This Week’s Buzz: Do Google Hangouts Influence Search, Amazon Knows What You’re Thinking and the Future of Sears

This week, Erik Hultman and I talk about the influence of Google Hangout in search results, why you shouldn’t believe everything you read about the impending death of Facebook, how Amazon is trying to get even smarter in anticipating what you want and what the Sears closing of its flagship State Street store means for the brand’s future.

What are your thoughts on some of these issues? Love to hear them.

Staying Closed On Thanksgiving Provides Brands An Opening

The following retailers were not open on Thanksgiving Day: 

Apple
Burlington Coat Factory
Barnes & Noble
Cabela’s
Costco
Dillard’s
Home Depot
Lowe’s
Marshalls
Nordstrom
Radio Shack
REI
Sam’s Club
TJ Maxx
Verizon

To me, it’s just common sense. To these brands, it represents an opportunity to show that they actually care about the home life of their people over the almighty dollar (and seriously, shoppers couldn’t wait until Black Friday anyway?). It’s a stand worth continuing for their culture, loyalty and values. Kudos to them.

See, here’s the challenge for any brand that wants to walk the walk and talk the talk – it’s one of brand consistency when you hang a frame in your conference room that says you care about your people (is paying time-and-a-half really caring? Ehhh.) and then you ask them to work on one of the days traditionally reserved for family. Moreover, let’s review who gets to tell a more interesting story as a result of remaining closed – your customer who says, “Good for Nordstrom to do that,” or your CEO who has to give a carefully-worded statement justifying the company’s actions.

Which one sounds more positive to you?

Oh, I know that some cynics will say that money talks and the opportunity to cash in big-time outweighs all. In some companies, maybe that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Yet…in a place like Nordstrom, which already has plenty of great customer service stories to be told, sticking to keeping the doors closed on Thanksgiving might just keep some very valuable people happy, so they can continue to be a part of the team for a long time and contribute to more of those positive customer service stories being told for years to come. Not to mention the good things they may say about their own employer. They could be told verbally, on video, throughout social media channels, etc.

And I’ll bet that has a chance of happening more frequently than when treating Thanksgiving as just another retail day.

There are a lot of people who have their opinions on retailers being open on Thanksgiving – and it’s not entirely one-sided either. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Weigh in, won’t you?

OfficeMax Moves Into Full Solutions Center Concept

When I looked at the invitation from OfficeMax for a store opening, I had to admit wondering what was going to be so different about this occasion versus several hundreds that preceded it. But what I learned from the unveiling of the first OfficeMax Business Solutions Center in the Chicagoland area is that the office supply giant intends to be far more than just the place you turn to when you’re out of paper, toner and pens.

Now, with IT services, cloud storage, print and document services, promotional services and other types of business solutions, OfficeMax aims for spaces like its 3,900-square foot store in Streeterville to be the one-stop shop for a lot of other services too.

cst-vector2-slide1

It’s part of an evolution in the category overall as retailers aim to convey services outside of the core offering they’ve been known for. In OfficeMax’s case, it’s the store of the future.

“OfficeMax understands that small businesses and entrepreneurs have different needs,” explains Kristin Muntean vice president, Strategic Initiatives and Innovation at OfficeMax. “OfficeMax Business Solutions Centers are committed to serving as a central resource for business needs – from providing print and documents to IT support to setting up your website and cloud storage.” 

There’s also a specialized Business Solutions Adviser onsite to walk the customer through the various services they need. They’ve even partnered with Company.Hire to provide HR recruiting and onboarding services.

Yes, this is OfficeMax we’re talking about.

One thing I’ve appreciated seeing is how OfficeMax is eliciting feedback from local business owners as they roll out the concept here and across the country. As Muntean describes, that’s very much on purpose. “In developing our Business Solutions Centers, we conducted extensive research with small businesses in Chicago and across the country,” she says. “We are building on that research through a dialogue with our neighbors in Streeterville to ensure we evolve with their feedback.” 

It’s no doubt a smart move, if not an essential one. When office supply retailers such as FedEx Kinko’s (now FedEx Office) and delivery services such as UPS with its UPS Store opened their stores, it was all about providing you with total access to the supplies you needed when you needed them for convenience. That quickly becomes an apples-to-apples game though, with little to distinguish one from the other. Pens are pens. Paper is paper. And while loyalty programs definitely don’t hurt to hopefully retain more regular shoppers of these items, the stores needed to hang their hats on something more.

