All posts by Bill Hunt

Bill Hunt is the co-author of the best selling book Search Engine Marketing Inc - Driving Traffic to Your Companies Web Site from IBM Press now in it’s 2nd Edition. Check out the companion Search Marketing Inc blog Bill is currently the President of Back Azimuth Consulting which helps companies understand their consumer by mining search and social media data.

Hi Tech Baggage Check

During a recent trip to Hokkaido, we had the change to try ANA’s high tech self-check bag check.


It was actually pretty cool.   You start by scanning your boarding pass from the kiosk or your phone.   It then gives you a bag tag to add to the luggage.  Once that is done you select “ok” on the screen.

The machine then takes the bag, scans the tag, weighs the bag and pulls into the system to send it to the flight.  Below is a video of the process.


Employee Traits Necessary for Hiring the SEO of Tomorrow

For the past few years Anne Kennedy and I have done a session at PubCon in Vegas about how to hire and retain Search Marketing talent in the enterprise.  We are not doing the session this year at PubCon which is unfortunate due to all the recent articles about hiring SEO’s.   The recent SEO Professional Hiring Guide from Stephan Bajaio of Conductor is an excellent set of tips from people across the industry on the do’s and don’ts of hiring for your SEO team.  Full disclosure, he quotes my tip to have candidates explain the problem to different levels of the organization which is also noted below.    Then there was Kevin Gamache’s article on Which Department houses your SEO Team  which becomes a challenge once you have your dream team assembled.

I plan to write this as a two part article.  The first part will be the least discussed, the personality traits necessary to be successful in the next generation of Search Marketing.  The follow on article will focus on the the actual technical skills an SEO must have to be successful.

I think most companies use a standard list of Employee Qualities like this list from Jibe but often mistakenly do not include those even more relevant to Search at the enterprise level. While I say enterprise, these can be valuable at any level but are critical in a large matrix organization.

My old friend and business strategy guru David Dalka, the CEO of Fearless Revival,  currently focuses on training executives and board members of the future has written on this problem for a number of years.  David has been very vocal that hiring managers do not understand the hard skills necessary for Search jobs the even bigger gap in the soft skills which leads to both the individual failure and more importantly, organization failure and negative opinion on Search, especially SEO.

Personality Traits of the Enterprise SEO

The following list of traits comes from my presentation on “The Traits of a Search 3.0 Marketer from Pubcon 2016 which is linked below.  This is my personal view of what it takes to be truly successfully managing SEO in a large company.   For those that may not be aware, I ran search for two large agencies as well as IBM and have helped numerous companies try to hire Global Search Managers.  From this collective experiences is my list:

Curiosity of a 5 Year Old/Student of your Craft

If you have a young child then you know they want to know everything down to the last detail.  They don’t stop at the first question, there is always a follow-up and follow-ups to the follow-up.  You need people that will ask why and continue to try and understand the nuances aces of a topic of issue.   There are many why’s in Search especially in SEO.  It should be a constant set of questions about how does this work, why does this work or not work.   Using your own brain and experience to sort through problems in the context of your dev and corporate environment is critical for success.

When I was a Marine I learned the phrase “Student of your Craft” and this curiosity often resulted in stacks of books from the officers in my command.  You have to want to always be improving and learning, not just your specific role and how it contributes to the whole but those around it and how you impact them and they, impact you.

When asking candidates about how they might go about solving a recent decrease in traffic, I have had too many tell me they would wait for one of the update reports or see if anything is posted on Moz and then use that to diagnose their problem rather than being curious themselves.  I often ask them about what they read about both in trade but other topics.

Deductive Reasoning Skills of Sherlock Holmes and Dr House

The child-like curiosity is augmented by this deductive reasoning trait to try to understand the root cause of a problem   The TV character Dr House uses a differential diagnosis to try and rule out alternatives to get to the real problem.  Deductive reasoning and root cause analysis are essential to determine why your performances has increased and especially decreased

The easiest test for this trait is to give a situation that can have many reasons to see how well they rule things out.  For example, the one I give is … I have a page that is ranking in Google but it is not the page that should be ranking.  There are two basic options for this problem.  First, another page is more relevant therefore it ranks and the second is there is a canonical element that is pointing to it.

Olympic Athlete’s Competitive Nature

I have found the most successful SEO’s are very competitive.  Getting a top listing is like winning a race.  You have beat 999 other competitors for that privilege of being on top of the podium.   Many of the successful SEO’s that I know personally or worked with me were/are competitive athletes or poker players. I have always believed one of the key factors of success at Outrider and Global Strategies were the athletes that we hired.  Living in Bend Oregon we had many world-class athletes in sports like skiing, mountain biking and various water sports that came to train and needed a job that challenged them intellectually.   It is, after all, a contact sport to beat Google and its competitors.

