Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Do you create "bragging rights" for your customers?

Lunch break reading today - the Sept. 26th issue of Advertising Age, and a story about auto branding at the German auto show in Frankfurt. Feeling good about the grapefruit I'm eating, my eye catches the subhead: HELPING CUSTOMERS BOND WITH THE BRAND.

If you get the chance to pick up this issue, the story on Audi's "Ring" at the show (and the $14M they spent on it) is worth a lunchtime read.

Beyond that though, it made me think about what we do in the community development and real estate business everyday. Buying a home is the most emotionally charged and likely the most expensive thing you will ever buy. A close second may be a new car.

The car business has figured out how to help customers bond with the brand. The Audi example of an indoor test drive track around the Audi Ring (nod to their logo) did it. Think of the memories, the photos, the G-force their shoppers experienced?! The space is open for smart developers and builders to offer a memorable, relevant home shopping experience to do the same thing. We are on that quest as I write.

How can we create bragging rights for our customers so they leave our discovery centers and model homes and tell their friends, "Here's this great community I just visited, and the story I've attached to it." Back to work ...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Strong brands know it's as much about what you won't do, as what you will.

Lately I've had more conversations than ever with people launching a new business and creating a new brand, or trying to revive and reposition a tired brand. I'm taking it as a sign of our improving economy. And I love the dialogue because so many people, some very successful in business, see "brand" as a marketing thing. It's the logo, right? Or it's the color of their website, that matches the color on their business card. Or it's just that we need a new company story, right? That's the easy part - that's just the skin you show the world.

Brand is as much about what you don't do, as it is what you do.

In her amazing first book, "Different", that many of you have read, Youngme Moon calls the competitive marketplace today a "blur of similarity". Here's the deal I think... when things are tough and we all get scared, we look around the businesses we are in at who's doing what well and gravitate to "our version" of that same place and believe we'll be successful too. Take what's working and tweak it. This "me too" approach might work for a while, but it's not going to blow the doors off. And it's not really a new business.

Having a new idea is hard work.
What customer need is out there that you can fill? What problem or challenge do people have that your product or service can solve?
Simple is good.

If done right, creating the brand around your business idea will be about how it lives, not what colors you employ. ... If you are a quick serve cafe all about healthy refueling, what food will you absolutely not serve? ... If your business is all about human contact and personal service, what should your telephone system not do?

There are tons of great new business ideas out there. In this crazy world customers have more needs, and more specific ones than ever before. Those businesses with the guts to live their big ideas will win. And they will be the same ones who know that it's as much about what they leave out of their offering as it is what they add to it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Look outside your industry ... how do you stack up?

Spent some time today on a call with our team in Tampa, working on the customer experience we want to deliver in our new community, planned to open in mid-2012. We tossed around the usual notions of how to encourage customers to sign up with us, online and in person, so we can learn more about their home and community preferences. Not to hard sell them. Not to spam or e-blast the you know what out of them. But to help us keep learning about what matters to them, so we can continue to create communities that are relevant to changing buyers' needs, and help our customers along the exhausting and challenging home shopping journey.

Should we use tablets?
Should we use tech at all?
How can we make it simple, real time and best of all fun?
How can we integrate online and in-person among the community developer (us) and our builder partners?

As we created the amazing variety of journies our customers will take with us, trying to create a simple and easy approach became more and more complex. We are all customers too, so we inevitably referred back to those iconic customer service experiences held up as gold standards - the "blue shirts" in the Apple store, the seamless airline check-in experience, even some new examples from the automotive world. The discussion was great, and it reminded me of a few simple truths:

  • Customers compare you to their last best customer service experience, regardless of the industry. If you are comparing yourself within an industry, just remember... your customers aren't.

  • Every front of house opportunity has its share of back of house problems ... and they are all worth working through.

  • The kind of thinking needed to do this should make your brain hurt. If it doesn't, you likely aren't thinking hard enough.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Open for business

I had an early appointment this morning before work, and arrived just in time to see the person I was meeting with arrive at her shop. She unlocked her gate, upon which hung a wooden 2-sided sign, "Open/Closed". She flipped it over and the day began.

There's something about the act of flipping over a wooden sign, from Closed to Open at the start of the day. A pace within your own control. Romantic. Tactile. Human. A signal almost lost in this always-on world we all love so much.

It's a different feeling than being in an office where the signal the day has begun is the automatic fluorescent lights turning on at the same prescribed time. Somehow the sign is more human. It doesn't happen without someone actually showing up to turn it over. The lights go on without you - whether you are ready or not. The sign, like my perfect day, waits for me.

The same can be said for the other end of the day. Lights turn out at a time determined to signal the end of a day. Whether or not you are ready, that's the time. Our programmed, timed world is efficient for sure. The metaphor of that rustic wooden sign made me stop and think about how we can keep a little bit more "human" in it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Embrace your "back of house" and create memorable experiences

On weekends when I am batching it alone, one of the things I often do is get take-out from either a favorite Thai place (yellow curry), or a great Italian place. You see, Pam doesn't do curry, and gluten in the pasta doesn't much like her either, so curry and a great pasta dish are things I don't often enjoy, reserved for the weekends she's in Canada with family.

Tonight my to go of choice was Italian, from the best little crazy Italian place, a few miles from my house and right near the beach, Trattoria I Trulli.

I have never been to Tuscany, but I imagine this place is what a real Tuscan villa would be like. Tables crammed close together. Waiters rushing back and forth, turning sideways in the tight space to avoid crashing into each other or their guests. It's loud. It's always busy. There are never enough tables, even when they spill out onto the sidewalk.

Tonight as I sipped my glass of pinot noir at the bar while waiting for my dinner I marveled at how they use their "back of house" to create a sensory front of house experience that explodes with textures, sounds, and color. The bartender handles to go orders, in addition to opening wine, mixing drinks, and preparing after dinner "two decaf cappuccinos" ordered up in passing as a waiter drops of the plates from a meal just finished and seconds later re-appears with four wine glasses, a basket of bread and dip, and wisks a bottle of red off the edge of the bar.

Waiters come and go, through the bar, seen here in this quick photo, from the kitchen to the restaurant. In my short 15-minute wait I witnessed numerous near collisions, and yet never did the pace, the energy, or the passion for what they do slow.

I love this place. It makes me think about how many other "back of house" opportunities could be embraced as part of the front of house effect to create more memorable experiences, not just in dining, but in other businesses too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Social media puts a point on what every great brand has always done.

I picked up my latest issue of Marketing Management tonight to wind down after another great day sharing the plans, vision and the new name for a community we are creating outside Seattle. Not wanting a huge commitment of time, I flipped to Don E. Schultz's column that I read with interest every issue. A short column, it's always pithy and thought-provoking. Tonight did not disappoint, but I think he missed the point.

