Five Lessons Marketers Can Learn from Tapas Bars

Do you want mushrooms with that?

On a trip to the Rioja region of Spain this month, we stopped in the regional capital, Logroño and sampled the tapas in the legendary area in the heart of the old city, along Calle de Laurel and Traversa de Laurel, with 40 odd tapas bars, open from 8 in the evening until the early hours. With so many tapas bars in a single block, you’d expect cut-throat competition, but for the most part, places stick to their specialties.

Keep it simple

There’s one place that doesn’t even need a menu – it produces one single pincho (a tapa that comes on a slice of baguette) and it has lines out the door. The grilled mushrooms, stacked 2 or 3 high, depending on their size, topped with a tiny shrimp and held together with a toothpick, for a simple price of one euro means the only question the barman asks is ‘how many?’.

Enable and Encourage Social Proof

The way to tell which place has the best tapas (aside from an enormous queue) is to look at the debris of toothpicks and paper napkins on the floor outside each place. The more the better – a sure sign that the food is good. This is the only instance I can think of where littering is a sign of respect. The debris isn’t cleared until the night is over.

Make your offering clear

Chalkboards outside each place list the various tapas on offer that night. Customers can tell at a glance whether the food on offer is up their street or not. (If you don’t understand Spanish, you’ll want a dictionary though!).

Encourage trial

Tapas is usually just a few mouthfuls – no major commitment required. If you like something, you can always buy more.

Brand your stuff

People move from bar to bar, resting their food and wine on the wine barrels outside that serve as tables. If a bar wants to get your plates and glasses back (and for people to recall where they got something from), branding them is a smart move.

¡buen apetito

Tell it like it is

spinning topCall it corporate-speak or spin but whatever you call it, its days are numbered.

When I’m reading copy on a website, my BS filter is set to high. And I’m not alone. People are getting increasingly cynical, their trust betrayed so many times. We made fun of the estate agents when they did it, finding the best possible way to say ‘dark and gloomy’ (ideal for vampires?), but now more and more people are exposed directly to more company-penned copy on brochure-ware websites than ever before.

Back in the dark ages (up until the mid 90s) when the web was in its infancy, most people got their information from newspapers and magazines, and the occasional advert. Adverts were expected to be full of hyperbole but at least it was professionally written hyperbole. very few people, by comparison, would actually read printed brochures for products or services.

The first wave of the web was largely company websites. Copy-writing wasn’t given much thought – the web designer designed the website, the client wrote the copy and very few companies figured that they should get a pro in to write it (more expense? what if this internet thing is just a fad?)

As a result the style of writing we still see on many websites drips with spin and jargon. You can picture the author sitting at his keyboard thinking ‘what’s the best way we can word this to make it sound as impressive as possible?’ when we should be thinking ‘how can I communicate clearly what we offer in a way that makes sense to my intended audience?’

A real life example:

I have an O2 UK Pay-as-you-go SIM I use in my iPhone when I visit the UK. I would like the ability to use the iPhone’s Personal Hotspot feature, just like O2 CZ let me do on my Pay-as-you-go SIM I use in Prague (at no extra cost). If I had a contract with O2 UK I could add the ‘tethering bolt-on’ at an additional cost and I’d be good to go. But I don’t have, need or want a contract. Here’s O2’s explanation of this:

Unfortunately internet tethering is not available for Pay & Go customers.

OK, I guess it is unfortunate, but this doesn’t tell me why and it makes it sound like internet tethering has decided not to make itself available. Or there are some technical reasons why not. The truth could be written like this:

We don’t offer tethering to Pay & Go customers, you need to upgrade to a Pay Monthly tariff.

What’s the downside? People calling to complain about the unfairness of the arbitrary decision to not offer something to one group of customers? [I’m not bitter, honest] The facts of the situation are the same, but this way O2 are owning up to the decision not to offer tethering and explaining the only way the customer can fix it.

We owe it to our customers, clients and audiences to hose down our copy, wash away the BS and tell it like it is.

What are some of the worst examples of corporate-speak you’ve come across lately? Share in the comments.

Image credit: spinning top by luisillusion via Creative Commons on Flickr

Why the Case Study needs to die

princess and the frogThe case study as an element of marketing communications has outlived its usefulness. It’s one of those things that exists as a short-hand for ‘how xyz company benefited from using our product/service’. We’re used to case studies from text books we read at school or university. We’re drawn, to like moths to a flame, to use the term on websites because it has (fake) intellectual weight. It sounds impartial; ‘case’ as in ‘legal case’, ‘study’ as in ‘serious examination’.