Bill Clinton’s Communication Skills

The ability to present complex requirements and then motivate people to do them is critical in the enterprise.   To spend resources on an activity often means forgoing another.   It also means you have to communicate the need or problem to various levels of the food chain that have different levels of understanding of the topic.

A simple test for this skill is to have the candidate must try to explain that problem to two or three different audiences.  The first is the senior executive that we need to allocate the resources for the problem.  The second is to the development team that will make the change and the third is often a Global Search Manager since the region or local team must fight to get global resources.   This ability to describe a problem both technically as well as strategically is critical to get it implemented over other items.

This skill is not only verbal but written as well.  The vast majority of specifications for SEO improvements are either incomplete or incorrect.  If the requirements cannot be written completely and accurately with the expected outcomes the developers cannot be expected to figure them out.   In many cases the author assumes the Dev team knows how to solve the problem leaving them to Google for a solution vs. getting the complete package in the requirements document.

Jessica Bowman has done classes on writing specifications as well as covering some of those key success items in her new book Executive SEO Playbook.  If you have an offshore dev team or one the is really tough to get resources from you may want to develop a specific test for them to develop a requirement or use an existing one but remove parts of it so they can determine what is missing.

Madelyn Albright’s Negotiation Skills

For those who don’t know Madelyn Albright was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State.  As the first woman in the job she encountered many geopolitical challenges that were made even harder with her being a woman.  Having the opportunity to hear her speak she advocated two key negotiation skills.  The first was to leverage personal relationships to make connections or to help with the persuasion.  The second, and more valuable, understanding what the other sided needed to get out of the negotiation.  I learned power of the second time myself completely by accident.   We had a large site audit delayed and on the day we were to do the final readout we actually did the kickoff.  Previously we would get hired, do the audit and identify a number of issues that negatively impacted SEO in a 100+ page audit then go to battle with the various teams to try and change things.

On this one occasion, we had all in the room, started with the process and a few things we had seen already and started to get some interesting feedback.   Most of the teams started telling us much of the “why” things were the way they were.   We had been told the Senior Manager of the Web will be our biggest barrier as she hated working with SEO’s.  One of the items we identified was inconsistent code and titles across the pages and that if they could adopt a CMS that would help the consistency.  She told me that if I can help get a CMS in place then on the rebuild she should integrate and reasonable SEO request we have.   So our secondary mission was clear, develop a set of problems, their negative impact on traffic and sales and how a CMS can solve them.  We were able to get approval from the CMO for the new CMS and nearly every recommendation we had in place.

So for your test you may ask the candidate to explain their process for determining the value and opportunity of recommendations and how they would go about “negotiating” with the Dev and Web teams to get them in place.

Thomas Edison’s Innovation

I had this on my chart and was going to remove it but it is one I feel strongly about but may not be relevant for most positions.   Sometimes the SEO role requires the need for speciality tools that work only for your unique needs and circumstances.  Being able to identify them and articulate the features to a developer is not easy.   I currently have nearly 100 of these specialty tools that I don’t think I can do my job without and often cannot imagine others not needing them.     No real way to test for this trait but you want someone that maybe has developed their own smaller tools or process to solve a niche problem.

Ability to see the future like Nostradamus

Ok, if they can tell the future then they would not be working in Search they would be day trading or betting on outcomes in Vegas.  This was another that could have been delete from my presentation list that was added as a funny break in the presentation.     But you do need someone who can understand where the industry is going and what your organization must do to try and move with it.   I often make suggestions for upcoming changes to integrate into a new design or site release to get us ahead of the game.  This is sometimes met by SEO Managers or Development teams that know a bit about search arguing that that is not working yet or none of the competition have this.  The ability to have a fundamental view of the changes in search is essential to the enterprise to help weigh current and upcoming opportunities.

Bomb Disposal Expert’s Attention to Detail

This trait is critical and goes with the communication ability specifically for developing specifications.  Many of the specifications are incorrect due to incorrect code or some other mistake in an example or instruction.  This is also the case when making changes to the site.  Forgetting to change a canonical or another tag may result in the entire site being negatively impacted.

We typically test for this by having the candidate review a specification and changing some obvious syntax.  Another good one is to swap allow with disallow on a robots.txt example to see if they notice it.

Patience of a Saint!

