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The Importance Of The Father And Daughter Relationship

Bailey Family + Sophia - Summer 2012Yesterday, our whole family attended the We Are Girls Conference hosted by GENaustin. If you’re a parent living in Central Texas and don’t know much about either the conference or GENaustin, I highly recommend you check out their website for more information.

We have two girls who are 13 and 10 and the kinds of issues they’re currently dealing with are intimidating: healthy body images, healthy friendships, improved self-confidence, being safe online, and the list goes on. It’s tough being a kid right now, but it’s particularly daunting to be a girl. As a parent, there are days when we feel completely overwhelmed by our responsibilities to be their guides and inspiration; to know when to give gentle comfort and to administer tough love. It’s made even more formidable when we – as parents – are struggling with our own feelings of self-worth, hopefulness, security…how are we supposed to give to our children what we sometimes can’t adequately give to ourselves? Okay, so I guess being a parent is pretty tough these days, as well.

I vividly remember the day when we first talked about attending the We Are Girls Conference. When Carrie, my wife, mentioned the conference, I thought (maybe even said), “Well, that sounds like a good thing for you to do with the girls.” I heard that whole “girls” thing and instantly figured that as a “boy” I didn’t have a part to play, that I could get a free pass out of spending a day learning about issues affecting the lives and well-being of my daughters, that moms are uniquely qualified to deal with all this tough stuff. Yep, nice try Dad…you dumbass.

Here’s the problem with that whole way of thinking: We fathers are a critical factor in the health and happiness in the lives of our daughters. To disregard this role is to ignore our own gifts and do our girls a disservice. In this blogpost by Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick at SheKnows Parenting called How Fathers Influence Daughters, she writes:

A dad’s involvement in his daughter’s life is a crucial ingredient in the development of a young woman’s self-esteem. [Professor Michael] Austin identifies positive elements of ‘common sense’ parenting for dads so they can help support their daughter’s self-image and curb any possibility of low self-esteem: Verbal encouragement, being consistently present in her life, being alert and sensitive to her feelings, taking time to listen to her thoughts and taking an active interest in her hobbies. ‘It’s important to actually do these things, which can sometimes be quite challenging,’ Austin adds. Direct involvement and encouragement by her father will help diminish a girl’s insecurity and increase her confidence in her own abilities.

Yes, we fathers are pretty damned important and we need to step up in the lives of our girls.

If I have one challenge to make to GENaustin and the We Are Girls Conference, it’s that there must be more for fathers. There were no sessions that addressed the crucial role of the father in a girl’s life. Each of the breakouts that involved parents were primarily devoted to the mother/daughter dynamic. For the handful of us fathers who did show up, we found our way through sessions on how girls interact online and in social media, how today’s media culture is impacting their self-images, how to help them find their own sense of empowerment. Don’t get me wrong, I got a lot of insight through these sessions. It was equally important for my daughters to see me there and trying to better understand the issues they face every day. But, we dads need to be a visible presence at conferences like these and in order to attract more of us, there must be programming that speaks to our own questions and aspirations.

So, here’s what I’m doing: I’m making an open, public commitment to advocate for more father and daughter sessions at next year’s conference. I believe I’m not alone in looking for help, for resources, for networks in order to be a better father. Because here’s what I know: the father/daughter dynamic is special. We dads can offer their girls things that will contribute to their success in life.

Other Father/Daughter Resources:
5 Ways Fathers Influence Their Daughters
Daughters Need Fathers, Too
Supportive Fathers Help Reduce Stress in Daughters

PS. The above photo includes my daughters – Leah (far left) and Katie (far right) – along with my wife, Carrie. The little gal in the middle is my niece, Sophia. This raises the positive role that uncles can play in the lives of their nieces, too. So even if you don’t have daughters of your own, but you do have nieces, you can still be a strong male role model in a young girl’s life.

