Archive for 2009

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

How To Make Your Website Stick

Room with a wall of tv screensConsumers have a lot to look at these days. We’re exposed to several thousand advertisements and websites each day, yet we remember very few of them – despite billions of dollars spent on advertising.

How can you do a better job than your competition at attracting your consumer’s attention?

  1. Be brief. Decide what to leave out. Be selective about what you say. Pick one point and stick to it, because that’s all the consumer will remember anyway.
  2. Be bold. Have you ever surfed the web while listening to music, or watched TV while eating dinner? On your usual drive home from work, you can easily chat with an old friend. But while driving on an unfamiliar street in a strange city, we need to stop talking and take in what’s going on around us. Your consumer may be multitasking, too , and is likely to ignore the expected. An unexpected element grabs attention.
  3. Be clear. The Wizard of Ads, Roy H. Williams, once said, “The price of clarity is the risk of offense.” Clarity leaves little room for vague impressions and enables your consumer to see your brand real. Posing and hype don’t hold up in today’s marketplace, yet many marketers fear telling the truth. Would you dare say who your brand is not for?
  4. Be sustainable. Once you’ve attracted attention, you must sustain it. Your marketing must grab the consumer and never let them go. Continue to make your website interesting, or consumers will go somewhere else.
  5. Be relevant. Make sure the attention-grabbers on your website and advertisements are relevant and don’t distract from the main point you want consumers to remember.

What do you want your customer to do? You want them to focus on your brand and your message. You want them to think of you first and best when they have a need for your particular product. You want them to remember why you’re different and how you’re better than your competitors.

Let us help you be attractive.

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Thursday, December 10th, 2009

“What you are trying to accomplish?”

Technology has changed the retail world like nothing that has happened in the last 100 years. The same thing has happened in publishing, where 60,000 jobs have been lost in just over eight years. David Carr of the New York Times recently explained in an article entitled The Fall and Rise of Media: “Those of us who covered media were told for years that the sky was falling, and nothing happened. And then it did. Great big chunks of the sky gave way and magazines tumbled — Gourmet!? — that seemed as if they were as solid as the skyline itself.”

Sound familiar? Who ever thought Heilig-Meyers would fall, or Sears Homeline!?

Carr paints a crystal clear picture I see daily when dealing with the young people in my life. “I come across another one who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery,” he wrote. “The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down.”

BJ FoggThe next wave of marketers know about a scientific discipline called “Persuasion Technology” that holds enormous possibilities where the old paradigms of mass advertising no longer apply. BJ Fogg from Stanford University,the leading expert in the field takes a scientific approach to studying Persuasion Technology by conducting experiments, comparing different conditions to see which approach is the most persuasive. Fogg made-up the term “Captology” to denote the study of computer mediated persuasion, which he defines as “changing people’s behavior.” He identified 35 different types of behavioral change and mapped them in what he calls the “Behavior Grid.”

This type of information is the reason we spend as much time asking, “What you are trying to accomplish?”

Is your internet partner suggesting a “build it and they will come” kind of plan is all you really need? Let us know how that’s working out for you a few months down the road. In the meantime, we’ll be studying scientifically proven methods to persuade your customers.

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Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda?

Just because something can be done, should we do it?

“Science can tell us how to do something, but it cannot tell us whether we should do it. To explore that question, we must step outside the narrow range of science’s purely technical questions, and look at the full human context and consequences of what we are doing.”

“The Scientist and the Poet,” by Paul A. Cantor in New Atlantis

AnalyticsSo what does this have to do with the price of tea in China or with anything in the retail business world? Simply everything. Today we have the ability to track people moving from Palestine to Israel with satellites from space. I assure you we can also track the movement and click of every person who stops by on your website.  We can see where they went, how long they stayed, where they paused, how deeply they moved into the content, when they exited. We can test one layout over another to see which one provides the best ROI. The list could go on.

Here is the point: Do you believe you have the right to collect data on your website visitors and then contact this person without their permission? In my business right now I’m coming up against web design and media companies that are telling retailers and vendors that this is a good idea. I think NOT.

