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13 posts from October 2006

October 31, 2006

Do you trust you neighbor? Vote Here.

Time magazine is worth picking up this week. It's stuffed with surveys about how and what we think as a nation.  What I found most interesting was the direct relationship between strong voting and strong trust in others. (The survey was conducted by Pew Research Center for the People.)

35% of American are regular voters
20% are intermittent voters
23% are rare voters
22% are not registered.

Of the 35% of regular voters - 52% think most people can be trusted. Only 5% hardly know people in their neighborhood, and a low 13% don't think that voting changes much.

Conversely of the 22% who are not registered - only 27% of them think most people can be trusted, 21% hardly know anyone in their neighborhood and 33% don't think voting changes much.

What is also puzzling, is the lack of young women who are electing not to vote. Is it because they trust the people running and process the least?  Yvonne DiVita brought up the question and demanded that single and married women read this before they write off their ballots for another year.

If you're a women, don't get mad with the process, vote and get even. If you don't know "who" to vote for, then vote on the proposals and vote for a party that you think has your best interest at heart. BE the vote you want to see in the world.

October 30, 2006

Trusted Women make the NY Times and WECAI

Did you catch the NY Times article on "What Do Women Want"?  My Ask Patty pal, Jody DeVere is featured in it as an example of what women want in the car industry.  It turns out that another new friend, Julie Gilbert of Best Buy's Women's Leadership Forum is also quoted. Both were mentioned as examples of what's working in the marketplace. Ask Patty is doing it's best to bring women and car dealership to a new level of understanding. Julie and Best Buy is doing the same by reaching/teaching women from the sales floor to the front door via their Geek Squad initiative. Business is starting to see the benefits and profits when it embraces it's feminine side.

The NY Times isn't the only place that talked about what works for and with women. This weekend was the kickoff for WECAI's Women's Internet Marketing Summit. What's that you ask? Oh just another idea by Heidi Richards the founder of WECAI. I stumbled onto WECAI and Heidi last year. This year, I can't go anywhere without seeing her typeface prints. She is determined to get women wired and working on the web. To do so she has tapped the best of the best and to keep it within a women's budget and accessible, she made it all virtual.

I logged/called in to hear Yvonne DiVita, Toby Bloomberg and Susan Getgood speak on "Harnessing the Blogosphere". They were joined by Marianne Richmond and Jeneane Sessum. They all cut to the chase of what you should know before you "write" a wrong. That session alone is worth signing up and getting the podcast and powerpoint. If you're in business, it's a MUST hear/read especially if you want to work with women professionally.

I stayed to also hear Lena West "Creating Your Internet Marketing Strategic Plan" and by then I was hooked for the day. (Lena guest blogs on Yvonne's Lipsticking)

The event is still running, feel free to sign up. It's not women only, just women focused. You'll get podcasts of events that you missed.

Congratulations to Jody, Julie and Heidi for focusing on women and proving that it works for everyone.

October 25, 2006

Which came first, the free range chicken or the cage free egg?

Chicken The real question should be, "Are they both marketing ploys or the real, humane deal"?

The NY Times is taking on the issue that we're been addressing from the start - will consumers drive market change faster than organizations for social good? Looking at this, the answer is YES! At the very least consumers are reinforcing the good intentions and expanding the movement faster.

For those who are confused with human treatment of their meat, a quick trip to Whole Foods can bring you up to speed. I know I'd rather buy a super pump and happy Whole Foods' chicken for dinner than one that's lived it's limited life in confined quarters.  The end is the same for both versions, however, and I still have to reconcile the giving of a life to making my life better.

Admittedly, the more I think about it, the more I could become a full-blooded (or cellulosed) vegetarian again. Maybe that's the point, as a consumer I think about what I buy and what it says about me as a person. As for my feathered friends - chickens have been sticking their necks out for me, maybe it's time I stick my neck out for them.

October 24, 2006

Zipingo and Quicken Intersect

Zipingo_logo Have you Zipingo'd? If you're a Quicken 2007 customer you have a new way to post consumer comments. Intuit, who owns both Zipingo and Quicken products, is linking the two formats.

