Archive for May, 2009

When is a book not a book?

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

I have started many speeches with that question, because it’s rare that a book is actually a book. For the business author, a book is a very thick business card. It is one powerful way to influence world events by sharing what you know with people whom you otherwise might not meet – or making an extraordinary impression on the people you do know. Who would not want to transform tens of thousands of lives and business deals in a single stroke (actually several if you type your own manuscripts)? In the broadest of terms,  a book is a way of branding yourself and your organization. It is also a source of revenue that once vitalized has no reason to stop earning its keep many times over.

And so with great excitement this week, I stepped onto the floor of the Jacob Javits convention center in New York, to meet the international partners who would take our current catalog and bring it to Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. Our books are not books here. Our books are messengers of America’s best practices, smartest people and a symbol of what we do best here – innovate and then advocate.

Or course, I met up with some old friends including CSPAN. More than a decade ago, I interviewed Brian Lamb (genius behind the programs) about his first book: Booknotes. Here was a man who had spent his favorite hours in television interviewing authors and finally writing about those interviews. It was like a picture in a picture. But, what struck me most about Brian was not the substance of the books he explored. It was his love for detail. He rooted out where the writers wrote, what chair, what light, and when, and with what implement. I don’t know if the anthropology of writers’ lives were as compelling to anyone else as it was for him, but I know his documentation will make a difference sometime in the future. For him, books weren’t books. They were an amalgam of the people, time and place that these works were created.

Do you have a book in you? I have brought many speeches to a close with that question. Well, do you?

BookExpo2009withCSPAN

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Who’s The Target, Target?

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

You know who did me a “Fay-vah?” You’ll never guess. Target. Actually, you‘d never think of it as a “fay-vah.”  It would normally be called the rudest possible customer “service.” Apparently, in the upside world that blames our entire economic misery on the robber barons at AIG, Lehman Bros (okay, I lost a lot of money on that one, too) et al, we have forgotten that consumer confidence drives purchases (and the stock market).

I wouldn’t call it consumer confidence anymore. Let’s call it pain tolerance. Shopping – that’s right, spending MONEY that greases the machine for all of us, is almost too hard to do at most retailers.

Here’s a ditty about one of devolving shopping experiences I endured in several stores this weekend. On Sunday evening, with my last bit of retail courage, Jon and I went to a Target Supreme (okay, Super) Store on La Cienega in Los Angeles. It’s quite a drive from Bel Air, but this Target is really big and open late. The check out gal kept smelling a bottle of Axe body wash Jon bought, checking him out with a lot more focus than she had for the other items in our usual Targetmanical shopping spree. “Oooooo,” she sang over and over like Diana Ross, “this is the nicest thing I’ve smelled all day,” as she rubbed the plastic bottle. Fine, Jon’s a handsome man, he smells good and apparently she’s spent the day with foul smelling products or people or whatever she’s comparing it/him to.

The real problem is revealed when we drive, like the last little piggy, all the way home. “Did you bring in another bag?” Jon asks me. Because Jon is the most chivalrous, strong and just darn helpful man in the world, my answer is no. When we arrived home, as usual, I entered the house empty handed and was immediately attacked with pent up affection by our two small dogs. I find holding bags impedes my participation in their wildly enthusiastic greeting ritual.

We realize the Target smell good girl didn’t give us all our bags. Oddly, the body wash is with us, but not the Mother’s Day cards and a small fortune in (and week’s supply, which is five bags of) dog snacks. For some reason, our dogs snack, they don’t get treats. I think we say, “snack,” because our dogs don’t do anything to “earn” a life size fake bacon strip or tiny adorable fake porterhouse steak. So, to be honest, we just ask the dogs, “Would you like a snack?”  We’re those kind of straightforward people.

We also find a leaking diet Rockstar emptying into a thin plastic Target bag – sorry, we forgot to bring our canvas bags, which would have soaked in a Rorschach stain to remember.

We drive back to Target, in some part because 7-11 has Terminator cups that Jon is collecting, and there are two or three 7-11 stores along the way. If there’s an action movie opening, we drink a lot of slurpees.

We arrive back at Supreme Target and stand in line at its customer no-service area. The gals behind the counter are screaming and laughing and talking and look like unwashed, bloated homeless people in red vests. They are as rude and crude as high school detention students.

The one with the hair that hasn’t been washed this year, finds our ungiven bag. “You musta lef it here,” she raps at us. We nod because we’ve learned from grade school that there’s no retort that transforms bullies into decent people. Jon has the physical means to change their brains, but we are decent people and she and her sister-in-customer-service are girl-bullies, so that’s not an option.

We present the punctured Rockstar can. “Ah dohn no what ya kin do with dat. Yoh bought a 4 pack and ya dohn bring me dah 4 pack,” she emits linguistically. I suggest we go and get a replacement can. We (Jon) does. Then we wait 20 minutes while she looks at our receipt like an immigration officer at the Mexican border scrutinizing our passports as we pass through the swine flu inspection gate.

I have experienced this and chronicled it in order to sound an alarm about our economy, even as the stock market inches upward this quarter. To everyone who is wondering why retail sales are down, you know why. It’s that no one can successfully or pleasantly shop. If I told you my whole day, including asking 5 dumbstruck clerks (all grown ups) where I could find cabinet baby locks at Bed, Bath and Beyond Hell, and trying to buy a cup of coffee at a giant Starbucks that didn’t have hot coffee, you would remind me to never leave the house.

Back at Target, she says, “Ah am doin you a FAY-VAH, you uhnerstan? So dohn you be nuhthin but nice to me. Ah am doin you a FAY-VAH, a FAH-VAH you uhnerstan? Ah dohn work in dat department. Ah’m not involved with the drinks or nuthin you have a problem with.”

No, I “dohn unnerstan.” Your store’s check out person doesn’t give me all my stuff, I’m sent home with a leaking can in a four pack and I’m tired of begging clerks to clerk. I go find the manager. A young man whose soiled red vest is flapping open above his untucked shirt, is identified by another cashier as the manager. I quickly share my problem. His eyes dart and his mouth is slack. “I really ain’t no manajah. He on lunch, so he ask me to take over. You wanna fill out a customer card?” says the “acting manager.”

I leave the store. Jon grips the dog treats and holds a new Rockstar aloft like a prize. “I got her to replace ours,” he says after a negotiation where small countries could have been bought and sold during the same time.

So, Target – cut out all those hipster ads targeting people like me, who are “swing shoppers,” so-called because we’re as likely to shop at Neiman Marcus as we are at Target. We drive luxury cars but we wash them ourselves. Hence we visit Target with credit cards that have no balances because we pay our bills.

Invest the money you’re draining with your ads into recruitment and training for your clerks. Same for you Bed, Bath and Beyond My Tolerance for Dazed, Confused and Angry, Unkempt Clerks. Same for you Saks Fifth Avenue, making an appointment at La Mer for a free “half-hour makeover” that that didn’t involve any making over, just a bait and switch sales pitch for seriously over-hyped kelp-fed hope in a jar. Honestly, I didn’t wear make-up to work for this?

Give your people some attention because they’re not paying any to the traffic you’re driving with your uber-cool ads and giant 20% off any-item-in-the-store-if-you-can-find-one coupons. And, don’t get me started on the Saks “make-up artist” who told me about his mother being happy to be hit by a car and enjoy being a quadriplegic now that “her kids are grown.” Wow, that’s a mid-day downer.

So, how is your brand “represented” at customer touch points?

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