The pitfalls of poor execution

Sometimes really good ideas go very, very wrong.

Subway restaurants had what I think was a very good idea. They decided to give away free coffee and breakfast sandwiches today. My assumption is that they are well known for subs, which are popular fare for lunch in most food courts in downtown areas, but have very little awareness for their breakfast offerings. There is usually a pretty steady lineup when you’d expect there to be one during peak lunch hours. I almost never, though, see people there in the morning, when they are competing with AM behemoths Tim Hortons and Starbucks.

Then, yesterday, I got a flyer as I walked by the storefront inviting me to come back this morning to get my free coffee and breakfast sandwich. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a pretty sound strategy to generate a little awareness that they are a breakfast option by giving away a free sample. I would expect it to do what it was intended to do. The problem, though, was in the execution.

I showed up and got in line with everyone else (it’s funny how willing we are to wait for free food). Two employees were working frantically to crank out sandwiches like an assembly line. And that’s what it felt like, an impersonal assembly line.

There was no coffee. They either ran out or never had any, I’m not sure. The sandwich was hastily thrown together, three to a subway bun. There was no sign of the perfectly toasted English Muffin in the flyer. The two staff members were obviously overwhelmed and it made me wonder why their manager didn’t have the foresight to add extra staff.

As I stood in line watching all this unfold, I glanced up at the picture of what the sandwich should have looked like on their board and asked myself if I would be be likely to come back and pay $2.89 for this tomorrow. The answer was a pretty clear ‘no.’ I asked a few others in my office about their experience and it was the same as mine, as were their repurchase intents, regardless of which location they went to.

It’s too bad. It was a solid idea. They pulled in a lot of potential breakfast converts and had the chance to wow us with their offering, to take their time and deliver on the expectation the advertising set. But they blew the execution and under delivered.

What’s even sadder is that blown execution is not uncommon. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Hell, I’ve been the purveyor of it more times than I’d like to admit, truth be told. We really need take the same time and care we take on development on execution. Make sure our channel chatter is aligned; ensure frontline staff are informed and prepared; get the right operational resources lined up incase our marketing efforts succeed. If we don’t, everything else is wasted effort.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back at my regular place for breakfast. I’m curious, though, did anyone out there have a good experience as part of this promotion?

Thanks for the Tweets, Eddie; or how Twitter saved my wardrobe

I don’t know if Twitter will ever be an effective tool for marketing, but there seem to be more and more companies that are figuring out how to leverage this channel to enhance their customer service. I suppose you could argue that good customer service is good marketing, but I’m not going to go down that road today.

I recently had a great experience with retailer Eddie Bauer on Twitter. I received and email about a big sale and decided to head over to my local store to check out the deals. The store, though, told me they had a sale the week before, but it was over and they didn’t know what this email was about. Frustrated at having blown my lunch for naught, I tweeted my disappointment just to see what would happen.

What happened was that I got a reply tweet asking for more details of my problem from Paola via @eddiebauer. After a quick exchange, she assured me that it would be sorted out and someone would call me (I provided my number through the Direct Mail function, of which I had previously been unaware).

The next morning I got a call from Jocelyn, the district manager for my area. After some phone tag she explained the sale was over in Canada, but she would try to hunt down the items I wanted. I sent her a list and she found half of them and had them shipped to my local store, honoured the sale price with an additional 30% off for my trouble. All this from a tweet.

I doubt that I would have taken the time to call anyone about this. I probably would have just gotten angry and not gone back to the store. But, because it was so easy to use Twitter, and because Eddie Bauer is monitoring that channel, my bad experience turned into a great one. How many opportunities like this arise for all companies? How many of those opportunities are lost because no one is monitoring the channel, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or blogs.  These services are giving companies a chance to listen to conversations and rants that would otherwise only come out at the pub, or over dinner with friends. You’d have to be crazy not to take advantage, right?

I know I’ll be using this example as I continue to nudge my cautious employer toward social media dominance of our industry. For other case studies, I recommend Tod Maffin’s website, he’s got some great examples.

Now all EB has to do is fix the way they email Canadians sale information from the US. Are the email marketers listening as closely as the customer service folks?

Costa Rican Land Barons Part II

I had great plans of updating this blog three or four times while we were in Costa Rica to see our property, in order to chronicle our experience … but, sketchy wi-fi at our hotel and then an explosion at the phone company that took our service to nearly the entire province we were in nixed those plans.

