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Ira Koretsky
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Duane Bailey
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When was the last time you conducted a marketing collateral audit? If I asked you to share samples of your marketing collateral with me, what stories would they tell? What is their purpose? Is it a singular, goal-oriented purpose? Or, are there a variety of purposes – awareness, informational, sales or entertainment?

A sales and marketing best practice is to ensure all of your marketing collateral serves a singular purpose – to advance your prospect’s buying decision process. Collateral designed for any other purpose often ends up distracting your prospect and delaying the buyer's decision-making process. The cost to produce, optimize, store and distribute extraneous marketing collateral can also erode your profitability.

If you are looking to create marketing collateral that drives sales, consider these five tips:
  • Start by understanding your Ideal Client Profile (ICP). Know the characteristics of your target audience and what drivers are motivating them to buy.
  • Keep it simple. Write at the 10th grade level or below. Avoid jargon that may be meaningless to your prospect. Make it easy to read.
  • Engage your audience with a short story. Inspiring stories bring your brand to life and help to build an emotional connection with your prospect.
  • Write with quality. Your written materials are a reflection of your brand and the quality of its products and services.
  • Experience your collateral from their perspective, not yours. Ask your customer-facing salespeople, and a sampling of prospects and customers, to review your marketing collateral. What feelings and actions is it evoking in them?

For more on marketing collateral that advances your prospect’s buying decision process, please see:
• Use Customer Testimonials to Build Trust and Increase Sales
• Every Single Communication Item Tells Your Business Story and Your Brand Story
• Online Marketing: Good Landing Pages Are Easy to Follow

How effective are you at retaining customers, donors, volunteers, Twitter followers and Facebook friends? Are you investing huge amounts of time, energy and resource on new acquisitions only to find your “customers” are leaving you at an alarming rate?

If your attrition rate is high, take a moment to think about how you are segmenting your customers – after you have acquired them. Market segmentation isn’t just a strategy for acquiring new customers; it’s also an effective way to retain the customers you have.

In my sales, fundraising, community service and social media marketing experience, I have found it far easier to acquire new customers than it is to retain them. Once you have them, retaining customers takes effort. You want them to remain as loyal customers and brand advocates, repeat donors and volunteers, and as part of your social media fan base.

You retain customers by engaging them – as individuals. By making them feel special. By anticipating their unique needs and responding to their concerns. By valuing and respecting them. By developing and sustaining a relationship with them. By marketing to each customer as a segment of one.

Now think of your experience with the brands you are passionate about. Are you a segment of one?

     “A Community Manager is the face of a company, managing communications in both directions. It’s a Web 2.0 communications role, incorporating online tools and in-person networking to create relationships and ultimately build a company’s brand, both online and off.” 

Erin Bury, Director of Content and Communications, Sprouter

 

Later this week, I will be volunteering as part of a team to help support the aspirations of high school students from under-represented backgrounds for college degree programs in environmental and related science fields.

Volunteering in our community is a core value for the brand my team represents. As volunteers, we are the face of the brand to the people we serve.  By initiating and managing a 2-way conversation with the students, we bring the brand to life. Their experience with us and the relationships we build in the course of our service to these students will ultimately frame their perceptions of our brand and its reputation.

What if we were to add Web 2.0 to the communications mix? Offline interactions with the people we serve would happen online. Community managers would give the brand its voice, managing the flow of 2-way communications. How the students experience us and the relationships we build as a result of those online interactions would shape their perceptions of our brand and its reputation – for years to come.

Volunteers and community managers are the face of your brand -- they create relationships within the communities they serve. It’s how brand reputations are made. 

John's first blog post, "From Front Line to Bottom Line - A Soldier's View of the Business Battlefield," was an enjoyable read with some great customer service messages. Enjoy his newest article...

As part of my everyday marketing obligation, I do a fair share of social media posting on various outlets for our company. Not only do I help generate Facebook, Twitter, and forum content for new products and promotions, I have also started to branch out into blog writing. Blog posts are beneficial for data distribution because it helps fill a niche that other social media outlets cannot satisfy. Especially when it pertains to sharing information heavy material, blog posting is one of the best options out there.

Recently, I wrote an article for our company's blog called "Our Company Mindset, Airsplat's Team and Crew." I shared with our readers a few intimate tidbits about our company's culture that they may not acknowledge, nor do they encounter on a daily basis. The blog post generated a great amount of positive support from our followers through our Facebook page. The positive outcome inspired us to share with everyone our experience with writing a company culture article. Here are a few reasons and tips on why you should share your company's culture.

Faces of a Company
Customers often visualize companies to be a computerized structure. Though technology has blessed us with systems that can operate with minimal supervision, there are certain things that are not so cut and dry, and require a bit of human interaction. How many times have you called a large corporation seeking assistance, only to find yourself going in circles, arguing with an automated message system? This scenario be frustrating and it can be counterproductive. 

Sharing with your customers how your company operates (and who operates it) help to create an amiable persona for your business. It doesn't necessarily mean shining the spotlight on individual employees. Instead, it means for others to acknowledge that there are people working hard to keep the business going (instead of a company being run by robots). 

Behind the Scenes Operations
Consumers either have confidence in a company, or they don't. Uncertainty almost counts as a "no." Providing affordable and quality products is only half the battle. Returning customers typically instill trust in a company beyond reliable product stock. Even though there are hundreds of other companies selling the same product, they return because they have confidence that the company cares about their customers.

