JULY 2012

  • FLYING TOWARD A DEADLINE

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons

    2 Comments

    I’ve always worked well under pressure…some may call it procrastination, but I think there’s so much more to having a finite resource of time and making the most of it.

    This past week, I had the AMAZING opportunity to fly to New York with my boss and a couple of executives, seeking out a partnership with another company.  I had worked for a good part of the week, preparing content and bringing stuff together to present….  We went through several revisions with other stakeholders knowing what we had wasn’t perfect but would have to do.

    We boarded the plane, headed to cruising altitude and began to debrief the team on what we had put together…something special happened.  After about 45 minutes, we had targeted our story and started pairing down/re-organizing/revising slides…by the time we were making our final approach into NY, we shut down the computer and were all on the same page.

    While the circumstances of this flight were definitely special, there were elements that can be easily re-created to have a similar session with your own team.  Here are some of the rules I would try applying to your next meeting:

    1. Confine Yourself – though it was easy to get up and stretch legs, we weren’t able to leave the area (not without a parachute at least).  While this may seem obvious in the average conference room, make it known that you’re stuck together until you reach a certain limit
    2. Set a Limit – in our case, we had to make a presentation 30 minutes after we landed….everyone was WELL aware of the approaching deadline because the arrival time was ticking down on the wall.  Are your deadlines clearly posted?
    3. Be Selective – EVERYONE you invite will want to talk….does everyone in the room have a role?  Do you have the right people there?  If not, why are you locking them all in a room??
    4. REMOVE Distractions – Dump everyone’s phone in a bucket…you shouldn’t have a need for that if the right people are there.  Do you really need internet access?  Does everyone in the room need a computer?
    5. Make the Presenter Take Ownership – Too often, opinions are crafted by someone other than the person who has to represent them.  Make sure that person is in the room, get them to take on the task of deeply understanding the perspective and OWNING the content of the message.

     

    We stepped off of the plane and headed into the city.  On the trip in, our CMO told a story about his days as a journalist.  At his particular newspaper, the printing press would LITERALLY rumble the floor and rattle the walls as it started to warm up.  In the profession that basically invented deadlines, there wasn’t much more your boss could do to remind you that time was up.

    You most likely don’t have a reminder that is that tangible, but someone is definitely awaiting your decision….so deliver!

  • WHAT WILL WE DO WITH ALL OF THIS SPEED?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Mobile Tech

    1 Comment

     

    We launched our LTE network in Kansas City (and 14 other markets this weekend).  If you’re one of the lucky few who gets to experience this, congratulations…it’s pretty phenomenal to watch all of those bytes flow through the air.  However, like any momentous shift in technology, there’s this strange period where we really don’t know what to do with all the new-found power.

    Don’t get me wrong, I was BLOWN away when I ran my first speed test on Friday and found that I was pulling down 15mbps….  15!!  That’s 3X what I get at HOME!  I immediately posted that speed test to the internet to brag to all of my friends and then slowly let it soak in….what the heck are people going to do with 15mbps?

    Aside from everything on my phone being just a bit quicker, people naturally gravitate to streaming media.  I accidentally did some real-world testing over the weekend while I was Disc Golfing here in town.  Saturday, I braved the 100° temps and hit up Blue Valley Park for a grueling 18 holes up and down the hills of this wonderful park.  To my surprise, I was bathing in Sprint’s shiny new LTE network across the entire course…Spotify never missed a beat and my phone happily played Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zero’s for a couple of hours straight from the comfort of my shorts.

    On Sunday, I decided to bask in the sun again, this time out at Swope Park.  Swope has naturally had some coverage issues because of the land permit struggles out there, but I was able to pull a fairly decent 3G connection.  With just a couple small hiccups, I had no problem listening to 2 1/2 O.A.R albums while walking the course.  So even though music probably does put a good strain on the network….most of those services have been optimized for 3G speeds and do a decent job in creating a good experience.

    Ok, so if not music, how about video?  I don’t buy the premise that we’re going to sit around with 4.6″ screens and happily watch the premier of Breaking Bad, or catch up on the latest episodes of Arrested Development from a Netflix app (super excited for that….but I’ll probably watch it from the comfort of my home).  Even with the larger tablet screens (10″), the average consumer has proven that they’re not willing to shell out a mobile plan and we carriers have made sure it’s cost prohibitive to do so (only 6% of iPads connect to a cellular network).

