Blog Power Grows Up at WordPress Camp

wpstarrynightIt was my first and last WordPress Camp in San Francisco, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it’s outgrown its location and will be transformed into a global event next year. It’s no surprise either, with the WordPress mission to “democratize publishing” on a trajectory to being realized. Fact: WordPress powers almost 25% of all sites on the web or 342 blog posts a minute (that’s 7.9B annually). After 11 years, WordPress hasn’t just arrived, it’s getting its extreme close-up. This was also reflected in the topics. My expectations of widgets and coding were met with many “big picture” presentations. Here were some of the more interesting old-to-new themes (get it? get it?).

The State of Word

Matt Mullenweg, WordPress God and co-founder, with his low-key, wry and affable demeanor, talked honestly about the bittersweet growth of WordCamp from 9 to 81 and outsizing the Mission Bay Conference Center. Other topics included the site fixes coming up this year, including better managing the reviled plugins that frustrate its users, security issues tightened up, and cleaning up the stats system and making it more user-friendly. The big hope? The  dream of an auto-updated WordPress site instead of the current patchwork of versions and manual upgrades (Side note: ironically, WordPress often makes random changes to its interface, both small and large, which I’ve always found a bit odd and discombobulating. Then again, WordPress is free so I can’t complain).

It’s a Multi-Device Platform World, Let’s Deal With It

Sizing right or “responsive design” on mobile, tablets, and PCs is a no-brainer these days, but we need to think about this equation differently, according to Luke Wroblewski, who runs a digital design and strategy firm. He gave a fascinating talk about how human behaviors and ergonomics associated with them are equally important as quantitative factors like distance, size, and other “hard facts.” The free-flowing, multi-device platform world we live in now ranges from the smallest of computers, like Google Glass, to ginormous LED screens that we slide seamlessly among for the technology we need at that particular time. How we interact between devices, sometimes simultaneously, counts as much as anything else. Taking all of these factors into consideration is key for product development of the future. In other words, using human behavior and environment as guideposts, devices will be designed according to what we do with them, not by their physical form. In many ways, this is new territory.

Know Blog Rules But Break Them, Too

We’ve heard a million times about how the consumer ultimately decides what your brand is, but according to Internet-famous bloggers at WordPress, your blog should ooze and seep your personality, in a good way. Crafty Chica enthusiastically talked about finding your purpose and style within “the lane that works for you” (while also spreading the word “glitter” generously in her talk). Or as Chris Lema put it, “Take a corner no one is fighting for” when you choose your blog topic, and go bold with a strong stance. He pointed out that readers are tired of lists and how-tos; they crave and expect more these days with all the content out there. Why do you like one SEO strategy more than another? What is behind your opinion? Writer and academic Christine Harkins pointed out that, “Blogs exist for two reasons: to move people to action or to connect with people.” She defined blog voice as “writing the way you talk, sharing what you know, and telling the truth.” Amen to that. She even offered up a smattering of amusing copyrights suited just perfectly to the personality of the blogger.

So look for this impromptu copyright on my blog one of these days: “If you’ve got a big following, go ahead and steal my stuff—I’ll just quote you later and take credit.”

Image: Moufflets blog (and Van Gogh), WordPress logo contest, 2009 entry. I hope it won!

My 6 Insights From a Pitchfest

pitchesLiving in Silicon Valley for 20+ years and in San Francisco for the past four, I have been around technology for quite a spell. Now is one of the most exciting times to be in the thick of tech. Sure there is the annoying “brogrammer” culture, hipster entrepreneurs swigging from $200 wine bottles at SF restaurants, and rents and real estate rising faster than you can say “WhatsApp.” But it’s still thrilling to be here, both as participant and observer from the sidelines. With that, it’s on everyone’s tech bucket list to attend at least one pitch fest. I got lucky and scored a home run: a VC/Investor panel discussion AND company pitches. Here’s what I learned:

#1 Startup events are (intentionally) a bit messy and disorganized

Before I went, I asked a friend who has attended many what I should wear. Jeans seemed too casual but dressing up seemed dorky. His sage words: “Dress better than most so people will think you’re important.” Done. The event was held in a steamy, industrial-ish downstairs of a co-working space. The frazzled hostess kept things amusing throughout: announcing there was a break between presentations, and then not, and then there is. Asking to borrow someone’s Mac for a PowerPoint, fixing the feedback-ing mic numerous times, interrupting speakers to interject her thoughts. You get the idea. Somehow these incidents made the event seem more startup-y and authentic, though it was closer to a crash-and-burn for a corporate event-planning pro like myself.

