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Sales people, from the dawn of time (okay, I'm exaggerating), have received a bad wrap. The best way to sum it up is "used car salesman." Nothing ticks people off more than disengenous sale people who focus on the sale at the expense of the person.It's unfortunate that a few bad apples have spoiled the barrel.

Well, today I received an email from such a person. Here's the original followed by some commentary.  What do you think?


IRA

I just tried to call you this AM and I thought an email might be easier for you to respond to. Did you know that last week Maryland became the first state to enact a password privacy protection bill going into effect October 2012?  What does this mean to you and to the hundreds of other government contracts here in Maryland? More Compliance!

How do you manage your business and employees day-to-day when increasing levels of compliance are being requested by the State, OFCCP, DOL, DCAA, IRS, etc?  

Resources such as people and technology can help you manage these complicated pieces of your business and Automatic Data Processing with offices in Rockville can potentially assist you.

Please feel free to extend an invitation to me to visit your office; I would be more than happy to share with you some success stories. I have some time this week before the holiday weekend so please contact me with a good time.  

Regards,

William LastName
(###) ### - ####

---------------

Comments and Suggestions follow:

IRA
> Why is my name capitalized? In email William, this is called shouting. Also, where is the punctuation?

I just tried to call you this AM
> Here's the part that really rubbed me the wrong way. No you didn't William. And I know and you know this is manipulative and untrue. Instead, get right to the point which starts with "Did you know."

I thought an email might be easier for you to respond to.
> Bad grammar. And you're presuming you know what is best for me.

Did you know that last week Maryland became the first state to enact a password privacy protection bill going into effect October 2012?  What does this mean to you and to the hundreds of other government contracts here in Maryland? More Compliance!
> Several misspellings/grammar mistakes. Also, did you mean "contractors" vice "contracts?"

Resources such as people and technology can help you manage these complicated pieces of your business and Automatic Data Processing with offices in Rockville can potentially assist you.
> Make "can potentially assist you" active. Improve readability by shortening/rewriting

Please feel free to extend an invitation to me to visit your office
> Passive request...again, convince me you're worth my time.

I would be more than happy to share with you some success stories.
> You missed a huge opportunity here to Wow me with a short success story.

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?

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. 

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.

I was invitied to a National Press Club lunch (thanks Matt, Advocatus Group), to hear Danica Patrick speak. Her topic centered around her history as an Indy Car driver and the now transition to NASCAR.

In the introduction by NPC President Theresa Werner, Werner shared a few interesting facts: a) The first woman to lead an Indianapolis 500; b) the first woman to win an IndyCar series race, and c) the best finish for a woman in an Indianapolis 500 at third place. What I found interesting was how much emphasis everyone was placing on gender--her being a woman--and not how accomplished of a driver she was.

Because...

Danica's message was all about being a great driver first, and oh by the way, I am a woman. She did say that being a woman did indeed accelerate her success and perhaps even was a contributor in her early days because of the media coverage.

Here are a few of her quotes that I thought interesting and insightful.
- “I always wanted to be the first me, not the next somebody else”

- "Let's face it, if someone is different and unique, it's a story"

- "My goal is not to be the best girl. It is to be the best driver"

- When she answered a question about how she selects sponsors, she responded, "Does the brand fit?"

- "It's a whole package deal. So I am going to use the package. I am going to use it for all that I can and all that I am"

 

The NPC provided a nice smile-inducing desert of racing car cookies inscribed with Danica's number 10.

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

I am honored to be speaking at the local MIT Enterprise Forum® here in the Washington, DC area. Thank you to my good friend Oz from InnoEngineer for setting this event up.

Here is all of the information...

Get Funded - Design and Deliver the Perfect Investor Pitch [Open Workshop Event]
It is imperative to have a clear and concise message that gets prospective investors to say, "Let’s talk!"…especially in today's economy. In this interactive, hands-on workshop, you will learn how to create a powerful, clear message that wows prospective investors. Apply five proven steps taught internationally, to design and deliver the perfect investor pitch. Receive concrete suggestions on your presentation based on individual and partner exercises. Join us as we show you how to transform your ideas into action.

 

Date: Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Time: 6:30pm - 9:00pm

Location: Startup Lab, Johns Hopkins University, DC Campus, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Lower Level, Room 7

Parking:  Central Parking, 1800 Mass. Ave. NW. If you click http://washingtondc.centralparking.com/Washington-DC-1800-Massachusetts-Aven ue-NW-Parking.html you can get a coupon that reduces the cost to $6 after 5:00 PM. Nearest Metro stop is Dupont Circle. 

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

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?

On Friday, my two-year old daughter started her first class on "cutting." To reinforce her schooling, my wife and I typically purchase additional books and supplies for at home.

