Catching Up Over Coffee

Scene: Local coffee shop. After a couple of crazy weeks, we finally have time to have a cuppa together. I just got my vanilla americano and you just got your (insert name of fancy coffee drink). We're looming around a bit looking for a place to sit. Two old guys fold up their newspapers and get up, leaving a pair of big comfy fluffy chairs open for us to sit and chat a while.
We might have to have donuts, too.

~~~

You: So, Sugar... what have you been up to?

Me: Oh girl... (or "Dude")... I feel like I've just been going and going!

You: I know, I saw all the pictures you posted!

Me (Nodding and smiling, refraining from asking why you didn't comment, like, share, or pin my pictures): Oh, cool.

Both: *Take sips from our hot coffees.*

You: I saw your tomatoes. They look yummy!

Me: They are! We just picked a few ripe ones off the vine. What is it about growing your own veggies that makes them taste so much better?

You: Oh, and I saw you were back out at Ford. Did you really kick a field goal on Ford Field?

[caption id="attachment_1237" align="alignnone" width="280" caption="Yes, I wore flip-flops for that field goal!"][/caption]

 

Me: Yup. I was one of the only ones to get it in! I think there's some video floating around. I think all the guys that missed might have tried to get it deleted.

Both: *Stifled giggles. Or laughs, if you're a dude. Coffee sips.*

You: I saw you in a helmet. That was attractive. ;)

Me: Haha! Yeah, that was right before going off-road with a pro driver. I might have screamed a little. Gosh, you know, there's so much to share about that trip! The cars, the trend sessions, the new Fusion, our TechShop trip... I really do have to get my post up.

You: Did you really go to the Safari Park the next day? I would have been so tired from all that travel.

Me: Girl (or "dude"), I did and I WAS!! I was so tired, I let Siri lead me part way to Palm Springs after mistakenly going 30 minutes south to San Diego ZOO, as opposed to the Safari Park that was 15 minutes east from my house. So I pulled over on the side of the road (after nearly two hours of going left when I should have gone right and vice versa) and screamed. my. head. off!

You: Nooooo!

Me: Yes! Imagine a psychotic woman screaming STUPID STUPID STUPID at the top of her lungs. My kids are still having nightmares. But we finally made it and as soon as I walked in through the lush trees, I felt so relaxed.

You (Scared to say anything that might set me off. Really scared if you're a dude.): Oh good.

[caption id="attachment_1242" align="alignnone" width="280" caption="The Sugar Cubes on the Safari Tram"][/caption]

 

Me: The kids and I definitely had fun at the Summer Safari. I've GOT to get that post up!

You: Well, it's a good thing you got to relax at that health ranch in Mexico and then and at a seaside hotel in La Jolla the week before.

Me: Yeah, I wish I could go back now. That reminds me. I have to get posts up today about those fabulous places, too. I can't wait to share them ALL with you!

You: Sorry I missed the Social Media Day party. It looked like a blast!

Me: It was! There were so many people there. Amazing how large this community has grown. So many great people.

[caption id="attachment_1243" align="alignnone" width="280" caption="Photo courtesy of Aspen Spin"][/caption]

 

Both: (Smile and nod and sigh.)

You: Wow... you've got a LOT of writing to do.

Me: I know. I should probably get going, but I'm enjoying our chat. So tell me... what have you been up to?

You: ______________ .

*This is the part where you leave me a link in the comments so I can sit with my coffee and catch up on YOU. :)

.

Rethinking the Return on Relationship

I hated the term "Return on Relationship" the first time I read it. I had been screwed over and used by a few people that I considered friends around the time that this phrase was becoming popularized. I wasn't wrong about being upset that people were talking about cashing in on  friendships, but I might have been a little too hurt at the time, making my initial response to the concept pretty negative. Can you blame me? "No" is the correct answer, okay?  This morning, I woke up to a mention on Facebook by one of my favorite Social Media stars, Scott Monty. He was responding to a discussion about why bloggers want relationships with brands, what does that relationship look like, is it worth it for the brand, what were the drawbacks, etc. After his initial cheeky response ("Free stuff"), he talked about working with bloggers in a creative way that was more important and meaningful than just giving random bloggers free stuff.