#2 It’s awkward to present when your country is squashing democracy

It was unfortunate timing for a Hong Kong incubator presenting a detailed, lavish pitch on the benefits of setting up shop and making your first million there. Problem was, it was the same day the political chaos in Hong Kong was topping headlines. I waited for the presenter to reference it, but the elephant in the room stayed quiet, or in this case, the police, protesters and tear gas. It would have been appropriate to say something vague and innocuous like: “We are thinking about everyone in our country during this difficult time.” It shows an awareness and sensitivity to issues other than the almighty dollar bill.

#3 Corporate portmanteaus are still a thing

One of the investor companies from England played an upbeat, chock full o’Brit perky video promoting the milieu of ways that startups should work with their firm. It was smooth sailing until the horribly matched words like “glocal” and “talentricity” reared their oversized font heads onto the screen. It reminded me of a scene from a “Silicon Valley” script, except that it was real life. Either way, this gibberish needs to fade to black. Forever. They are counter-culture to everything that is startup.

#4 Pitches and public speaking skills can only go up

The variety of pitches was astounding: an online organic produce delivery service to an “omni-channel retail kiosk” (which no one understood), to a movie service catering to Southeast Asians. The content and presentations were of varying talent, but the majority were poorly constructed. This is no surprise since entrepreneurs tend to be heads-down creating products, not working on their communication skills (though that excuse can’t be used for companies with VC Big Shots on their advisory boards). The importance of a good pitch cannot be understated—it is the holy grail to getting funded. My take is that a pitch should possess three “C” qualities: be clear, concise, and compelling (in a three-minute package). Weaving a great and logically flowing story into your presentation is absolutely critical.

#5 Testosterone-All; Estrogen-0 

This comes as no surprise but every single pitch and panel member was male. The women’s roles at the event? The “helpers”—the hostess, those setting up computers, coordinating food and drinks and the like. I was encouraged to see that females of all ages made up about 25% of the audience. Of course, male dominance is a systemic issue in tech (and many other industries) that will not be resolved in this space. The good news is that there is much more awareness of this issue, now something just has to be done about it…

#6 There are good takeaways 

Feedback from the investors was clearly valuable to the entrepreneurs and I got some good advice too: 1) The best way to get to the core greatness and uniqueness of your product or service is to ask your customers—they will give you the read-back of your true value; 2) Leverage the social capital that you have, aka tech influencers, who are usually happy to help, but ask directly for what you want and make it something interesting and easy to do; 3) Know what success means upfront in your business, and if you “pivot,” do so before you are on the spiral to going down in flames; 4) The story of why you started your company is the core of your greatness and at the root of the problems you solve. It’s what drives and motivates you, and what makes you unique. It’s the DNA of your future success.

Will I go to another pitchfest? Maybe, maybe not. But it will be awfully cool if one of those companies I saw is the Next Big Thing.

Image: Marketoonist, Tom Fishburne

Confessions of a Marketer: 3 Buying Sins We Commit

airline-word-cloud-540x368No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make, there are common things we tend to do when it comes to buying products. Marketing 101 tells us that these decisions are based on logical touchpoints like price, familiarity, ease of use, brand experiences, and the like. But then you add the emotional flavoring packet of how we feel when we use it, reaction to the colors, influence from friends, to name a few. The melding of logic and emotions is so interwoven and subconscious during the buying process that it’s nearly impossible to pull the two apart. Our brains on brands can be quite the conundrum, and, frankly sometimes make no sense. Take three diametrically opposed buying behaviors that many of us engage in regularly, whether at the Big Box retailer, the local store, or that online site.

Buying from brands we hate: For me (and millions of others), Comcast is No. 1 when it comes to brand loathing. Unsurprisingly it’s honored on the 10 most hated companies in America list. The majority of the top 10 are popular and profitable, including McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Ironic or par for the course? For me, I’m a hater of Comcast’s horrible customer service, erratic connection, and dominance on an industry, yet I still pay that hefty “Triple Play” bill each month. Admittedly, part of the reason is that I am too lazy to find other resources for my internet, cable, and landline (yep—I still got one), many of which are equally unappetizing. In a nutshell, I stay with crappy Comcast because it’s the path of least resistance, and shamefully that trumps everything else sometimes.

