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Newsletter #1027: The “Lessons from Empty Buildings” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

Every town has empty or abandoned buildings. Most of the time, they’re symbols of something that didn’t work — that a business had to pick up and move on somewhere else or that a company failed. But for a lot of places, empty buildings represent an opportunity.

In fact, my company, GasPedal, just bought an empty produce packaging warehouse on 44 acres of land to turn it into our new corporate headquarters and, hopefully, one of the most unique places to work in Austin. It’s just one way we’re turning something someone left behind into something remarkable.

Here are three more examples for inspiration:

1. Invest in entrepreneurs
2. Fill a need
3. Turn trash into resources
4. Check it out: Abandoned Places

1. Invest in entrepreneurs

Barclays and a charity called 3Space work together to turn underused or closed Barclays branches into spaces for local entrepreneurs and the community. They include stuff like a quiet, connected space to work, 3D printers, and workshop tools. They’re there to help small businesses get started with a place to meet, get inspired, and build stuff.

The lesson: With this service, Barclays makes friends with an important group: future small-business owners. Barclays is earning their trust, getting them through the doors, and providing them with something meaningful before they even become customers.

Learn more: Barclays

2. Fill a need

As one of the most rural areas of California, it’s hard for Tuolumne County to compete with surrounding tech hubs like Silicon Valley for new businesses and job creation. So to help bring some of that communal entrepreneurial spirit to their area, they turned an empty hospital building into an “Innovation Lab.” And they provide more than just a physical space and tools for local entrepreneurs — they also offer low- or no-cost business consulting and classes. It helps bring a lot of the stuff rural folks usually miss out on, like great internet connectivity and a community of other entrepreneurs, into one place.

The lesson: You don’t have to beat the big guys to make something to help you compete. Be resourceful with what you’ve got to provide something that’s missing in your community.

Learn more: Small Biz Survival

3. Turn trash into resources

According to Julia Christensen, author of Big Box Reuse, giant retail stores are opening up and closing shop so rapidly that “there’s not a landfill on earth big enough to put all the empty big-box buildings in.” So instead of letting an empty Walmart building in McAllen, Texas, go to waste, the city turned it into a huge library. It’s helped them save money since they didn’t start from scratch, and it’s transformed a huge eyesore into a community space.

The lesson: For a story about an average-sized town with a big library, McAllen earned a lot of press — not only because their library has state-of-the-art architecture or a crazy collection, but also because they found a clever solution for a common problem.

Learn more: New York Times

4. Check it out: Abandoned Places

Take virtual tours of abandoned places and buildings like Michigan Central Station in Detroit, the Castle of the Moors in Portugal, and the Dow Brewery in Montreal.

Check it out: Abandoned Places

Newsletter #1026: The “Lessons from Virgin Hotels” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

From a record label to an airline, credit cards, phone services, and even healthcare, Virgin’s famous for their wide range of brand extensions. Yet somehow, their stuff stays true to the same irreverent, playful flavor that makes the brand remarkable. Their new hotels are no different.

Here are some clever marketing lessons we can learn from Virgin’s newest venture:

1. Earn customer feedback early
2. Get rid of the annoying stuff
3. Don’t do something just because everyone else does
4. Check it out: Predominant.ly

1. Earn customer feedback early

Before they opened their new line of hotels, a lot of people were speculating about what crazy amenities Virgin would come up with. People tweeted stuff like, “I heard the minibars will be stocked with whipped cream and a French maid costume.” So Virgin encouraged the rumors by asking people to share ones they’ve heard or come up with rumors of their own and submit it on their website.

The lesson: That’s more than just building up hype. For a hotel that now includes condoms with the toiletries, these “rumors” were probably also used to brainstorm crazy ideas.

Learn more: New York Times

2. Get rid of the annoying stuff

No one wants to touch a hotel TV remote. No one wants to figure out the thermostat. And no one wants to be surprised by their bill later. So Virgin created an app that lets you change the room temperature, control the TV, order room service, and track your bill from your phone. Virgin also doesn’t nickel-and-dime customers on stuff like good wifi, access to a huge library of music channels, and the stuff in the mini-bar.