This is by no means a new conversation, but the questions keep being asked, so clearly, we are all still wondering whether blogger/brand relationships work and who is doing it right. For some reason, I've been lucky enough to work with a few amazing brands, so I thought I'd opine.

Last week, I spent a day and a half at Verizon's Innovation Center in San Francisco. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, I found that I was surrounded by artists, promoters, popular tech writers, a couple of VP's... and then it came to tell the table about myself. I started by saying:

"Hi, I'm Sugar Jones, and I have no idea how I got in here."

It was an awkward moment that got a good laugh, but truly, when I'm on some of these trips, I can't help but line myself up against the other attendees and wonder what about me got me on the plane and behind the curtain. As I gave a quick background, (sales & marketing, blogger for a few years, decent following on Twitter), it started to make a little more sense. I'm pretty much an average female consumer with kids that has x amount of dollars to spend on stuff. Also, I have a big mouth both on line and off. Beyond that, I get really excited about the things I like. Not only do I get excited about interacting with a product or brand, but because of my sales & marketing background, I get excited (while being fully aware the whole time) how it is that brand is reeling me in.

In case you think I get suckered a lot, I must tell you that I'm quite a discerning person and definitely not a fan of crap. I called the Volt out way back when, didn't I? Okay then.

Knowing I was in over my head with all the pros on the Facebook thread this morning, I still jumped in and gave my plebian response... to which none of the pros responded. I'm taking that as a resounding "Meh" from the elders. That's okay. They were talking about PR stuff. I was just responding as a simple blogger.

Here were the simple points I was trying to make boiled down to their essence:

  • Most bloggers DO just want free stuff. The return on that relationship is going to suck.
  • SOME bloggers are incredibly loyal for the experiences that a brand creates for them, regardless of stuff.
  • Being treated like we belong in the room makes us really freaking happy.

The return a brand gets from a blogger depends on so many factors. You see a bunch of companies (or their PR group) sending out thousands of emails hoping that something will stick. If the blogger responds, they'll ask for the product for free, maybe a payment for the post, and IF they like the product, they might tweet about it. That's all they should expect with that level of engagement.

Then you get a company like Verizon that gathered a group of us together to ask us how they were doing, what could they do better, and how can we work with them in the areas that they are lacking. Then, they wow us with their new technologies and their third party products that we got so excited about, we couldn't wait to snap and post pictures to all of our platforms. Before we left, they gave us a few cool products and a T-Shirt that proves we got to hang out there. What do they get in return? A loud group of outspoken people talking over each other about all of their shortcomings and praising them where they are getting it really right, PLUS, some of us run straight to our Verizon store after our trips to buy (with actual dollars) the cool stuff they introduced to us.

Yes, that's what I did.

Or take Ford. They bring a group of bloggers along with their traditional auto journalists out to Detroit, give them inside information into their technologies, making us swoon with delight at all that they are doing to be better stewards of our world, followed up with some great experiences on their test tracks, including drag racing each other in F-150's, and guess what? They now have boots on the ground talking all of their friends and neighbors into buying a Ford.

Yes, we are still planning to buy a Ford. We're just enjoying a few more months of no car payment.

Then there's Nintendo. They have the blogger relationship DOWN! The group that handles our ambassadorship is constantly delighting us with random packages and fun experiences to showcase the functionality of their products. When you add up how much all of our "free stuff" costs, it's really not very much. I mean, we could all go out and buy these items without a second thought. But the cool part is we get these games before everyone else and in a way that delights us. For instance, for the release of one mystery game, we received a random package with a message in a bottle. The message wasn't visible until we used the blue light flashlight from the second package to decipher it. We knew something else was coming, but had to wait until the next day to find out what that something was. It was a mystery about a mystery.