So when you provide certain types of services, you give yourself the opportunity to stand out based on the delivery of those services in a customized way – while, of course, providing the other essentials to the office. The key to me is not only in delivering those services on a superb level (easier said than done for many) but also clarifying the audience in a realistic way.

What I mean by that is that there is an underserved niche of Mom N’ Pop local businesses that are challenged by time and expense. Millions of these types of businesses don’t have websites and instead think they can get by with a listing on Yelp. They don’t have marketing guidance because they can’t often afford high-level assistance from a practitioner like yours truly.

In other words, this is the niche that OfficeMax can fulfill services for and if you’re in Web Development, I.T., Marketing, etc. I would see such retailers as less of a competitor unless these types of very small (i.e. 5 employees or less), one location businesses that are extremely budget-challenged are prime members of your clientele. Let’s face it. The business that can’t afford a website upwards of $3,000 isn’t going to be the client of most web developers. For many of them, this is the point where they say, “Well, I’ll just put up a Facebook Page” if they opt to do anything at all. That’s better than nothing, but still mediocre. They’ll still have no real home base for their brand in the way of a site, blog, etc. that’s more easily found by the likes of Google unless someone specifically searches for that business by name. That’s a finite number of customers. Enter the OfficeMax Business Solutions Center to elevate their visibility at a price point they can afford.

 

The Next Evolution: From One Shop To One Button

From here, the challenge for retailers such as OfficeMax is to provide not just the one-stop-shop but the best one button experience. If I want it, give me the personalized services in-store. However, if I want that same personalized service, give it to me through my phone, tablet and laptop. We’re seeing this already with Amazon’s Mayday service, in which live chat is taken to the next level where customer service interacts with the client’s screen.

 

The very concept of “the store” is changing as it is right now.

Best Buy once touted its ability to have it all under one roof but its service from store to store is, well, let’s just say inconsistent. Now, it won’t be enough to have a lot of product or even have great service in-store. It will be about who provides the best store experience both in the physical space and on the tablet I hold in my hand. That had better include remembering my favorite purchases and, if I choose the option, recommending new possibilities (again, Amazon rocks in this department).


Think Beyond Pre-Rollout Focus Groups

If you’re considering an extension of your brand on a retail level, don’t confine yourself to the pre-rollout phase. What OfficeMax has done well thus far – and what I hope they will continue to do – is invite in influencers to help hone its focus well after the doors have opened. Full disclosure: If you haven’t been able to tell yet, I’m one of those who has been invited to such discussions.

Whether they’re bloggers or end users (or often both), communicate with decision makers and those who serve those decision makers. Take them to lunch and provide them an opportunity to voice their opinions in person through a roundtable format discussion. Don’t put your executives in some ivory tower – get them in front of these contributors to interact (this is where many corporations miss an important step because the C-level isn’t there and doesn’t see this interactive experience as valuable enough).

Of course you want to do it right beforehand. But trouble occurs if the customer research and feedback tails off after the launch. That’s why it’s so important to maintain the momentum built today, tomorrow and for the life of the brand.

We certainly have enough tools for it.

If you have the opportunity, stop into the OfficeMax Business Solutions Center in Streeterville at 550 N. St. Clair. They’ve recently added a second location, in Evanston on 1612 Sherman Ave.

Then let me know your feedback. Do you think OfficeMax can successfully evolve its brand in this manner? Would you consider these new services? What would you care to see more of that you feel might be lacking from them? This input will be valuable to me – and I’m sure to the folks at OfficeMax too.

 

You May Be Your Best New Business Salesperson.

So let’s say you have a relatively new business that’s no more than 1-2 years old. Things are progressing nicely and you’re making a decent amount of money. Maybe you aren’t quite yet jumping into a pool of it like Scrooge McDuck, but you’re doing OK for yourself.

Still, the challenge of filling the pipeline becomes a regular thing in your mind. The conversation with your team becomes, “Maybe we should hire a New Business Salesperson.”

Hey, that sounds intriguing. Someone who can get out there and sell for you, huh? You can focus on the work you’re doing and another person can head out there to make it rain.