Bryan and Jeff Eisenberg have been writing and teaching about these ethical issues for several years. In their 10/8/2009 not-to-miss-links they provide insightful information about the importance of data above the fold, and how to better use Google Analytics, and wonderful history of social media. There is little doubt that technology today can do lots of things to drive your business, but the changing formula doesn’t necessarily answer all the questions.

In the ancient writings of the Old Testament we can find the direction for making decisions today. A great King around two-thousand years ago said; “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from evil.” I think he was talking about the ideas of transparency, honesty, morality, and truthfulness for all times not just during his time on earth.

It might also be true that we live in an age when adding faith and philosophy makes the formula even more flammable in the minds of many.

What do you think?

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Monday, November 16th, 2009

Living on the Top Line

Strategy is a word few people truly understand. The military uses intelligence to determine how to approach a problem – how to think about it. In his new book Living On The Top Line, Joe Capillo uses the best research and intelligence available for the furniture industry to tell what the lady (Ms. Jones) says she wants, and what’s keeping her from getting it.

toplineJoe describes what he calls the new retail reality that includes how Ms. Jones chooses to engage with the furniture industry.  He explains the importance of creating an online presence and the necessity of a seamless relationship from the web to the store – particularly for local independents.

Joe also tackles the difficulties of bringing fundamental change that will truly stick and transform organizations into a high-performance company. The process he describes is “effective and remembered by everyone I ever used it with,” according to Joe.  It’s a great way to hold any decision-making meeting among managers (or anyone else for that matter), so that everyone feels involved and can see the structure of the final outcome.

Because Joe addresses the challenges of change and strategy, you will understand his teaching on how to structure a selling system – deliberate things your employees do when dealing with your customers – around this information. He advises owners to not leave their fortunes and futures up to other people whose agenda may or may not match their own.

Joe explains his fundamental principle that our business is not, and never has been, about furniture – it is about rooms, homes, and families. Therefore, by addressing these concerns, true connection between a retailer and a consumer is established. But, the “retailer” is the salesperson – who usually faces the consumer all alone, one-on-one, with no “team,” no manager, no owner.

This point-or-contact is the moment of truth for all furniture retailers. Joe takes the reader through a complete explanation of room planning, in-home selling, etc.  This interaction leads to stronger consumer relationships for the relational types, and perhaps even for the transactional buyer when dealing with a relational type of product that can require a lot of consultation and advice.

Finally, he talks the management of all this stuff – particularly the people. Managing the range of performance in larger groups is not understood by most owners and managers, according to Joe, who also says retailers don’t know enough about their businesses until they know the number of customers who come through their doors.  He addresses all the metrics in detail and explains how to use them in daily management.

Operating metrics you don’t use to manage are useless, but you can’t forget the people side, so Joe’s theory of one-to-one management is to bring people to their goals – to bring them beyond the limits they place on themselves by letting the past dictate the future.

That’s how to live on the top line! Buy this book. Contact Joe.

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Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Do you get personal?

Over 17 years ago, 1111111111 Bruce Springsteen belted out,

“You might need something to hold on to, when all the answers, they don’t amount to much, somebody that you could just to talk to, and a little of that human touch baby, in a world without pity.”

Today more than then we are all desirous of a human touch. Most fast, efficient online transactions are completely lacking human contact. The customer is shocked when you provide a truly personal online experience.

Does your site get personal with your customers?

  1. Call first time customers within a day of their order. Ask them for feedback and thank them for their support.
  2. Ditch the boring executive bios. Post profiles from the rank and file, the people who actually interact with your customers on a daily basis. Profiles remind your customers they are buying from people, not some corporation.
  3. Answer the phones yourself. Tell customers who you are and get their feedback first hand. You will hang up with loads of new ideas.
  4. Give to a worthy cause. Make sure you communicate specifically the people who benefit from your donations, so customers feel the connection.
  5. Include a picture of each customer service representative in their email signatures. Make it easy to remember they are dealing with real, caring people.
  6. Listen and respond to your customers via Facebook and Twitter. Don’t create social media outlets if you’re truly just looking for another way to push you offers down the throats of your online friends.
  7. Start blogging.

