When I Don’t Know My Customer

I look stupid.

Really, really, really stupid.

I tried writing some copy for our customer base, and had someone in the industry take a look. They laughed and said, “I don’t think this guy knows what he is talking about or who he is talking to.” That stings, but it’s a good dose of humility.

Seth Godin says that the essence of marketing is “people like us do things like this.” But what happens if you *aren’t* one of those people? What happens where the culture and climate of who you are serving isn’t who you intrinsically are?

The first thing is to be patient. Falling in love, if done well, takes time. That’s why the liberal NPR host can marry the Trump-voting Afghanistan veteran, but maybe she wouldn’t think of him initially.

Second thing, is to realize that if you “aren’t” one of them by custom, you can become one of them by love. One of the most essential ways to love is to try to understand. If I try and understand something or someone, I begin to develop an appreciation or love for it.

There are basic ways to develop this love. For example: read the things they are reading, learn why they are doing what they are doing. Tell them you appreciate what they do. Figure out what things they need. Find out what their own “love languages” really are. This doesn’t mean you have to end up as one of them, but just that you have to seek them.

However, we cannot miss three essential points that will aid in understanding:

  • What does the customer want? No, what do they really want.
  • What is good about what they want? Think about it.
  • What is their internal motivation? Why do they want it personally / emotionally.
  • What is their external motivation? What functionally makes them want this.
  • What is their philosophical motivation? Why do they do it on a big picture? Can you speak to that?

If we don’t understand these things, then we cannot respond to their need. However, our understanding will be incomplete unless we have the motivation given by…..love.


New Job: New Blog

On a podcast with the Ziglar corporation, Seth Godin mentioned that he believes everyone should blog. The purpose of a blog used to be a private journal to be read publicly; nowadays it is more of a public statement of what you stand behind publicly.

This is big: what you publish has to be what you stand for and be called to account for. 

If that thought perilizes you, then perhaps that is an excellent indication that you might not have everything figured out about a given topic. For example, many political conversations end up being a source of bickering over facts rather than actually discussing models of policy. If the “truth” is something that is important to you, then the current political milieu is a sticky mess that needs help. 

However, you may still have a number of ideas to write and contribute to the world. It’s become a bit of a trope that heating and air professionals ought to have a blog, because others trust heating and air guys who share the tricks of the trade more than those who play close to the vest. In addition, those who blog daily (if even just biweekly) will be better professionals at whatever they are working on after one year of practicing their craft. 

With that, I want to introduce my new position as a commercial property manager — meaning that I will be managing tenants and buildings for businesses, and not residences. That means the new insights I will be bringing to this blog on account of that position, perhaps I will even start a new blog based on these experiences.

Since I see myself as a marketer, I am going to focus heavily on the marketing aspects of property management. In particular, the role of this position is not simply to keep the a/c running and the pipes unclogged. Yes, it is primarily about maintaining an investment for a landlord, but the really fun part is that it is about helping small businesses become more successful. That means I get to become a local business geek, learning new and different ways of modeling and running companies to be successful based on their location and physical environment. I may not know everything about building mechanical systems, but I do know how the right systems help a tenant become more successful, comfortable, etc.

Broken Windows for Marketers

I’m not talking about when your Microsoft software goes down, I am referring to a theory developed in the 1970’s by George Kelling and James Wilson that is somewhat controversial but can be extraordinarily powerful in identifying big time wasters and losses in reputation and money.

The theory is designed to reduce crime, bring big criminals to justice, and to improve the quality of a neighborhood by involving neighbors. It goes like this:

  1. A broken window (or graffiti, or any other blemish) is about 10 times more likely to occur on a building that already has a broken window than one that has all its windows in good order. Lesson: keep your windows in good order.
  2. Those who commit small acts of vandalism aren’t “big  time” criminals, but almost always know those criminals. Lesson: follow down troublemakers.
  3. By heavily prosecuting small crimes, you can almost always get to the bigger criminals in exchange for a clean criminal record.  Lesson: fight back.
  4. The community is essential in policing themselves, which means police need to have strong relationships with their local community in order to police effectively. Vested community members can often identify those who are committing crimes better than anyone else.Lesson: know your community.