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An Ode To Fellow Late Bloomers

One of my favorite children’s books that I fondly remember reading to my two daughters is called Leo the Late Bloomer. It’s the story of a young tiger cub who learns to do things on his own timetable. When all his other young animal friends are reading, talking, and writing, Leo feels sad and frustrated because he can’t do any of those things well. His dad is concerned and asks Leo’s mom, “Are you sure Leo’s a bloomer?” She lovingly replies, “Patience. Leo is just a late bloomer.”

While written for children (and their worried parents) who struggle to bloom while their peers seem to pass them by, the book’s message speaks to all of us who are still uncertain of our purpose in life.

Now I’m getting pretty close to 40 and the ticking I hear isn’t the oft-discussed biological clock. It’s more like the drumbeat of societal (possibly personal) expectations compelling me to finally figure out my place in this world. When given voice, it’s a critical one questioning why I’m not further along on a career path, not more renowned in a chosen field, not closer to the top of my game. It should’ve all happened by now…right? Is this a sign that marketing/branding/customer experience just isn’t the right place for me? I confess I often feel like Leo: when all his peers are able to write eloquently and eat without making a mess, he’s undoubtedly wondering if his time will ever come.

And yet…

A completely different way of looking at it might be that those of us who are on this journey are the lucky ones. Our longer-than-intended quest for professional meaning and self-discovery can help us to be even brighter and shinier than if we had it laid out for us in black and white.

I do take comfort knowing I’m not the only one who took time to figure out the meaning of their lives in their work. Several creative geniuses showed us that success comes at any age.

Julia Child didn’t achieve culinary acclaim until her late forties.
Alfred Hitchcock directed his finest achievements between the ages of 54 and 61.
Paul Cézanne’s greatest works were painted in his sixties.

And here are a few more curated posts:
Late Bloomers: 7 Authors Who Prove It’s Never Too Late To Start A Writing Career
The Late Bloomer from Forbes Magazine
Late Bloomers from Malcom Gladwell

As Leo’s mom would lovingly advise, perhaps all we need to do is remind ourselves to be patient. Our blooming is just coming a bit later.

PS. Thanks for reading. This post – more than others I’ve written lately – did not come easy at all. I wrestled with vulnerability and tried my damnedest to keep the whininess to a minimum. My hope is that something here resonated with you. If that did happen, then I am honored in knowing it was worth all the effort to write.

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Dreams Of Being An Architect

Remember the character George Costanza from Seinfeld? You may not know it but me and him, we have much in common. We both (still) have a little thing for Marisa Tomei. We both have a better than average shot at making idiots of ourselves in public. And we both wish we were architects.

When I was a kid, I loved building things. I remember my grandmother had a couple of small streams around her house. You’d often find me building dams on those streams with pebbles and mud. When the dams fell apart, I’d just rebuild and try to make them stronger. I had a closet full of Erector Sets, Legos, and other construction toys. I fondly recall that I particularly loved my KENSTRUCT Girder and Panel Construction Set made by Kenner Toys.

Perhaps you’re asking why the hell didn’t I become an architect. The short answer is: I honestly don’t know. While I didn’t really excel at math, I was a pretty good geometry student. And when I did drafting as part of wood shop in junior high, I truly enjoyed it. Maybe I didn’t get the right nudges as a kid. Or maybe I did and ignored them.

But that’s not really what this post is about. I don’t want to pine for a past that’s long gone. And I don’t want to miss out on the future that’s to come because I’m wallowing in regrets. Instead, I want to honor the creative spirit that still resides in me. Because I still love to build things.

I taught myself HTML back in 1998 (and later CSS) so I could build a website for my organization. I taught myself the basics of relational database design so I could build a better way to manage customer information. I took a significant risk with a job so I could build a customer service team.

Why should being an entrepreneur be any different? I now find myself building all kinds of new things. I’m building a business called inspectiv and creating something I truly believe companies need: help improving their customer experience. I’m also working on an exciting side project as a product manager so I can help build something a group of customers desperately want and need. I’m writing a book on how to rediscover purpose in our work. And I’m helping my wife build her business – Austin Carrie Works – by delivering marketing and branding insight to her clients.