This trait should be non-negotiable and one of the reasons most celebrity SEO’s and small business SEO’s don’t succeed at the enterprise level.   It takes forever to get anything done in the enterprise and people without patience tends to leave long before the changes they suggest are even able to be implemented.  I recently turned down a project since the site does updates 3 times year and the next two were fully booked so it would be 9 months to see any changes on the site including uploading XML site maps.  The only way to test for this is the ask them about previous experiences with dev teams or projects and if they seem to vent excessively about how long it takes that may be a clue they will be easilly frustrated in this position.  Now, the frustration is natural and expected but someone who can manage the bosses, as well as their own expectations, is a key attribute of the position.

In closing, these are the traits that are necessary, in addition to the hard skills to be successful as a next generation SEO. If you can find a candidate with half of these traits hire them immediately.  I welcome your comments on these and any others that I may have missed that have made your company or team more successful.

Why I Don’t Write More

Recently at dinner with a client, two people scolded me for not writing very often.   Apparently my tough-love approach to business and search marketing helps them get some of their initiatives moving. I tried to explain why I don’t write more but wanted to make it more public.

Reason #1 – It is hard for me to write due to the way my brain works

It is not a problem with the language or writing skills it is the thought process. As I write even the simplest of articles, my brain is creating a taxonomy of all the divergent and supporting topics that relate to it.   I actually see a topic mind map for the article and as I think about it the legs expand into the sub topics, root causes and how to correct it.   For example, yesterday while just trying to capture my frustration of having to, yet again, explain why we needed to make a simple change to a site to maintain organic traffic resulted in five different articles. The original article let to one on “Why Don’t Executives Appreciate SEO” then came “How to build a business case for SEO changes” followed by “Why your SEO Specification Sucks.” In the end, nothing was published but I have 2 to 5 paragraphs of multiple articles that will join the other 500+ that are partially written.

I have had this problem my whole life and was especially a problem in the Marine Corps.   While sometimes an asset since I could quickly “see” the various outcomes most of the time those above me did not and that frustrated them.   Writing Search Engine Marketing Inc this was somewhat helpful as Mike just turned me loose on a topic and let me write thousands of words that he was able to beat into submission to form the chapter sections.   For articles, I have tried fixed outlines but that does not work so the only option seems to be to just let it roll and let the 300 words become 3000 then parse out the part I need to post.  This leads me to my second reason, taking the time for other things.

Reason #2 – Work Life Balance

This is a rather new one for me.  For as long as I can remember I put in 16 to 20 hour days. I have cut back the number of clients to a smaller set but these projects are a bit more complex taking more time to develop the strategy and recommendations. On top of the client work I have the tool set that like and idiot I tried to commercialize. The best reason of all for the change is my wife has pushed me to take a bit more time for us to travel and just relax. These changes have reduced the amount of billable time I have making the “work hours” all about work and not leaving much time to write.

It is simple math, the hour or two to write and article can either be billed to someone or quality time doing something as simple as readying to relaxing with my wife. Where is the better investment – will this article improve either?  Most of what I have been writing lately have related to the tools and how to get more out of them.

Reason #3 – Anticipating the Haters

I really don’t care what people say about the things I write but it is frustrating to have to defend it and worst yet to know you have to anticipate it. A recent article on keyword intent had someone ping me in less than 10 minutes saying that I had highjacked another persons topic. Sure I could ignore it but I could not let it go. This resulted in adding to the articles and finding the references across the past 18 years that proved I was not co-opting someones topic. The majority of the time I delete the comments and just let it go.

This anticipation of the need to defend statements and examples forces me to think about each of the examples and references I use. For example, an article I am writing about the traits of successful Enterprise SEO’s I have references to Bill Clinton and Madelyn Albright. I immediately assumed that people would post negative comments about using them as examples and I am trying to see if I can use other people as examples for these traits.

The same with examples, I recently had a screen shot of a site I encountered and few people added comments that I should not out a small business for doing stupid things. I should have contacted them to give them a chance to fix it. I deleted both comments as helping them directly would be free consulting and not help the other sites that do the same stupid things. In the end, haters gonna hate and I try to not think about it and just write on my blog and if people don’t like it they don’t need to read it.

I have had other case where I did an interview before a conference for Bruce Clay’s blog and talked about a search I had done that had horrible paid search results and. The comments of people trying to give excuses for it and that I was not living in the real world. I had people come up to me at the next few conferences and call me to on this post that I had made paid search look bad and that I should be a bit more flexible in what are relevant results.

That is it – those are the only excuses I can give other than being too lazy to write.  I will try to write more as I have been complaining a lot about the quality of the articles about Search and growing your agency.   If there are other topics you want me to write about let me know I will see what I have already and try to get it posted.