As a marketer I take away the following lessons from this theory. First, the time we spend in keeping a good reputation is very worthwhile. 

Tips for marketers form Step 1) Keep your windows in good order

Part of this means keeping our appearance in pristine condition. A spelling error may make a big difference, and anything glaringly wrong that isn’t fixed immediately is equivalent to a big broken window. Too much work, you say? Simplify, simplify, simplify. If you can’t keep your online space immaculate, then you are trying to do too much in order to effectively market.

On a product marketing level this means keeping your physical location “on brand.” Anything that is not “on brand” is like a big broken window. Commercial cleaning products in the bathroom of an “organic only” grocery store is not on brand. Neither is having graphic novels for reading in the waiting room at a lawyer’s office (I get that there are exceptions). The bathrooms in a greasy spoon only need be acceptable, but at a posh restaurant they need to be brilliant. And if you are the super hip, heavy-rustic designed restaurant Ned Ludd in Portland, they need to look like this

Also, invest in maintenance. I guarantee if your service is clean, well maintained, and looks professional–no matter the price point–you will have more loyal, happy and repeat customers.

Tips for Step 2) Follow down troublemakers

Now, outside of our own space, we also need to do our best to clear up graffiti about us. This could mean on Yelp, Amazon, etc. we need to be very proactive about following up and challenging bad ratings. Sometimes competitors will launch a campaign against us, write false reviews or simply leaving a bogus post on some site, because they were mad that we didn’t have oranges even though we were an apple orchard.

 Now, there may be something to their anger, in which case it is best to help fix the problem. However, they may be off base. Still we can look at our messaging, and try to understand where that consumer might have become confused. Chain restaurants usually do a great job clearing up confusion through their branding, advertising, and graphic design. Others, not so much. What does “cracker barrel” sell anyway?  This emphasizes the importance of a “log line.” That’s the 1-2 sentence summary of a movie that you see. That helps cut the confusion.

Finally, these small hits are not to be taken too personally. They are more like someone dumping their trash in your yard. Unpleasant, annoying, gross, but not going to make me change what I’m doing. I will just ask them to clean it up, or I’ll have it cleaned up. And above all, no one has the right to treat you with disrespect. You don’t have the right to lash out at them, but if they are disrespecting you, they are not interested in being your customer. Diplomatically say, “we will miss you!”

However, it is absolutely VITAL that you take care of these complaints as soon as humanly possible!! Make sure you have all the alerts set up for anything less than a 4 star review on all the major websites that come to YOUR attention, or your marketing team’s attention.

Tips from Step 3) Fight back

However, if there is a systematic attack on your business by groups of people who hate you for one reason or another, then it is extremely important to prosecute them and hard. I would honestly consult a lawyer, and do whatever was necessary to find who they were and to determine if there was any link to one core person / business. Now, I’m not saying this is the case, but what if there were a local coffee shop that was targeting a local Starbucks branch and leaving nasty reviews everywhere imaginable. If I’m Starbucks, I’m taking that very seriously.

Now, if your lawyer says you have no legal basis, then I would actually treat the attacker as I would treat any bully: punch them in the face (metaphorically only! Don’t go to jail!). Do everything you legally can to publicize what they are doing, to make known that they are disingenuous and to launch a full social media war against them. So long as it’s legal and only so long as they are being a genuine bully. NB: Americans love underdogs. Always be the underdog.

Many companies respond to complaints on Twitter. Make sure you take the time to get to know your twitter followers, treat them as real human beings, and if you resolve a complaint or help them in a big way, offer an inbound way to help you, i.e. subscribe to a newsletter, get deals, review your customer service, etc. If the process is smooth (vital), then it will have a great impact.

Tips from Step 4) Use your community.

When you get to be a big company like Apple you have users magically appear who have drunk the Apple KoolAid and are ready to fight tooth and nail for the superiority of Apple products. Also, you have people in the support forums that are exceptionally willing to help report others, to help calm others down, and to help solve problems. Mystarbucksidea.com is a marketplace full of people who have a VERY particular set of ideas about what Starbucks *should* be.

