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12 posts from September 2006

September 28, 2006

My second Margaret Mead Moment

"Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens could change the world, indeed it's all that ever has."  Margaret Mead.

I'm not quite home from attending my second Margaret Mead moment for the year.

The first moment was while attending BlogHer.org in July and seeing 750 women blogging their thoughts to the world. The BlogHer women were part of over 5000 women in the BlogHer's directory. If you don't think they will have a profound effect on consumer business, think again. Consumer power is definitely shifting as the everyday person understands their clout as much as those trying to market to them.

The second came this week while attending a women's leadership conference. This time the viewpoint wasn't coming from consumers, but from inside a mega corporation. More on that soon.

Both groups are giving women the tools and support they need to change their own personal and professional world. Small groups of connected women - you're going to love the world they are creating.

September 22, 2006

It's about time...

This weekend I saw an ad on TV advertising that a company's tech reps show up on time. I'm one of their customers and I can say that wasn't the case for me a couple years ago. Since then they must have figured out that customers appreciate promptness when they are paying for a service.

My question is, when did "being on time" go from a starting point to a selling point? Is it just me or is there something sad about our business climate when we have to advertise such a basic courtesy?  "Order our product not because it's better or will improve your life, but because we show up on time to install it." It's akin to the unspoken tagline another company had, "Use us because we'll tick you off less than the other guys." And perhaps that's the point.

September 19, 2006

Part II of Judy's Book Interview with Chris DeVore

Continued from yesterday's post...

For those who doubt the dramatic affect that women are having on the market need only look at what is happening daily in Judy's Book. Women do behave differently offline and online - they talk more than men, they share more than men, and until men care as much as they do about shopping for a great deal, they’ll buy more than men. They are the not only the dominate buyers, but also the dominant influencers of all the other buyers. Remember yesterday's stats? If you boil them down, about 2000 people influence the other million coming to the site - and 80% of those 2000 are women.

The online "book" is breathing example of why companies need to listen and trust what their female customers are telling them because the largest block of reviewers with the highest trust levels, are women. As Judy’s Book grows, that won’t change, therefore what women think will drive the consumer market more than ever before. And it will all happen organically, honestly, and without the use of gimmicks. All they needed was a good tool to connect them.

This is great for consumers, but are merchant’s liking it?

It’s still a bit early, according to Chris DeVore, COO of Judy's Book. Early adopters are coming on board to add a starter comment which is either a “thank you” in response to a good recommendation or a “my side of the story” post if the comment isn’t so complimentary. Only on Judy’s Book can you see give and take conversations. Savvy merchants are learning that they need to acknowledge and respond to both positive or negative reviews. In the case of negative reviews, they could say something as simple as “I’m so sorry, this is what was going on at our business at the time, please give us another chance.” Those merchants who understand this new social search media and can work with it will be reaping the benefits going forward. Afterall, the more content and discussion that happens around a business, the more that business gets seen and the more business that they are going to get.

“Merchants need to get wise to perception management,” says Chris, “For example you might have your webpage optimized to come up first on the search engines, but now a bad review might come up before your webpage. They need to know the risks of these reviews as it could hurt them in a very real, economic sense.”

Are the reviewers rewarded for their hard work?

They can’t be paid by Judy’s Book or it would jeopardize the integrity of the whole system, but Chris says that besides little fun awards there are a couple things in the works. One is a non-profit program that pays commissions on sales to a charity of their choice. The other is a real revenue sharing model. Merchants already pay sales commissions to those who drive traffic to their site, so they are setting up a shopping application to reward top reviewers. If you’re the one who posts the deal that someone else reads about and buys, then you’ll get a commission on that purchase.

This seems to counter the integrity issue, but Chris reminds me that the system will take care of that. “You only get to the top postings by having a high Trust Score which the community votes on. You could post tons of deals, but if no one trusts your word – no one will follow through and buy. Commission checks are truly earned by both parties. Merchants have to have a top notch offering and reviewers have to have a top notch Trust Score… In other words, we’re creating a force of commissioned sales reps who get rewarded for being truthful.”