His column talks about the whole new world we live in, where the customer has control. He asks, "Is Persuasion Dying?"

That's not the point. That hasn't been the point in meaningful, customer-focused branding for years.

I mean years. Many marketers may have only woken up to this fact in the last 3-5 years, and point to social media as the game changing reason why. But truthfully, all of us, as consumers, have been in control a lot longer than that.

What social media does I think is give those smart brands out there more opportunities to be talked about. You Tubed about. Tweeted about. The core premise of a brand, when truly used as a business asset, has and always will be a promise you make to your customers. It's never been about short-term interchangeable brand concepts that are more ad slogans than anything else, designed to persuade buyers. That's promotional marketing. That's ad copywriting. That's all good too, and it has its place.

The article asserts that social media is the reason why "having one clear, distinct, incontrovertible brand image is becoming harder and harder to develop and maintain". I don't agree at all. Social media simply gives us and our customers more channels and vehicles with which to share and communicate. And that includes communicating about powerful, great experiences we have with brands that work hard to deliver on their promise at every opportunity. It isn't an excuse to not work hard until your brain hurts to find the authentic nugget inside your company or product that connects with and matters to your customer.

That's what this crazy business has always been about. Social media has simply given us a faster, more expansive view into how we are performing as we continue the hard work each day of defining and delivering the promise of our brand. Meeting our customers' needs, while finding ways to co-create with them has always been the heavy lifting of successful businesses. Social media doesn't make it new. It just puts a big giant point on it!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Generosity is now a business model

All the talk about the "double dip recession" and the catastrophic end of the free economy as we know it has gotten a little out of hand I think. I know I am not alone in saying I can talk myself into end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it disaster thinking like so many pundits, respected economists, and commentators of our times. Just read your news feeds, or try and make real sense of the markets these days. Tough to do.

I think the real answer is we never actually emerged from the "Great Recession" as it's now being called, elevated to proper noun status. We may have passed the right number of quarters with "technically" positive GDP, but it still feels pretty rough out there.

In our business, thankfully, and truly I think as a result of the amazing teams I work with all over the country, our sales so far this year are up 11% over last year at this time. We seem to be doing something right, and here's hoping we can continue it. But that doesn't replace the still general consumer malaise out there. And the more we hear and speak about catastrophic doom and gloom the more we as business leaders perpetuate that. That's the easy thing to do - talk about how bad it will get. Like cutting expenses vs. the harder work of growing revenues. That's the easy road and the obvious way.

Generosity may not be such an obvious. But watch it emerge as a defining characteristic of great companies today.

I think all of us are ready for a little bit of positive. So, here's the thing ... if the company you work for, or those you admire from the sidelines and love to watch have survived this madness, I bet there is still something at the core that makes it what it is, despite the wild ride. For some, that core is deeper and more meaningful than others. And by all accounts, consumers care about that.

They care about what you stand for, and the commitments you make (and hopefully kept) no matter what is thrown your way. People are interested in seeing how your company thinks and how you arrive at your decisions.

What do you stand for?
How do you live it?
What sacrifices have you made to give back and be generous to others during this time when it's so easy to get in line with all the negativity?
How do you show up every day?
Where do you get your inspiration from?

I am very lucky to work with some amazing people who are not only some of the smartest and most creative I know, but who have made great personal sacrifices to get us through and help us stay on top.

That is generosity in it's finest form.
And I don't think it's going anywhere any time soon. Taking a cue from how customers are acting and sharing today, the post-crisis era will be defined by inclusion rather than exclusion.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Craving Community: In all its imperfect forms

I bought this pottery mug YEARS ago on Galiano Island at a quaint potter's cottage. To this day I remember following the rustic hand-painted wooden sign nailed to a tree down a windy gravel road to the cottage where the artist lived and worked. I love it and hope I never break it. I was in university at the time and this mug is one I have always reached for when cherishing a quiet morning with good coffee and a good read, whether that be the Sunday New York Times or a good book, like this morning.

This morning I finished reading Craving Community: The New American Dream by Todd Mansfield,
Ross Yockey and his daughter Beth Yockey. Mansfield was President of Disney's Celebration Company for years, and also with DMB, the famed development company behind iconic Verrado and DC Ranch in Phoenix. The Yockeys are from the Seattle area and have a lot of experience with successful planned communities there including Issaquah Highlands and Northwest Landing. So as you'd expect, these oft written about communities feature heavily in this very thoughtful review of community life in America today.

Their book was great. Part memoir, part a historical review of planned community development and all its pitfalls and challenges, and part sociological journey. Those in the business will enjoy the familiar references. I loved the metaphors of "community" throughout. The greenways where annual picnics occur. The community intranets where babysitting services are shared. The "pioneering" ideas that today are the price of entry, like free WIFI in public parks and gathering spaces. But most of all I loved the chapter called "Technicolor Dreaming" and how it bravely addressed the notion of diversity in planned communities.

The authors interviewed residents in many communities about who lives there with them. The conclusion? Most said they wished there was more diversity, and not just ethnic, but people of different ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. And most realized this would not be the case in planned communities as we typically know them today, because as these places to live became less affordable, they became closed to all but those who share the same economic status ... and that makes them less, not more, diverse.

While there are divergent opinions on this idea, those presented by the authors are firmly planted in the camp that more diversity is better, is more authentic and is sustainable longer term. We all start somewhere, and are at one time in our lives that young person or couple stretching to afford a home in one of these great places to live. And at the other end of it, we all become those older people who eventually need more care and have less income. The point this book makes is that communities today are not protecting against the sameness that limits this.

Seems like a HUGE white space to me, for developers and builders who can create community in all its imperfect forms, in a more inclusive and authentic way. Just like the great neighborhoods of old, where the old lady with the cat lived next door to the single mom with two kids, who lived across the street from the large Italian family, and down the block from the working professional couple with no kids and a dog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It all comes down to space

I love this photo. It's from a planning workshop I participated in today for a new community we are creating called Waterset in Tampa, Florida. We've looked at and re-worked land plans on this site for the past number of years while waiting for the right time to bring this new community to market. Small scale land plans. Large scale land plans. Different configurations of the same land plan. Color ones. And others in black and white.

We've studied the product mix and changed it to evolve with changing buyer needs, re-re-re-drawing the land plan based on what the market and buyer research told us. All the while, we had assumed the siting of homes on one of the main connector streets, adjacent to what could be either model homes or potentially builder spec homes. All the while, assuming the houses lined up a certain way along the block.