    Video Chat?  Maybe…that tech has been around since the 1930’s (yes….for real), so is speed really what’s been keeping it from the main stream all these years?

    Multiplayer Gaming/Voice Chat?  Potentially…but I can’t imagine that cocky 13yr old kid who always kicks my ass on Call of Duty would be comfortable taking his crude mouth into Target with his Mother in ear-shot.

    Google Glass/Augmented Reality?  Sergey seemed to find a way to “rig” up his fancy demo at Google I/O with some magical wireless network….you can imagine that adding augmented reality imagery to the mix will definitely require a few more bytes to make you see the things that don’t really exist.

    Honestly, I don’t have the answer yet but I know it’s going to be revolutionary…somehow human beings find ways to exploit most technological advances (the phone I carry in my pocket is more powerful than the computer I used in college).  I also know that there are people out there right now, dreaming up what they’ll do with all that bandwidth.

    As a mobile operator, if we don’t find ways to deliver that access, someone else will….

    Challenge accepted.

     

  • THE IMPACT OF A HANDWRITTEN NOTE

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Project Thank You

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    I spent some time talking about the beginnings of the Thank You Thursday program at Sprint the other day and promised to follow-up regularly with some more detail on various aspects of how it all came about.  Today, some time on why I was so attracted to the handwritten note as a medium.

    I often feel a little guilty about what companies like mine have done to the emotional and personal connection involved in communicating with others.  Technology like email, text messages and the enablement of social networking have made the barriers to communicating lower but at the same time a lot less meaningful.  My company has 50 million paying subscribers sending an average of 1,000 text messages per month.  Getting its employees to handwrite notes sounded so remarkable it was almost unbelievable.

    I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with handwriting….  It’s not something I’m particularly good at and by the time I was in 4th grade, typing classes were already replacing the art of cursive.  That being said, my Mom was always adamant that I personally thank family members at the normal gift intervals in my life.

    That same attitude followed me through life and into my relationship with my wife, Stacey, who not only took the time to write thank you notes for gifts, but even for fairly basic things others did for her.  I still remember the first time we stayed the night at my parent’s house as a couple.  My Mom called me a couple of days after we left and asked if I knew that Stacey sent a note to thank them for providing some basic accommodations for her cat.  Though my Mom was/is protective of her first-born son, it was evident that this girl was just fine by her.

    Mail in general is fairly boring…yet, you most likely rush out to your mailbox every day after work in hopes that something there will blow you away.  Among the bills, junk mail, bank statements and advertisements, it’s rare to see something like a personal note.  Second only to a package from UPS, a letter with a handwritten address label and postmarked stamp is sure to get you excited…even more so when it’s un-provoked.

    Which brings me to the reason for tonight’s post.  I came home tonight to discover a postcard from my friend Jason in the stack of junk mail.  I won’t take complete credit for him jotting a quick note and putting it in the mail, but I’ll thank him publicly for taking the time.  It changed my day!!

    Be like Jason….go write a note to someone you know real quick.  No reason necessary, just do it.

     

  • BOURBON SPOTTING IN KC

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Cocktails

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    My wife and I met a family member out in KC this week and decided to try a new place in Waldo.  I’ve lived here for about 8 years and consider myself to be a Waldo purist…as part of that title, I was definitely saddened when the original Kennedy’s burned to the ground back in 2007.  I was in full support of the owners in their quest to recover and even helped out by drinking beer in their make-shift tent on St. Paddy’s day that year (most of the profits benefited the fire fighters who fought the blaze).

    In the wake of that wonderfully trashy dive bar they erected a pretty amazing building that almost looks sustainable (a grass roof makes you green right??).  The Kennedy’s name was resurrected on the building and business resumed as normal….unfortunately, it just wasn’t the same.  The new Kennedy’s was different…the regulars were gone, your feet wouldn’t really stick to the bar floor and the bathrooms were all on the same level.  It wasn’t going to last.

    Fast forward to present times, Max Watson (former sous chef of places like Room 39 and the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange) has come in with a new food/drink menu to bring some fine dining in Waldo at the re-branded “Remedy.”  In my opinion it’s a welcome addition.  Fine cuts of steak, pork shoulder, cauliflower steak and even an in-house cured bacon BLT top the list of food choices….but the food was a minor distraction on my way to the drink menu.*

    *oh yeah…the beer menu is pretty awesome as well

    Last night, I was fortunate enough to grab a couple cocktails and as you’ve figured out….I sniffed out the bourbon in that list.

