Friday, January 29, 2010

Listening for Customer Understanding

I’ve expended a lot of energy trying to get marketers to really grasp the difference between marketing research and the analysis of behavioral data as avenues to customer insight. Sometimes I despair. We academics are partly at fault. Most marketing courses, especially the introductory ones, teach marketing research as the way (read that the only way) to learn about customers. We forget that there is behavioral data of many types, from many sources, that should be mined before enterprises spend time and money on marketing research.

Senior marketers have the same hang-up. Marketing research is what they were taught. They may feel comfortable with how it is done and the results it produces (or they don’t use it at all). But I thought an Ad Age headline (subscription required) earlier in the month captured the essence of the problem. When I used this slide in class last night, I got a lot of puzzled (disbelieving?) frowns. Let me see if I can restate the issue in terms of why companies need to listen as their first step in understanding customers in a way that leads to viable marketing and business strategies.

The ARF held another conference on listening yesterday and I looked this morning to see if any material had yet been posted. Not yet; I’ll keep looking but I did find a great quote in a blog post from ARF president Joel Rubinson. He says:

Listening is about hearing what people [say] rather than the marketer wants to talk about, (emphasis mine) and hearing it in people’s own words. It’s a window in the mind, heart and emotions of people, one you need to have your nose pressed up against continuously. Because things change…really fast…giving agile marketers great opportunities leaving traditional marketers wearing the WTF happened look on their faces.

As I looked, I found something else really good. I don’t know whether the ARF is happy having this report, clearly marked ‘confidential’ posted on the web, but for now at least, it’s there, so I’ll link to it. As all good researchers do, they start with an operational definition of listening:

“The study of naturally occurring conversations, behaviors, and signals, that may or may not be guided, that brings the voice of people’s lives in to the brand” (p 11)

They parse the definition in a useful fashion and go on to say a lot of important things about developing a listening strategy. You should read it for yourself. It’s long, but the main concepts take up only about 20 pages, followed by an incredible number of good short case studies, and ended with a discussion of technology and platforms. Let me leave it with the brand-related objectives that can be realized, in full or in part, by a well-crafted listening strategy. Their list is:

• Discover New Customers
• New Product Development and Innovation

• Improve Existing Products

• Maintain Sales Momentum

• Drive Brand Growth

• Re-brand or Re-position

• Tackle Public Policy Issues

• Manage Reputation
• Manage Brand Health

• Customer Care

• Increase Loyalty and Customer Value (pp 13-14)

I don’t think any of us can disagree with the desirability of any one of these objectives. That still begs the question of how to produce the best data to meet the selected objective(s). Try this conceptualization.

We have to listen to conversations that relate to our brand. That’s one kind of qualitative data. Behavioral data from everything to site visits to transactions is one type of quantitative data. Each of those types of data quickly becomes gigantic. Together they are mega-gigantic. For a brand of any size or reach, they have to be thoughtfully mined to come up with actionable insights.

Then the question is whether there is anything missing. In researchers’ terms, not just something interesting that we’d like to know, but data from which we can draw actionable insights. If the answer is ‘yes,’ we may need to do marketing research. It could be anything from a poll (or a series of them) on our website to a custom marketing research project. If it’s really important to a full picture of the customer, then do the marketing research. All the while behavioral and conversational data floods in. Also, the world moves on, which is another problem with pausing to do conventional marketing research.

That’s the nature of the challenge and it’s formidable. In the process of this investigation I’ve learned more about useful platforms that can help meet the challenge. More about that next week!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Designing Customer Experience for Social Media

Having recently written a post about the Forrester Customer Experience rankings it’s no surprise that I paid attention when I noticed an article about Deborah Schultz of the Altimeter Group and her recent presentation on social media experience. It’s embedded below and it’s worth paging through. Her carton from the final slide represents the essence of the message.

There’s not a huge body of writing about customer experience on social networks like there is on designing for good experience on websites. Some of it is transferable, but most of it is not. Website usability is more about the mechanics; social media is about communication and human experience.

With that in mind, I found one recurring piece of advice; social media is about telling your story. For social media marketers that means it’s about telling the story of the brand. Actually, it’s even more about getting your customers to tell their stories; that helps to create a strong emotional tie with the brand.