It wasn't until today, when our team of architects and planners gave us the to scale model and little wooden houses that new ways of looking at this piece of land we've studied over and over emerged. The simple "tweak" of a few homes creates a special place at the end of a block. This creates a special view and sight lines that make what we've been working on without it all make sense.

Just like back in the day when much of my time was spent creating marketing collateral and I would make myself a smaller scale paper mock-up (hand-folded and held together by simple staples most often) before I wrote a word of the copy, today I was reminded again about the power of space, and the things we can see when we play with real models in the physical world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What to pay attention to, supply or demand?

We took a drive this Saturday afternoon around some new home communities in North County San Diego, just to see what's happening. The first take away was there is something happening, in the way of new construction, which is great. One community had what appeared to be 8-10 specs under construction by two separate national builders. And this same community had a full selection of model homes to shop.

The supply seemed to be solid here. But it didn't jive with the demand at least our research, nationwide, and that of other trusted researchers have been identifying for years.

In all our travels we saw NO single-story models or specs. We saw one banner sign at Old Creek Ranch saying, "ask us about our NEW single story". But it was nowhere to be seen. We did see a few (literally less than five) completed single story homes but the elevations and architecture were seriously underwhelming. If that's my single story option, I wouldn't buy it either. Yet all the research we do, in markets from coast-to-coast shows buyers of all family types and life stages saying they would clearly prefer single story homes. The only buyer group where this is not the case in an overwhelming way is the mature family (those with teens they likely want some space from).

So here's the question... if builders keep building the same two story homes, that's all there is to buy. And the buying of them doesn't mean that's what the buyers want. It just means that's all we are offering them. I get it that some of these communities are land plans that are just emerging from the horrific housing recession with lot sizes dug into the bedrock, and not large enough to support innovative single story living.

Maybe we just need to get this inventory moved on through the pipeline and exhaust this supply, before we see a response to true buyer demand and take the product innovation risk to create a new, innovative product buyers say they want. For now, I am taking with a huge grain of salt any stats that tell me most buyers are still buying two story homes, 2,500 - 3,900sf ... because that's all I can see we are offering them right now.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Service or a commodity?

When the next greatest thing is lined up to replace the thing you just bought, it would seem that brands based on service and particularly good, or compelling customer service have a sustainable competitive advantage over those that offer product-based features that can be copied or improved upon.

So what about those "service" businesses that have a low cost of entry (whether price, or emotional) and arguably offer very similar products and services as the next guy? How do they sustain customer commitment when they don't constantly release the newest greatest version? These businesses occupy a space that is service-based for sure, but if not careful, the "product" they offer can be thought to be very much the same as one down the street at the next place. Here's what I mean ...

While it would be tough to get most of us to change hair stylists (high emotional price of entry) what about nail salons or coffee shops? Sure they offer products of course, but their business model is based on offering a certain customer service. I have my favorite nail place now (those who know me from previous lives are laughing out loud hysterically now), and when I've been rushed for time and not near my nail place, I've gone to another, thinking, what could the difference really be right? Same deal with coffee places - I have my favorite weekend Starbucks. There are two others within a one mile radius, and on those occasions when it's just been more convenient to go to one of them, it's just not the same.

So what is it about these largely commoditized service businesses that makes the difference? It's the memory of previous interactions and exchanges we've shared that creates a common knowledge. It's that the women at the nail salon know I am from Canada and ask about when my next trip home will be, then proceed to tell me the latest about their cousins who live there, or the road trip they once took up to Vancouver from San Diego, 20 hours long. It's the woman at my Starbucks who remembers my drink and when I divert from it, asks me why and weaves it into a fun conversation with a vibe all her own.

It's connection. I will drive for that. I will put off my nails for a week rather than take a risk, on what truly is a low cost item, that my experience won't be what I want. Customer service, and a true, authentic, meaningful connection to the customer can turn even commoditized purchases into competitive advantage.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Marketing today: the best of both sides of the brain

Today was one of those days where I used every inch of my brain at work. The left side spent a chunk of time analyzing home sales absorption pace, calculating cost increases and thinking about projecting inflation rates. And it hurt. The right side earned its keep today envisioning the customer experience we will create in a new community, and thinking about the power of the subtlety of words chosen for the planning principles that will drive the development and creation of the same community.

As I sat in traffic driving home I thought back over the path of my life and how I ended up here in a senior marketing role. The only non-medical person in a family of well-accomplished doctors (all with PhDs or very focused specialties) ... I have my four year undergrad ... I never quite fit the family mold. But as marketers go, I pride myself on being one of the lucky ones who covets the balance between expansive "how might we" creativity and an almost forensic love of the analytical detail.

So, I may not be able to operate on an eye to save someone's sight, or save a trauma patient in the ER, or manage highly complex drug therapies for a rare auto-immune disease. That much is for sure.

But I can thank whomever and whatever got me here for the awesome opportunity being a marketer today provides to test the creative and analytical sides of my brain. It's a precious balance, and one that keeps each day interesting.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Casual Gaming. Big Escape. Bigger Money.

News broke today that Electronic Arts is acquiring the mobile game creator, PopCap, for $650M, and additional stock and performance bonus options that take the price up to $1.2B.

Wow. Big money for the mobile games, casual entertainment space. Bejeweled is one of PopCap's most popular assets, and with this acquisition it joins Angry Birds (from Chillingo) under EA's growing ownership.

Whether waiting at the doctor's office, or for your carpool buddy to join you on the ride home, or when attending a boring speaker at a conference, or waiting to pick the kids up at school, there's nothing casual about casual mobile games. They are ubiquitous and obviously fill a void. Space. Time. Easy escape. Whatever this void is, the value continues to increase.

What happened in days of old before handheld devices created a captive market for new casual games? I remember the very rare occasions I took an airplane trip as a kid, and buying word search and crossword puzzle books to pass the time. or MAD comics, and the Archie Digest. Same deal. Different time. Different media. And I would bet a whole lot less profit.

Find a void to fill.
Create a product that sticks.
And sell to the highest bidder. Then enjoy the ride until another innovation comes up to fill that space we humans need to constantly fill up with stuff like Bejeweled that exists to just give us a break.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gen Y Purchase Preferences = A Real Shift in Desires

Saw this recent data dump on the car purchases made in 2009 and 2010 by Gen Y buyers and though not one to take the "fear" side of the argument, in that decision makers in Detroit need to fear for their future, the parallels to what we see in housing preferences are solid.

Gen Y prefers smaller, less expensive (and that translates in more cases than not into foreign) cars. In our customer research on home shoppers in America we see the same thing - they tell us they want smaller houses, less expensive houses, but houses that are all about style and living the way they want to live.

