What can cupcakes teach us about marketing?

I recently had the pleasure of attending Cupcake Camp LA at Los Angeles' Music Box Theater. This delicious event, devoted to celebrating the cupcake, brought together more than 50 of the city's bakeries and independent bakers to give the public a sample of their goods. Great way to spend an afternoon, right?

Upon entering the venue, I was taken away to a land of happiness! Balloons, pastel doilies, glitter, and everything frilly. Gorgeous cupcakes were everywhere, many labeled with cute names meant to entice people into tasting them: Root Beer Float, Marshmallow Hot Chocolate, Lemon Tart. Marketing at its best!

For your admission ticket, you were allowed five cupcakes. I wandered around, trying to decide on my five when I heard an announcement that there were more bakers located upstairs. So, upstairs I went.

On the very dark second floor there were about eight businesses represented. I squinted to see the cupcakes better, but the lighting was terrible (it was a theater, after all, and not an auditorium). At the last table, one without any decorations and a chicness rating of zero, I saw a messy looking cupcake. Something that looked so homemade that I thought it had to be good. I surrendered my ticket and took the cupcake.

To my delight, that homely little goodie was the best thing there! So amazingly chocolaty, moist, and flavorful, I heard myself moan a little. I went back to the booth to ask for a business card because this cupcake will undoubtedly be on the menu for my next soiree. (Yes, I throw soirees! Or at least I want to.)

The teenager at the booth handed me an old looking card that had creases in it. Looked like a GI had carried it in his pocket through the Gulf War. I asked her who did the baking and she told me her aunt did, but she had gone downstairs for a minute. She said they were from Compton (a gang-riddled community ranked the 15th most dangerous city in the U.S. by the FBI in 2008) and I got the impression the woman baked in her home.

As for the fancy cupcakes I selected from bakeries in elite cities such as Beverly Hills, Studio City, and Burbank, they were mediocre. Heck, two of the beautiful cupcakes from the main floor I didn't like at all (one was so dry, I simply opened my mouth and let the cake tumble out before it sucked all the moisture from my tongue!). The woman from Compton with the sad little table up in the dark got my vote for best cupcake! As a matter of fact, I went back and used my last ticket to get another one of her delicious delights! 

Now, some fancy pants baker downstairs with a table glamorous enough to be in Vegas won "Best Cupcake" at the event, as voted on by attendees. But I suspect many of those people didn't venture upstairs, into the dark, to the plain little table to taste a little bit of heaven. If they had, my favorite baker would have won; hands down. (I'd link to her in this post, but she doesn't even have a website.)

So, what does this teach us? I suspect this talented, but underrated, baker was simply sticking with what she knows: baking. Granted, she couldn't do anything about the theater's lighting, but the table presentation was within her control. Maybe not her area of expertise, but could she have brought in a friend with a keen eye to help her frilly up things and make everything more inviting? On the flip side, were some of the other bakers more about flash than substance? Their tables and cupcakes were beautiful, but the product itself was unimpressive.

So, I ask, is your product and your marketing in sync? Do they both represent your absolute best? Are you losing customers/clients because you're skimping on the quality of your product/service or the way you promote your business?

A more polished presentation could have drawn in more attendees for our Compton baker. And, for better or worse, appearance matters in this world. You can make the best cupcake on the planet, but what good is it if no one comes by to taste it, right?

* Thank you to the lovely Claudia Yuskoff of Mmm, Me Gusta - A Little Cooking Show and Babette Pepaj of Bakespace.com (the event host) for the tickets and the lovely day at Cupcake Camp LA! 

7 Twitter crimes that should be outlawed

I love Twitter. Yet, sadly, it is the most misused social media platform out there.

When I meet with clients, I almost always have to overcome their initial objections about how frivolous tweeting can be. Unfortunately, there are no shortage of people out there who do nothing but provide daily evidence to support the prejudice that exists. I'm sick of the noise. I've grown tired of the stupidity. Please, my friends, let's stop the insanity once and for all and show all those non-tweeters how valuable Twitter can be.

I beseech you to join with me to outlaw the following Twitter practices. Ok, so we can't really make them against the law, but let's stop doing them. And, let's stop supporting those who do!
Auto DMs
I can't believe self proclaimed social media "gurus" are still advocating this practice to their disciplines. And, yet others just think of this bright idea all on their own. STOP IT! It's not winning you any friends. No one is liking your Facebook page because you sent a link in your auto DM. No one is impressed with your ability to harness automation. It's a sleazy, ineffective, offensive practice and it only shows how little you really know about Twitter. 

