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If the measure of one’s commitment to protecting the environment is the number of cars taken off the road as a direct result of an action, this year’s record-breaking turnout of participants in the Washington, D.C. region’s Bike to Work Day is tangible proof of the region’s growing concern for the environment. On a recent Spring day in mid-May, over 14,500 registered riders made a difference by taking their cars off the road for at least one day.
Of course, like so many other causes, events like this would not be possible were it not for the generous support of like-minded corporate and not-for-profit sponsors like Whole Foods Market, Marriott, ICF International, AAA, Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).
Working together with their local communities, these organizations are leading the way by telling a story we can believe in. It’s an authentic story about sustainability and how individuals can come together to make a difference. It’s also a story about a healthy and safe alternative to driving alone in your car…and about learning to enjoy the ride, as I and thousands of others did. One bike at a time, their participation in this year's Bike to Work Day provides us with a glimpse of the causes they and the people in their communities care most about -- sustainability, health and fitness, fun, etc.
How are you and your organization making a difference in your community? Are the stories being told reflective of your personal and organizational values?
I recently posed the question, “How do you really know what your customers want?” I offered a simple answer by suggesting the way to truly understanding what your customers want is through continual engagement with them.
I’m going to take that a step further today by offering another suggestion – the formation of a customer advisory council. A customer advisory council is a group of customers (and non-customers, too) who meet on a regular basis with representatives of your brand. Each of them would be paid a nominal sum for their participation and their purpose would be to serve as an external sounding board for your marketing team. Their candid feedback would be used to inform current and future marketing strategies and campaigns, with the intent of improving customer acquisition and retention rates.
The real benefit of a customer advisory council is that allows you to define your brand, your products and your offers from the perspective of your customers and prospects. Too many brands make the mistake of defining these elements from their own internal perspective, based on the company’s needs and wants. This flawed, internally-focused approach was the subject of a 1960 Harvard Business Review article, “Marketing Myopia,” by Theodore Levitt.
The next time you encounter repeated customer objections to one or more elements of your marketing strategy, resist the urge to overcome them simply by offering more and clever rebuttals that merely aim to justify the needs and wants of your company. Instead, focus on why your customers are raising those objections in the first place. Place yourself in your customer’s shoes and try to understand how their needs and wants are causing them to perceive your brand, your products and your offers.
Ask your customer advisory council for help in seeing the long-term picture from an outward looking perspective. Their insights, and your willingness to act on them, could mean the difference between a great marketing strategy and a mediocre one.
If I were to ask, “What Makes Your Company Different?” how would your employees answer? How would your customers answer? Would their responses be the same?
This question is at the heart of your company’s marketing strategy. As noted author and Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter notes in Competitive Strategy (The Free Press, 1980), “differentiation…creates layers of insulation against competitive warfare because buyers have preferences and loyalties to particular sellers.” When companies lack differentiation and a product or service is viewed as a commodity, “choice by the buyer is largely based on price and service, and pressures for intense price and service competition result.”
So, what makes your company different? Is it price, service or something truly unique and innovative? Now may be a good time to re-engage your employees and customers to see what they have to say.
For more on marketing strategy, please see:
• Low Customer Retention? Maybe You’re Just Selling Mulch
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate
LinkedIn looks to be launching a major game changer in social media. I have not used it nor seen a demo. My opinion is based on the press coverage, release announcement, and screen shots. Google was very successful in creating hyper buzz with limited gmail email accounts. LinkedIn seem to be doing the same with a waitlist (see the bottom). We will see...
Here is the information from the blog post announcing the new, LinkedIn Contacts.
Have you ever wished for a personal assistant who reminds you when your colleagues are celebrating new jobs or birthdays? Or have you wanted to quickly pull up the last conversations you had with people before you head out to meet them?
Today we’re proud to announce the launch of LinkedIn Contacts, a smarter way to stay in touch with your most important relationships. With this new product, we bring all your contacts from your address books, email accounts, and calendars together with the power of your LinkedIn network. Contacts is available both on LinkedIn.com as well as a brand new app for iPhone. Over the coming weeks, we’ll start sending invitations to try LinkedIn Contacts to a limited number of members in the United States.
With the new LinkedIn Contacts experience, we’ve introduced features in three areas:
Bring all your contacts to one place
LinkedIn Contacts brings together all your address books, emails, and calendars, and keeps them up to date in one place. From these sources, we’ll automatically pull in the details of your past conversations and meetings, and bring these details directly onto your contact’s profile.
Never miss an opportunity to say hello
Get alerted on job changes and birthdays in your network, a perfect opportunity to stay in touch. Also, you can set reminders and add notes about the important people in your life.
Take it on your mobile device
Stay connected on the go. LinkedIn Contacts is available as a standalone app for iPhone, so you can stay in touch with your contacts wherever you work.
If you’d like to learn more or be one of the first to check out this new experience, visit http://contacts.linkedin.com to join our waitlist.
I celebrated a personal milestone this week when I reached the 3,000 follower mark on Twitter. Later that day, a friend and I were having lunch when he asked me to tell him about my success. Without hesitation, I gave him this simple explanation. It's all about branding.
