RSA (& other Tradeshows ) Point To Industry Priorities

This month my staff and I got to see a couple of different trade events in action.

The first was RSA's big security show, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Wow. If there were a clever way of combining "Security" and "Lollapalooza," I'd try it. Lollasecuralooza? Hmm. Can't make that work - but, I digress.

The show was packed. We had many clients there, all of which were literally thrilled by the number of quality leads they got at the show. CIOs, CSOs, CISOs - all the C-suite suits were there, apparently. And one of our clients threw a kickin' party, complete with "Bacardi Girls" and hot-pepper-eating-contests, which always helps set a nice tone, if you ask me.

At another show, this week, the vibe at SpeechTek was more subdued. My staffers were literally mobbed at each booth they visited, by over-eager salespeople desperate for a whiff of a scrap of a lukewarm lead.

This makes me curious.

Certainly, "Security" is hot. No question. Just ask Paris ("That's Hot") Hilton about the need for tighter security.

But, did you know that more than 85% of all consumer contact with corporate brands occurs via phone? Not email, not Web self-service. Nope, the phone is still far-and-away Numero Uno when it comes to customer service and other inquiries.

So many millions of $$$ have been spent on CRM, you'd think that companies would be keen on ensuring that their call center (the most common point of customer contact) is rockin'. But by the looks of things at SpeechTek, apparently this ain't the case.

It's good to know, as a consumer, that our customer data will eventually be totally secure. But if we hate all of the vendors, due to their cruddy customer service, who's going to want to BE a customer in the first place?

Puffery & Tomfoolery

In the most recent issue of FORBES, there is an article about Bristol-Meyers-Squibb that discusses the responsibility of top brass to avoid "puffery."

Apparently the company lost a big hunk of market-cap when it yanked a promising drug from its pipeline - a drug that had been highly touted by top BMS execs, for several months beforehand, as a potential blockbuster. Now, the company faces a big, honkin' shareholders' lawsuit.

Make no mistake (not that I thought you would!) - this is a lawsuit premised on the power of PR.

Loyal readers (thanks, Mom!) will remember how I often howl to the winds: "REPUTATION DRIVES REVENUE!"

Ordinarily, I use this expression to suggest that a GOOD reputation will lead to INCREASED revenues. In this case, however, the reverse is equally true.

Any time a corporate exec opens his mouth, he's staking his company's reputation on the words that issue forth. And no one wants to buy anything from a guy whose breath smells like shoe-leather.

Spiffing Up Your Brand

BrandChannel's annual "Readers' Choice" awards were just announced for 2004.

The top 5 winners included Apple, Google, Ikea, Starbucks and... (huh?) the controversial Arab-language news station, Al-Jazeera.

What do these brands have in common? (Except for Al-Jazeera; more on that later.)

I'm going to say, "design."

Apple is renowned for the sleek, user-friendly design of all its products. They feel good in the hand and are easy on the eye.

Google is notable for its LACK of design. In a cluttered world, in which we are barraged by too much damn information, Google's lack of pretense has made it a favorite. Old-time Net users may recall that Yahoo rose to prominence with a similarly uncluttered site. As its homepage swelled to "Life Engine" proportions, it stumbled. Have you noticed, as I have, that Google's actual results are not as spot-on as in the past? Don't matter, folks. It's so damn clean, its popularity persists.

Ikea? Wide-open aisles and store displays designed to show you how rooms in your own home might look, if you bought all their (pretty cheap) stuff. It just feels good to walk in there.

Starbucks? How cool do you feel walking into the mahogany clutches of overpriced caffeine? It's not because the coffee is soooo good, my friends. It's because the experience has been designed to evoke that special feeling.

In my own experience, I can't tell you how often I've told an enterprise software company that their user interface is so "kludgey" that it's a PR embarassment. Few of these engineering types like to admit it, yet even these gearheads like to go to Starbucks; they all use Google and have an iPod strapped to their belt.

It's not a matter of "Style Over Substance" (as they defensively suggest), it's "Style Suggests Substance."