Can your Searcher’s Complete Their Tasks?

Originally I wanted to title this post, “When Sales and SEO Don’t Communicate” but realized it was more about an all too common marketing failure – not ensuring Searcher’s can accomplish what they came to the site to do. Many companies fail to grasp the fairly simple concept of connecting keyword phrases they want to rank for to why a searcher uses them in the first place.  Even more importantly, task completion – when the searcher gets to the page, can they do what they expected they could?  

In the article below it was fairly simple what I wanted to do but not asking that simple question, ensuring I could complete the task they lost a customer.   How many customers are you loosing since you did not connect the dots?

My wife loves her point and shoot Panasonic camera. It is compact, super zoom and takes great pictures.   Unfortunately, looking at our Cuba pictures she found dust had somehow gotten on the sensor and she had dark spots on all of her photos.   I assume many would just buy a new camera and call it a day.
Since I send in my pro-level camera every other year for cleaning and tuning I assumed that might be possible for hers.  So I did what most would do – I did a Google search for “Panasonic Camera Repair” to see if there was a repair center near me.   Here is what came up.
Skipping over the paid results, the Panasonic Support site comes up first so I go in and try to find where and the estimate to get it services on the Panasonic site and had a horrible experience, which will be my next article on how poor service can hurt an already damaged brand.

For the purpose of this article, lets focus on the 2nd organic listing for Precision Camera.  A few things catch my attention, first, the exact match title in the search result and of course the exact match URL.  The snippet is not great but I am sucked in by the title and that they are an authorized service center.

Going into the page, I see more SEO handiwork.   Everything is about Panasonic camera repair, heading, images, multiple references in the page so the SEO has done a great job of actually over optimizing this page but it is ranking #2 after the brand so we will take it.
1.  Exact Match URL
2.  Exact Match H1
3.  Branded images
4.  Multiple references to the phrase in the body
Given all these signals I am clearly on a page that can help. Since they have repaired 4 million cameras – that is another good sign.   So I start the process to make sure they can repair my model and maybe get some idea of the cost to do it.   I click the pull down to select my make, which by now you know is Panasonic and it is not there.
Come on now…How can a page that ranks #2 in Google and be expertly tuned to Panasonic camera not have Panasonic on the pull down?   This company too k the time, effort, and cost to create a page and optimize the page for a very specific make of camera yet did not list it on the page.   One could argue that it should default to Panasonic so the user would just pick the model number but at the very least ensure you have it listed on the page you have optimized for it.

In most cases when I have encountered this type of disconnect it is due to the sales and marketing side not talking to the SEO.   Most companies will give a list of words they want to rank for to and SEO or agency and not have any consideration for what people do when they get to the page.  Unfortunately, many SEO’s will blindly do a great job of optimizing the page to meet the clients demands but themselves not connect the dots.

This goes back to the currently popular discussion on Searcher Intent which is a whole other rant in itself.  But what did you expect a person searching for “Panasonic Camera Repair” to do once they got to the page?  Did anyone check to see that they could actually do it?  Do you even support the brand?

Ok, so there is the option to choose “My make is not listed” and since mine is not listed, I clicked it.   It pulls up a form. The form is the standard contact us form form and does not even ask me my model and some things that are not relevant.
  1.  Company – why is my company necessary?  Do you get a lot of company requests?
  2. Serial number – maybe you can find the make/model from the serial number but would it not be easier to just ask me the make and model of the camera and the serial number to idiot proof it?
  3. The comments – maybe suggest I tell you what is wrong with the camera?
 I would be curious how many people just backed out of the page never communicating with them?  There is at least one, me, as it was not worth the effort to try and contact them.  They are using Google Analytics so a simple test would be how many people clicked the missing model and yes, if I find a pattern for a model I might add it to the pull down.

So I wondered… what happens if choose Canon and then a model on the list?   I get a quote form telling me they they will apparently do something to my camera for $130.95.   Of course I have questions with this page.  I did check and they rank #4 for “Canon Camera Repair” so that is great but we have the new experience detailed below.

Burning Questions…
  1.  What do I get for this service?  I could not find anything on the site, even in the FAQ area that indicates what will be done to my camera for $130. No where on the site did it tell me what is to be done.   There is a link to the service estimation tool but that is the page I selected for the camera make and model.   So, is the $130 the estimate to do the estimate?
  2. My favorite is the promo code box  so of course, I searched for a promo code.
What I found was a bunch of promos for a similar named retail camera store in Austin Texas and one listing for this Precision Camera.
Since I knew the domain I clicked on the correct site and this opened up another basket of goodies.
  1. The latest code is from 2008
  2. The text says to enter the promo code but there is not one to add
  3. The offer is for inbound shipping only – do you discount the offer based on what the postage on my box has?  What if I send overnight?
  4. While supplies last… yes you might run out of budget for free shipping rebates
 As I tell people, if you use the box then you should have a code.  Either remove the box from the form when you don’t have them or have a page like those mentioned in the article above.  You can also use it to capture social media follow/likes or an email address by offering some incentive to give your contact info.