Who's out there NOT saying to themselves, "When will it come back to the good old days? When will this economic shift get behind us and we can get back to building bigger homes, more of this and that? We know this is just a cycle and it will swing around again."

Those leaders and industries who are NOT looking in the rear view mirror and longing for a tired and irrelevant past will benefit from this forever-changed world. What a cool opportunity. Bring it on!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Facebookers organize post-riot clean up event

It's 8am and already 12,000+ people indicate they are attending an event communicated on Facebook to clean up last night's mess.

THAT's the Vancouver the world knows and loves. Again, the power of the social media community

Social media called on to assist police in Vancouver riot

It was a hockey game people. Not a war for food or clean water. Or standing up for personal rights and freedoms. It was a hockey game.

How embarrassing and stupid. The blight of 1994's riot was behind us, and the Winter Olympics last year were peaceful, celebratory and a beautiful display on the world stage.

Now this.

As we worried for family who were among the crowds in the streets of Vancouver, and searched for whatever coverage we could find from San Diego, social media, and Facebook specifically, took its rightful place as an organizing tool.

People from all over are using this page not only to express their frustration and shock at the disrespect shown by a minority of rioters (NOT fans), but more importantly, they are using it to post pictures taken at the scene and asking anyone who knows these people to tag them and assist police in bringing them to justice.

Let's hope the power of this amazing social network works. It's enabled "prosumers" to create content. This time it shows people that in the greater community at large, whether that's the city of Vancouver, or the social media community, your public behavior, now more than ever is just that - public.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Just follow the signs...

Sunday night, and I am in Seattle (ok, technically at the moment, Tacoma). Tonight's travel experience reminded me yet again of the importance of signs. Not just having them, and placing them in places where customers will hopefully see them, but thinking like a customer, putting yourself in the mindset of someone who needs to actually use the signs to navigate. It sounds so easy right?

The flight from San Diego was easy and uneventful. We landed in Seattle at the farthest gate from the exit of course, but no issues. First stop, restroom. Easy, it was clearly marked. Next stop, rental car.

Intuitively I knew it must be out near Baggage Claim, though no signs for rental cars appeared as we exited the secured zone. Our leap of faith paid off and we found the parkade with the rental cars and a moving marquee sign that listed a number of car companies as being on the 1st floor (there were 4 floors in the rental parkade). National was one of them, and we had a reservation with them for an SUV so we could travel the many miles up and down the I-5, and all the connecting highways in the submarkets we would spend the next two days exploring.

At this point, my travel companion Jane said to me, " that was smooth and easy". She and I have had too many trips together where we have gotten lost getting out of the airport, mostly in Houston. One year we were there on business more than 10 times, and got lost every time. It's a city where highways have multiple choice names, and directions.

I digress. Tonight we are in Seattle, on the 1st floor of the rental car parkade, following the sign that says, "National, Row P". There is one SUV left, and as we were loading our bags into it, a woman who works for National walked over to confirm we had an SUV reservation. We did, with the "Emerald" (read: VIP) version of National.... which is one floor up on the 2nd floor. Lacking emotion and energy Jane tried to explain there was no sign indicating that. The woman in green started to argue, and soon thought better of it, but maintained that yes, there was a sign, in the elevator.

That would mean you would need to know to get into the elevator. Nowhere among the signage we followed to get us this far did we see special mention that Emerald was on the 2nd floor.

As we schlepped our bags back through the parkade, re-tracing the signage we had followed, and arriving at the elevator, the 2nd floor wasn't even on the list of options. Another leap of faith, we get into the elevator and there in 12pt type is National, and then in 8pt type beneath it, "Emerald - 2nd floor".

Yes, there was a sign. But not along our path of travel which meant it was useless to us in our wayfinding effort. Think about all the paths of travel your customers take. Think about their frame of mind, and other things they are thinking about when trying to navigate their way through your business.

Jane and I found our SUV, loaded our bags once again and headed out for the 1-5 south. Thankfully, there is only one road out of the rental car parkade and the directions all along the way were clear and easy. We found our way to the hotel without one wrong turn. We just followed the signs...

Monday, June 6, 2011

What the numbers tell us, and what do we do with that?

Numbers. Added up, multiplied, calculated as a percentage of another number, and re-run through any number of filters. Usually this is done to measure something, project something, prove a point, or to tell a story.

If you are a hockey fan, and more precisely a Vancouver Canucks fan, you may have seen the stat I did this morning, that when it comes to the final round of Stanley Cup Finals and one team is up 2-0 over another in this best of seven series, the team that is up has gone on to win the cup 42 of 46 times. I want to believe, and I don't want to jinx them!

(just 30 minutes from the start of game three as I write this, I can only imagine the energy in the heart of Vancouver tonight)

Then there's the other side. When the numbers being published by the experts and pundits don't agree with your reality. That's the case for me right now, with the prolonged and some are predicting double dip in the US housing recession. In the media, it's all dire and sad news, one depressing prediction after the next.

Perhaps it's just me, but the energy in the American people doesn't seem to jive with this. No question, it's still scary out there, and the term "jobless recovery" seems painfully accurate for many. But the continued crunching of numbers to show the same negative story is getting me, and many others down.

For our business, and in our communities, we have had some stellar home sales results not only during the first quarter, but the past 30 days as well. One community posted its best sales result ever since opening in 1991, another posted its best month since March 2006. And yet another posted the biggest increase in a 30-day period since June 2007. Many others are way up over this time last year, with one community already 3 sales away from their total annual sales pace last year, with still half a year remaining.

So here's the thing. Numbers point the way, sometimes even paint the way. But they can also lag reality sometimes. I hope for the Canucks tonight that's not the case. And I hope for the US housing market our strong sales are joined by the same on the part of many others, so we can put the bad news tales behind us, and adjust to a long-term more sustainable though still positive and optimistic reality. At the very least, I am hoping for a little more curiosity and deeper analysis beyond the first layer of economic indicators. The results are there - you just have to look for them.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Apple pie

It's Saturday morning and Pam is making her famous home-made pastry for her yummy apple pie. What is it about apple pie that just says "family"? Cinnamon, lemon, sugar and hand-rolled pastry with love. Nothing store-bought.

It's the food version of one of her quilts or a sweater she's knitting. No two are the same. Each ingredient chosen carefully.

Tonight is the next game in the Stanley Cup finals and we are having friends over to help us cheer for the Vancouver Canucks. Dinner is planned. Wine is ready. But there's something about an apple pie that puts a cap on the meal.

It says more than any meal I could make, "you are family and we love having you in our home".