Writing on the HBS blog, Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path has four useful rules. He says:

1. Only hire people who embody your brand. That’s the basic rule for customer service and it applies here. Further, it means you will have to do less policing of what your employees say in social media because they will have the brand story straight.
2. If you do need policies, keep them lightweight and human. Merholz admits that not all companies can be a Zappos and allow employees to participate in social media without restraint. He points to Intel’s social media guidelines as a good example. I also like Fresh Networks guidelines for writing a social media policy.
3. Experiment, prototype, pilot — try stuff out. There aren’t a lot of tactical guidelines when you get right down to the nitty gritty holding a conversation with your own customers. You must experiment, track and understand what works and what does not.
4. It's a conversation, which means you both listen and take part. Amen!

Good customer experience is like the facetious definition of pornography: “you know it when you see it.” That’s important; it’s part of the humanity of social media. Take your own good customer experiences and translate them into interaction with your customers. It’s also the Golden Rule; treat them as you want to be treated.

Understanding good customer experience is important because we certainly don’t know how to measure it. It is more than customer satisfaction, so don’t let that well-understood metric get in the way of trying to understand the experience of your customers at each of your brand touchpoints. That will take qualitative understanding as well as wise choice of metrics.

I’ll fall back on my long-time favorite and suggest you read Bruce Tempkin’s 6 Laws of Customer Experience.The bad news is that designing good customer experience is more art than science. The good news is that each one of us has potential to be an artist—we are, after all—all customers!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Does Search or Social Media Have More Impact?

Of course there’s a secondary question—impact on what? For several days I’ve been thinking about two specific questions:

1. Does search marketing or social media drive more traffic to websites? I’m going to limit it to PPC and not include SE0.
2. Does PPC or social media have more impact on sales?

Both sound pretty simple and straightforward, right? If we believe that, we’ve forgotten all we know about the interconnectedness of media. Nevertheless, starting out with two specific questions led me to some interesting data.

Going backwards, we also know that question two is not as simple as phrased; there is immediate impact on sales and delayed impact. From early studies we know that web exposure, which was mostly display advertising at that time, had some immediate conversion impact but also had longer-term impact. In other words, it often took more than one visit for a consumer to decide to make a purchase. Think about your own behavior—does that make sense? We also learned that conversions occurred offline in retail stores after consumers had visited websites. That was a pretty common phenomenon in the early days, “research on line buy offline.” Again, we’ve all probably done that. Are we more likely to just go ahead and buy online today; probably depends on a number of things.

The same is true of the online vs. offline conversion issue. These 2005 data seem pretty straightforward. More people convert offline. comScore went on to say that they “analyzed the time lag between consumers’ initial searches and subsequent purchases made in the same categories during November and December of 2005. . .more than half (56%) of consumers’ online holiday buying actually happened in subsequent internet sessions, clearly demonstrating the strong latent impact of search.”

I’ve been looking for a replication of this study ever since. I’ve never found one. Does that mean that the latent impact of search has become part of Internet marketing conventional wisdom and no one sees the need? I did find a marketer’s analysis of a single campaign in 2009. He found that initial Google results were faster to come in than Yahoo’s, but that 31% of all results came in after his (approximately 1 month) campaign was over. I’ll take that as confirmation until someone shows me otherwise.

Ok, so here’s what I found in terms of traffic. The answer to question 1 looks pretty simple, right? Search is the winner by a huge margin. But look at what else eMarketer said (newsletter, October 22, 2009):

According to research by ad network Chitika, social sites Facebook and Digg are more likely to send returning traffic your way than search engines such as Yahoo!, Google and Bing. More than one-fifth of users referred to a site by Facebook visited at least four times in the course of a week. Less than 12% of Google-referred visitors were as loyal.

It doesn’t say that the loyal users were more likely to buy, but would you agree that the likelihood of a purchase goes up with repeat visits? It does seem likely; how much is unanswered, at least in any recent research I could find.
The most interesting data I found is this 2007 study of the influence of newspaper advertising on web traffic. 44% of people who saw an ad did additional research; 67% of them did their research online; and 31% went to a search engine first.

But strong brands matter; in 2009 Nielsen found that 61% of the holiday traffic of retail web sites came from direct visits, not search. A Nielsen spokesman said:

the fact that such a high percentage of people go directly to retail sites and even those that search generally have a pretty clear intent as to which website they'd like to go to -- it makes a compelling argument that brand and past experiences [with a marketer] matter an awful lot and will be far more significant determinants of success than any customer acquisition strategy that they're going to engage in."