    1) The Mayfair Manhattan – a very well put together Manhattan (or Manhatten per their cocktail menu….but I’m not an English teacher) with Dolin sweet vermouth, orange bitters, a wonderful brandied cherry all held together with Buffalo Trace Bourbon

    2) Ward 8 – a lemon and orange flavored [SOUR] cocktail with home-made grenadine and a touch of mint.  This one is made with Rye (not Bourbon), which most would argue is a more traditional choice for any whiskey cocktail.

    Both drinks were extremely tasty and I’m happy to see this level of food and drink make its way into Waldo.  Maybe it’s my age (30), but there are almost too many places in this neighborhood where you can drink until 3 in the morning, I’m happy to see an establishment where you can sit down and enjoy a drink make conversation without shouting.

    Go check them out:

    Facebook

    Google Maps

  • PROJECT THANK YOU

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Project Thank You

    11 Comments

    I started my career with Sprint as a retail rep and watched customers enthusiastically line up at our door to purchase the first camera phone on the market (Everyone LOVED the Sanyo 5300…many of you probably carried one).  I also stood in a Radio Shack store right after the Sprint/Nextel merger and patiently accepted critical feedback on how terrible service had become at this particular customer’s home.  Over my 9 year career, you could say that I have sat side by side with my customers on quite the roller-coaster ride.

    It’s no secret…we have had more than our fair share of troubles, yet we have had this fantastically loyal group of customers who actively made the choice to stick with us through it all.  After a conversation with a friend in our base marketing group in early 2010, I found out that many of these customers felt under appreciated and there wasn’t really much we could do for them…they were just loyal people who didn’t expect anything in return for that (yet, I owed every paycheck and my entire career to each and every one of them).

    I’ve long believed that meaningful communication is at the heart of my company’s existence.  Though we’ve continually innovated the way you do that over the past few decades, the need has never changed.  Finally in July of 2010, I talked 20 co-workers into sitting down with me and finding a way to let these customers know how much we appreciated them.  We have hundreds of marketing programs and cool ways to contact people given our heritage as a communicator….I wanted to do something different that would be recognized.  We were going to send these people hand-written thank you notes.

    Through 2011, the program experienced viral growth, quickly turning our group of 20 people into over 300 each month.  Employees were telling other employees and they would show up on the first Thursday of the month to help write.  We went from a few thousand hand-written notes in 2010 to almost 50K  in 2011.  At some point in 2011, Dan (our CEO) caught wind of the program.  At an employee all-hands that November, he announced that the entire company would be involved for 2012 and wanted to send 500K notes!

    As of this writing, we’re over 400K notes this year and will easily blow away the 500K goal.  Obviously, we still have a long way to go in thanking everyone in our base, but Dan recently recognized this program as something that sets Sprint apart from our competitors in a talk with Forbes Magazine.  In the talk when asked if there’s “anything special you do to connect with customers” he quotes:

    “Handwritten letters. I know it’s kind of old-fashioned, but I think in today’s digital world customers notice and appreciate that we take time to write letters to them. One employee and his team started a letter-writing campaign, thanking customers based upon their longevity. They would do it every Thursday, and it’s now mushroomed, and it’s become “Thank You Thursdays” company-wide. Our employees sit down with a list of customers, which includes something about the customers, like how long they have been with Sprint, and they hand-write letters thanking the customers for doing business with Sprint.”

    Though I can claim credit for the “Idea,” it took the hard work and program management of some very dedicated Sprint employees to grow it to the scale it’s achieved today (not to mention the sore wrists of thousands more across the company).  Aside from the obvious 1×1 customer impact there were many other lessons learned from this that I’ll try to cover over the course of time on this blog:

    • Encouraging a direct connection between all employees and the front line
    • Enabling any employee to solve any issue
    • Breaking the rules of normal process at a fortune 500 company
    • Building culture by bringing people together for something they believe in
    • The fine line of making something “required” vs. intrinsically motivating people to participate
    • The lost art of hand-writing….and how to deal with writer’s cramp!

     

    Until then, if you’re a customer who feels like you’re deserving of a hand written note, drop me a line….I’m more than happy to get a note in the mail and offer my commitment to help if there’s anything I can do to make your experience better.

     

    UPDATE:  Fierce Wireless picked up the story as well….cool!

