And I Suppose VRM is the New Customer Service

A heads up for folks who are interested in learning more about (a) customer service and support, (b) marketing or (c) Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) — I’ll be leading a workshop session at the "Customer Service is the New Marketing" conference next Monday here in SF.  The details:

Customer Service is the New Marketing

I’ll be facilitating a workshop called "Vendor Relationship Management (VRM): Enabling buyers and sellers to build mutually beneficial relationships."

Monday, 4 Feb 2008

The Golden Gate Club
Presidio National Park
135 Fisher Lane
San Francisco, CA 94129

Seeya there…


This is still one of my favorite projects, ever.


"The Obey campaign can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology.  The first aim of Phenomenology is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment.  The Obey campaign attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the campaign and their relationship with their surroundings.  Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with Obey propaganda provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail.

The medium is the message."


Social Networking for Business and the Law: A Podcast

(iTunes) (MP3)

Ok, that was fun.  Had a chance to chat last week regarding social networking with a bunch of great folks, including:

Here’s a quick overview, courtesy of L2L:

"Social networking sites have reconnected old friends and former colleagues, created  networking ties and have rekindled relationships all over the world. On Lawyer2Lawyer, we will explore privacy rights, intellectual property issues and even defamation and cyber bullying, all rising from social networking sites and discuss the popularity of these sites and the legal issues surrounding the online world of social networking."

This podcast was part of a series done by the LegalTalkNetwork (standard disclaimer: neither am I a lawyer, nor do I play one on the internet).  Here’s a link to the show.

Starbucks Coffee Leaves a Bitter Aftertaste for Customers

Starbucks new strategy to attract customers has left a bitter taste for at least one customer.  John Moore, who worked as a marketer at Starbucks for over eight years, takes issue with the new Starbucks $1 cup o’ joe, which undercuts both McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts prices, according to Reuters.  John writes:

"In a bigger shift in marketing strategy than spending millions on national television advertising, Starbucks is now selling short-sized cups of brewed coffee for a $1.00 and offering free refills at Seattle-area locations…Oh My!.  A low-price strategy is indeed the quickest pathway to commoditizing and marginalizing coffee back to being, well, just coffee."

Read John’s full post regarding the new Starbucks strategy here.

I have to concur: unless Starbucks is modifying its strategy to be a low-cost provider, per Porter, this would seem to go against their historical approach to providing an "experience" to their customers.  What do you think?

After 32 Years, Apple Finally Crosses the Chasm

Crossing the Chasm
is the title of the 1991 book by Geoffrey Moore that describes how technology products enter the mainstream.  Moore posited that although many tech products are often gobbled up by the innovators and visionaries, they then often languish in a "chasm" that lies between those same early adopters and the mainstream.  Wikipedia says:

"Moore argues there is a chasm between the early adopters of the product (technology enthusiasts and visionaries) and the early majority (the pragmatists).
Moore believes visionaries and pragmatists have very different

A huge part of that chasm crossing is having a critical mass of "references" who are similar to the prospective buyers who give prospective mainstream buyers confidence that a product will work for them, too.

Check out today’s post by David Pogue of the New York Times, Explaining the Macintosh Surge.  It’s spot on.  (Read the comments, too.)  It wasn’t just one thing that has brought Apple to where it is today.  It’s a combination of things, including:

  • The marketwide move to new machines triggered, frankly, by Vista (gotta buy something)
  • Awareness of Apple through their media activities (both ads and coverage)
  • Mainstream (read "non-geeks") comfort with Apple’s iPod and iPhone
  • An increasing number of "reference" customers that span across demographics

Is this another example of patience and persistence paying off?

Contrarian Sales Thinking

  Originally uploaded by nyominx.

This post from Aaron Ross challenges a number of traditional sales assumptions.   Aaron claims:

  • Salespeople do not cause customer acquisition growth, they fulfill it.
  • Lead generation causes new customer acquisition and sales fulfills it.
  • Boards & CEOs exacerbate the problems of poor sales planning
  • Sales people tend to retreat to the safe place of what they know rather than taking the risk of trying new things.

According to Aaron, the things that do work are more subtle. He
says, "Unfortunately, there aren’t any quick fixes to this lead
generation problem today. In fact, if you don’t have any repeatable
leadgen programs yet, you’re already behind in getting ready for ’08.
Despite your investors’ demands, it takes 12-18 months to get leadgen

He then gives his list of what does work.  Aaron’s Top 5:

  1. Trial-and-error in lead generation (requires patience, experimentation, money)
  2. Patience in building great word-of-mouth (the highest value leadgen source, but hardest to influence)
  3. Cold Calling 2.0 (by far the most predictable source of pipeline, but it takes time and focus)
  4. Building an excited partner ecosystem (very high value, very long time-to-results)
  5. PR (great if you’re great at getting it!)

What do you think?  Is Aaron on track? Here’s a link to the post.

Apple: Air Time

Okay, wide-eyed fanboy time.  Apple’s banners for the big Macworld show read "There’s something in the air."

Dave Winer is lusting after a "a wifi-based iPod that synchs without tethering to a laptop or desktop, or a new iPhone/iPod that synchs over the cell network."

Steve Rubel is betting on "over the air online partner services for laptops, iphones and ipods. Think Kindle."

My pipedream:  "Something in the air" is enabling iTunes radio on the iPhone over the network.  (How cool would that be in the car?)

Ok fans and trolls…your turn…

photo: appleinsider

Let’s Look At The Big Picture: How Does This Affect Me?

JP writes:

"Information is going to be like money. And we’re going to move it around like money. [We already are.] Institutions that hold information are going to be like banks. With a variety of services, and with rights and duties associated with our information, varying according to the service we sign up for."