The lesson: Virgin knows that these typical annoyances degrade the customer experience. And a great customer experience is something their customers are willing to pay more for.

Learn more: Traveller

3. Don’t do something just because everyone else does

The Virgin Hotel in Chicago doesn’t have a front desk. They also replaced “Do not disturb” door hangers with light switches, installed corner cushions that turn into bucket seats on all of their beds, and put dog statues outside of every hotel room door. People love talking about when a company does something differently. And unique details like these are all conversation-starters for Virgin’s guests.

The lesson: They might tell a friend about the weird bed cushions, but that could also start a conversation about the nice pillows or the great room service.

Learn more: Fast Company

4. Check it out: Predominant.ly

Predominant.ly lets you pick a color from a color spectrum and shows you a range of album covers predominantly in that color. You can also sort the music by genre and preview the tracks on each album. Open Work, the makers of the site, says it’s like bringing back the thrill of the hunt you get from browsing the shelves at a record shop.

Check it out: Predominant.ly

Newsletter #1025: The “Lessons from Ice Cream” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

Think you don’t have a lot in common with an ice cream company? Maybe. But if you have tight margins, lots of competition, or a small budget, there might be more similarities than you think.

Here’s how these ice cream brands are overcoming those challenges:

1. Give them a weird experience
2. Be yourself — even if that’s “bad”
3. Put it on a stick
4. Check it out: Idioms of the World

1. Give them a weird experience

At Catbird Creamery in Maine, if you order vanilla, they’ll insist that you sample something a little more adventurous. And even if you’re going to order vanilla anyway, they want you to at least try the strawberry balsamic, tamari caramel, or green tea ginger. Catbird knows that anyone can make a good vanilla, but what makes them stand out is helping their customers see all of the other crazy stuff they can make too.

The lesson: They’re giving their customers an experience to talk about. Even if the customer doesn’t order the hot pepper flavor they just sampled, you can bet they’ll tell someone they tried it.

Learn more: Portland Press Herald

2. Be yourself — even if that’s “bad”

It may seem counterintuitive for a company to tell you their stuff isn’t good for you. But for Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, it’s what makes their stuff so good. In fact, the side of their trucks say it all: “This is the best ice cream made in Wisconsin, and it tastes so good because it has gobs of Wisconsin cream, tons of real ingredients for boat-loads of luscious flavors. That means it’s not low-fat, low-calorie, or low-anything, and that’s why everyone loves it. You want nutrition, eat carrots.”

The lesson: Hey, if they weren’t transparent with their customers, people would find out anyway — and then it would be a different story. Instead, they celebrate it.

Learn more: Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream

3. Put it on a stick

SnoBar makes alcohol infused ice cream like the Grasshopper, Brandy Alexander Chocolate Chip, and Cosmopolitan ice pops. And they’re not just alcohol flavored — there’s a full cocktail in every serving. SnoBar also shares a lot of tools on their site to help people spread the word about it with printable posters, downloadable PDFs with cocktail recipes, and cooking videos. But frozen alcohol is nothing new — SnoBar just put it on a stick, scooped it into a carton, and squeezed it into a push-up pop.

The lesson: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make something remarkable. Just make it different enough for people to talk about, then give them a bunch of ways to talk about it.

Learn more: Snobar

4. Check it out: Idioms of the World

Do you know why it’s great “to have a wide face” in Japan, or why it’s rude “to give someone pumpkins” in Spain? This post about cultural idioms around the world will help you figure it out. Into the mouth of the wolf!

Check it out: Idioms of the World

Newsletter #1024: The “Lessons from a Movie Theater that’s Still Got It” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

In an era of Netflix, Redbox, and homebody culture, Alamo Drafthouse is completely reinventing the movie theater experience. They serve awesome food and beer, have comfy seats and affordable tickets, and they’ll kick your ass out if you talk or text during the movie. But it’s more than just food, beer, and a strict talking policy that make the Alamo so beloved and successful.

