Paper or Plastic? Thanks, I’ve ALWAYS got my own

Paper or Plastic? How many times have we heard this before on the check out line of the grocery shopping? I have to say that I’ve heard it countless times for about 8 years now since I’ve been in the US. Before that, I did not.

And I didn’t hear it before not because we were ahead of the environmentalism curve some 20 years or so ago, but because we have always brought our own grocery bag to the market, that’s just how we have always gone shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables in Brazil and Latin America. One thing to understand first is that, most consumers in Latin America are used to making a two-stop or even three-stop shopping at the local market – usually very small – for fresh fruits, vegetables, and sometimes fresh meat, otherwise a third stop at the meat place is needed, and another at the supermarket to buy the other things on the list, usually non-food items. Food items have always been purchased at these local small markets or flea markets, where fruits and vegetables (and meat, where is available) is much fresher than at the supermarkets.

Here I’m thinking about this the other day when I went to Whole Foods and decided to get one of their canvas totes to continue my shopping “tradition” of always having my own bag. It occurred to me that we, in Latin America, have been doing the “right thing” of not wasting paper or plastic on grocery bags all along, but the same “tradition” was not shared by consumers in the US and probably some other first world nations as well ONLY until now, we it became a trend.

I’m fairly confident – although without evidence – that the availability of grocery bags at US checkout lines stemmed from marketing and the savvy businessman who wanted to deliver to a convenience-minded-population exactly what it wanted, convenience. Who would, after all, remember to bring his/her own bag to shop for food?

I have researched on this topic but could not find anything to back me up, but my theory is that with advancement of machinery and the manufacturing boom in the US after WWII, manufacturers were able to produce mass quantities of raw goods very cheaply, which in turn enabled retailers to offer an array of “incentives” to attract consumers, such as the case of paper or plastic bags. I don’t know when supermarkets and grocery shops started offering paper or plastic bags, nor do I know how consumers did their shopping before these grocery bags were available. (I think Keith could help me with that). I just find interesting how different societies develop its habits around its own environmental and socio-economic conditions.

For one, the US became a very rich country due to the manufacturing boom and that has enable US consumers a lifestyle of abundance and waste. Two, has this manufacturing boom also made people less conscious of its actions, or have Americans inherently been like that? That’s a chicken and the egg question, and I think it’s a bit of both. In Brazil and Latin America, abundance and waste in most people’s daily lives is minimized to the teeth – it’s a sacrilege to even think about wasting – and abundance, it’s stuff that we see in the American movies. Again, it’s the chicken and the egg question: did our scarce environment taught us not to waste or were we “raised” like that already? Again, a bit of both.

Are our markets cheap for not offering us grocery bags? Probably yes. Are we miserable because of that? No. Do they offer it these days? Probably yes, after all, they have to catch up with the first world.

One thing that’s apparent and somewhat bothersome to me is that if the media and marketers don’t get involved in propagating “causes” such as this one, US consumers would never think of doing it on their own. Causes need to become trends, with a lot of celebrity involvement and the whole nine yards, otherwise American consumers don’t pay attention to it. Has life become so automated that people are even told what to think and do? Huh…. I think I know the answer to this question.

In the end again, we just think differently and have had different life experiences that have shaped our lives.

Personality Not Included

personality-not-included.jpg pni_interviewseries.jpg I’ve had the great pleasure of virtually interviewing a good blogging friend and great marketer, Rohit Bhargava.

He launched his book “Personality Not Included” this past weekend and came up with a interesting way to promote it… and I, as a blogger, couldn’t be left out of it. So, I sent him my 5 interview questions that I wanted to know about the book and he answered. This is also a mini-contest, as the best interview will get the book and a $100 gift certificate from Amazon.com. If you want to vote for my questions, which by the way are posted here below, you can go to his blog, Influential Marketing Blog. Please do!!!

I haven’t read the book yet, but know what it’s about and find the subject very compelling, especially since we’re undergoing a major change in how businesses do marketing and deal with consumers – it’s a whole new dynamics now with this “new” very savvy and informed consumer group. I hope you will enjoy my set of questions, and as usual, I always try to focus on transcultural issues to get a new perspective on things.

My 5 Interview Questions:

  1. What are the common characteristics of a company doomed to lose authenticity?

The most common characteristic is something that I talked about in the book called “the employee silencing policy.” It’s rarely called this, but lots of companies have a similar policy that essentially forbids employees from talking to anyone about anything relating to their brand. How can you have an authentic company if everyone who works for it is forbidden to talk about your brand. That’s the most common characteristic.

