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Where were you when the iPhone and Kindle were being designed?

Indian Sign
Creative Commons License photo credit: truedudi

As we discussed yesterday, anti-competitive businesses sometimes do “unfair” things.

Occasionally, they commit illegal acts to gain an edge. Commonly mentioned examples include bribing officials to get contracts or have them look the other way on enforcement or quality issues.

Sometimes the unethical things are illegal, such as refusing to sell spare parts to repair shops that compete with the manufacturer’s repair department.

The CPSIA/Mattel inspection situation is an example that surely makes you wonder. Legal (perhaps), but unethical handling by both Mattel and the CPSC.

Ultimately, competitive behavior has two sides. Let’s discuss a few examples…

Where were you when Pittsburgh, Tokyo and Guangzhou were investing in internet and manufacturing infrastructure?

  • Were you talking about how your infrastructure/facilities were “good enough”?
  • Do you (or did you) laugh at the quality of products that say”Made in China”? Do you find better alternatives locally?
  • When other companies moved call centers to India, did you follow suit in order to cut costs? Or did you follow suit because they provided better service to your customers?

Where were you (and what were you up to?) when Apple was designing the iPhone? When Amazon was designing the Kindle?

  • What – besides stare and/or cuss – have you done to respond to those “threats”?
  • If you aren’t the most strategically advanced vendor in your market – what have you done about that this year? Next year, will you be in a higher position strategically than you are now? How will you get there?

Where were you in the 90s when Amazon was investing in the long term, developing their e-commerce platform and despite their youth, doing e-commerce far better than anyone else? Note: “investing in the long term” often called “losing tons of money” on Wall Street.

  • Did you spend any time figuring out how your business could incorporate e-commerce – or if it even made sense to do so?
  • When the Kindle came out, did you buy one to better understand the competition that just popped you in the mouth with a right cross?
  • When Costco and WalMart started offering best sellers at or below your wholesale cost, did you complain about unfair competition or did you do something to make your business a better place for readers to buy books?

Where were you over the last 30-40 years as Wal-Mart laid the foundation for today’s domination? (and then continued to improve upon it – and did so right in front of your eyes)

  • Were you making it easier to buy?
  • Were you making it easier to park and enter your business?
  • Were you making is easier to pay your invoice, shop, ship, get a refund, repeatedly place an identical order, or talk to customer service?
  • Were you giving your customers more reasons than ever to come to your store instead of the local box store?
  • Did you start to build(or enhance) a high-value relationship with your customers that no minimum wage employee in a blue vest could *ever* break?

Where were you when Mumbai built business centers out of slums, trained tens of thousands of workers, and built a modern communications infrastructure?

  • Were you enjoying your existing legacy, built 40-50-60 years ago? (Ask Woolworth where that got them).
  • Were you letting your city or your manufacturing plant rot while holding out for another government bailout or sweetheart contract with a government entity?
  • Did you spend more on lobbyists in the last 5 years than you did on educating your employees?

Where were you when colleges and secondary schools in China and India were ramping up the quality and technological level of the training they deliver?

  • Were you complaining about your school taxes or local school boards?
  • Were you complaining about the parking problems caused by the local university?
  • Were you whining about the foolishness of having a local community college?
  • Did you sigh in disgust after interviewing yet another unqualified prospective employee?
  • Did you complain to your CPA or another business owner about the cost of training your staff?
  • Were you still running Windows 95 in your schools?
  • Were you ignoring the fact that most of the local school’s students are more technologically savvy than their teachers or administrators (much less their parents)?
  • Have you ever looked at the budget for your local school board? For that matter, do they make it readily available?
  • Have you thought to yourself “Yeah, but we can’t do that here, this is *your town’s name*?”

When things go south

When things go south, our culture (I’m speaking of the U.S., primarily) is to find someone to vilify…to blame. Generally speaking, we must point the finger at someone because it can’t possibly be our fault.

You’ll be glad to hear that I can save you some time there.

If you insist on laying blame, the person who can pull you out of it is the same person can blame: You.

Tomorrow, we talk about that and the ROI (return on investment) of blame.

After 3 days, we’re finally going somewhere positive and useful with all of this.

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iTunes LP, the rich media salesperson

Creative Commons License photo credit: Polifemus

A couple of days ago, Apple introduced iTunes9 and demonstrated a new iTunes feature called iTunes LP.

