Your Customer Wants To Feel ALIVE

Video by me

There were a lot of street acts in Vegas. But these guys consistently drew a crowd. Do you want to know why? Because they were so excited about their act - so full of energy and life - and they made everybody else feel ALIVE.

Do you make your customer feel alive? The people at the Light Club in Vegas do. They don't just give you music, you also get a complete light show and the most imaginative performing art:

The people who designed Ft. Lauderdale make you feel ALIVE too. The beach and the trees do not sit alone in their natural wonder - the sidewalks, architecture, and even the curved sand rails tell you that you are in a wonderful place.

The essence of a person is the desire to be ALIVE. No matter how much money they have, that feeling is very intense.

Here is a very short clip I took of the cleaning staff hanging out for a couple of minutes at the Tropicana Hotel in LV, laughing and having a good time.

In your interactions with those you serve, remember that they want to have a series of pleasant experiences - not to be brought down by boredom, frustration, sadness and general misery.

* Photo and videos by me. All opinions my own.

A True Bigshot Is Never A Snot

I've met and worked with important people over the years. Contrary to what one might think, they're usually very humble.

My husband Andy wrote a blog post about how we met Harry Basil at the Tropicana Las Vegas, home to the Laugh Factory. He co-owns it and performs there.

Basil's act is crazy creative, and you can tell he's been in the movies since forever. But what distinguishes him in my mind is not talent - but rather how he treated us so nicely.

We saw him in the morning at the Starbucks kiosk, getting a coffee. Normally you don't bother actors especially after a night in Vegas...early morning is hangover time. But I had a feeling it would be OK, and so I bothered him.

So I took the photo. Of course as usual it wasn't great. My hands shake a little, and I was nervous too, and standing too close.

We walked away and I said, "Now Andy, I don't think it's the best photo..."

"Oh no," he said. "Not again."

Just as we were going back and forth, there was Harry Basil. He tapped Andy on the shoulder.

"It was too close, right?"

And he stopped so I could take it again! 

Here's another really humble person: W. Ralph Basham, the former head of the Secret Service and also former head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

My husband used to work for Basham at the Secret Service, and he told me about the employee ice cream party where he put on a hat and served.

Years later I worked for him, and had the opportunity to talk with him briefly on several occasions.

On the first, he said that we should do something about the fact that CBP employees deserved more credit for what they do, and how could we get the word out?

On the second, he asked me how my husband was doing. When you consider that Basham probably interacted with hundreds of people a week, the recall is amazing.

Here's another story. I used to recruit speakers for the Federal Communicators Network. And one time, I learned that the well-known marketer and author Seth Godin was going to speak at the Warner Theater. So I sent him an email asking him to speak for us.

He responded right away.

Not to run down a laundry list, but I could go on...and tell you about the humble side of so many people you will never hear about. Current and former employers, colleagues and others. Because they simply do not self-promote, and they accustom others to proper behavior. 

More than that - unfortunately - often these people take a bullet when they shouldn't. They are willing to be the "bad guy" (or "bad girl") as long as the important work gets done.

Amid all the bad news we get about leaders' dysfunctional personalities - how they can be cruel and abusive and arrogant and greedy - we do not often hear the good. But there are mensches (good people) out there, and I think it's a good thing to celebrate and copy their fine behavior.

* All opinions my own.

Chaos Makes The Customer Run The Other Way

I discovered on vacation that people will want anything when you present it to them in rows. I took these photos at the generous breakfast buffet at the Tropicana LV, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

You can take the most disgusting leftovers out of the fridge, but if you chop them up in neat squares and put them in tins of different colors, people will line up to put them in bowls and eat them.

This is why food service places offer you things in rows rather than individually in the containers they bought them in.

People like rows because they make order out of chaos and simplify the process of acquiring and using products. Food, dishes, cosmetics - everything looks better and is more appealing as a coordinated set.

The idea of rows underscores the basic principle of branding. This is that you simplify the process of thinking - actually you remove the need to think. (A point well-made in Brand Simple, by Allen Adamson and Martin Sorrell.)

Here are a couple of anecdotes that bear this out.

In the first instance, the family was watching TV and the Nationwide Insurance commercial came on. This is the one where there's burglars in the house replacing everything and the narrator tries to explain how Nationwide gives you peace of mind. 

