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Archive for the 'Hall of Fame' Category

Have you noticed more companies lowering their guard when it comes to communicating in a lighthearted style?

We have only anecdotal observations on this, but as social media change the nature of the relationships between companies and their stakeholders, we’ve noticed an uptick in the number of companies working humor into their routine communication efforts.

At the subtle end of the humor spectrum, for example, the software company Techsmith includes the following privacy statement at the end of its email newsletters:

We’re happy to have you on our list, and since we want to keep you all to ourselves, we never share your email address with anyone.

“We want to keep you all to ourselves” is a pleasant and slightly offbeat way to convey both the privacy assurance and the idea that Techsmith values its customers.

At the other end of the spectrum—far, far at the other end—the online music retailer CD Baby has some fun with its version of letting customers know their orders are on the way:

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our world-renowned packing specialist lit a local artisan candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, May 17, 2011.

We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as “Customer of the Year.”

Such an over-the-top message wouldn’t work for a bank or a medical products supplier, to be sure. However, the humor probably promotes a closer emotional bond with CD Baby, if only for poking fun at other companies that take themselves a little too seriously.

Have you seen notable examples of “business funny” that suggest a more relaxed approach to business communication (outside of advertising, that is)? Would you consider having your students try a writing exercise in this vein?

By the way, we’re going to take a short break and will begin posting again in mid-August. Have a great summer!



Situations that involve negative news are sometimes opportunities in disguise. After Toyota had issued several vehicle recalls and been subjected to quite a bit of media scrutiny regarding product quality, the company’s chief quality officer took the opportunity to discuss the meaning of a product recall and explain how Toyota was responding to the situation.We've annotated a copy of the news release that you can download from SlideShare or from the link below.



One of the most powerful advantages of electronic media is the ability to structure the design and delivery of a message in a way that supports the optimal flow of the various information points within the message—matching form with function, in other words.The brokerage firm TD Ameritrade did this beautifully on a webpage that directs the reader's eye on a clear path through a well-organized message. We've annotated an eight-slide PowerPoint presentation that shows each step in the communication flow.  Download from here or from SlideShare.



A few readers have reported difficulties with downloading the classroom slides that accompany some of our blog posts. For your convenience, all the slides are now available on SlideShare at http://www.slideshare.net/Bovee.



The project management blog Fear No Project provides a good example of how less can be more when a writer wants to keep the focus on textual content. As this annotated PowerPoint slide shows, the design is about as minimal as one can possibly get, but it supports blogger Bruce McGraw's goal of sharing in-depth project management information with his readers.



Want to make an unpleasant situation even worse? Spring the news on people with no warning.

Chargify, which provides securing billing solutions for small to midsized e-commerce companies, charges its clients flat monthly fees based on the number of customers they have. This tiered pricing plan keeps costs low for e-commerce startups that still have few revenue-generating customers.

Until recently, the lowest tier in Chargify’s pricing plan had an extremely attractive price point—it was free. The idea behind the free tier was to attract e-commerce companies still in their startup phase, and as they grew, they would grow into the higher tiers and become paying clients. However, Chargify discovered that many companies in the free tier grew very slowly, if they grew at all, and Chargify wound up supporting a lot of users that weren’t bringing in any revenue.

In order to pull in enough money to deliver the dependable, sustainable services that its clients needed, Chargify realized it needed to raise prices, and that included charging lowest-tier clients for the first time. The company announced its new pricing structure and immediately came under attack from many of its clients—for the price increases themselves, for the lack of any advance notice, and for Chargify’s refusal to “grandfather” existing customers under their original pricing plans. Some called the company “greedy” or “stupid,” and a few went so far as to accuse it of bait-and-switch tactics.

As bloggers and commenters across the Internet piled on, the technology news site TechCrunch summed up with the situation with an article that began, “It’s been a rough day for Chargify . . .” After spending two long days responding to criticisms on Twitter, industry blogs, and other venues, co-founder David Hauser wrote an unusually frank blog post titled “How to Break the Trust of Your Customers in Just One Day: Lessons Learned from a Major Mistake.” He said the company made “a massive mistake” in the way it handled the changes to its pricing model. By failing to alert customers well in advance of the change, he continued, Chargify “broke a trust that we had developed with our customers over a long period of time, and will take much to repair. We should have communicated our need and desire to remove free plans and provided more information about how this would happen, and over a period of time leading up to the change.”

The services Chargify provides take money to deliver, and the price increases were necessary, but everyone involved agrees that the situation was not handled well. Hauser and his team will continue to learn new lessons as they expand Chargify, but you can bet they won’t ever initiate a price increase without giving their customers plenty of warning. (By the way, if you teach Introduction to Business, this story has a number of interesting angles to discuss in class, including the difficulty of validating a business model before it goes live, the financial imperative to jettison unprofitable customers, and the pluses and minuses of the freemium pricing strategy.)



The energy drink company Red Bull has one of the largest fan bases on Facebook, giving it the opportunity to connect with millions of enthusiastic customers. This annotated PowerPoint slide illustrates the company's audience-centered approach to social media—sharing information and stimulating conversations among fans—rather than the traditional mode of delivering promotional messages to passive receivers.



This blog post from Ignite Media demonstrates several strong writing techniques, including unified, coherent paragraphs and effective transitions.

Update 30 December 2013: The post on the Ignite Media blog (from February 2010) has been moved to the site's archives and reformatted; we've updated the link above in case you still want to use it for class discussion.

 



This blog post from the developers of the FreshBooks online business accounting system demonstrates audience focus in multiple ways, starting with the effort behind the message. Every business worries about how quickly customers will pay their bills, so FreshBooks analyzed the customer data it had on hand to see which payment terms and invoice messages generated the quickest responses. This alone is remarkable customer service; the audience-focused presentation of the information makes it that much better.

We have annotated a copy of the post that you can share with your students (on two PowerPoint slides).

(The PowerPoint slides were updated on 10-09-10 to correct two of the annotations.)