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Going The Extra Mile

More than a few times I've had a prospective client tell me that he or she would prefer to go to the dentist than to have a portrait made. I love working with consumers like this, because it gives me the opportunity to perhaps erase the damage that one or more not-so-professional photographers have done to that prospect. Each time I confront a situation like this, I think about my own dentist, Dr. Charles Pitt, who runs an extraordinary practice in Lancaster County, PA. The location isn't all that convenient for me; it takes 50 minutes to get there. But I'm truly happy to make the drive because Charlie is the absolute best: he rescued my rapidly collapsing bite brought on my many years of shoddy dentistry that used to the norm for Army brats who moved as many times as I did.

I've known Charlie and his wife, Marla, since Jim and I did their wedding during the early days of our business. We were hired by Marla's late mom and dad, who became dear friends as well. I sought out Charlie in desperation, when my propensity for teeth-clenching was causing dental mayhem. What I saw when I first visited the practice made me know I was in the right place. And now, whenever I'm teaching about the importance of having a warm-and-welcoming studio environment, I describe Charlie's dental practice:

From the minute you walk in, you are struck by the home-like atmosphere that is decorated for the season with attractive florals. The waiting room is furnished like a living room, with comfortable furniture in attractive groupings, with occasional tables holding nicely arranged, up-to-date magazines. In the fall and winter a fire burns in the fireplace, and a large stuffed plush collie sits by it, which is a big hit with kids. You are always greeted by a friendly staff member who knows your name, and you don't experience the frenetic dashing around and shouting from one office to another that I find so irksome in other medical offices and facilities. One of the things that I appreciate most about the staff is that when you call in with an emergency, they don't treat you like you are a nuisance. With all the traveling I do, this so important, because Murphy's law being what it is, my dental emergencies always happen while I'm on the road on just when I'm about to leave (more about this in a moment).

I have a high tolerance for pain, so I don't need the many options this dental practice provides to reduce patient anxiety and discomfort, but I know this is the reason why many of their patients speak so highly of the practice. And when you do have a procedure that will result in pain later in the day, you leave with an attractive fabric "goodie bag" containing analgesics, written instructions on how to take care of your mouth as well as other ways to make you feel better, along with samples you are happy to receive.

Charlie's practice often makes the news because they give back to the community. Both he and his partner, Dusty, were raised by single mothers, and they actively contribute to organizations that support women's causes, and they have received community-wide honors for these efforts. They also make their large multi-purpose room available to community organizations, which helps to increase their community visibility.

So is there a lesson in this for photographers? I think yes. If a dental practice can make you feel good about your twice-annual checkup and do so even when you are there for what might be a painful procdeure, then we photographers can surely do the same. Everyone knows there's more competition in our industry than ever before, but most of it doesn't come close to the level of professionalism and customer care I get when I drive out of my way to Pitt-Loeffler Dental Associates. Yes, there are less-expensive dentists in my home town, just as there are cheaper photographers where you have your studio. But at the end of the day, I believe that people who can pay their routine bills — and still have even some discretionary income available to them — will seek out businesses and professionals who provide quality products and services set within a context of an exceptional experience. The appreciate dealing with those who truly are willing to go the extra mile.

Which brings me to the event that prompted this blog entry: On Friday evening, while Jim and I were eating dinner, I managed to dislodge a crown. Yes, it had been one of those teeth-clenching weeks :-). Jim wanted me to call Charlie's office right away so that I could get it re-cemented before we leave for Ireland early next week. I refused, citing the usual non-ending lists of last-minute things to do before leaving on a vacation. Well, on Saturday morning, Charlie and Marla, just happened to "drop by." I'm used to seeing Charlie on a Saturday because he and Jim often go to the shooting range to fire away at clay birds. This time, Charlie had a dental kit, because he and Marla didn't want me to be uncomfortable on vacation. So for the first time in my life, I received a dental house call. What a lovely gesture!! I would love to think that most of us would go a similar "extra mile" for our clients.