Here are a few lessons from a remarkable movie theater franchise:

1. Your customers’ experiences make you different
2. Make quality a priority
3. Do what no one else will do
4. Cater to a special audience
5. Check it out: Alamo Drafthouse “No Talking” PSAs

1. Your customers’ experiences make you different

Before every movie at the Alamo Drafthouse, they show 30 minutes of clips related to the film. For example, if you’re going to see Rocky IV, they’ll show retro Dolph Lundgren fitness videos, clips from Cold War propaganda, and 1980’s boxing matches. They also do interactive screenings of cult classics each month called “Action Packs.” At this month’s The Princess Bride quote-along, they handed out inflatable swords, played “save the princess” before the show, and sold poison-themed drinks.

The lesson: In a time when most people would rather watch Netflix from the comfort of their own couch, movie theaters like Alamo Drafthouse stay relevant by stepping up the experience.

Learn more: Alamo Drafthouse

2. Make quality a priority

Aside from kicking people out who talk and text during the movie, Alamo Drafthouse also lets you reserve seats, and they don’t allow late-comers. That way nobody’s awkwardly wandering around the theater in the dark looking for seats after the movie’s started. Want to order something from their full kitchen? Just write it on a piece of paper and stick it in the slot in front of you. You don’t have to flag down your waiter or talk at all.

The lesson: Even if every theater in town is playing the same movie, you know that when you go to the Alamo Drafthouse, you don’t have to worry about the usual annoyances you run into at every other theater because they care about details like these.

3. Do what no one else will do

Last year, when Sony decided to cancel the release of The Interview after threats from North Korean hackers, a lot of people were disappointed — even President Obama. But Alamo Drafthouse’s CEO, Tim League, took the opportunity to work with 250 other independently owned theaters to create a petition and convince Sony to change their minds. When Sony did finally decide to release it, Tim was credited with the persuasion, and the Alamo screened The Interview at all 19 of their locations.

The lesson: When opportunities to be different come up, take them. Alamo Drafthouse shows that you don’t have to be the loudest or most-funded voice to make a change.

Learn more: The Daily Beast

4. Cater to a special audience

Each summer, the Alamo Drafthouse hosts Kids Camp where they show free kid-friendly movies every Friday morning. They also have Baby Days for parents with infants to come watch movies on a quieter volume in a slightly brighter theater (so you can actually see into that diaper bag).

The lesson: For a theater so invested in distraction-free movies, you would think that kids and babies aren’t welcome at the Alamo Drafthouse. But by making special days for kids, they avoid alienating parents without sacrificing their business model.

Learn more: Alamo Drafthouse Blog

5. Check it out: Alamo Drafthouse “No Talking” PSAs

Before every screening, Alamo Drafthouse shares a “no talking” PSA. Some of their guests over the years have included Patton Oswalt, Danny DeVito, Will Ferrell, and Ann Richards.

Here’s a collection of their best ones: YouTube

Who sent me this amazing gift?

So you bought someone a nice, expensive gift on Amazon. You checked the gift option, wrote them a special note, and it was super thoughtful and very sweet.

Problem is, the recipient has no idea who it came from. There’s no card, no name, no label.

Oh, wait. There it is: a tiny slip of crappily printed receipt tape with your name and gift message on it from Amazon.

Amazon's Crappy Gift Tags

The poor execution doesn’t make your gift any less thoughtful or sweet, but it does distract from it. Even worse, as the gift giver, you’ll have no idea that’s how it arrived.

When your customers pay for something quality, are you making sure that quality is a part of every detail?

Just because Google does it, it isn’t necessarily better

I often rant that Google’s “search only” view of the world doesn’t work for most people, and that folks need visible structure to understand where things go. We want folders and to know where stuff is. Techies tend to object and say, “Just search — it’s all there. Why put it in a folder?” The […]

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Newsletter #1023: The “Great Content” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.] Recently we shared a series of tips from the popular podcast, Serial. One of the most important lessons: People love to […]

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Be an advocate for your customers

This is a post from our WordofMouth.org project. Check it out for more great word of mouth marketing tips like this every day. Fantastic customer service is a huge opportunity for word of mouth marketing. Show them you care, and they’ll appreciate you and talk about you. But what if you took that kind of […]

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Newsletter: #1022: The “Great Stuff in the Mail” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.] Mail puts something physical in people’s hands — something most marketing can’t do. It’s also one of the oldest forms of […]

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