Monday, May 30, 2011

Screens for our perceptions

Memorial Day in the USA today. For this Canadian it's another chance to feel grateful for the opportunity to experience life in this country. So similar in many ways to the country of my birth, and still so different. This is a recurring theme I spend a lot of time thinking about.

We have the same language(s) for the most part. We both use the dollar as our currency. We share a continent, and a couple of seas.

In the US the November 11th holiday is called Veteran's Day. In Canada it's called Remembrance Day. Same basic reasons, and not too dissimilar from the reason for today being Memorial Day - to remember and honor those who served.

So here's something I think a lot about... where you are from, how you are raised how you see yourself, and how others tell you you are all contribute to how you construct your reality. Mine is different from yours. And yours is different from the person you live with. Not wrong, just different.

As we remember those who served today I'm offering up the idea that we also remember and honor the ways different cultures, and different regions construct our individual reality and remember that is what acts as a screen for our perceptions of the world.

Happy Memorial Day all. To all our differences that make this world the engaging place it is. Thanks for sharing yours with me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Starwood Preferred Guest Card - making it my own

I signed up last week for a new Starwood Preferred Guest card when staying at their downtown Phoenix property. Seems my old card was one of the casualties from my move to San Diego from Vancouver, Canada. I received my new card in the mail before I returned from my 2-night stay, personalized, even with the correct spelling of my name.

A day later I received an email offering me the opportunity to visit this site: and customize my card. I could choose a resort destination photo, a completely individual quote of my own, and a vacation icon or flag and make this newest travel loyalty card my very own.

I did it, and they promised to mail me my card version in a couple of days.

I travel a lot, and notice the little things hotel brands are doing to differentiate themselves. It's no secret that on check-out I told the front desk person that my stay last week was one of the best in a hotel anywhere this year. Their attention to detail, to personal service and to making every attempt to ask and listen to my comments was top notch. So while I was somewhat surprised to be offered the chance to personalize a card I likely won't use as much as my Starbucks card or iTunes card, it was a totally on brand move by a company clearly trying to deliver authentically personalized service.

And there's the potential now that I'll use it more than originally thought...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is community more than physical?

At the ULI Spring Meeting in Phoenix and I joined in a brief conversation tonight about this very issue. If we are the "Community Development Council" that means we develop community. There is apparently some debate as to whether this is the right name for this group of esteemed and experienced real estate development professionals. At the root of it - whether or not it connotes the fact that community is a physical thing that is created.

There is after all only so much land, and what does it mean about the future of our business if there are no more communities to develop?

Good and interesting discussion for sure. I think we need to broaden the view and the lens through which we look at what we do. Community is more than master planned greenfield developments. It can be vertical community, in the form of a highrise. It can be urban renewal communities in the form of regenerated urban infill. It can even be something more than physical completely.

It can be those of us on the bus this evening who began the discourse of looking within our industry and asking ourselves what it is we believe community to be.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday shopping conversations

Every week, on Sundays, I do my weekly shopping run. It usually involves at least three stops: Trader Joes, Stater Brothers (grocery store) and Pet People. Today was no different. First stop was Pet People and it was here that I realized I was about to participate in a store clerk-customer-ritual, talking about the weather.

It usually starts with, "How's your day going so far?" or the simple, less committed, "How are you?" and then it goes from there very quickly to the weather. I know these people well, I see them every Sunday morning. Today, Darren at the pet store lamented that the sun had come out only briefly and then gone away behind the clouds. He then proceeded to further lament that we can't have another summer like last (no sun, plenty of gray, and too much rain). He'd clearly been thinking about it though, and compared early May weather this year to last, coming up with a formula in his mind for why this summer was sure to be a better one.

We talked for a few moments after he'd bagged my tins of dog food, like we knew each other (we kind of do) but still about the weather and his forecasting system.

On to TJ's and the same thing - talking about the weather with the clerk as he scans and I help bag. He caught me off guard though, which I loved, with a question so personally specific I wasn't ready for it. Maybe that's it - the weather is safe, and though specific, not so in a personal way. It's generic in its specificity. Anyone can talk about it without needing to go into the personal details of one's life, and still make a connection. And specific enough that you can both relate to it.

My friend at TJ's asked me, "What's been the best thing about your weekend so far"? Wow. Did he really want to know? Seemed so. I told him it had to be that my 13 1/2-year old dog who'd been sick since Thursday seemed to be a little better this morning. She's a precious soul, and that was the best thing by far. He asked more and I told him. Then I learned that today was his Monday, and he apologized for being a little dazed as he got back into the swing of a new week. He seemed on his game to me, and I left having had the chance to make a human connection over something deeper than just the weather.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Salesman tries the cram down and loses any chance

Acute back pain that becomes chronic has to be among the worst things in life. It affects everything. You can't sit. You can't sleep. You can't do much of anything. Trust me, Pam's had this now for 6 weeks. It's not pretty.

Since her life involves sitting in her chair at work for 11-12 hours at a time, last week we decided to explore the idea of a special supportive office chair at Relax the Back in Encinitas. Sunday morning, two sales guys are on - one sitting in a massaging chair and the other greeted us, reeking of stale smoke and seeming a little pissed he had to be there.

Here's an account of customer service that I thought
I'd never have to suffer through again, with all the focus on the customer, and the importance of any customer and any sale during this economic hazing. He went from standoff-ish and impatient to trying to help. Showed Pam many chair options from $600 to more than $1,200. All the while, we discussed the fact she'd need to get our employer's approval to bring a new chair to work, for WCB reasons. HINT: not likely to walk out of the store with one today, but could be a returning customer.

One was too short in the seat. One had a back support that worked, but an angle that didn't. And so on. There was no one else in the store. Still, we were aware of the fact the sales guy was hot on a sale and we weren't going to deliver, so didn't want to waste his time. About 8 minutes in, Pam spotted an ergonomic seat cushion on the wall. Price? $60. We discussed buying it, since she'd need chair approval anyway, maybe this was an interim option.

Sales guy, after doing nothing to offer her the chance to try it, and doing all he could to not tell us the price says, "It might work, but if you ask me, really you should invest in a good chair for the long term." No kidding. He's paid to sell. What he forgot in that critical moment was that includes the $60 seat cushion. And it includes listening to and understanding your customer's constraints so you can be there "for the long term".

We walked out of the store, and Pam said, "I think that cushion might have helped, but there's no way I am buying it from that guy." Wow. He lost the sale. And that store forever lost two customers in a textbook example of not listening to your customer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Customers help design new product innovations at Lululemon

... and some tweaks to some old favorites. This, another observation from my recent visit to their Robson St. store in Vancouver, was particularly impressive. Much more than a one-sided token attempt to make themselves look like they care what you think, this simple low-tech chalkboard was a hive of insight.