I could never follow this commercial and I asked my older daughter, a Communications major, what she thought of it as versus the commercial for that came afterward. 

My daughter said, "The commercial is much better. I have no idea what's going on in the first one."

In the second instance we were shopping for food and my younger daughter picked up a bottle of olive oil. 

She said, "Mom, I really like the branding on this."

My head spun around. "Did I just hear you say branding?"

(She is not into marketing at all, and so in those moments when she meets me in the branding place I feel such joy.)

"Yes, I just wanted to tell you - look at the colors on the label, the lettering." 

The bottle was elegant, smoky glass with an unusual shape and the name of the brand was printed in bold block pastel colors, something simple and bold.

As I recall I did not look at all the bottles of oil on the shelf because the display was too cluttered for me. Even when I am shopping, if there are too many choices I shy away from any of them.

Back to the food example - the below arrangement was too messy for me and I think that's why I couldn't find the creamer.

If marketing depends on simplicity and alignment how much more so does communication more broadly. 

Whether it's your products, your words, or you personally, people respond better to a coherent and coordinated package, arranged in an order they can follow, than to a mess. 

5 implications for government communication:

1. Think about how to unify the disparate parts of an agency or an offering in a way that makes sense to the customer. Don't focus on the internal units that provide the service, but rather on the output.

2. This normally means you will have to cut across organizational lines to communicate externally.

3. On a broader level it often makes sense for different agencies to work together on a coordinated message. Try to get out of the mindset that your agency should get credit for the work it does. This is not the point of communication it is the outcome of doing good work for the customer, i.e. the general public.

4. It saves the taxpayer money if the communicators are skilled enough to work together and fight stovepiping - rather than taking the easy way out and hiring a contractor who will tell you the above.

5. It also saves the taxpayer money if the communication is done well enough that the customer doesn't turn to private vendors who sell them what the government offers for free - and people are happy to buy it because it's presented in terms that are simple and make sense to them.

* All opinions my own. 

5 Universal "Commandments" Of Digital Engagement for 2014

1. Thou shalt not look down on thy customers' simplicity. 

People use Facebook for social media more than anything else and they check their favorites frequently; "Instagram users are nearly as likely as Facebook users to check in to the site on a daily basis."(Pew) Blogs are sort of dead, except for those who want to advance themselves as thought leaders. Your users probably like simple, bold, clear and simple messages, either funny or inspiring. They relate to pop culture and the celebrities who inhabit it. Stop taking your brand so seriously and bring it to the people where they are.

Here's a screenshot of a chart from Pew's 2013 overview study showing where people are and what they're using. Note that 4 out of 5 are related to personal interest and not career, and are fueled by users finding and sharing simple graphics and messages.

2. Thou shalt not dictate the message.

Trying to control what people say is very old-school. It devolves from a model of mass communications that effectively ended in 1970 and the Vietnam War protests at Kent State. The definition of social media is talking back, and so trying to have a social media function that you dictate is contradictory. You may not realize that you're doing it - for example, do you discourage people from taking photos in your store? If so, why? All publicity is good publicity!

Additionally, employees actually do a lot better as brand ambassadors when you don't overtly or covertly discourage them from speaking freely. This one is easy: Leave people alone.

3. Thou shalt find a good graphic (or infographic).

People online do not read. They scan. No, correction - they would rather read a photo caption. Stop attacking people with words - e.g. your boring corporate blog. Start engaging them with visuals they can relate to. Photos with quotes, infographics, memes, pie charts, and so on.

Image via

4. Thou shalt not waste the customer's time.

In Las Vegas, at McCarren Airport, there is a sign urging travelers to "follow us on Facebook and Twitter." The obvious question is why I would want to do that. If you offer social media content, make sure it has some benefit to them.

5. Thou shalt get thy customer in the picture.

It can be hard to be the spouse of a celebrity, but the reality is that even the Danish Prime Minister wants to get a picture with the President. Ordinary folks like us are just the same. At the New York New York Last Vegas Hotel & Casino there was a kiosk where we could take pictures of ourselves against the iconic New York skyline, then have the photos sent to ourselves or Facebooked or Tweeted. This was incredibly fun, made the hotel stick in my mind and associated it with a positive image. Even if we never stay there, I know we will go back to see what's going on.

