(The Too Easy) Brand Break-up

A few months back I wrote a post about ending relationships with brands.

I suggested that brands showed their true mettle not just in the acquisition phase. But also when customers wanted to terminate the relationship.

Being able to say “goodbye” with grace and no hard feelings is a sign of a healthy relationship – both in the romantic and real world.

Well last week I got the chance to put this theory to test.

I “broke up” with my Health Club (Equinox in Soho).

Well, I was already for a fight…I had heard from a friend that they would give me a hard time.

Well much to my surprise, they didn’t.

In fact they made it almost too easy.

The friendly girl at the desk upon hearing my request asked me to fill out a simple form.

She politely told me about the 45 day cancellation period, pro-rated my remaining week in September, and took quick payment for it on my credit card.

And that was that.

In less then 2 minutes, our 3+ year relationship was over.

Almost as an afterthought she asked me “why” I was terminating.

When I told her it was too expensive, she filled this in out on the form and actually agreed with me by saying… “tell me about it.”

I don’t know if I stumbled about the one Equinox employee who was not trained to fight to the death to keep a member.

Or if this is really there brand policy.

Or if I don’t fit the profile of the typical Soho member (e.g 25 year old super model) so they were glad to be rid of me.

But it left me a bit perplexed. And strangely let down.

I was happy to not have to fight. But at the same time I figured my membership was worth a bit more to them. No?

Some attempt at price negotiation? A thank you for my years of patronage? A free water bottle?

Nope, nothing. It was like we hadn’t been involved those past three years.

I think there is probably a happy medium between making it overly difficult for consumers to dis-engage and making it too easy.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
Have you had a similar “brand break-up” experience?

This Memory Sponsored by…

I took my 8 year old son to a Mets game at Citi Field Friday night.

And while the 3-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, was disappointing, what really got me was the overabundance of “sponsored” moments at the game.

I know this is not a new phenomenon, and I know that the Mets are not alone in this.

But what really got to me was the disappointment in my 8 year old’s voice when he remarked, “there sure are a lot of ads here, Mom.”

There’s a lot that’s right with Citi Field and the experience. The facade is beautiful, the people that work there (from the food servers, the security staff, to the man who runs the elevator) were all so warm and friendly.

The food options are great. And the Jackie Robinson Rotunda allows for an important teaching moment.

But the view is crammed with so many billboards and every single break in play is sponsored by yet another company with a branded “moment” or an inane “contest” (e.g. best stadium kiss, best show of soft hands, best pass the pizza boxes down the aisle etc, ect).

Each of these ends with some group of “lucky fans” winning a gift certificate to a restaurant, sporting store, even a gift basket of hand creams.

In my opinion, it takes away from the overall brand connection with the Mets and the stadium.

It was a beautiful summer night, our first time at the new field, a special mother-son outing, and a memory in the making.

I was treasuring every minute of my “Hallmark Moment” I guess I just didn’t need to be so blatantly reminded who it was sponsored by.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
Do you think sports event branding has gone too far or is this just the new norm?

The Need for Human Contact

In this digitally connected world, we can sometimes forget the importance of real human contact.

Two things brought this home to me this week.

The first was the memorial service for Michael Jackson on Tuesday.

I was amazed at the masses gathered around the world to watch this event together. It seemed like there was some collective comfort, or at least importance, in being with other people to experience this moment.

From Times Square to Trafalgar Square thousands of people chose to move away from the comfort of their own living room TV screens to view this event in the company of others…who for the most part were total strangers.

Even at my office, a few of us sat in the kitchen to watch this during lunch. It did somehow feel more significant to experience this with other people.

The last time we assembled like this was to watch the Obama inauguration. I am sure we could have a healthy discussion about the parallels between those events and the relative significance.

But my point here is not whether this moment was truly worthy of historic meaning. It’s that people seemed to judge it so and felt the need to mark the moment with other people.

The second thing that brought this notion of human contact front and center for me was this Free Hugs video by Juan Mann.

Maybe you’ve already seen it. I discovered it this week in a talk by Mitch Joel for his new book “Six Pixels of Separation” (more on that in a future post).