My experience with social media has provided me with some powerful insights. One of those insights is that developing an engaging presence on social media is a lot like building a brand. I started by defining my brand, a promise and an audience. The next step was to deliver on it. Consistently and regularly.
Let me share with you ten branding lessons I've gained from my experience with social media over the last four years:
1. Be yourself.
Your friends and followers will like you for the person you are, not the person who you think they want you to be.
2. Always be true to yourself.
Actions speak louder than words. Your followers will see through actions that are inconsistent with your identity.
3. Make it about them.
Share content your followers will find helpful, valuable or meaningful.
4. Engage them.
Embrace the notion that you are managing relationships with people, not selling something to them.
5. Be present where they are.
Establish a consistent presence across multiple social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, weekly blog, etc.).
6. Avoid unexplained absences for extended periods of time.
Stay active and let your friends and followers know when you decide to take a break (or pre-schedule your posts).
7. Listen to your followers.
Your followers are smart. Listen and learn from them. Share their content. Exchange ideas with them.
8. Know that real engagement is more than just the number of followers you have.
Large numbers aren't everything. It's how you well you engage that matters. Kred (shown above) and Klout provide some measure of engagement in areas like reach, amplification, network and influence.
9. Never buy friends and followers.
Followers who are bought tend to be less engaged and are far less likely to stick around.
10. Respect and value your friends.
When it comes right down to it, they are the reason for your presence (and success) on social media.
For more insights on brand building and social media, please see:
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• How Social Media Is Making an Impact on Marketing
• Why Social Media Should Be Part of Your Marketing Communications
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand on Social Media
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships
Earth Day is Monday, April 22.
Since it was first celebrated here in the U.S. in 1970, it has become an international movement for promoting the planet and a sustainable future. It is now observed in 192 countries across colleges and universities, secondary schools, local communities and a growing number of brands.
If you’re a marketer like me and believe sustainability is about more than simply promoting green products and behaviors, you’ll appreciate brands whose approaches to sustainability marketing include calls to action that champion economic prosperity, social justice and environmental protection.
A brand that is making a difference in these three areas is One, whose tag line is “do one good thing™.” The story of One began in the U.K. with an awareness of a single need – that something needed to be done about the one billion people in the world who lacked access to safe drinking water – and an idea – to create a brand of bottled water where all the profits were given to charity.
While it may seem counterintuitive that a brand concerned with world water issues is selling bottled water, the explanation One provides on its website is what makes its sustainability marketing effort so innovative and unique: “We are not saying buy our water INSTEAD of using tap water; we are saying IF you are going to buy bottled water, buy One and make a difference at the same time.”
The story of One is still being written. Since May 2005, One has raised over $7.8 million for clean water supply projects in countries where the need is greatest (i.e., where over 40% of the population lives in extreme poverty). Thanks to the efforts of One, over 1.5 million people now have access to clean drinking water and, instead of walking great distances to get water, children are now going to school. One bottles are made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), use less plastic than the typical water bottle and are 50% lighter than the average soda bottle.
So the next time you reach for bottled water, think of One and the difference it is making in the global economy, the lives of people in some of the poorest countries in the world and the environment we call home.
When you think of products whose selling propositions are built around the promise of sustainability, which products come to mind? Green ones? Blue ones? How about gray ones?
If you said green ones, you might be right. Well, sort of. There is certainly no shortage of “green” products on the market today. Brands across many categories have added a green component to their products in an effort to appeal to one or more market niches, increase sales and demonstrate their commitment to the environment. Green products, as a whole, are largely considered alternatives to mainstream products and are often pricier. A common theme among green marketers is to ask consumers to make a positive change in one aspect of their consumption behavior, while permitting them to maintain the status quo with others.
Sustainability takes this call to action one step further. Sustainability is transformative. It seeks to reform the way we produce, consume and dispose of mainstream products. Upstart brands like method®, the maker of non-toxic biodegradable home and personal care products, market goods that are designed to reduce health risks, waste and water pollution. Their products are priced comparably to others in their category, sold in aesthetically-pleasing recyclable packaging and available through mainstream and specialty retailers alike (e.g., Target, Whole Foods, etc.).
For method®, sustainability includes a focus on health, community and environmental impacts. Products like its naturally-derived, 2-in-1 dish and hand soap come packaged in a gray bottle made with recycled ocean plastic. Each bottle includes a blue tag around its neck with a short story of how method® is seeking to change the way we view the impact our consumption and disposal habits are having on our environment:
"it's estimated that several million tons of plastic makes its way into our oceans every year, polluting the environment and hurting our marine populations...we're on a mission to change that. that's why the ocean plastic used to make the bottle you're holding was collected by us, method employees. we know we can't return the ocean to it's pristine condition, but we can raise awareness of the importance of reusing the plastic that's already here. that's something. [and] that's why I'm gray."
The next time you think of sustainability, don’t just think “green.” Think about the gray bottle atop your kitchen sink and the transformative nature of what it represents. Now that's something.