In our company culture article, we shared with our readers how we operate interdepartmentally. Our company mainly deals with online retail, and a collaborative effort is required to thrive in this business. When we receive an order, every department is working together to make sure it is processed and shipped out correctly. When customers acknowledge the work and dedication that is put into every order, their trust in the company is reinforced.

Working Hard to Play Hard
When a company rewards and invests in their employees, customers will recognize the deed. Discontent employees often do not execute their jobs well, which unfortunately, can lead to dissatisfied customers. Showing your customers that you care about the well being of your employees can further reinforce trust. 

A few ideas you can add to your company culture article would be share your company's reward system for good performance. For example, our employees are rewarded for reaching goals and providing assistance to others. It is great to add this tidbit to your article because customers will see and appreciate the investment that the company is willing to expend on their employees.

Another example would to be share past companywide events. Reveal to your readers the cohesiveness that your company has beyond the typical eight-hour workday. As a whole, our company has celebrated achievements, holidays, and participated in extracurricular activities together as a team. Take a moment to share the fun times with your readers, and don't forget to add corresponding pictures and videos as well.


John is an Operation Freedom War veteran and a manager for Airsplat, the nation's largest retailer of Airsoft Guns including Spring Airsoft Rifles.

In its simplest form, your personal brand is what identifies and differentiates you. Everyone who creates a profile in social media (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Klout, etc.) has a brand.

On social media, branding is less about seeing who can get the most followers and more about understanding the segment(s) of users you want to engage and interact with – your target audience.  What message will you send? How will you establish credibility? How will you motivate others to follow you or to share your content with others in their network? How will you create the kind of emotional connection that inspires them to stay with you? Which topics are driving action among your followers? These questions all speak to the influence of you and your brand on social media.

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Here are five insights for marketing your brand (and increasing your influence) on social media:
• Create a personalized profile.
     Humanize your profile. People want to interact with other people – not brands, objects or pets.
• Be consistent – use the same profile for all of your social media channels.
     A consistent image and bio across all channels makes it easy for others to find you. It also reinforces your brand identify and differentiation.
• Stay on message.
     Use your profile image and bio to describe you and what your brand is about. Then limit the content you share to those topics. 
• Curate and share amazing content.
     Know your target audience. Offer a collection of content – both original and shared – that is relevant, useful and unique.      
• Engage your followers.
     Ask for advice. Offer helpful tips and insights. Acknowledge others when sharing their content. Thank people for mentioning you. Respond to direct messages. Recommend people who are worth following.

How much influence do you and your brand have on social media?

My youngest son is learning to drive. He sat in the driver’s seat of my Jeep Wrangler the other night for the first time and, as he began to move the Jeep forward, he smiled. It was no ordinary smile. Although we had taken many trips together in that Jeep, he had always been a passenger. This time was different. He was no longer a passenger. He was driving. He was empowered.

As he drove around the parking lot, I began to see how this story might apply to brands and their marketing strategies. With traditional marketing, customers are passengers. The brand is in the driver’s seat and its customers are merely along for the ride. As marketers, we tell them who, what, when, where, how and why to do something. Our goal is that they will jump in and stay for the ride.

Times are different. Our customers have grown up. They no longer want to be marketed to. They are educating themselves. They are using the Internet to find their own answers to the challenges they face. In many ways, they are in the driver’s seat.  They are empowered. As marketers, we need to transform the way we engage and connect with them.

This transformation begins with trust. We must trust that our customers will interact with us and each other in a way that is responsible, respectful and beneficial. Putting them in the driver’s seat means asking them for input on our future direction (products, services and even our brand positioning), encouraging them to post online reviews of their experience with our brand (good and bad), or inviting them to participate with us in our community service projects. In a sense, it requires us to put customers first and take a seat – on the passenger side of the car – while they drive.

Take a look at your marketing strategy. Are you empowering your customers?

The purpose of marketing is to drive sales. All of those other things – market research, branding, segmentation, customer experience mapping, pricing, channel optimization, product design, event marketing, social media – are just activities. Activity is interesting. Results matter.

Consider your personal or corporate brand. How much time and money have you invested in any of the above marketing activities during the past year? Have your sales results improved, remained the same or declined? Are the changes in your sales results statistically relevant? To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, are you better off today than you were a year ago?

To ensure your marketing activities are driving statistically relevant improvements in your sales results, let me offer a few insights:
  • Before any marketing investments are made, set measurable sales goals and timeframes for achieving them. Be accountable and publish them – use them as the benchmark for measuring the success of your marketing activities.
  • When sales results are reported, look for direct correlations between cause and effect. For example, if the goal is to increase market share among a targeted demographic, then it is reasonable to expect statistically improved year-over-year and higher comparative results for that segment vs. others who were not targeted.
  • Insist on transparency and collaboration in all of your marketing efforts. Be sure input from customers, salespeople and other relevant stakeholders is sought as ideas are being discussed, not after decisions have been made to obtain buy-in.

After all, the purpose of marketing is to drive sales.

For more on marketing and sales, click on these posts:
• Activity Is Interesting, Results Matter
• Change So Loud You Can Hear It – So Why Wasn’t Anybody Listening?
• How to Tell the Difference Between Sales and Marketing

It’s been three years since I found my voice on Twitter.

