Implementing change series: It’s all or nothin’, baby

“If you want to make a significant change, it’s all or nothing, baby,” was my final thought during a presentation about increasing OER use at a college or university at this years CAMEX college bookstore conference.

a boy jump into a lake
“all in” by popofatticus, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“If you want to make a significant change, it’s all or nothing, baby,” was my final thought during a presentation about increasing OER use at a college or university at this years CAMEX college bookstore conference.

Instinctively, we all know this, but we favor the route of least resistance. And, in our time and resource-pressed world, with so many competing interests, it’s difficult to dedicate what we need to make something work. With that said, we have to go all-in if we truly want to make a big impact.

For example, if you want to lose a good amount of weight, you may go to your doctor and ask your doctor how to lose weight. The doctor tells you:

The people who really lose a lot of weight and keep it off do ALL of these things:

  • Eat breakfast
  • Eat primarily fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes per day, 6 days per week
  • Reduce their calorie intake by 500 calories per day
  • Incorporate weight lifting into their exercise routine 3 times per week

And yet, so many people will walk away and pick only one. They may say to themselves “Ok, I’ll start eating breakfast each day” and ignore the rest. And then they wonder why they aren’t successful! The doctor said “do all of these” and the patient heard “do one of the following” and did just that.

Similarly, you see this in advertising and marketing work often with small businesses. Their agency will say, “your goal is x and this is your program that will get you there.” The client business will then pick-out one thing on that list, do only that, and wonder why they didn’t meet their goal. The client gets mad and fires the advertising agency because their plan didn’t work. Except, the client didn’t follow the plan.

In my work consulting colleges and universities on how to dramatically increase Open Educational Resources (OER) use on their campus, I’ve found there is a specific formula to success:

  • Do a minimum of 8 direct tactics throughout the academic year
  • Have day-to-day involvement from each of the key departments for success (faculty, library, instructional design, disability services, bookstore, etc.)
  • Have one active, vocal senior administrator sponsor that will champion the initiative through communications
  • Plan your year of activities out in advance to keep a continual high intensity level of activities and communications going throughout the academic year
  • Track successes and progress by outcomes for each action: Number of faculty interested, number of faculty adopting OER, number of students impacted, student success metrics.
  • Modify your plan to favor the strategies that you are having the most success from (based on the number of faculty interested, number of adoptions, and number of students for each action)

Schools will contact us regularly saying,  “Our initiative is great, but this OER thing just isn’t working for us.” When I dig deeper, something is missing from above formula, they’ve tried to skip a step or a few steps. I’d love to tell them that less effort could get them the results they want. If it could, I’d recommend less, but the truth is, if they want significant change, they have to do all of the above.

Are there times it makes sense not to go all-in? Absolutely. You may not have all of the resources to go all-in, or your political climate may not be right yet. And that’s ok; it’s not unusual, when working with schools, that I recommend a slower approach until they are ready for the big leap. At that point, however, you need to adjust your results expectations to match your effort. And, if you want to get to the high results, work toward getting in a position where you can go all in.

Implementing change series: Combine active and passive strategies for high-impact results

Implementing a new project, cultural change, movement, etc. is never easy. But one thing that can make it easier is to define each of your strategies as either active or passive.

Dog actively chasing a ball
“photomarathon15” by Delphine Savat, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Implementing a new project, cultural change, movement, etc. is never easy.  But one thing that can make it easier is to define each of your strategies as either active or passive.

Passive vs. Active Strategy

Most of us are familiar with the line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” This is the classic example of a passive strategy; they build the place for people to enjoy, but they make no effort to encourage people to come. The idea is, if it’s there and people want it, they will find it. While it makes for an inspiring movie, it’s only partially true when it comes to implementing change with results. These types of passive, or indirect strategies, do help support the overall strategy, but they must be mixed with active strategies as well.

An active strategy is much more direct; if you do this action, you can expect a specific result related to your goal directly from that action. For example, in a business, if your goal is to increase sales, branding marketing (image ads, corporate sponsorships of community causes) would be passive to making a sale, while sales representatives asking for purchase, coupons, special sales offers etc. are direct/active strategies.

Examples: Politics and OER

One example that I think can hit home for everyone right now is politics. Instinctively, we all know that complaining about politics or debating with our contacts on social media isn’t going to lead directly to change. We may change a mind, eventually, but that isn’t going to solve the larger issues.

  • Holding a demonstration or protest: Most people would think that this is active, but, since it usually won’t lead to changing someone’s mind or changing an outcome, it’s passive
  • Calling your elected representatives and asking them to vote a specific way on a bill: Active
  • Venting on Facebook: Passive
  • Donating to an organization who will directly go and advocate for change: Passive for you, but active in the sense that you are financially supporting someone else to directly ask for change (which you may not be able to do on your own)

In my work for Rice University’s OpenStax, I consult with colleges and universities to encourage faculty to transition to Open Educational Resources (OER), including free textbooks. As part of this process, each school writes a strategic plan that includes specific strategies they will complete to encourage faculty to adopt. 