Your digital engagement efforts will benefit if you give people the opportunity to interact with a celebrity or staged setting in some way.

Widely circulated photo of President Obama with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt via IBTimes

* All opinions my own.

5 LinkedIn Profile Updates For 2014

The concept for this year is holistic authenticity. You should portray yourself as the total person that you are, rather than chopping out a part of yourself and presenting it as your professional profile.

Yes, you should do this even if you aren't looking for a job.

1. Profile picture: Should be up-close, preferably outdoors and you are smiling. Arms folded in front is good. Black and white is interesting. No angles. No blurriness. No weird colors or Photoshopping.

2. Headline: Unusual, unique, personal, honest, high-level and in a sentence. It is not what you do! It is your evolving personal brand. So drill down to the essence - and think about how you contribute the most value at work. (Your opinion, not theirs.)

3. Achievements: List 5 things in bullets. These are outcomes, not activities and they should emphasize areas where you enhanced productivity of saved money. Don't offer fake-sounding figures like "saved $1m." Don't take credit for things you didn't do.

4. Recommendations: Reach out and ask for them. Don't be shy. Reciprocate.

5. Bio: This is the first thing people see after your profile picture and headline. Take the time to write it well. I like the idea of leading with who you are as a person, your priorities not just the typical "visionary thought leader" stuff.

* All opinions my own.

The Union Worker and The Sex Worker

Photo by me.

Yesterday, commenting on the omelet blog, Karen Louise Boothe wrote on LinkedIn, "Some of your most profound observations come when you're waiting on a food order." 

Today it happened again -- before, during and after.

We were headed to the breakfast area early, even in Las Vegas time, because we had to be up for an activity.

On the way there, on the left, we see a couple. She is dressed in last night's clothes, last night's hair, and rumpled. He is all over her. It is literally 6 a.m. 

Know that I haven't even had my morning coffee yet, which I buy from the Starbucks for $4.05 (!) because the hotel version is so bad. And these two are waking me up.

I turn to my older daughter and make a face. She makes a face back, as if to say, I guess we're in Vegas now.

My husband and younger daughter are walking up ahead. Ever the bearer of drama and good gossip I inform them of what we have seen.

They turn around briefly, and my husband shakes his head as if to say "Oy vey."

Onward. We walk into the breakfast cafe and are seated by a waitress wearing a union pin. 

I notice the pin because none of the other wait staff have worn one. Also, this waitress has an air of quiet self-confidence, versus some other employees - who are either disengaged, overly deferential or angry. 

(One food server, frustrated that people kept leaving the spoons inside the food trays instead of on the spoon rests, kept slamming the lids shut, over and over again.)

It is so early. And who should walk in but the couple we had seen in the hallway. 

I had my back to them. I was eating the scrambled eggs with some shredded cheese and smoked salmon on top. This may sound good but it was absolutely gross. (Being hungry and impatient, I did not wait for the custom-made spinach, olive, mushroom, jalapeƱo, salsa and onion omelet that would have appeared by 6:15.)

My husband said, "Look."

There they were by the homemade granola.

"Quick," I said to my husband. "Let's get a picture."

"Mind your own business," he said, shaking his head. "You are crazy."

"Oh my G-d," I said, "this is a great blog. Take the shot!" Now I'm like a SWAT team leader in an action movie.

I start to take a photo in reverse iPhone mode, like I will pretend to be taking a selfie but get them instead. 

"Stop," he said. "Really."

I leaned forward conspiratorially. "I wonder if this is like that show 'What Would You Do' and they're testing us to see how we react."

"That's funny," my husband said. "And then the guy walks out..."

Meanwhile the kids are watching all this.

Then my husband says, "Wait a minute. She's a prostitute."

It hits me that he is right. "Ohhhh," I say. "Oh." 

I turn around. There she is at the omelet station. With another guy. They are embracing.

"There are two guys?" I say. I feel so stupid. Or, not stupid but clueless. Like a five-year-old, ignorant about what adults really do.

I can't figure out what the story is here. The first guy comes back, again with the PDA (public display of affection). He seems drunk or high or something, or like some social filter is off. 

Meanwhile, many of us in the room are eating some damn good French toast. It is piled high on our plates. (Bleary-eyed as we are, we are shoveling it in.)

