Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stellar Customer Service

Who has earned my respect and business?

Recently I had the opportunity to call customer service for two products at either end of the price continuum.

Bison Designs - these folks make belts using webbing and plastic buckles. I've had a couple because they are perfect for travel - don't have to remove for security, pack lite, and go with everything. The plastic buckle on one broke and after checking REI and other outdoor shops for a replacement buckle we called them. They said - 'send it in and we'll fix it.' Great for a $12 belt bought several years ago.

Weber Grills - recently redeemed a bunch of miles for a new gas grill (don't miss the road warrior lifestyle). It came with white glove service etc. and it was on the deck; the first night the wind literally blew the doors off. Seems a plastic guard that looked like trim should have been removed. A call to customer service resulted in two brand doors sent over-night. Then they sent me more powerful magnets to make sure the doors stayed shut.

Both have earned my respect for going beyond my expectations.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Openness of Social Media

How does context effect response?

For an interesting discussion and reaction to just one tweet that said in part - "I would die if I had to live here" - see David Henderson's "How not to be a key online influencer". Its the story about a vendor visiting a client's city to present and made the above point. The discussion (230+ comments) illustrates that we still don't quite have a handle on the appropriateness of social media as a personal tool when part of a larger business relationship.

This makes for a great case study. The questions I posted on the original post are about context:
  1. What would have been the response if the tweet came from their largest client instead of a vendor?
  2. What if the tweet came while on vacation instead of on the client’s dime?
  3. How do B2B relationships differ from B2C relationships?
  4. What expectations should a client have regarding a vendor’s staff participating in any public communication program?
  5. How would this scenario have played out in a different industry? say a patent lawyer tweeting about a client’s product
  6. If the tweet were from an executive coming to speak about upgrading the inventory management system, would it be different?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Meaning of Marketing

What should we be really doing when we plan?

Tim Leberecht's post on Pop!Tech about "marketing with meaning" provides a great summary of the purpose behind the campaign - any campaign. It provides a holistic view of what we need to achieve; it even illustrates how various tactics fit in.

Using the Starbuck's "I'm In" campaign as background, Tim outlines the elements of style for marketing.
  • Social - as a brand, we're part of the community
  • Personal - it's one step at a time; micro-focused
  • Storytelling - relate the message via a resonant and simple theme
  • Disruptive - challenge the status quo of our thinking
  • Responsible - offer a collective, aspirational purpose

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Technology Component of Social Media

Just how does one scale in social media?

We know that this aspect of marketing is facilitating the passing of a message via humans. We also know that if left to its own devices it may not scale very well. A given message usually decays quickly as it spreads throughout a network; hence the thoughts of Duncan Watts and the "Big Seed". Anecdotal evidence also suggests that social media is very labor intensive - monitoring, tweeting, commenting, etc. does not have the leverage that traditional media does. Adding another flight of impressions generates a bigger result (reach, frequency, leads, etc.) than the effort required to implement.

In an iMedia article on a new approach to delivering social media programs, Cynthia Francis of Reality Digital suggests that technology partners should be part of the agency's offering. Having worked for technology companies and marketing firms; great advice - but for other reasons.

Yes, I'd rather have 10 evangelists than 1 million blank stares but finding another 100 just like the first 10 takes work. It is here that technology could play an interesting role.

Is it likely that social media campaigns will have similar budgets to regular media?
Are technology components, e.g. video mash-ups, experiential ads and sites, facilitated forwarding, etc, the equivalent to a media buy?
What technology innovations will emerge to achieve scalability? (We know about ad serving based on the social graph, but what else.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Twitter Shows the Partisan Lines of Congress

Who reaches across the aisle?

The answer is Republican John Culberson from Texas. At least according to a post by Mat Morrison of mediaczar.

Here's a synopsis of his analysis: Republicans tweet more than democrats and there are few bridges across the party line. The graphic is below and on Flickr.

Social Networks Reach Critical Mass

Who and how many people use social networks?

The answer was answered by the Pew Internet Project in their recent report released yesterday.

Overall, among adult Internet users 1 of 3 has at least one profile. This is up from 1 in 12 just three short years ago. And yes, it skews young - ranging from 75% among the 18-24 segment to 7% of the 65+ audience.

They use it to connect with friends and family. It seems to be replacing the more synchronous and media restrictive platforms of bygone eras - like email and phones. The singular advantage of social networks as a communication platform is that they facilitate multiple connections over time, distance, and interests.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Social Networks and Customer Conversion Strategy

How are social networks used in marketing?

There's been a lot of discussion about the performance of advertising on social networks. Most of it suggests that 'it doesn't work very well' since revenue per user per month pales in comparison to other content-rich sites like cable companies, newspapers, etc.

Rather than focus on the question of how to improve advertising performance a different question arises: How can we utilize social networks in a complete contact strategy and sales funnel? Is there a better place for this ubiquitous information?

Consider a typical lead-generation scenario: For every 100 leads sales or conversions are often measured in the single digit range. A 3% conversion rate means that the acquisition cost of a $50 lead is north of $1,500.

For high-consideration products there are often several steps between lead and close: "Yes, I'm interested." and "Yes, I'll do it." Both of these depend on the development of a relationship of trust via a contact strategy.

So rather than ask a myriad of questions on a form in hope of getting useful information an alternative would be to understand the customer better by learning what makes them tick - they'll be happy to tell you. In fact the profiles people post on social networks offer a wealth of information in order to build rapport.

This approach requires three steps:
1. Develop guidelines and training on how to use social networks in sales and marketing
2. Develop a process and information architecture for leveraging social network profiles
3. Develop a feedback process to ensure that customers are comfortable with building relationships this way.

Building a stronger, more personal relationship would directly impact the Cost Per Acquisition; much more so than reducing the Cost Per Lead.

For an example of the issues involved see the discussion about social networks in the admissions process at selective colleges and universities here. Not all categories have such an imbalance between supply and demand (only so many cheeks can fit in the seats). In much more competitive categories where there are no capacity constraints the opportunities are greater.

Disclosure: I've worked with various Kaplan divisions but not the Test-Prep group that sponsored the research cited above.

Stagnant Brands

Why do brands get the doldrums?

Marketing has a unique challenge in that we are responsible for changing the status quo - grow the market, find new audiences, align new products and services with unmet needs. In a recent McKinsey survey on corporate decision making - these areas ranked highest on the list of strategic decisions made.

This creative mandate means that all aspects of a product must be fresh, topical, and on point. It often takes a new set of eyes to think through why a brand might be stagnant.

From the customer's perspective, there are three reasons why a brand isn't meeting expectations.

1. There is no promise; people don't know what the brand stands for
2. The brand doesn't deliver on a promise made
3. A promise is irrelevant today and doesn't work any more

Agencies exist to be fired. Can't remember where I first heard it, but it seems to be true. Presuming there aren't serious personnel issues, then why is this true? What is it about marketing that prevents a long-term,monogamous relationship from forming?

I think too often it is getting caught up in a transactional mode of thinking - a time-limited campaign, a new launch, and quarterly numbers. My new year's resolution is to help marketers focus on why a brand is/is not successful: What need is being satisfied? Who has that need? How do we best communicate with them?