That’s “LP” as in long-playing album.

Those of us who were of music-buying age in the 1960s (not me, old man), 1970s and early 1980s remember some of the albums we bought.

I remember a Santana album back in the late 70s that came with a really cool poster. Others came with liner notes that included lyrics, tour photos and all sorts of special items that only a real fan could appreciate.

When CDs rolled into town, most of that ground to a halt. You had to survive on just the music, which was getting companded and less rich-sounding by the minute. No, this isn’t an audiophile rant. Maybe later.

A few groups included little booklets in their CD packages, and over time, some shipped CDs with bigger packaging and extra treats, but these were rare.

Digital Shifting

Then, MP3s arrived and the last vestiges of liner notes were gone.

This week, they returned.

In the video above, you can see Apple exec Phil Robbin showing off the iTunes LP feature. Watch the 3 minute clip before moving on. You need to see it before our discussion continues.

So what?

Whether you sell software, food, $700 blenders, recreational vehicles, luxurious experiences in a bed and breakfast, or detail cars – you’d better get what “LP-ing” means to your marketing and sales process.

How can your products and services benefit from being presented in that way?

Look at what you sell through the lens of iTunes LP. You should have already been doing so – we’ve talked about using audio and video to market/deliver your services but now, you have a great new example.

iTunes LP just scratches the surface for now, just like iPhone/iTouch apps. You have so many opportunities to leverage these capabilities, but you have to take advantage of them even if they aren’t perfect.

We’ve come a long way since 1994. Internet/technology-wise, it’s just past 8am. There’s still plenty of opportunity.

Get to work.

Postscript for the argumentative

Some might say that Apple copied what the Microsoft Zune HD already does. So what. Both copy what was done 20 years ago in a vinyl record. Does that make it less useful? Less impactful? No. For that matter, the iPod and Zune are modern day versions of the Sony Walkman, which copies…. (and so on).

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Are you really competing or just wasting my time?

Don't touch my TAG
Creative Commons License photo credit: foxtwo

Earlier this week, I was watching the Apple keynotes from Macworld 2009 and the iPhone 3.0 SDK announcement, mostly to prepare for the keynote from the Apple WWDC (their developer conference).

These keynotes are where Apple traditionally reveals their Next Big Thing as well as their accomplishments over the last year. It isn’t Wall Street conference call yawner sort of stuff. Instead, they do it at their customers’ level of interest.

A few things stuck out of these conversations:

In 2008, 3.4MM customers visited Apple stores every week (on average).

2008 was the biggest year in the history of Apple, as far as sales of Macintosh computers are concerned: they sold 9.7MM macs.

Apple currently dominates the smartphone app market.

For example, the number of applications available for the leading smartphones:

  • iPhone 50000+
  • Android 4900
  • Nokia 1088
  • BlackBerry 1030
  • Palm 18.

No, I’m not sure why Windows Mobile apps were not in that count, but I think it’s safe to say that the Windows Mobile platform can’t claim 1 billion app downloads between April 2008 and June 2009.

Apple sold 13.7 MM (million) iPhones in the first year.  When you include the iPod Touch in that number, it leaps to over 40MM.

62% of programmers in the iPhone application developer program are NEW to Apple platform. Having been in the technology biz for 25+ years, I can tell you that this is an insanely successful number.

By now, you might think that I’m an Apple fanboy. Nope. Maybe a fan, but I try to remain pragmatic. I don’t yet own a mac or an iPhone, but I find Apple’s ability to compete pretty impressive – particularly HOW they compete.

It’s 100% cultural.

We’ve talked previously before being able to do something right in your competition’s face, having them observe your success and then do nothing about it – particularly nothing similar.

The Apple way

Apple has long talked about making things easy (and yeah, I know that not everything is), but it really is the focus of everything they do.

Let’s compare how an iTouch deals with wireless connectivity vs that of a Windows laptop.

Windows will ask if you want to diagnose or repair and tell you about the DNS it can’t find and so on. Seems to me that if your wireless is on and there is a network in reach, it’s a little silly to ask if you want to try again to connect after the first failure. My laptop drives me bonkers with this sort of stuff as I travel and deal with disparate networks across the country.