I wrote about this a few times with the most recent “Maximizing Offer Codes and my fellow SEO Brett Payne, goes a but deeper on finding and optimizing coupon codes

In the end, not being able to get service easily, and seeing that most service centers charge $150 to clean a sensor, I found a YouTube video that walked me through the process. It was relatively painless process showing step by step how to take the camera apart and cleaning the sensor which I did in about 30 minutes.  

I apologize for outing this company for these missteps but if it helps them or another company to make these changes that is great.  This was more a stream of conscious article than one well researches.  For the haters, this will clearly be a “do as I say not as I do” article as I assume that some will go to my sites and rip them up.  I welcome that as I already have a list of 217 items I need to change and if you can find more they will be added to the list.   As I am sure with most sites, I am focused on client deliverables and don’t have time to get to them.

So what should this experience have been like – I was expecting something like Canon’s support process.   They are ranking #1 for Canon Camera Repair with a couple of site link and I click the one for “Repair Request.”  The form starts out telling me to type my Model – to be fair, this is Canon, and they only service Canon.

This then brings up a page that lets me choose what I want done to the camera.   If I don’t know I choose the first repair option.  Since it could be many things they need to see the camera to determine the problem and then give me a quite.  The other two options are a sensor cleaning, which is what I needed for Motoko’s camera or to get a full cleaning and tune up.  This is what I typically have them do.    I don’t have to guess what is going to be done.  I don’t have to pay $130 to just have the sensor checked if there is a one price fits most option.   This allows the searcher to be informed and make the decision that is best for them.  I would suspect the effort to box the camera and send it it might as well go with the full service since they have it.
Again, if you simply think about why the searcher did the query, when they come to the page what do THEY want to do and what do you want them to do next you can move people through a more informed process and increase conversions.   Just to fully disclose, I don’t work with Canon or Precision Camera and had no reason to write this other than to help business do a better job of leveraging their high ranking pages.   I have a Canon Camera and have used their repair service for a couple of cameras in the past and it was totally painless and am a total Canon fan boy.

–Edit– Damn… people are quick…. I just had someone ping me mention that Rand Fiskin had recently introduced this ground breaking concept as a critical ranking factor on last weeks White Board Friday . I love that post and it helps solidify that this is a problem that needs to be solved. And no, I did not rip off Rand, Mike Moran and I actually dedicated nearly a whole chapter to this topic in all three editions of Search Engine Marketing Inc. The first edition went to print in 2004 and Chapter 4 goes into great detail about how searcher’s search, Searcher Intent and specifically Searcher Task Completion – how to move them to conversion based on the query, query intent, and phase of the buy cycle. In the current Edition of Search Engine Marketing Inc, in Chapter 2 we go deeper into this process but also introduce location and device into the equation as they also have significant impact on the completion.

Do brands still care about loyalty?

In the past year I have noticed I am less likely to be loyal to a brand and I find that they really don’t care. Maybe they are jumping on the “How Brands Grow” bandwagon and going after new customers rather than trying to maintain those they all ready have.

Some of the brands I have defected I have used without question for 20, 30 and a couple cases, 50 years. What I find interesting is that every marketing book I have read preaches “lifetime value” and we must keep our most loyal customers. However, more and more it seems brands are giving up on the most loyal and spending lots of money chasing new customers. In every case when someone uses one of my tools and does not sign up or cancels I ask them why they did. Most of the time they don’t need it for on ongoing project or it did not meet heir needs in some way. That is great feedback especially if there are any patterns of why they left. I find that more and more, especially high ticket items don’t follow up and is it they actually don’t care?

State Farm Insurance

The first big defection was State Farm insurance. They were my parent’s home and car insurance company and when I came back to the US from Japan and bought a car I went to their agent have never even shopped around for another company in over 20 years. While I have changed agents due to various relocations, I always kept State Farm manly because if I had a problem they took care of it. I never had a problem with a claim or getting service. I also felt the price was fair as we got a bunch of multi-product and loyalty discounts. I had a variety of problems with them last year and a few things came down to simple account frustration and billing issues. This is a case where the customer service person at the local agent really did not care. I had previously escalated issues to the main agent, they were fixed for a wile then back to problems – all because of the junior people who really did not see to care. When I shopped around the Liberty Mutual agent got back to me immediately, gave me a great price, bundled everything, rather than making me pay everything up front set up auto pay to deduct from the various bank accounts all things that helped me.

