Utilizing New Channels to Create Unforgettable Experiences


Dinner’s on Joe.
Illustrated by H.P.Riggs, JR.

In today’s ever changing environment it is important for companies to separate themselves from their competition by creating unforgettable experiences for members of their community (customers, vendors, friends, etc.).  The Disney empire was built on creating “wow” moments and every company strives to do the same. Wow’s are what keeps them coming back and are the cornerstone of customer loyalty. This month, while working with a local insurance agency, we came up with a unique “wow” moment for his company that we believe we should share.

The agent, we’ll call him Joe, works for a large and reputable insurance company. His agency, franchise of sorts, is located in the suburbs of Philadelphia on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River and his target market are the more than 20,000 residents residing in the three towns close to his office.

His agency is relatively new so Joe and his three employees continually seek unique ways to separate his firm from his competitors. We meet monthly to discuss his approach and to brainstorm on how he can improve his business without breaking the bank. Among the many ideas we discussed the following stood out as the most creative.

During our conversation Joe mentioned that he wanted to figure out how to work more closely with a local and very popular cheesesteak / pizza shop in order to gain exposure. The shop is located within walking distance of his agency and the owners recently gave Joe their business. Up until this point he has considered trying the traditional tactics including the ever so  popular “place your card in the bowl and win a lunch” contest. But today, a new idea emerged.

From now through the end of summer Joe will sponsor two pizzas per weekend to be delivered to anonymous customers within his target area. He will pre-pay the pizza shop and allow them to randomly select which customers (delivery only) will receive the surprise pie. Here’s how it will work and why it is a great idea.

Customer A calls on a friday night for a pizza to be delivered to his/her home. When the food arrives the driver simply tells the customer that the pizza is complementary of Joe, a local local insurance agent, who wants to build his reputation throughout the community. A pre-printed “thank you” card will be placed on the top of the box inviting the recipient to “thank Joe” on his company’s Facebook page and telling them to enjoy their meal. A simple yet powerful gesture.

Here’s why it will work.

  •  People love surprises, especially ones that save them money.
  • Eating is intimate and so is insurance. A natural yet subtle connection.
  • It screams community. Isn’t that what it’s all about.
  • The pizza shop also looks good so they will begin to sing his praises.
  • If he can successfully encourage people to talk about it online and thank him on his Facebook page then he will begin to reach people in those places every company wants to be.
  • It’s out-of-the-box, inexpensive, emotional, an experience, and fun. In other words, a homerun.
  • It’s nice.
  • It employees a new channel in the B2C relationship. Engaging the pizza shop to creates a new and unexpected carrier (literally) of his message.

There are few details to be worked out, including debriefing the staff at the pizza shop so they are clear in their message and making sure we get the responses we need, but nothing too challenging. The best part about it is the cost – we estimate an annual investment of $1,200 – $1,500.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds and we will certainly keep you posted.


Lessons of Leadership from #17

Rod Brind’Amour played the majority of his NHL career for two teams, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Carolina Hurricanes. He retired after the 2010 season and now works in the front office for the ‘Canes. On February 18, 2011, when his number was formally retired and a banner was hoisted in his honor at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. , Brind’Amour gave compelling speech that embodies what it really means to be a leader.

In his more than seventeen minute speech (irony not lost on the length of his speech and the number on his jersey) Brind’Amour spoke of his family, his teammates, his tenure with his former team (the Flyers), his former coach (the now current coach of his former team), the fans, the community, and the year his team won the Stanley Cup (2006). In each case, he rarely spoke about himself. Instead, he made that night, the night in honor of him, about everyone else.

A true leader always looks outward and never inward. A true leader recognizes that they are part of a community, a community that relies on them as much as they do it. A true leader is able to raise the level of play of everyone around them, often without anyone realizing it is even happening.

Rod Brind’Amour is a former hockey player, a father and husband, a member of a special community and a leader on and off the ice. There are many lessons one can pull from the following speech here are a few that resonated with me:

– Always look outward to see who or what you can lift up.
– Always remember that your community is as much defined by you as you are by it.
– Always remember that when you focus on your goal, instead of the distractions that enter your path, you have a better chance of reaching it.
– Always remember that our family, friends, coaches (mentors), teammates (colleagues), and the random people we meet are members of our communities and that each member plays a role in our success; and that each member of our community is our teachers and students.