As an entrepreneur, I get the chance to be an architect every day. My raw materials may be different. And my finished product may be different, too. But everything I do is intended to bring an idea from my imagination into reality.

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On Lemons And Uncertainty

I just did something that pisses me off about myself. I managed to suck all the joy out of what should otherwise be a fun business venture for my daughters.

Tomorrow is Lemonade Day. If you don’t know much about it, it’s a great way for kids to learn about business and entrpreneurship (learn more). In preparation, my gals are going through the workbook doing the math and exercises needed to figure out how much material they’ll need in order to make their goal. How do I choose to contribute to this process? By making it far more difficult, overwhelming, and anxiety-ladden than it should be. Yes, that’s me: Mr. Unfun Business.

Problem is, this is one of the biggest gremlins I face in my own work. When uncertainty arises, I don’t just get serious…I become something like a black hole of grimness, sucking the life out of any task. I find flaws in plans. I identify all the risks. I – though quite unintentionally – take activities that could be thrilling and turn them into miserable drudgery. In other words, I work my ass off to create certainty. And I fully understand that this is all horseshit since business and entrepreneurship is all about navigating the waves of uncertainty.

Sorry all, I just had to get this off my chest. There is quite a lot more coming on this topic of uncertainty. It’s one of the fundamental personal challenges I face as a startup business owner. I know I cannot expect to succeed without coming to grips with this inability to deal with all the uncertainty that comes with entrepreneurship.

Yes, starting and running a business isn’t all fun and games. But it sure as hell better be interesting, exhilarating, and worth doing. If I’m going to teach my daughters they can be successful businesswomen and that business is about courageously bringing our creative vision into reality, then that must start with my example. Now let’s make some lemonade.

 

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Why Great Writing May Not Be Enough To Win Blog Readers

The genesis of the tweet below (and this blogpost) was a realization late last night that I am my own enemy to growing my blog. Bailey WorkPlay has existed since 2004 in various incarnations. To date it contains nearly 500 posts, some of which have been featured on AllTop, The Social Customer, and The Customer Collective. Over the past few months, I was getting more and more angry about my relatively low readership and lack of general awareness.

I kept brooding that after eight years it still shouldn’t be this hard to build and keep an audience. This thinking was exacerbated lately by having a handful of people tell me – based on reading this blog – that writing is one of my key strengths. Well, if it’s one of my strengths, then why the hell don’t I have more readers?

But all of that angst ignored the fact that the problem is not “out there.” The problem – and responsibility for solving it – lies solely with me.

Here’s the question that is now driving my actions: Am I prepared and committed to doing the work of building an audience and growing my awareness as someone with expertise in marketing, branding, and customer experience?

If the answer is “Yes” then that means I need to commit to a few things if I want to win more blog readers:

  1. Post more frequently. Probably at least once per week, preferably 2x if at all possible. I can’t blame others for not being consistent readers if I’m not posting great content consistently.
  2. Improve my titles and other copywriting techniques. I’m wagering the single biggest reason why I don’t get many clicks is because I give throwaway titles to my writings. I’m opening myself to learning from smart practitioners such as Mack Collier and the folks over at Copyblogger.
  3. Bring even more “me” into each post. Tell more stories. Open the kimono just a bit more. I’d like to thank this post from Entrepreneur and this one from Amber Mac at Fast Company for the inspiration here.

But enough about me…what about you? Are you satisfied with your reach and influence as a blogger? Take it further. Is there another area in your life where things are just not where you want them to be? If so, stop looking for answers or blaming others out there. Look inside, instead.

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Can Your Startup Succeed Like Pinterest? Only If You Understand People

I’ve been talking with startups in Austin (and a few who made the trip here for SxSW) about how they incorporate the customer into their business. The conversation usually begins at a high-level, where I learn they have someone covering customer support. Then they mention they’re monitoring social media and eventually they realize they think about the customer in their UX design. This is good. It’s the baseline any company – startup or mature – should bake into their operations. But is it enough to differentiate a startup from the competition?