Of all the brands I have followed, I can recall few who do social as well as Yurbuds, the maker of sport earphones. To follow Yurbuds (or @yurbuds, to those of you on Twitter) is to have a conversation with a brand that’s been brought to life. With a “followers to follow-back” ratio of 1.2 (that’s a little over one follower for each person it follows), @yurbuds is engaging its community of followers with fun trivia questions, answers to questions about its earphones, congratulatory tweets to purchasers, retweets of user feedback and workout tips.

This is a brand who appears genuinely interested in what its followers have to say. Every tweet between @yurbuds and one of its followers is yet another touch point on their experience with the brand – a brand whose “mission is to transform the Athlete’s experience through Personalized service and Exceptional audio products….”

 

Check them out on Twitter and see for yourself why @yurbuds is an #awesome social brand.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Is Your Brand Social?

If there is one lesson I’ve learned in Professor Christie Susko’s Social Media Marketing class at The George Washington University this semester, it’s the importance of engaging (vs. interrupting) your followers. Social media is, after all, an interactive conversation between two people. If you're not engaging your followers with follow backs and interactions, then your brand is probably not very social.

Consider the two examples below, both established brands with long track records of success in traditional marketing. Like a surprisingly large number of brands who maintain an online social presence, my own experience with them has been disappointing. I once followed both, mentioned one favorably on two separate occasions, and retweeted a community-service post by the other and yet...no follow back nor interaction from either.

Brand #1: A Regional Food Market Chain
Bio: “The official twitter account for [brand name]. Can’t wait to talk to you!”
Followers: 34,987
Following: 6,352

Brand #2: Consumer Products Manufacturer
Bio: “Touching lives, improving life.”
Followers: 22,909
Following: 982

Using these examples, let me share 4 takeaways for ensuring your brand is social:
• Be authentic – if you say you want to interact with your followers (e.g., “Can’t wait to talk to you”), then follow back and thank your followers for their retweets and mentions.
• Know that social media is incredibly transparent – brands with a disproportionately large number of followers relative to follow backs appear as if they are disinterested in what their followers have to say.
• View social media as a touch point in your customer’s journey – just as you would thank your customers for their purchases, thank and make them feel special for following you.
• Treat all of your followers equally – here at The Chief Storyteller®, we live by the mantra of treating everyone you meet like they’re the next CEO, or your most profitable customer.

Next week, I’ll write about a brand who is doing all of these things amazingly well. In the meantime, please check and see how social some of your favorite brands are. I’m curious to know what you find. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lessons in Leadership

I recently bumped into a few folks from my Boy Scout Troop, where I served as Scoutmaster for a couple of years. It was good to reconnect and it got me thinking now might be a good time to reflect on some of the leadership lessons I tried to impart.  I’ll call them life lessons in leadership – because they universally apply to so many of our life experiences – family, college, career, volunteerism, etc.

Here are 7 timeless life leadership lessons:

1. Lead because you can.
     Taking on a leadership role may not always be the easiest path. So why do it? The short answer can be found among those who choose to camp outside on a cold, snowy night in the middle of January: “We do it because we can.”

2. Believe in yourself.
     You will make mistakes. Learning from your mistakes gives you the confidence you need to face new challenges.

3. Have a vision for where you want to go and stick with it.
     Know where you want to go and work the plan. Plan for the long-term, act in the short-term.

4. Surround yourself with the best people you can find.
     Even the best leaders don’t have all the answers. Surround yourself with people who will challenge you – by telling you what you need to hear, not by telling you what you want to hear.

5. Be prepared.
     You never know what crisis will erupt when you least expect it. Take the time to prepare yourself, for any emergency.  And when a crisis does erupt, lead by example – be the calm, confident and reassuring presence others need you to be.

6. Know you can never please everyone.
     Regardless of how hard you try, there is always someone out there who thinks he or she can do a better job.  Invite your critics to the leadership table and ask them to help you lead.

7. You can never say “Thank You” enough.
     Accept, embrace and appreciate the help you get from your volunteers and supporters. It’s often their belief in you that allows you to persevere... in good times and in bad times.

For more lessons on leadership, please see:
• Character Is What You Do When Nobody Is Looking
• Do a Good Turn Daily
• What the Boy Scouts Can Teach Your Business About Serving Others

“Likeability comes down to creating positive emotional experiences in others. When you make others feel good, they tend to gravitate to you.”

-Tim Sanders

How likeable are you? What words do your co-workers use to describe you? Are you approachable or condescending? Are you a team player or a “lone ranger”? Do you recognize others or sing your own praises?

I’ve interacted with people from all walks of life – political leaders (even a President!), business executives, colleagues, coaches, teachers, professors, classmates, religious and volunteers – and in almost every instance, found myself attracted to those who had the innate ability to make others feel good.

Instinctively, we want to help people who create positive emotional experiences in us. We vote for them, we buy their products and services, we share our knowledge, we practice more, we contribute in class, we participate more frequently and we give of ourselves…because we like them and we want them to succeed.

See also:
Managing for Great Performance
Why Team Sports Matter in Business
How to Make the Most of Your Network
How the Best Leaders Inspire Others
Social Media Playground Rules – Are You a Giver or a Taker?