One of our blog readers emailed me to let me know that Matt of "Where the Hell is Matt?" fame had a new video. I posted a blog in August of 2006 sharing a bit of background on Matt. This was before his three other videos and as it calls it, his "not-entirely-un-famous" status.
Once you read the About Matt page, you will really appreciate the storytelling behind his videos. The accompanying music in the 2012 video is fantastic. I even "Bought" the video from his home page despite being able to find it on the Internet. Why? Because Matt started out and I still think through today, to be genuinely selfless. He is honest, his videos reflect this, and the worldwide enjoyment is testament to his beliefs. With all of the messaging and organizations touting story this and story that, I truly believe the absolute genuine stories will be the ones that stand out.
Here is an excerpt from his About page:
He mostly just danced in front of iconic landmarks, but along the way he went to a country called Rwanda, and since there aren't any landmarks in Rwanda that you'd want to dance in front of, instead he just went to a small village and danced with a bunch of kids. The kids joined him immediately and without hesitation. That ended up being the best thing that happened to him on the trip. The kids taught him that people are a whole lot more interesting than old landmarks and monuments.
Matt went back to Stride and told them he did it all wrong and they needed to send him around the planet again. They said, "Okay," and in 2008 he put out another video that showed thousands of people laughing, smiling, and goofing around together. It took him five years and three tries, but he finally got it right that time.
Where the Hell is Matt 2005 video ~3,000,000 views
Where the Hell is Matt 2006 video ~18,300,000 views
Where the Hell is Matt 2008 video ~45,500,000 views
Where the Hell is Matt 2012 video ~9,700.000 views
If I were to ask who your biggest competitor is, who would you say? Now think about your changing competitive landscape and where you would like your business to be in five years. Who will be your next big competitor? How will you compete?
The world is changing. Your customers are changing. The competitive advantage that made your business successful in the past may not be an effective source of differentiation tomorrow. Businesses that thrive over the long term understand their current competitors and how customers respond to them. They also seek to identify emerging competitors before they become a threat. Early identification of emerging competitors provides companies with an opportunity to modify their existing marketing strategies in ways that allow them to acquire and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage.
Astute marketers are always on the lookout for the next big competitor. What are you seeing when you look across the horizon? Are there any relative "unknowns" who might be threatening to disrupt your industry with powerful innovations? If so, how will you prepare to meet this challenge? Will you be ready?
Recently I purchased an item from the online Disney Store. A few days after delivery the email pictured below, arrived.
Here is the text of the email:
Title: THANK YOU FAIRY MUCH
How can we make it even better?
We want to hear all those thoughts flying around about how we can make your DisneyStore.com experience the best ever. Please fill out a brief survey - it will help us make sure that your experience was everything you wished for.
It will only take a few minutes of your time and no one will see your answers but us.
Thank you for your purchase. And thank you for letting us know what you think!
It about 80 words or ~15 seconds to skim/read Disney gets across a) They care; b) My time is valuable; and c) Brand consistency. On the bottom of the email, you can see all of the social media links, sign-up for the newsletter, and event alerts. Very well done.
I buy landscaping mulch every year. I’ve been buying it from the same local nonprofit now for several years…until this year, when they were unable to supply me. So I took my business elsewhere. Another “customer for life” gone forever.
Mulch is a commodity. I can get it anywhere at the same price. Regardless of where I purchase it, the product and the price are the same. Delivery to my driveway on the 3rd Saturday in March is free. And the one thing that bound me to my former supplier – the relationship I once had – had grown distant.
The decision to go elsewhere was an easy one. It wasn’t hard to find another supplier. I wrote a check and walked across the street to my neighbor’s house to drop it off. On Saturday, while I was away, my order was delivered and stacked on the sidewalk beyond my driveway. My expectations were exceeded. In years past, my other supplier would stack the bags in my driveway, which required my having to move them to the sidewalk in order to access my garage.
Later that afternoon, as I went out and began moving the bags to the area of the yard where they would be emptied, my neighbor’s SUV pulled into the driveway. Five guys from the delivery crew – all friends of mine – got out and began moving the bags to the rear of the yard. We laughed and we joked. Although I wasn’t looking for help, they insisted. Again, my expectations were exceeded. I knew then I had found a new supplier...one that I am hoping to stay with for years to come.
I share this story because it highlights the importance of differentiation in selling a commoditized, low-interest product. Marketers who succeed in retaining customers for life are the ones who consistently deliver and who find unique ways to differentiate their customer experience. Nurturing customer relationships and exceeding customer expectations are two of the best ways to accomplish this.
Think about your products and how they are positioned in the market. Are you just selling mulch?
For more on customer retention and ways to differentiate your customer experience, please see:
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• Anticipating Needs Is the Key to Customer Retention
• “You’re Going to Like the Way You Look…”
In last week’s post, I spoke of the importance of providing a great customer experience across the various business processes that define your customers’ interactions with your brand.
I started with an assumption of customer dissatisfaction and the need to improve your customer experience in response to this feedback. I talked about the benefits of a great customer experience – increased customer loyalty, lower price sensitivity and higher profit margins. And I left you with a challenge – how to identify the process improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact on your brand’s customer experience.