Have you ever been shocked by a company “getting personal” with you? Share your experience.

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Monday, October 19th, 2009

You can’t reason your way out of this


Ah, the good old days! Fact is, the furniture industry was successful in the 1950’s and the 1970’s and 1990’s. But “nothing fails like success,” says Gerald Nachman, cultural historian and founder of Financial success turned our industry into a left-brain culture. Left-brain cultures are good at preserving old paradigms and programs, what Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen calls “sustaining technology.”

This works well when an industry is hitting on all cylinders. But when they slump, as is happening in furniture right now, left-brain cultures fail. In this industry’s case, we have tried to innovate by building lines that look exactly the same only cheaper because we believe the customer is only interested in price. Marketing departments scream louder and louder about unsustainable credit offers, and now we are trying to make cheap computers and bad bicycle give-a-ways the reason Ms. Jones should visit our stores. Leaders won’t implement technology, claiming the customer will not be interested in fully using it, and the result is bland brands and slow growth or dying retailers.

In his 2005 bestseller, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink says, “The future belongs to designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers—creative and empathetic right-brain thinkers” who exhibit “the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative.” In every industry there must be right-brain thinkers. They’ll need promoted and will play a part in upending existing paradigms.

The cold reality is that left-brain cultures are a liability when it comes to innovation. These cultures are not bad—they’re simply not equipped to move forward. Left-brain cultures rearrange existing programs; they rarely allow systemic change. They claim today’s situations is really the same as it ever was.

3+2-5 is not an innovative way of saying 5-3-2. The sum remains the same: zero.

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Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail

hammerThe last time paid newspaper circulation in the United States was at its current level, a new house was selling for $4,600, a gallon of gas was 15 cents and the average annual wage was $2,400.  Oppenheimer’s Little Boy and Fat Man were about to bring World War II to an end. Clearly a lot has changed in the past sixty-four years.

Unfortunately, furniture marketing is stuck in this mid-20th century fantasy land. Print media is still the dominant media choice for family-owned and family-run furniture companies. According to the 2009 ABTV industry watch report, the Top 25 sources experienced an average drop in sales of 10.4% last year.

According to this same report, “Marketing holds the hope for revival.” This is a scary proposition, because as the report points out, “In furniture companies, of course, marketing has traditionally been weak.” It goes on to say, “Even dire circumstances have not induced furniture companies to try to learn from other consumer goods sectors” (page 15).

Marketing in today’s environment is confusing and difficult. Retailers and suppliers alike are trying to find enough consumer money to keep the lights on. Marketing professionals are paddling beyond control to learn and implement emerging media in a way that benefits their clients.  At the same time, even the studies are confusing and conflicting. An example is a recent NAA (Newspaper Association of America) report stating these glowing claims:

  1. First quarter traffic to newspaper Web sites was reported as 73.3 million unique visitors (average per month) by Nielsen.
  2. That’s 43.6 percent of all U. S. internet users, up 10.5 percent versus the same time last year.
  3. Page views grew from 3.1 billion per month in last year’s first quarter, to 3.5 billion in 2009.
  4. NAA CEO John Sturm suggests these point to “digital success.”