Starbucks has an unwritten obligation to these active community members; they are obliged to care for them and listen to them. They are obliged to know them, to be of as much assistance as possible and treat them as (virtual) VIP’s. That’s because they are very important people to the brand. Rewarding the community around your business is hugely important, because it keeps it going and helps people feel as they they are part of something bigger, a deeper more intensely felt experience than just an average customer.

If your business doesn’t have a community, consider the ways in which it can be a good neighbor to those around it. What small acts of kindness to the employees or to the other customers can it perform. What additional beauty can it add to the area in plant life or landscaping. What acts of good will can it perform both locally and within the region. If online, what cause can you contribute to that your customers will care about?

Well, there it is, just a few ideas for how you can prevent vandalism to your business and know that it’s well worth the investment to keep sales moving and your company in tip-top shape.

Organizing Your Content Marketing

Since I am in the market for a marketing certificate, I thought I would do the mental work of creating an organizational chart for how I would create various content marketing campaigns for various personas. Below you will see Names, Profiles, and fundamental fears, followed by test titles and test topics.

I organize everything in Microsoft OneNote, because I find it to be the most extensible for sharing with others and being more of a mental sketchpad for myself, without all the coffee stains and booger marks.

NB: Content marketing has the same drawbacks as any other form of advertising. It runs the risk of being passed over very, very easily. Unless it is genuinely of service to the individual and tells an effective story, it will blend into the background. Also, I keep the titles and topics separate, because often titles have little to do with the actual topic, and we are in a race have the highest click-through rates.

Alright, here goes.

Molly Marketer

Took one “digital marketing” course as part of her Business Administration: Marketing (BA), loves it and wants to complete an additional certification to make her stand out.

“If I don’t get a job within 3 months after graduation, I will be a complete failure. I wish I had an additional something to make me more attractive to employers.”

Fundamental fear: being irrelevant

Test Titles

  • How I make the cover images for my blog posts
  • The excuses stop now. (time-sensitive)
  • Why not you?
  • I’m off-track with this goal
  • How to write a $10 Million sales page
  • Are you up for this challenge
  • Going the extra mile…
  • Why employers are looking at other candidates

Test Topics

  • The real secrets of what hiring managers are looking for
  • How to discover your professional mission / elevator speech.
  • Why the first 30 seconds are what matters, and three tips
  • Having job experience when you don’t have job experience.
  • Why stats was your most important class.
  • What specific skills your employer will swoon for.
  • Creating an always-current marketing CV/Resume.
  • Where succesful job seekers are really looking (crunchbase / angelist)

Amelia Apparel Deisgner

BA in Apparel Design. Wants to work

“I have no freaking idea what I am going to do with this degree. I want to move to LA, but I don’t know what I’d do when I got down there.”

Fundamental fear: being dependent.

Test Titles

  • Can we talk? (really)
  • Shocked by what this guy wrote about me
  • Time-sensitive (plz read now)
  • Here’s how to get started as a marketer
  • “Oh boy, this is huge!”
  • This is about you
  • Are you ready to ACTUALLY change your life?
  • I’m looking for copywriters…
  • Your opinion, please?
  • Why HR managers should be fired.

Test Topics

  • Why your odd academic training is extremely valuable to employers
  • The practical steps to take post-graduation to make sure you are employed.
  • How to shine up unconventional experiences / degrees.
  • More than good looks: how to
  • How to make your Resume measure up.
  • Interview with marketing directors / what they are looking for.

Eric Entrepreneur

Entrepreurialism / unconventional business major.

“My buddies and I want to do a startup (it’s like napster for hotdogs), but really have no idea how to get our ideas to market. I don’t want to have to ask mom and dad for startup money”

Alan Awesomesauce

Graduate: Had a very diverse set of experiences, probably an irrelevant degree, and hasn’t done anything in marketing in 4-5 years

“I want a credential that ‘gets me back in the game’ with employers that I can do part time. I don’t want employers to pass on my resume because I don’t have a credential.”

Since their fears are fundamentally the same, I’m gonna treat them the same: being insignificant.

