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Duane Bailey is a regular contributor to The Chief Storyteller® online conversation. He has helped organizations of all sizes drive growth in revenues and market share through the development and delivery of key business messages that resonate with target audiences. He holds an MBA in International Business and a BS in Marketing. He brings 28 years of experience in marketing communications and high technology sales.
If the measure of one’s commitment to protecting the environment is the number of cars taken off the road as a direct result of an action, this year’s record-breaking turnout of participants in the Washington, D.C. region’s Bike to Work Day is tangible proof of the region’s growing concern for the environment. On a recent Spring day in mid-May, over 14,500 registered riders made a difference by taking their cars off the road for at least one day.
Of course, like so many other causes, events like this would not be possible were it not for the generous support of like-minded corporate and not-for-profit sponsors like Whole Foods Market, Marriott, ICF International, AAA, Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).
Working together with their local communities, these organizations are leading the way by telling a story we can believe in. It’s an authentic story about sustainability and how individuals can come together to make a difference. It’s also a story about a healthy and safe alternative to driving alone in your car…and about learning to enjoy the ride, as I and thousands of others did. One bike at a time, their participation in this year's Bike to Work Day provides us with a glimpse of the causes they and the people in their communities care most about -- sustainability, health and fitness, fun, etc.
How are you and your organization making a difference in your community? Are the stories being told reflective of your personal and organizational values?
I recently posed the question, “How do you really know what your customers want?” I offered a simple answer by suggesting the way to truly understanding what your customers want is through continual engagement with them.
I’m going to take that a step further today by offering another suggestion – the formation of a customer advisory council. A customer advisory council is a group of customers (and non-customers, too) who meet on a regular basis with representatives of your brand. Each of them would be paid a nominal sum for their participation and their purpose would be to serve as an external sounding board for your marketing team. Their candid feedback would be used to inform current and future marketing strategies and campaigns, with the intent of improving customer acquisition and retention rates.
The real benefit of a customer advisory council is that allows you to define your brand, your products and your offers from the perspective of your customers and prospects. Too many brands make the mistake of defining these elements from their own internal perspective, based on the company’s needs and wants. This flawed, internally-focused approach was the subject of a 1960 Harvard Business Review article, “Marketing Myopia,” by Theodore Levitt.
The next time you encounter repeated customer objections to one or more elements of your marketing strategy, resist the urge to overcome them simply by offering more and clever rebuttals that merely aim to justify the needs and wants of your company. Instead, focus on why your customers are raising those objections in the first place. Place yourself in your customer’s shoes and try to understand how their needs and wants are causing them to perceive your brand, your products and your offers.
Ask your customer advisory council for help in seeing the long-term picture from an outward looking perspective. Their insights, and your willingness to act on them, could mean the difference between a great marketing strategy and a mediocre one.
If I were to ask, “What Makes Your Company Different?” how would your employees answer? How would your customers answer? Would their responses be the same?
This question is at the heart of your company’s marketing strategy. As noted author and Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter notes in Competitive Strategy (The Free Press, 1980), “differentiation…creates layers of insulation against competitive warfare because buyers have preferences and loyalties to particular sellers.” When companies lack differentiation and a product or service is viewed as a commodity, “choice by the buyer is largely based on price and service, and pressures for intense price and service competition result.”
So, what makes your company different? Is it price, service or something truly unique and innovative? Now may be a good time to re-engage your employees and customers to see what they have to say.
For more on marketing strategy, please see:
• Low Customer Retention? Maybe You’re Just Selling Mulch
• Are Your Customers Looking for a Better Deal?
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate
I celebrated a personal milestone this week when I reached the 3,000 follower mark on Twitter. Later that day, a friend and I were having lunch when he asked me to tell him about my success. Without hesitation, I gave him this simple explanation. It's all about branding.
My experience with social media has provided me with some powerful insights. One of those insights is that developing an engaging presence on social media is a lot like building a brand. I started by defining my brand, a promise and an audience. The next step was to deliver on it. Consistently and regularly.
Let me share with you ten branding lessons I've gained from my experience with social media over the last four years:
1. Be yourself.
Your friends and followers will like you for the person you are, not the person who you think they want you to be.
2. Always be true to yourself.
Actions speak louder than words. Your followers will see through actions that are inconsistent with your identity.
3. Make it about them.
Share content your followers will find helpful, valuable or meaningful.
4. Engage them.
Embrace the notion that you are managing relationships with people, not selling something to them.
5. Be present where they are.
Establish a consistent presence across multiple social networking sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, weekly blog, etc.).
6. Avoid unexplained absences for extended periods of time.
Stay active and let your friends and followers know when you decide to take a break (or pre-schedule your posts).
7. Listen to your followers.
Your followers are smart. Listen and learn from them. Share their content. Exchange ideas with them.
8. Know that real engagement is more than just the number of followers you have.
Large numbers aren't everything. It's how you well you engage that matters. Kred (shown above) and Klout provide some measure of engagement in areas like reach, amplification, network and influence.
9. Never buy friends and followers.
Followers who are bought tend to be less engaged and are far less likely to stick around.
10. Respect and value your friends.
When it comes right down to it, they are the reason for your presence (and success) on social media.
For more insights on brand building and social media, please see:
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• How Social Media Is Making an Impact on Marketing
• Why Social Media Should Be Part of Your Marketing Communications
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand on Social Media
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships
How do you really know what your customers want?
One of the most common answers I hear is, “Because they told us….” Yet, for me anyway, this answer only invites more questions. Who? When? What did they tell you? How did they tell you? Was it an interactive conversation? Are you sure you really understood what they were telling you? Have their wants changed?
If understanding what your customers want is the foundation of your marketing strategy, listening to customers is going to require more than a one-time investment in classic market research tools like focus groups and customer surveys.
The markets in which you compete are evolving. Customer preferences and wants are continually changing. New competitors are emerging. The one constant is your customers are talking. The key to truly understanding what they want is continual engagement – through social media, one-on-one interactions, public forums and even sales calls. Getting in front of customers and engaging them in conversations should be a required part of every marketer’s job – from the CMO down to the marketing specialist.
Your customers are still talking. When was the last time you listened?