Delightful!

Brands that are thinking about working with bloggers need to decide what return they want on those relationships. They don't have to take us on lavish trips or send us free stuff all the time, and bloggers shouldn't expect that. With all the noise out there, brands do need to get more creative; be more delightful. Do they just want a bunch of random links leading back to their site or do they want to create an army of raving fans, sold out on their product or service? Do they want to give a thousand bloggers a little tchotchke or do they want to give a smaller group of compelling bloggers a really cool experience? Neither is right or wrong. It just depends on the return the brand is looking for. Regardless of which approach a brand takes, the old axiom rings true:

You get what you give. 

PS: Bloggers... this goes for us, too. ;)

 

2011: What a Year!

I knew it was going to be a big one, but I had not idea what was coming.

The year started off with a fabulous trip to Ford headquarters in Detroit. You know what? 9 degrees in January is really not that bad! As part of a group of bloggers and journalists hosted by Ford, I got to enjoy the North American International Auto Show where Ford unveiled more cars with green technology that makes sense. A pleasant bonus was being introduced to The Head and the Heart at a show sponsored by Pandora one evening. They're a cool indie band from Seattle that I absolutely fell in love with. Needless to say, my new favorite Pandora station is named after them.

Spring sprung with all kinds of interesting fun.

My husband and I got back together, for one. Right after that, I returned to Austin for SxSWi with a blow up doll. Judy was a big hit, standing out in the crowd and getting her picture taken all over the place. Quite a success since she was wearing my client's logo the whole time. Word of caution: always take a spare blow up doll... just in case.

In April, my friend, Sondra and I, along with a bunch of usual suspects in the San Diego social media scene raced through the Gaslamp looking for answers to clues in the Fiji Scavenger Hunt. SO much fun! We definitely need to do that again. That same month, my Fab Over Forty friend, Kari Solyntjes asked me to be her So Cal correspondent for the Redbook party in honor of the Kardashians Mother's Day cover. It was a great party and I was loving Kris and Kim... which makes the whole sham marriage scam even slimier for me. Oh well. The cupcakes were awesome. Ask SweatPantsMom.

And just like I envisioned on my dream board, I was featured in our local rag, the San Diego Magazine as part of the Best of North County issue! I got to spotlight a few things I love about the seaside town I was living in: Oceanside. That issue came out in May, just in time for my birthday. What a gift to unwrap!

That summer, Blogher came to San Diego! I was pleased to answer questions about the event at our local station, KUSI, although I was a wee bit hoarse from the Vicks party at East Village Tavern + Bowl the night before. No worries, though. I had plenty of cough syrup to soothe the throat! One special event was a dinner hosted by Sony Pictures. We got to preview Pan Am, a show I am still ticked about being canceled. Jets and swank... how can you say no to that? Aiming Low hosted its first official BlogHer party, Come As You Are. Robin Plemmons tattoed me with some nice words on my arm ("I will cut a bitch") before we headed down to jump on beds at the CheeseburgHer party. It was so great seeing all of my favorite bloggers in my town. I'm pretty sure the consensus was that everyone wanted to return to our fine city. I know it's far for many, but oh my lanta, it's worth the trip.

Also that summer, I was part of a group I like to call "The Strawberry Girls." Five bloggers from across the country convened on the strawberry fields of Monterey to learn all about my favorite berry from the California Strawberry Commission. We learned about the safety and transportation of the strawberry, as well as tasting some incredible sweet and savory dishes and drinks flavored with them. We each hosted a party in our own regions. The LA party I got to host was the final leg of the tour. The food and presentation was a big hit with all my guests, as was discovering the California Strawberries app that holds all kinds of nutritional information and recipes in store.

