leadership dot #4114: appointment

I like my veterinarian a lot but it’s hard to get appointments specifically with her and not someone else at the practice. As a result, I try to book far in advance to secure my spot.

I called last week for my dog’s mid-January appointment and was told to call back “in mid-December” as their schedule was not yet set that far in advance. Ok. But yesterday I received a text and email telling me that my dog was due for an appointment on January 18 and to “Please CONTACT US as soon as possible to reserve your appointment. We are currently booking one month in advance.” There is so much that aggravates me about this.

It’s great to have an automated reminder system but it does more harm than good if it is not in sync with practice or differs from the message staff relays when you call. All the details add up to create your brand and image. Don’t let it be an annoying one.

leadership dot #4102: shabby

I’m all for efficiencies and cost reductions, but at some point, the negative impact of the miserliness outweighs the good it is doing for the organization.

As an example, this mailbox has long past its prime. Yes, the Postal Service saves funds by not replacing it, but having their equipment in such disrepair reflects poorly on them.

Look at your interior and exterior space. Do you have things that need painting, repairing, or replacing? Shabby may be chic in a young person’s fashion world, but in organizations, shabby is not a term you want associated with your brand.

leadership dot #4073: send

Venmo has long been one of the leading apps for people to send and receive money but their new partnerships are going to help their usage multiply. In a series of very smart moves, Venmo has partnered with Hallmark to enable people to Venmo via select greeting cards, and they partnered with major brands to offer gift cards that can be personalized and sent directly through the Venmo app.

I suspect my nieces and nephews will be thrilled with receiving funds via Venmo instead of a check, and I will be happier that way instead of risking cash in the ever-less-dependable US Mail.

Venmo could have followed a strategy to increase the number of transactions from its current users, try expanding its base through brand new users, or convince Zelle or Apple Pay users to switch. But these new options set the app apart and create a new category of use.

What can you learn from Venmo about how to expand your market? The right partnerships are a gift for both parties.

leadership dot #4067: merch

Portillo’s is a niche fast food restaurant that for decades was just in Chicagoland. As recently as 2014, the chain only had 38 restaurants making them elusive and memorable. People would go out of their way to have one of their Chicago hot dogs or famous roast beef sandwiches, and there was always a buzz of activity in the dining area.

Then things changed. I was recently in a Portillo’s and my brother and I commented on how empty it was during the Friday lunch hour. Maybe it’s because in the last decade, Portillo’s has doubled its presence, now with 84 stores in 10 states. And that is only the beginning. Today, they have plans to expand to 920 stores, downsize their footprints, open some drive-through-only locations, and reduce staffing.

The food is still good but there is no longer anything special about the place. Yet, as part of their redesign, there is now an entire section of Portillo’s “merch.” It seems wildly out of place.

Yes, people (me included) may have coveted and proudly displayed Portillo’s-branded items when it was a badge of honor to be near one but already it is becoming generic. Would you want to buy any merchandise from Tropical Smoothie Café or Five Guys burgers? That is how much Portillo’s wants to grow.

You can be big, or you can be special. If you want a group of devotees to pay to promote your brand, becoming pervasive isn’t the way to go.

leadership dot #4059: adapted

When was the last time you had to wait in line to use a store’s fitting room? I wouldn’t be surprised if your answer was “never.”

Rather than have the rooms sit perpetually empty, our Target store converted one of the stalls into a Nursing Room. It is essentially a dressing room with a cozy chair and small table — no other adaptation required — but it provides a functional and welcoming space for those who need it.

Not all changes have to be lofty. A little forethought plus some simple repurposing can have a positive outcome. Think of what better use you can make of space that is currently designated but unused.

leadership dot #4052: X

Yesterday’s dot (#4051) got me wondering how many places that little Twitter bird logo is. It’s in print, on business cards, on email signatures, on websites — literally millions of individuals and companies use it — and now it is technically outdated or even wrong.