Why are people automating their list making? And, it's not even like they're getting something great out of doing so! "Who My Friends are Talking To" is a lame list! "People Who Listed Me" is equally stupid! Lists generated through Formulists provide no value whatsoever. You get no points for putting together a worthless list (heck, you didn't even do it; a bot did!) and the recipient of your listing gets nothing out of being put on such a pointless list. STOP IT. It's a waste and only makes me think less of you.

Buying Followers
I still can't believe that people do this, but they do. I've seen it firsthand. This is not what Twitter is all about. It's about being real and developing real connections with real people. Do you think I can't see that all your listings are from other people who have bought followers? Do you not realize I can look at your followers and realize they're all garbage accounts? Maybe you're fooling yourself, but you're not fooling me. STOP IT and play fair like the rest of us.

Questionable Contests
We've all seen the tweet: "Leave a comment on my blog and win _____!". However, what I see way too much is people not delivering on those contests. People who say a winner will be announced on a certain day and/or time--and nothin'. No tweet, no post, no comment. Nothing. No winner announced.

I've even tweeted to ask about the winner; silence. I can only assume that the contest response wasn't what they had hoped and they chose to keep the prize for another time. Or maybe there wasn't a prize at all. If you announce a contest, give out the prize! Update your blog to say who won and congratulate the person. Contests aren't just for you to increase traffic to your site, they're for you to create goodwill with your readers. They are not a free ticket for you to mislead people. I know who you are and I'm disgusted. STOP IT.

When I try to get people on the Twitter bandwagon, the number one objection I have to overcome is "Don't people just tweet about what they're eating?" Interestingly, even people who really understand Twitter seem to be compelled to share their eating habits. "Yummm. Carrot cake." Who cares? And do you really need to tweet a link to the TwitPic of your cake? I know what cake looks like! And Foursquare check-ins have made it even worse. "Mmmm. Peach pie (@ Marie Callendars) http://4sq.com/29sktm47". Stop tweeting this nonsense and stop responding to it with "you're making me hungry" or "sounds good". It's noise. Noise at its absolute worst. STOP IT! (The one exception here is if you have a food blog, have published articles about food, or otherwise makes a living through the food industry.)

In an ironic twist of fate, those who use TrueTwit say they're trying to cut down on spam. I've got news for you, you are the ones creating the spam! Don't send me a DM and punish me for following you by making me prove I'm real. I won't jump through hoops for you. Click on the link to show you I'm a person? No, thanks. I just as soon unfollow you. You're offending people and are the butt of jokes. STOP IT.
Twitter Systems
It's not just the little guys who are offering high-priced systems to help teach you social media, it's also some of the fairly well-known people who are doing it. You don't need to pay $1,000 for some ebooks and videos. If you offer a system or have bought a program, STOP IT. Everything you need to know is out there for free! And there is no shortcut here, anyway. Listen, engage, provide value, be supportive, offer guidance. These are the tools to succeed on Twitter. See, I just saved you $1,000.
What have I missed? What else should be outlawed? Let's get it all out there once and for all and clean up the streets in Twitterland. There's a new sheriff in town and she's ready to start crackin' some knuckles...

Employees branded with scarlet bracelets!

Every once in a while I find an incredibly shocking story online that I just have to talk about. A few weeks ago it was the BirthOrNot website, today it's toilet codes in the workplace. Men, bear with me. As I get into this, it may seem like this is a female-only issue, but it's not.

As reported by the Associated Newspapers website in Europe, MailOnline, a study conducted by a workers' union came back with the finding that many businesses are concerned with decreased productivity due to excessive bathroom usage. The study went on to reveal that some businesses instituted keycards and sign-in sheets to monitor the frequency of employee trips to the restroom. However, the most shocking part is the red bracelet. You've heard of the Scarlet Letter? Well, this is just as horrifying.

Women at a business in Norway were told to wear a red bracelet when they started their periods. Therefore, explaining their excessive visits to the restroom. Can you imagine? As a woman, I'd find it horrifying to announce such an intimate part of my life to all my co-workers. If I were a man, I'd feel insanely uncomfortable in a staff meeting with many of my colleagues branded in red. Talk about awkward! Not to mention that no woman would be taken seriously during her red bracelet days. Her decisions being questioned or her actions being dismissed due to her "condition".

The bracelet matter is currently under review by the Norwegian government, but I find it incredible that this happened in the first place.

Today's free business tip: Don't demean your employees. That is what decreases productivity; not trips to the bathroom.

* Hat tip to Marion Swan as I saw this story in her Twitter stream.

5 great movies about journalism

As a longtime journalist, I love a good movie about the Fourth Estate. Over the years, there have been some fabulous films about news gathering. Below are some of my favorites about journalists who work in newspapers, book publishing, magazines, blogs, and TV. Hopefully, you'll find something here that you can enjoy during your next movie night!