Does your social media presence interrupt or engage? How about your face-to-face presence? Is there a consistent level of engagement between your social media and face-to-face customer experiences?

During a recent business trip to Philadelphia, I spent the night at a well-known luxury hotel. The hotel was everything they said it would be – "a blend of...elegance with American style, providing a refined environment for upscale business and leisure travel…offering the height of contemporary comfort and convenience.” From the moment I arrived, the staff I encountered made every effort to engage me with personalized service and attention.

My online experience, though, was quite different from the one I had in the lobby. I made two Foursquare “check-ins” during my stay. Unlike my experience with the Waldorf=Astoria in New York City last Fall, this hotel did not engage me in social media. The hotel has a fairly strong presence on Twitter and tweets regularly about fashion and style tips, as well as local tourist destinations and events. It's a social media presence that interrupts more than it engages.

Digitally-savvy guests like me increasingly expect to engage the brands we frequent – both online and offline – in conversations about topics or experiences of mutual interest. One-way conversations, or simply informing us with content we may find relevant, is far less effective in cultivating brand loyalty than engaging us in two-way conversations – even if the conversations are little more than acknowledging our experience with their brand.

I emailed Duane (my colleague at The Chief Storyteller) sharing that I liked his blog “Has Self-Service Finally Gone Too Far?

My email to Duane:

“Funny thing...I'm quite happy during self-service and prefer no interactions whatsoever! The interactions slow me down.

Like Sunday night when I checked into my hotel. I just drove three hours, it was 11pm. I smiled at the woman, told her it was a long drive from Washington, DC and I was glad to finally be at the hotel to get some sleep. I even told her a was a little tired and cranky. She smiled. Processed my credit card. Then as I began walking away, started to tell me about breakfast. I had to stop and look back. If it was me behind the desk, I would have asked, “Would you like some information on breakfast?”

And not five minutes after getting into my room, she called to see how everything was. Probably protocol. Now, it was a nice thing to do, unexpected, and something not even five star resort hotels do with any regularity.

Again, If it was me behind the desk, I would not have called at all.”

--------

Duane emails back…

In my blog, I was writing about two grocery stores, [NameA] and [NameB]. The difference between them was too large not to notice. The fact that it happened twice in one day was even more noticeable.

And the fact that [NameC], who went through a period of really good then really bad and now really good customer service, found a way to deliver a positive self-serve customer experience really made [NameA]’s problems stand out.

It was a smart move on the hotel's part to call you. By doing so, they effectively disarmed you from finding something to complain about (who knows? you could have taken your complaint/issues online for all to see?).

Brilliant move on their part. I would have done the same thing.

--------

And I wrote back, “This is my next blog!”

This exchange shows you the wide views on customer service. The big take-away is that Duane would have made a deliberate choice to call me in my hotel room. I would bet $1 billion Monopoly dollars the front desk person called because she was following the protocol rules…

Do consumers want a relationship with their supermarket?

I made two visits to my supermarket the other day. On both occasions, I felt like the invisible man – unseen to the naked eye and passing virtually undetected as I made my way around the store, through the self check-out and out the same door I entered.

Each time, I stopped by to pick up one or two items. I knew where they were located in the store and I was paying cash. I got what I came for. Did I really need to interact with any of the people working there, anyway?

I was disappointed by the fact that not a single employee made an effort to acknowledge my presence – there was no greeting, no offer to help me find what I was looking for, no “thank you” for shopping there, no “have a nice day or evening,” etc. Yet there were a number of employees at work in the store – stocking shelves, counting money, wiping counters, etc.

There was nothing different or satisfying about my customer experience there. I’ve had self-serve experiences with other retail brands…Wegman’s and Home Depot, to name two that are top of mind for me…where personal attention is as much a part of their customer experience as is the ability to serve myself effortlessly and efficiently.      

I won’t name the supermarket where I managed to enter and leave unnoticed (they wouldn’t know me anyway), except to say its brand is positioned around a dedication to “quality, value and service.” If my experience in this store is the intended result of that dedication, it made me wonder…has self-service finally gone too far?

If simple acts like acknowledging my presence and making me feel appreciated during my purchase transaction constitutes a relationship, I would argue consumers do indeed want a relationship with their supermarket...even self-serve shoppers like me. 

A colleague and I had a discussion the other day on the best way to measure customer loyalty. While it is possible both measures can be effective, I believe the better way is through retention.

Of the two, attrition is the more negative term (“attrition” is a reduction or decrease in numbers, size or strength while “retention” refers to the act of keeping something).  Given my tendency to view the glass as half full instead of half empty, I believe retention speaks more to the positive results an organization has achieved, rather than its failure.  It inspires us to do more, not less. It speaks to what’s possible, not what’s lost.

Consider the other popular measure of customer loyalty – customer satisfaction. When you measure customer satisfaction, how do you measure it? Are you not measuring the percent of satisfied customers? Are not the organization’s goals communicated in terms of the percent of customers who report a specified overall satisfaction level (e.g., 85%, 90%, etc.)?

And finally, how about the ultimate measure of customer loyalty – sales? Do you measure and report the revenue from sales made…or sales lost? Which revenue number is ultimately reported on your organization’s income statement – sales made or sales lost?