It’s a great idea in theory. And it’s not to say it’s impossible. But here’s the two choices you’re most often faced with:

Ronnie Rainmaker 
What’s that? Yeah sure, you bet I can bring in the big bucks. I worked in tons of industries and had a lot of success. Maybe not this one exactly, but I know what I’m doing. I don’t think I have to know a ton about your business. I get it. You’re what, an ad guy, a social media guy who does a lot of this, uh, Facebook updating for people, right? Sure, fine, whatever. You just do your thing and I’ll do mine. Since I’m so awesome, you need to pony up the big bucks for me but you’ll be glad you did.

Two problems with Ronnie:

1) The extraordinary amount of money he costs until he proves he can deliver the goods

2) He could find you a bunch of clients and think he’s doing incredible when in reality, the ones he’s finding are not the greatest fits for who you want to reach.

In his defense on the second point, that’s your fault, not his. You have to define precisely who you want to attract, who you don’t and how you’re going to reward him for more of the cream of the crop. This is as much a branding exercise as it is a sales issue. If you don’t know how to position yourself in terms of who you definitively want to work with – and it’s not that “everybody who needs my services” bullcrap –  you will be leading Ronnie on a wild goose chase and financing every mile for him.

Commission Carl
You don’t have to pay me much of a draw or even any draw. All you have to do is pay me a handsome commission for what I bring in. Isn’t that a great deal? Nothing out of pocket for you other than what I bring in! What’s that you say? Experience? Well, I sold flat screen TV’s at Best Buy so I’m really good at moving product and connecting with people. That’s what it’s all about and I’ve been doing it for decades. So what do you say?

At first glance, it sounds attractive for an entrepreneur. Not much risk there, right? Nothing lost, nothing gained. Except for one thing – again, if you want to improve Carl’s chances of success, you have to guide him on what your brand is all about. He has to understand the brand forwards and backwards for every prospect challenge. He has to understand your audience and what methods play well with them. If you’re in the business of Internet marketing, you probably don’t need him to knock on doors at his country club. This is so much easier said than done, it’s not even funny.

There’s just got to be someone who really gets you, gets your brand, gets who you want to speak with more often and knows precisely where you want to go.

I’ve got just the person. Grab a mirror and look at it.

What we often don’t realize about New Business is that we don’t give ourselves enough credit or see the potential we already have within ourselves. You see, there’s nothing more authentic or rewarding than knowing that you are delivering your message in a way that feels right and to the right person. This isn’t egotistical to say. If you truly have a command of your own message, who could be more powerful of an advocate than you are?

“But I don’t have enough time to do New Business. I’ve got other things that need to get done.”

Sure, I understand that. But do you think you can just give most salespeople a little instruction in a “set it and forget it” kind of way? I don’t buy that. They require guidance, collaborative planning and accountability measurement from you on a regular basis so that as a team, everyone can be on the same page consistently. That takes an investment of time too.

The middle ground can often come from better coaching and training.

This is where the rubber often meets the road. I’m certainly not immune to this challenge, which is why working with a sales coach like Steve Fretzin of Sales Results, Inc. can help ensure you’re disciplined in your activities and meeting with the right people rather than just tire kickers.

Are you with me so far? Think you have it in you to change at least a habit or two? What about as many as seven bad habits?

I think you can be committed enough to spend just two hours and a hair over $20 to find out.

If you’re in that camp, read on and join us on Wednesday, June 12th from 8am – 10am at 180 N. LaSalle as Steve and I present:

SELLING IS FOR LOSERS:
Seven Reasons to Change Bad Habits

Forget all the outdated “sales-ish” methodologies. Forget sounding like a used car huckster. Selling can be easier and even, yes, fun. Here are a few of the negative questions, assumptions and frustrations we will be solving in our interactive workshop:

· Why the traditional model of sales has failed
· Why social media “doesn’t work fast enough”
· Why you may be measuring social media success improperly
· Why your prospects are only buying on price
· Why you’re perceived the same as everyone else in your field

It’s a limited seating event, so if you’re committed to finding out just what kind of sales you can obtain on your own before blowing a large amount on Ronnie Rainmaker or hoping for the best with Commission Carl, this is the event you don’t want to miss. Mark your calendar for the morning of Wednesday, June 12th from 8am-10am at 180 N. LaSalle, Suite 3700.