But if we look at each of these “glowing” results in some context clearly the picture is not so rosy! Consider this information about the other side of the statistics:

  1. The top three news destinations on the Web (MSNBC, CNN and Yahoo!News) each drew more than half the unique visitors of the entire newspaper industry in March. Year-over-year, MSNBC grew 9 percent, CNN 4 percent, and Yahoo!News 16 percent.
  2. Yahoo! News alone gained 5.2 million unique visitors in March, or nearly 70 percent of the gain of the entire newspaper industry.
  3. Newspaper page views at 3.5 billion per month are less than one percent of total U.S. page views (386 billion in February).
  4. Time spent on newspaper sites in February, 43 minutes, 9 seconds per month per NAA/Nielsen, compares with total time online of 61 hours, 11 minutes and 56 seconds per U.S. person.  This means newspaper sites get the attention of the U.S. online audience just 1.2 percent of the time.
  5. The total U.S. online audience (what Nielsen calls the “active digital media universe”) in February was 167 million individuals.  As NAA does note, 43.6 percent of that audience visited a newspaper web site, but given that newspaper site traffic works out to only about 1.6 page views per reader per day, many of the newspaper site unique viewers are clearly represent one-time-only traffic.

This information is easily found with only a small amount of time and research. As the leader of your privately owned and mostly family run businesses, why there is NOT audible dull noise leading to an ear drum busting roar of insistence on getting best advice for every area of your media strategy?

The conclusion of the ABTV report and my point are exactly the same: “The furniture industry needs to reject the old formulas that no longer get results, to replace the old dogmas that have lost their meaning, to refuse to settle for mediocrity, and to insist on world-class performance. It’s the only way to survive.”

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Sunday, October 11th, 2009

What does the lady say?

What are your customers saying about you?The single most important number that directly impact your profitability doesn’t even appear on your financial statements: Customer Satisfaction. Our Ask Ms. Jones™ process provides you with prompt, actionable information so you’ll know exactly what your customers are saying about you, which positions you as a problem solving expert armed with answers that can laser guide your store to the top of the heap.

Our furniture-exclusive process, based on the Net Promoter Score (or NPS®), is a straightforward metric that holds you accountable for how you treat customers. The concept was first popularized through the book The Ultimate Question, and has since been embraced by leading companies worldwide as the standard for measuring and improving customer loyalty. It has gained popularity thanks to its simplicity and its linkage to profitable growth. Employees at all levels of the organization understand it, opening the door to customer- centric change and improved performance.

How to Calculate Your Score
NPS is based on the fundamental perspective that every company’s customers can be divided into three categories: Promoters, Passives, and Detractors. By asking one simple question — How likely is it that you would you recommend [Company X] to a friend or colleague? — you can track these groups and get a clear measure of your company’s performance through its customers’ eyes. Customers respond on a 0-to-10 point rating scale and are categorized as follows:

  • Promoters (score 9-10) are loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others, fueling growth.
  • Passives (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings.
  • Detractors (score 0-6) are unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth.

To calculate your company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), take the percentage of customers who are Promoters and subtract the percentage who are Detractors.


This is not a traditional customer satisfaction program, and simply measuring your NPS will not lead to success. You’ll need to follow an associated discipline to actually drive improvements in customer loyalty and enable profitable growth. You must have leadership commitment, and the right business processes and systems in place to deliver real-time information to employees, so you can act on customer feedback and achieve results.

Read more at… or if you are ready to Ask Ms Jones for the nitty gritty truth of how you are doing, sign up now.

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Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Crackerjacks

baseballIn this morning’s New York Times I was struck by recent purchase of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field by the Ricketts family from TD Ameritrade fame.

This reminded me of furniture store stories for several reasons. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series for 101 years, Wrigley Field is the second oldest ball park in MLB and the Ricketts family made all of their wealth changing the rules of the stock trading industry. This same juxtaposition is taking place right in front of us in our industry daily.

Opportunity abounds. Our 100 year plus casegoods and textile businesses are dying painfully. New ideas for design, distribution, pricing, etc. are presenting themselves daily. At the same time, the hanger-on-ers continue to hang-on. Old thinking is sucking the life from many.

The Cubs and Wrigley were both owned by the same company, The Tribune Co., which is operating under bankruptcy protection. So is the Los Angeles Times and several other recognizable newspapers. Furniture stores continue to typically spend over one-third of their marketing budgets using this failing delivery vehicle.