To date the agent, nor State Farm have called me to ask why I left. A nearly 30 year relationship with a house, rental properties and multiple cars all gone and no one seems to care that I was gone.

Credit Card Companies

When Motoko and I sat down one day and looked at what we had between ourselves and the various business we felt we had to many cards and wanted to consolidate them to get the best deals, benefits and of course miles. In the end we settled on a just a couple of cards, the Starwood American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve case which offered the same benefits, except the lounge as my Platinum American Express.

I waited until last to cancel my Platinum American Express. This was the card that had special meaning to me. Growing up poor, and in a family that did not believe in credit, this was the card I wanted after seeing a TV show where a person bought a car using their Amex. The unfortunate part was, once I had the money to get an Amex and the credit limit to buy a car with it, I found out that you cannot do it. Sure, Amex will allow it but the car dealers did not want to pay the Amex fee… but I digress.

When I called American Express after 20 years of having the card they did try to talk me out of it but offered no real reason to stay other than the benefits of the card that I replaced with the Chase Sapphire card. They did remind me that there would be giving me $15 credit for Uber each month and raising the monthly fee by $150. The sad thing is since I cancelled my card I have received 50+ mailings and I get stalked on social media to sign up for the card that I had. They had me and any effort most likely could have kept me but now will spend a fortune to try to get me back.

My United card which is have had for over 25 years and spent at least $200k a year in business expenses was not a great deal. The only real benefit was I bought United tickets I got 2 for 1points and as much as I fly the was a good deal but otherwise no benefits at all and a $97 charge for the card. When I called them they did try to get me to convert to another card that was 3x the annual fee with a benefit I already had with my Club Membership, which I get $200 savings from my “airlines fee” rebate from Chase. They did offer to waive the annual fee for a year to stay – I guess if I kept a balance instead of paying it off I would have been more valuable to them.

Along the same line, I had been a Hilton Diamond loyalty member for a number of years due to many conferences and clients that have deals with Hilton. Due to poor treatment and crappy hotels I did a status match with Hyatt and shifted as many nights as I could to Starwood to also keep my Platinum there. For Diamond you need to stay 60 nights and with an average of $200 per night that was easy $12k worth of loyalty. BTW, that is 10 more nights than Starwood requires. I just stopped staying with them and no email why or letter or anything. Companies spend so much money to acquire a new customer only to just let them go later. Any sort of contact from them asking why I have not been staying with them might have brought me back.

Packaged Goods

Shifting loyalties for consumer goods happens all of the time and there is not much they can do about it as they are not really tracking your direct use of the product so I don’t expect any outreach from them.  The following are just to illustrate how a single influencer or new product can shift someones loyalties away from your products.  But it also shows a great element of why a product needs to work and be rock solid to the users.   While I know that Crest is not the sole reason I have no cavities I did believe in the product enough to need need to look at anything else.    This is where the concepts of “How Brands Grow” apply that you always need to be churning for new opportunities.

Jif Peanut Butter – I have ONLY ever bought Jif peanut butter except for my time in Japan when “peanut cream” was the only option. Jif is what my mother bought, as she was a “choosy mother” and “choosy mothers choose Jif.” About a year ago, my wife, wanted a more natural product, bought Skippy’s new Natural Peanut butter.  While I did protest a bit more than a grown adult should, I did try it and it was pretty good, all natural and bigger peanut chunks than Jif so we converted. In this case there was nothing Jif could do, I am sure they did not miss me when I converted it was for a new superior product. I do have to note, that I am back to Jif since they now have an “all natural” product but it is not in all stores so we tend to stock up when we find it. Yes, unfortunately, the peanut chunks are still smaller.

The biggest brand change for me was to move away from Crest Toothpaste – I have been a “Crest Kid” my entire life. I have never had a single cavity, even as a kind, which is more genetics than toothpaste, but I felt no need to change.  Motoko and I often used different toothpaste since I refused to change.   Our dentist gave us the “your old speech” and suggested we consider preserving our enamel. He suggested we switch to Sensodyne as an alternative to Crest since it had the protection he thought we needed.   Since I did not find a similar product from Crest – currently every product is about whitening – and yes, the new Sensodyne even has a whitening version – I had to move away from Crest.  Apparently Crest are not talking to Dentists who seem to be recommending this to people over 50. So in one recommendation from a trusted source, and no alternative from the incumbent, 52 years of brand loyalty are gone in an instant.

