My Sister, the Doctor

My sister and I are different as night and day. Her hair: wild curls with a gorgeous streak of pure gray in front. Mine: a bob bleached to near-extinction and (on good days) oiled and ironed. Her career: family doctor. Mine: marketer. Her favorite place to be: Hard to tell – Tibet? New Orleans? Seattle? Quebec? Mine: The double-pre-owned, cat-shredded sectional in my living room, watching football.

We aren’t overly close. She visits once a year, loves my son to distraction — but for some reason we don’t have the “sister mojo” that you see in the greeting card aisle. We love each other, but from a distance.

I admit it was with a repressed sigh that I embarked on her latest piece of writing. (She writes? I didn’t know that!). Our mother is in the “pass it on” stage of life, meaning she passes on everything from advice about what museums to visit; scores and scores of books; newspaper clippings; Depression glassware; sleds; vacation diaries; chapters of the genealogy tome she’s writing; etc. etc. I wish I could be worthy of this cornucopia of love . . . but I read the J.A. Jance books and save the vacation diaries for later . . . at least I have a file for them . . . In my daily email (does anyone else wish their moms would send a weekly digest? Mom, I don’t really mean this!) there was a link to an article my sister had published in Pulse, called “Concierge Care.” 

I always think about the way businesses run. It may be from nearly 19 years as a graphic designer, talking to business owners about their most vexing challenges – not just in promoting their businesses, but in running them. I can’t simply get my hair cut — I’m talking with the hairdresser about how she manages no-shows and how she chose the art for the wall. When I’m on the soccer sidelines, I’m thinking about where you could put a coffee shop so parents could have a warm drink. I went for a spa facial and promised the owner I’d retweet her!

So I start reading this article by my sister. . . . Like her, I recently had a family member hospitalized, but our experience was very different than the one she relates. The first part of her article reads like a fairy tale about how medicine should be. I’ve been ignored by ER nurses, seen one of my best friends dosed with the wrong medicine, breezed off by doctors who say “they’ll be right back” and then apparently are kidnapped and replaced by someone else, 24 hours later, who cares even less — and I’m a fairly healthy person who almost never is hospitalized. I’m holding my breath so hard reading her article that I’m thinking an oxygen tank would be good right about now.

The conclusion of her piece is all about how the business of medicine could be improved — the same kind of stuff I strain my nerves about. Except in her case, she might actually be able to change things.

My sister is a Buddhist and I’m a wannabe Christian — however, I think Christmas has nothing to do with God and more to do with the other guy. So I figured, wrongly, that we wouldn’t exchange gifts this year.

My sister’s gift to me was the gift of understanding that we aren’t really so different after all. And that, in the medical profession, there are people trying to change things, make them more customer-friendly (or, more to the point, more human and more humane) — and that one of them is my sister. My gift to her is this humble apology for any time I’ve spent not realizing how much wisdom and insight she has. Not to mention a keyword-stuffed link to her article, in the next paragraph

And if you’ve gotten this far, please continue on and read her original article describing how your hospital visit should be. As my mother says, “There’s a twist at the end.”

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Keep Your Eye on the . . . uh . . .

ImageIf you’re a marketer, you have probably been tempted to try to get attention and “engagement” from your target customers by inviting them to participate in a contest. If you have an email address, you have probably received emails saying “Win an iPad by taking our survey” or “Spend 30 minutes with us and receive a $25 Amazon gift card.” If, like me, your parents were raised during the Depression and you have to remind yourself not to tuck the extra Sweet-n-Low packs into your purse after breakfast, you’ve probably taken the survey, spent the 30 minutes – even if you already have an iPad and don’t shop Amazon.

Here is why I think these contests stink.