Meanwhile, an iTouch either connects or it doesn’t. On the same network that will provoke a laptop to ask about repair and diagnosis, the iTouch just does whatever needs to be done to try and heal the connection.

But it’s far deeper than that.

When Apple Marketing Chief Phil Schiller introduced a new version of the Apple spreadsheet software, he simply said “It works the Apple way.”

Everyone with a mac knows what that means, especially if they have MS Office for the mac.

At the core of all of this is a clear desire to stand out by doing things for the customer that they shouldn’t have to do themselves. Former Clarion Software CEO Bruce Barrington is said to have uttered a similar comment. It goes something along the lines of: “Anything the user has to do every time shouldn’t have to be done at all.”

I try to do these things in the software I write. It’s a profound approach, despite being so common sense. It makes you rethink design, which (surprise) is what Apple is so identified with: great design.

Self-cleaning ovens

Now…think about your products, services and customer interactions.

What are your customers forced to do every time and how can you eliminate those tasks?

That’s the kind of competitive strategy that gets customers to gobble up your products, but there’s more to it than that. If your products do more, automatically, then your staff and your customers will spend less time on customer support – because they won’t need it.

Your products will stand out even more, and the competition will simply stand there and watch as you eat their lunch.

Here’s a simple example to close things out today: Most self-cleaning ovens aren’t self-cleaning.

They still have to be told to clean themselves.

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Surfing the Riptide of Customer Service, part 4

Dark tunnel - Please stay here
Creative Commons License photo credit: ckaroli

Finally, the last installment of my friend’s Apple customer service story (start at Part One here), the in-store experience that finally resolves everything.

Here we go…

Wednesday arrives, I walk in, and head to the back … what’s called the Genius Bar. The guy says, “I’m sorry. Can’t check you in, no more available appointments.” So I explained what the girl on the phone told me and I get the, “Corporate doesn’t have a clue. We’ll put you on the wait list. Might take a few hours. Might not get to you today.”

And so, it’s Christmas morning again, and there’s the present I didn’t want instead of the present I dreamed of and wrote the letter to Santa Claus in great detail about.

I explain that Corporate isn’t the failure. The failure was in the training of the very first young lady I spoke to Sunday. Her bad information put me on the wrong path.

I notice a young lady listening carefully with a different colored t-shirt from the fellow I was speaking with. When I finish making him feel all of my pain, he says, “I’ll let the manager know and you’ll be in the queue. It might be a little while but we’ll try.”

So I wait a while and notice the wait list popping up … without my name on it. I look over the shoulder of the guy checking appointments in and, sure enough, I’m like #4 on the list. So I must be in a different list.

After a few minutes, the lady in the different colored t-shirt comes by and says, “I’m going to speak to the manager as well. It won’t be long.”

And she returns and says, “You’re next”. I’ve been standing around for 30+ minutes but I’m cool with that.

All this pain and suffering, just to get in front of a service person at what is supposed to be a very customer-oriented company.

Is that how you view your company, as a customer-oriented company?

Is there a black hole that customers can fall into and swim around in for hours or days before they pop up in the right place? It’s better that you find it than your customers do.

So now, we’re finally in front of a service person. Let’s see if the expectation of Apple’s care for the customer holds…

A young man walks up and says, “Joe? Let’s see what you have.” I hand him the iPod and say, “I bought a pair of these for Christmas. One works with both sets of headphones. This one works with neither.” He nods.

We walk to his workstation. He turns the device over, types in the serial number, and says, “I’ll get you a brand new one. It won’t have any of your current data on it. You’ll have to resynch on iTunes on your home computer.”

I’m cool with that.

He doesn’t test the unit I handed him. He didn’t even look at it except to read the serial number off of it. I’m out of there in 3 or 4 minutes after he’s started. (Emphasis mine – Mark)

I get home late that night and plug the iPod into my wife’s laptop. It takes a little while but iTunes jumps up. It says it’s a new device and wants to verify what iTunes account this is associated with. I tell it and it immediately offers to download Joe Jr’s settings into it … that’s the one I swapped … and away it goes for 30 minutes if not more.

Finally, it’s finished. I update a few apps that had updates since the last sync. It doesn’t remember my wireless network’s password but it remembers the network name. I put in the password and away it goes.