Click on the image below to view Rod’s speech – it’s worth every minute. (the sound gets better after 30 seconds)

Image Courtesy of http://thepuckdoctor.com

For additional stories on this moment please visit –



Slow Down

The Epiphany by Me

Have you ever driven down a highway and then, all of a sudden, you find yourself doing 65 MPH in a 45 MPH work zone? You’ve missed the more than fifty orange warning signs and for some reason were totally oblivious to the flashing yellow lights and large orange barrels.  If not, good for you –  if so, then don’t feel bad. It happens to just about all of us and just the other day in happened to me but this time I actually learned something from the experience. (And it didn’t take getting a ticket to do so.)

As I sped through the work zone it occurred to me that what was happening on the road may also be happening in our daily lives, either at work, at home or both.  We’re speeding through days, weeks, months and our lives without slowing down or paying attention to our warning signs.

Our drive to provide, to succeed, to meet the demands of what is expected of us from others and to meet our own expectations is forcing us to feel as if we can never slow down.  We’re working longer hours, trying harder to exceed our personal and professional goals and in between trying to make sure our responsibilities to ourselves and families are met.  In addition, the added stress of a recession-induced environment has everyone trying to make sense of constantly a changing marketplace.  These factors may be contributing to a “move fast or die” attitude but it may be doing more harm than good and it may be time to think differently.

For the first time ever once I saw the “Slow Down” sign I actually did it.  I didn’t contemplate how long it would take me to get out of the work zone, whether or not there was a police officer in sight, or the insane rational behind the thinking that since there were no workers it was o.k. to continue to do 65 mph. This time I pulled my foot off the gas, dropped back in my seat, and enjoyed the ride. It was a refreshing break and one that I didn’t even know I needed, that’s the scary part. (and perhaps that was the biggest lesson of all) We get so caught up  in what seems most important at any given second that we forget how to keep things in perspective, we forget how to slow down and that isn’t good.

If we don’t take time to slow down then we’re headed for trouble.  Imagine those early “Road Work Ahead” signs, flashing lights and big barrels as projects, deadlines, or even our health. If we keep missing them because we’ve convinced ourselves that moving faster is what it takes, or ignoring them because they are not a priority “RIGHT NOW” then all of a sudden we”ll find ourselves in a work zone where moving fast becomes prohibitive and costly. Those small projects become missed opportunities, missed deadlines become big problems, and is there really any need to go into what happens when we ignore our health.

It’s important to slow down, to prioritize, to think of others (like those workers on the side of the road), and maybe even to find value in the slow lane.  After all, there are opportunities there too.

Make Them Look Up

The Promise Land

Over the holidays I became a fan of Wegmans Food Markets, a growing supermarket chain that sat atop the 2005 Fortune 100 “Best Companies to Work for List.”  If you’ve ever been to one then you know it has outstanding food at reasonable prices and the in-house market makes you think you’re somewhere other than heading for the baked goods aisle.

As if this weren’t enough the customer service is what some consider to be the best in the industry, and perhaps one of the best in the entire service industry.  Much has been written about the “employees first, customers second” philosophy Wegmans adopted, an approach shared by the likes of Microsoft, Cisco, and Marriott, to name a few.  However, what struck me most wasn’t the free ham being doled out by the charismatic butcher (who happened to keep my daughter and I entertained for over 15 minutes), or the cheese guy with the cool accent who led me to the “brie” promise land. It was the train.

Above the heads and perhaps missed by some was a train that ran inconspicuously throughout a part of the store. I’m not even sure I would have seen it had it had not been spotted by my keen-eyed four year old. Yet when I saw it I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  Each aisle I turned down I checked to see where it was, whether or not it was still moving, and how far it had progressed since the last spotting.  It was pleasant, fun, memorable, and brought me to another time and place although I could never pinpoint when. It was a perfect compliment to an enjoyable experience during one of the busiest shopping days of the year. So why is this the train so important and why should an organization, a non-profit entity or a for-profit company care?

The Train by Jennifer Nicholson

The train represents a pleasant escape for the customer, the unexpected and added element to whatever experience an organization is trying to deliver.  It is the intangible little thing that may not make immediate sense, or speak directly to a mission or vision, but it manages to breathe a little life into an engagement and perhaps makes an incredible difference in an experience.

For Non-Profits
During last month’s ASAE Technology Conference there was a session on how organizations should consider using online games to increase membership for their organizations.  Generally I agree with this and think perhaps there’s a real opportunity for games (or other things) to change the experience for members. It certainly can’t hurt for organizations to continue to think differently. However, what can’t be missed by nonprofits and for-profits alike are the other elements that also make Wegmans great: its commitment to its employees, to its customers, to quality product and to reasonable prices.  I also think there’s an opportunity here for organizations to over analyze and ultimate kill the idea of using games to engage (not necessarily recruit) members, especially if they think too much about the outcome and not enough about the value of  what I call temporary escape.

