Spanish Customer Service: A Lesson for Marketers

I felt closer to my butcher in Spain than I do to most of my neighbors in the USA. We shake hands, we smile, we talk recipes, he knows about my son and how well he is sleeping, and he usually gives me an extra slice of really good jamón when I order some. His name is Patxi Goñi and he runs a market stall inside one of the great markets in Pamplona. He takes his time with me, he is never in a rush, and he can see whether or not I have much time and adjusts accordingly. He is extremely attentive to my needs as a human, much more so than as a buyer of meats.

I compare this to my experience at my local grocery store back in the USA. Sure the checkout clerk is very pleasant, and she is quite efficient…too much so. The prompt to “swipe my card” is up before I have had a word in, and there is no eye contact when she says, “have a good day!” Some of the magic of a human interaction has been lost.

It’s interesting that when I am waiting to be served by Patxi, I take a number but am treated like a human.

However, when I am served immediately in my local store in the USA I feel like I have just had take-a-number service. Ironic, isn’t it?

Now, with Patxi in this example, sometimes the waiting lines were a bit too long for my tastes, so I would turn to a third example, that could present a middle ground that works for all.

In the small-sized Eroski supermarket, we had practically everything we needed in a relatively small space. Sure, we didn’t have as many choices, but we could always get by on what we found there. Gradually got to know everyone who worked there. Workers would often continue conversations we were having before, for example about yogurt flavors of a certain brand.

In the Eroski sometimes there would be a long line, but because of the small size of the store, cashiers would appear almost instantaneously. This allowed them to plan for bursts of customers while treating each of them like a real, breathing human being. The only time when things felt a little bit “efficient” was Saturday morning, where everyone was doing their shopping for Sunday (Almost all grocery stores are still closed in Pamplona on Sunday). Still, there was never any rush, and you almost always received courteous, human service.

I think this middle ground is the ideal that most companies today should hope to strive for, especially with respect to resource planning. Simple analytics of tracking busy times and having extra staff available, even if that is not their primary function, is essential.

Here is the marketing lesson:

In a typical marketing filter we have

Awareness à Understanding à Interaction à Transaction

And in a world where the “interaction” phase of our marketing is so susceptible to the distractions and busyness of our life, we are missing a HUGE opportunity in not planning how to treat the customer like a human being, adding so much value to their interaction that the transaction becomes the seamless next step.

I have a few ideas for small steps we can all make in whatever position we have, either inter- or intra-organizationally. These include the following:

  • Asking the other how they are doing before asking them to do something for you
  • Spending time getting to know someone’s interests, asking them about their hobbies and outside work life, etc.
  • If they have family, ask them about their family—each and every day.
  • Check in with people even without a business need, just once a day.
  • Build in an extra few minutes with every person you are going to talk to.
  • Have someone critique your emails for intelligibility / tone / etc.
  • Make birthdays a big deal, send them a special note (even email) on the day of.
  • Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact.
  • Make a written / visual reminder to have every conversation begin with the other person in mind.

We interact and care for another person always. This is fundamental to being a “good” marketer, otherwise we end up as manipulators, because marketing is something we do “for” someone, not “to” someone.






What Makes a Marketer a Marketer

I see that there are two essential functions of any good marketer.

The first is tactics.

A marketer needs to be obsessed with implementing the right tactics in the right way. The great thing is that there are a near endless number of tactics that are important. Social media posts, inbound marketing work, copywriting, printing, etc. These are the essential tools in the marketers toolbox. Interestingly, they are often replaced or refined, some altogether, some only in part. Since that is the case, a marketer is always learning new tools, retiring some, and learning to hack old ones.

However, how does a marketer choose which tools to use? How do they know which skills to devote time into? There are some tools (listening tools) that can help keep an ear out for where the customers are, and then other tools that can be used once we know where they are, but those don’t quite have enough depth to really inspire creativity or get the right message. That’s why we turn to the other half of marketing, the underwater part of the marketing iceberg. I call this, insight.

The second is insight.

Insight is what lets us distinguish a good idea from a bad idea. Insight can be learned, but it requires the brain and training to get there. This is the land of thought leadership, of story-based  branding, of conceptual marketing.