The next time you gather your team to report on the organization’s progress, consider an approach that recognizes the contributions they have made. Results don’t have to be negative to be actionable.

Frequent readers of The Chief Storyteller® blog know I’ve been spending some time on The George Washington University (GWU) campus lately, where I earned my MBA almost two decades ago. For lifelong learners like me, the opportunity to audit a graduate-level social media marketing course was simply too good to resist.

In many ways, this class is a microcosm of the social world in which we live. As participants, we are all connected – thought leaders, professors, students, clients, followers and fans – via the vast network of social media. Our connections with one another began online with a Twitter hashtag (#GWSMM), have extended to LinkedIn and are becoming closer and more personal as the semester progresses.

What role did social media play in helping to build these relationships? Some of the thought leaders who recently visited our class had these insights to share:
• Social media is peer-to-peer communication…it’s not a brand talking to people; it’s people talking to people about a brand
• Your online presence speaks both to your experience and to the experience others will have in working with you or your brand
• The measure of success with social media is not ROI: it’s ROR (return on relationship)
• The strongest relationships are built over multiple communication channels, both face-to-face and online

I’m going to make a prediction. I started the semester as a stranger to the MBA students in the room. At semester’s end, I will have over a dozen new Twitter followers, almost as many new LinkedIn connections and a handful of new personal friends – all made possible through social media #GWSMM. 

For more on social media relationship-building, please see:
• Does Your Brand Have Klout?
• How One Brand Delivered the Unexpected to Create an Unforgettable Customer Experience
• It’s Time to Engage Your Customers Through Social Media

Why would I want to work for your company?  Or, if I am already employed by you, why would I want to stay?

In a competitive market where companies compete for market share, customer loyalty, brand positioning and even employee talent, your ability to answer these questions may well determine your company's future success.  Success in retaining and acquiring customers, as well as driving brand preference, is a direct outcome of the quality of talent your company is able to attract and retain.

For ideas on how to ensure your company ranks as one of “the best places” to work among your potential applicants and employees, check out the companies who made this year’s Fortune magazine list of “The 100 Best Companies to Work For.”

By and large, the companies with the lowest turnover (e.g., 2%) and the highest rankings are those who provide an open culture and who invest regularly in their employees.

Companies with an open culture create opportunities for all of their team members to make contributions – at work and in their community.  Employees at all levels within the organization are viewed as trusted advisors. Transparency and collaboration lead to widespread support for business decisions, new initiatives and organizational change.

Fortune’s list provides many examples of how successful companies invest in their employees. Health and wellness programs, generous compensation and benefits, quality of life initiatives, and training opportunities reflect how much these companies value their employees.

If I asked you the questions I posed earlier, how would you answer? 

For more on attracting and retaining employee talent, please see:
• Fortune’s 100 Best Companies: What Words Describe You?
• Brand Loyalty Begins at Home…With Your Employees
• Managing for Great Performance

Saturday, February 11, 2012

LinkedIn Hit 150,000,000 Members

LinkedIn grows by leaps and bounds. Yesterday I was curious about the total number of members and noticed 135,000,000. Today I visited and saw, 150,000,000 (see below picture). 

I keep informal and approximate statistics that show over three million new members per month. How's that for growth?

- 2011 August: 120,000,000

- 2011 November:  135,000,000

- 2011 February: 150,000,000

A lot has changed in the almost twenty years since I last attended college at The George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC – new buildings on campus, unfamiliar faces, new courses and the evolution of the digital age.

As a GWU alumnus, I recently decided to audit a graduate course on social media marketing. What I did not realize when I enrolled is that going back to school would be like stepping into the future – a future I used to imagine for my high school-aged boys when they got to college.

Consider my latest class experience, as described in a recent Facebook post:
1. Upload the week’s homework assignment to Blackboard, from my laptop before leaving the office.
2. Catch up with my wife while riding the Metro into DC, by speaking with and texting her on my iPhone.
3. Check-in at GWU using the Foursquare Mobile app on my iPhone, while standing in line at the Starbuck’s near Phillips Hall.
4. [Arrived at class to find a note on the door telling us that class had been moved from Phillips Hall to a new location]  Use the GW Mobile app on my iPhone to get walking directions to Funger Hall.
5. [Missed the new classroom number on the note posted on the door at Phillips Hall; no time to walk back to get it]  Access GW email upon arrival at Funger Hall, using my iPhone to find the room number where class is meeting.
6. Participate in class by Tweeting about the guest speaker’s presentation on my iPad, using pre-established hashtags.

7. Trade Facebook messages with a friend of mine who is attending a GWU basketball game across the street, using my iPhone (he saw my earlier check-in on Facebook and knew that I was here).
8. Surf the web on my iPad during class to look up topics mentioned during the presentation that I am unfamiliar with.
9. Receive personalized feedback from the presenter via the Twitter Mobile app on my iPhone, thanking me for my participation in class, while riding the Metro back home.
10. Connect with the presenter in LinkedIn, using my laptop while watching TV later that night. 


So, I’ve become the tech-savvy college student of the digital age...and the future I used to imagine. How are you using the tools of the digital age to engage your future?

Like many of you, I receive my share of “cold calls” from sales people who believe their product or service is the solution to what keeps me up at night. And, like many of you, I find myself declining their offers to speak or meet with me long before they even have their foot in the door.