I guess in the end, as a Marketer that models Lifetime Value and creates strategies to target specific types of high value customers it seems odd to me that many companies are not doing anything at all to keep loyal customers. I am also finding it can be expensive to be loyal which will be my next rant.

Are Your Poorly Executed Low Margin Services Hurting Business?

On a recent dive trip to the Philippines I saw two different situations where service companies had upset and lost some of their best customers over something that could have been prevented by a bit of attention to detail.  Too often companies do not understand the value of these low margin, loss leader tasks on their reputation and in the case of SCUBA diving, their potential liability.  I see this problem everywhere from minimum wage check out staff, call centers and front line technicians that just slog away day to day not thinking about how their actions have a direct impact to the bottom line of the business.

Doing what is expected and Requested by Customers

The first problem was the quality of SCUBA gear maintenance.  Most dive shops offer it to get people back into the store and hope they upgrade their gear, take a new course or sign up for a trip. Like filling tanks, one of the few things related to diving you cannot buy online.   Since they don’t make much on the annual maintenance most treat it that way.  Let me set up the situation from this trip in the Philippines.   There were 25 divers that went with Backscatter to Anilo Philippines for a 10 day macro photo course.   The trip is expensive so you can assume these customers have a bit of money.   All had relatively new and higher end gear and since they use it a lot all take good care of it.  On this trip we had at least 8 divers that had some sort of gear problem that is directly related to poor repair service by their local dive shop.

All regulator manufactures require you to service your breathing device annually.  It is either a full rebuild of all moving parts and o-rings which is done every other year or a visual where they check everything out for defects and wear and if all looks good you are good for another year.  The nice things is if you keep the maintenance current, the parts for the rebuild are free.  This is a very small price to pay by the manufacture to minimize lawsuits from dive injuries from malfunctioning equipment.  Unfortunately, since it is a low margin service, many dive shops relegate this to “support staff” who do this sort of work for discounted dive gear or free air or as part of the duties of the shop’s sales staff. It is not complicated work but does require attention to detail and time for the online certification course.

Lets start with my problem first, mine and Motoko’s gear was due for just for an inspection but since we were going on a long trip with an estimated 40 dives I asked for ours to be rebuilt and I would pay for the parts.  When I picked up my gear a few days before the trip, I learned they did a visual inspection only.  Since every thing looked good the tech felt there was no need to do a rebuild – not what I asked and was willing to pay for.   I can accept that since it looked good but my concern was with our wireless air transmitters that send data to our wrist computers.   These batteries are supposed to be replaced annually.  The dive shop clerk did not have an explanation as to why it was not replaced.   Since opening it requires a certified tech to keep the warranty, they were not able to change the batteries before we left on the trip.  Also, they require a specific battery that is not readily available which is why I was looking for the parts bag in the first place.   The previous year I had two transmitters fail during a dive and when checked the batteries upon return we learned the dive shop had used some cheap batteries from China they had bought online to save a few dollars.

There are 2 distinct problems in my case.  First they did not do what the customer asked and was willing to pay for.  Specific notes were added to the ticket to tell them to do a full overhaul. Second, the required service was not done.  Had I not specifically checked I would not have known they did not replace the batteries.  They had the gear for 45 days so should not have been a rush job.  I have had two previous issues with techs doing a bad job including where they forgot to tighten the yolk value after repair and it flooded and another leaded transmitter when they had not tightened it correctly.  In both cases the dive center covered the repairs but both caused me problems when I was out diving.  There are not many dives shops near us so we are running out of alternatives.

The other 7 divers, 2 of them on our boat, had similar problems.  They paid for the full service but did not happen.   One diver had a serious leak on the first dive were her computer attached to the high pressure hose that had a serious leak.   She came to the surface and found that they had not put the o-ring back on where it connects to the hose.  She would miss out on that dive and we had to go back to the resort to get her another regulator.   The second person had a problem on dive 2 when her high pressure hose had a rapid stream of bubbles coming from it.  Back on the boat after the dive, she found that her hose was worn.   That is one of the items that is supposed to be checked during the inspection.  First to make sure the hose is not on a recall list and second for any sort of damage or excessive wear.  A blown high pressure hose is not only a problem since that takes away your air supply it can also cause great injury as it is a higher pressure hose that is bouncing around your head violently until the air run out or is turned off.