In an interview at SxSWi, Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann explained how his startup is organized:

Pinterest’s small team of 20 people is not driven by engineering. The company is split into three divisions: Engineering, design and social — with “social” a combination of quantitative people and community people, who try to understand how and why people use Pinterest, how social groups form and how social norms propagate (emphasis added).

I added that emphasis for a reason. Pinterest doesn’t just want to build apps for customers…it wants to create experiences with them. You can’t do that by sitting in a cube imagining how a customer might use your product. You have to get out of the workspace and observe all the different ways your product is being used in the wild. You need to understand how people are interacting with it in relationship to their everyday world. Take a page from the Pinterest playbook and figure out deeper questions such as:

Why are people really using your product?
Are new social groups forming around your product?
Are unique social norms developing around these new groups?
How can these groups help your business grow…or destroy you if treated poorly?

To be honest, I have no idea if Pinterest is employing fellow anthropologists or social scientists. Based on the mission of their social division, it sure looks like it. But what about your startup? What do you know beyond the usual customer stuff? Do you know why and how your product is being used? If not, we should really have a chat soon…before your competition realizes this is their pathway to true business advantage.

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Five Ways You’re Killing Your Employer Brand At Job Fairs

Last week, I attended the Tech Career Expo which was held in conjunction with SxSW 2012. I persevered the driving rain, crowds of festival-goers, as well as sparse and horrendously overpriced parking options to check out what was billed as “not your normal career fair.” In the end, I was sadly disappointed to find that it actually was just. like. every. job. fair. ever. As much as I enjoy a good brew, the fact beer was served did not create a revolutionary new experience.

Before I start, let me say I fully empathize with the trials and tribulations of being a trade show exhibitor. I’m all too familiar with being on my feet for hours rattling off the same 30 second “Who We Are” pitch to countless booth visitors. I know how hard it is to maintain the same upbeat nature of the first day on days two and three (and sometimes four). But any organization should know the same rules which we marketers use for creating business with prospective customers very much apply to attracting possible job applicants. It should come as no surprise that the differences between marketing brand and employer brand are wafer-thin.

So if you’re attending or in charge of sending representatives to the next job fair to promote your employer brand, I hope you’ll find these observations from a marketing trade show veteran useful.

1. You’re damn happy and appreciative to be there.
Whatever you’re actually feeling about being there, the prospect doesn’t care. All they care about is your complete and undivided attention. If you and your booth staff are bitching about having to be on your feet all day and looking like you’d rather be anywhere but at that very spot, imagine how a potential job seeker must feel. And yes, I did have someone do this to me. I can guarantee it did nothing to endear me to him, his company, or his company’s product.

2. You know your company and what it does by heart.
Unless your company is named Dell, Apple, or Google, it’s extremely likely potential applicants will want to know more about your business. It might even be their first question. So have the 30 second pitch down cold. Know the basics: your industry, your target customers, what your product or service does, and your competition. And if this sounds like common sense, let me say that reps from at least three booths at the Expo would have gotten a failing grade here.

3. You can speak eloquently about your open positions and employment needs.
Please don’t just go through the motions…you might as well not have a booth at all. When I asked the question, “What types of positions are you trying to fill?”, I had more than one booth rep shove a piece of paper toward me and respond, “They’re all here.” Sorry, but that’s not the question I asked. I’m certainly capable of taking collateral and reading it. What I want to hear is some insight into your company and what skills/backgrounds/expertise you need to move your business forward. Sorry? Your booth reps don’t have that kind of information? Then educate them or leave them at home.