Follow this link to register:
http://www.eventbrite.com/event/6528124797

Special rate for our readers to see Seth Godin, Gary V. and more!

Seth Godin. Gary Vaynerchuk. Mitch Joel. Randi Zuckerberg. Keith Ferrazzi. Avinash Kaushik.

Hearing one of these influencers in the world of social media and marketing is rewarding in itself. Hearing from all of them in one day is what I call one awesome intelligence download. Which is exactly what you can do when you join me in attending a special conference called The Art of Marketing, coming to The Chicago Theatre on Tuesday, April 24th.

If you want to get a better handle on metrics and analytics, creativity, brand development, marketing strategy and where social media is headed next, this is money well spent.

Especially since you can spend less of it as one of my readers.

That’s right. I’ve just been offered a special preferred rate from the event’s organizers to pass along to readers of Chicago Brander. Drum roll, please……

Special Offer:

Readers of chicagobrander.com will receive a savings of $50.00 per ticket or $100.00 per ticket when registering 3 or more people at the same time. This is a great deal as the regular price to attend The Art of Marketing is $399.

The promo code you can use when registering online is SK23 or by using this link:  http://www.theartof.com/marketing-chicago-2012/register?promo=SK23

To learn more about this incredible event, visit the event’s main link at: http://www.theartof.com/marketing-chicago-2012

For questions, call 416.479.9701 / 1.866.99.ART.OF

Hope to see you there for what should be a sold-out event!

Dan

8 Chicago Media Mavens I Love Following on Twitter

On this Valentine’s Day, I thought I would share the love with some wonderful people in town I look up to regularly for their wisdom on advertising, marketing and social media strategy. They make me a better expert at what I do (after all, nobody can know everything and if they claim to, be very suspicious) and make me grateful that we have such a social media community like Twitter where such sharing of knowledge can occur.

In truth, there are so many more than these 8 in town that I love following but I’d be writing this post for the next month or so. I didn’t include brands/organizations I love following for this list but specific people. If you have others you’d like to suggest for this list that you like following, let me know.

Here they are, in no particular ranking:

Gini Dietrich: @ginidietrich
Fun, smart, thought leader. Love watching her videos / reading her views on social media and PR’s role in it. Plus, I really hate the concept of PR “spin” so I have to love any person who also has the handle of @SpinSucks.

Liz Strauss: @lizstrauss
Great thoughts on social media that she writes originally and finds to share. On an underrated note, she takes some of the most stunning photos of the lake via Instagram.

Barry Moltz: @barrymoltz
I usually have a “Hey, I didn’t know that” moment when this gentleman shares compelling tweets on technology related to social media.

Amber Naslund: @ambercadabra
I became a fan of Amber’s the moment I read her book co-authored with Jay Baer, “The Now Revolution.” Most recently with Radian6, I’m anxious to watch her next venture and read her tweets in the interim.

Sima Dahl: @simasays
Social media wisdom from Sima dispensed regularly. We’ve had some nice banter over Twitter and look forward to meeting her in person soon.

Steve Congdon: @stevecongdon
The king of Chicago ad agency new business thoughts. And quite possibly one of the nicest people in town you may meet.

Ann Dwyer: @AnnDwyer_Crains
If it deals with Chicago business and entrepreneurs, Ann’s all over it through her Crain’s blog and tweets. (Full disclosure – I just started writing a weekly blog column on Crain’s each Wednesday, but was a genuine fan of Ann long before that).

Adriana Llames: @adrianallames
Adriana always has good things to share on the topics of personal branding and career coaching.

I know this is hardly an all-encompassing list. Again, there are many more in town that I love following in other areas. But you could do a lot worse than following these folks to start with.

And if you happen to like what these people are tweeting about, you may similarly enjoy following a certain guy who goes by the handle of @DanOnBranding. Just sayin’.

Personal branding friends and I chat on Blog Talk Radio’s “Metropolis”

Deborah Shane, host of "Metropolis"

Yesterday, it was my distinct honor to join my colleagues at the Personal Branding Blog for Deborah Shane’s Blog Talk Radio program, Metropolis.” In addition to myself and Deb Shane, the panel included Wendy Brache, Devin Hughes and Elinor Stutz

If you have about 30 minutes to spare, I think you’ll find it a worthwhile listen as we covered some great ground on personal branding in the digital age. Click on the show’s link above and let me know what you think.