There goes the waitress with the union pin again. She seems so crisp and dignified. I look at all the wait staff around the area and again wonder at how dejected they seem.

I think about the contrast between her and the other woman, who seems very clearly to be a sex worker.

I think about the fact that the (likely) sex worker is a young African-American woman and that her companions are Caucasian men. I reflect on the systematic exploitation of the former by the latter and frankly, start to feel enraged. A woman is not a thing. A person is not a trophy, like an innocent deer shot and hung on a wall.

"This is wrong," I say out loud. "It is just wrong."

"It is wrong," echoes my older daughter.

I decide that I want to take a picture of the Union waitress. And write about the contrast between her and the sex worker. Both women, both in bad positions in the system, one protected by a support network much bigger than herself.

But I hesitated to ask for a photo. First of all I didn't want to further annoy my family by turning breakfast into a social media opportunity. Second I didn't want to annoy the waitress or more subtly to exploit her or or pit her against the sex worker in some way.

I decided to write about it either way. Because it showed me how contradictory my own values are. On the one hand I believe in protecting the weak - this requires state regulation, frankly. On the other, relatively unfettered freedom - which means, keep the state out of our lives.

It's like when we went to the Grand Canyon last week and I saw it had no guardrail. The tour guide simply said, "Don't die."

Mayor Bloomberg would put a guardrail on the Canyon.

Or when we went to the food fair with its deep-fried Oreos and Red a Bull vodkas. I saw people piling their plates up at the food court with the three major food groups of Chinese food: sweet crispy chicken nuggets, fried rice and lo mein.

Honest to G-d, my first thought was, "What would Michelle Obama say?"

In the end I did take a picture of the waitress with the union pin. My husband forgot his jacket, and I saw her, and decided to trust my gut and ask.

She smiled enthusiastically. "Go right ahead, our union contract is up soon."

Remember the movie "Office Space," when Jennifer Aniston's character worked at a Chili's type restaurant and was forced to wear "flair" pins and smile?

Unions give the people back a power they can't seize from the System individually. They make working conditions better and provide a source of camaraderie and support.

This is true for everyone. They say prostitution is illegal but in some places this just means "we look the other way."

Sex worker or food server, all employees should have the option to join an organization that looks after their interests.

* All opinions my own.

Machismo, -isms and Omelet Wars

Photos by me.

So I'm standing in line waiting to have an omelet made. This is a highlight of the day here on vacation, as there are no additional fees for the privilege and being kosher my choices are somewhat limited.

I wasn't expecting any trouble, although as a Jewish traveler you always have your radar up, not only to safeguard your physical security and belongings but also against anti-Semitism, which we've encountered in non-Jewish areas. My husband wears a yarmulke so it's pretty impossible to miss us.

The sexism is palpable here, let's face it, Las Vegas is a haven for prostitution and human trafficking. So is the racism, directed at Mexicans and African-Americans mostly. Comedy features it, but of course that is everywhere. More subtly, some street dancers, a multicultural troupe, made a few jokes about the latter, concluding with a nice call for unity in diversity.

Generally though, from what I can see on the Strip and among the tourists, there is little racial mingling.

On the street, people call out to us regarding the fact that we are Jewish - whereas in DC, out of politeness, you never call attention to racial or cultural difference. A few times people have stopped us. "Are you Jewish?" "Shalom Aleichem," (hello/peace to you), "Laila Tov" (good night), they say, some jokingly, some a little ominous. 

The engagement is sometimes manifested as a show of respect. The man who served us breakfast spent time engaging my husband in conversation. He had a Spanish accent and seemed devout. He said, "I plan to visit Jerusalem, it is my dream." 

Back to the omelet. 

I have often reflected that if openly Jewish people suffer from anti-Semitism, Muslims in America seem to have it worse. So I was curious when I saw a party of two Western-looking Muslim men standing in front of the line. (I knew because of the headcovering of their female companion, who was there briefly with them and then walked away.)

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first. But then the guest in front of me, a beautiful and well-groomed Spanish woman, complained to me. Not loudly but audibly.

"It has been ten minutes and now he's going to order omelets for his whole family," she said.

The Muslim man snapped at her. "Calm down, lady, don't get so excited."

The way he spoke to her - it was so brittle and harsh. Almost as though she had no right to say anything. I thought to myself, that's a little disrespectful.