Supporting small brands that went corporate: One of my favorite “natural” products is Burt Bee’s Coconut Foot Creme. I love that undisturbed-coconut-y aroma. For years I thought my purchase was going to a small, organic company in some cute Vermont town, which made me love it even more. It turns out I’ve been supporting Clorox’s corporate coffers since 2007—that’s quite a different smell. But Kashi, Honest Tea, and many other “small” brands have also gone big. Large corporations will chase the organic, sustainable money on its unstoppable upward trajectory—they obviously want a cut of that action. The recent purchase of Amy’s Organic to General Mills reminded me of the grieving process I went through with Burt’s Bees: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. I tend to get stuck at the bargaining stage: I don’t like the fact that my David is now a Goliath, but I am willing to forgo my values for their awesome macaroni and cheese. Sadly, case closed.

Going with brands that are against our values: This can be the most difficult one. Even if you’re not a scrapbooker or DIY type, you’ve probably heard of the recent Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court case: It fought and won against covering birth control pills for employees under ObamaCare, claiming it went against their values. If Michaels and Hobby Lobby were equal distance from my house it would be an easy decision for me. But plenty of corporations we do business with every day espouse opinions and use profits from our purchases for causes that we mildly or vehemently oppose. For instance, Dominos Pizza and Carl’s Jr. are big anti-abortion supporters and Expedia is a supporter of a climate change denier organization. But do these factors weigh in when we want to buy something? Yes…and no. Knowing the political and cultural leanings of corporations means we might think about switching, but the emphasis on “might”. We’re guilty of sometimes squashing our moral values for a product or service we love, need or is easier to get.

Ultimately, the only person we answer to when we buy something that goes against our core is that face in the mirror— how do we feel ethically, morally, and financially about our purchasing decisions? Whatever “games” we have to play to make that occur, we will do it if motivated enough, because in the end, we want what we want. And isn’t that what consumerism is all about?

5 Ways to Avoid Your Content Jumping the Shark

fozI think we can all agree that August exposed the dark side of content overload capitalizing on horrific events, specifically the many news-jacking incidents of the Robin Williams death story to tell a branding lessons, public relations exercises,  or a host of other bad coverage decisions. Content surpassed the tipping point on good taste long before Robin Williams’ death, but it’s a sad reminder that we’d all benefit from sticking to some basic rules.

With no formal “content code of conduct” in this digital wild west, I believe it benefits everyone to create articles and posts that avoid blatant self-interest or all-out sensationalism, otherwise, readers will look away out of boredom, indifference, or outright disgust. Sure, quality varies in any profession—whether it’s graphic design or accounting or anything else—but content has gotten pretty sloppy these days. And with branded content increasingly contributing to the bottom-line for companies and publishers, there’s even more potential for a downward spiral.

As someone once said: “Just because you have a pen, it doesn’t mean you should write.” So, if you’re going to produce content, consider these five ideas to help toggle that fine line.

No Knee-Jerk News-jacking: In the race to produce the first or competing angle on a trending topic, the temptation to get in on the action because everyone else is can be a fool’s game. If you have nothing new to add or merely seems an opportune moment to spout expertise or make a vague connection, you’re probably better off keeping quiet. Sitting on a trending topic before hitting those keystrokes allows time for ideas to marinate, the opportunity to leverage real-time media insight, and ultimately produce more thoughtful content if you choose to do so.

Write for Your Audience, Not SEO: Despite my marketing chops, I’m still a former journalist so I generally leave the keyword ninja moves to the pros. That said, I gladly encourage and promote clicks to my articles, but not at the price of quality. I care that three (alliterated) criteria are met when I write: It should educate, enlighten, or entertain (or the miracle of all three). If an article doesn’t do any of these, it’s back to the drawing board. In the end, as the saying goes, “the best SEO is good content.” Amen to that.