Then, it doesn’t know the email account’s password though it knows the account name. I put that in.

Everything is as it was before except the headphone jack now works.

So, if you get entered into the queue correctly, they seem to have pretty darn good service.

One little snag caused all that happened over the last 3 parts of this story – and as you see, it could have been resolved in 3 or 4 minutes.

One snag that could lose an influential client for Apple. Fortunately for them, it didn’t.

Are your biggest or most influential clients this patient?

Study your customer service logs. Talk to your most angry customers. Find the cases that dragged on “forever”.

Figure out where your customer service blackhole is.

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Surfing the Riptide of Customer Service, part 3

In part 3 of our series (start at Part One here), my friend’s story about his customer service experience continues on the phone with Apple Store continues on the phone…

So I begin to explain, yes, of course, there are ways to make appointments without my needing to sit at a computer. So, she transfers me to corporate help on the national level.

There, after a host of menus, I’m not getting far. So I answer in my best Cajun accent knowing that they’ll send me to someone who is bilingual. Sure enough, a young lady comes on the line.

She explains that she, too, can’t take an appointment. I explain to her that she has a computer, she has the URL, of course she can take an appointment. She can fill in the blanks and I’ll tell her what goes in them. She says, yes, of course she can do that.

Then she says, “There are no available appointments for a few days.”

So I said, … let’s be clear. I’m in your local store. I tell the lady I’m coming through on Wednesday afternoon and what time. She says I have to dial a phone number to set up the appointment and I can’t do it until a day or two before Wednesday. I do that. Then I find out that a day or two isn’t far enough ahead. And that the phone number doesn’t allow me to set up an appointment either. And then I remember that toy I really wanted for my 4th birthday and I channel all of that pain into the phone call.

She says, “Just drop in, find the manager, explain what happened on Sunday and today and she’ll take care of you.”

Cool. I give her the “human engineering talk” about the touch tone system as well.

So at this point, if you are the call center person, how do you relay to your corporate IT/communications group that there is an obvious problem in the phone menus? Many small companies lack a trouble ticket reporting system for people at this level. It might get written on a Post It note and referred to someone later, or it might be forgotten.

Just a thought…

If the next customer to deal with this problem buys iPhones for a Fortune 500 company, what’s the potential cost to Apple and AT&T?

If the next person to fall into your trap does so because you don’t have a solid mechanism for reporting, tracking, fixing and getting user feedback from your own people – what could that cost you?

How big is your biggest customer? That’s how much a simple customer service problem could cost you.

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Surfing the Riptide of Customer Service, part 2

Naruto whirlpool
Creative Commons License photo credit: MShades

Last time, we talked about the start of an unfortunate experience with Apple customer service.

Let’s continue the story with the joy of a voice mail phone tree. Click here to read part one of this story.

Watch for the one failure point – the one place that takes the customer off the customer service highway and pushes them into the maze.

The young lady handed me a card, said call that number a day or so before I was dropping in, and everything would be cool.

Off I went.

Wednesday night, I was planning on returning to the city. So, Tuesday, while driving around, I call the number on the card. “For this problem, press 1. For this problem, press 2. For this problem, press 3. For an appointment …” so I pressed 4. And the menu started again.

Must not have stuck.

“For an appointment …” I hit the 4 again. The menu starts. I press 4, Bye bye. It hangs up.

Well, I remember my old Windows phones would sometimes not give the button tone on a call and calling back worked. So, I do it again. 4 … menu starts again. I press 0 … hangs up.

So, this time I _really_ listen.

“For an appointment, go to this website blah blah. For anything else, press 5.”


4 doesn’t work. The 4th option is the only option that you can’t press a sequential number for. Somebody in human engineering dropped the ball.

I press 5.

A person in the Apple store answers and I explain I want to make an appointment. “Yes sir, here’s the URL” … uh, I don’t have a computer. I’m in my truck. I just need to make an appointment. “I’m sorry. You can’t make an appointment that way.”

If someone was standing in front of you, would you tell them to go home and get online to make an appointment? Of course not.

You have the customer on the phone and tells them to hang up and do something else to make an appointment? They are right in front of you, just as if they are standing in your store. What in the world would make you think the ideal thing to do is send them on their way?

