Knock-Off Irony

While cleaning up my scrapbooking room, I came across mementos from our trip to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. These mementos reminded me of a post I intended to write after the trip, as it struck me as ironic while we were in China. The irony? There were no knock-offs of Olympic paraphernalia while we were in Beijing. You could only find Olympic gear at actual events and at the Olympic Village. We all assumed there would be opportunities to buy all over the city, and figured we could find cheaper prices at the markets. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the only place to find Olympic items was at the over-priced, sanctioned events!

China is known for knock-offs of brand-name everything, from purses and shoes to DVDs and software. It’s just ironic that they managed to rid the city of black-market knock-offs for the Olympics. I assume it was part of the country-wide campaign to put their best foot forward as they stepped onto the world stage. But it does make you wonder: why can’t they control this issue with other manufactured items in the country? Are there just too many factories to oversee, too few incentives to stop the illegal sale of knock-offs, or corruption that makes it profitable? Several locals mentioned that many people in China were not supportive of hosting the Olympics, as it caused financial and emotional disruption for a lot of the population, particularly in Beijing. Maybe the lack of Olympic gear was somewhat of a boycott by the citizens of the city? This seems pretty far-fetched though, as the government continues to maintain a tight reign on citizens’ rights and daily lives.

While I’m not sure why we couldn’t get knock-offs of the Olympic gear, I am sure that this should help the rest of the world take a stand against the sale of knock-offs. This proves that China does have some ability to police the manufacturing industry, and that by partnering with other countries, counterfeit items on the market could be reduced. It further points to the deeper issues with copyright laws in China, and that those laws can be upheld when the world requires China to protect them.

A Pleasant Experience

For those of you from somewhere other than the great state of Texas, you may be unfamiliar with the concept of Tollways. Tollways are these amazing privatized roads that make a commute much more bearable, as long as you have a Tolltag. Because the roads are privatized, you are required to pay for the right to drive. A little more than 5 years ago, the process of obtaining a Tolltag was pretty much a nightmare. There was only one office for the whole metroplex, and it was located in an awkward stop near a downtown area. And their hours of operation? You guessed it, 9 am to 5 pm… prime business hours. Couple that with the downtown location and horrible online service, and you’ve got a bunch of unhappy customers. When you finally received your Tolltag, it was a clunky square plate to adhere to your window using some gooey-velcro adhesive that generally didn’t hold up to the Texas heat. All of this to say, I was dreading the experience with a Tolltag purchase.

However, I must retract all the negative feelings and battering the North Texas Tolltag Association after my recent experience with them. First, they’ve added a second building in a more central location for making the initial purchase of a Tolltag, and added centers all over the metroplex for bill pay and updating your account. The website has been re-designed to offer information about new toll roads and construction, payment options, and other helpful information in an easy-to-navigate layout. The website also mentioned that the hours of operation had been extended from 7 am to 7 pm, giving business people plenty of time to make the trip. I was further impressed as I drove along looking for my destination that a branded sign pointed to the NTTA building that was by hidden trees. I appreciated the directions, as I would have passed it completely were it not for the sign. When I walked in, a sign told me exactly how to proceed, which makes everyone’s job easier. The NTTA forms and office boast a clever new Marketing slogan, “Stop throwing money out the window”. This is clever for two reasons: 1) you save money by pre-paying for a Tolltag, as the cost per entrance/exit decreases, and 2) because previously you were having to fish quarters out of your purse to toss into the meters as you drove through. It’s a great slogan, perfect for encouraging the purchase of a Tolltag by helping people understand that it saves you both time and money. I filled out my form and dealt with a very nice customer service lady who explained the new features of the tag. Then, she hands me this beautiful package with sleek branding, account information, and NTTA contact information. The package was about the size of an old-school cd case, perfect for keeping it handy in the glove box of my car. Finally, she finished by giving me a thin 3″X3″ plastic tab with adhesive all over the back, to place under my rear-view mirror. No more struggling to keep my tag adhered to the window, and no more clunky distractions out of the corner of my eye. This new design also eliminated an internal problem for NTTA. For years, people wanted to just buy one tag, and then use it among several vehicles that didn’t travel the Tollway on the same day. Now, if you remove the tag from the windshield, it automatically de-activates it. This is also nice because you don’t have to worry about your tag being lost or stolen, but still being used by someone else. I told the lady that I loved the new streamlined process, and to pass along the compliment to her managers. It was an AWESOME experience. And to top it all off? I made the whole trip in about 15 minutes, from exiting my car to re-entering my car, only 15 minutes! I was so surprised and pleased with my experience that I went home and told my brother and his friend about it… and they both said they’d had an awesome experience as well. This solidified my resolve to write a post immediately, proving that people do recognize and recommend a good customer experience, even for the most mundane tasks.

I’ve talked about good customer service on this blog before, and I must say, the complete turn around by NTTA hits the nail on the head. They really listened to what their customers wanted: more convenience in purchase locations, account management, and in using the tag. They really listened to their staff and examined internal problems to offer solutions that would not disrupt the daily operations and use of the tag. I think a lot of other businesses can learn from the tactics employed by NTTA, and we can all stop dreading the horrible experience, as it no longer exists.

Freddo Fridays

I’m normally a Starbucks drinker, but I recently dropped into Peet’s for my morning fix. I was surprised to see a hand-written sign advertising “Freddo Fridays”, a deal that offer Freddos for $2 every Friday this summer. Now, why does this sound familiar? Could it be that Starbucks is running a VERY similar promotion, the $2 after 2 pm for all cold drinks? More interestingly, on the back of the hand-written sign at Peet’s, was an almost identical advertising for “Any Way You Want” Freddos, with the milks and coffee strengths listed. Again… didn’t Starbucks JUST post this promotion about a month ago? The humor was further heightened when I realized that the head-to-head Starbucks sign was hand-written and placed in once location, and had absolutely nothing to do with their current summer promotions and signage. Their original promotion says, “Feels like summer, tastes like Peet’s”, on beautiful banners plastered all over the windows and counters.

Once again, I am amazed at the message, “we’re not different or better, but exactly the same”. I mentioned this in the BK vs. McDonald’s post, but I think the Peet’s strategy is less compelling, as it truly seems to be an afterthought or copycat. It’s like their Marketing department decided that what they’d worked for several months to create wasn’t quite as good as what could be done with a hand-written sign using the Marketing plan that Starbucks had developed. I know they say there are no truly original ideas, but I think it’s best to at least try to put your own twist on  your Marketing pieces!