The idea of looking at all of the various business processes across an organization – digging deep into the complex sets of activities that comprise their respective processes, identifying root causes of breakdowns, implementing improvements and measuring the impact of your efforts – can be overwhelming. To simplify, try looking across the various processes for areas of commonality (e.g., are there one or two things that can be done better across all processes to achieve your desired results?). These areas of commonality are foundational elements. Addressing these foundational elements early on often yields the biggest gains.
One such foundational element is communication – who, what, when, where and how you are adding value to your interactions with customers – at every process during the customer experience. Too often, organizations do great work and accomplish extraordinary things in service to their customers. Their customers just don’t know it because no one is communicating with them regarding expectations, status updates and resolution. As a result, your customers are left with an unsatisfactory customer experience that leaves them feeling unappreciated and undervalued.
In this sense, communication really is the foundation of a great customer experience. Finding ways to do it better across the various business processes that define your customer’s interaction with your brand will likely have the greatest impact on your customer experience.
Your customers interact with your brand in a variety of ways. These interactions may include some or all of the following business processes: pre-sales, sales, support, billing, and customer service. The customer experience you provide at each and every one of these phases in the customer lifecycle forms an indelible impression of your brand and what it means to do business with you.
Now, suppose your customer feedback reveals dissatisfaction with the customer experience that occurs during a number of these business processes. How would you improve your brand’s overall customer experience? Where would you start?
Best practices suggest starting with the big picture. The big picture includes a vision of what success will look like if the business process improvement efforts achieve their desired results. It also includes the new skills and other tools your employees will need to succeed, as well as a clear and consistent communication of goals and milestone targets. Finally, it includes rewards – bonuses and other forms of recognition – for members of the business process improvement team when goals are met and exceeded.
Business process improvements that result in a great customer experience can be a source of competitive advantage for your brand. Brands that provide a positive customer experience enjoy increased customer loyalty, lower price sensitivity and higher profit margins than their competitors.
Visit us next week for ideas on how to identify the process improvements that are likely to have the greatest impact on your brand's customer experience.
I was at the gym the other day and couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between two C-level executives. The exchange went something like this:
“How is that _____ working out for you?”
“We think we’re paying too much so we’re looking for a better deal. I’m talking to a rep from a firm down in ______, who says she can get me a lower rate.”
“Let me know when you find one. We may want to give it a try, too.”
As a seasoned salesperson and an experienced brand manager, alarm bells immediately sounded in my head. Wow, I thought, the incumbent salesperson has no idea his or her customer is out “looking for a better deal” and is about to leave. What makes customers get to this place?
Here are some observations:
• On an individual basis, it would appear neither the incumbent salesperson nor the brand has successfully engaged this customer beyond the initial sale.
• On a larger scale, the incumbent’s marketing team has failed to differentiate its product or service on anything other than price, effectively positioning it as a commodity and needlessly exposing it to price competition.
• Finally, testimonials from other customers can be strong influencers. These C-level executives clearly value each other’s opinions and one of them is likely to influence the other’s future purchase decisions more so than any salesperson might be able to.
And here is what my experience tells me:
• If you are not in front of your customers, somebody else is. The key to a successful engagement plan is regular and interactive communication...beyond the sale.
• With few exceptions, selling on price alone is not a sustainable long-term strategy. Find ways to differentiate your product, service and brand. Make them worth paying more for. Give them a reason to stay. Customers whose only purchase criteria is lowest price will leave when they find a better deal.
• Establish yourself as a thought leader and develop an integrated marketing strategy that allows you to join conversations your customers are having (those conversations aren’t just happening at the gym, by the way…they’re happening online in social media apps like Facebook and LinkedIn, in college classrooms and in other professional forums and events, as well).
For more on the relationship between customer engagement and loyalty, please see:
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• The Power of a Personal Connection
• All Customer Relationships Are Personal
Everyone likes a success story.
I picked up a recent issue of Fortune magazine and found one hundred of them, under the story line, “100 Best Companies to Work For.” These stories were compiled on the basis of feedback obtained from what Fortune calls “the most extensive employee survey in corporate America.” The survey asks employees for their feedback on management credibility, job satisfaction and organizational culture.
Not surprisingly, each of the companies chosen for this honor has a unique story of what makes it a great place to work. The stories they tell evoke images of employee wellness, creativity, innovation, shared wealth, trust and respect, community service, passion, transparency and appreciation. Some of my favorites included stories about Wegmans, Recreational Equipment (REI), Men’s Wearhouse and Marriott International – all brands I frequent and ones I have highlighted in previous blogs.
Do you have a favorite success story from this list?
Click here to see the full list of this year’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
I walked into the dry cleaners the other day to drop off a new dress shirt and a pair of slacks. I am a regular customer and, as you might expect, am frequently greeted by name when I walk in. By the time I had arrived at the counter, the assistant manager had already pulled up my account in their database. He was able to retrieve my account without my having to provide my phone number (an impressive feat, given the large number of customer transactions they process in a given day). He also knew how I liked my shirts (lightly starched, on hangers) and didn’t have to ask me.