  1. In my view, brand/company personality resembles corporate culture, which means, it comes from the top. How much can the consumer influence a company’s personality, if at all? I’d assume management needs to be open to it.

There are actually two pieces to this question – one is how much consumers can influence a brand’s personality, and the other is how much “common” employees can do this. In both cases, one of the things I note in the book is that often this personality does come from the people in the middle of an organization or customers. The thing that smart companies need to do is be open to hearing these messages and act on them.

  1. Will the process described above – top down from management to company to product to consumer – be reversed? Why or why not, and what are the implications?

I think it is already being reversed, and that is part of the necessity for a book like this. The type of control of defining a message and pushing it down through channels is an old school method, but is already being reinvented. Part of the power of the idea of personality is that for organizations that focus on using some of the lessons in the book, it can help them to flatten their organizations just enough to bring more authenticity to how their brand interacts with others.

  1. What’s your suggestion for companies that face different brand perceptions in different markets? This is applicable for both domestic (regional markets) and international markets. Very few companies can maintain one set of standardized or “globalized” “likeness” attributes.

This is true and an important point that you bring up. Having a personality doesn’t mean trying to apply the same belief system to different regions around the world. For companies that face different perceptions in different markets, the best advice is to allow their brand to take on a local character and embrace the changes that need to happen. Often, the toughest thing that a global brand can do is to get away from their silos between different groups and resist the temptation to try and use globalize with the same message. The real advice is to remain flexible – and allow different markets to customize a message. The most successful global brands are the ones that understand how to do this.

  1. What are the companies that do it right? And why?

There are lots of companies, actually – and many different lessons you can get from how they do business. Since you’re at 1800flowers now and probably interested in a few online ecommerce examples, I would point to Threadless, Moo.com, and Zappos.com as all good examples. The main thing they all manage to do is have a team of individuals rather than a faceless group of people servicing their customers.

If you’d like to see the other interviews, go here pni_interviewseries.jpg

I want to be frugal!

mrs_frugal.gif I’m SOOOO happy about what I did the other day…

Ever since I came to NY (a far more expensive place than where I was before) and as part of my new year’s resolution, I decided to cut down on frivolous “fashion” spending, meaning spending on clothes, shoes, handbags, etc. I also decided to do that because I need to get my finances in order. After a while, I realized that I pretty much have everything I like to wear and that most of the things out for sale are not my taste. I like everything I have and REALLY wear them; and the reason I emphasize it is because I used to have a closet full of clothes, shoes and accessories which I did not wear… some, not even once. How stupid and unclassy is that?

When I first arrived in the US, there was an enormous amount of temptation to go shopping, from the media to the people around me. How can one resist? Everything is so readily available in so many shapes and colors, full or discounted prices, sales left and right, catalogs, coupons… and on top of that, you must keep up with the trends… it almost feels like an obligation. Well, I was in heaven back then. I could have everything I wanted. It’s a good feeling to be able to possess things. I early on decided that quality is much better than quantity and always bought designer clothes at full price because the quality was much better. I was enjoying myself… spending, spending, spending…

But then something happen… I got bored of shopping and couldn’t stand (and still can’t) going to the mall. I started to consciously ask myself “Why am I shopping?”, “Do I really need or want this?” and the answer was always “I don’t know why I’m shopping… I don’t need or want this.” I was seeking the thrill of buying, not something that I genuinely needed. It almost describes an addictive behavior, but I was not a shoppaholic, just someone with too much time in my hands and driven by the consumerism mentality of my new-found home.

It’s undeniable that this society is a buying machine; people are conditioned to buy, have bought into buying as a means to solve all their problems. If you happy, you buy; if you sad, you also buy. People probably don’t even know why they’re buying, but their favorite pastime is shopping. I don’t even know where I’m going with this, but one thing I know is that I have broken away from shopping for the sake of shopping. I want to be frugal now! Frugal is in! I’m frugalicious! I want to save my money for something better and bigger than a pair of shoes.

Oh…. and what I did the other day that made me very happy was to cancel an order that I placed online. I felt as good or better canceling the order as I did when I was buying things for no reason.

I learned how to plumb!

plumbing.gif This is exciting… I did a plumbing job yesterday! Might not sound that exciting to most of you, but I’m a woman and never thought I could plumb. My husband is a big DIY guy and he was trying to fix a leak in the sink. After all the back and forth to the hardware store, he decided to ask for help… my help. He couldn’t reach the hoses underneath, and given that I’m petite, he thought I could reach there just fine… and I did. I changed the hoses, tighten the screws and the leak was gone. I was so proud of myself! As the adage goes… if you want a job well done, do it yourself. I find that to be true in most instances. My husband even got a kick out of my “plumber’s moon” (butt crack…).