Consider the “So What?” Factor: By now we can all agree thousands of posts abound on blogging best practices, do’s and don’ts of emails, or writing the killer LinkedIn profile—you get the idea. Though they all bring their own unique value to the table, most have been done before. The question to ask is: What differentiates my content from everything else out there? I know personally how many times I get all excited to write about a topic only to find out it’s already been done ad nauseam. But I am happy to say I have many ideas rattling around in my brain that will one day make their singular debut, so I move on.

Be Human: Digital content readers tend to be an intelligent, curious bunch and can usually be found hunting the web for good stuff—they have no patience or time for self-promotion or articles with the substance of popcorn. The smarter, more relatable your articles are, the more they will spark a conversation and as a bonus, your personality will also shine through. I’ve also found it serves no purpose to “play Switzerland” by staying neutral on a topic. Taking a stand is what separates you from the sheep and gets your audience engaged and responsive, whether they agree with you or not.

Stoke the Passion: When you write about a topic that piques your own interest and curiosity, that enthusiasm will come out organically. I create lots of content on marketing and technology, but I never write about something that doesn’t interest me. It might result in less-than-stellar readership sometimes, but I’ve learned something myself (and for the small group of readers interested in controversial billboards of 2013, you’re welcome).

The endless tidal wave of content these days is only going up (and up), so don’t be tempted to jump the shark, no matter how high the SEO results might be.

Five Ways Freelancers Can Work LinkedIn

freelanceIf you’re a consultant and slapping your profile up and connecting with folks is the extent of existing on LinkedIn, it’s time to up your game on the No. 1 B2B networking site. With so much other social media competing for attention, if you have to pick a few to be active on, you’d be hard-pressed not to include LinkedIn. As a free user, you won’t get all the bells and whistles of a premium account, but there are still plenty of ways to help your freelancing career without huge time or effort, but the payoff can be big. I know personally—I’ve been using it for free since 2003 to mine potential clients, expand my network, and help position my business, to name a few perks. As a colleague of mine says: “Your network is your net worth,” and there is a treasure trove on LinkedIn if you use it right.

#1 Post Status Updates: One of the most important things you can do as a business is show your expertise in an industry or topic. This does two things: keeps your name on your network’s collective mind and provides connections with helpful information (that’s where smart content curation and knowing your audience comes in). The status update should be something timely, interesting, and relevant (and if entertaining all the better). Give your update extra attention with an introduction including a spin on the topic, a teaser, or an interesting factoid from the article (and make sure there is an image). Use the “Public” setting as this will cast the widest net to both your network and their connections, which means more exposure and opportunities.

(Side note/rant: LinkedIn’s new publishing feature is available to some users, ergo my posting here, but there is no GA date. The red notification that appears when someone publishes a post has become irksome to many, including myself, and there are no plans to change this, as far as I know. The notification tends to cause a Pavlovian response and should be reserved for profile views, connection requests, and other items revolving around my presence on LinkedIn, not those that are “pushed” to me. An idea could be that published post notifications appear on the news feed and the person can make a decision to click.)

Tip: Click on this new drill-down on the home page side navigation called “Who’s Viewed Your Updates” that displays stats for your updates; who is viewing them, liking, and sharing them. This is great data to see what is most popular and interesting to your network, ideas  for new updates (and the dud topics not to post for the future).

. updates

#2 Jobs. Jobs. Jobs:  Did someone mention jobs? Isn’t it the life of a freelancer to always be on the look out for your next gig? I’m always surprised to find that consultants don’t use or even know about LinkedIn’s “Job” feature because they thought it was only for full-time positions—au contraire! You can search by industry, keywords, company, freelance, part-time, or a combination of criteria. The bonus is that you will see which 1st degree connections are connected to the company who can potentially make introductions, or 2nd degree ones that you can hit up through 1st degree connections. I’ve done both and this has proven successful in getting work. Recently, LinkedIn   added jobs “you might be interested in” to your news feed as well as providing similar jobs to a job posting on the side navigation, which can also be useful.

Tip: Save frequent search requirements and request email notifications for new results, but know that LinkedIn’s email system is erratic so you won’t always get the emails and will need to check manually. Conversely, the job search function can be clunky, like showing any job with the word “part” in it even if you’ve entered in the search box “part-time”.

#3 Who’s Viewed Your Profile: This is LinkedIn’s most popular feature, and it’s no surprise why. The person checking you out could be a potential new client, a competitor sizing you up, or an industry partner looking for resources (or—boo hiss—an anonymous user, which you can’t see as a free user). Check to see if there are profiles you should be researching or following up with. Though free subscriptions entitle you to look at only the last five viewers, there is still plenty of data to view.