4. You can help the prospect understand how great it is to work at your company.
Yes, I know how much you like working at the company. While your perspective is important to hear, I also know you’re getting paid to say how much you like working at the company. Instead, do this: help me understand why I might love to work there. Paint the picture, not from your perspective, but from my own. Take a couple of minutes to ask me what I do, what my strengths are, where I want to go in my career…then help me see exactly why I would want to take my talents to your organization.

5. Finally, you’re a brand representative so act accordingly.
I may never, ever work for your organization. I may not possess the type of skills you need now or in the future. I may not quite fit with your culture. But that still doesn’t mean I’m a throwaway contact. Each potential job application you come into contact with at a job fair may end up being the individual who chooses your company to do business with in their next gig. Or refers an important key client in the direction of your company. Taking the short-view of any candidate’s viability obscures the hard truth that we live in a hyperconnected world.

Photo credit: KUT

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Think Personal Touch Doesn’t Matter To Your Brand?

Think again, amigo. Today’s reminder comes from Klout, who actually did much to redeem itself by not hiding behind a faceless corporate persona. When it made a mistake in an email, the mea culpa came from their marketing associate’s personal Twitter account.

It started with an email received this morning from Klout letting me know about a perk. Note who it is addressed to.

Not sure who Lan is, but I semi-joked with Klout that if they think I’m Lando Calrissian they may have a slight problem (though, I do think I still have my smooth old-school Billy Dee moments).

The response I got back was not an anonymous, sorta sincere “Sorry about that” from the Klout account. Instead, a response came from Lan Nguyen, Klout’s marketing associate who constructed and sent the email.

Turns out Lan messed up the personalization and came clean about it. And you know what? Name me one marketer who hasn’t done the exact same thing when working with email. We all usually test but we can also get impatient, particularly when we have a gazillion other tasks to accomplish. And sometimes we’re working with email marketing platforms that make it exceptionally difficult to test even the simplest of personalizations let alone complex segmentations.

What’s the learning here?

  1. Make it easy for your customers to empathize with you. Don’t hide behind anonymous social media accounts. Smiling faces – like Lan’s – really do make a difference as to how people feel about your brand.
  2. Keep hammering away in your internal branding docs the value of being personable, real, and yes, vulnerable. Your customers are smart and they know when they’re getting the corporate treatment. Screw up? Then fess up and learn how to do better. I very much believe that Lan – after she deals with the barrage of confused/irritated tweets – will work doubly hard to not make the same mistake in the future.
  3. And reward employees for being human and putting a face on your brand. They only hide in the shadows of anonymity when they know they’re going to get shredded by management for screwing up.

What are your favorite examples of brands that know how to humanize their customer experience?

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AT&T Proves It Knows Zilch About Positive Customer Experience

Want to know how to quickly turn a new customer into a vocal ex-customer? Offer pretty talk without delivering meaningful results. This is my personal experience dealing with AT&T.

First the set-up. As a part of our family’s end-of-year review of finances, we realized we were paying too much for cable, internet, and phone with TimeWarner. We went out and researched other providers and settled on AT&T’s DSL and phone bundle (we decided to nix cable for a while) based primarily on price. We placed our order on January 9 and were told the effective date would be January 17. So far, so good.

The evening of January 17, I plug in the DSL unit and nothing: no phone, no internet. I call tech support and I get a friendly guy who tells me there’s something wrong with our account but because it’s after-hours, he can’t get more information. No problem, I’ll call back in the morning. When I call New Services the next day, the individual I talk to verifies the problem and tells me the internet order has been pushed out 45 days. Why? Well, she couldn’t be sure but would get it resolved. Just give them a couple of days and it would be taken care of. A couple of days later, we are met at our door by a tech who says he’s come to turn on our phone. My first thought was, “Why the hell are you here on Friday instead of Tuesday like you were supposed to be?” But I’m happy we’re finally going to get our service – as promised – so I say, “Great, go ahead and help yourself to whatever you need.” Thirty minutes later, he returns to the door and says there’s a problem with our line and will need to come back with new equipment. Unfortunately, we don’t see him again that afternoon and I guess AT&T doesn’t work weekends so we don’t see another individual until Monday. Never mind the fact the tech screwed up the phone line and we were without home phone service for the weekend.