"All the President's Men"
Starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman
This film is a testament to the tenacity of newspaper reporters who tackle the stories that hold government and companies accountable like no other news outlets can. As the movie outlines the events surrounding the incredibly complex Watergate scandal, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein follow lead after lead to get to the real story behind the break-in at Democratic Headquarter in 1972. With anonymous sources, tapped phones, and covert operations that ultimately bring down a president, this movie has it all.

"The Hoax"
Starring Richard Gere
Writer Clifford Irving is the perpetrator of a great big lie. He's conning his publisher into thinking that he's co-writing Howard Hughes' autobiography. Since the famous billionaire is such a reclusive eccentric, Irving thinks he can prevent his boss from contacting Hughes. He then takes the millions in advance money meant for Hughes and puts it away for himself. However, he soon becomes delusional and paranoid as his world begins to fall apart.

"The Life of David Gale"
Starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet
A man sits on death row for a crime he says he did not commit. Magazine reporter Bitsey Bloom is called to the prison by the inmate where she pays for his final interview. Did he do it? Bitsey starts digging around, but the clock is ticking. The killer (who, ironically, is a well known advocate against the death penalty) only has three days left until his execution. Her interviews and reenactments seem to prove that he's innocent. But can she prove it in time to save him from the lethal injection?

"Julie & Julia"
Starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams
Admittedly, there's not any real competition in this category since Hollywood isn't clambering to make movies about bloggers (not yet anyway!). However, this film provides an interesting look at how Julie Powell started a 365 day challenge to blog her way through Julia Child's famous "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" cookbook. Her blog eventually gains momentum, a fierce following, and ultimately her foray into blogging turns into a book and movie deal!

Starring Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and Peter Finch

This iconic film about TV news is a must-see. Longtime news anchor Howard Beale is being fired due to low ratings. In a fit of rage, he tells his viewers, live on the air, that he's going to commit suicide during the next broadcast. Later, Beale launches an on-air rant that has everyone in the country poking their heads out their windows to scream, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!" Instead of killing himself, Beale ends up turning his angry man tirade into a TV show.

These films are just a few of my favorites that highlight the challenges of news gathering and story telling. What are your favorite movies about journalists?

Are "cutsies" ruining your customer service?

The other night I was in line at 7-Eleven to buy a Slurpee. I was sixth in line with one guy behind me. After standing there for about 10 seconds, the customer behind me marches to the front. "I have a tab," he says. "Can you just scan my stuff?" The cashier stops the line, scans the man's items, and makes the rest of us wait.

Aside from the fact I had no idea you can have a tab at 7-Eleven, my point here is really the lousy customer service that cashier offered. The customer's method of payment was irrelevant. It took just as long to conduct his business as it would have had he paid in real-time like the rest of us. Sure, one guy was happy, but the six people in line were mad. I'm not a math whiz, but I say the ratio of pleased customers to annoyed customers in this scenario favors the latter.

Ironically, the following day I was in line at the post office. As I was waved to the counter and started to conduct my business, a woman siddles up next to me and asks if she can buy a stamp. I can't remember the words the clerk used, but I do remember he sent the gal to wait in line. I promptly thanked him on behalf of everyone who had waited in the cue for their turn.

Now, if you're thinking, "What's the harm? It's one lousy stamp!" you may very well be part of the customer service problem. I've been in the "I need one stamp" boat, too. How have I solved that problem? Well, I've said loudly to the people in line, "Anyone have a stamp I can buy?". There has always been someone willing to sell me one. I have never thought my time was more valuable than any of the others waiting in line and tried to cut ahead. Never.

If you run a retail business, you should put a cutsies policy in your customer service guidelines. There is nothing wrong with a clerk telling an out of line customer (pun intended!), "I'd like to help you, but it wouldn't be fair to the others who have been waiting in line. I'll get through everyone just as quickly as I can. I promise." What rational person could argue with that?

In the case of the post office scenario, after I thanked the clerk for turning away the cutter, he told me that if they have enough cashiers, they'll call people out of line who have simple transactions (like purchasing stamps). They do that same thing at my bank. Sounds like a good policy to me. (Yeah, the irony that I'm using the U.S. government in an example of good customer service is not lost on me!)

Perhaps in some backwards world, the cashiers who allow cutsies think they're offering great customer service. You don't want to wait? Alright, let me take care of you right now! One delighted customer and a line of irate ones. Sounds like a winning proposition to me...

Social media failure is not an option

I know lots of people who are social media veterans and just as many who are newbies. I try to encourage the rookies when I see them getting frustrated because I know that all this social media stuff is worth it. Lots of people quit, though. Too many.