Thought you would enjoy this photo of "the procedure," being conducted in the comfort of my office desk chair. Talk about service!


What I Learned During the NFL Playoffs

Once it became clear that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be out of the running for the Super Bowl, I stopped feeling guilty about rooting for New England to go all the way. Back in 1972, I had cheered on the Miami Dolphins when they broke they league record by racking up 16 consecutive wins in a single season; so it was just delicious to savor the excitement of a possible 17-win season. As was the case with the Dolphin's record-setting game, I got so nervous with the Patriot's twists and turns that I had to calm myself down by working on a slide show for Marathon's new Strategic Marketing Workshop series while I kept one eye on the game.

I couldn't help but notice the Wendy's ads that punctuated the action. Although certainly not aimed at my age demographic, something fascinated me about them. So I went to the Wendy's website and did some surfing. It was a serendipitous move, as I got lots of good examples to illustrate a point I wanted to make in the upcoming workshop program: You need to clearly define the Core Values of your business before you start to market.

Well, the longer I stayed on the site, the hungrier I got for a hamburger. It was hard not to, because I kept being drawn back to this rhythmical message: "Burgers made to order so they're always hot and juicy." Wow! What a great job of looking at a product from the consumer's point of view. The promise Wendy's was making was to give me EXACTLY what I want when I'm hungry for a hamburger. It was all I could do to keep from getting in the car. On several sections of the site, I found the company's Core Values clearly articulated. Here they are:

>At Wendy's, we're unrivaled in our passion for giving people what they want - and uncompromising in giving people what they deserve.

>At Wendy's, we won't cut corners on anything. Not on fresh, quality ingredients. Not on how we treat people. Not on giving back. And certainly not on being the defender of good taste for people everywhere.

If you take the time to dissect Wendy's current ad campaign (you can see videos of them on the site), you'll see how these Core Values run through the entire campaign.

Another part of the site that I really loved is the
About Us section. When you go there, you'll find some great business advice from Wendy's Founder, the late Dave Thomas. You can read Dave's values by clicking on the graphic below, then find the "In His Values" link on mini-site tribute to Dave.

Then, get some real words of business wisdom by clicking on the "In His Words" link found on the mini-site.

My favorite Dave quote is this: "You can't have a clean floor with a dirty mop bucket. To be successful, you need to take care of the basics of your business - and that means making sure you don't overlook the little details."

Well . . . the Patriots won the game, I finished my slide show, and I confirmed that photographers can learn a lot about marketing from "the big boys." The next day I stopped at Wendy's and had a really good burger. I'm pleased to report that it was indeed made to order and definitely qualified as hot and juicy. Making promises and keeping them . . . what a great way to build a brand.

Say Hello to Judy . . .

Last night I got a call from Judy Grann, my friend and teaching partner at Guerrilla Management Workshops. Judy is vice-president of SuccessWare, and she is now a proud iPhone owner. No, she didn't stand in line with the hoards of eager consumers who were desperate to wrap their hands around the latest got-to-have-it Apple toy, she took a chance and dropped by an AT&T store after work and got lucky. She couldn't wait to call me when she got home, even though it was on her standard-issue office phone. She was having too much fun holding it to get it set up!

Why the big deal about Judy's new phone? It just reminded me of how powerful a brand can be in creating loyal clients that are ready at a moment's notice to purchase from you. I hate cell phones with a passion, but I'm going to buy an i-Phone and switch carriers because Apple has added just what I need to make a cell phone something that will improve my life, rather than just intrude on it. And I'm willing to pay the price because I trust the company: their products have never let me down, and they make me happy.

You can read more about how Apple and other companies have elevated their brand to "lovemark" status in a book by Kevin Roberts entitled
Lovemarks - The Future Beyond Brands. You'll learn what it takes to turn YOUR brand into a lovemark that assures a loyal clientele.