blog: archives

Stop gazing at your own corporate reflection

New research out of the Zeno Research Group suggests that more than one-third of CEOs ignore their company’s social media reputation when making important business decisions.

Strong language

On another note, almost two-thirds of CEOs do pay attention to their company’s social media reputation when making important business decisions. Reputation measurement is still a fairly new science given that the majority of customer opinions are still not recorded online in many demographics. Two-thirds is a pretty good sign to me that the immediacy of social media feedback is making enough waves to turn the tide of brand-centric marketing towards a more customer-centric model.

All research is skewed in some way, but let’s presume that these results are absolute, that 34% of CEOs will never pay attention to their social media reputation. Why not?

– The Gratification of Self-Image –

It is a human flaw that we cannot see our own failings as clearly as others see them. It is not just related to self-esteem. It is also related to the monumental effort required to make a fundamental change. So we manage to overlook our bulges, emotional reflexes, proportional misalignments and project a demeanour that masks the flaws that lurk beneath.

This is also true of businesses that are, in many cases, extensions of their decision-makers’ persona. Ego hides what it doesn’t like to see because change is hard.

CEOs are emperors of their enterprise. It takes a huge amount of ego to rise to such a position – ego that can fight even its own intelligence to justify its decisions.

– Adjusting to Reality –

Social media conversations are immediate, blunt, and have no regard for ego. It is the classic case of the Emperor vs. The Mob. We see in the Middle East, imperial models crashing, proportionate to the rising use of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook in those countries. Social media coalesces one person’s opinion into millions of shared values.

The CEO model is imperial. The Social Media model is democratic. With the proliferation of conversations and their influence on market performance, an Emperor who doesn’t know how to listen will be replaced by a republic. In commercial terms, that means your customers will defect or your Board will take you out.

Social media helps to inform a CEO of a failure to execute properly within the ranks of the organization. This is a huge benefit. Self-policing an organization can be oppressive and de-motivating to the workforce. Embracing social media as your source for checks and balances is a relatively cost-efficient monitoring tool for the Enterprise and justifies to all parts of the organization the need for training and improvement.

Zappos has a good model to show how an organization empowers its employees to make key decisions at the time of customer engagement. It is an effective, self-policing model where the employee defines their own career satisfaction through dynamic engagement with customers. Its online reputation score is very high. The Twelpforce from Best Buy is another great example of empowering dynamic response at the lowest level of customer engagement.

– Change by Osmosis –

The one-third will change, or die. There are very few businesses that are immune to public opinion, unless they are a legislative monopoly. This time next year the Zeno Group will have to find something more pertinent to research.

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Social Media and other bubbles

Read Social Media Skeptic (MM 11/30/12), for the commentary on BJ Mendelson’s new book “Is Social Media Bull#*%!?”. It reads like a wail of dashed hopes and dreams. Once a social media neophyte, the author became jaded after a miserably-failed campaign in the cause of something great and beautiful. He calls a ‘crime’ the hoopla that surrounds any ‘next big thing’. There is a smack in his words of: “The more things change the more they remain the same”.

Yes, he may have a perspective, but the big question is: “Why do we have to pay money to read a book about a truth that has remained constant throughout human history?”

MORE, BETTER, FASTER ISN’T A GOAL IT IS A PROCESS. 

The goal is perfection. Perfection is unattainable. So the bubble is created out of human expectation.

I like expectation bubbles. They drive change. The reason they burst is because the expectation is either flawed in logic, or beyond the reach of achievement with the resources currently in place. Nobody likes a bubble to burst, but they do, eventually. Flawed logic can create a devastating burst (housing market in US, .com meltdown etc.)

BJ Mendelson saw his expectations pop when he followed the rules laid down for success and it did not work. He is pointing to a ‘flawed logic’ within the Social Media bubble. Does anybody really see Social Media so rosily-coloured? I hope not.

Social Media has created a dynamic platform of communication that can scale easily and rapidly. Exactly what content will scale is as predictable as rain in the Sahara. It is also more subject to the whim of influencers than to content creators. And what scales could equally be trivia or significant; of commercial value or zero value.

If your expectation is a guarantee of success then it is your individual logic that is flawed. If you can make money selling a book about it, good luck. You might save someone with logic as flawed as your own from investing in Social Media.

I don’t participate in Social Media much, because I personally don’t enjoy the interface. But I understand the genre of user that does. As humanity continues to bond with Digital Interfaces then Social Media platforms and their like will remain essential hubs of human interaction.

If the bubble bursts, it will be because something else evolves to create a higher expectation, not because the logic is flawed, as BJ Mendelson implies.

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The Religion and Politics of Branding

Credit to Chris Koentges for his article entitled “Can a brand speak to both the lunatic left and right? There is plenty of evidence of brand partisanship from political, social, environmental or religious perspectives.