While insight can be trained for, it’s a much more cerebral kind of activity. This is the work of Seth Godin, of Chip and Dan Heath, of Jim Collines of Donald Miller. This is also the work of so many coaches and business books that are written today, who have varying degrees of success.

For me, I have the most fun in insight, but I also love the tactics. Some marketers are on the other side, where they might really enjoy specific analytic tasks or production. Neither of these are wrong, but it is important to have a balance, as both insight and tactics work symbiotically.

If you are a manager of marketers or a marketing team: beware. Do not take all the insight upon yourself and leave all the tactics for your team, or the reverse. If you are not a marketer, do not steamroll over the insight your marketer should be able to provide. Marketing is a fine balance, and the best hires will be a very nice balance of these things.

Cut Social Media Clutter with a Solid Framework

Don’t believe there is social media clutter? I direct you to exhibit A.


This “supergraphic” designed by Scott Brinker is a summation of everything you will see in the Marketing Technology Landscape, i.e. anything where marketing uses technology. I actually quite like this graphic because it helps localize not only the many functions of marketing and technology, and it’s brilliance is in its flouting the conventional wisdom of infographic / data visualization.

To cut through this clutter, however, I believe we have to be able to simplify all our efforts and take a really well reasoned, accessible approach to what we are doing as marketers that help kill the clutter and focus on the essentials. If we don’t have a good hierarchy to follow in our minds, then we will be ineffective  in our teams and our services will fold.

Michael Hyatt proposes I think the strongest framework for organizing our marketing efforts and cutting the clutter. Here it is:

  1. Homebase: This is your home and where you want to direct all traffic in order to convert social media interest to mailing list signups and product purchases. This is what you own and where you deliver.
  2. Embassies. These are part of any service, like facebook or linked in, and they focus on interactions with people on their own terms. They are not the greatest source of value but always point toward the homebase.
  3. Outposts. These are where you have a listening ear to what the conversation is doing, where you monitor your name and can respond to critiques and issues quickly.

With this framework, we can start putting the marketing technology landscape to better use. Once we start to see how each of these services can fit inside to each of these area, then we can get more clarity within our organization and drive more business. This does not mean business isn’t complex, only that complexity needs to be well organized.

In addition, this follows the Rule of Three’s, that I love so much. Data that comes in threes is always easier to remember than data that comes in any other format.




My Marketing Education

I don’t have a BA or Masters in Marketing. I DO have a solid marketing education that is up-to-date, experienced, deep, and constantly learning new techniques / tricks. Wrap that in a Certificate in Judgement from Painful Life Experiences U, and you have me.

Marketing is my professional passion, that’s why it’s so easy for me to get excited about digesting new concepts and books, and also discerning what is good to keep and what to leave behind.

There are a LOT of things to leave behind. Especially traditional methods, mailers, etc.  These days, to not be current is a greater sin than to not be correct. So here is what I am doing right now to brush up my marketing skills:

Books in the last month (Good for bigger, in-depth concepts):

  • How to write copy that sells (Ray Edwards)
  • Fascinate (Sally Hogshead)
  • Secrets of Closing the Sale (Zig Ziglar)
  • Essentialism (Greg McKeown)


  • Seth’s blog (seth godin)
  • The CoSchedule Blog (really nice, in-depth howtos)
  • Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert
  • Hubspot (for Automation)
  • Moz blog (SEO)
  • Tableau

Tools I’m learning / mastering:

  • Edgar
  • Google Analytics (there is always more to learn)
  • MediaVisor
  • Atlas
  • DART
  • Salesforce


  • Coursera / University of Illinois’ IMBA program (free and pretty neat; a good place to start)


  • Ray Edwards (the most hilarious and abstract and random podcast you will find
  • Michael Hyatt (productivity / mentorship)
  • I love marketing
  • Anything from Convince and Convert

I’m building and shaping this curriculum each day, but here is where I am at today.

I Will Never Get a Bill: Medical Care Reform

Yesterday we had to take an ambulance to the hospital. All is okay.

I will never get a bill for this.

We were triaged and treated immediately. No bills.

We were given a medication that began to help, then a doctor saw us for a complete examination as soon as was medically appropriate. No bills.

Health care in Spain is not “free,” but for all the basics and then some you will never get a bill.

Today I am writing about medical care. I’m not an expert in this field but I have gotten to know the Spanish and European system very well and I have worked for a group that designed economic models of long term care coverage that saved states money.