Monday morning another tech arrives to fix the problem and after 2-3 hours of work feels confident he’s got us all sorted out…without fully checking that both phone and internet actually work. Unfortunately, I have the mother of all sinus infections that day so I take him at his word. Later in the evening, I check on the DSL unit and I’m amazed to see the red blinking light that tells me it’s still not functioning properly. The only service that appears to be working is the phone but it only works if using the phone jack in our upstairs office (the downstairs kitchen jack that is our preferred location is broken).

Next day, I try to call New Services but because of the labyrinthine phone tree, I think I ended up talking with a central call center rep. Yes, there appears to be a problem with our account. No, she can’t determine what the problem is. Yes, I’m still going to be fully charged starting on our effective date of January 17 even though I haven’t received close to satisfactory service. Yes, she’ll make a note of my objection.

If you’re keeping score so far, I’ve spoken to at least three AT&T contacts over the phone and two techs. And our service problem is far from being resolved. Not exactly the best experience you want for a new customer, particularly one who works in customer experience.

I decide to take a different route and contact AT&T via Twitter and see if I can get someone to give a shit about my problems. I manage to get a fairly quick response from @ATTCustomerCare on January 26 and am told to send an email with an accounting of our problems.

Hallelujah! A response from Algeria, Social Media Manager at AT&T. Finally, someone who will own my problem and finally help me get our service started. Right?

Imagine my raging frustration when all I get is more sweet talk about wanting to help and escalating the issue without seeing actual results. Since the nine days since @ATTCustomerCare told me I could expect a call about resolving this issue, I’ve received ZERO calls. But I sure have received plenty of tweets of apology and reaffirmations that I’m important.

Guess what? Every one of those tweets might as well read, “Blah, blah, blah you unimportant asshole customer, we’re big and we really don’t care.” Do I believe Algeria was sincere? Yes, but it doesn’t matter if everything she says is counteracted by a company without a clue when it comes to delivering a positive customer experience.

So as I mentioned yesterday via Twitter, AT&T has not only lost a new customer but gained a very vocal detractor who will be more than happy to share his customer experience with anyone, anytime, anywhere. All the nice words, all the marketing and PR bullshit, all the empty promises mean nothing if a problem isn’t resolved. Because in the end, that’s the power all customers have over companies that prove they really don’t care through their actions.

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Marketers Are Hypocrites

Yep, big fat, stinking hypocrites. Why? Because we perpetrate the same marketing bullshit that annoys us to no end on our own prospects and customers. Think I’m joking? How many times have you secretly – or publicly – wished a company would treat you like an actual human being in their messaging? Wished they would actually send you information that recognized your own special snowflake qualities?

Now, turn it around: when was the last time you actually tried to give the same level of appreciation with your own prospects and customers? Do you see each name and recognize it belongs to an individual?

Before you answer, honestly consider about how you think about that house file in your CRM. Think about how you organize your reports. Think about how you’re rewarded in your job. Think about what really matters in your success.

None of this is intended to point fingers (hell, I know I would already have three fingers pointing right back at me). Instead, my intent is to stir some awareness that things need to change. And that change should start with the language, syntax, imagery we use in marketing. As my esteemed friend and fellow marketer, Russ Somers, notes in his Human Marketing Manifesto (and also the genesis of this post):

I am not traffic. I am not driven by your marketing to your site like a lemming is driven by instinct to a cliff’s edge. I am a person who had a need to know something…Where am I in your funnel? What a stupid question. Who the hell wants to be in a funnel?

I don’t have any definitive answers…at least not yet. But it seems to me that if marketing as a discipline is to evolve toward where the world is going, we better get ourselves together and plot a new direction. Else, we don’t need to wait for the comet to wipe out our profession, we’ll have done all the damage ourselves.

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