The question we should really ask “what is the implication of defining consumers by their partisan leanings?”

 

There are many characteristics shared between opposing factions that gave John Lennon a reason to believe in the Brotherhood of Man: Hassidim use cell-phones , anarchists eat potato chips, and most men with two legs put on their pants one leg at a time. If you take religion, countries or politics out of the equation we have more in common than what divides us.

As a marketer we have some choices in how to align to customer values. Do you define a segment by what sets it apart, or by what unites it? Take single, overworked single Moms on low income as an example. If research states that 70% of them have strong socialist leanings, do you press that button for stronger brand affinity – or do you stay true to the broader human condition? If your competitor takes aim at a customer segment by sponsoring a cause, do you react, up the ante, go in a different direction?

There is no right or wrong except by measure of results. Some products will relate better to an ideology and some to a basic human need, but brands don’t determine personal values. So do you have a rule of strategy, or do you just play along with an opportunistic grin.

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How does customer service fit into your marketing mix?

This question was asked by Marketing Magazine to Longo’s Grocery Chain (see the November Special Issue on Customer Service).

I didn’t get to the answer. The question short-circuited my frontal lobe so I stopped reading. Let me explain.

I have, for the past 16 years, had a mania about customer-centric marketing. I have also been a critic of brand-centric marketing. I have never had a problem selling the strategy, but I have sometimes been a bit disappointed by the casual observation that “It doesn’t look much different”.

It has been a splinter in my brain to characterize the contrast between the science of customer-centric marketing and brand marketing without reaming off thousands of words.

Don’t breathe!  I may have found a solution. I am going to reword Marketing Magazine’s question:

HOW DOES MARKETING MIX FIT INTO YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE?

(I feel a bit dizzy. Need to take a moment.)

Customer-centric marketing takes brand ego out of the equation and replaces it with brand empathy, at every touch-point. It focuses your value proposition, media execution, product delivery, customer service and relationship management on the customer’s values.

“How does Customer Service Fit into your Marketing Mix?” vs. “How does Marketing Mix fit into your Customer Service?” It is an 180 degree flip. And it is a mind-set. Perhaps you can’t see the difference until you feel the difference.

Is it easy to make the transition?
No.

Is it so obvious when you have?
It may not be so noticeable to the casual observer, but it is very significant to the target audience and to your customer retention, share of wallet, marginal cost of marketing and all those other important variables.

So, how does your marketing mix fit into your customer service?

Written By |B2B, B2C, Customer Focus, In the News, Marketing Strategy, Relationship Marketing, Sales & Marketing, Uncategorized|Comments Off on How does customer service fit into your marketing mix?

The Customer is Queen (not King)

You know the old aphorism: “The Customer is King”. It turns out that nobody really means it. You have to wonder why. Let’s take a look….

WHAT IS A KING, ANYWAY?

Kings are confrontational — whatever conflicts with their rule must be challenged. Two kingdoms in conflict have limited choice: to conquer, negotiate, submit, or make an alliance.

What does it mean when we say that ‘The Customer is King’?

Most business owners would answer that it helps them to remember the ‘significance of the customer’. But it doesn’t mean the customer should have the power to dictate terms to the business. The Business is really the King.

WHAT IS A QUEEN?

In metaphor – the Queen is the consort to the ruler of the kingdom. If a King wants to extend his rule, he needs a loyal, supportive Queen who can raise princes that won’t challenge him, to keep the peace in his kingdom.

The ‘King’ is your business and the ‘Queen’ is your customer. The princes are your growth in market share, share of wallet etc. Be disloyal to your customers and they will rebel or defect.

 

Treat your customer like a Queen: two heads sharing common goals, values and interests. Don’t treat your customer like a King. You’ll butt heads and they’ll replace you with a competitor.

 

Play your cards right by reinforcing customer values to create a loyal, profitable and long-term relationship.

IT’S NOT A FAIRY TALE

It is in your best interest is to build long-term relationships with your customers by understanding and anticipating their values.

This is the top-spin that we put into Customer-centric marketing, to create, grow and sustain your customer relationships. It’s more than creative, more than branding, and more than rewards.

5 reasons why your marketing might cost more than you think

Regardless of staying inside creative, media, production, programming, and fulfilment budgets

In this article we will try to look under the hood to reveal some hidden costs and reasons why marketing projects can fail to achieve the maxim of “Quality, delivered on time and to budget”.

1. Unclear expectations

Different expectations that were not properly communicated early in the process can derail a project until everyone’s expectations are met. These delays have a significant impact on ‘time to market’.

Remedy: It is essential that all the stakeholder expectations are documented, that they are agreed upon upfront, they are reasonable and that they form the blueprint for the delivery.