Suddenly her partner shows up. He looks Caucasian to me. By now there is only the Muslim man left - his companions have departed.

"Is there a problem here?" he said.

"No problem," the Muslim man replied.

"Watch what you say to my woman," said the guy. "Just shut up."

The Muslim man took his eggs and left. He seemed like he did not want trouble. 

"Are you OK?" said the Caucasian man to his partner.

"Yes," she said. She didn't seem surprised although I was. It was only 9 o'clock in the morning and his attitude was more suited to a late-night bar scene where everyone has already had three bottles of beer.

He went back to their table. 

"He takes good care of you," I said to the lady, and she nodded. She seemed calm and pampered, like this kind of interchange was normal.

I wondered how Muslim people feel, knowing that prejudice could result in their getting blamed for other people's aggression. Yes, the guy was rude and maybe there is a view that women should be seen and not heard, but the Caucasian guy seemed ready for a fistfight.

A moment passed. I looked at the chef, who was African-American, and pondered that most of the guests were Caucasian. I said, "I've never seen an almost-fight over an egg."

He laughed and waved his hand dismissively as if to say, "People are crazy."

In the end everybody went to their table and sat down and the meal was had. My husband wondered aloud how we could have so much food while people outside were starving.

Sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, religious wars, fights over homosexuality. The list goes on forever.

It all leaves me wondering about how different cultures and genders perceive each other, what is said and not said, the roles we take for granted. And how easily a negative, but ultimately trivial situation can escalate into war.

* All opinions my own.

Know Your Demographic: Why Kris Jenner Makes Money & You Don't

Kris Jenner. Photo via Wikipedia.

I do watch the Kardashian show on TV and inevitably get hassled for admitting it.

Most of us can understand the appeal of the kids pretty easily, right? Typical trashy Hollywood celebuzz reality stuff is entertaining.

But less often analyzed is the brand appeal of mom Kris Jenner. She is often reduced to the role of "mastermind" and not in a good way. This is the stereotype of the controlling mother who has no life of her own and thus somehow manipulates everybody else, living vicariously (and profiting financially) by pulling their figurative strings.

I think women like Kris as a brand in and of herself. Not all women. But women of a certain age, who have been there and done that and learned a few lessons along the way. Specifically, it's about confidence:

1. Kris puts her children first. She is always there with them and for them. She is not perfect but she cares and she tries. She focuses always on protecting their interests.

2. Kris lives life to the fullest, traveling, enjoying great cuisine, getting out there. Whatever she does, she does in a big way.

3. Kris has great, bold, dramatic style. She has huge black and white floor tiles, a grand staircase, black toilet paper to match the bathroom. She dresses to kill. 

4. Kris refuses to get, feel or act old. She smiles, laughs, and lives intensely. She sometimes acts age-inappropriate. But we understand her. She's like a 20 year old trapped in a 59 year old body.

5. Kris is a passionate subject who pursues romance - not an object who is acted on. She challenges the stereotype that women are inherently victims and gives lie to the false Madonna-whore sterotype that has been foisted on women since forever. She is empowered.

6. Kris faces reality. When she is incontinent she deals with it, however unpleasant. When Kim is getting fat she tells her so. When her son in law (sort of) Scott treats her daughter Kourtney badly she says so. When her marriage is failing she admits it and separates.

7. Kris stays friends with her ex. She and Bruce did not get along as husband and wife. But she wants him as part of her family. She does not act silly and ice him out. 

8. Kris has no qualms about financial savvy. Many women do. She opens a business, hires an assistant, retains professional help of every kind. Again, she is not a victim. 

9. Kris is independent. She loves and is connected to family and friends but also knows how and when to do her own thing. She follows the inner drummer.

10. Kris knows how to fail and move on. She tells the kids "own it" rather than walk in shame - and means every word.

Kris Jenner has a brand empire. It translates into lots of things she hasn't even exploited yet: 

* self-help books and shows (like Oprah), architecture (we love her home - partner with a builder)

* Housewares (think Martha Stewart)

* Travel (create a club for fun-loving Boomers!) 

* A lifestyle clothing brand for older women (like Chico's but with pizzazz)

A born moneymaker, just for being herself, working hard and joyfully but making it seem effortless. To me, that spells brand success.

* All opinions my own.

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