Wow – what a concept!

It's worth the time to support Judy’s Book both as a buyer and a seller. What Judy Albert knew as a sole proprietor is that spreading the good word about other businesses meant that then those businesses also supported you. (Besides the fact that it was just a nice thing to do for clients.)

Consequently, the women and men who are taking the time to tell others about great services are also being rewarded. Social search is still in the try and fly stage and millions will have to use it on a regular basis before it replaces the paper yellow pages for good, but it's a step in the right direction. Andy and Chris deserve kudos for doing a great job of translating what happens offline into an online experience complete with the human element.

September 18, 2006

Judy’s Book: One women, two guys and millions of readers…

Sometimes you are born into the softer side of business and sometimes you get there by embracing that side’s concept and expanding it. Such is the case with the co-founders of Judy’s Book (and blog) Andy Sack and Chris DeVore. Their story is worth reading as a lesson to all who want to work with the softer side of social search, but don't know how.

Judy’s Book is an online consumer review site for services and soon, products. Think yellow pages with a lot of local color opinions and deals. I talked with Chris DeVore, the COO, of Judy’s book to learn more about how two guys managed to “get” and expand word-of-mouth marketing which is the core of Judy's book.

First some background.

Judy’s Book really started with Andy’s mother-in-law, Judy Albert back when she and her husband managed real estate in Seattle. As a house warming present for their new home owners and renters, Judy gave them a copy of her “little green book” which contained the names of professionals and business in the area that she trusted and used.

Andy and his wife were the recipients of her book when they first came to Seattle. They found it so useful that it got him and his friend Chris thinking about how people make choices while shopping for services offline and online. Both have extensive experience in web applications and they soon learned that there was very little in “institutional content” that supported the friend-to-friend process. You could read opinions from strangers, or check out a feature benefit comparison sites, but nothing there was nothing based on personal recommendations from trusted friends.

In June of 2004 they launched an application that could take this rather closed and private experience and put it online making it public and collaborative. In honor of its originator, they called it Judy’s Book and today it has over 1 million unique visitors a month. Sadly, Judy Albert passed away from cancer during its formation, but her namesake is a true reflection of her helpful nature.

Chris and Andy are examples of what it means to embrace the cultural shift to the softer side of business. Yes, they are young men who understand the business benefits of using the Internet. Yes, they have managed to get through two rounds of venture capital financing which means they can “talk” as well as they “tech.” But they also understand and respect the real give and take of a social exchange and have built in ways to keep the system self-policing and honest. Human nature, not policies, keep everyone in check and talking in Judy’s Book.

Just how did they take a little book with a face-to-face conversation and bring it online while maintaining its friendly nature and honesty?

“Andy and I are both men and so we thought about [the design] in as much as our needs were met as women, it wasn’t gender specific. What we found after it was launched, however, was that the folks that tended to gravitate towards it and become the most active and passionate users were women,” Chris told me.

Briefly, Judy’s Book is based on several social systems. First, Judy Albert’s personality and need to share what worked and didn’t work for her, second E-Bay’s rating system and third Craig’s list method of flagging idiots and getting them out of the mix.

“We tried to learn from the folks that are doing a good job of community work already,” Chris explained, “I’m sure you’re familiar with Craig’s List and E-Bay. Both of those sites, E-Bay in particular have seller rating mechanism that allows folks to develop a reputation in their community based on how well they fulfill their commitment – do they have good products, do they deliver on time, do they honor returns… and the Craig’s list model gave the community a way to self-police jargon by using flags which identifies bad actors and remove them from the site. There are just too many categories and pockets for us to do it ourselves. Our members have been very good about taking responsibility for the health of the community. Some examples of jargon that might be flagged would be spam, porn, really nasty remarks, or promoting something that isn’t what people searched for.”