Let’s assume for a moment you are the sales person. Let's also assume the product or service you are selling really does hold some perceived value to your prospect. The reasons your prospect is not interested may have more to do with timing, budgets or competing priorities. If your cold calls are being met with rejection, how then do you keep the door open to potential sales opportunities in the future?

For starters, differentiate yourself. Remain positive, even in the face of rejection. Thank your prospect for his or her time, add a personal touch to your message and offer to be of assistance – if not now then in the future.

Here’s an example of where this was done well. It’s a recent email I received from a sales person who was cold calling me (the name of the sender was changed to preserve anonymity), in response to a rejection note I had sent him:

Duane,

Thank you for your note and kind follow-up.

Have a terrific 2012 and please do not be a stranger. We’d be happy to help any way we can.

Mark

The tone, the content and the offer to help made me feel good about the idea of potentially working with him in the future. While I do not know if it will ever happen, what I do know is I will be more receptive to any future communications I receive from him and his company.

With increasing numbers of consumers using social media sites like Twitter®, Facebook®, LinkedIn®, YouTube® and Foursquare® to share their experiences of your brand, a new customer-centric paradigm has emerged – Consumer to Consumer, or C2C. In this new model, consumers are influencing other consumers’ perceptions of your brand or product relative to those of your competitors.

Traditional marketing efforts have long focused on the Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) paradigms, where brands typically drove the marketing process with their own positioning strategies and tactics. Prospects and customers would make buying decisions largely on the basis of tightly-controlled content provided by the brand. In those rare instances when buyers insisted on customer references, the brand would provide them.

Enter the world of social media, where consumers freely share their knowledge, impressions and opinions of their experiences of your brand. Unfiltered tweets, posts, updates, videos and check-ins are entered into the public domain, available to anyone with a smartphone, tablet or PC with search engine capability.

The brands that are most successful in this new customer-centric paradigm will be those that find new ways of delivering value to their customers. They will forge strong and enduring relationships with their customers by engaging them when and where they are most receptive – on Twitter®, Facebook®, LinkedIn®, YouTube®, Foursquare® and other social media sites. They will provide their customers with richer experiences, by interacting with them on a more direct basis and inviting them to participate in their marketing efforts in a way that creates shared value for all.

Check out the following posts for more ideas on achieving brand relevance:
• How One Brand Delivered the Unexpected to Create an Unforgettable Customer Experience
• Does Your Brand Have Klout?
• Brand Loyalty Begins at Home…With Your Employees

Okay, this is a big pet peeve of mine. The "mandate" that I must email someone before calling, otherwise I'm interrupting someone. Unless someone has expressly asked me to always email first, I'll use my judgment. If it's important, do you really think someone wants to wait to hear the news and be able to respond in a timely manner? Of course not.

I had to share this email from someone, who shall remain anonymous. This is what he sent this morning...

"In a meeting yesterday, it was agreed that Steve was the best person to answer the question. Since he was in another department, we would have to ask him the question afterward. I suggested to save time, we visit Steve in his office and just ask him the question. In unision, two people spoke up and said something like,  'Oh no, you can't do that. You have to email first to setup a time.'" So anonymous writes to me, (gritting my teeth) "Someone pleeasee remind me what is the point of an office again?"

Folks, an office by its very nature is designed to be collaborative. Along the same lines of importance, use your judgment. Let the "Steve" know if it is a quick question or an indepth one. And then let "Steve" indicate if he/she is available. 

Are your direct mail pieces targeting increasingly skeptical prospects? Are your prospects demanding transparency and authenticity in your marketing messages? Try using customer testimonials to help establish credibility and increase sales.

Over the holidays, I received a direct mail catalog from REI, a consumers’ cooperative that sells top-brand recreation gear and clothing. The headline on the cover was, “We’ve got great gear. People are talking.” On the inside cover, REI invited readers like me to flip through the catalog to see what “your fellow outdoor enthusiasts had to say.”

 

As a consumer who shares a passion for the outdoors, I immediately felt an immediate connection to the REI customers whose testimonials were featured in the catalog. Brilliant move, I remember thinking.  People like me were actually bragging about REI, the products they sell and their prices:

"REI is the brand I know and trust."  "...Always reliable for good quality and reasonable prices."  "I'm still a fan...because of their commitment to their customers, their products and the environment."  "...Always the top of the line and priced great."   

                    - REI Members (first name and last name initial published in catalog)

Because I saw these testimonials as peer reviews, I found them to be more credible than anything any one at REI – the CEO, members of the Board or even its expert staff – could have told me.  It’s the kind of messaging that helps me to perceive REI as a brand I know and trust...and one I will buy from.

Are your customers saying things about your brand that build trust and increase sales?

As leaders of businesses, governmental agencies and associations, we encounter questions from those we lead through a variety of media – public speaking forums, face-to-face conversations, email, blog posts and even social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In many cases, how we answer those questions says more about us and our ability to lead than our answers do.

Consider this example. A friend of mine, Carol, recently posed a simple yet thoughtful question to a speaker during a public forum. In response, the speaker smiled and said, “Carol, that’s a great question. I’m glad you asked that. Let me answer by saying….”  Before he even offered an answer to the question, the speaker framed his response in a way that made Carol feel like the most important person in the room. What effect do you think this had on Carol’s perception of the speaker as a leader?