Fall came and it was back to business. Kids went back to school and I went to work. I even got myself an office, cuz I'm all serious like that. So serious that I painted purple tulips on the wall. Sondra and I soft-launched Smart & Social, hosting a few social media seminars and strategy sessions for beginning bloggers and business women. We've also been strategizing on some webinars to get more bang for our bucks; bucks being time.

The end of the year brought a couple of trips to my high school workplace, Knott's Berry Farm. The kids loved the trips so much, they now want season tickets. Another sweet experience was going to the Pantages for a symphony performance in honor of 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda. It doesn't suck being a brand ambassador for Nintendo. :)

And just for giggles, I launched Stuff Mexicans Like. Orale!

My year is coming to a close with a new beginning. I'm enjoying the sweet serenity of a new home to start the new year and the next chapter of my life off right. I'm excited to see what 2012 has in store!

Back Seat Fun

Still going through all my notes and video from the Forward with Ford event this week. For now, I thought I'd show you some of the experience. Safety is a top priority at Ford. What better way to demonstrate the capability of their cars to safely navigate through weather than to flood a track, stick a blogger in the back seat of a Mustang, and toss her around?

Warning... I get a little screamy...

I have GOT to get one of those bad boys! The Mustang, I mean. ;)

Looking Forward with Ford

I'm at Ford corporate headquarters in Dearborn right now. I'm being overwhelmed with information, but it's all good stuff. There are nearly 200 writers here learning about how Ford is using future trends to shape their cars and the way they do business. Among the trends we're covering are Youth Influence, Aging Population, and Emerging Technologies. Last night, we were treated to the words of Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point, Brink, and Outliers. I don't think I can express to you how very incredibly geeked out I was to meet him! Seeeeee...

Malcolm talked about a paradigm shift that occurred in the 70s that has created circumstances that we are all experiencing today. Later that night, over drinks with the other social media folks here, we talked about what he had to say and all agreed that we were all nodding our heads about what he was saying. What was he saying? I'll have that up later this week. If you're not already subscribed to my feed or signed up to get my posts via email, please do so. I wouldn't want you to miss what he had to say. It's important.

In one of the sessions this morning, we discussed Millenials and what they are expecting from companies. Funny, but I identified with so much of what they want. Is it because I have children that age? Is it because I live in California where that sort of thinking has been around for a while? I'm not sure. I just remember nodding my head at all the talk of simplifying life, to the point of changing the idea of car ownership. I'm still Gen X enough to want my own car, but for the next generation of drivers, sharing is becoming more acceptable. My daughter in San Francisco is a member of the Zip Car service. Whenever she needs a car, it's there. But the rest of the time, she's on her bike, taking the Muni, or walking. She avoids a large car payment, monthly parking fees, and maintenance costs. Of course that's all built into the Zip service, but not to the extent that a car owner realizes those costs.

We also talked about people returning to urban living. This is a big one for me. I would LOVE to live where I can work and play and take an elevator downstairs to the market. If you go to the cool new neighborhoods in San Diego's downtown area, you'll find blocks and blocks of really beautiful buildings, hip and modern, rising to the sky. On the ground floors are cafes, markets, stores, and offices. The area, once semi-abandoned, is becoming a place that people are not just going to for work or a night out at the newest restaurant, but also a place to call home. Why are we feeling more comfortable about living in denser environments? According to sociologists and trend analysts, we're becoming more tolerant because of our global neighborhood: the internet.

That takes me to all the emerging technologies. Oh wow... I don't think I'll ever want to leave my car. And the safety presentation was another great session filled with information on how Ford is working to keep drivers and passengers safer. There's a lot to share, including a video on booster seats for kids that parents will want to see. Too much to add into this post. But I'll save that for tomorrow... after we go see an actual crash test!

There's a lot going on in the world right now. So many shifts and changes. It's great to see an "old" company like Ford be so active about the future of not only their own brand and business, but the lives of their drivers now and into the future.

~~~

You can follow the conversation on Twitter: #FordTrends