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Newsletter #1030: The “Lessons from Blue Bottle Coffee” 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.]

Blue Bottle Coffee isn’t your average coffee shop. They take pride in being coffee snobs who take extreme measures to make the perfect brew. And it paid off for them last year when they raised over $25 million in VC investment.

Here are three lessons from how Blue Bottle earns loyal customers and fans:

1. Teach people something
2. Create a unique experience
3. Invite people into your company’s intimate spaces
4. Check it out: WriterKata

1. Teach people something

The world of fancy coffee can be a daunting one. The most complicated brews can take the “hand of a surgeon” with the “improvisation of a musician,” according to Blue Bottle. But it’s OK, they’ll teach you how to do it. Their site has brewing lessons for everything from your standard French press to the intense Nel drip method. Even if you’ve never brewed coffee before, each lesson is easy to understand and makes the process look fun and creative, not scary.

The lesson: When you teach a customer how to do something, you give them an opportunity to look smart in front of someone else. You can bet that Blue Bottle’s customers can’t wait to show off their new chemex brewing skills and milk art.

Learn more: Blue Bottle Coffee Brewing Guides

2. Create a unique experience

For anyone who’s not a coffee snob, a visit to a Blue Bottle Cafe might be torture. Their painstaking processes take a lot of fancy equipment and a lot of time. But for coffee enthusiasts, it’s what makes their cafes a tourist destination. While they’re watching someone make their perfect cup of coffee from vintage machinery, they’re surrounded by other people who geek out over the same stuff as them. It’s about a lot more than just grabbing a cup of coffee.

The lesson: Even with Blue Bottle’s mail-in subscription service and a Starbucks on every corner, people will make pilgrimages to go to Blue Bottle’s cafes. That’s because when you create a remarkable experience, you create something bigger than just a product.

Learn more: Inc.

3. Invite people into your company’s intimate spaces

Usually, Blue Bottle’s cupping room (or tasting room) in Oakland is off-limits to the public — a strictly business, distraction-free zone with no music, no meetings, and barely any talking allowed. That way, Blue Bottle employees can give their coffee tasting some intense focus. But every once in a while, they open it up to the world and have a band and a big party for their “Cupping Room Sessions.” It’s a way to feature local musicians and give Blue Bottle’s fans a peek into one of their most sacred spaces.

The lesson: When you bring people behind the scenes, you’re helping them feel a stronger connection to your company. For Blue Bottle, since these parties are held in what they call their “sanctuary,” that’s especially true.

Learn more: Blue Bottle’s Blog

4. Check it out: WriterKata

At Blue Bottle, they make great coffee by perfecting methods that have been around forever and making small improvements each time. A kata, or a simple, repetitive exercise, is kind of like that. WriterKata uses that principle to help you improve your writing, one sentence at a time.

Check it out: WriterKata

Newsletter #1029: The “More than Just a Restaurant” 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.]

Restaurants have a lot of the same stuff you might have, like a strategic location, operating expenses, inventory, and busy and slow times. They’re also in a tough industry where you have to get creative to compete.

Here’s how three different restaurants are making the most of what they’ve got to bring more customers in:

1. A drop-off spot
2. A sidewalk sale
3. A place to play bridge
4. Check it out: Brunch City

1. A drop-off spot

Chances are, if you’re going on a road trip, you’re going to pass plenty of Waffle Houses on the way. And now, they’re using their convenient, right-off-the-highway locations to turn their diners into delivery drop-off spots. Waffle House is partnering with Roadie, the “Uber of package delivery,” so that travellers can pick up and drop off packages to make a little cash (and eat a couple waffles) on their road trips.

The lesson: We’re talking about Waffle House here — not some cool start up or hipster restaurant. Yet despite being the diner you usually see in front of a Motel 6, Waffle House is using their best asset to be a part of innovative, exciting stuff.

Learn more: The Verge

2. A sidewalk sale

Restaurants have a lot of overhead: plates, utensils, pots, pans, glassware, silverware. And this stuff doesn’t last forever either. As table cloths wear out or coffee mugs chip, restaurants have to replace them. But at Cotogna and Quince, two neighboring restaurants in San Francisco, they use this aging inventory as an opportunity. They set out gently used stuff for their annual “Smallwares Sidewalk Sale” and invite the community to shop, catch some brunch, and help them clean house.

The lesson: Now that’s how you take a problem and turn it into clever marketing. They’re saving a little money, bringing people into their restaurant, and getting rid of stuff they don’t want all at the same time.

Learn more: Restaurant Business

3. A place to play bridge

The dead zone between lunch and dinner is a slow time for most restaurants. But at Fazoli’s, an Italian food franchise, from 2:00-5:00 PM they let the elderly community know it’s officially bridge time. They invite bridge-loving seniors to come in during this off-time to gather, play bridge, and get free Italian lemon ice. For the customers, they get in a lot of social interaction and a chance to eat before the usual dinner crowd shows up.

The lesson: How can you use your off hours or slow times to serve a group in your community?

Learn more: The BridgeTable

4. Check it out: Brunch City

Can you recognize these tiny paper cityscapes perched on top of the foods they’re famous for?

Check it out: Brunch City

Newsletter #1028: The “Lessons from Employers” 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.]

Like marketers, employers have to get creative to stand out from the competition, offer something worth talking about, and share the human side of their company.

Here’s how employers from Sears, Amazon, and Intel are doing it:

1. Be nice to your competition’s upset customers
2. Make a big statement
3. Tell a great story
4. Check it out: Common Mythconceptions

1. Be nice to your competition’s upset customers

Target’s having a tough time in Canada, and they’re closing a lot of their stores. That means a lot of Canadians are losing jobs. So to help, Sears Canada is offering Target employees the same discounts their workers get at Sears. They’re also encouraging the people who got laid off to apply for a job with them.

The lesson: That’s not just smart for recruiting new employees from Target’s recently unemployed. It also makes Sears look good in front of Target Canada’s newly displaced customers.

Learn more: The Wall Street Journal

2. Make a big statement

Each year, Amazon offers their warehouse employees up to $5,000 to quit their jobs. But it isn’t a layoff — it’s an opportunity to evaluate if they want to stick around. Amazon doesn’t necessarily want their employees to quit, but in the long run, if they don’t want to be there, it’s not good for the company anyway. And as it turns out, fewer than 10 percent of the employees who were offered the deal took it last year.

The lesson: A big offer like that says a lot about the kind of workplace Amazon wants to build. It also shows their customers they want things to be done right in the long term even if it costs them some money in the short term.

Learn more: CNN

3. Tell a great story

“If you tried to call Karthik Natarajan on his smartphone in his lab in Oregon, you simply would never get through. Ever, period. Karthik might as well be smiling at us from the dark side of the Moon.” That’s the beginning to a post on Intel’s corporate blog titled, “Where I Work: Cone of silence” (and it’s a good read). It explains in detail what goes on inside their RF Testing Lab, Karthik’s daily routine, and what he does for Intel products. That’s not just an employee bio on their “About Us” page, and it’s not just a quick description on a job posting — it’s a well-written, interesting story about a real Intel employee.

The lesson: Unless you’re already a part of the industry, it’s not easy to understand the work that goes on behind a big tech company like Intel. Great stories like these help put a human face to the work and give people a relatable, repeatable story to tell a friend.

Learn more: Intel’s Blog

4. Check it out: Common Mythconceptions

Good news: Swallowed gum doesn’t take seven years to digest, and it’s OK to swim right after you eat. Learn more about these myths — plus why you can safely wake up a sleepwalker — in this infographic from Information is Beautiful.

Check it out: Common Mythconceptions

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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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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