As an alternative, what do you suppose Carol’s reaction would have been to a response that sounded something like this: “I’m not sure I understand your question. Let’s take that off line.” Or to a response similar to this: “I’ve already answered that question. Would you like for me to answer it again?”  In both of these instances, the speaker appears as if he is belittling Carol for asking the question – in the first response, by suggesting she didn’t ask her question clearly, and in the second, by making it sound as if she’s asking a question she should know the answer to.  What effect do you think either of these responses might have on Carol’s perception of him as a leader?

Here at The Chief Storyteller, one of our top 50 business storytelling mantras for 2012 is to “Treat everyone like a CEO.” Answering questions in a way that makes people feel important is one good way to do that. 

Last year I shared my top 50 business storytelling mantras. As I plan for 2012, I always look to my list to light a small fire of inspiration.

As you look through this list, see what applies to your life or what you want to apply. Write your own list of mantras. Whatever you do, make a list (short or long) of your goals and aspirations. Every so often read, revise, and contemplate...

 

Here are the mantras at The Chief Storyteller. Think about this list and how it can help prompt new and fresh approaches to your business stories. We would love to hear your mantras...please leave them in the comments.

1.    It’s all about them.
2.    Business stories are the engine of relationships and relationships are the engine of continued success.
3.    Write to the 10th grade level.
4.    Be memorable.
5.    Use humor if you want to.
6.    Content is king.
7.    Relationships matter.
8.    Credibility is more important than expertise in the beginning of relationships.
9.    Know your elevator speech / elevator pitch / mission statement (core business story).
10.    Ensure your core business story is unified throughout all communication materials.
11.    Your brand story is everything.
12.    Success stories are key to differentiation.
13.    (Good) blog and article content matters the most.
14.    Strive for “interest” questions. Avoid “understanding” questions.
15.    Social communities are built on personal and business stories.
16.    Everything you write, speak, and record online is a business story.
17.    Content first. Design second.
18.    Always have a second person read your content before publishing.
19.    Design your website for your target audiences (not your employees).
20.    Everyone builds relationships through networking.
21.    Send hand-written thank you notes, especially job hunters.
22.    Audiences are hungry for original thought-provoking content.
23.    Blogs are for sharing, educating, and inspiring…not selling.
24.    Get yourself known (e.g., LinkedIn questions and answers, post to SlideShare, and Tweet good information).
25.    Generating genuine interest in your product/service is the first step in building a relationship.
26.    Active listening is key to building great relationships.
27.    Write in your authentic voice.
28.    But is the worst word in the English language (and many other languages).
29.    Words really, really matter.
30.    Treat everyone like a CEO.
31.    Stop listening to your Mother. Talk to strangers at networking events.
32.    It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
33.    Speak in headlines.
34.    Write and speak conversationally.
35.    Treat every client like your best client.
36.    Maintain a detailed Ideal Target Profile for your key target audiences.
37.    Have positive self-talk conversations.
38.    Change is a choice.
39.    Deliver on the expected experience.
40.    Create your own success momentum.
41.    Be a student everyday.
42.    Be a deliberate networker.
43.    Be a deliberate communicator.
44.    Be a people bridge and make referrals.
45.    Be a mentor.
46.    Be a whole body communicator.
47.    Write emails as if they will be read on a smart phone.
48.    Inspire Action:  facts do not persuade and inspire, people do.
49.    First Impressions Make Lasting Impressions:  offer a warm smile, firm handshake, and good eye contact.
50.    People are at the heart of every great story.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Managing for Great Performance

Have you ever wondered what it might feel like to work for someone like you? How trusted and valued do you make your team members feel? Do they feel their work is meaningful and will help them to grow professionally?

Why does it matter how they feel, anyway?

Like many of you, I’ve both managed and been managed. Of all the management training classes and tools I’ve seen for increasing productivity and morale, none is as effective as this one simple idea from Dr. Maya Angelou, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

When your team members feel trusted, valued and empowered, they will give you the extra effort that often results in great performance.  Simple things like going out of your way to acknowledge your team members each day, praising their good work, showing a sense of humor and delegating responsibilities instead of tasks all help to make your team members feel good about the organization they work for, the work they do and the value of their contributions.

Are you managing for great performance?

For more on managing for great performance, see these ideas:
• Rx for Healthy Leadership and Strong Results: Team Members Who Think and Act Differently
• Brand Loyalty Begins at Home…With Your Employees
• How the Best Leaders Inspire Others

A friend of mine recently shared a letter she and her fellow employees received from their CEO. It was an end of year summary, intended to help everyone reflect on the past and anticipate the future.  The letter was titled, “Quality is Limitless.”

After thanking and acknowledging his employees for a very successful year, the CEO wrote about the story behind the title because, he said, “there’s always a story.” The title of his letter came from a conversation he recently had with the maestro of a local orchestra. The maestro was telling him how far he thought the orchestra had come in the quality of its performances when the CEO asked, “How good do you think they can be?”

The maestro paused for a moment and then said, “I believe quality is limitless.” Passion drives quality, he explained, and the more passion you can ignite within the people around you, the higher the quality becomes.