The point of the story is that every one of these cases the diver did their part and took their gear in to get serviced before this important trip.  They expected the professional to do their job and since they did not this resulted in undue stress and frustration and in all cases the divers indicated they would change dive shops.  We have moved onto another dive shop to give them a try to see if their are any better.   Checking with a few of the divers after the trip they have all changed costing that shop both revenue and most importantly, a hit to their reputation.  Again these are people with money and at a time where more gear and travel is bought online, local dive shops need to excel at the small things that actually force people into their stores.  Even if you relegate this to junior person or volunteer the owner must ensure that things are done correctly and that customers are satisfied.  I had suggested that when people tell you they are going on a big trip contact them after and see how it went.  If they had a problem with gear that is a potential to try and resolve it or maybe sell them something more specialized.   I had been going to my local dive shop for 12 years and every few years replacing at least 2 if not 4 sets of gear so lets see if they miss me this year.

Expectations of High Value Advice and Service

This was the second set of problems people experienced on the trip.  To be fair, no one can know all the bits that go into a custom camera package but when people are paying as much as a low end car for a camera set up they are expecting a certain level of experience and service.  During the trip there were a few cases, myself included, where we bought a package of some sort and had problems.  In my case they handled it great but did require a bit of effort that was more than necessary on my part.

Anilao is one of the ultimate places for underwater macro photography.  The suggestion was to bring a extension diopter to help magnify some of the smaller critters.  Now I did research between 3 or 4 different online stores but quickly realized there were too many moving parts and needed help. Trying to piece the adapter, a converter due to the housing mount being a different diameter and something to allow me to move the diopter out of the way when not using it was to time consuming so I called my favorite store Backscatter.    They suggested a specific combination and strongly recommended one diopter over the other especially for this trip.   Other review sites I read suggested the same product.   They sent me everything a few days before departing and since I was testing everything I tried to assemble this set up as well.    No matter what I tried the diopter would not fit the flip mount that they suggested for my camera.  I spent a good amount of time trying to get it to fit – frontwards, backwards, even almost disassembling it thinking the mount was put together backwards in the factory.  I sent a note to support and they replied to tell me they they had the same outcome when trying to replicate it on a similar set up – does not fit.   They indicated this diopter was new and they had not tested it on this specific mount.   They dropped the next best one in the mail overnight and I got it and all worked well.  Would have sucked if I had blind trust and waited until I got to the Philippines to put it together as others on the trip did.

I had a similar problem with a prior wide angle/video trip.   I called the sales team and told then what I wanted.  They suggested a very specific package.  I paid for it and it arrived and went on the trip assuming that I had all I needed.   After the first day of diving all of my photos had a bright spot from the internal flash reflecting off the dome.  One of the other divers heard me and told me I needed to block the internal flash from getting into the dome.  He was surprised they had not sent a small felt ring that goes around the lens between the housing and camera to block the flash reflection.  I made one out of cardboard for the next day and set an email to the sales team.  They responded with yes, we sell that item for $10 but most people don’t want to pay $10 for a piece of felt.  Again, why not at least suggest that I get it to solve a well known problem? Or better yet, why not add it as part of the package for that expensive dome/lens would have been better experience or at least add as an item on the invoice to trigger a conversation.

Some of the other divers did not fair well.   They were missing whole components like sync cords to talk to strobes.  IN every case the people felt that it should have been in the package or at least notified that they needed to make the set work.   I am not a fan of nickel and dimeing people.  In the end you pay the same price so why not just include it or at least list the additional items necessary.   Seriously, if you are paying $15k for a new camera package the sync cords or fancy carry handle should be part of the package or at least a line item the user can tell you to remove.
In this case the photo pro that came to the event from this shop had a couple or cords knowing they fail.

There were other photographers that could not use their new camera rig since they were missing a key part that was simple to include or at least ensure they bought.   They specifically told the sales person they were going on this long trip so a bit of extra attention should have been provided to make sure they had all of the items they needed to make their expensive toy usable.   Imagine flying around the world to use your new expensive underwater camera only to find out that you were missing the gear to focus the lens, or the cords to fire your strobes or in one case the battery for the camera itself.  Yes, that one was a user fault since it is on the checklist but a simple question by sales, do you have the battery for the brand new camera you are buying from us would have gone a long way.

So ask yourself, how much business am I loosing from poor performance on low margin services.  In the end it is your responsibility to ensure that your front line teams are doing their jobs to the best of their ability.  And remember it is had to expect owner level knowledge and passion from a minimum wage employee that has nothing to loose from providing poor service your clients.  Ensure they are motivated, trained and passionate.  Also ensure that the best of your clients are happy and getting the service they are willing and most importantly able to pay for.