For those who don't know, Zipingo is their yellow pages with ratings system. Quicken is the popular personal financial system. Now, instead of taking care of just your business, you can take care of other people's business as well. As part of the 2007 package, when you go to post your purchases, you get a prompt that will take you to Zipingo where you can leave a rating on the services you used that month.

Let's say you went to a new restaurant. The food was outstanding, but the service was lacking. What kind of rating would you give that? Does it deserve 3 stars out of 5, or 5 stars with a warning note attached? Do you trust them? The ratings and comments are totally up to you as a consumer, which makes the whole system suspect, but better than nothing.

According to Bazaarvoice, a rating software, 82% of the time people will give ratings in the 4 out of 5 level. Is that because it's a new system and most of the people leaving the ratings are the people who own the company and therefore only want positive ratings? Or is it because most of those leaving a comment are the women who are managing the home finances and we have been taught to play nice?

Who knows for sure, but we do know that these systems are becoming more embedded in our consumer mindset. The more that consumers say, the more that consumers will play.

All of the current systems available are fighting for content - a directory without comments is just another directory. They only become truly valuable to the public when the company's or products listed have multiple people rating them providing a level of trust-in-numbers. This is where Intuit has a big leg up. The Quicken products have a huge marketshare and high trust value already. Adding the Zipingo product line to it, just adds another level of financial guidance.

It's organic word-of-mouth at it's best, reviews are given after a product is tried and tested. That's where consumers really win. Instead of being passive receivers of goods and services, now they can play an active part in improving offerings for the rest of us.

Remember the old days when someone would snippily tell you, "No one asked for your opinion." Those days are over. These sites can't get enough of them.

October 20, 2006

Inside: Gather the Women with Kathe Schaaf

“What would you do on a Tuesday to gather the women of the world?"

That was the start of Gather the Women in March 2003. Over 4700 women in 72 countries responded to the initial call. Or to be more accurate, responded to their inner calling. The “Tuesday” they were referring to was a metaphor for everyday.

Just three years later, the group is 12,000 strong as GTW becomes the holding tank and keeper-of-the-flame for hundreds of other women's sites. It’s part think tank, part self-actualization and part social experiment to come up with a new organizational matrix the looks “in and out,” vs. “up and down.” (like most companies and organizations are modeled now)

“One of the most important aspects of Gather the Women is our commitment to discovering new models for effective collaboration. To fuel that creative possibility, we have gathered together in this Matrix a wonderful cross-section of Partner Organizations”.

What flame are they actually keeping?

I spoke with Kathe Schaaf in San Juan Capistrano, CA yesterday to get an idea of why Gather the Women formed and what they hope to achieve. Kathe has been a high school teacher, a director of a non-profit organization, a pyscho-therapist and con-currently one of the founders of GTW. She felt "the calling" a few years ago about the same time other women did – on 9/11. "It was more of an awareness, or knowingness that the time has come to bring more feminine attributes back into society," said Kathe. "For me I felt like 9/11 would not have happened if the mothers of the world had more influence in society... It probably goes back to when I was working with delinquent kids, if you gave them respect and something to do that had real purpose, then they didn't get in trouble. There's a part of me that feels that women are being ‘called’ to protect the world in the same way they would protect their own family. To do that,” she continued, “requires getting reacquainted with ourselves as women and then applying our 'remebered' knowledge to the greater good.”

One of Kathe’s first assignments as a founder of GTW (they don’t believe in titles) was to research as many global women’s websites as possible. What she discovered was that regardless of the country and regardless of the topic, the language these sites used was the same. “They said things like, ‘being called’, ‘the time is now’, ‘bringing forth feminine values’… it was almost like the women of the world were waking up and remembering their real role in society,” said Kathe.

Kathe admits that sounds a bit woo-wooey to some, yet women are responding to GTW regardless of political, religious or social background. Many are joining up without even knowing why. The GTW mission isn't “finished” and the direction of GTW morphs as more join in. One thing is clear, however, if Dr. Phil asked these women, "How's society working for you"? They would admit, “it isn't” and in that admission they have found a common ground to gather around. “We’re not out to change minds,” stresses Kathe, “just connect hearts and let those heartfelt connections drive change.”