I doubt the bird’s pervasiveness was even considered as Twitter changed its name to X — after all, they don’t have to incur the expense or hassle of others making the change…

…but you should be more thoughtful if you are altering something that will have an impact on your users or clientele. If your internal change has external consequences, take that into account as you make adjustments. Not that you still shouldn’t do it, but acknowledge the reality as you weigh its merits and do all you can to make it easier for your customers to change with you.

leadership dot #4047: brew

While on vacation, we took a tour of the Sprecher Brewery in Milwaukee. Before and after the tour, guests are able to partake of free samples in the “beer garden” — consisting of ale, of course, but also of root beer and dozens of varieties of flavored soda.

It wasn’t always like this. The family brewery originally produced only beer — until the owner’s wife noticed that the children on tour were bored while the adults were enjoying their libations. She suggested that they create something non-alcoholic, and Sprecher root beer was born.

Before this, Sprecher’s output was 100% beer. Today, its sales consist of 75% root beer, 10% other soda flavors, and only 15% beer!

There may be an untapped audience adjacent to the one you have cultivated. Look at your consumers broadly and see if you can’t brew yourself a new market as Sprecher did.

leadership dot #4031: sanity

At the Wisconsin State Fair, uscellular had a major display promoting “screen sanity” to modify the time people spend on their phones. People were able to make bracelets with beads to remind them of their commitment to limit screen time by pledging to have device-free dinners, silencing notifications, having digital downtime, limiting mindless scrolling, or deleting distracting apps. Fairgoers could also vote on which of these areas was their nemesis by putting beads into a giant display (mindless scrolling was far ahead). The booth also had a demonstration version of resources that parents could use for age-appropriate audiences to help set the tone with the younger set.

The statistics they shared were sobering — the average person unlocks their phone 150 times/day, 85% of people check their phones while with friends and family, and one in three wakes up during the night to check their phone! The uscellular display urged people to “set their phone for human connection” and to “do more things that make you forget to check your phone.”

In addition to the actual content of their message, it was interesting to see a cellular phone company spend so much to encourage people to limit the use of their product. Maybe the company is a good citizen, or perhaps it fears upcoming regulation if something isn’t done to offset the downside of so much screen time.

My mentor used to say: “Too much of a good thing is still too much.” It obviously rings true for cell phone use. Think about where your organization needs to be proactive. Do you need to take a stand on something that may be in your short-term disinterest to focus on the impact it has in the long term? Striving for sanity is a noble goal.

leadership dot #4030: giant

It’s likely you have heard of Etsy, the e-commerce leader for handmade craft products. It’s a behemoth — 7.4 million sellers did a total of $13.3 billion in gross sales last year, thanks to 96 million active buyers.

Michael’s, the craft store chain, has decided that it wants to get in on part of that action. The company is now launching its own e-commerce platform — MakerPlace — where people can sell handmade goods, teach online classes or share how-to’s — all for a lower fee than Etsy and with flexible membership options.

On one hand, it makes sense. The market is huge and many crafters rely on Michael’s as the source for their materials and supplies. On the other hand, Etsy is a monster with an established infrastructure and huge name recognition, so it will take some effort to carve away some of its market.

I doubt you’ll be setting up your own e-commerce platform but watch the MakerPlace story closely. Every organization has its own version of the Etsy industry leader. There are lessons to learn about how to go up against a giant (or why not to). Pay attention to what Michael’s has to teach you.

leadership dot #4029: misleading

I received a renewal form for the WordPress software that I use to publish these dots. In addition to all the rates and benefits, it included a targeted message saying: “We’ve enjoyed being your website partner for the last 7 years. Here’s to the next 7!” — and below that was a link to save 20% if I paid for two years upfront.

I was excited about the discount — a meaningful amount of money — but when I clicked on it, I was dismayed to learn that the discount is for NEW accounts only. Why oh why would you include such a thing on an anniversary RENEWAL email?

Sometimes, we lose sight of the message when we get caught up in using data to give the appearance of a personalized email. Yes, it has been seven years, but any goodwill generated by their remembering was lost in frustration when I tried to use the discount.

Common sense is more important than knowing how long someone has used your product.