The difference between Judy’s little green book and Judy’s Book online is that now thousands and thousands of “Judys” (and some Jim’s) are able to recommend to others a service in their own town. Each month millions of unique visitors visit the site. Of them, 10,000 or more leave one recommendation and over 2,000 have become passionate and active reviewers. “The one-time reviewer base is split about 50/50 men to women, but multiple-time reviewers who are really the heart and soul of Judy’s Book are predominately, women – about 80%,” Chris offered. “They are very passionate and active, posting over 10 reviews a day with lots of comments and lots of feedback to other members.”

Judy’s Book has become a consumer knowledge gathering machine, not only collecting critical buying triggers, but also learning what kind of social environment women thrive in.

Chris said that what they intended originally changed as more and more women came on board. “What we found is that we built something for the local experience to be used by those in their city or town,” he said, “And what we learned was that those who were using it the most actively and trying hard to help out each other locally, also wanted to connect at a national level. They really saw each other as a community.”

So who are these consumers and reviewers of Judy’s Book?

“Predominately, they are people who are making the purchasing decisions for their family,” says Chris. “They typically aren’t young [25-54], are college educated, aren’t using the Internet for fun, and are using the Internet to help run their family lives and save their family money. For them, saving money wasn’t something that was just nice to have, it was a core part of their value system. They were using Judy’s Book as a tool to connect, share their passions and how to make better choices.”

Now the big question… how do you keep everyone on the up and up?

“We have a ‘TrustScore’ which we modeled after Google who uses page rank to determine relevancy, “explains Chris. “In the case of Google, the more people link to you and rely on your site, the higher the ranking.  The same logic applies to our TrustScore which measures the activities of people over a period of time… how often they come, what they’ve written, what have they bookmarked, how many thumbs up votes… and we turn that into a score which reflects not our opinion but the communities opinion of a trusted reviewer. It’s not a substitute for going in and making your own judgment, but it is a way to say at first glance, that this person’s been around for a while maybe they do know what they are talking about. Or, hey, this person’s new, maybe I should take what they say with a grain of salt.”

Judy’s Book is very simple in its execution. Members can join for free and start putting together their own network of new friends, using the TrustScore as a way to start identifying those who seem good for their word. It’s sort of a mini blog inside of the Judy’s Book environment. Soon, they are allowing outside bloggers to be part of this network as well.

This friend-to-friend thing is a big difference from other rating or opinion sites; it lets you get a feel for the person who is making the recommendation. You can go behind the scenes and see a photo of them and start to trust them as a person based on the history that they have on the site which is all transparent to visitors. And if you’re new best friends don’t have an answer, you can always make a public post and ask the other millions coming to the site for their opinion. What’s not to like?

What else has changed in a year?

What I liked best about Judy's team is that they really listen to their reviewers. With the help and coaching of their more passionate members,[women] they introduced a series of features to bring price into the concept. It’s in beta testing now, but it will give the buyer the most complete picture possible and help validate a buyer’s decision.

“The aha for us which just came to us after the first iteration of the site, was really about quality and reviews and ratings of local services. That helped us discover that value is a big deal for these folks... Part of determining value was the price and there was always a trade off in the decision in that they wanted to get the best product and service, but one at a price that fits into their budget. Our original idea didn’t really have make room for the discussion of price,” Chris remarked.

“People can check out the price beta site now at http://deals.judysbook.com,” said Chris, “We’re still making lots of changes, but we had to start somewhere so people had data to give us feedback on. We asked Amazon, GAP, Office Depot, Apple and Dell to send us their latest information. We essentially maintain a current database on all the deals. After that, then it’s up to the community to say ‘this is a good deal’ or ‘I bought this product and I’m wasn’t satisfied.’ They can put their own layer of ratings and reviews on top of it,” Chris stresses. “We’re moving deals to the top of the site based on community. Someone might say, ‘I’ve been shopping for this for a long time and it’s a really good deal.’ It’s very democratic in that the more votes something receives, the more visible it becomes on the site. We’re trying to let the community acknowledge and bring the best deals to the surface.”

