Category Archives: Branding

Why Is “I’m Sorry” So Difficult?


I am a proud member of Rotary International, an organization where service above self is its objective and whose efforts help millions of people locally as well as around the world.  In fact, Rotary has been instrumental in helping to completely eradicate polio on this planet, an achievement that is very close to realization.

As a benefit of this membership, not only do I get to work with some great people, but I am exposed to the inspired writings of some famous and not-so-famous people.  In the latest edition of the Rotarian magazine, I was provoked by an article by Joe Queenan entitled “I’m [not] Sorry.”  In his writing, Joe takes us on a historical journey into the act of apologizing, and how what was once considered the morally correct thing to do, has in the U.S. morphed into something that has become “so rote, gutless, emaciated, tortuous, insincere, and self-aggrandizing” as to make it worthless to the victim.  Historically, begging for forgiveness was not just a saying; it was what was expected by the person apologizing, that there be some groveling involved.  Today, politicians go so far as to make it our fault with the apology that goes something like, “I regret that the actions I am accused of having committed caused any undo pain and/or suffering.”  In other words, “It’s too bad that you’re so thin-skinned as to have taken offense, get over it.”

Never doubt that I won’t try to put a marketing spin on this, it’s what I do.

This article got me thinking. How many companies, in an effort to protect their brand, fail so miserably when after the inevitable mistake, they simply do not thoroughly apologize to their customer?  Many companies will make the attempt by offering money back, or the exchange for a new product, or even the coupon that allows you to come back for free.  And, don’t get me wrong, these are all good moves in the right direction.  But what effect would it have if the CEO were to write a personal letter of apology, begging that the customer stay as a customer?  Would this amount of “groveling” have any added effect?  How would this action make you feel?

In one of his latest blogs, a good friend and confidant, Shawn Kincaid, writes about Finding your Mission and Core Values as a prerequisite to setting your business apart from the competition.  It’s a great article and one that will make you think.  I recommend spending time with it.

My take on this is that if your core values include the priority of valuing the relationship you have with your customer then it must necessarily include the importance of admitting your mistakes and begging for forgiveness.  And I’m really not saying that the customer is always right, there are indeed times where the customer is just plain wrong.  But when your mistake happens, and you know it will, then having a formalized public relations policy for saying “I’m Sorry,” can go a long way towards improving that all important customer relationship.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.



Social Media: I’m Gonna Blow Your Doors Off?


I just love the mental picture I get when I hear the phrase, “blow your doors off.”  It takes me back to when I was a kid, reading my first Hot Rod magazine and seeing those shiny dragsters with the big scoops sticking out of the hood, smoke pouring off the oversized spinning tires and flames belching from the chrome exhaust pipes.  It was what was on my mind when getting ready to race a friend on my gold-flaked Schwinn bicycle with high-rise handle bars, slick rear tire and a banana seat. And out of my mouth came the threat, “I’m gonna blow your doors off.”

You’re probably saying, “wow, you’re really competitive, and what does this have to do with marketing?”

Yes, I am competitive but that’s not the point here.  I talk to a lot of business owners of companies large and small, and from a number of industries.  Inevitably, the conversation will work its way toward what everyone seems to be talking about now, social media.  And even though there are major brands who have embraced social media like Dell, Star Bucks and Dominoes Pizza, many of these business owners will say to me, “David, I just don’t get how it will work for my business.”

Just so we’re straight, whether correct or not, I lump many things into my definition of social media to include:

  • Social networks like Facebook and My Space
  • Micro blogging sites like Twitter
  • Bookmarking and blog rating services such as, Digg, Stumble Upon and Technorati
  • Picture and video platforms like You Tube and Flickr
  • Business networks like Linked In, Plaxo and Naymz and their groups and associations that provide for the ability to ask and answer industry specific questions.
  • And finally, Blogging and blog sites (and I suppose newsletters could also be included here)

There is not doubt that social media is getting a great deal of hype right now.  This may cause people to believe that it is a passing fad that will soon become stale.

Most experts agree that social media has so dramatically transformed our world’s society that we can never really go without it.  In fact, in his article, “How Social Media May Save The World,” Danny Dover talks of its ability to stop pandemics.  Read his entire article at:

Beyond these lofty claims, active participation in social media has a proven basis in sound marketing practices in addition to strong customer service attributes.  Jeff Bullas, in his blog post, provides 8 reasons why this is true.

Everyone should be aware that social media is not free, even though there is no cost to become involved.  It does take time and a carefully thought out strategy for what you want to accomplish and a time-table for when you would expect to see results.  Don’t anticipate a quick payoff, as it does take time.  But make no mistake, social media is here to stay and you can choose to ignore it or you can start to take an active role.  If you choose not to participate, just know that your competition will and they’ll be saying to you, “we’re gonna blow your doors off.”

All my best,


Is This a “Teachable Moment” Chicago Cubs?


My wife grew up in a northern suburb of Chicago.  I guess since she came from the north side, she was obligated to be a Chicago Cubs fan.  Regardless of what she was obligated to do, over the years she became a huge fan and has told me many stories about going to Wrigley Field with her grandfather as a young girl and then later with friends from Northwestern University, stealing those hazy summer afternoons to go sip a beer and enjoy a hotdog under a glorious Chicago sun.

For the thirteen years we’ve been married, the experience of an afternoon game at Wrigley Field has only been in my imagination, as we never got a chance to go see a Cubs game until this last May.  Needing to travel to Chicago to attend the memorial service for her Father, my wife decided it was finally time for me to go to a game and it would be a nice break from the emotions of the visit.  In preparation, she went to the Cubs website, purchased very expensive box seats, and surprised me with the news one evening over dinner.