I went to our local Barnes & Noble and purchase the "My First Book of Cutting" book (see below). 

With my receipt, I was provided the personalization "receipt." You'll notice five suggestions all complementary to the book selection I just made.

Brilliant. 

 

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.

STAR WARS™: The Old Republic™ officially launched Dec 20th. It is a massive multiplayer online game that has amassed over 100 awards. Here is an excerpt from the launch press release from Electronic Arts.

"A stunning Star Wars universe. Thousands of hours of gameplay. Gripping stories. Engrossing dialogue performed by hundreds of talented voice actors. BioWare, a label of Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA), today is proud to turn on the servers for one of the most anticipated games of all time, Star Wars: The Old Republic, winner of over 100 awards from critics around the world. Last night, fans lined up around the block on the eve of launch at retail outlets in New York, Paris, London, Austin and other cities across the world, celebrating the debut of the game with gatherings complete with costumed characters and memorabilia giveaways.

As part of its launch, creative people from EA/BioWare thought up a "Freeze Mob" in New York City's Time Square. About 20 professional actors dueled with light sabers as Sith Lords and Jedi Knights. Then about 100 fans joined in the fun to create a very memorable and unique experience for the impromptu audience. You can view the video on YouTube

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

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.

I recently found TweepsMap and found it to be a fascinating application. Provide your Twitter name and password, and in less than 30 seconds, you'll have a world-wide view of your Twitter followers.

As I would expect, the majority of my followers are from the United States (~78%). Since I have done programs and consulting in Canada and the UK, I have a higher number of followers, both at about 5%. 

You can switch between a Map and List version with a click of a button.

What does your TweepsMap reveal?

 

Here are three different advertisements from September and October. Each has and is generating signficant exposure on YouTube, from media, and from consumers. The first one is for Sony's PS3, second for French mineral water Contrex, and the third for electro-rapping band LMFAO. Each is telling its story in its own way. What can you take away from these and apply to your own communications?

Sony posted its Playstation PS3 commercial "Michael" on YouTube on 5 October 2011. In less than a month, 9,968,581 have watched the ad. Even more incredible...it got over 3 million views in its first 24 hours. Sony included a caption, "When they tell your story, what will they say?"  Click on the image or here to watch the video on YouTube. The ad features two American soldiers from WWII as they walk carefully through a forrest to a stone building, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. They pay the bouncer, a woman who sort of glares at them, and enter a room. The room turns out to be a bar filled with the favorite PS3 game characters. And the characters are swapping stories about "Michael." Michael turns out to the be "you" the gamer. The ad celebrates more than the great games, it is celebrating the people who play them (and of course buy them). The Deutsch agency out of Los Angeles, California produced the ad.

This is an advertisement from French water company Contrex (click on the image or here to view the YouTube video). It starts off much like a publicity stunt. You see a Paris square then focus in on a big building with a long row of pink exercise bikes out front. Curious women then climb on and begin pedaling. As more women pedal, more pink neon wires light up. The light starts at the stationary bike and shoots forward to the building showing an outline of a very fit, and handsome man. More women get on bikes and a few men. A record starts playing high energy music. The man starts dancing and begins to take off his clothes in a strip-tease like style. The women starting laughing and shouting and pedaling faster. He strips everything off down to his underwear/pants, swirls them around, and repears with a sign "placed" strategically that reads something like "you have just burned 2,000 calories during the exercise."

Everyone laughs and of course, drinks Contrex mineral water, a brand owned by Nestle. One of the benefits Contrex touts is that it helps people lose weight because of its high calcium content. It's innovative, fresh, lively, and entertaining...with a very clear, easy-to-grasp message. The ad was created by the Marcel agency. Launched 2011 Sep 22, in a little over a month, 8,317,346 people have viewed it on YouTube. Contrex has a link to its companion Facebook campaign site.

The music video from LMFAO is called "Sexy and I Know It."  Released on YouTube on 2011 Sep 16, the video has been watched 73,466,296. CAUTION! This video is a bit graphic and quite visual with men in speedos and women in short skirts/tight pants. It has over 218,000 comments. It's #1 on the YouTube 100 count. The band has a well-integrated trans-media messaging platform in  Twitter, iTunes, Internet, YouTube, Storefront, and Facebook. LMFAO is grammy-nominated, electro-rapping band from Los Angeles. This song is from their new album, "Sorry for Party Rocking." Their music is called Party Rock — "unapologetically partying their faces off with hilarious results. The title-track explodes with bastardized R&B grooves mashed up against ‘80s synths, dance-floor pounding beats, and crunk-like rhymes about living the wild life. With ample help from London chanteuse Lauren Bennett and Hollywood producer GoonRock, the following “Party Rock Anthem” makes good on its title with an insta-hit trimmed in flashes of electronics, buoyant beats, and lyrics that celebrate and encourage decadent behavior." (from the iTunes description) (click here to watch on YouTube or the image)

 

 

 

 

 

I recently attended a conference at New York’s historic Waldorf=Astoria hotel. I had planned to go for an early morning run and when I got outside, discovered it was raining heavily. I opted instead for a workout in the hotel’s fitness center. When I got there at 5:40AM, I checked in through foursquare and sent a Tweet indicating I was there for an early morning workout.