2. Too much rush

Rush has become the norm. Rushing increases the risk that important details will be missed and that quality will suffer. Less time does not mean less cost. When you pay more to get less you depreciate your marketing investment.

Remedy: Rush may be unavoidable. But the stakeholders need to be flexible, to either spread or focus resources within the timeline. Workload that can be shared should be spread across the group. Specialized tasks should be handed to those with that capability. Be sure to relieve them of distractions so that they can focus on those critical tasks. It takes a collective responsibility to make sure that rush projects receive the care and attention they need to succeed.

3. Process-driven to distraction

Too much process can also drive up cost and reduce efficiency. Rush projects should not be decapitated by too much bureaucracy. Larger projects that involve more stakeholders need more process, checks and balances, but the stakeholders are not always familiar with the rules.

Remedy: Don’t apply one process map to all projects. Prepare a fast-track and an optimal process for project management, to engage each situation efficiently. Make sure that the stakeholders understand the scope and nature of the project they are undertaking and how it affects the organization so they can learn and benefit from the process instead of being bogged down by it.

4. No thought to the financial cost of delay

Most organizations equate the ‘cost of delay’ with ‘loss of potential revenue’. In fact it goes much deeper.

Use a simple equation: Divide your labour cost for each project by its timeline to calculate your cost per day of delay. Then add it to your budget for the project after final delivery to see the true cost. For example, $100,000 over 10 months, if the work continues to the 11th month you have just invested an additional $10,000 to that project and lost 1 month of potential revenue.

Your agency is also affected when paid per-project. Your agency anticipates its revenue according to the project period. Delays will affect its cash-flow even if no additional work is done. If your agency is on a retainer you could actually be paying them a bonus for your delay. These are also hidden costs to add to the equation.

When you can’t achieve your objectives within the time and resources allocated, other projects in the pipeline get deferred, stacked, or are given less attention than they need. Agencies and clients feel these effects, but they don’t usually monetize the impact on their bottom line.

Remedy: The solution is to track this and then review at appropriate intervals. When you start to measure the cost of delay and discuss their implications it brings your team closer to understand how to maximize efficiency in the future to become more productive with less effort. When you have a good audit trail to measure you might consider using bonuses as an incentive for meeting performance expectations.

5. Getting it right; but not first time

How much effort does it take to get creative that is on-strategy, and then push it to final approval? If the creative and content is not in alignment, progress can be painfully slow and require multiple revisions to get what you need. If your agency demands too much of your time to get final approval, add this to the cost of your marketing investment.

Remedy: The greatest efficiency is where all agencies are in tune with the needs of the business, with only fine-tuning required at each stage of review. If you are not achieving this then it is time to either review your team or review your agency.

Conclusion

It may require some time and some careful crafting to build a marketing engine that flows smoothly through your department and your external agencies, but the productivity rewards makes it worthwhile to build. If you are not tracking these intangible costs you won’t know which changes could reduce your overall cost of marketing.

Hydrogen Creative believes in producing the right creative, first time. We engage fluid processes to enable more success at less cost. Engage us to experience the difference and see how well we stand by these beliefs.

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TRAVERSE MARKETING

You have your product and your partners in place and core of customers that value what you offer who maintain your cash fl ow and profitability. Opportunities beckon in other markets, providing chance to duplicate your success. You scope out thepotential and speak to a few people. The board is supportive, you give it your best shot and in a few months you are seeing a sizeable return on your investment. If only it were that simple. For more see: Traverse Marketing

Marketing Brief

Redefining your assets.2

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The 180º Right Turn

After doing a 360º About Face (see last entry) you will now be able to see yourself as your customers see you – not through your well-groomed surveys – but through their values and where and how you fit.

Which means you can make the right move (turn), to build your marketing programs and messaging from the customer’s perspective – opposite (180º) from the way you were facing in your previous marketing endeavors.

Anecdotally: I recently spoke with a senior executive in one of Dell’s divisions. Their internal retrospective critique was that Dell had focused too much on pricing in its messaging. While listening I did a quick 360º About Face and said to myself: “I didn’t buy Dell for a discount product. I bought Dell because I could get what I needed faster and to my door without paying for things I didn’t want.” In fact I don’t think I ever bought a Dell product at the advertised price. Dell’s price-point marketing reinforced to me the economy of its distribution model.

I never thought of Dell as a discounter, and I was both a consumer and business customer. All I needed from Dell was that their primary concern was to keep shovelling me with the technology I needed, faster and more cost-effectively than anyone else, and my loyalty was/is won. Marketing values reflect differently with customers, which presents the challenge of trying to pin the tail on the donkey while wearing the blindfold. Lack of line of sight is a great inhibitor.