The question I always ask them is: Does this strategy involve you directly asking faculty to adopt an OER? If the answer is yes, then you have a active/direct strategy, if the answer is no, then you have a passive strategy.

  • Having a display of OER textbooks on the campus. The faculty will see them and look at them and consider adopting them: Passive
  • Going to a faculty member’s office and asking them to pilot an OER:  Active
  • Hosting a faculty panel discussion about OER: Passive
  • Having a sign-in sheet at the above panel and following-up with each attendee afterward individually to ask them to adopt an OER: Active
  • Offering grants in exchange for adoption: Active

Combining Passive and Active Strategies for Results

The key is not to eliminate passive strategies, the goal is to mix both passive and active strategies in a way that creates momentum.

For example, this blog post is a passive strategy, but if I send it to people so they know the difference between the two types of strategies and then use that to help them incorporate both into a strategic plan, that creates momentum. If the protest/demonstration you hold drives PR and traffic to your website, you can use that traffic to ask them to sign-up for more information, sign a petition, etc. thus turning that passive strategy into a way for you to move forward with more resources and support.

The most important thing is that you identify and consider your combination of passive and active strategies and plan for effective results.

Sometimes the small things in your business really do matter

A Mistura watch with a white band, wooden casing, and colorful flowers and the accompanying gold and black box
My very own Mistura watch.


My understanding of the importance of little things in a business began with Western Michigan University marketing professor Ed Mayo bringing in his…soap collection.

He had stayed at a wide story of hotels over the years and was demonstrating to us that sometimes the little do things do indeed matter; the shape (sadly a lost art) and packaging of soap can denote a wide variety of things about the hotel, including luxury and quality.

This past week, my Mistura watch arrived from Columbia.  The packaging was impeccable and the watch was perfect, but the “soap” moment came when I went to set it, and realized they’d already done it to my time zone for me.

It may seem like a little thing, but like Dr. Mayo’s soap collection, it “signals” a lot to me about the company and the products they make. 

Take a moment and stop and think about your business. What small thing about your business could really mean a difference to your customers?

NFL tries to appease female fans after purse ban: “Fanicures,” pop-up stores and things that go wrong

A photo of a hand with manicured nails. The nails are blue, red and white in varying simple designs to match the colors of the Houston Texans
Thanks to CoverGirl for my “fanicure” at the Houston Texans game.

Before heading to the Houston Texans game today, I read CultureMap’s article titled,  NFL tries to court back female fans: Does a pop-up lounge with “fanicures” make up for purse ban?. As a marketer, things like this fascinate me, so one of my friends and I ventured into the pop-up store.

The merchandise was exactly what they said, very female-oriented and very trendy. the free “fanicures” were great (thanks CoverGirl!) and the photo booth was fun. Overall, do I think they won back some female fans with it? Maybe. I, for one, at least appreciated the gesture.  And I learned a lot about products now available that I didn’t know about before.

But not everything went well for this special promotion event. There were three broken windows that they might want to address before their next event:

  • There was an hour wait for a “fanicure,” But, they took my cell number and told me they’d text me when it was my turn. Two hours of holding my cell at the game and still no text. So, I went back. Their text feature wasn’t working, but the woman organizing the fanicures told me she’d fit me in next and she held true to that.
  • The CultureMap article said they wouldn’t be selling purses. Ironically, they were.  Just don’t try to bring the purse you buy there into the stadium. They don’t meet the NFL Bag Policy guidelines.
  • The photo booth was a lot of fun and we had a good time partaking in that.  But, when we got our printout, we had no where to put it to keep it safe. The printed photo strip was longer than our allowable bag size, so it wouldn’t fit anywhere.

Overall, I think this was a great event in the long process of winning-back female fans and the broken windows were pretty minor considering. Best of luck to the NFL and GO TEXANS!

Lessons from sales series: Have a compelling reason when you contact them

Prior to becoming a marketing director for a community college, I worked three years in advertising sales (1 in radio, 2 in outdoor). This series is dedicated to those invaluable lessons I learned while being a salesperson.

“I’m calling to set-up a time to meet with you.”

“I want to meet with you to find out about your business.”

“I would like a few minutes of your time to see how I can help your business.”

“I’m your new sales rep and I just want to stop by and say hello and introduce myself.”

These are all common sales lines that I hear all of the time and, admittedly, used myself when I first starting selling. I would leave message after message to prospects and either never receive a return call or just get a courtesy meeting so I’d get off their back. Neither of which are helpful when you are commission sales-based.

What I learned is, you have to have a compelling reason when you contact someone. If you don’t, you are wasting their time and your time.

Close-up of dialing keys on an office phone
Photo from Flickr: Mr. Thomas

Grocery store example

The example that most solidified this for me was when I was calling on a local grocery store chain. Wal-Mart was coming to the area and I knew they were nervous and needed help. But, numerous attempts to contact the owner failed because I was using the lines above. With some coaching from my sales manager (thanks Justin Escher!), I changed my approach.