Paid content news providers are growing by more than 25% annually. Aggregation websites such as Fark, Boing-Boing, ebaumsworld, CollegeHumor and Digg, and the sheer filtering efficiency of social networks do a pretty good job of separating the wheat from the chaff. Online search is now part of nearly every furniture purchase cycle, reportedly reaching 95% during the last twelve months.

So, who will be the Ricketts family who changes the furniture landscape in the coming years? It will be the folks who laugh out loud when they read quotes like this one by Elbert Hubbard, “Parties who want milk should not seat themselves on a stool in the middle of the field in hope that the cow will back up to them.”

Bob Garfield, Robert Picard, and Greg Stielstra are all making the case that we have entered the post-advertising age. How are you allowing your customer to engage with your company? How are you answering her concerns on her terms? What have you provided as a communications platform to allow her to tell you how you are doing?

At The Lively Merchant we are focused on the future. We won’t waste you money on pie-in-the-sky wild ideas. More importantly we won’t waste you money on nearly worthless newspapers just because it is the way it’s always been done.

I haven’t passed a horse and buggy on the highway recently. Have you?

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Monday, October 5th, 2009

Do you believe me?

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with several retailers in a round table setting. We talk at ease about television and radio and newspaper, but I often get blank stares when I bring up the subject of online strategy, ecommerce, SEO, PPC, email marketing and other non-traditional media.

Many store owners tell me they still spend the majority of their advertising dollars on newspaper and other print media. In a recent industry-wide report, stores categorized as LOW PROFIT businesses continue to spend 34.3% of their marketing in print. These same companies are spending under .05% on all things web!?

Retooling is coming to a newspaper near you in the near future. The newspaper industry is in a free fall in every measurable category: 24 of the top 25 papers in North America declined in circulation in the last 15 months. The average decline in circulation is 20%. Advertising spending has dropped 7.5% overall, but the first quarter of 2009 saw a decline of 28.3% in advertising spending. There is a plunging reduction of $2.6 billion from just a year earlier. Scripps, Gannet, McClatchy, and the New York Times have all watched their stock price go to zero in 2009.They are bankrupt!

The Chaos Scenario by Bob GarfieldIn the new book, The Chaos Scenario, Bob Garfield writes in Chapter 1, page 33; “Both print and broadcast — burdened with unwieldy, archaic and crushingly expensive means of distribution — are experiencing the disintegration of the audience critical mass they require to operate profitably. Moreover, they are losing that audience to the infinitely fragmented digital media, which have near-zero distribution costs and are overwhelmingly free of charge to the user. Free is a tough price to compete with. As documented by Woodward and Bernstein, Deep Throat’s advice to unraveling Watergate was to ‘Follow the money.’ To understand the current predicament, you must follow the no-money.”

Safeguarded opinion established in days gone by can cause you real problems in the days ahead. Ask yourself these questions from Garfield’s Chaos group:

  1. Consider your own habits.  Do you read newspapers as frequently as you once did, or do you get your news online?
  2. Discuss the impact of Craigslist,, and eHarmony on newspaper classified advertising.
  3. If newspaper and magazine display advertising disappear, what alternatives will connect that audience to your brand?
  4. If media institutions as large as the Tribune Company (Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times) are in bankruptcy, is any mass media outlet safe?
  5. How has the Internet changed the availability of content?
  6. How did you get your news ten years ago? How do you get it today?
  7. How much time do you spend connecting with your friends vs. consuming media?  How has that ratio changed in the last ten years?
  8. If you could no longer buy advertising on mass media, how would you connect with your customers?
  9. Can you name any businesses that succeeded in stopping cultural shifts?
  10. Can you name any businesses that successfully adapted to cultural shifts?
  11. Is your company organized/equipped to effectively listen to its customers?  What should you change or implement in order to hear them?
  12. What are your customers trying to tell you?  What are you doing about it?

Empowered business owners get to decide what they believe. Documented changes in business should not be avoided. Entrenched thinking might be more comfortable than the alternative, but without a planned strategy your future is bleak. When the newspapers themselves fail in your marketplace, how will you deliver you story?

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