Who are we kidding?
A case study on a company’s website is never going to be impartial and it probably isn’t even that exhaustive a study either.

So what do we call them?
How about ‘customer stories’ or ‘customer success stories’? Let’s face it, we’re never going to write about failures of our product or service to meet a need.

What makes a story?
The 5 Elements of a Story are well known, pick your explanation. I’m rather partial to the version that uses the medium of hiphop.

In short: Setting, Plot, Characters, Conflict, Theme

Instead of writing a bland case study these elements, and the fact that we’re calling it a story not a study obliges us to make it interesting and readable.

Who does this already?
Smart companies like MailChimp present their customer successes like this and you can find plenty of examples in business books. You know those business books that are hard to put down? Books like Guy Kawasaki‘s How to Drive the Competition Crazy, Seth Godin‘s Free Prize Inside, David Meerman Scott‘s New Rules of Marketing & PR and others (feel free to add your favourites in the comments below). In these books we hear about how a person overcame a problem, presented in a way that illustrates the writer’s point. These aren’t dry ‘case studies’, though they’re often referred to as such in reviews, perhaps because to call them stories might seem childish.

Further reading
For some detailed learning of why thinking in terms of storytelling, pick up a copy of Ann Handley and CC Chapman’s Content Rules. My Kindle app tells me the word story appears 100 times in the book, that’s how serious those guys are about storytelling.

Let’s remember why we’re doing this
We put content on our websites to be read, not to tick off an item on a to-do list and fill a hole in a sitemap. We owe it to our readers to be interesting, in return for their attention.


image credit: Frog King by freno via Creative Commons on Flickr

Has your business ever moved location?

Moving has the potential to be one of the most stressful events in life, whether it’s your home or business that moves. So many things that can go wrong, so many people to give your updated address to, so many things to update.

The last thing you want to do is have people showing up at locations that have closed (or been taken over by a competitor, as you’ve moved on up to a better location) but if you’ve spent a number of years at a location, there’s bound to be a memory of it out there, whether among your customers, printed directories or immutable and uncontactable online directories.

It’s not a good idea to leave records like this hanging around in Google Places or in any directory listings that you are able to update, but one place you can list your past locations is on your own About or History page. That way when someone searches for your business by name + street name (and if you’re lucky your business type + street name), you’re in with a shot of showing up.

image credit: Septuagent via Creative Commons on Flickr

Guerilla Marketing in Real-time

I’ve long been a fan of guerilla marketing. Maybe it’s my parsimonious nature. Or maybe it’s just the fun aspect of it.

The original book on Guerilla Marketing is 27 years old but its central concept is more relevant with every passing year. Real-time is this year’s buzzword and makes it into the title of David Meermen Scott’s latest book, Real-Time Marketing & PR.

I’ve not read the book yet but from all the examples Scott has given on his blog and in interviews it’s clear that real time marketing is essentially guerilla marketing at internet speed.

So how do you do it? Seize opportunities the instant they present themselves? How do you even find these opportunities? Simple – either buy a lot of screens and try and spot things like that scene in The Matrix where Neo and Mouse are looking at the glyphs on the screen, or you learn how and where to pay attention.

Right now in Paris conference speakers and attendees are arriving at the Le Web conference. These people are digital media and marketing thought-leaders. And they can’t get online in their hotel rooms. What’s the opportunity here? Anyone with the ability to get them net access, right this moment, (bars or cafés, companies with offices nearby, mobile internet providers) gets themselves a lot of goodwill and favourable coverage.

But how would a business be able to find (let alone react) so fast as to benefit from this opportunity? Setting up a marketing radar is a good start. Keeping tabs on upcoming events in your neighbourhood, find the hashtags for conferences taking place on your doorstep, run searches on twitter for them, follow the people tweeting about it. Dig deeper and read reports, reviews and summaries (and tweets, if twitter would let you go back that far) of previous years’ events to find out how you can be useful to these guests in your city.

Marketing Students guilty of negligence?

Marketing BooksAs a marketing graduate I read with interest David Meerman Scott’s views on how many marketing professors could be guilty of malpractice in the way they teach the subject.

Part of me agreed, I remember in a tutor group session explaining Chasm Theory to my fellow students and the lecturer. But then I thought ‘how come I knew about Chasm Theory and other students didn’t?’