Having arrived in Chicago from Kansas City, we did a few errands and then jumped on the “EL” to head for Wrigleyville.  To our dismay, a light rain was falling but we were well prepared having brought the proper rain gear to stay nice and dry.  As we entered the ballpark, we stopped at the first available stand for the requisite ice cold beer and hotdog and then headed up the ramp to our box seats.  My first glimpse of Wrigley Field was held for at least three minutes, taking in the ivy on the outfield wall, the bleachers on all of the buildings across the street, the steel beams that meant some poor souls had marginal site lines and then to the large green scoreboard where we saw, “Today’s game has been postponed and will be played at a later date.”

After recovering from the huge disappointment and cursing our luck, we went to the customer services window to see what our options were.   We were told by a Cubs employee that they had no information now, but that we were to go to the website and see when the game would be scheduled.  We explained that we were only in Chicago for the weekend and weren’t sure when we would be returning and if we could refund our tickets.  With the emotionless face of a person required to answer the same question over and over, we were told that nothing could be done that day.

You’re probably wondering, “Where is this story going David?”  This is where we get into the marginal-at-best customer service experience we have had since that day in Chicago, with the hope that, aha, this is the opportunity to learn what not to do to a loyal fan (a.k.a. customer).

We spent the next four weeks monitoring the Chicago Cubs website, to see what process we needed to undertake to get a refund on our rather expensive tickets.   We then called the customer number provided with the tickets.  Since it had been over four weeks since the original date of the game, our bright customer service representative told us that the date by which a refund could be secured was that very day and since “the procedure” was that our request needed to be in the Cub’s office, there was nothing they could do.  Finding no help there, we called our credit card company to refuse the charges, which was overruled when the Cubs denied the request.

Now, my wife is not someone that takes kindly to this sort of treatment, even if she often wears her Cubs hat watching the games on WGN and drinking her beer with a Cubs koozie.   This was a matter of what was right and wrong.  As her mother had taught her, when you are not satisfied with the outcome of a situation, then write a letter, and that she did!

In her letter she made an impassioned plea for consideration of the circumstances, that we didn’t live in Chicago, and that she was a lifetime fan.  In this whole situation, the one right thing that the Cub’s organization did was to call us soon after they had received the letter.  But that was about all they did right.

The kind young man informed us that since the rescheduled game had just been played, there was nothing that could be done.  “You mean we could have gotten a refund when we called earlier but were told it was past the deadline?!?”  Why yes, they had extended the date of requests (unknown to us) however now, the policy was that nothing could be done.

You’re probably asking yourself, okay, here is a loyal customer, who has received incorrect information.  Good customer service says you do something about it, like maybe tickets to a future game.  That was not to be the case and in fact we raised that possibility only to be told that it was against some MLB/players’ union rules to give tickets away.  This I know to be false as I have received just that kind of offer from my hometown Royals team.  Policy prevails and we are without a reasonable solution.

The Cubs have a brand, which is a promise to their fans, that since they can’t seem to win a pennant, they will at least treat their fans better than anywhere else.  As business owners, we all strive for the kind of customer loyalty that is evident in my wife.  Quoting policy is not the way to reward that loyalty.

In conclusion, we have asked that this matter be escalated but as of the writing of this post, it is still unresolved.  I’m not sure my wife will ever make the effort to purchase tickets again, so I am left with only the imagination of going to a Cubs game.  I wonder, is this a “teachable moment?”  Let’s have a beer and talk about it.



Oh You Social Butterfly, You!


I guess maybe I’m showing my age when I use the term “social butterfly.”  I haven’t heard it used in a while.  We all know one, that person that shows up to a party or a networking event and spends the entire time flitting about, from person to person (or flower to flower), landing very lightly, then moving along without staying long.  Although beautiful to watch, it is hard to put into words the impression left by the butterfly, they are there for such a brief period of time. With the social butterfly we find it difficult to recall much about them, other than they were there.

We are all in the business of branding, whether we represent a company we work for or own, or whether we are branding ourselves.  As such, when using social media as a form of brand awareness and marketing, one can get into a lot of trouble if not paying close attention to online “social graces.”  As Kendal Allen puts it, “a lot of damage can be amassed to a brand over time; the idea of death by 1,000 cuts comes to mind.” See his entire article at:

And if you’re not using social media like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg or any one of a number of other social/community based sites, then you are missing out on major venues with which you can nurture and improve your brand.  There is a catch though.

I brought up the analogy of the butterfly to illustrate a personal observation I have made experiencing what some social marketers (and microbloggers) do with their comments.  I find that I have favorites that I always read; people whose blogs or comments are especially helpful or thought provoking, or who I even find humorous and therefore I bookmark them, share them, subscribe to them or request their RSS feeds.  Seth Godin is a good example.  It is these people who in my mind have established a brand awareness, an image that is positive and one that is easy for me to recall.  These are people I would purchase from.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who don’t really have much to say; all of their comments centering around what small event is taking place in their lives, or who is making them mad or just general bitching.  I’ve even read comments that made no sense at all.  Joel Comm in his book “Twitter Power” encourages the use of tweets that aren’t always about marketing yourself and your brand and are more an effort to show yourself a real and genuine person, a human being with concerns, wants and desires.  And I couldn’t agree more.

I believe that it is variety that adds spice to life.  Social commentary should reflect this variety by containing a rich mixture of personal anecdotes, observations, references and valuable information.  I believe that by providing value, be it new information, a provocative thought, quotes from bright people or even a good recipe, you can go a long way towards building a brand that people will remember.  Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, not only promotes his company but also builds a personal brand through the tweets he sends.  It is possible to have your own personal style and solid marketing principals at the same time.

Brands try to increase awareness and considerations to purchase, hopefully resulting in a sale.  But the social butterfly, whose impression with us is barely memorable, cannot possibly build much awareness.  They are here and then gone.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.