He must have sensed I was in a hurry because, when he discovered I was leaving new items that needed bar-coded labels (they use these to identify and keep track of their customers’ garments), he told me to go on ahead and he would take care of it. When I asked if I needed a receipt, he said, “No, I got it.”
I returned later that evening and, without a receipt, said I was there for a pick-up. The employee behind the counter quickly retrieved my shirt and slacks, I paid for the dry cleaning and was soon on my way.
I share this story about my customer experience with Crest Cleaners because it is a big part of why they have been able to retain me as a loyal customer for many years. The relationship we have built is one of familiarity – I could walk in, leave my dry cleaning on the counter without saying a word (if I really wanted to) and know it would be ready that night. It’s also a relationship of trust – after all, there aren’t too many places where I would feel comfortable leaving over $150 worth of clothes without a receipt or claim check. Most of all, it's convenient. It makes dry cleaning the easiest part of my day.
Are your employees making the extra effort to anticipate your customers' needs? It might mean the difference between customer retention and attrition for your business.
For other insights on the important role people play in customer retention, please see:
• “Refrigerator Rights” and Why Organizations Covet Them
• Be Different – Thank Your Customers
• Service Before Self: Why Strength of Character Compels Others to Do Business With You
Brand repositioning, or rebranding, is a process typically undertaken by organizations whose role in the marketplace has evolved over time. Its purpose is to change perceptions – both internally and externally. Internally, processes are improved and employees are united under a consistent message, or brand promise. Externally, the brand’s delivery of its new brand promise provides customers with a stronger sense of who the brand is and what it stands for.
Organizations who undertake a rebranding do so with the intent of building brand equity, increasing customer acquisitions, improving customer retention, strengthening customer loyalty/advocacy and increasing profitability.
If your organization’s role in the marketplace has evolved and you are looking to improve its performance across these metrics, then perhaps its time to consider a brand repositioning. Here are five tips for a successful makeover:
• Start with a plan that includes targeted milestones and an expected ROI
A specific schedule of who will achieve what by when, along with the expected incremental sales increase for every dollar spent on the rebranding, will ensure timely, actionable and measurable results.
• Test your rebranding recommendations on a small subset of your target audience
The stakes of any rebranding effort are simply too high for anyone to ignore the need for testing. The impact of any repositioning recommendation should be measured among sample test and control groups before full-scale activation. Declining sales after recent rebranding efforts by brands like JC Penney and Tropicana underscore the importance of testing.
• Listen to your customers and non-customers
Organizations who listen only to their best customers learn why those customers stay with them and nothing about why disgruntled customers leave, or why those who are not current customers might be difficult to acquire.
• Leverage the experience and knowledge of your employees
Marketers who lack cross-functional experience (e.g., sales, operations, customer service, etc.) or institutional knowledge (e.g., company, industry, markets, etc.) will find it difficult to make informed rebranding decisions and are less likely to obtain lasting organizational buy-in for the rebranding effort.
• Avoid the temptation to start over
Organizations who have met with success in the past have obviously done some things right. Successful rebranding efforts build on those achievements, and the agencies whose creative talents fueled their progress, instead of discarding them.
I decided to rebrand myself in January 2010. I started tweeting. I did a major refresh on my LinkedIn profile. In the months and years since, I opened a Facebook account and created a Facebook Page. I also opened accounts in Foursquare and Pinterest. And I even started measuring my online influence in Kred and Klout.
Three years later, I’ve accumulated an array of quantifiable successes many small business marketers would be proud of:
• Over 2,700 Twitter followers and growing (see chart below), some of whom have been with me from the start
• Over 400 connections in LinkedIn, a cadre of loyal professional connections from before and after my brand refresh
• Over 50 friends and family connections on Facebook, some of whom go back to my undergraduate college days at Fairfield
• A Kred influence score of 664 (out of 1,000) and an outreach level score of 6 (out of 10)
• A Klout score of 52 (out of 100)
• Top positions on Google Page 1 search results
Much of the success I have had in building my brand can be attributed to a deliberate adherence to the business storytelling and communications mantras we espouse here at The Chief Storyteller®. The following are among my personal favorites:
• People are at the heart of every great story
• Social communities are built on personal and business stories
• It’s all about them
• People crave connections
• Content is king
If you are looking to build a brand – personal or business – remember these mantras and be sure to keep it social. After all, brand building is really about people, the stories you share and the connections you make.
For more on my own brand building experience with social media, please see:
• Social Media – Are You Connected?
• Are You Embracing Social Media?
• Social Media Playground Rules – Are You a Giver or a Taker?
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand in Social Media
“I guarantee it.”
Sound familiar? If you’re like me, you’ve seen and heard Men’s Wearhouse founder George Zimmer close countless TV ads with this simple promise. It’s a promise that elevates customer satisfaction to the highest priority, allowing customers who are not completely happy with the fit, quality or fabric of any item to return their purchase within 90 days.
Many brands talk about their commitment to customer satisfaction. Others talk about how easy it is to make decisions you can feel good about when doing business with them. Few brands, however, actually deliver. Men's Wearhouse is one brand who does. What makes them unique is their ability to provide a flawless, solution-based customer experience.