In taking JP’s statement at face value and doing some reading, I found out a number of things regarding the history of money in North America about which I had been previously unaware.  These items may (or, admittedly, may not) provide a number of parallels that could be useful now as we think about issues such as online identity, customer behavior, and VRM.

Lesson 1: "Money" was very fragmented for a very long period of time after the colonization of North America

"Money" as we think of it in the form of cash/paper currency has only been around for about 150 years.  Over a period of almost two hundred years both before and after that time, a number of fragmented methods were used to exchange value.  These included, but were not limited to:

Wampum – Wampum, or "shell money," is a medium of exchange that was once common. The History of the Canadian Dollar states, "The Aboriginal peoples of eastern North America placed a high value on strings and belts fashioned from beads of white or purple shells found on the eastern seaboard. Early English settlers called such articles “wampum,” an abbreviation of an Algonquin word sometimes spelled wampumpeague. French settlers called shell beads porcelaine.  Wampum was highly valued, partly because of the difficulty in making shell beads even after European tools became available in the seventeenth century. By one estimate, it took 119 days to make a 5,000-bead belt (Lainey 2004, 18). Strings and belts made from purple beads were roughly twice the value of those made from white beads, since the purple shell was much more difficult to work." (cite)

Specie – Coins made of gold, silver or other metal.

Potlatch – Potlatch is a festive event within a regional exchange system among tribes of the North pacific Coast of North America, including the Salish and Kwakiutl of Washington and British Columbia.  Sponsors of a potlatch give away many useful items such as food, blankets, worked ornamental mediums of exchange called "coppers", and many other various items. In return, they earned prestige. To give a potlatch enhanced one’s reputation and validated social rank, the rank and requisite potlatch being proportional, both for the host and for the recipients by the gifts exchanged. Prestige increased with the lavishness of the potlatch, the value of the goods given away in it. (cite)

Barter – Trading one good for another

Furs – The pelts of native animals such as beavers

Tobacco – The leaf of the tobacco plant

Tobacco Notes -The US state of Virgina was using "tobacco notes" as a substitute for currency by 1713.  Tobacco farmers would take their crops to warehouses for weighing, testing and storage, and inspectors would issue "notes" that could be exchanged in lieu of moving the actual leaves around. (cite)

The key thing to note here is that it took hundreds of years for these various value storage media to converge (and both the convergence and creation of new ways of storing financial value continues today…remember that the oldest Euro coins and banknotes in the world are seven years old, the same age as a first-grader).

Now, let’s think about our information about ourselves, our attention, and our purchase histories through the prism of the points above.  Our information is undeniably a valuable asset.  However, at the current time, we’re at the wampum and furs part of the cycle as far as managing it.  These various bits of our online identity and history are in disparate forms, with each bit of information in a different vendor’s CRM system in a non-transferable and often inaccessible state. 

Lesson 2: Everybody needs to win

After the ideas of "cash" and "checks" had taken hold and become widespread, there were still many inefficiencies in the system.  Cash is cumbersome, and subject to loss.  Checks may bounce.  This continued until the mid-1900’s.

Enter the credit card.*

The credit card resonated with both customers and vendors because both parties received benefits.  For customers, the were afforded an unprecedented amount of flexibility and convenience, in addition to delayed billing.  For vendors, it’s a lever for differentiation and reduced transactional friction, as well as a way to access customers who might have previously found the vendor’s products beyond reach.  For the issuers, it’s a rich revenue stream.  (For now, we’ll assume that the credit cards are being used wisely by customers and not as mechanisms that get individuals into long-term financial straits through overextension.)   Perhaps the success of the credit card was a result of this win-win-win scenario.

Now, the widespread usage of credit cards was not something the occurred overnight.  Instead, it was something that occurred over a generation.  In 1970, only 16% of American households had credit cards.  However, by 1995, that number had climbed to 65%. (cite)

As VRM continues to evolve, it is these win-win (or win-win-win) situations that will be kept in mind.  Without benefit to all parties, the effort will be stillborn (or, at least stymied).  With a view toward mutual benefit, however, the opportunities are expansive.

* – Kudos to Drummond for suggesting this parallel between credit cards and the necessity of mutual benefit as a precondition to VRM success.

photo credit:

Anonymity Is Required

In the context of the Gizmodo social hack, Seth writes:

"Anonymity is the enemy, whether it’s online or walking around a trade show with a clicker in your pocket."

I vehemently disagree with Seth’s statement.  Here’s why.

Seth’s viewpoint of "anonymity is the enemy" only works if one is secure: physically, financially and emotionally.  Unfortunately, there are still many, many people in the world where that is not the case.  Here are three:

  • Whistleblowers
  • Political Dissidents
  • Victims of violent or family crime

For any of those groups, anonymity is the means through which they can effect change.

In some cases, for those groups, anonymity is the thing that’s keeping them alive, literally.  On that note, I want to make a shout out to the TOR Project.  The TOR site says:

"Hundreds of thousands of people around the world use Tor for a
wide variety of reasons: journalists and
bloggers, human rights workers, law enforcement officers, soldiers,
corporations, citizens of repressive regimes, and just ordinary
citizens. See the Who Uses Tor? page for
examples of typical Tor users.
See the overview page for a
more detailed explanation of what Tor does, why this diversity of
users is important, and how Tor works."

What Gizmodo did was a social hack, not unlike a flashmob or Santarchy

It was not a crime, as Seth called it. 

If someone turning off a TV is a crime to get up in arms about where you live, consider yourself very, very fortunate.