Tip: A new embedded feature provides number of hits and demographics of viewers by industry, location, and other data. This can be helpful for fine-tuning your profile, researching potential clients, and understanding what activities (or lack thereof) may have triggered changes to views. Less useful but good for data junkies is a click to the right with “How you rank for profile views” to learn your rank within all your connections and the increase or decrease of views in the past month. It would be more productive if it compared and ranked consultants with similar titles.

linkedin#4 Join Groups (and Post Content) Joining and contributing to industry groups is a great way to increase your name and expertise recognition. One of the best leads I ever got on LinkedIn was an editor who saw an article I posted in a group and  contacted me to write for his publication. Because posting can be a time suck with multiple groups, consider posting the same discussion on various groups (but be sure it’s targeted and introduced the right way). Don’t be afraid to provide thoughtful, concise comments on select discussions where you have knowledge or opinions, as this can potentially expand your network and get your brand out there too.

Tip: If posting the same content to groups in “bulk”, go through status updates on your home page and delete multiple ones so you don’t look like an overposter. Two is fine, 10 is not. 

#5 Invitation to Connect: Obvious? Yes. Always used wisely? No. You’d be surprised how many times you meet potential clients, business partners or others in various pockets of your life that could be valuable in your network…but do nothing about it. Think beyond the business cards you’ve collected and the people in your life slotted into the “work” category. Don’t downplay friends, vendors, and others that could be useful to your career, and you to theirs. (and don’t forget about people you share groups with-this is a perfectly legit and good approach—your invite will contain info about which groups you are both members of).

Tip: Always personalize your invitation: where you met, some context for inviting them. Simply clicking “Invitation to connect” is just lazy. It’s easy to type a few words and it makes a big difference to the person viewing it.

These are some of the ways I’ve had LinkedIn work for me. What are your favorite way to use LinkedIn as a freelancer? What’s been successful for you?

The State Of Content With Martin Jones

martin jonesAs we hit the halfway mark on 2014, it’s time to see how brands are living up to the hype and promise of content, clearly the biggest marketing trend of the past few years, with no indications of slowing down. For an expert view, I talked with Martin Jones, Senior Marketing Manager at Cox Communications, and a leading authority on all things content. Martin first caught my attention with a presentation at New Media Expo earlier this year and one of the most Twitter-worthy soundbites of the conference: “Social is how customer hear about you, search is how they find you, and content is how they’ll remember you.”

Let’s start with the content marketing trend for companies. We know thousands of companies are doing it, but who actually gets it right, and why?

I’m happy to say a lot of brands are doing it right. General Electric, Whole Foods, Home Depot, to name a few. They are going beyond Facebook and social across multiple channels. People are turned off by seeing the same content on all platforms. Take Home Depot, for instance: With 160K followers, they are continually updating and making it relevant to their different audiences—by seasons, interests, etc.

We’ve been hearing the term “content shock” lately. With so much content out there, eventually the barriers to entry will increase and only the strongest (best) content will win. Agree or disagree?

One of the arguments against content shock is that whatever you give to your consumers must have purpose. Don’t just throw content up on your site to meet some sort of quota. Unfortunately we still see a lot of decisions made in marketing, PR, IT, and other silos, which can lead to this. There is not always a strong discovery process for content programs or campaigns. Always start with a question about the consumer and ask it. Figure out what problems you can solve for them. Otherwise, people have this natural filtering process and get burnt out on content. What’s important to consumers cannot go by the wayside.

So what can small businesses do to leverage content marketing with teeny budgets and resources?

There are a lot of small business tools out there: Ones like SocialEars let you plug in different terms and see who the influencers are, letting bloggers and marketers quickly see what things are being talked about and what’s the most engaging content right now. It’s critical to know what to talk about by monitoring, rather than falling back on what you know best. It should be about what the consumer is interested in and gearing your content towards that.

I was surprised you mentioned GE: Something I often hear is that B2B brands have difficulty making their content resonate with customers. What do you think the trick is there?