GTW is a non-profit and has no membership fees. It wants to be inclusive of all women who are looking to bring ideas and balance back into society by embracing feminine values more fully, in themselves and in the community around them. LOTS of conversation is encouraged and at this point, “core principles” are used to maintain order. Like E-Bay, it’s a model that has become self-regulating.
•         We will dedicate ourselves to the belief that each of us is enough right now.
•         We will create containers that practice the form and principles of Circle, with a focus on shared leadership, shared responsibility, and shared deep listening, while evoking spirit.
•         We will be honest and share what is true about our thoughts and feelings.
•         We will aspire to be impeccable with our word, to do our very best, to take nothing for granted and to suspend our assumptions.
•         We will serve holistically – mind, body, spirit, and heart.
•         We will show gratitude and affirm each other and each women that participants in GTW.
•         We will offer freely the abilities and skills that we possess and serve from a place of shared competency.
•         We will serve as a global example of inclusivity, interdependence and diversity – valuing, appreciating and honoring all expressions of humanity and spirituality.
•         We will dedicate ourselves to showing up fully, passionate in our readiness to serve.
•         Our greatest value will be creating a place where all women can gather with the assurance their gifts will be honored.
So how is this new matrix experiment working out?

“Sitting in circles is our core way of communicating both physically and virtually - circles represent how women relate to one another naturally, we don’t gather in our homes with a panel of people in the front of the room,” explains Kathe. “Circles are one thing that won’t morph,; they are too representative of a natural order. {We've found that working with circles of 7-9 people works well for conversation. We also have decided to ‘Follow the Yes’ and see where it takes us. ‘Following the Yes’, is following the path of least resistance and not worrying about where it might lead. Since we don’t have an agenda, except to find a better model for working together, everything is a big experiment in social dynamics.”

Are any constants emerging?

“Yes, several,” reports Kathe, “All seem obvious, but then you have to ask if they are so obvious and natural then why are they not part of today’s organizational models? First, women like to talk – a lot – and the system allows for them to talk as long as they like as long as they are speaking as truthfully as they can and as long as they listen deeply when others speak. That doesn’t normally happen as today’s agendas and timelines cut conversation short. Second, we acknowledge and support a women’s need to ebb and flow with assignments. Their responsibilities on this planet are bigger than a job and those responsibilities need to be cared for with as much focus and attention as a job task. They are just as important, if not more important that the work task. For example taking care of a sick child or an elderly parent… in GTW, the women come and go from tasks without being penalized emotionally for when they need to back out.”

So how do you get anything done?

“What’s amazing is when you ‘follow the yes’ we don’t need to assign a task, the women volunteer for what they want to do and if they have to back out, then someone else slides in to takeover until they can return. If no one takes over, then that project discontinues. If it’s a key enough project, someone always steps forward to continue its mission. The system works organically and is core driven by personal commitment vs. people being told what they have to do,” says Kathe.

“It’s still early,” continues Kathe, “but I think it works because women are relationally based, yet rational. They want to contribute to something bigger than themselves and at the same time they know they have personal responsibilities that can’t be ignored. When they are working inside a system that honors both needs, they are free to be fully present in either moment. 

Any other surprises?

“We’ve noticed that whatever comes from the core… in this case our core group of founders or a core circle, that it is repeated and manifested throughout the organization. This is sort of the woo-wooey part, but just like spiral or snowflake repeats the same pattern from the core out, so goes what we are seeing from the core out. That’s why it’s imperative to keep the core as honest and true to the heart of intent as possible. Regardless of the mission that each of the organizations that we are uniting have, the guiding force, the honest truth is that we all want a peaceful, loving world that’s balanced with both male and female attributes being honored,” concludes Kathe.

Gather the Women is an organization to watch as individuals, businesses and social systems struggle to find their way in an interconnected world. The rules of social discourse are changing and live, organic groups like GTW become an example of what works naturally without money or political pressure forcing the direction. One thing for sure, these groups aren’t organizing to takeover the world, just do-over a system that no longer works.

October 15, 2006

Let's Talk about phone plans

How many of you are going nuts with dropped calls from your cell phone provider? I personally HATE my company, but the plan I'm on has the best price and therefore I bear the pain. How do I know? I used Let'sTalk to see what brand/plan configuration was the current best option. They do the heavy sorting and I didn't have to waste a weekend comparing. That's the point of this new market, to be able to weigh out your pain point with the purchase point.