When I first started tweeting and blogging, I felt like I was on mute. Hello? Is this thing on? It's easy to get discouraged when you feel like you're putting in the effort, but no one cares. Here's where the words of wisdom kick in: you have to believe in yourself and the tools. They work. You just have to use them correctly.

When you first get started, you're probably right. No one cares about your blog post or about your carefully crafted tweet. If you start to engage with your online communities, though, people will begin to notice you. They will come to recognize your avatar in their Twitter streams, notice your profile picture on their Facebook News Feed, or grow familiar with your photo in a LinkedIn discussion group. That's where the relationship begins. But, it is up to YOU.

Don't wait for someone to say, "Hey, come join the cool kids' table. We've been waiting for you!" It's up to you to reach out first. Yeah, I know, not everyone is comfortable doing that. But, get over it. It's how social media works. Sure, there are some nice folks who send a tweet to welcome newbies or who will introduce you around. Unfortunately, not enough people do that. Again, the power rest in your hands. Make it happen!

Persistence is the key word here. Keep at it. Don't give up because you feel like you're an audience of one. You know the saying, winners never quit and quitters never win!

Keep blogging!
My early posts got very little traffic and it took me awhile to get my first comment, but this week I was excited to earn a spot on Sparkah.com's "LA's Top 100 Bloggers You Should Take to Lunch" list! No, I haven't hired a virtual assistance to handle all my lunch bookings yet, but it was neat to be recognized. Think that would have happened if I had thrown in the towel? Not a chance.

Keep tweeting!
Remember, Twitter is a TWO-WAY platform! If you talk at people you'll go nowhere fast. If you talk with people, Twitter will change your life! Listen to the discussions, chime in with your opinion, be encouraging, answer questions, provide guidance, lend support--become a contributing member of the community!

Keep connected!
Too many folks abandon their blogs for months, and even more people open a Twitter account and then forget about it after seven tweets. Don't do it, my friends. Stay active! Maybe you can't live and breathe this stuff like the social media addicts, but stay in touch with your online network. These aren't websites we're talking about; we're talking about people! Work to establish those connections, then feed and water them. They'll only grow if you give them the care they need.

Alright, that's the end of my rah-rah, cheerleader speech. But, trust me, these online communities are powerful. They can grow your brand, develop your professional network, and help create wonderful, new friendships. The only trick is you can't give up. Let me repeat, failure is not an option.

Have a social media success story to share or a challenge to overcome? I'm all ears...

I'm a celebrity and I'm better than you

This week, news circulated around the web about actor Josh Duhamel's brush with airport security. In a nutshell, Duhamel (known primarily for his work in the "Transformers" movies and his marriage to singing sensation, Fergie) was asked repeatedly by a flight attendant to turn off his Blackberry. He, and hundreds others, were en route from New York to Kentucky. According to other passengers, Duhamel refused to comply. Several said he was rude and indignant, thinking that the rules did not apply to him. To cut to the chase, the rules did apply to him and the plane was turned around on the tarmac and Duhamel was escorted from the plane by security.

Once upon a time, it seemed as though the general public was so enamored with celebrities that they could do no wrong. Now, however, there seems to be a groundswell of disgust for celebs who think they're better than the rest of us. This was very apparent in the reader comments that appeared on the Duhamel story posted on Yahoo!'s omg page (click the image to enlarge it if you need to see it better):

I don't care how annoying or frustrating traveling is nowadays. If you fly commercially, air travel is the great equalizer. The rules are the rules and travelers are nothing more than livestock, regardless of the amount on your W-2. Frankly, I think it's fan-freakin-tastic that Duhamel was escorted off the flight. And, shame on him for inconveniencing his fellow travelers because of his inflated sense of self and entitlement.

How about you? Do you think celebs should be given a reality check? Are they out of touch due to so much special treatment? Should more of them be escorted off the metaphoric airplane?

Good deeds are in, consumerism is out

With the U.S. economy still is chaos and millions out of work, many are living simpler lives these days. Even the fully-employed are embracing the concept of living simply. Extravagances are out; basics are in.

Now, that the holiday season has approached, the idea of wasteful spending is unappealing to many people. More people than ever want to do good and make a difference. Enter Mercy Corps.

With a mission of turning poverty, natural disasters, and conflict into opportunities for progress, Mercy Corps help people improve their lives. What does that mean to you? It means you can do a lot of good for less than the price of that latest gaming system or big screen TV you have your eyes on.

Want to learn more, visit Mercy Corps online.  Oh, and if you have design talent, why not enter the Good poster contest to promote alternative giving? The winner will be featured on the Good homepage and on the cover of the Good magazine. For submission details, click HERE

Now go forth and do good, my friends.
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