I hope I don’t have to elaborate on the inane nature of a request like this. Clearly a failure in design of the service appointment process. Employees need to be empowered with systems that allow them to deal with this situation.

Next time, we’ll see where this mess continues and learn another lesson from Apple.

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Surfing the Riptide of Customer Service, part 1

Deep Maze
Creative Commons License photo credit: psd

A friend of mine tells me this story about a recent experience while trying to get service at the local Apple store.

As the tale winds on, we’ll stop and go over a few lessons and suggestions along the way. It’s a long and winding story, but it’s critical to include the whole thing so that you understand the entire scenario this customer experienced and how it impacts your business.

So here goes…

So, Sunday, my iPhone could receive calls but nothing would display on the screen. I tried holding down the power button for some time but that didn’t help. I held the power button and the front button down and nothing happened there either.

I was on my way to the city when this happened. I pulled into a quick stop and asked a young man to borrow his phone so I could call my wife and put her on the project of locating the Apple store nearby.

I stopped in there, a big open space store with lots of folks, and a young lady met me at the door. I explained the problem and she called a young man over. He held both buttons down for a while and it rebooted. I thought I did that but, obviously, I didn’t hold them for enough seconds. My old Windows phone would clear everything out of it when I did that so I was too jumpy to wait long enough.

I remembered as I was leaving that one of the 2 iPod Touch units we bought for the kids was having headphone jack issues. They said just make an appointment and we’ll look at it, either fixing it or replacing it.

An appointment.

You have the customer in front of you. You have already stopped whatever you were doing to help them and you have solved one problem.

The next solution will take 2 minutes to fix or you’ll replace the unit and return the broken one to the factory (definition: the repair department of the 21st century).

Yet – you send the customer away instead of helping them right then.

Everything in this story that happens from here is a waste of company time, a waste of store time, a source of potential frustration to the customer and a way to waste a pile of the customer’s time.

Alternative: Spend perhaps 2 more minutes of working with them as they stand in front of you. Avoid delays, possible appointment snafus and take care of the customer at the first opportunity – or at least figure out if you can help them quickly.

Mistakes happen to everyone and every company. You can’t necessarily prevent a bad human interaction. You can prevent a bad design (yeah, that’s ironic, given that our example is an experience with Apple).

When these problems are designed into a system, people get caught in a riptide of customer service.

Instead of getting to shore, they get pulled farther and farther from their goal and yours: solving the problem and getting back to living their lives or back to work. You should be looking to find and eliminate the traps engineered into your business processes.

Everyone has a name for them: Whirlpool. Riptide. Twilight Zone. Black Hole. Maze.

Is there one of these places designed into your business processes? Your customer service system’s worst nightmare cases might tell you exactly where it is.

Your customers who encounter it certainly can tell you – but you might need to ask.

In the next part of this series, we’ll learn more about this Apple experience.

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Apple’s Dirty Little iPhone Secret

Mac sales are off 3%. What will Apple do???

It’s not just the Mac, Microsoft just had their first quarterly decrease (6%) since they went public 23 years ago, blaming it on slow PC sales.

It’s the recession. It’s the economy. People aren’t buying computers anymore.


Let me take you away from Katie, Brian (etc) and the TV news for a minute, OK?

The missing puzzle piece

What did I leave out of that picture? A couple of things.

First, let’s look at Apple.

If you ignore the 3% downturn in Mac sales, there was a bit of good news from Cupertino recently.

First, the one billionth iPhone application was downloaded from Apple’s iPhone AppStore this week.

Look hard at that number. ONE BILLION mobile applications.

Even if 500,000,000 of these downloads are the iFart application, that’s still a really big number. In fact it’s enough to provide one iPhone app for every human being in the United States, Canada and Mexico combined.

If you use the one billion number, that’s one iPhone app for everyone in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe, combined.

Next, despite the 3% drop in Mac sales, the first quarter of 2009 (January 1 through March 31) was Apple’s best month EVER.

Best ever for revenue, best ever for profit. Best Ever. Not in the last few years. For the company’s entire lifetime.

What’d I leave out?

On April 20th, CNet’s article about Apple’s upcoming quarterly financial report was titled “Apple’s Recession report card arrives Wednesday“.

Seems like they’d already decided what was gonna happen.