"more flow-n-go tanks"

"mens CHIEF shirts"

"a wunder underpant with a groove waste band so it won't fall down"

"bigger chest pocket in men's hoodies for iphone (don't want to have to cram it)"

"Lululemon bathing suits"

Imagine the consumer research savings and the faster time to market this leading brand achieves through this simple approach. Not to mention the good will it engenders in customers who feel heard and given a chance to share their ideas.

This is brilliant, and another example of how Lulu lives their brand and creates an experience in every little detail to bring it to life in their own unique way.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lululemon brand experience - alive, well, and meaningful in their Robson St. Vancouver store

Lululemon, the healthy lifestyle brand displays this fun, organic piece of advice outside the door to the change room in their Vancouver Robson St. store. I love it! As you shop for and try on Lululemon wear this message makes you stop and think about the small things you can do to live a healthier life (achievable with or without the $92 sweat pants/leggings you are about to buy). Totally on-brand. And not something you'd see down the street at the Roots store or the Nike store.

What it says to me, is this brand cares about their customers and about living their brand promise in every tiny little detail.

How many other branded environments have you experienced lately where you've felt that to be the case? I know I am anxious to check out a few of my favorite grocery stores now to see if this diagram proves true. I'm sure the likes of Paco Underhill, who has spent a lifetime studying store design and product placement could tell us why this is. But thanks go to Lululemon for pointing it out.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Plane Brain Manifesto

Plane time is thinking time for me. This morning the flight that afforded this brain time was to Seattle, then on to Vancouver to see the family for Easter - the nieces, and nephew - can't wait.

Perhaps it's the crazy times we've faced in business the past few years. Or perhaps it's the continual changes in the world of marketing - from new technologies that require us to participate with customers differently than ever before, to the changing role of brands. Whatever the motivator, some semblance of a manifesto came to mind today and I wanted to share it now. I'm still not sure if it's a manifesto on the creative life, or just on life itself.

I'll be thinking and exploring these ideas a lot more in my quiet thinking time over the next while.

Ride down the middle of the road and you will get crushed. Venture out. Touch the edges.


Get out an observe. See things and experience things you don't usually do.

Be relevant. Be observant. Engage.

Get into the customer's business. Understand what matters and what success looks like. Care. Contribute. Challenge. Track an issue, and the conversation.

Tell me what you think. Don't always agree with me. Please bring your different experiences to our shared one.

Read. Learn. Breathe fresh air.

Have a similar work ethic. And a different point of view. Bring both every day when you show up.

Screw the excuses and the reasons why not. Chase challenges and dish up the solutions.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Do you really need all that "stuff"?

An article from Smart Money Magazine appeared this morning in my news feed. It's about aging Boomers coping with the inevitability of getting rid of all their "stuff" as they decide to downsize or simplify life. The point of the article (link below) is with so many people entering the stage in life when they are deciding to simplify, the market (and value) of the stuff is dropping. Simple laws of supply and demand. The more stuff, the more supply. The more supply, the lower the value.

I guess many of these sellers of stuff were counting on it for some added value in their retirement accounts. That won't be the case if grandma's old upright piano fetches $11 as the article claims. I read with interest the hypothesis that many of these aging Boomers are buying smaller homes - we see a lot of that each day in our communities. And there's the school of thought that says the American Dream of home ownership is changed forever and many are choosing not to buy again, if they can sell what they own. There are opinions and arguments to be made on both sides of both of these.

What I'm interested in is the longevity of "stuff" going forward. What matters most today? With our consumer culture of planned obsolescence where today's new release of almost anything is outdated almost as soon as the hard-to-open packaging is discarded, what is our relationship to material things? How deep is our relationship to these goods and things? Is a wedding gift of a silver tea service as coveted as funds toward an experiential honeymoon? If so, will there come a time, 40 years from now, when the married couple looks around and realizes they don't have a sterling silver flatware set to pass to the next generation? Or will new kinds of family traditions begin to emerge, less tied to things, and more tied to something else?

Read the article that spurred this thought here:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A generational imprint + shifting perspective

We are enjoying a visit with a 22-year old member of our family, from out of town. He's a smart guy, in his third year of university. Curious about the world around him and pretty perceptive overall. In generational terms he fits smack in the middle of "Generation Y", also called the "Millenials". There have been tomes written about his generation, interpreting all manner of research studies over the years.

We've had some great conversations and he's afforded us a peak through his window on the world. Fascinating. The absence of technology for anyone older than Gen Y has given us a whole different vocabulary. Like postage.

We were talking about a card that arrived in the mail, and he had no idea that the postage to get it here was the number on the stamp of the envelope. He asked me how much the stamp cost and how we knew. I explained the concept of postage and the differing value depending on origin and destination. He asked me how much more than the stamp postage cost. It was not something in his reality. His is a generation driven by technology in every way. "Snail mail" letters are not just a thing of the past, they are a thing that doesn't exist in current vocabulary. His birthday wishes come as e-cards or e-mails, his Mother's Day wishes are a phone call or a text, and all his banking is done online, no checks mailed to cover a payment.

I learned a lot from this short conversation and haven't stopped thinking about it since. His view on the world is no lesser or greater than mine - it's just different. Nothing can be taken for granted. If you are a boss, colleague or teacher of someone with a different generational imprint than you, listen, be patient and seek to understand. Look at the world from the outside-in, and it may reveal some new opportunities you'd miss if you march ahead, looking only through the window you know.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Consumer Trends & Street Fairs

At the Encinitas Stret Fair this weekend I noticed a few things different than last year's fair. There were fewer vendors selling handmade soaps and organic soy candles. Down from four soap booths to one, and down from three candle booths to two. There were even more unique food choices than in previous years, including a true wood-fired pizza oven complete with tall chimney, hauled out to the fair on a flatbed truck and set up with attention to retail design that rivals some of the most incredible branded store experiences, complete with chalkboard menu.

There were the health-testing booths, seemed like more of them as well. And what appeared a corresponding decrease in the "custom-designed jewelry" options and stone art on a string. But the most obvious difference to me was the huge increase in the number of vendors selling handmade totally unique dog collars and leashes. Full disclaimer: dogs are a huge part of my reason for existing, but still, my friends attending the fair with me pointed this out before I had done the math, after the fourth such booth. By the end of covering the entire street, we'd seen five total, plus the vendor who had so obviously knocked off the idea from Bert and John Jacobs of Life is good T-shirt fame with their "Life is Dog" booth. My favorite thing they were selling? The T-shirt that read, "It's all fun and games until somebody ends up in a cone".