So, we’re back home now, but we did manage to get to see our property. After some wrong turns, questionable directions and a little help from the local police in Bananito Sur, we eventually met up with our guide. We hiked through some of the densest jungle either of us had imagined (and my wife backpacked through the Amazon) and ended up at our property; which was some of that same dense jungle.

My wife following a complete stranger with a machete into the deep jungle (also known as property viewing)

Our property marker. Yes it's real, it's jungle and it's ours!

I think it’s going to be a little more work than we thought, and I”ll need a big machete, but for thick, nearly impenetrable jungle, it’s beautiful.

We both had some second thoughts after leaving. Could we clear that land, would we be able to sell any of it, were we nuts. Back in Cahuita, we met a woman named Jody who did pretty much the same thing we did six years ago; that made things a little easier. Between her and a number of other expats and locals we met while down there, I think we are optimistic we can make this work. Maybe not as quickly as we thought, but eventually.

Step number one is getting a topographer to survey the property so we can a) figure out the best place to build; and b) segment the land into smaller parcels in the hopes to sell one or two to fund our construction. Baby steps, but here we go …

Random shot and one of the many reasons we love Costa Rica.

Adventures of a Costa Rican Land Baron

Ruins on the beach

I am deviating from the usual theme of this blog for a few posts to chronicle what, for me, is an exciting and terrifying experience. After a couple of trips to Costa Rica—the first on our honeymoon, the second a month in Cabuya with our kids—my wife and fell in love with the country and decided to buy a property.

A long story short, after almost giving up we found a vacant lot on the Caribbean coast online and soon became Costa Rican land Barons. During the process, we alternated between excitement at realizing our dream and fear that we were falling victim to an internet scam.

Two days ago, we arrived back in Costa Rica with promises from our real estate agent of connecting us with a property manager who would guide us to our jungle plot. The purpose of the journey is to 1) make sure the property is real; 2) make some connections for surveying, clearing the land and, eventually, building a house; and 3) get to know the region—we have only ever been to the Pacific side of the country and didn’t know much about the Caribbean side other than what they say in guide books(thicker jungle, Jamaican-influenced culture).

Kerry and Snappy outside our hotel

We set down in San Jose and picked up our rental car – what I’m sure is the smallest SUV ever made – and began the drive to the coast. We decided to stay in a small village named Cahuita. It is about 20 minutes from where our property is located and it sounded like a fun town with a funky vibe.

When I checked my email (Sunday), I saw we had an appointment to meet the property manager on Tuesday. One worry resolved and two days to explore.

Cahuita did not disappoint. The vibe is laid back, the people are friendly and the Reggae is everywhere.  We took a walk along the beach into the National Park. North of the park the beaches are a beautiful black sand and then, suddenly they transition into an equally stunning white sand.

One of many sloths we got up close and personal with

Last night we dined on the water’s edge, with a warm ocean breeze and crashing waves threatening to drown out conversations at times. At one point our waitress pointed out the sloth in the tree beside us and we watched it make its slow progress to the ground and out into the darkness of the surrounding brush. Much nicer than the goldfish at our local sushi restaurant back home!

Kerry getting friendly with the natives

The natives getting friendly with me

As I drifted off, I hear the persistent sound of chirping geckos chatting as they hunted their insect pray. This morning we woke up early to more chirping, this time from the myriad of birds populating the area.

With a day to kill before we view our property we decided to take a snorkelling tour with a guided walk through the national park. After the tour, we now which plants we want to have around our house (some with medicinal properties and some that keep away mosquitoes) and those we don’t (a broad leaf plant that is home to the poisonous banana spider). Very helpful.  We also saw lots of howler monkeys, sloths, Golden Orb spiders, a raccoon and a baby eyelash viper (very poisonous).

Nasty spiders hidden under leaves

The snorkelling was simply amazing. The living coral reef was beautiful and I wish I had thought to bring an underwater camera. Brain coral, fan coral, star coral. Awesome. The fish were stunning. Such amazing colours and they seemed to stare right at you trying to figure out if you were friend or foe. And best of all, no sharks! The kids are going to love this place. We hear there is a sunken pirate ship you can snorkel to in Puerto Viejo, which is our next stop, so I’ll definitely track down a disposable underwater camera by then so I can post some pictures.

After a day in the sun and surf, it was a quick trip to the ferrerteria to pick up an extra long tape measure and some spray paint (to mark trees) for excursion to the property tomorrow. Later a nice dinner and a stroll in the warm  Caribbean night.