This is great for consumers, but are merchant’s liking it? Stay tuned for Part II

September 15, 2006

Consumers love great parties

True confession time. Once upon a time, my ad agency did all the promotions for a retail mall. I made the mistake of showing up one weekend just to see how the event-du-jour was going. It wasn't. The person hired to wear the Easter Bunny costume failed to show. It wasn't my problem, I just advertised the place, but it became mine the moment the mall director spotted me across the hall... I couldn't hop away fast enough and ended up being the bunny. (those suits are nasty by the way)

It is with that pain in my brain that I can fully recommend Deborah Brown's in store party planner called It's a Party!. Store parties are a great way to have fun with your customers to celebrate a grand opening or just and extra fun sale, but if you haven't planned one before they can be a bit much. Hiring a someone to wear a costume is the easy part. For $25 dollars, "It's a Party" is cheap, mental insurance.

September 12, 2006

Arthur Frommer's Smart Shopping, bargains for both men and women

I'm going to do my womanly thing and spread the word about a very helpful shopping tool - Arthur Frommer's Smart Shopping magazine and website. If you appreciated his travel for less guide, then you'll love how much far he'll take your dollar in a store. It's meant for men and women, but we both know who will be reading it more.

Check out the bargains for yourself and if you sell consumer items, read it in self defense.

For example how much would pay for razor blades, $.17 a piece or $3.44?  Are five blades really giving you a better shave than one? Maybe, it depends on your technique and how critical a missed whisker or two matters. For a $3.27 difference, how much do you care? The summer edition compared 25 kinds of blades from single to quintuple blades. It was an unscientific study and written by David Appell who donated his face for the nick-by-nick test and also wrangled the faces of friends. This is exactly what women and men want to hear in a review, an honest appraisal followed by - How much? How good? Where can I buy it?

Razors blades not your thing? How about a comparison between VoIP? If you're like me, you have a land line, a cell phone, IM and Skype accounts. It's time for me to give my communication system a shakedown, and this article covers all the pros and cons the top Voice over Internet options.

Those two tips alone saved me the cost of the magazine, and there are $7000 cost savings ideas beyond that. Consumers are in control and after reading this, they'll be putting that control through it's paces. Besides straight forward tips, the magazine also lists a couple dozen cost-cutting or product evaluating websites.

This magazine picks up where Consumer Reports leaves off and this new publication is well timed for a consumer driven world.

September 09, 2006

Amen, Amen, Amen for the Mac store experience

If you own ANY kind of store, other than a Mac, you need to read this. Pamela Slim over at Escape from Cubical Nation provides you with a not-so-secret shopping experience she had while buying an ipod. 

For companies who are reading over my shoulder to see what women want and trust? Follow Mac's example.

Thanks for sharing the moment Pamela - it reinforces that women do embrace tech (and spread the word) when the tech experience becomes user friendly.

September 08, 2006

The "whole" truth about trust

This tour through trustland has been very interesting. It's no surprise that most men have a negative reaction to the title of this blog/book - and to be honest, some women have had it as well. It implies that all women can be trusted and that all men can't. We know that isn't true, but now that I have your attention... we can discuss the merits that are true.

The title was in recognition of more and more women choosing their own (culture) when it comes to doing business. Why do they do that? For one reason, whether women know it consciously or not, they have their own set of consistent characteristics that are so ingrained that you'll find them showing up around the globe. People tend to trust those who are most like them self and if that's the case, what is "most like" in women?

Let's take this out of consumerism for a minute and look at how women operate in business.

1. Cindi Andrews the editor from Women Business Cincinnati, posted the following from the Center for Business Women's Research. It's focused on what women and men care about when they go to sell their business.

"The final report isn't due out until September, [this month] but Elaine Sarsynski, the chief administrative officer for study sponsor MassMutual Financial Group, shared some initial findings.

Chief among them: While 85 percent of both male and female business owners rate price as the No. 1 factor in selling their business, women are more concerned than men about other factors.

