese at 7-11 though. It’s gas station cheese. Wisconsin Cheddar Rocks!!

I would like to take a break from my usual blogging to issue my first ever PSA.


1. DON’T take or make a cell phone call while on the Auschwitz tour in Poland – especially if you’re an American.

2. DON’T hold up the security line in the airport because you have to finish your call before you can drop the phone in the bucket to go through the scanner.

3. DON’T stare at your loudly ringing phone trying to figure out who is calling you at this odd hour — while attending a funeral, or sitting in church, or dining in a restaurant (even if you’re alone), or anywhere. Find your mute button and use it.

4. DON’T take a cell phone call while sitting in my session at a conference and then say loudly into the receiver, “I can’t hear you, I’m in a conference!”

5. DON’T pull a chair up behind me in a bar while I’m trying to listen to Ramon Bermudez (live) and decide to call everyone you’ve ever met to tell them that you’re at a hotel bar in New Mexico. No, not MEXICO — NEW MEXICO!

6. DON’T go to the movies if you can’t live 90 minutes without making or taking a call. Don’t go at all. Stay home. Join Netflix..

7. DON’T make or take cell phone calls when you are dancing with anyone. Even if you don’t like or know the person.

This is my PSA — Please Stop Annoying me.

Thank you for listening, and for not talking.

If you would like to add your own DONT’S to the list, please respond below.

When I was a kid (middle child alert) I LIVED for my birthday. It was MY day. My mom had three girls in three years (ouch) and then two boys. I had to take what I could get. And that was March 8th.

Anyway, since it’s my birthday week (oh yes, we celebrate all week) I’m getting stuff in the mail that, well, doesn’t exactly excite me. My dentist sent me a form letter. My chiropractor, a postcard for a free adjustment hastily signed by the office staff. Aveda sent me a coupon for a free custom perfume which I redeemed today – part of the “experience” involved me having to produce my frequent flyer card AND signing the coupon. Happy Birthday to me. My insurance person, another form letter. You get the idea.

It’s like someone, somewhere at some lame marketing conference said, “Birthdays are an easy way to thank your customers for their business,” and everyone in the audience put their PDAs down and said, “Did I hear easy?”

It’s NOT the thought that counts. It’s the following-through-in-a-personal-I-really-value-you-and-know-that-your-favorite-color-is-yellow-so-I’ve-made-this-card-myself-using-paper-I-hand-dyed-and-folded-in-the-shape-of-a-flying-pig thought that counts.

Just an example.

I used to always confuse this word with sympathy. But now that I’ve been in the customer service business for 20 plus years I realize that neither of these are practiced regularly. Sympathy is most often observed at funerals and charitable events. Empathy can be found in action each week as Ryan Seacrest interviews contestants that just got beat up by Simon. He’s so mean.

I have always been intrigued by a company named USAA. It creeps up in tons of my conversations and research on customer service. It tops the list of Net Promoter Score users, and now has made the cover of Business Week magazine’s first ever ranking of companies where the consumer is king. USAA is ranked number 1.

USAA is an auto and home insurance company open only to military members and their families. Not everyone can join. Interesting concept. Those lucky enough to be customers get service from reps with great benefits, including 2006 bonuses of 16.5%.

The secret to their success? Empathy. They serve military. In employee orientation they eat MREs (meals ready to eat) just like their soldiers do in the field. They also strap on a 65 pound backpack and flak vest – just to get a feel of what their customers go through each day. For one split second, they are in the boots of our troops.

Insurance products are commodities. USAA doesn’t sell anything unique, but the common bond of the military oozes throughout the organization. As one agent put it, “The reason we have choices is because they’re out there giving up theirs.” The least we can do is be nice on the phone when one calls from the field to file a claim.

Interestingly enough, JetBlue was ranked number 4 on Business Week’s list but got crossed off because of the Valentine’s Day debacle that resulted in passengers stranded on the runway for up to 10 1/2 hours. JetBlue did not practice empathy that day — and that’s what lead to the meltdown. The CEO values empathy and is determined to make it part of their culture now. I hope it’s not too late for them.

Credit unions have a common bond. How do they practice empathy? If you serve fire or police, school teachers, postal workers…..longshoremen, grocery clerks, nurses, mechanics…there are tons of opportunities to take your eye off the bottom line (loan income) and on the uniqueness of the people you serve. The people who OWN the credit union.

Love to hear some ideas……

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March 2007