The fitness center was clean, well-equipped and staffed by a very polite trainer. He greeted me when I signed in and handed me a towel and a bottle of water – everything I expected from a luxury hotel like The Waldorf=Astoria. Toward the end of my workout, something unexpected happened. In response to the Tweet I had sent an hour earlier, I received a Tweet on my iPhone – from @WaldorfNYC. The Tweet was simple and concise: “Enjoy!” It made my day. It turned an ordinary customer experience with the hotel’s fitness center into an unforgettable one.

What made the Tweet from The Waldorf=Astoria so unexpected?

Here was a brand that, for over a century, personified the best of New York City’s elegance and grandeur. The brand can be traced back to 1893, when millionaire William Waldorf Astor opened the first hotel where the Empire State building sits today. The current hotel on Park Avenue opened in 1931 and has played host to famous entertainers, visiting dignitaries and every U.S. President since. The lobby areas are dotted with historic black and white photos and the building itself has been designated an official New York City landmark.

Yet, as steeped in tradition and history as they are, the brand never stopped innovating. They embraced social media apps like Twitter and HootSuite to engage their customers – both by listening to and speaking with them. It’s all part of what makes a stay (and even a workout!) at The Waldorf=Astoria in New York City an unforgettable customer experience.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Does Your Brand Have Klout?

In today’s consumer driven economy, content is king. Whether you direct an international association, manage a government program, run a small business, serve as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or are simply in the market for a new job, the content of your brand story should engage or influence members of your target audience.  For brands who engage their prospects and customers through social media, your Klout score measures influence based on your ability to drive action.

Measuring influence is more than just looking at the number of followers, friends or connections your brand has.  Klout scores use data from social media applications like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to measure the following:
• True Reach - the size of your influence;  i.e., the members of your audience who share or respond to your content (these are your influencers)
• Amplification - the strength of your influence;  i.e., the number of retweets, direct messages, likes and comments your influencers make in response to your content
• Network - the frequency of your influence;  i.e., how often your influencers share and respond to your content
Klout scores range from 1 to 100. Brands with higher scores are doing a better job of influencing and engaging their audiences.

Audiences who are engaged often make the best brand advocates. They will do your marketing for you – through conversations and other great word-of mouth (WOM) communications in the highly connected world of social media. As we tell our clients at The Chief Storyteller®, “Great communications are the engine of great relationships and great relationships are the engine of continued success.”

How much Klout does your brand have?

I had the pleasure of seeing Dan Roam speak at an ASAE Great Idea's Conference. He was fun, kept my attention, and shared some great techniques for turning ideas into pictures.

In the past two months, I have purchased five copies for clients. I thought, "now that's a sign. I should write a quick book review."

Published in 2008, "Back of the Napkin," was Dan's first book. Now it is an international bestseller and according to his website, "the most popular visual-thinking business book of all time." I believe it is such a popular book because it is filled with helpful, illustrative pictures. Most business self-help books contain only a few pictures. Most of Dan's book is pictures. They include walk-throughs, tools, and examples. His whole approach is built on the simple premise that you don't have to be creative or know how to draw. If you can draw stick figures, then you are ready to tackle problem solving with pictures. If you find yourself sometimes at a loss for how to show a problem visually, consider reading Dan's book.

Resources:
- Back of the Napkin website
- Back of the Napkin book site on Amazon
- Back of the Napkin blog
- Change This Manifesto:  The 10 1/2 Commandments of Visual Thinking: The "Lost Chapter" from The Back of the Napkin
- Change This Manifesto:  Found In Translation: The Case for Pictures in Business

I'm a huge fan of Pandora, the Internet radio listening site. A short time ago I was listening to an "Elmo" (from Sesame Street) station as I had my daughter in the car with me.

At a stop sign, I happened to glance down to my smart phone. I was quite surprised to see the advertisement in the picture below, right side.

I truly appreciate that free radio needs advertising. What I don't understand is that in today's world of powerful programs to analyze data, I would receive an ad for a match making site on a children's radio station.

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