(I've added them to the list at left, so if you forget, just check back here for a reminder.)

What I learned from Lets Talk is that my current plan is still the best option for me. Knowing that, I can go back to work and not gripe. I could change, but I am choosing not to. It's having the choice at my fingertips that makes me feel a bit less of a victim and more pro-active. When you choose your own destiny, you have nothing to complain about. That's the point of this new market as well, when consumers feel like they are in control of their buying, they won't be as likely to post a complaint.

October 11, 2006

Planet Hospital and Medical Tourism

No insurance? No problem. Do what my friend Rick did when his Blue Shield HMO didn't cover a hip resurfacing procedure. He went to India. About $8000 later (for the whole operation), he's recuperating in a hotel. Being a Mac mentor, he blogged about the whole experience. (LINK to INDIA on top of his site). It's quite entertaining and informative. ABC News even interviewed him.

If you thought that having surgery in a land that reveres cows might be a bit backwards, think again. India is giving our healthcare system, more accurately our insurance system, competition. After reading about Ric's experience, I wouldn't hesitate to go. Ric used Planet Hospital to hook him up. They assigned a concierge to him who walked him through the experience of regaining his stride.

As a consumer, it's nice to know we have options.

October 10, 2006

Women's "Issues" Investments are good for the portfolio

For the past decades, the democratic vote has been seen as one that is heavily weighted for women's issues, but do women's issues make good investments? According to www.bluefund.com they are. They don't come out and say it, but you can connect the dots from here.

Blue Fund is a new mutual fund based on companies who support progressive ideals and put their money behind democratic candidates. When you look at past political elections, more women than men voted for those issues. The younger the women, the more progressive they were in their views. (taken from "What Women Really Want.")

Blue Fund is a spin off of www.buyblue.org which started tracking companies political leanings a couple of years ago. Besides following the money, they also give them a rating based on human rights, the environment, corporate and social responsibility, employee equality and industrial practices.  It was another way of evaluating who you wanted to do business with besides just comparing products and price. Customers now could "vote" using their wallet everyday as well as their ballot every four years.

Here's where it gets interesting... supporting and living  "soft issues" means higher profits. The companies that donated the most to the dems and also lived the creed are creating a better base for business.

In today's announcement, Blue Fund offers a white paper, titled "The Blue Factor":

http://www.blueinvestmentmanagement.com/the-blue-factor.pdf. In this paper they did a little analysis. Let's say you had $100 in the 500 current members of the S&P 500 on June 30th, 2001. Today that would be worth $145. If you had invested that same $100 in the 76 companies comprising the Blue Fund's large cap fund you'd have more than $200 after fees. If on the other hand you'd invested in the companies not in their fund, the "red" companies - your return would be worse than the return on the S&P 500. They have a nice chart of that in their white paper and at their site at http://www.blueinvestmentmanagement.com.

You can read it and draw your own conclusions, but it's an interesting argument and something that won't be going away now that it's flagged. Is your company on this list? Would you like it to be? If the answer is "Yes," then you can see where this trend is heading. Economics will be driving future social advancements faster than politics.

October 09, 2006

and don't forget blogging reviewers

On the heels of yesterday's post. If Social Search* wasn't enough, there is the extended Social Media in which bloggers, personal email and public forums for general discussion (not specifically for product review) can explain or maim you.

Case in point on Escape from Cubical Nation.  Sprint sent a free phone to a software guy to use and (hopefully) write about. He did. Call it a product misplacement... be sure to read the remarks at the end of the posting and draw your own conclusions.

*BTW Social Search as a "thing" is so new that even Wikipedia lumps it in with Social Software.

October 08, 2006

Organic WOM wins at the point of evaluation

Pete Blackshaw at CGM wants a WOM war... well... more of a WOM debate. His first topic covers his angst with evolving word-of-mouth effectiveness... "Intimate versus Incidental WOM Revised..... Is our definition of WOM too narrow? .....Solicited Omissions..... What constitutes a recommendation or an endorsement?....  'Net Present Value' of buzz that's permanent -- not fleeting or ephemeral."