The answer is simple – and this advice holds for students of any subject: read around your subject. Voraciously. Find online discussion groups (this was 1996, I was on Guy Kawasaki’s Rules for Revolutionaries mailing list and the contact with real-life tech-savvy marketers was invaluable and inspiring to me). Nowadays there are many more forums, mailing lists and groups to get involved in. Authors, like David and Seth Godin have blogs so you can keep up with what they’re thinking about in-between books. Not that one has to wait long for something to read these days; it seems there’s a new ‘New Marketing’ or Social Media Marketing book published every week. The biggest problem is keeping on top of all this material.

For this reason I would have to disagree, marketing professors shouldn’t be sued for malpractice – they teach to a course, a curriculum set well in advance and based on a course prospectus. I get that the text books are long in the tooth, I think it’s great that David’s New Rules of Marketing & PR is on the reading list for a number of marketing programmes, it should be on more. So should Purple Cow. And How to Drive the Competition Crazy, because the marketing set texts are dry and stuffy. The practice of marketing on the other hand is not – it’s the lifeblood of an organisation. Books that encourage you to try something new, be remarkable and give recent real-world case studies prove that.

Is there still a place for Kotler?

Absolutely. A lot of Marketing Management is just common sense couched in academic terms, but it needs to be ingested. Some of it just begs to be overturned (one of my favourite essay approaches was using contemporary case studies to prove a particular assumption wrong) but for a book like ‘New Rules’ to make any sense, don’t you have to know what the old rules are? Don’t you need an idea of what kind of predictable moves the competition are likely to make? (Admittedly an assumption on my part – that the competitor’s marketing team are still running on Marketing 1.0.)

Shiny object syndrome

The presenters of the marketing podcast Marketing Over Coffee often refer to ‘Shiny object syndrome’ – the way that some people obsess over the latest new toy/social network/location-based game. There’s a danger in pursuing the shiny object too fervently. if marketing lecturers had spent a semester teaching Second Life, a few years back, how would those students feel about that module now? I was taught basic HTML as part of my marketing course. It was somewhat superfluous for me, but for the rest of the class? At least they understand the difference between H1 and P tags. If the lecturer had taught Pagemill (yes I’m that old) instead, how much use would those lessons be now?

What to do?

I was impressed to learn that my alma mater now includes real-world marketing experience as part of the course. Students are, under adult supervision, given a small budget to market a local business. Assignments like this will favour students that read around and are familiar with the more efficient methods that Marketing 2.0 brings. Universities could provide recommended reading lists, but that takes away the initiative from the student. Marketing students ought to be mavericks, railing against the hegemony of Kotler et al. Anyone who isn’t is doomed to play by the old rules. Any student that doesn’t take their education seriously and relies on their professors for all their learning is themselves negligent. So what’s the answer? Drum home the message READ AROUND YOUR SUBJECT!

Image credit: Hubspot via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Reward and encourage enthusiasm, not just long service

A recent stay in hospital gave me a first person lesson in the difference between enthusiasm, professionalism and downright hostility.

During the 4 days I was there I and my ward-mates were looked after by a number of nurses of differing skill levels and ages. The student nurses were the most enthusiastic, friendly and generally interested in talking to us patients. They needed guidance from time to time, but hey, that’s why they’re students. The recently qualified were similar, efficient, and very personable. Those who had been in the job more than a few years were professional, thoughtful and helpful, though they’d seen it all before so getting into involved chats with patients wasn’t their thing.

The ones that stuck out like a sore thumb (pun intended) were the ones that must have been pretty close to retirement. It was clear that they viewed patients as an imposition on their TV time, they coughed on patients, ignored requests (from a guy confined to his bed!) for as long as they could, passing the buck onto the other. It was clear that they’d become jaded with the job, so bored that they seem to have turned it into a game with points going to the one who can treat patients the worst.

What does this have to do with marketing? Simple: It’s all about ‘guest experience’. Take a look at the people in your organisation. Have any of them become jaded, phoning in (or worse) their effort? Have customers become an inconvenience to them? Does giving anything more than the bare minimum seem like needless over-achieving?

Take action to either incentivise or just fire these people. They’re bringing the perceptions of your organisation right down. Your customers are facing a pot-luck as to whether they have a great, good, or awful experience with you.

Not sure how to test this?

  • Look at whatever KPIs you can to compare staff
  • listen to interactions (though they may raise their game just when you’re around)
  • survey your customers (better still, survey the customers you may have just lost).

As you do this, give praise to the people doing it right, learn from those that go above and beyond, put the spotlight on them and get everyone to raise their game.