There was lecturer coming to talk about how the entry of Wal-Mart into a market changes the local economics. I went to the lecture and then used that information to call the grocery store owner again. But this time, my voice mail was the following: “(name here), the day that Wal-Mart opens a store in a new market, the local grocery chains lose approximately x% of their business. However, there’s one strategy that has proven effective for local chains that has allowed them to keep most of their business. If you call me back, I’ll tell you what it is.”

He called me back in less than 30 minutes, I met with him, and I made a $14,000 sale.

The lesson

This lesson has stuck with me since. You must have a compelling reason for someone to do what you’d like them to do, whether its meeting with you or just calling you back. Does this mean I remember to do it every time? No, sometimes I get lazy. And you know what? I always end up paying for my laziness with extra time spent trying to get what I need.

So what do your phone calls and emails sound like? What techniques work for you?

Ikea gains revenue by keeping you in their store

“Ok, but if we are going to Ikea, you must be prepared to spend all day there,” is a common warning that I say to my friends. So, you can easily guess that I would most certainly we considered an Ikea brand fanatic. In fact, so much so, that I once told an inquiring home builder friend of mine that my perfect home could be summed up by the phrase, “Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, Ikea interior design.”

But, in reality, my warning of it being an all-day trip is not unusual and it’s exactly what Ikea wants. A core component of retail marketing is coming up with new and innovative ways to keep customers in the store and Ikea has mastered this.

Here is a quick  list of some of the key ways Ikea keeps you in their stores:

  • They design their stores like a maze, so it’s virtually impossible to get out without going through the whole store.  I’ve been to the Ikea closest to me enough that I know the shortcuts. But if you are visiting an Ikea for the first time, you’ll find it easy and yet, slightly painful, to have to cover every inch of the store to get what you want.
  •  They make their stores incredibly interactive. The top floors of Ikea are usually  demonstration areas that look like a series of small apartments or homes.  Guests are encouraged to go in and out of each of these “homes” and see how Ikea products could really be used. For an active learner like me, this is heaven. I get to touch everything, sit on things, open cabinets, and try to get the non-slamming cabinets to slam (a personal favorite game of mine).
  • Think those tasty and very inexpensive meals at Ikea restaurants are so they can make their customers happy? Think again! By offering food options, Ikea ensures that you won’t leave, just because you get hungry. And, of course, the food gets you to sample their food products, which you can also purchase. In case you are curious, I recommend the meatballs.
  • They also watch your kids for you for free while you shop! As a retailer, they know that happy children means parents can stay in the store longer and shop, which means increased sales for them. It’s not really a new concept. In fact, the grocery store I visited as a child gave each kid a cookie to keep them happy while their parents shopped. But offering free daycare for an hour is definitely a ramped-up effort.
  • In addition, they have small play areas strategically placed in areas that parents may need to spend a good portion of time in. For example, in the store I visit, there is a small play area next to the cabinet design portion of the store so the children can play while their parents design their new cabinets.

Now, Ikea is at it again with a new twist, Manland. When I would go to Ikea as a child, we would make it to the chair department and there my father would take a seat in his favorite chair and relax with a book until we were done shopping (or needed him to pay for lunch!). Now, it seems, Ikea has a better idea for my father. Now he can go to a space specifically designed with him in mind including TVs, snacks, games, etc.  Or, at least, he could on Father’s Day in Australia. Permanent or not, it seems Ikea is at it again, finding new ways to keep customers in their store and spending money.

Special thanks goes to my friend Nate Block for knowing my obsession with Ikea and forwarding me the information on Manland.

“Blog about us and we’ll send you a free t-shirt” header

Congratulations goes to Karate Depot for finding a way to blend contemporary marketing with traditional marketing, AND  create a way to increase their search engine optomization (SEO)!

I ordered a new set of sparring gear from them (at an extremely reasonable price I might add) and, in my confirmation e-mail at the top, there was a small ad that said “Receive a free “Fire & Ice” t-shirt (see bottom for details).”  At the bottom, it read “To receive a free Fire and Ice T-shirt, blog about us or place a link to our front page, any of our product categories or any of our products. Reply to this email telling us where you placed the link or the location of the blog. When we approve your link or blog entry, we will ship you a free Fire and Ice T-shirt. It’s that easy. Eligibility requirements: The site must be owned or controlled by you and must be publicly accessible without logging in. The site must have been in existence for a minimum of thirty days. The webpage where the link is posted must be linked to from at least one other page. Forums and other public spaces do not qualify. Myspace pages, Myspace blogs, Twitter and Facebook are not eligible. The t-shirt must be shipped to a location in the lower 48 contiguous states.”

This is clearly a new approach to a very old marketing technique.  Especially with people in their teens and twenties, free t-shirts are a huge draw. Credit card companies, fast food restaurants, radio stations, and many more have used the free t-shirt gimmick for years. What makes Karate Depot unique is that they clearly are using it in a new way; to build up their SEO.  Instead of hiring someone to just focus on SEO, they found an inexpensive way to turn their customers into employees.

So now I have two things to look forward to: my new full set of sparring gear and a very cool t-shirt (I take a small by the way if anyone else wants to send me a shirt).  I’ll let you know when I receive both.

Update 10.30.10

My new gear arrived today in great condition along with my new shirt!