    UPDATE 2:  USA Today joins the coverage :-)

  • SELLING VS. COMPELLING

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Marketing Brilliance, Mobile Tech

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    A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon Simon Sinek (thanks to Seth Godin) and his EXTREMELY powerful message of starting with “why.”  If you haven’t watched Simon’s short explanation of the golden circle, then STOP reading my blog immediately and go watch it:

    Start With Why

    Good stuff right?  I put this in front of my team and we’ve all embraced this for a professional as well as personal applications.  One team member in particular was so inspired by the message that it changed his thinking as it relates to how we utilize the content we provide in the form of apps and entertainment products.

    Are you Selling your customer?

    When we did a quick inventory of our marketing pieces, we quickly saw that everything was heavily focused on “WHAT” we wanted our customers to do:  Buy this new phone, buy two phones, buy one phone and we’ll give you a second for free, get this tablet, add a family member to your plan, come test drive our network….we’ll give you 30 days!, etc….

    This isn’t a problem internally at Sprint, it’s an industry-wide epidemic.  Carriers all over the US (and even globally) have long relied upon the device, price point, voice minutes, number of text messages, unlimited data, network quality and now network speed (YOU ALL NEED 4G!!!).  All of these are “WHAT” we expect our customers to buy from us.

    Buy this tablet….it’s only $99!

     

     

    You should be Compelling your customer!

    By thinking about that end result you expect (“WHAT”) and backing up a couple of steps to think about “WHY” a customer should be choosing you, it completely re-frames the entire message.

    Buy this tablet…it’s going to change the way you tuck your kids in at night

     

    This takes a lot more work in the up front process (you know…real Marketing) because you have to be clear on your brand strategy, you have to know exactly who you’re targeting and you have to work a little harder to make sure you’re compelling that customer to take action.  For my team, that’s a challenge we’re willing to take on.  Customers have changed the way they use mobile devices…since the launch of the original iPhone (Happy 5th Birthday iPhone), customers have placed a premium on what their phone is capable of, and that just happens to be our specialty.

    Is your company trying to sell a widget to your customers or are you compelling them to take action?

  • MARKETING ≠ ADVERTISING

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Marketing Brilliance

    2 Comments

    After the response I received from my post on Product Marketing, I decided to go dig this writing up from a couple years ago.  I wrote this as a manifesto to myself during a frustrating day at work.  I think it bears repeating and publishing now that I have an audience [albeit a small one].  Enjoy!

    One of my biggest pet peeves as a marketer is the common misconception that these two words are interchangeable.  In reality, advertising is a very small piece of the marketing process and the final step in taking a product or service to market.  They’re most often confused because advertising is the one that’s most visible to us as consumers.

    Have you ever really thought about what goes into bringing a product or service to market?  There’s a reason you purchased that pair of shoes you’re wearing or that great product from Apple you carry around with you or the car you’re driving and I can guarantee it wasn’t JUST a flashy TV advertisement or a promotional discount that was offered at the time of purchase….

    Homer Simpson was a terrible marketer

    One of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons is the one where Homer finds out that he has a half-brother, Herb, who is the founder of a large automotive company.  Through the predictable antics of The Simpsons it’s inevitable that Homer will be charged with bringing a car to market in an effort to save the company.

    He does and it fails miserably….  Looking more like a car meant for underwater travel than something for Middle America, Homer threw a bunch of crap he wanted to see in a vehicle.  There was no consideration for the marketplace (a true marketer would have been more empathetic to the real customer’s needs) and the value proposition was confusing.

    It wasn’t a lack of funding or promotion that made the car fail….  You can only spend so much money promoting something that no one wants.

    Could Homer avoid this pitfall by better understanding the marketplace?

    In a much more extreme case, a study of the war in Iraq found that 63% of all casualties were coming from the extremely dangerous roadside IED attacks on the traditional Humvee.  The need for a vehicle that could withstand the explosion of one of these mines was critical to saving lives in the conflict.  Multiple companies went to work fulfilling the demands of the US Military and the end result was the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicle.  By 2004, no troops had died in more than 300 attacks on these vehicles and demand for the MRAP skyrocketed.

    While this is an example of a very demanding and well-funded customer (the US Military); the same holds true for consumers everywhere. As great marketers, our job at the most basic level is to:

    1)     Explore and identify the needs of the marketplace…

    2)     Put products/services in the pipeline that will satisfy those needs…

    3)     Effectively promote and distribute to the targeted customers…

    By following this fundamental process, the product or service you’re trying to sell will literally fly off of the shelves (although a great sales force and fantastic ads/promotions will surely speed up the process)….

    And that my friend is a beautiful thing!