Test Titles

  • Embarrassing admission
  • Does God care about your business?
  • The excuses stop now. (time-sensitive)
  • Download your free Marketing Manager’s Blueprint
  • Are you serious… or just a big talker?
  • What if this is as good as it gets?
  • If you want to write a book someday
  • Why you may never write a book

Test Topics

  • Lost in Lingo? How to get up to speed with marketing vocabulary.
  • Getting direction with your career.
  • You are already employed: how to treat your job search like FTE (Full-time employment)
  • How to fill in the gaps in your experience- an HR director spills all.
  • Make your connections more likely to introduce you to their business friends.
  • The certifications you may want to consider for your next career move.

5 Ways to Think about your Marketing Career that you Probably Haven’t Tried

Do you write copy for brochures? you may be in MarCom (marketing communications)…or maybe not. Do you like writing clickbait? That’s content marketing…unless it’s email…wait..(note, I have #bolded) things that need to be clarified later.

Some people have to wait until they get into the tech industry before they realize what kind of marketer they really are. That’s creates a disadvantage for everyone who is not in tech. So, this post is simply to clear up some terminology that you may have about marketing.

For example: MarCom (Marketing Communications)

If you are a MarCom, you are in charge of the voice of your company externally. That means that you may write press releases and do media relations, you may write brochures, ad copy, etc. Better said, you help tell your company’s story better and more clearly, in order to help customers engage. Think of marketing as a verb — it’s the work of offering and of giving value to others; then add the work of “communications” among any number of your communications #channels (facebook, email, tv, etc.).

Customer Marketing

This is a really fun one! You help tell the world success stories that your customers have had by working with you!  This usually comes as part of the #inbound marketing process. These stories can be lots of fun and use the “co-branding” space. As you remember from your college marketing classes, co-branding only works with two well known brands (or at least brands both known to one consumer). Customer marketing is a key place where you can grow the feeling of success and importance customers will have when using your product, and often work indirectlywith #customersuccessheros. NB this is not necessarily customer experience management, that can be more of a product marketing department.

Product Marketing

Product marketing is all about features, packaging, manuals, all the inserts, labels, you name it . When Steve Jobs put his first 5 page add for the Newton in the New York Times, it bombed. That’s because he didn’t realize the NYT is the field of MarCom and not the field of Product Marketing. Product marketing is a great area t put people who have a lot of experience and intimate knowledge with the product, and they should be flanked by legions of #customersuccessheroes.

Lead Generation

Is what it sounds like. The basic tool here is how you funnel Pay Per Click (PPC) / SEO (Search Engine Optimization) work into an effective sales pipeline. It’s essential to know your inbound sales funnel ratio in this position. For example: 40,000 clicks, leads to 10,000 engagements, leads to 2,000 email subscriptions, leads to 500 interactions, leads to 100 phone calls, leads to 10 client meetings, leads to 3 enterprise-level sales. Boom.

Project Marketing

This is what we do with people (like me) who have a broad skill set and are just not super defined yet in their careers. Project marketers are extremely useful and usually can move into any other role, but if they do not have an effective Project Marketing Manager, then their salaries will be a sore spot for the CFO. Project marketers are like the cash that some companies keep on hand just so that they can make an acquisition. Without them, companies are dead in the water if there are any time-sensitive work or initiatives.


Now, happily, the sales process these days looks a bit like this:

Lead Generation (LG), is at the beginning, and can include content marketing in as much as it is a strategic means to get more “clicks.”

This filters into….

Content marketing. This is the phase of education, of teaching, inspiring, transferring value and helping others see the value of the product in solving the needs they have. It follows the principles of Jay Baer’s “Youtility” book.

This filters into…

Customer / Project marketing. Where we champion our customers and show off those testimonials.

This filters into…


Which filters into…

Product Marketing. Where the customer is shown over and over through design and experience just how smart they were to have purchased this product.

This whole filter moves into

PR/MarCom. Where the company tells its story to the world, and starts the cycle over again!


Now you have 5 news  ways to think about your marketing career, and you have the context which will show you how it filters into the sales pipeline for your company. Nifty, eh?

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.