I recently walked into a Men’s Wearhouse store with the intent of buying a single suit. I was greeted immediately and paired with Jenny, one of their style experts. I told her what I was looking for – a suit with a more modern look – and she brought out several different suits for me to try on. By the time I met with the tailor, I had decided to buy two suits.
As I was being fitted, Jenny brought over several pairs of shoes to try on. The styles and colors she selected were ones that would complement my new suits. She then walked me over to a table, where she had laid out the suits I had just purchased. Nested within the suits were several different shirt and tie combinations, along with belts to match the shoes. I also left the store with two new pairs of shoes, along with the intent to purchase some of the remaining items in the near future.
While I had entered the store looking to buy a product (i.e., a suit), Jenny made the extra effort to ensure my satisfaction with the product by offering me a complete solution (i.e., a modern look). For the brand, this translates into higher sales and stronger customer loyalty. For me, this means I am going to like the way I look. Guaranteed.
I was at a gathering hosted by some friends recently, which was followed by a meal at a local restaurant. I sat at a table with several others from the gathering, some of whom I was meeting for the first time. Moments after the meal began, the man across from me asked about the license plate frame on the back of my car, which proudly proclaimed my status as a Fairfield University alumnus.
I soon discovered he was retired - a Professor Emeritus - from Fairfield University and that he had taught Accounting classes when I was a student there, up until a few years ago.
The couple sitting next to him and his wife then mentioned they had a niece and nephew who had earned degrees from Fairfield and asked if I knew them - it turns out I knew the niece, who like me, was a Marketing major and one year ahead of me.
Soon, people around us were talking about Fairfield University and how much they loved the university brand! Although the school was miles away from where we were eating lunch that day, it seemed almost serendipitous that so many people with connections to the University had somehow come together and had become fast friends.
Small world, I thought. Then I realized the power of branding and how inexpensive promotional items like license plate frames, window clings, bumper stickers, car sign magnets, etc. can bring people together by generating conversation around a brand. Items like these are a great way to reward customers for their affiliation with your brand...and to bring brand loyalists together.
People like talking about brands they love. What is your brand doing to bring them together?
Every brand has a story to tell. The goal of the story is to drive deeper engagement with your customers. How well the story is told can often make the difference between fleeting and lasting customer engagement. In the online marketing world, brands tell their story by the content they post.
Brands who fill their web and social media pages with an abundance of stories about themselves are telling customers their needs and wants don’t matter. Brands whose content includes sales pitches for discounted products and promotional giveaways are conceding their products are – well, the same as everyone else’s. And brands whose only goal is simply to get people to like them on Facebook appear shallow and directionless. These stories invite fleeting customer engagement and do little, if anything, to improve a brand’s customer retention rates.
On the other hand, brands who focus more on interacting with their customers online and in communities where they live are showing customers they genuinely care about them. Brands who share information on how their products can be used to fill a real or perceived need prove their products are unique and worth paying a premium for. And brands who reward all new and existing users with incentives (e.g., exclusive content, coupons/rebates, eligibility to enter a promotion, donations to a charity based on the number of page Likes, etc.) for Liking their Page are providing something of value to their fans. These are the stories that drive lasting engagement and higher customer retention.
If content is the new currency for brand storytelling in 2013, what kind of story is your brand telling? Is it driving the customer engagement and retention results you are looking for?
For examples of brands who excel in customer engagement, please see:
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• Why @yurbuds is an #awesome social brand!
In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the story opens on a dark and bleak Christmas Eve, at the counting office of Scrooge and his deceased partner, Jacob Marley. Ebenezer Scrooge is introduced as a lonely and miserly old man who lacks kindness, generosity and compassion for others. He balks at giving his overworked employee, Bob Cratchit, paid time off for Christmas Day. While it’s easy for the reader to see how unhealthy this culture might be to an organization, it is not readily apparent to Mr. Scrooge.
As the story unfolds, Scrooge receives visits from four ghosts – Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future – who accompany him to various scenes from his life. In each scene, he is allowed to step back and observe his actions and the impact they have on others. Only after glimpsing a preview of his own woeful legacy and dark fate does Scrooge decide to transform his life, embracing kindness, generosity and compassion.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of delivering your brand promise to non-customers. In many ways, I was speaking about the relationship between your brand promise and your organizational culture. Organizations, for example, who claim to value and appreciate their customers must first value and appreciate their employees. As Ebenezer Scrooge discovered, for those who may have lost sight of this reality, it’s never too late to change. We simply need to step back and take a look at how our actions are impacting those around us. We then need to ask if they are consistent with the way in which we want others to perceive us.
Now take a step back. Think about your organization and its culture. How would you describe it? More importantly, how would your employees describe it? Is it consistent with your brand promise? If not, what actions can you take to change it in the new year?
All I really wanted for Christmas this year was a new pair of running shoes. So, on Small Business Saturday, I went to Pacers – Metro Washington’s “local running joint for running gear, races, and training.”
My recent visit to the Fairfax store – located in the center of town – was not my first. I had been there many times before for Pacers-sponsored events like high school spike nights and Tuesday night fun runs. My family and I had purchased running gear there before and had become loyal customers.