Follow the logic for a moment that street fair vendors and the artists/entrepreneurs are on the front edge of consumer trends - their livelihood depends on it. Arguably the things one finds at these fairs are for the most part discretionary and emotional treasures. So this year's increase in dog gear means something.

Interesting that just a few days earlier in the week we reviewed a consumer research report for a new community we are creating, and despite having asked the question on similar surveys all over the country for many years, "dog park" actually came up as a top preferred amenity for the first time. Comfort in these crazy times? If I take to heart the wares of the fair ... hug your furry friends, lose yourself in the affordable tasty pleasures of some funky foods, and pay attention to your blood sugar!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How does a poet see what others miss?


What the oven is to the baker,

so the window is to the poet.
An entry point into observation.
A place through which to chase a thought.
The opportunity for reflection,
of either love or maybe loss.
Sometimes in longing, others in despair.
A poet looks through the window -
to comprehend what's there.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reflections on a simple day off.

What's life worth if you can't step back from it occasionally and just observe?
How can you feel the power of context if you don't put yourself in different places?
In the eye of the storm, days may seem very long, but the years are getting shorter. My recent birthday brings that home even more. And even this quadruple type-A personality's tank gets a little empty now and then.

So for the first time in I can't recall how long (other than recuperating from surgery, which just doesn't count) I took a simple day off just for me. No family obligations. Just a day for me. Here's what I now know to be true, after this simple day:

The best time to shop for groceries is Monday morning. Everything's fresh and you can park closer.

There are gold specks in the sand on the beach. They are the same color gold I see in my bangs, blown into my eyes by the ocean breeze.

Two flocks of cormorants can fly directly at each other, bank on the wind and miss any wing or other contact completely. Perfect engineering in motion.

Their shadows fly up the side of the cliffs, the shape of the land making it appear they are turning inland, when they are really flying straight up the coastline. Imperfect human perception at work, fooled by the shape of the earth.

People are happier when they walk the beach, including the woman who exclaimed, "I found a bonanza" as she passed me, her hands full of barnacle-encrusted shells and rocks. I found my own 1/4 mile further down the beach, in a piece of corral with tide-worn shells attached.

The public restroom at the beach makes a perfect pit stop for motorbike riders - in and out in under 5 minutes and no need to buy a coffee to feel polite. Note to self on our next ride.

The waves keep coming.

I can see, smell and hear more than usual. And it took me less than a morning to turn down the velocity, and turn up the observations.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The unapproachable English language

It was about 15 minutes into my first pedicure of the season, in prep for my beach vacation, when the Vietnamese woman doing my nails looked up at me and said, "Can I ask you a question?". She's a friendly woman, about my age, who more than half the times I treat myself to this indulgence, is the one who does my nails. So we've talked many times before. She knows I am originally from Canada, and has told me of her cousins who live there. So the way she asked the question caught me a little, and I thought it must be something personal. I listened.

"You know the show The Bachelor? I watch the show and they say something I don't know what it means. She say, 'I don't wear my heart on my sleeve'. I don't understand," she says as she motions with her chin to the sleeve of her blouse (her hands were in the basin at my feet). I explain it means the character is not openly showing her emotions, but rather keeping them in check. Her face lights up with a smile as she thanks me. I can see her working this new meaning around in her head, when she says, "It means she hides". Yes, that's right, I confirm.

A few minutes pass and she says, "I didn't know you were coming today, or I have lots of questions. I keep a list and write them down". I told her she can ask me anything, but she says she didn't bring her list, and continues on to say she doesn't feel she can ask most people her questions because she doesn't want to disturb them. I told her I would answer anything and not to worry about disturbing me.

As I sat in the massaging chair and watched my new nails take shape I thought about the notion of approachability and why someone would give off the air that they weren't, to someone like this who clearly just wanted to learn.

A few more minutes passed and she looked at me and said, "For me, speaking English I feel frustrating". I empathized and told her it's a very difficult and unapproachable language, especially when it comes to these strange colloquiallisms like wearing one's heart on a sleeve. Her smile and nod told me she didn't understand "colloquiallism" - and stupid me had no more accessible way of describing it.

She then asked me, "Are upset and frustrating the same or different"? I explained that, to me, "upset" means more like "sad", and "frustrating" can have a bit of "anger" in it - carefully choosing my words to be both meaninful but hopefully approachable to her. She smiled again and said, "Then to me, when I want to speak English and they can't understand I feel upset, not frustrating".

We had made a connection for sure. She thanked me for helping her. I thanked her too, for reminding me to stop and recognize how challenging an unapproachable world can be. And I resolved to continue to do my part to help change that.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why does making something feel so good?

To make.
To bring into existence by shaping or changing material, combining parts, etc. To make a scarf; To make a work of art.
To produce, to cause to exist or happen, to bring about. To make war; To make love.
To cause to be or become. To make a new friend; To make someone happy.
To put in the proper condition or state, fix, prepare. To make a bed; To make a great pasta sauce.

That's the meaning behind it all, but what about the feeling behind it all? How GOOD does it feel to make a great dinner for someone after a long day? Or how about watching someone who's worked for a week on a new scarf pull that last stitch through? Or the new energy and new discoveries that come with making a new friend? Or making a great turn on your motorbike? Or making your way in a new city? Or making that tight deadline and still producing your best!

What about just making time for someone, to listen or talk. Or making time to coach and teach a new skill, or refine a tired old one? There's something sweet and special hidden in that very simple word, to "make". Pollyanna positive? Maybe.

But what's behind these positive emotions wrapped up in "make"? I've made it a point to observe this in friends and colleagues the past couple of weeks, in anticipation of this post. Here's what I've seen...

To some it's a sense of personal accomplishment.
To others it's a gift they give and feel good because of it.
To others it's a sense of self-expression, of definition almost.
To others it seems more about confidence, overcoming something they hadn't before. (this would be me, making anything that has instructions, directions, or requires tools of any sort).

Whatever the individual motivation, one thing I have observed for sure - making time, making things, making the grade when you haven't before - it's a power-packed little word with a lot of potential.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's behind taste and preference?

Are you a dramatic, exotic bird of paradise? A simple, happy daisy? Or a fine lacy heather? These three different flowers grow wild along the side of Quail Garden Road, and I get to enjoy them on my morning walks. Each beautiful in its own way, and oh so different. What makes someone prefer one over the other? I have a definate preference and I suspect most people do.

Line me up next to someone with the same background, same age, same gender, same career, same stage in life, and yet it's very likely we'd both pick a different flower. The choice of a preferred flower may be no big deal, but think about the places where the aesthetic of taste has big financial impacts. Line me and that person who appears so similar to me again and ask us to pick a car, a pair of shoes, a color of paint, or any numer of consumer goods and we'll behave like the individuals we are.