  1. They’re insulting. When my son attended the otherwise fantastic Gentle Dragon preschool, a substitute teacher put a little rubber bear into a jar every time one of the children did something kind. When the jar was full, the teacher made the class a big cake. The message? Do the right thing not for its own sake, but because you’re going to get all sugared up. If you don’t think it’s possible to sound overly condescending to a roomful of preschoolers, give me a holler and I’ll do my impression of this teacher talking about the jar full of bears.
    Customers want to provide feedback on their experience when they have something to say. I’ll promote your Etsy page if you’re my friend. (My friends can promote my beaded jewelry right here!) What does it tell you about how important my own priorities are if I’ll suspend them to try and chase an iPad or a gift card?
  2. They promote dishonesty and reinforce class-based “perks.” The technicians where I work clock in at 8 and clock out at 4:30, with a half hour lunch break that’s enough to microwave and consume 500 calories. They assemble wind measurement instruments all day. They’re not paid to chase butterflies or participate in marketing surveys. I already enjoy more flexibility in my work schedule than they do. Now I’m being tempted to spend 30 minutes of my employer’s time — arguably valued higher than $25 — to try and get a $25 gift certificate? I may be old-fashioned, but this seems like stealing to me.
  3. They “engage” the wrong people. Do the people who ultimately will make the decision about whether to buy your service or product  have time to chase a gift card? I hope not!
  4. They take the “you” out of “thank-you.” Two years ago I heard the visionary entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk speak about the value of saying “thank-you.” Cue Roberta Flack soundtrack: in 45 profanity-laced minutes, Gary Vee expressed my feelings perfectly. The value of saying “thank you” is one of the most important things an entrepreneur can learn. It’s a personal effort and there are no shortcuts. (My keyword-laced link to Gary’s website is my small thank-you for the inspiration).
  5. You don’t get the prize! I admit it — in spite of my feelings against these contests, I’ve been tempted, and, yea, have participated. I’ve tweeted for prizes, I’ve responded to emails offering gift cards in exchange for surveys . . .
    So my desk drawer must be filled with gift cards and I must have at least one iPad, right? No way. I’ve only ever received one prize. (Taza chocolates from the fabulous Caitlin Jewell — the creative genius behind one of Boston’s best design studios and now the extraordinary microbrewery Slumbrew. This plug was really not influenced by chocolate and beer – okay, maybe a little.) The other contests, sad to say, were promoted by social media and marketing automation companies.
    In other words – hard as it  may be to believe – I actually did what the marketers wanted me to, and then I didn’t get what they had promised me!

If you’re a marketer and you’re tempted to conduct a contest, please take this final piece of advice. Make sure that the “execution phase” is well defined. That is, make sure you send out the prizes and don’t let that go into your “maybe someday” file. If you won’t be the one sending out the prizes, get a commitment from the person who will be, and define a process to get it done. Then monitor it. Conducting that iPad lottery or sending out that Amazon gift card is just as important as shipping a product that’s been paid for.

Otherwise, you’re going to “engage people” all right — by ticking them off. In other words, keep your eye on the . . . uh . . .

The Importance of Being Human . . . in Marketing

Last summer, the illness of Nelson Mandela prompted me to write a quick note of sympathy o a business contact I have in South Africa. Because I do not know her well and had limited appreciation of the extent to which Mandela and his legacy are beloved by the South African people, I kept my note rather brief.

Her response moved and stunned me. She thanked me effusively for my sentiments. She referred to Mandela as “Tata Mandiba,” which sent me to Google and taught me more about the enduring love the South African people have for the leader of their liberation movement and their first black President.

This weekend, the coverage of Mandela’s passing gave me – and I’m sure others internationally – a much deeper sense of Mandela’s struggle and his greatness. I remember participating in anti-apartheid protests, urging our college administration to divest its holdings in South Africa . . . but in doing so, I never understood or appreciated the extent of the South African struggle for freedom.

I did remember to send my contact another note over the weekend.  She responded, in part: “Your kind words have reminded me that the world we live in is indeed a great one. That change was possible not just because of our struggles but because of our international family.”

I sat quietly for a few minutes soaking in her message, and feeling that I had made a friend across the ocean.