Fully 86 percent of female owners take into account the prospective buyer's plans for current employees, vs. 61 percent of male owners.

Likewise, 72 percent of female owners take into account the buyer's identity, personality and background, vs. 30 percent of male owners.

"Women are more concerned than men about what happens to their business and their employees," Sarsynski told the 240 roundtable attendees. "Aren't we all better off when business owners aren't just interested in their bottom line?"

Like all studies from the Center for Women's Business Research, this is solid, well-grounded research. It was based on interviews with 800 business owners — half men and half women — who had at least $1 million in annual revenues and had been in business for at least five years. The margin of error is 3.5 percent.

2. The WBC also participates in the Athena Foundation for Leadership, which helps women business owners and young women develop their business strengths. They don't focus on business operations as much as they focus on leadership skills, and they see women's inherent skills as very different from men.

The ATHENA Leadership Model®, developed through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, identifies eight distinct characteristics or tenets that are reflective of women’s contributions to leadership: Authentic Self, Relationships, Giving Back, Collaboration, Courageous Acts, Learning, Fierce Advocacy, Celebration and Joy. These personal traits that are more intuitive to women, and combined with the strongest aspects of traditional leadership—taking risks, assertiveness, hard work—prepare women to be successful leaders in the 21st century.

Ok - if those two items are an indicator of where women stand and then you add in the political findings in election after election of what women care about, i.e. the environment, healthcare, family... Well, after awhile it begins to sound like any weight loss program, i.e. if you want to lose weight, just diet and exercise. If you want to win women over in business and as a consumer then, BEHAVE LIKE THEM.

Like weight loss, it's easy to say, but harder to do. Even if you were born female, working inside many corporations trains you to behave and think like a man and convinces you that it's the only way to do things. It's changing, but slowly.

Am I advocating that you have to start behaving/thinking like a woman to be effective in business? Yes, if you want their consumer dollars. It will give you a competitive advantage to align with what they like and don't like inside their "culture." This goes WAY beyond what you can see in a product or service and speaks to the ingrained and intangible trust factors.

Am I advocating to replace the current corporate system and require everyone to wear panty hose? Not at all. To do so negates the point of balance. It takes both left and right brains to be a fully functioning humans and it takes both the strengths of our respective genders to be at our best in business.

This is about real endemic change that goes to the core of who we are as individuals and as a species. Women don't want to take over the world, just have their say in it. When they are with other women, that happens. When business listens and responds to them with the same curiousity and concern, then they will respond back and provide some of that "fierce advocacy" that was mentioned earlier.

That's the whole truth about trust. It recognizes the whole person, not just the wallet.

September 06, 2006

One Piece of Advice You Can't Sell Without

Jill Konrath the author of Selling to Big Companies is at it again, only this time she's joined hands with nine other experts in the field of business to business sales. To get your FREE COPY of One Piece of Advice that you Can't Sell Without" go here.

I like the FREE part and the fact that Seth Godin leads off with one tip - TRUST. For him that was the beginning and the end of a business relationship. (Thanks Seth, I'm glad you agree...)  He didn't give any additional tips as to how to gain "trust," just that it was the most important thing. Thankfully, Jill and the others fill in the blanks with ways to accomplish that.

It's only 35 pages, but loaded with enough advice to turn any first time sales rep into a sage before noon.

Small Business with Anita Campbell

The best part of being on this virtual book tour is the great women I've met. Yesterday, I talked with Anita Campbell the editor of Smallbiztrends and gave her 5 Do's and 5 Don'ts for selling small business owners. Anita has put together an extremely helpful site for anyone in small business - not only is the content compelling, but the way the site is organized and promoted is a marketing lesson in itself.

On the main site, Anita offers the opinions of many experts through, radio podcasts, a newsletter, articles, blog postings and much more. All of which is focused on trends and how they can be applied within the small business arena. She also has many sub-sites that tie back into the main hub section. I don't know how she keeps it all flowing so well, but she does. If you're in small business, you'll want to subscribe and bookmark www.smallbiztrends.com.