Has your brain glazed over yet? Pete's a very smart guy and one dedicated to putting consumers first as proven by his Planet Feedback project. That's why I like reading his stuff, but frankly I had to deglaze a bit and get back to why we do any marketing - that is, to make it easy for customers to find products and services and buy them.

I'm going to jump ahead a few years to after the WOM war has subsided, to a land where easy access to information drives customer's buying habits and WOM becomes the driving force behind two customer types and two WOM camps:

#1 Those who KNOW they don't know (Organic WOM)

#2 Those who DON'T KNOW they don't know. (Enhanced WOM, quickly followed by Organic WOM)

(Organic word of mouth is given freely, Enhanced word of mouth is nudged.)

As you can see by the list at the left, I'm a strong supporter of social search, which is the use of any online directory that also contains customers opinions. (That's the social part)

Where does Social Search fit in to the market mix?

A) If you start with Organic WOM, you'll stay with Organic WOM.

B) If you start with Enhanced WOM, you'll still endup with Organic WOM - UNLESS the item is truly unique.

Ok, hang in there for why I believe that. It's based on 10 years of watching how buyers bought industrial products and services. As a sales rep for Thomas Register of American Manufactures, I had to prove to my accounts over and over that their ad dollars were working. That meant tracking every ad with an 800#, a key mailing address, or a forwarding fax number. After the Internet happened then using we added online tracking. What my clients found out was that industry buys out of need only, and when they have a need, they took the path of least resistence. That path at the time, with 85% of the offline market, was Thomas Register a buyer's directory much like the tons of buying sites that are popping up now.

By tracking EVERYTHING, we could see the pattern again and again - while using TR, buyers went to the products and services first and then maybe went to the Company Profile to find a company by name. Once they were in P&S, they went to the biggest or the most credible looking ad. If I put a full page ad for a one-man shop next to a small ad of a Fortune 500 company, the big ad won. So much for brand recognition carrying weight. In online terms, that means the item that is on the top of the list, or the first page of a search.

The same is true today. Go to Overture and search ANY brand name. Now do a search again for one of their key products or services. Which has the bigger number? It will always be the KNOWN thing that a buyer can articulate and type in.

Ok, now let's take this "process" and apply it to this emerging online consumer market.

Let's say you have a product or service that everyone knows about and can use, i.e. restaurant, dentist, washing machine... They fall into the KNOW you don't know pile because they are known things. What if have something that's brand new, a software or a gizmo? That falls into the DON'T KNOW you don't know pile.

When you're in DON'T KNOW land, you follow a traditional marketing path of AWARENESS, NEED, EVALUATION and PURCHASE. When you're in KNOW land, you skip directly to EVALUATION and PURCHASE. Still with me?

Before the Internet, we relied on advertising material to take us through the process. Now consumers can rely on consumer comments found on a social search site. Remember: Social search is Organic WOM. It's freely left information critiquing products and services.

What if you've just learned of something really nifty, like a new mobile phone. Someone sends you a YouTube video clip demostrating it's ultra cool use. That's Enhanced WOM, sending / telling / sharing something cool with a friend just because it's cool.

Here's the big question - at what point do you buy it?

Do you buy it without looking at anything else? If you're a woman, probably not. (sorry about the generalization - Women do like to comparison shop first, especially if it's a commodity item or something that could have competitors.) Where would you go? Back to the Social Search sites and the Organic WOM on those sites to EVALUATE and maybe PURCHASE. Whether you "know" or "don't know" doesn't matter, the majority of consumers will still end up back on the sites that can give them real buying information. Why? It's faster to ferret out what and who you can trust before making a purchase - just like in industrial buyers did while using Thomas Register.

What the point? As the gatekeeping step to the final purchase, Organic WOM (which is the soul of these sites) can't be skipped over as just another "media"; it can make or break your online business.

The only time Organic WOM isn't in play is when a product or service is SO radically new, that it can't be defined and searched for by name or function. But then the issue is still "trust" how can a customer trust that it will work and that your company will support it?  Same issue, different part of the marketing curve. TRUST IS EVERYTHING.

Consumers are just getting the tools and information in place to buy products and services just like their industrial counterparts have followed the path of least resistence. It many take a few years until the majority of consumers are trained up, but it will happen.