February 22, 2008 is the 8th anniversary of my arrival in the US, and plumbing yesterday was my very first DIY project. A bit of an embarrassment, I know, but DIY is not as popular in Latin America as it is here in the US. I didn’t grow up doing projects around the house (most Latin Americans don’t), and I always called for outside help.

I won’t generalize here… some Latin Americans do DIY projects. Mexicans, for example, are Latins who are into DIY. Big-box retailers such as Home Depot and Sears are well established in Mexico. I believe that the proximity of the two countries have influenced the adoption of many Anglo-Saxon “DIY” values by Mexicans – English (and their underlying American value system) are often tossed around in everyday Mexican conversation. However, this is not the case in other Latin American countries further away from the US than Mexico. Sears, for instance, wasn’t successful in Brazil, Argentina or Chile. (Boy… to take a DIY store to countries that have NO DIY culture and expect it to succeed? That should have been a predictable outcome… but that’s a topic for another post.)

DIY is a 100% American custom, it’s ingrained in the American culture. Kids grow up doing DIY, Americans take pride in DIY. Why not? It’s totally consistent with “the almighty Individual” mindset. There are even TV channels just for DIY (DIY Channel) and sitcoms about DIY (Home Improvement). DIY is an all-American thing… It reinforces what Americans are all about… the drive to do things for oneself; the individualism of doing things as one pleases; the ingenuity of doing things differently. This mindset is purely American, no other country ever had the pioneer experience, population-wide capitalism and the marketing environment combining at the same time, in the same intensity as the US. And that is, quite frankly, the charm and appeal of the US and its way of life.

Most of would never think of DIY in Latin America. We have more important – usually social – things to do. Besides, one has to get the tools, get in grubby clothes and get into positions that do not necessarily look “cool.” Worse, you might even get your hands dirty. And “dirty hands” are not what prestigious people do! At least those of us Latins who live in the Big City and have to project a Big City image 24/7. Phew! It’s not only exhausting… but that’s why you don’t have the time and energy to do DIY!

I had a great experience yesterday learning about plumbing and I felt a sense of accomplishment. I should really try DIY more often and get my hands dirty around the house. But again… maybe not… my back was hurting afterwards… I’d rather spend my time reading… or writing another post here…

PS: Happy New Year!

The Bathroom Experience

blogfest-logo-2007.jpg This year I’m proud to be participating in the Bathroom Blogfest 2007 with my fellow bloggers (who I’ll list below), where we document our bathroom experiences.

I decided to visit and talk about the bathroom of a small business since I figured that there wouldn’t be much to talk about if I visited bathrooms of luxurious department stores and restaurants in NY – since they’re all gorgeous and flawless.

The bathroom I visited was at my nail salon, Prisca Nails. I decided to go there because I’ve always noticed how cute and cozy, and crystal clean it was. That I remember how good my nail place’s ladiesroom is should tell us how important that often neglected part of most businesses is. I’m very particular about bathrooms because I think it’s a very intimate place and one needs to feel comfortable to do one’s business. I’m the kind of person who really notices bathrooms (since I have this thing with them) and I go as far as marking the places where I know have good bathrooms for future trips, in case I ever need it. img00044.jpg The bathroom at my nail salon is a case in point. img00045.jpg The bathroom is small, but nonetheless comfortable. It’s cute and cozy. It is, most important, clean and fresh. It almost feels like my own!

I have to commend my friends at Prisca Nails for their extra-customer-care in providing such a good bathroom experience. It’s all worth it for me to know I have a safe place to go when in times of emergency :-)

Until today, I really hadn’t realized how important the bathroom was to me and to customers in general. I’ve noticed them because I just usually do, but I’ve gotten to a point where the bathroom can make it or brake for me. Am I being too picky or unreasonable? I don’t believe so… we are, in general, very demanding consumers, but more than just a bargain, we love to be pampered and surprised, and whenever and wherever business can do that for us, we’ll remember and love them. It’s about telling your costumers “you’re important” without saying it. It’s that special feeling we feel and we don’t know even why or where it came from, but we feel it. The bathroom has surfaced as the place to surprise customers in many establishments today.

