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I love to cook and really savor my once a week trip to the grocery store.  My grocery of choice is Trader Joe’s.  There’s so many aspects of Trader Joe’s that I just absolutely love and that make my shopping experience a positive one 99% of the time.  But perhaps my favorite part of Trader Joe’s is how small and quaint it is.  I can go in, shop, and be completely done and out the door in 15 minutes!  Best of all, I never feel overwhelmed by the product display and choices, which makes the shopping experience that much more positive.

Contrast that with the other chain grocery store near me, Safeway.  To be clear, I have nothing against Safeway (except maybe the price), but I almost never shop there unless I have no other choice.  Why?  Because I always associate Safeway with a feeling of dread.  What do I dread?  I dread not being able to find what I am looking for; I dread having to walk up and down the aisles multiple times to look for one ingredient that is missing in my recipe; I dread the feeling brought about by having too many choices once I’ve located the product display. The association is a very strong one because I always feel that way every time I step into a Safeway store.  Consequently, my shopping experience at Safeway is neutral at best, apprehensive at worst.  The feeling isn’t terrible, but it isn’t pleasant either.  As a result, I try to stay away from the store as much as possible because my subconscious tells me so.

What is the moral of this post?  Subconsciousness plays a big role in the way people make decisions.  Whether you are trying to develop relationships with others or sell products to your customer, make sure you are appealing to their subconscious as much if not more than influencing their conscious decisions.  This kind of approach requires time and a lot more thoughtful consideration, but it’s well worth the effort because everybody taps into their subconscious when making decisions whether they know it or not!

Recently, I went to my doctor for an annual check-up.  Yesterday, I received an EOB (explanation of benefit) from my insurance company (Blue Shield of CA) which yielded more questions than answers.  Rather than tying myself to a phone for endless hours to get some answers, I opted to write them via their online form.  Today, I received an email response, and I want to share it with you to show you how ridiculous customer service has become!  First, the email was obviously a canned response because they asked for something that was already referenced in the email.  Second, the information they seek is readily available at their fingertips, yet instead of looking them up, they opted to write to me to ask for them!

The part that really gets me is, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it short of quitting my job and finding a new one that has an insurance plan with better customer service.  I would love to hear your thoughts on how to make a stance against this kind of poor (non-existing) customer service.  Or if you’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of poor service, please share them too.  Please leave them in the comment section — thanks!

Dear Ceres Chua,

Thank you for your inquiry regarding services provided on August 27.

In order to better assist you, please provide us with the exact date of service (my note: hello? The date was referenced in the previous line) and the name of the physician (my note: this information IS in their database and accessible through a few keystrokes) and we will be happy to assist you further.

Please do not reply to this email as replies to our responses are not monitored. Thank you for using to assist you toward a speedy resolution.

If you require additional information please call the member services number on your Blue Shield ID card. We are here to help. (my note: really, now?  Call me a skeptic, but if this email is so utterly not helpful, what could possibly make me believe that you will be helpful when I call?)

The Blue Shield Customer Service Team

I was reading a blog post on Silicon Alley Insider titled “Free” is Killing Us – Blame The VCs. One paragraph in that post did not sit well with me. Here is what it says:

The economic problem with advertising businesses is that advertising businesses do not work without really significant scale. In the past, a good product or service could address a niche and succeed without being a home run. Today, a home run is required because if you do not reach a massive scale, advertisers are uninterested. And even if advertisers could be attracted, CPMs are so low that the revenue would be inconsequential. Small Internet businesses don’t work. (Emphases are mine)

The statement may have been true during the first dot-com boom, but it’s definitely not true any longer. In fact, the opposite now holds more water. Increasingly, advertisers are looking for niched sites in which to reach their target customers. Not only are they interested, they actively seek out these opportunities. This started mostly with finance sites (think fetching upwards of $100 CPM) but has now expanded to women’s, men’s, and children’s sites, health sites, senior sites, you name it. These sites are definitely desirable among advertisers who wish to reach the users of these sites.

I would argue that if these niche websites are not profitable, they have more to do with loose management (most Internet companies are run by executives with less management experience than traditional non-web companies) and less with low CPMs.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below!

Ever since Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp purchased Dow Jones, speculations ran rampant that Wall Street Journal online would become free. Alas, Murdock came out and dispelled that rumor a few months back. WSJ will remain behind the pay wall — you want access? Pay up!

There are actually good reasons for not making the site freely accessible. The most obvious reason is the diversified revenue stream. Subscription is easy money since most people, once they signed up, don’t bothered to cancel their subscription. But the more important reason, in my opinion, is that the pay wall ensures users on the WSJ online site are qualified audience. With this high quality audience (mostly bankers, business men and women, high net worth individuals, etc), they can charge advertisers a high premium (CPM in online marketing speak) for the privilege to speak to them. That is big money!

Today, I read an article that stated WSJ actually can be had for free, if only you know how. The article claimed that none of it is illegal, which is a good thing. Briefly, the article said that many of what’s behind the pay wall can actually be accessed without subscription if you click to them from news search engines and link aggregators such as Google News and Digg. Whatever else you cannot read through this method you can try to access by using a Firefox plug-in that spoofs the referral traffic. Both methods take very little effort to implement.

The question that immediately came to mind is this: If the intention is to keep the WSJ content behind the pay wall, why make it so easy to break through it? I think I know the answer. The subscription wall is just that — a barrier. With so much easily accessible free content, if you require just a bit more work to get to your content, most people would not bother to try to overcome that barrier. Usually that is a bad thing because people would just go to your competitors’ sites. In WSJ’s case, it’s a good one because the barrier ensures that only those who truly want to access the content will get to them. WSJ keep their qualified audience and thus their high CPM (which is their bread and butter anyway).

Now that’s one company who knows its audience and how to monetize the audience while expanding its reach. Brilliant!

I have written about ineffective TV commercials here and here. Today I found one that is just the opposite. It is very effective because it fits several criteria mentioned in Made to Stick by the brothers Heath. The book, by the way, is highly educational, entertaining and practical. I strongly recommend it to anybody who is interested in marketing (viral or otherwise) and/or psychology/sociology.

In the book, the authors discussed six key principles that helps ideas spread: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. (The initial letters spell out “SUCCESs” for easy remembering). Briefly, here are the abridged version of the principles:

  • Simplicity refers to an idea that is core and compact
  • Unexpectedness refers to breaking of pattern to attract attention
  • Concreteness refers to creating concrete images to convey your message
  • Credibility refers to using credentials to support your idea
  • Emotions refers to making people feel something with your idea
  • Stories refers to tying your idea to a story

What made the commercial I have embedded below so memorable is that it incorporated many of these principles. In particular, I think it is simple, unexpected, concrete and emotional. Watch it and you’ll know what I mean.

May 2020