With B2B, it’s about personalizing content in the right voice—your voice. Again it comes down to relevant content. You have to be careful not to alienate your audience if all of a sudden you try to change to the snarky, cheeky Taco Bell-style. It’s not going to work. What’s important is that the content is going to be helpful to the consumer, that it’s personalized, and it answers questions. That’s what your audience cares about most.

What are content marketers still struggling with?

There’s talk of the sales funnel being dead, but it’s really that marketers are creating a lot of content on top of the funnel and then they get to the middle and don’t know what to do with these people. This is where evergreen content really pays off, along with paid media. Your content can still be providing leads to the organization and can move them through the sales process.

What are some of the trends we’ll be seeing as we get closer to 2015?

Deeper content and, again, more consumer-focused. One shift we’re seeing more of is horizontally rather than vertically-focused content on products and services. For example, what are your readers’ passion points? What are they interested in? Talking to companies about growing your business, how to scale, engaging in common interests. Recently I was at a conference where one of the speakers said “Social media is the new golf course”: now that conversation is happening online. Consumers don’t want to talk about products and services, they want to carry on a normal conversation.


Turning a Daily Deal From One Night Stand to Long-term Relationship


Research shows that getting a deal has no financial or social status boundaries—it’s a human thing. We love the thrill of scoring savings, especially for something with higher perceived value or item we crave—cue the dopamine. According to Mark Ellwood, author of “Bargain Fever,” consumers should never pay full price for anything anyway. Nowhere is that living proof more so than on daily deal sites like Groupon, Living Social, and the myriad of me-toos, now a staple of our online culture. The “half off” lifestyle is here to stay, and we’re ready to pay. But how can vendors get these deal-seekers to come back for more?

Every new customer is gold

Don’t judge a consumer by their cover (in this case, an online deal). The person could be dressed down but actually have money to burn, or poor communications skills but is brand loyal to a fault.  The point is, be nice, gracious, and give the same service you would a full paying customer: making assumptions about a consumer based on a short-lived experience can cost you future business. If you don’t treat them well, they’ll feel it, resent it, and won’t be back (unless you offer another deal perhaps).

Don’t put off deal customers

A few years ago, I tried out a new salon at full price (ironically), and  my stylist spent time on the phone arguing with a deal customer who was trying to set up an appointment before her voucher expired. Instead of trying to fit her into the schedule, the stylist would not budge. In the end, it affected my perception of the salon (not to mention I wasn’t crazy about the cut). Or the restaurant I attempted to use my deal at but the (very) fine print on the voucher prohibited me from cashing in except weekends (which was also accompanied by serious attitude I got from the proprietor). Don’t break your bond with a potential customer before you even have it. I’ve also heard vendors complain about customers that come in “just for the deal and never come back.” Yes, they came in for the great price, but what did you do to keep them interested in doing business with you again? Which leads me to my next suggestion…

Offer incentives to visit again

Besides giving great service, offering something of value is always welcome as a goodwill gesture, either during the deal time or for when the consumer returns. Though not every consumer will not be motivated by the promise of future savings, throw in that dessert at your restaurant, offer a loyalty card at your store, or 20% off for a future service—something that says “I want to continue our relationship and I care about getting your business.” Even if the person doesn’t plan to visit again anytime soon, it will leave them with warm fuzzies, perhaps compel them to leave a good Yelp review, or will want to give a personal recommendation to a friend.

Know your motives for the deal (but don’t overshare)

Each business is driven by different reasons to offer a deal: it’s a slow season, or a new business fishing for customers, to name just a few. But contrast how two vendors handled the goal to reach customers at their new locations: An aesthetician who recently moved her business to San Francisco could not schedule me until after regular-paying clients got in. When I got my appointment, she spent the majority of time telling me how popular she was and this was “just to get new business in the neighborhood.” Contrast that with another service professional who humbly and gently described how people couldn’t find her new location because it was a busy street and was difficult to be noticed. She was grateful for every new customer she attracted, and even sent me a thank-you email for visiting. Which business do you think I will go back to in the future?

These are but a few ways vendors can maximize consumers’ daily deal experience so they will want to come back again (and again and again). Automatically pigeonholing deal customers as cheap one-timers without long-term potential shorts everyone in the transaction and is a missed opportunity for future business.

But daily deal vendors aren’t the only ones that need training on  etiquette, customers need their own lessons too. In a future post, consumers get pointers on best practices for cashing in on their half-off vouchers.