The sense of community at Pacers is evident from the moment you enter the store. Customers are greeted warmly by members of the staff, who share an obvious enthusiasm for running. Staff members provide an extraordinary level of attentive and personal service to each customer, sharing expert advice and evaluating running styles. Customers can try on as many pairs of shoes as they like. The layout of the small store includes an aisle long enough for customers to try their shoes...and sometimes interact with other customers as they are deciding on which pair to buy.
The Pacers community extends beyond the retail store to Facebook and Twitter, with communities of close to 5,000 fans and over 3,800 followers, respectively. Online, Pacers engages customers with news of special promotions, new products, event registrations, event photos and results, as well as invitations to participate in Pacers-sponsored community service activities. The enthusiasm their communities feel for this brand is evident from the online conversations that are occurring…and it’s what differentiates Pacers from other retailers.
Is it any wonder, then, when I had finally decided which shoe to buy that day, the last question I asked was, “How much does this pair cost?”
The holidays are upon us and this season of goodwill is a wonderful opportunity for organizations of all types to make a difference in the communities they serve.
One of the best ways we can make a difference in the lives of others is to volunteer. Volunteering with others in community service is a great way to build relationships, help the less fortunate and improve your reputation. It's an opportunity for organizations who say they care about a cause or group of people to put their words into actions. Giving back is not only a way to make a difference, it's a way to differentiate your brand.
In her poem, "Life’s Mirror," Madeline Bridges speaks eloquently of this relationship between giving back and receiving when she writes, “Then give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.”
Make this the holiday season where you give your very best.
For more thoughts on how organizations can serve others, please see:
• Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey
• Your Brand and the Community It Serves
• What the Boy Scouts Can Teach Your Business About Serving Others
Imagine we are meeting for the first time. To get to know you better, I ask you to tell your story. You can probably think of a thousand words that would give me an idea of who you are and what you are about, right?
Now imagine I ask you to show me your story – with rich visual images and few, if any, words. Which pictures would you use? How would you arrange them? What would you want them to show about you, your organization or your brand?
One of the easiest tools for doing this is Pinterest – the social sharing site that allows you to tell your story with pictures. In its simplest form, Pinterest is an online pin board where members have the ability to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their boards and then share them with others via social networking.
To see how Pinterest can be used to show (and tell) your story, consider the example of my Pinterest page. These words – “Find your ‘True North.’ Award-winning marketing and sales leader, social media pro, fitness enthusiast and outdoor explorer who will move you forward” – appear in the "About" section of my page and tell my story. My profile picture and those in the boards below it – Fun and Fit, Brands I Love, Places to Go and Nature – provide you with a visual image of me and my story.
Now...imagine your story in pictures.
For other insights on using visual images for business storytelling and branding, please see:
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy Forever
• Using Images to Compel People to Action
When it comes to customer experience, sometimes the most unforgettable moments come from chance encounters. How your employees respond in that instant is often the difference between magic and mediocre.
Earlier this month, I was volunteering as a course marshal at the Girls on the Run® (GOTR®) 5K race in my community. GOTR® is an international organization whose “mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” The program runs for several weeks and concludes with a celebratory 5K running event for each participant and their buddy runner.
As one of several volunteer course marshals, I was positioned at an intersection approximately one mile from the finish. My job was to help ensure the safety of the thousands of runners who would run by me that day, keeping them on course and cheering them on. All of that changed in an instant when one participant’s buddy runner, who was her mom, emerged from the sea of runners before me to tell me she was unable to finish the race. She asked if I could find another buddy runner who could finish the race with her young daughter, whose eyes began to tear up as I called for medical assistance.
Instantly, I knew what I had to do. I asked the runner and her mom if I could be her daughter’s buddy for the remainder of the race. They both smiled. When we got to the finish line, her mom was there waiting for us. It was an emotional moment for them – her young daughter had just finished her first 5K race, after weeks of preparation and against what surely seemed an insurmountable obstacle moments earlier. It was, as she told me, an unforgettable moment.
To them and at that moment, even as a volunteer course marshal, I was the GOTR® brand. The experience I provided to them in their time of need – which was to go the extra mile on their behalf, literally – helped to turn a chance encounter into a magic moment.
Are your employees going the extra mile for your customers? Is your customer experience filled with magic moments?
Join NBPCI and The Chief Storyteller for the Nov16th Compelling Capabilities Statement Clinic.
It is *Free* for registered attendees of the NBPCI Executive Breakfast Event with Teresa Lewis.
Please visit our other website page with all of the details. www.thechiefstoryteller.com/services/compelling-capability-statement
If you are like me and subscribe to the notion that your brand is whatever people perceive it to be, then the importance of delivering your brand promise applies to non-customers, too. Organizations that focus all of their branding efforts solely on “customers” are likely to fail. Here’s why.
Astute marketers know that brands interact with, and have the potential to influence, groups of people other than customers – employees, job applicants, vendors, investors and members of the community, to name a few. The interaction becomes more personal when there is an overlapping relationship with a brand among any of these groups (e.g., employees who are customers, job applicants who are customers, etc.).