The medical care system has and continues to work very, very well here in Spain. Sure, there are problems, and there are waiting times for some procedures. Also, sometimes people will pay about $60-200 for a second opinion outside of the main hospital out of pocket. If you are diagnosed with cancer, this can be well worth your time.

Ohh but the HUGE TAXES. Actually, your tax dollars here go to pay for a whole heck of a lot more than healthcare…some things good, some things bad. Too many? Definitely! Much of the government is far too unnecessary and inefficient. But, healthcare is not the reason that people pay higher taxes here.

For example, the World Bank has a neat chart about healthcare expenditures as a percentage of GDP. For Spain, between 2011-2015 healthcare spending is 9% of GDP.  For the USA it’s 17.1%. In dollar amounts, that’s approximately $9,340 per person in the USA per year, or $2,657 per person in Spain. Yes, salaries are much lower in Spain, but what matters here is the difference in the proportion of the GDP that is being spent. In the USA we pay 90% more per person for the healthcare we receive.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Ohh but those long, socialist waiting lines. It depends on your own particular health administration, but here in Navarra, this is a myth. Also, the facilities are beautiful.


As I see it, we are paying much more money for much less care in the USA, and we are leaving those who can least afford it to be vulnerable to the costs of medical attention. $1000 emergency room visits for a family of 3 that make $50,000? Are you kidding me? Whatever stereotype you have in your mind on this that allows you to blame the victim of a sickness is sheer perversity. Yes, we need to incentivize people to take care of themselves and to understand and listen to their bodies. This is fundamental. But this doesn’t account for the fact that we are spending far too much money for far too little care.

Diagnosis: too much money for too little care.

Prognosis: Rebalance how we spend our medical dollars; redistribute the financial burden for how we pay for this care; redesign key features of our medical system that cause us to pay absurd amounts for care.

Rebalance: Study how to spend money in the most effective ways to provide the best care for the most people and high-quality care for all people. This can be in simple tricks like funding public-private partnerships that allow hospitals to improve care and efficiency. Also, get insurers out of the pharmaceutical business and

Redistribute: Move medical care down to not only a state-level, but a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) level. Allow people within their own area to shape policies on what types of elective (non-emergency) coverage is covered. Allow taxes to follow these areas, and allow rural health care to be funded by the overall system.

Redesign: Create public-private partnerships (improved efficiency, higher quality care, allow for religious institutions to participate fully with their own values) to provide care. Create a national “race-to-the-bottom” for generic drugs, antibiotics, which are produced as cheaply as possible at the highest quality standards. Begin a national pharmacy system, which allows one to pick up their prescriptions anywhere, or at least the closest pharmacy. Allow these drugs to be subsidized based on income.

The European model can teach us a lot. But let’s not let our attachment to what is familiar prevent us from doing the right thing.



Magically Memorable Marketing Part III: The Parts also the Whole

You will see this routine quite often in product demonstrations, when a company is showing off it’s technological prowess. From microprocessors to BMW engines, people love to know how all the parts work together, or at least feel like they do.

Simply, this routine describes the whole of a complex image, idea, text, in a coherent narrative, then it dives in and shows what the individual parts are. It can show ownership, it can show belonging, status, passion, tribal status, education,

The parts and the whole can help craft one’s identity in a very strong way. For example, Budweiser is attempting to replace, well, “Budweiser” with “America” On their bottles:

Budwiser America Credit Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

I don’t know enough about the Budweiser clientele, sales, etc to judge whether this will work, but this is a BRILLIANT use of “the parts and the whole.”

The whole: America
The parts: If drinking beer, Budweiser is the brand.
Message: America drinks Budweiser.

Simple, and it makes a very bold statement about one’s belonging.

Marketers should be careful to put themselves in their customer’s point of view when they start using this routine. This routine is best implemented when you are looking to educate your customer on something that is complex, it acts as a filter for all the information that you will have.

An interesting insight: people are usually comfortable to not know how, until you show them that by learning the parts they can get some benefit or reward. Physicians study the systems of the body, down to the finest minutiae of detail, because they know there is a reward for knowing how the parts and the whole work together. Boeing is extremely proud of it’s carbon fiber wings on the 787, because its a part that makes the whole (cheaper aircraft to operate) possible.

