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Review: UnMarketing – Stop Marketing. Start Engaging by Scott Stratten

This review first ran in the August 27th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

“UnMarketing is all about engagement at every point of contact with your market.”

Unmarketing: Stop Marketing, Start Engaging

By Scott Stratten

John Wiley & Sons


I finished reading Scott Stratten’s book while my kids did a craft at a store here in Hamilton.

A mom and her preschool daughter arrived after us. They were first-time customers. They stood at the counter and patiently waited for a painfully long time while the manager ignored them and continued talking on the phone about a payroll problem.

I felt bad for the mom and wished John was behind the counter. John works as a slide attendant at The Fallsview Indoor Waterpark. My son and I had gone to the Niagara Falls waterpark a few weeks earlier.

John welcomed us to the park during our first hike up the stairs to the slides.  He later gave us the rundown on all the slides while we waited in line. In the afternoon, John asked my son if he was having a great time. John gave us a thumbs up after one of our more awesome wipe-outs at the end of a slide.

John could have adopted a dead stare into middle distance and treated us all like an inconvenience. But he never stopped smiling and striking up conversations. John clearly enjoys working at the waterpark and he’s happy we’re there.

While John’s a slide attendant, on that afternoon he was the waterpark’s chief marketing officer for me, my son and hundreds of other guests.

Stratten, a social marketing guru who calls Oakville home, had a similar experience at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas.  While walking through the lobby, one of the employees stopped cleaning a carpet and went out of his way to greet Stratten.

“His welcome changed my entire perception of the Wynn. Almost $3 billion went into making this megacasino resort and it was one guy who made me want to stay there. This gentleman, who made me feel welcome at his place of employment, was not only exceptional, but he was extremely rare.”

And it’s these exceptional people who get us talking. Not only do we tell family, friends and coworkers. We tell our Twitter followers, Facebook friends and YouTube subscribers. Smart business owners are joining these online conversations, connecting with prospective customers and converting current customers into fans through the power of engagement.

“If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business,” says Stratten.

Social media offers unprecedented opportunities to do exactly that. “I love the fact that with social media I get to know business owners. I can learn not just about their businesses but also about them personally. Sharing this type of connection builds greater trust than any brochure, logo or company mission statement could.”

Many business owners and entrepreneurs initially get it wrong when it comes to social media, says Stratten. “The problem with the term social media is that whenever people see the word media, they automatically think push. Media has been classically linked as a way to push your message out through a variety of methods such as television, newspapers, radio and online. However, social media isn’t media at all – it is simply a conversation between two or more people.”

Be prepared to invest a lot of time, freely share your wealth of knowledge and engage in many conversations before ever pitching your product or service. Stratten posted 10,000 tweets before making his first sales pitch online.

“You wouldn’t open a business bank account and ask to withdraw $5,000 before depositing anything. The banker would think you are a loony. Yet people go on social media, open their account, send out a few pitches for their mediocre ebook and then complain to me that this social media stuff doesn’t work.”

Along with building relationships, social media has the power to destroy reputations, cost you customers and even put you out of business. Failing to connect with unhappy campers can cause you a world of hurt. “One person calling your customer service line to complain may not have much impact in your mind, but throw in a handful of people with the same problem, an influential blog or two, and a Twitter army, and you have a good old-fashioned revolt on your hands,” says Stratten.

If you’re running or about to launch a business, you need to do two things right now. Read Stratten’s book to shamelessly steal his ideas for building relationships and engaging with current and future customers. And when you’re not reading Stratten’s book, log on to Twitter and join the conversations that are happening right now about our community and maybe even your business at #hamont.

As for the owners of The Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, they should give John a Twitter feed and Facebook page where he can continue the conversations that made me a fan of their business.

@jayrobb works and lives in Hamilton and blogs at


Review: Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit

This review first ran in the Aug.13th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Business, in Life and Business

By Charles Duhigg

Doubleday Canada


Looking to change your corporate culture? Follow Paul O’Neill’s lead and set a goal that’s all or nothing.

O’Neill was appointed CEO of Alcoa in 1987. In his first meeting with Wall Street investors and analysts, O’Neill didn’t talk about higher profits, lower costs and maximized shareholder value. Instead, he told the confused crowd that he planned to make the aluminum manufacturer the safest company in America. “I intend to go for zero injuries,” said O’Neill who then pointed out the safety exits in the hotel ballroom and what to do in case of an emergency.

One investor recalls running to a lobby pay phone, calling his 20 largest clients and telling them to immediately dump all of their stock in Alcoa. “It was literally the worst piece of advice I gave in my entire career,” the investor tells author and New York Times investigative reporter Charles Duhigg.

The Wall Street financiers were baffled but O’Neill had done his homework. “I knew I had to transform Alcoa. But you can’t order people to change. That’s not how the brain works. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”

O’Neill also knew that a journey to zero accidents was a keystone habit that all workers, the union and management would support.

“If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: they’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be the indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution.”

To better protect workers, the company needed to know why injuries were happening. And to know that, managers and workers had to study how manufacturing processes were going wrong. Fixing those processes would lead to safer, more efficient operations and higher quality.

O’Neill gave workers his home phone number and told them to call if their managers weren’t following up on safety issues. “Workers started calling, but they didn’t want to talk about accidents. They wanted to talk about all these other great ideas.” Managers who tried to cover up accidents were fired and those who embraced the journey to zero were rewarded and promoted.

Alcoa was one of the first companies to use email. The company built an electronic network so its worldwide operations could share real-time safety data. O’Neill logged on every morning and sent messages. Managers then started to share best practices and ask for help in solving issues beyond worker safety.

Within a year of O’Neill’s meet and greet with panicked investors, Alcoa’s profits hit a record high. By the time he retired in 2000, the company’s annual net income was five times larger than before he arrived. Market capitalization had risen by $27 billion. Some of Alcoa’s factories would go years without a single employee losing a workday due to an accident. The company’s overall worker injury rate fell to one-twentieth the U.S. average.

Transforming organizations by honing in on a keystone habit is one of many stories Duhigg tells to drive home the big idea of his book. Any personal, organizational or societal habit can be changed if we understand how they work. “Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple. But it is possible. And now we understand how.”

If you’re a fan of Freakonomics and the work of Malcolm Gladwell, then this book’s for you. Along with the Ballad of Paul O’Neill, you’ll learn how a hospital repaired toxic nurse-physician relations, how Target studies buying habits to identify and then market to pregnant women and new parents (the holy grail of retail), how football coach Tony Dungy turned around the sad sack Tampa Bay Buccaneers and led the Indianapolis Colts to the Superbowl, and why stressed Starbucks baristas don’t dump low-fat iced caramel macchiatos on the heads of obnoxious and rude customers.