This is a great story, as told by a great leader and CEO – a "maestro" whose employees are working in harmony like the talented men and women of an orchestra – passionate about their business and the community they serve.  The quality of their future performances is as limitless as the passion they will bring to their jobs in the new year. His job, as he well knows, is to ignite that passion.

How good do you think your employees can be? 

While it’s been over 60 years since the initial release of the classic holiday drama, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the story of George Bailey is as relevant today as it was in 1946.

George Bailey is the lead character in the film. The story opens and closes on Christmas Eve with a despondent George contemplating suicide. His guardian angel, Clarence, intervenes and goes on to show George the impact he has had on the lives of others and his community. "You see, George, you really had a wonderful life," reminds Clarence. "Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?"

For brands whose reputations are built on service, the actions we take on a daily basis are what makes our reputation. Reputations can be made or destroyed in an instant, sometimes with a single action. George’s fictional life provides six best practices for managing your brand's reputation:
1. Put your customers first. 
    George risks his life to save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in an icy pond. Years later, it is Harry who rushes to George’s side when he needs help.  Most customers will reward a brand’s acts of selflessness with an enduring and unshakable loyalty. 
2. Do right by your customers.
    Fearful of the reaction he will get from his boss, a young George lets Mr. Gower know he has incorrectly filled a prescription. By acting in the best interest of others, George ends up saving the customer’s life – and Mr. Gower’s reputation. Mistakes are an inevitable part of our lives; how we handle them is what sets us apart from our competitors. Brands with the courage to acknowledge and correct their mistakes show they can be trusted.
3. Know your customers.
    George knows each and every one of his customers by name. He has a personal relationship with them, even helping with moves to their new homes. Brands that know their customers well tend to excel in delivering personalized service.
4. Build and nurture communities of interest.
    George develops an affordable housing community where residents can realize their dreams of home ownership. Brands that provide their customers with hope, opportunity and value enjoy higher levels of satisfaction and preference among customers and prospects.    
5. Be your customer’s advocate.
    Responding to a run on the bank, George and Mary Bailey pay worried account holders with their own money, tiding them over and saving their business from almost certain collapse.  Brands that value their customers at this level differentiate themselves by showing they genuinely care.
6. Be a leader.
    Despite his wife’s pleas to continue with their honeymoon, George steps in to lead his firm’s response to the financial crisis. His company’s open and fair handling of the crisis serves to reassure his anxious customer base, preserving his business and its reputation in the community.   

For more on reputation management and relationship building, please see:
• How to Make the Most of Your Network
• Your Brand and the Community It Serves
• B2B Sales Tip: Friend Your Customers

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why Team Sports Matter in Business

My youngest son is working out with his high school lacrosse team, hoping to make the team this Spring. The workouts are long and hard. The same rules apply to everyone, regardless of how well they play. And the coach is demanding. The teamwork, though, is amazing.

In drills where the success of the team is only possible when each and every member of the team is successful, everyone is pulling together and rooting for each other. Cries of “You can do it!” and “Good job!” provide the spark that each athlete needs to go the extra mile.

Even this early in the season, long before the first regular season game has been played, I can see the strong bond that is developing among the members of his team. It is a bond that will keep them together and at the top of their game, especially when the competition is tough. It’s a group where “personal bests” give way to what’s best for the team; where “All-Stars” take a back seat to a winning team.

Think about your business. What do you see?  Is the success of your business only possible when each and every one of your employees is successful, when everyone is pulling together and rooting for each other?  Are your employees cheering each other on with cries of “You can do it!” and “Good job!”?  Is there a bond among your employees that unites and motivates them to put the interests of the business before their own?

If not, perhaps it’s time to consider the lessons in teamwork that team sports can provide. 

Like most of you, I receive my fair share of customer satisfaction survey requests. The likelihood of my responding to a request to complete the survey depends on the following:
  • How strongly do I feel about my recent customer experience with the brand?
  • How quickly can I complete the survey?
  • How easy will it be for me to provide my feedback?
  • And, most importantly, what’s in it for me?

The brands who stand out in each of these four areas almost always earn a thoughtful response from me. Brands that fall short in one or more of these areas diminish their chance of a response. Brands who fail to deliver in all four will almost never hear from me.

Consider the recent customer satisfaction survey request I received from Big Meadows Lodge restaurant in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. My wife and I had just finished a wonderful dinner. When the waiter came by to hand us our check, he thanked us for dining with them and extended a personal invitation to complete a customer satisfaction survey. I was assured the online survey could be easily completed in 3 minutes. By completing the survey, I would enter a drawing to win $250.

The customer satisfaction survey I completed was simple and intuitive.  It took me just under three minutes to go through 18 questions, spread over 11 screens on my PC. Common elements on each screen included the name of the establishment, brand logo, images of the park and lodge, intuitive navigation buttons and red progress bar on the bottom of each page. The questions were formatted in a way that was customer friendly -- answerable on a scale from 5 to 1, with “5” being the "best" and “1” being the "worst" in category.  The layouts on each screen were such that the entire content appeared on my PC screen, with no scrolling required.

To Big Meadows Lodge, asking me to complete a short customer satisfaction survey was yet another way to engage me – even after my initial customer experience in the restaurant. Because the survey was everything they promised it would be (quick and easy with an opportunity to win a prize), it reinforced my perception of their brand as a trusted purveyor of quality rustic dining.

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