For Companies
It’s time for every company to continue to add elements to the experience it delivers to its customer base.  Consumers are faced with so many choices and options that it may just be the companies that concentrate most on providing an escape to their own experience that outlast the rest. By fine tuning the fundamentals (mentioned above) and figuring out how to make them look up, the experience will become unforgettable.

Embrace Fear, Accept Failure, Be Patient

If you are contemplating a place on the social stage then you will have to embrace fear, accept failure, and be very, very patient.

Embracing Fear: What keeps most people from engaging online? Fear. Plain and simple. Fear that the words won’t come out right; Fear of being judged on every post; Fear that what you have to say isn’t as important or as smart as you think it is. It’s fear that keeps us from moving forward and it’s fear that will keep you from engaging if you let it.  My advice – embrace fear by letting it drive your curiosity. Use it to first motivate thought and then action. Fear is a powerful emotion and when channeled appropriately can be a great motivator. And the good news is it eventually  goes away.

Image: iStock


Accepting Failure: Just past fear lies failure, and it will happen.  The hard part is accepting it and learning from it. In most cases we’ve been told that failure isn’t good but when it comes to social engagement it’s necessary. Once you’ve accepted failure as a part of the process then I recommend reading How to Teach Yourself to Trust Yourself, by Peter Bregman. It’s a quick read and one that I recommend revisiting every month or two. It will change the way you feel about your online presence and your “voice.”

Be Patient: Building an online presence (beyond Facebook) will take time so it’s important to be patient and not get frustrated. It simply takes time to get into the rhythm of online engagement. However, you will get better with practice, learn some really important stuff along the way, and create a community that you will come to appreciate.

Wrap Up
A few weeks ago I was part of a team that reviewed Open Community, a new book by Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer that examines how associations build community online. These three concepts (Fear, Failure and Patience) were interwoven throughout the book and was the inspiration for this post. It’s a terrific book and a worthwhile read whether you’re involved in a professional society or an association, or simply have an interest in online engagement. Click here to see our video review of Open Community.

Three Tips to Transforming the Vendor Relationship

Last week I traveled from Philadelphia to Maryland to spend an afternoon with the team at ACGI, a a software developer for the association management community. The company I work for,  Association Headquarters, recently invested in one of their products and it was my job to meet with the ACGI team to learn more about the system and what it had to offer.  This experience got me thinking about the roles customers and vendors play and how today’s marketplace affords us an opportunity to re-examine, if not redefine, the ‘norms’ often associated with institutionalized and/or traditional business relationships.


Vendors at the Floating Market - Thailand


Whether you work for a nonprofit organization or a for-profit company there’s a good chance that you deal with vendors on a regular basis.  From purchasing goods or services to negotiating items of interest on behalf of your company, vendor engagement is what we do, and frequently. But how many times have we stopped to thank our vendors for being…well, our supporters? How many times have we taken the time to view the relationship from their perspective? Or, how often do we think about what we, as customers, can do to make their lives easier or provide them with additional business opportunities.

Here are three simple steps to creating “friendors” out of vendors and possibly changing the way you do business, drive business, and redefine business within your community.

1. Send them a “Thank You” card.  The next time you engage your vendor in a significant project be sure to send them a Thank You — and not in an email.  Take the time to write a card and put it in the mail. They’ll love it, especially since they typically send them to their customers. And if you think of it be sure to make it personal.

2. At the conclusion of the next transaction (and once you’ve completed step one), ask your vendor how you can help them get more business AND how your unique relationship and individual expertise can lead to additional business opportunities for each of you. It may be as simple as reaching out to people within your immediate communities or simply spreading the word online.  More often than not, the vendor/customer partnership can lead to additional opportunity.

3. Finally, and depending on your situation, step 3 may be the most difficult step.  Schedule a time to meet with your vendor at their facility. There is no better way to tell a vendor how much you appreciate their business than visiting them at their office. In doing so, you will not only create a “friendor,” you’ll create an advocate for you and your company.

It’s no longer business as usual, so it’s important that we don’t continue to engage in business as usual. Reversing roles, extending interest, and developing unique and strategic relationships isn’t as difficult as it may seem and can be beneficial to our long-term success.