Above all make sure that the ‘guest experience’ that people get from your company is the one you had assumed they’re getting.

Image credit: slightlynorth via Creative Commons on Flickr

Nobody seeks out vague promises

As marketers we all love to promise the earth but you need to be able deliver on what you’re offering. If you need to use weasel words and internal jargon to qualify your promises, you’re doing it wrong.

When you see an advert for flatscreen TVs offering a ‘free Blu-Ray player with selected TVs’ – what’s your thought process? Is it ‘ooh, I’m gonna get a free Blu-Ray player’ or is it ‘I bet the one I want doesn’t come with a free Blu-Ray player’. How about a sale sign that offers ‘Up to 50% off’? I guess it depends on whether you’re a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person. Maybe you get a nice surprise or maybe you’re disappointed. The one thing that word ‘selected’ doesn’t do is fill you with confidence because it immediately creates a doubt in your mind.

Customers don’t know what ‘selected’ means in that context, they don’t know what a company’s ‘primary service areas’ are. All they know is that the company wants their offer to sound good whilst leaving some wiggle room. Customers don’t care about a company’s ability to squirm out of providing something. They want what they’re promised.

Under-promise, over-deliver
That’s what we should aim for. That’s what gets customers telling their friends about us. The opposite can make people talk about us for all the wrong reasons.

If you’d prefer to state up front everything people can expect from you as part of your service or offering, then go ahead, but don’t hide behind puffery and ambiguity. If there are limitations, don’t be afraid to state them – you’ll only be called on it later if you don’t.

Image credit: kjpm via Creative Commons on Flickr

Banding Together

Is your local retail business going well? Some of your (not ‘really competing’) neighbours doing worse?

I wrote a piece last year about why you might want to help out those who you might consider competitors. I’ve just seen first hand what can happen when a company’s neighbour goes out of business: a much more serious competitor can move in.

My local sandwich shop, a small independently owned business has been serving baguettes, salads and paninis for over 5 years. Later this month a sandwich-shop chain is opening up in place of a cafe, just three doors away. They should have them beaten on price, unless the new shop gets aggressive and goes after their loyal customer base of office workers from around the area. As it stands they’ll attract business just on the basis of curiosity.

Now is the time for the little guy to raise their game, whether they broaden the menu, encourage loyalty (the chain already has a loyalty discount card) and raise their service level: offer delivery, take pre-orders – all the things the chain isn’t willing to do.

If that situation sounds familiar to you, now might be a good time to reach out to them and work on some co-marketing efforts – banding together to ward off a bigger threat.

Image credit: Chiceaux via Creative Commons on Flickr

Service with a Snarl

Having just experienced a truly awful customer service experience (not traumatic or damaging and I won’t bore you with it) I was prompted to write this post. What was awful about it is that it exposed just how customer hostile this particular supermarket chain’s processes are.

The customer is always right

Even when they’re not. This has been done to death. You never win an argument with a customer. If you win the argument you’re likely to lose the customer. Of course there are times when you might actively seek to end a relationship with a customer, but there are subtle ways to do it and wantonly destructive customer service is not one of them.

Never ask a customer to do something you wouldn’t do yourself

Ask yourself if your company’s customer service polices are designed for the organisation’s convenience, not the customer’s. Are they designed to stave off enquiries rather than make customers happy?

The only timeframe that counts is the customer’s

Your internal metrics might be based on things like average time to respond (not necessarily solve) to customer queries. That’s important, but it’s everything. If you’re doing things in the background like tracing a late delivery for a customer, keeping them in the loop makes sense – at least they don’t feel ignored, but until they have the product in their hand there is still a problem in ther mind.

The only outcome that matters is that the customer is satisfied

Customers make decisions about whether to recommend a company and whether to do repeat business with them based on the level of service they receive. If anything goes wrong that counts even more. Handling complaints quickly and to the customer’s satisfaction should be your primary aim. You can do as many lifetime value and acquisition cost calculations as you like, there’s no way to know just how much damage an unhappy customer can cause you.

Customer Service is Marketing

In many companies, the customer services department is still seen purely as a cost centre, where the aim is to get the customer out of your hair, as quickly as possible. If that sounds like your company, and you’re in the marketing department you need to take control of the situation and demand more involvement. Every touchpoint with a customer is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken the relationship. Do you even know what your CS frontline staff are saying to your hard-won customers? Marketers need to make sure that the whole customer experience is the best it can be.

Image credit: bthomso via Creative Commons on Flickr