It’s a few years, old but it’s still powerful. As I understand it, Juan created a movement for Free Hugs in Australia that got global attention (he was even on Oprah).

The purpose of the movement is to perpetuate “acts of human kindness” designed for the sole purpose of making people feel better…and presumably less alone. Anyway it’s definitely worth watching.

Another relevant analogy is something many of us did last weekend… watching fireworks.

Sure you can watch them on TV, but I think there is something so fundamental to the enjoyment of the experience of seeing them live and sharing the moment with others (and of course hearing the crowd ooh and aah).

Incidentally, National Free Hugs Day every year is the first Saturday of July. In 2009, this happened to fall on July 4th. An interesting coincidence.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
What experiences do you think are enhanced by the human collective?

The Art of Listening

Want to know the secret to a great interview (or any great meeting for that matter)?

It’s not the ability to dazzle with charm, intelligence and witty insights.

It’s not talking at all. It’s listening.

A friend of mine told me that not too long ago.

It was a bit hard for me to take this in at first because I actually pride myself on being pretty handy with a quick response. And like many of us, I am probably a bit too enamored with the sound of my own voice.

But in the spirit of the subject, and helped by a glass (or two) of extraordinary Chardonnay- I decided to put my skepticism aside and try to really hear what she was saying.

And as she talked more about it, I decided I believe her.

Partly because she is one of the best people I know at building client relationships and winning new business- so she has lots of credibility on the subject.

But also because the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense.

Listening, really listening to what someone else has to say, and not just biding your time til it’s your turn to speak…shows a lot of good qualities.

It shows respect, interest, restraint, thoughtfulness.

It makes the other person feel flattered and heard (two powerful emotional drivers).

But here’s the thing, listening is hard.

You have to work at it to be really good at it.

It seems there is so much focus these days on sharing, talking, blogging (mea culpa), communicating, networking etc. That we often overlook the important art of listening.

It’s something I’m trying to get better at, but it’s taking a fair amount of conscious effort.

So I’ve asked a few people for advice on being a better listener, and here are a few tips I’ve picked up:

– Force yourself to focus, put away the Blackberry
– Don’t take notes, it actually takes the focus away from the conversation
– Concentrate instead on being present, repeat out loud what you’ve just heard
– Pause after someone is finished speaking
– Resist the urge to rush in with a comment
– Thank the other person for sharing their view before you respond
– Don’t’ say “yeah, but”, instead may it a habit to respond with “yes,and…”

Active listening, if done right, encourages you to build on the idea that you just heard instead of tearing it down.

This will lead to better meetings, more successful interview, and stronger relationships.

Hard to debate the value of all that. Isn’t it?

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
How do you hone your listening skills?

What’s the Right Price?

I’m confused.

It seems a lot of the old rules about pricing and value have been thrown out in this distressed economy.

Everything is on sale, and while my pocket book thinks this is great… part of me is severely troubled by this Topsy Turvy world of “recession pricing”.

A friend of mine recently walked into a department store in Soho and was discreetly informed by the sales girl that there was a 75% off unadvertised private sale.

That’s great. But she couldn’t help thinking what if she had been one of the customers that didn’t get the secret message?

What was the real value of the clothes? It seemed very arbitrary.

I’m glad to be saving money. But if it’s so easy to be making such dramatic cuts, can we ever expect people to ever pay “regular economy” prices again?

In contrast, I was out walking last weekend in Marin County trying to get some steps on my pedometer before breakfast. I walked by a mall parking lot and saw a car for sale with this sign in the window” “$9,000. No Haggling”.

I actually found this re-assuring and refreshing.

Now I have no idea of the value of that particular car.

But I got a sense that the owner did. And that was the price they were prepared to accept.

It’s not a new approach, Saturn created it’s company on “fair price, no haggling”.

But now when drastic price cuts are calling into question the value of all things, I felt comforted that someone out there was taking a firm approach and sticking to their guns.

Will that car sell? I don’t know.

But it might get more than a second look from people like me who are growing weary of “the price is right” guessing game we seem to be all playing.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

Are you having trouble determining the value of things?