Let’s assume for a moment your brand promise is to make people feel valued. Customers who receive personalized thank you notes, who are rewarded with exclusive offers and who are affirmed with opportunities to provide feedback in periodic surveys will feel your brand promise has been delivered. On the other hand, employees who receive no affirmation from the boss, job applicants who hear nothing back, vendors who do not receive return phone calls and community members who are not engaged by your brand will feel you have failed to deliver your brand promise.
For your brand, the consequences of ignoring this second group – the non-customers – may be significant. The voices of those who feel ignored by the brand will ring louder than those who feel valued in blogs, across social media, in online reviews and through word of mouth. They will undermine your credibility by telling others your brand cannot be trusted. Instead of advocating for your brand, they will assail it. Your brand’s reputation will suffer.
For more insights on the relationship between brand promise and organizational culture, please see:
• What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?
• Your Tone and Voice Are Your Brand
• The Positive Impact of Social Media and Brand Advocates on Business Storytelling
There are a few spots left for Wednesday's workshop in the Baltimore, Maryland area. Here is the information. Email Bjorn (contact info below) with any questions (or me).
There will be a meeting of entrepreneurs who want to learn the art of making great presentations. Mr. Ira Koretsky will lead this event. He has travelled the world training people and consulting to organizations on the art and science of great communications. Join us for a fun, engaging and insightful event.
Ira will introduce us to his five-step approach. He will ask you to draft your pitch (any type of pitch). And he will ask for volunteers to deliver what you have done during the workshop. Ira makes your communications unforgettable. He helps you develop compelling messages to your target audiences. With better spoken, written, and online communications, you will expand brand awareness, improve business outcomes, and strengthen financial results.
Presenting with Confidence: Develop and Deliver Engaging Presentations in 5 Steps
Great presenters transform ideas into action. They put their messages, supporting points, facts, and personal stories into a meaningful context for their audiences. Great presenters do not just tell us what we should know, they tell us what we should do, and why we should do it. Learn the techniques of great presenters. Learn to develop engaging presentations of any type for any audience (e.g., investor,prospecting, partner, executive team, and board updates). Join us as we share the five key steps to becoming a more confident and persuasive presenter. Learn more at www.TheChiefStoryteller.com
About Our Speaker
Ira Koretsky founded The Chief Storyteller® in 2002. Based on more than 26 years of experience, research, and refinement, he has developed a process shared internationally to over 25,600 people. This flexible process helps you develop and deliver highly targeted messages to your audiences. Ira looks at the world of communications and messaging differently than most. He looks at the world through the lens of storytelling, with a twist (come see the “twist” at this event).
- Identify the best messages and words interesting to your listeners.
- Focus your content on answering the questions of your audience.
- Learn a new way of communicating and building relationships.
- Harness the power of storytelling to meet your objectives more effectively and more quickly. Facts can only prove, stories build value!
Everybody, including entrepreneurs, need to pitch their stories to customers, investors, partners, and employees. Usually different pitches to different people.
Time and place
November 14, 2012 from 12:30 to 3:30 pm, Large seminar room at UMBC’s energy incubator (CETI)
1450 South Rolling Road, Halethorpe, MD 21227
12:30 pm Doors open & networking.
1:00 pm Workshop conducted by Ira Koretsky.
3:00 pm More networking (Ira will leave for another commitment).
We will limit the number of RSVPs to 60. This is likely to become a sold-out event. This meeting is free and open to all.
- Maryland Clean Energy Technology Incubator (CETI) @ bwtech @ UMBC.
- Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC).
- Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development (DBED).
- Whiteford Taylor Preston (WTP).
- SB & Company.
Bjorn Frogner, PhD
Entrepreneur in Residence, Tel: 443-534-7671
Maryland Clean Energy Technology Incubator(CETI) at bwtech@UMBC
I stopped in my local Starbuck’s the other day. I had been up late the night before and was staring at a full day of work at the office. I needed something that would boost my energy level and brighten my day.
I took my place in line, along with everyone else that morning. When I got to the counter, I found exactly what I was looking for. I was greeted with a huge smile and a sincere-sounding, “How are you today? What can I get for you?” I paid $2.05 for my grande-sized coffee and left.
I could have gotten a cup of coffee at any number of places on the way into work. I could have picked a place where the lines were shorter. And, I could have gone somewhere else and paid a little less. What made me choose this particular Starbuck's was my expectation of the experience I would have when visiting the store. In short, I knew they would make me feel great.
Long after I had finished my coffee, I was still thinking about the customer experience I had at Starbuck’s that day. Sure, the coffee was good. The experience, however, was outstanding. Although I left the store with a cup of coffee in hand, I went (and will return) for the experience.
If your retail business is selling a commodity at a premium price, consider looking at your customer experience as a way of differentiating and creating preference for your brand. The simple idea of making customers feel good about their experience with your brand does not require large investments of time or money in market research. All that is required is a genuine and sincere desire to help people and to make them feel great about themselves when they experience your brand.
As the famous poet, Maya Angelou, once said, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”