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My fellow bloggers participating in the 2007 Bathroom Blogfest are:

 

Kate Rutter—Adaptive Path

Laurence Helene Borel—Blog Till You Drop

Iris Shreve Garrott—checking out and checking in

Susan Abbott—Customer Experience Crossroads

Maria Palma—Customers Are Always

Becky Carroll—Customers Rock!

Toby Bloomberg—Diva Marketing

Stephanie Weaver—Experienceology

Linda Tischler—Fast Company Now

C.B. Whittemore—Flooring the Consumer

Ed Pell—K+B DeltaVee

Helene Blowers—Library Bytes

Claudia SchiepersLife and its little pleasures

Katie Clark—Practical Katie

Sandra Renshaw—Purple Wren

Reshma Anand—Qualitative Research

Marianna Hayes—Results Revolution

Carolyn Townes—Spirit Women

Sara Cantor—The Curious Shopper

Anna Farmery—The Engaging Brand

Dee McCrorey—The Ultimate Corporate Entrepreneur

Katie Konrath-GetFreshMinds 

Jennifer Brite-Kitchen and Bath Business

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Traffic Rules

traffic499x323.jpg I’m in traffic for about 45 mins everyday commuting to and from work, and for 40 minutes of these 45 minutes I’m aggravated by how people drive. I’ve driven in a few different places, different cities and countries, and I’ve found that traffic rules are pretty similar across these places, but with one BIG difference: the way these rules are interpreted by drivers differ significantly from country to country.

This is what I mean… When I learned how to drive in Brazil, I was taught that the blinker is a courtesy sign asking for the other driver to give me the right of passage when there’s enough space to do so. On the other hand, when I started driving in the US, I noticed that the blinker is a notice sign to other drivers that I’m moving over regardless of them (not with total disregard, but with a lot). I can pretty much sum it up like this: I use my blinker as if I’m asking the other driver “can I please get in front of you?” and I only do if I get the ok from the other driver, whereas many people here use their blinkers as if they saying “I want and will get in front of you, watch out” and they simply do. Big difference!

It’s funny to say this, but I cannot imagine Americans acting any different in traffic from what I described and experience everyday, that’s exactly who and how they are… me first, me second, third and last, and my way! And I say the same for drivers in Brazil, since we’re all sheep. I, at one point, even questioned the proper use of the blinker and checked with the DMV. I found out that the blinker is an indicator of a driver wanting to move over and that he/she can only do so if there’s reasonable space and time between drivers. Sort of a middle ground between my and the American way of driving… I don’t necessarily need a “permission” to move over (not that I wait for one either), and Americans don’t necessarily need to be so aggressive in traffic. When there’s enough space and time, we can all move over.

Duh!

chinese.jpg Hi all! I know… I’ve been away for too long, but life needed me and I think I’m finally getting back to my normal routine.

A long time ago, October 6th, 2006 to be precise, I read this article, Going overseas? Make sure to brush up on foreign languages, which was about e-retailers expanding internationally and…. discovering that not everybody speaks English, that people prefer to buy in their own language. Ahh… duh!! The article goes so far as to cite research findings on this “new” discovery: “E-retailers moving into global sales can dramatically increase their potential customer base by localizing their web content to the native languages of audiences outside of the U.S., concludes a new study. 52.4% of consumers”; “According to the results, most people prefer to buy online in their own language, and, in fact, the majority in some countries will pay more for a product packaged with information in their own language, he adds”.

Wow… I wonder how much money was wasted on this research that simply states the obvious. I mean, it’s only a matter of taking a trip down to Puerto Rico (an US state) to realize that people speak other languages and do business in that language, the language in which they function and are comfortable with. What’s so difficult to understand? Can somebody, please shed some light on this for me, because I think it’s pretty obvious… but if I’m missing something, I’d like to know more.

At the end of the report, they justify conducting this research by saying “There is a longstanding assumption that enough people on the web feel comfortable using English, especially when buying high-tech or expensive products”. Ahh.. where did they get this from? What assumption and who’s assuming this? If English-speaking people are assuming this, then there’s no mystery that they think that most people speak English. As usual, it lacks sensibility and common sense to the real world of “outside the US”. Granted that English is the business language, but business here means from corporations to corporations, executives to executives, governments to governments, not e-tailers to consumers, or not corporations to consumers, for that matter.

Assumptions like that are so dangerous to make… we marketers need to put ourselves in our costumers’ shoes and go through what they go through to make a purchase. Imagine if the Chinese assume that enough people in the world speak Chinese and that’s how it’s going to be. How would we feel about that? I’m pretty sure they’d have to adapt their business and websites to other languages if they wanted to sell in other countries.