Each with our own sense of taste. Not just members of some demographic group (which of course we are), but individual people with our own personal taste and preference. So for product designers and communicators everywhere our jobs depend on an understanding of this illusive aesthetic of taste.

I'm left wondering about that illusive chicken and egg debate. Does something become popular when it's liked? Or is it liked because it's popular. That's a matter of taste I guess. For now, I'm enjoying my dramatic and exotic bird of paradise.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Will you take yours standard or do you prefer customized?

It's the age of the customer, and they are in control, right? Right. I've been reflecting this past week on the number of ways, opportunities, products and experiences impacted by that frame of reference. More often than not it shows up as an "either/or" equation. Take homebuilding for example ... it's EITHER the 300 home/market/year national builder OR the 65 home/market/year more regional builder. The differences get further explained like this. The national can build homes faster, often less expensively, with more standardization. The regional may take a little longer, be more open to adapting to buyer requests, and in some cases it may cost a little more. This comparison is courtesy of Matt Jones, partner of Sabal Homes, as quoted in the January issue of BUILDER magazine. See page 147.

There are degrees of black, white and grey in this comparison for sure, as some of the best builders in the country are wrestling with. Whatever the space, or industry product-based comparisons are easier to identify than some others. But they are everywhere...

Take services. It's always peeved me as a client when requesting a proposal or an overview of services to be provided by an ad or PR agency when I get a templated response to a request. {Pull out last proposal with standard language and insert new potential client name here}. Ok, so it's just the start of the relationship, and it may result in zero new business, but show me you care, and that you want to dance baby! Show me a little interest and understanding of my unique problem or business opportunity. Show me you can customize your approach in this first moment of truth. I'm not saying give it all away, but don't just show me the standard. That's just boring, and easy. It's not an "either/or". Just like the homebuilder example, there are shades of grey.

Take medicine. My brother the pharmacist has drilled the importance of "evidence-based drug therapy" into my brain. So in medicine the paradigm would be follow the protocol (standardize) or personalize (customize) the care for the patient. That could get tough. Every human body is different and will react to the most tried, tested and true drug therapy differently, but the theory is the protocol gives physicians and pharmacists a place to start.

So maybe that's it - standard is just a place to start. It's a repository of knowledge and learning. Trial and error, and evolution over time. It could be the sweet spot visible only if you can embrace the ramped up, customer-driven speed of evolution.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

DR Horton's authentic, personal follow-up ... there IS hope!

Just got a call back to a customer information card I filled out when visiting DR Horton's Alegria model in Palm Desert in November. It was the first EVER call back I've received after completing one of those forms in a model home. True story. And you can bet I have visited and shopped hundreds (ok, so I don't always) give a real number but most times I do.

Imagine my surprise when my iPhone rings, it's a 760 number that I don't recognize, and I answer it to be greeted with, "Hello Teri?". This is the first clue that it's potentially a sales call - the caller is tentative about my name. I go with it. Yes, it's me.

Marcie from DR Horton deserves huge kudos for sensing my pace and matching it. She had unapologetic confidence but played to her customer - me. Her first statement was "You visited us a while back. Now, I wasn't here when you came in, but you work for a builder as well right?" Wow. Not exactly, I work for Newland, a developer, but I am seriously impressed that she says she wasn't there, but is taking the time today to make a connection with me. Now I am listening.

She proceeded to ask me if I am looking to purchase a second home. I told her we were just beginning, when if I am totally truthful it's more likely that we were curious about the new product being put up in a development that stalled just as the housing recession caused so much grief. In any event, I tell Marcie yes, we are just in the early stages, not sure what our real plans are. Not missing a beat, or getting desperate, or trying to close me when that's clearly not my intent, Marcie is a pro.

She again acknowledges when we were there by saying, "I think when you were out we had just started on our new phase. Now it is much further along and we'd love to have you back out to visit us again." That was her ask, subtle, and related to the specific timing and phase of construction of the project when I last visited. She continues and tells me if I am interested there is still time to select flooring in these units, and DR Horton has added some nice upgrades.

No pressure, just acknowledgement. I thanked her, and hung up feeling that was a great exchange. It may seem small, but here are the take aways from me that Marcie delivered:
  • She knew me: when I was out to visit, where I work, and that I own a home.
  • She made an offer that related to me, not her: If I am interested I can still select flooring
  • She listened: No pushines, no threat to call back later, just clear, pleasant exchange of information
Bottom line ... she left me with the information that this particular development is healthy and proceeding, she didn't try and force me into anything, nor did she give me a sense she was at all desperate. She simply listened and used what she heard to tell her story. Awesome.

And for those so inclined, Alegria is a very cool single-family attached product with great amenities already in, located just off I-10 at Cook, and Frank Sinatra in Palm Desert. Comfortable floorplans, high level of fit and finish and well-priced. Check it out. Great job Marcie, thanks for a fabulous follow-up experience.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sea of sameness - "jaded is the new stoned"

I drove out to Palm Desert today to see my parents who are in town on vacation from Vancouver (escaping a wet winter). Meant I missed my STAR 123 chapter motorcycle ride, sadly. So I drive along the 215, which then turns into the 60, in the heart of Riverside County, trying to stay awake. You know that whiplash feeling? Head drops, snaps back, drops again? So I cranked the music, and the A/C and kept drinking cold water.

This area is home to multiple new home communities and builder subdivisions, and with the IBS show coming up this week in Florida, and predictions from many of my favorite market researchers that this year will be the uptick we all hoped the middle of 2010 would bring, I paid more attention to the billboards and directional signage than on previous drives along this stretch. Or, maybe it was another technique to stay awake - keep reading.

Wow. And not in a good way. Cover the logo, or the company name (out of respect, names are withheld to protect the innocent) and most every sign out there said something like, "Own from the low $200s" ... or "Own in the desert from the low $200s" ... or "Brokers welcome, new homes from the low $200s". Sure doesn't make me want to take the next exit and see what all the fuss is about. Or give me any reason to think there would be anything particularly compelling or meaningful if I did.

As I thought about this, and the observations made by many other than I that new home sales has become not much more than selling a commodity, I thought about one of many killer lines in Youngme Moon's book, Different that I finished last weekend - "Jaded is the new stoned". Maybe so. But if this is the kind of compelling call to action our customers face when trying to make a decision to buy, they might just all wish they all were.

I'm going to give us all a pass. It's been a tough few years in real estate and perhaps it will take a while for the creativity to rise from the ashes like we hope the economy does. One things for sure, there's lots of white space there for those with the passion and energy to grab it. KC and team?