20 dollars, 61 authors, fight malaria

It couldn’t be simpler: today is End Malaria Day.  A million people a year still die from malaria.  Bednets keep out mosquitoes and save lives.  You can help.

So here’s the deal: for $20 (Kindle) or $25 (paperback) you can buy a copy of End Malaria.  $20 of the proceeds for every copy go to Malaria No More.  Full details on the End Malaria Day website.

This is worth doing because the cause is worthwhile, the organization is the real deal, and you can actually save lives with your $20.

If you need more motivation, you’ll be getting essays from the likes of Tom Peters, Dan Pink, Brene Brown, Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson…. (there’s 61 of them.)

This is the exact moment when you think “this is a good idea, I should probably do this” and then you don’t.  Go ahead and do it.  You’ll feel great about it, you’ll be part of something important, and you’ll get a great book in the process.


Seriously, BUY THE BOOK.

Then post to Facebook and Twitter (for example: I just bought End Malaria to celebrate World Malaria Day: http://ow.ly/6nFUS).  Email this post to 10 people.  Tell a friend.

We are living in a Thank You Economy

I just finished Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, The Thank You Economy, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’s trying to make sense of what’s going on online right now, anyhow who has questions like: do Twitter and Facebook really mean anything?  Should I invest in these tools to build my business?  Can I really use these tools to stand out and to build strong relationships?

Gary’s vehement answers to these questions are: YES, YES, and YES!!!!

His forceful, compelling argument is that the game has changed forever.  Business used to be a small-town endeavor, where word of mouth spread quickly and where you had to treat all of your customers right – even the elderly woman who never bought much, because the hammer would fall on you if word got out that you treated her wrong.  Then big companies and mass marketing and TV advertising on 3 channels came, and for 50 years it made perfect economic sense for businesses to be impersonal and not to care.  And now we’re back to a world in which the only way to succeed is to build powerful, one-on-one relationships with our customers – the elderly woman has morphed into the person commenting on Yelp, posting to her blog, or tweeting to her 100,000 followers about how great or terrible your product or service was.

I found the book to be incredibly optimistic – Gary’s breathless enthusiasm is contagious, it is filled with enough practical examples to be actionable, and he pulls the lens back just enough to let you see that there’s something bigger going on than people uploading twitpics of their grilled cheese sandwiches.  One on one communication is back, it’s still in its infancy, and folks who wake up to this fact now will have an incredible lead on their competitors.

Gary’s case studies bring things to life.  He shares how, for a while, restaurant-reviewer Zagat’s missed the social media boat and, in so doing, allowed Yelp to build a site with 25 million unique visitors in December 2009 (to Zagat.com’s 270,000); this same month Yelp turned down a $550 million offer from Google and a $700 million offer from Microsoft (Zagat tried to sell for $200 million in January 2008 with no takers).  He describes the over-the-top efforts of Joie de Vivre hotel employees to make guests feels at home and special.  He surprises with stories of a dentist in San Francisco named Irena Vaksman who built her practice through online marketing; and a lawyer (a lawyer!) named Hank Heyming whose firm let him tweet and blog under his own name, and in so doing he became a leading startup lawyer in Richmond, Virginia.

The point of the book isn’t that you should passively stare at your Twitter and Facebook feeds for hours a day and call that work.  That ain’t work – that’s being a spectator.  This is a new undertaking requiring, first, a new attitude (caring like crazy about your customers), and then a specific strategy for building genuine relationships with these customers – in a way that blends online and offline experiences to create something exceptional.

Whether you’re someone who directly employs online tools or someone who has people asking for permission to do more online, this book will help you make sense of what’s going on out there in the big bad web 2.0 world – most importantly, by demystifying it and bringing it back to the simple, powerful notion that we can, finally, get back to the business of caring about and taking care of our customers.

Out (f-cking) care the competition

I just learned last week about Gary Vaynerchuk from Seth Godin’s Domino Project (great post, Ishita), another great example of someone who pokes the box (you mean you haven’t read Poke the Box yet?  What are you waiting for?  It’s a top 100 book on Amazon, for goodness sake, and it will help you see that you don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission.    OK fine, I’ll write a review soon).

Then just yesterday a colleague told me that Gary’s talk at last weeks’ SXSW-Interactive was one of the top three at the whole darn conference.  Besides the entertainment value of Gary’s, uh, colorful vocabulary, (2 minutes and 4 seconds without dropping the “f-bomb”) Gary’s main message was that companies are going to win and lose based on who can “out care” their customers.

Speaking of caring (and not caring), the other night I was at Magnolia Bakery, which helped start the NY cupcake craze and which shamelessly charges nearly $3 for an (admittedly delicious) cupcake.   But service is slow.  The store is set up Disney-land style (pick your cupcakes here, walk down the long counter for the chance to buy more stuff, pay at the register at the end) which might work when there’s a throng of customers but makes no sense when you’d rather just drop six bucks in a jar and walk away with two cupcakes.

I was running late for a show, so I noticed when it took me (and the other six other customers in the store) nearly 10 minutes to buy cupcakes (two cupcakes per couple, so really three customers).  Bad enough, but much worse because there were 8 Magnolia employees chatting, working, and doing everything but notice that their empty shop had a logjam.  I even asked one of them if I could just pay and go, and she said she wasn’t assigned to the register.

“Too cool for school” might be an OK customer service approach when your shop is flooded with tourists looking for a “real NY experience,” but for the rest of us chickens it’s time to think seriously about out-caring the competition.  If you don’t believe me, read the blow-by-blow Zappos story in Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, and remind yourself again and again: this is a billion dollar company with rabid fans who buy SHOES ONLINE.

While last week’s post about new humanism generated a lot of interest, some comments said that David Brooks’ arguments are old hat.  The ideas may not be new, but they’re certainly not mainstream (in business, in economics, in how we teach our kids), and I think it’s high time that changes.  It’s much more than a tweak to the old models….if you really take it seriously you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and start afresh.

For example, the old way of thinking about customer service says that customers want the best product for the best price, and oh, yes, they want to good customer service too (read: nice-to-have, sort of like “soft skills”…can you hear the derisive sneer?).  The Zappos way of thinking says that creating an off-the-charts customer experience is the ONLY thing that matters.  For Zappos, it’s the end-all be-all.

It may be that Magnolia Bakery can ignore out-caring the competition because they serve up enough sugary, buttery goodness to anesthetize their customers (or, more seriously, because waiting forever confirms the story of cupcakes you flew across the country to try), but for the rest of us, it’s time to start out-caring the competition.

That means real relationships, every time.  It means you actually care, you don’t just act like you care.  It means you put emotional effort into everything you do.  It’s not easy to copy, which is why if you do it with abandon, you win.