One way to be sure you have line of sight is to stand in the place you are aiming at and look back at where you are pointing from (it works great on the golfing green). Stand on the opposite side and figure out how to make your objective reach the goal. You need this perspective before you can make the 180º Right Turn. One way to get perspective is to tune into the customer dialog while it is happening all around you. Web 2.0 publishing offers an unlimited resource for marketers to navigate a 180º right turn, (although there should be a health warning that such powerful direct feedback from customers can cause marketing whiplash in the dire haste to stem the negative feedback circulating through blogs, chatrooms and forums).

The rise of the corporate blogger needs to be more than a trend. It is a wellspring for interactive communication that is collaborative and ultimately supportive, even if the criticism can be brutal. Collaborative brainstorming sites are another face of the customer that lets marketers embrace attitudes so foreign to their internal culture you’d think they never really met face-to-face with a customer. Not all marketers can be successful in the blogsphere, as their customers often don’t rate them high enough in their priorities to take the time to engage in this sort of dialog. An alternative technique called Web Voyaging lets you tune into the voice of the customer and build an interaction that can guide you to make the right choices to build your business.

It is a methodology designed by an Interactive PR Agency partner of my studio Hydrogen Creative, and it relies on tracing 50 online communities that represent your target audience, and preparing well thought out topics or opinions and posting these to their community to gauge the response. The immediacy of the medium and the authenticity of the response is what make this a compelling technique to reach out to customers. Once you have done the 360º About Face you develop the sensitivity to hear customer feedback in the proper context. You resist making knee-jerk rationalizations of why the customer is saying the opposite of what you were hoping to hear. I am so frustrated by research companies that carefully craft questions in order that the answers are tolerable to their paying clients. If you don’t think it happens, “Ha, ha, ha, to you.”

The idea of the 180º Right Turn is to embrace with humility the reality that all the smarts you have and all the brilliance that inspires you to get up in the morning is subservient to a few terse comments from the people you need to buy your products who don’t share your sentiments about what you do best each day.

It is sometimes a painful awakening, but the good news is – once you make the turn – you get to channel all the brilliance and inspiration that you have into something that actually resonates with your customers.

Now that’s exciting.

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The 360º About-Face

I was once told that the furthest two points on a circle are right next to each other, because you have to travel the entire circumference to connect them. Sound silly? Try to draw a circle without connecting two points next to each other. You can’t do it. The paradox that the closest and furthest points of the circumference are adjacent is an interesting metaphor for how to miss or connect with customers.

As marketers we tend to look at the market through the lens of our brand, product or service and accept whatever filters through. We define the product based on its finest qualities and spin these into potential benefits, having first made sure of competitive qualities through price, performance or appeal. It is a product-centric model: the product is at the centre, and its radius is a function of market segment and reach. Customers fill in the area of the circle. Completely full is nirvana.

In a customer-centric world, your product is just one point on the 360º circumference of a circle that constitutes the entire customer predicament. Your marketing efforts travel inwards on a direct line to the centre. If you reach the centre it means they bought you.

So there is also a paradox between the product-centric model and the customer-centric model: to the marketer the product is a 360º totality but to the customer it is a 1º Maybe.

How can these two disparate models be reconciled? The challenge for the marketer is to travel the remaining 359º to fully understand the customer predicament and then apply that knowledge. Touch Marketing is the expression I use to envelope customer values, position the product properly and develop a marketing platform that builds a relationship based on shared values. In the 360º view of the customer price may not be important, features may not be important. Convenience and simplicity might be important but you won’t know until you do the 360º About Face, learn how your customer really sees their world and relates to your product within everything they do.

It takes some effort to wrench oneself away from the comfort of one’s own perspective. Nobody wants to have their ‘comfort-tree’ shaken. I am not talking about customer-satisfaction. Too many marketers pat themselves on the back with positive customer survey responses and remain in marketing stasis. I am talking about real-life relevance:
–> how to make your marketing more relevant to customer values so that they embrace not only what you are selling now, but also what you will sell in the future. If you do the 360º About Face, your next products will also support their values.

You have to go as far away from what you know and feel about your business or products to learn what it means to be customer-centric. Then you will have done the 360º About Face and be ready to pick up your product, brand or service and build a meaningful relationship with your customers.

In case you thought I was advocating going this distance with every single customer – that would be unnecessary. Customers form into segments also. The classifications won’t always fit the precise definitions of your marketing textbook. Go and find out. In each case it’s interesting and you’ll learn something to help you grow your business.

Jon Sherrington

Owner, Strategist, Writer – Hydrogen Creative Inc.

May 1996 – Present

My role is to provide strategic marketing guidance to clients to ensure their objectives are attainable, remain in focus and the communications solutions work.

My expertise is in how to realign goals-oriented brands, products, services or businesses to customer values to build loyalty, frequency and continuity.