When Apple announced results, it indicated that iPod sales were up 3% vs. the first quarter of 2008 (1Q2008) so that was kinda good news, but Mac sales were down 3%. Uh oh.

One more thing. Almost forgot… iPhone sales were up 123%.

Someone apparently forgot to send a memo to Apple about the “economic gloom”.

If you dig around a little, you find stories talking about the decline of the computer market and how Mac sales are off 3%, thus illustrating that it isn’t just limited to the Windows-based PC and it’s all because of the state of the economy.

But they forget one little thing: Left out of the sales numbers were 3.79 million Macs.

Shhh. It’s Apple’s dirty little secret

3.79 million iPhones, that is.

See, the iPhone is a small form factor Mac, not just a phone. It’s a computer.

Ask 100 people who sell mobile phones if the iPhone is their competitor and they will all likely say yes. Ask 100 people who sell computers if the iPhone is their competitor and I’ll wager that almost none of them will say yes. They’re dead wrong.

Meanwhile, Apple understands that the job of making a sale is to get a customer, not the reverse. They know that once you buy a Mac, you’re likely to be hooked.

The iPhone lowers the bar and entry objections by providing a nifty computer with applications that you can easily install. Oh and it just happens to be a phone too.

They teach you – in fact, prepare you – for owning a Mac using their phone.

They teach you the same thing using the iPod Touch, which is basically an iPhone without the cell phone, camera and microphone.

Job of a sale: To get a customer

Ask anyone you know who has an iPhone. I’ll bet none of them use it just as a phone.

Ask them if they’ve bought their first Mac yet. If they haven’t, do they say they’re thinking about it? I’ll bet you get a “Yes” to one of those questions.

With Mac’s now having dedicated retail space in Best Buy stores nationwide, that purchase will become easier.

Steve Jobs has to be laughing.

What about you?

Your job is to figure out how to get a customer. You know that once you get them to be your customer, they’ll love what you do so much that they’ll never leave.

All you have to do is get them into the family. It’s OK to start with baby steps like Apple does.

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Anoop voted off American Idol. Economy recovers. News at 11.

Creative Commons License photo credit: boyghost

Yesterday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF, a conglomeration of old money guys from 185 countries) indicated that they don’t see the global economy recovering until 2010.

Meanwhile, Anoop was voted off of American Idol. Wow, I had a hard time getting to sleep after hearing about that:)

The Economy doesn’t have to be Your Economy

“The economy” or “The global economy” may have an impact on your business but it is not YOUR economy.

Don’t let all the doom and gloom junk on CNN and elsewhere cloud your thinking. Sure, some businesses and plenty of people are struggling. Business-wise, look closely at the reasons why.

Look under the covers at the businesses that are having trouble. In large part, a lot of them are businesses that haven’t shown any consideration for their customers in decades, or they stuck in outdated business models for far too long, or that they did things just because everyone else was doing them (over-building, over-extended, subprime lending, obvious stuff).

Examples: GM says they won’t make their debt payment and bankruptcy is likely. New York Times stock said to be worthless.

Are they unrecoverable? Depends. If they continue to try the same things that got them where they are today, maybe not.

Meanwhile, there are shining spots in the business news…

So who is right? The IMF or Apple, Wells Fargo and some local businesses?

It doesn’t matter which of them is right. What’s right for you is what matters.

Care as much about it as they do

Earlier this week a client remarked to me that I work as if I care as much about their business as they do.

Isn’t that how all your clients should feel?

Did anyone ever feel that way about GM or the New York Times?

You get what you focus on. Focus on doing more, better for your clients and you’ll get more, better clients.

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Apple TV, Asian Women and Your Business

Not what you’d expect, trust me.

Just a reminder that you should register the domain names for your tradenames / trademarks to protect yourself and your business from squatters.

For example, let’s assume you own a restaurant and you have a very popular menu item called “Tom’s Awesomely Canadian Cheesy Fries”.

If your restaurant is called House of Poutine and you own, I urge you to buy as well.

Do it even if you don’t plan to make a special site for your awesomely Canadian cheese fries. Worst case, buy the domain and have your website person do a permanent redirect (they call it a “301”) to your main site.

Why? (PG) illustrates the problem quite well.

All Apple had to do was spend 8 bucks a year (and do it first<g>) to avoid this.

I suggest you do the same.