What’s Your City’s Icebreaker Question?

Each city has one. The get to know you question that EVERYONE seems to ask. Be it baby shower or a business networking event, you’re bound to hear it from someone.

In DC, be prepared to answer “What do you do?”

Some people find this a materialistic and status probing question. I did too at first. There’s something a little intimidating that automatically rouses your defenses when you feel like you’re being judged. But after years of living in the city, I found myself asking this question not because I was curious of someone’s occupation, but rather their activities.

Washingtonians are renowned for their go-go-go (when they’re not in traffic) mentality. I think this question is more a reflection on the active nature of the culture, rather than a direct inquiry about someone’s professional life. Often, I would receive a reply of hobbies that would segue and blossom into a conversation about common interests.

“What do you do?”

“You know, recently I’ve been really into Salsa dancing. I’ve been going on Monday nights to the Clarendon Grille and met some really great people!”

“Really? I love salsa dancing. I’ve been to the Salsa Room, but never the Clarendon Grille. What time do lessons start?”

When I moved to Richmond last November, one of the first things I noticed was the complete lack of  “What do you do?” In fact, if I asked it, people seemed insulted, and it took me a while to navigate the icebreaking etiquette of this smaller southern town.

In Richmond, you’ll be asked “Are you from here?”

Richmonders are all about a sense of history and roots. Growing up 20 minutes north of the city, I remember not being considered “from here” because my parents moved here when I was 10 months old. Most of my classmates had generations anchoring them to this region, while I wasn’t even born here.

I think another reason it’s a popular question is that so many people (like me) grow up here, move away, and then move back. If you grew up in the area, there’s an immediate sense of camaraderie and more detailed questions that follow (i.e. “What high school did you go to?”)

If you grew up outside of Richmond, the standard follow-up seems to be “So, what brought you to Richmond?” I ask this often because I’m amused at why people settle in such a seemingly obscure place.

So, what’s the icebreaking question in your town? Have you noticed a trend in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, or another metropolis? What about across the pond? Do Europeans have an opening question? Eager minds want to know and would be thrilled if you left a comment below. 🙂

10 Tactics for Top-Notch Testimonials

Testimonials – the magical way to turn boasting into evangelism. Sure, they’re effective – and their use is hyped in every corner of marketing communications. But just how do you go about gathering them? Here are 10 ideas:

1. Have something worth talking about. Having a mediocre product that simply meets expectations encourages silence. People talk about something that is either 1) really awful or 2) really amazing. The closer you are to the middle, the less chatter you hear.

2. Put a feedback button on your website. Encourage your customers to send you their opinions – regardless of whether they’re “good” or “bad”. In truth, they’re all good.

3. Give to get. The networking organization BNI hypes the benefits of “givers gain”. And it’s true. Give colleagues a well-written testimonial and ask for one in return.

4. Use LinkedIn. Log in to your LinkedIn account and under the “Service Providers” tab at the top left click on “Request a Recommendation”.

5. Paraphrase & e-mail. When a client gives you a verbal testimonial, send a friendly e-mail thanking them for the conversation, paraphrasing what you heard and requesting permission to use their testimonial.

6. Give stories the spotlight. Weight Watchers encourages participants to submit success stories. Stories sell. Bragging bores.

7. Market research sweepstakes. Give respondents a prize for completing a survey about your company. Prizes encourage response rates.

8. Ask for specifics. When writing a survey, break down large, open-ended questions into bite-sized, directive questions which are more likely to receive a response.

9. Give credit. Did a great idea come from customer submitted feedback? Share the credit to entice readers to share their opinions.

10. Strength in numbers. When requesting testimonials, ask for quantitative data. For example, “After hiring Randy, my profit increased by 20%” or “Gina helped reduce my production time from 2 weeks to 3 days.”

Related Links

Fastread: How to Get Testimonials for Your Product by WorkatHomeChannel

How to Get Quality Testimonials by Mike Williams

5 Tips for Getting Freakin’ Awesome Testimonials by Brent Hodgson

Run Circles Around Your Competition: How to Build a Loyal Fan Base

running-shoe.jpgAt first glance, you might consider Pacer’s, a running store in Alexandria, VA to be about the same as, say, the Foot Locker in the mall. After all, they carry similar products, market to a similar audience, and have a similar pricing structure. But Pacer’s does something truly remarkable. They have fans. Evangelists. People like me who just can’t wait to tell the world how wonderful this store is. And that is brilliant marketing.

So how is Pacer’s different? Upon purchasing a pair of running shoes, here are some of my observations:

  1. A passionate (and therefore knowledgeable) staff. Every employee of Pacers is a runner – not a minimum wage high-school kid. Why is this important? Knowledge. When I asked questions (like should I stretch before or after a run) the staff responded quickly and with authority (both). These guys know what they’re talking about. And because they love it so much, they’re happy to chat with customers about ways to shave a minute off your mile or how to train for your next big race.
  2. Overwhelmingly exceeding expectations. When I purchase shoes, I expect friendly customer service, and someone to go to the back of the store to get the shoes for me to try on. But if you want to really impress me you’ll measure my feet, watch me walk, analyze the fact that I have high arches and roll slightly inward in my stride and then pull several pairs of shoes that I can “test drive” before making a purchase (seriously, these guys are awesome). This goes back to the whole knowledgeable employees thing. When I’m impressed, I want to tell all of my friends about my amazing experience so my friend can experience the same thing.
  3. Creating a community. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is the Pacer’s fun run. 30 or so people will gather in front of the store, run several miles and then go out for a tasty beverage. There’s no charge, you simply show up. This event gets Pacer’s loyal fans interacting with the brand on a whole new level. (Plus, if you attend regularly there’s a discount which further solidifies the devotion to your brand).

It works because it’s genuine – it’s not a hackneyed “we offer outstanding customer service” slogan when really they don’t. That doesn’t work. Instead, Pacer’s has invested in their training, people and community which leads to lots of word of mouth. The funny thing is, Pacer’s does minimal advertising. Why would they need to? They’ve created a better retail experience and therefore people are talking – that’s their marketing. So how can you be outstanding? Are you and your people completely passionate about your product or service?

Related Links

Personal Attention = Great Word of Mouth by Andy Sernovitz

What Makes Good For Marketing? The Experience! by Jeff Kallay

The Art of Evangelism Web Conference by Guy Kawasaki (if you missed it, keep your eyes peeled to see if he does another one)