In fact, there are two questions best associated with the two parts of this routine. The “what” corresponds to the whole, and the “how” corresponds to the parts.

In fact, this is perhaps the most effective strategy for those who sell online courses like Michael Hyatt, Ray Edwards, etc. They show you what you get (the whole) and then they tell you how (the parts). Their offer is, “here is the whole, don’t you want to know what the parts are that make up this whole? For very little money, I can teach you this valuable information”

The human brain finds this irresistible; it can’t not know “how” something works. Ask any scientist (mad or otherwise) and they will tell you their motivation is to understand how things work, how evolution works, how a reaction takes place. Philosophers and theologians also ask “how” (what is a reasonable way I can describe existence) in response to “what” (I exist; or do I?).

The parts and the whole are especially effective when you have information overload. The key is to know where to start. This will depend on your audience and their needs. If you don’t have a relationship with someone, the best place to start is actually the parts, to ask the question, hey, do you see how your ___ is actually part of a whole?

  • Do you see how your [ROTH IRA] is actually part of [FINANCIAL PEACE]?
  • Do you know how [PENZOIL SYNTHETIC] is actually part of [LESS ENGINE BREAKDOWNS]

Each of these are just the parts, leading up to the whole.

On the other hand, when someone has a problem, they want to go from the whole to the parts.

  • “Doctor, my head hurts!” “Oh, you have a gall bladder problem.”
  • “I feel uncertain about my retirement” “Oh, let’s take a look at your 401k.
  • “I want a new job and don’t know how to get there.” “Oh, let’s take a look at the process you are using.

The parts and the whole, are extremely useful for distilling big ideas into simple ones, and allowing you to go very deep. This is why a doctor can prescribe a medication, not because they know the molecular structure, but because they see the whole person, then they figure out the systems, then they figure out the reaction that will take place, then they know how things will work out. It’s seems so complex, and it is, but you can trust safely that the doctors know their stuff because they understand the parts and also the whole.

The brain is just built that way.


Magically Memorable Marketing Part II: Compare and Contrast

Here it is the second of a three part series on how to make your marketing message memorable to your audience until they meet their maker. It uses the same principles of teaching, and it encourages the audience to do the work.

We call these the “routines” of learning. By making someone engage one of their routines, you help them make the information their own. Also, the great thing about these routines is that they are very easy to activate in the subconscious, so if you have their attention (key!) they will easily be able to perk up and learn. The first routine of learning we looked at was “I see; I wonder.”

Today’s magical tool: Compare and contrast.

That might sound like kind of a letdown for some of you, but look how often compare and contrast is used in marketing. List of features between different plans? Compare and contrast. Your product do something better than another? Compare and contrast. You want someone to make a life change and sign up for your coaching services, but in order to do so they have to weigh two alternatives for their future life? compare and contrast.

Here is a quick example from the interwebs:


Compare and contrast is almost everywhere, but instead of shying away from it, we should engage it, using the exact same wording if part of body text, but more probing questions or quality visuals for headlines.

Compare and contrast is also useful for helping us understand completely different ways of thinking, of dressing, of living. In Marie Kondo’s book, The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up, she teaches us a new way of organizing and improving our life, simply by comparing her old with her new, looking at what her previous methods got her and what her current method gets her. She uses compare and contrast to accentuate the cost of doing nothing and also the benefits of following the KonMari method of organization. Guess what? I’m a total convert.

Compare and contrast is also part of our evolution, especially when we are constantly calculating our social standings or social hierarchy. This can be used very subtle. For example, there is a story about how a guy won a round of golf with Michael Jordan. The guy showed up wearing a pair of very nice golf cletes but Michael Jordan refused to play with him, because they weren’t Nike’s. He actually told the guy to go into the clubhouse and buy a pair of Nike’s, I can’t remember if he comped them or not. What that story illustrates is that Jordan knew if he were photographed with a guy wearing another brand of sneakers, then he would be creating confusion. The line of contrast between the best (Jordan and Nike) and everyone else would be blurred if Jordan were to appear on the green with someone else, even if he weren’t wearing them.

Compare and Contrast belongs in every part of your marketing, branding, sales letters, etc. It is enormously powerful because it activates the brain very, very quickly.