That’s really interesting. Two things strike me. First, that’s holiday shopping data for retailers and it may be different for purchases during the rest of the year. Second, all marketers have to do customer acquisition, so the question as to whether social media or search is best for acquisition still matters. Each and every marketer has to answer that by looking at quality vs. quality of initial referrals and the persistence of customers who were acquired in various channels—in other words by Customer Lifetime Value. At the same time, it’s unlikely that one acquisition channel will ever be enough; the question is allocation of resources.

Question 2 one more time--does search or social media have more impact on sales? Here’s data from the current Razorfish Fluent Report. Offline friends are most trusted when making a purchase—WOM again and always. TV was also trusted by these respondents, then “online” activities of several types appear. Search is down at the bottom as far as trust when making a purchase is concerned.

The issue is not straightforward in the sense that either search or social media is “best.” However, there seems to be a pretty clear picture in these data. Search brings more people to your site; social media gives them more trusted information on which to base their purchases. It’s not either/or.

Several times while I was looking for data I came across a good piece of advice. Marketers must measure the impact of various media at each stage in the conversion funnel. It changes from “just looking for information” to “deciding to buy something” and in between. That’s the real message; marketers must use all the tools in their arsenal—wisely!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Local is Going Mobile

I’ve been working on some local advertising issues lately, so the 5 Mobile Trends article in AdAge last week grabbed me. Here are their trends:

1. Mobile will completely revolutionize the way local advertisers can connect with potential customers. Ad Age’s subhead captures the issue perfectly: “How the Computer in Your Pocket Is Changing Your Business.” Smartphone and apps users of the world have united to change your business—attention must be paid!
2. Growth in adoption of mobile shopping applications will continue to alter in-store consumer behavior, increasing the significance of mobile in point of sale decisions making. I wrote about my UPC code scanner not long ago. It really works! What’s funny is that when I’m at a store I like and where I know the people, I’m embarrassed to use it (unless I can hide behind a shelf so people won’t see me!). If I’m at a store where I don’t know people or don’t care what they think, it’s fine.
3. Brands and agencies will continue to build branded apps, but will also have more attractive display media options, thanks to Google. Keep reading—more below.
4. Advertising's outdoor real estate is fast becoming another connected channel capable of delivering high-fidelity digital experiences as unique, varied and measurable as more well-established mediums. That’s worth further exploration—does anyone know of a good recent posting?
5. Consumers have new power to express their opinions through social technologies from anywhere, anytime. Smart marketers will do all they can to encourage and act on this feedback. A lot of marketer content ought to be focused on generating customer content. How to accomplish that is one essential element of social media strategy. More on consumer reviews soon.

One of the things I did recently was to update local listings for the local wildlife sanctuary (that’s grammatically redundant, but both are necessary to my meaning). A local business needs to look at all the local media. There are many that offer free links to your website. Requesting listings is not much effort and worth the $$ it costs, since that is $0. Also free are Yahoo! Local and Google Maps/Business Center listings. There are value-added services on Yahoo! but the basic listing is free; links to both are on this page. The Yahoo! listing is simpler, note that it includes opportunities to upload photos and write reviews—both good promotion for the local business.

The Google listing is typical Google with more options. Google Maps gives you a stripped-down listing and map location. Google Business Center allows you to add the bells and whistles like I’ve done here. Images and videos are great promotion tools. What I really love is the Coupon option. As you can see, I’ve added a printable coupon to this listing. What you can’t see is that if a person is searching from a mobile device, they get a savable mobile version of the coupon. So cool! Cool, but not perfect. There is an option to create a link so you can link the coupon to a website, a blog, a personal page. Great idea—unfortunately it doesn’t work at present. They also have a Google Maps button for your desktop toolbar and a Mobile app. Their Favorite Places program offers smart-phone readable badges for heavily-searched stores, and there’s more on the drawing board. Read a good review on ReadWriteWeb.

And so it goes—and will continue to go!

Friday, January 22, 2010

The White House Joins the App Craze

It’s been a political week, so I might as well end the week on a political note. The White House must have been reading eMarketer also; it announced its own app on Tuesday.

The eMarketer newsletter (January 21, 2010) quoted a study by DM@PRO and Quattro Wireless that has a lot more good data on building and promoting apps. If you’re the White House, promotion isn’t that much of a problem, but the reasons for the app certainly apply. Think about it; they pretty much boil down to ‘it’s where our customers are’ and ‘it’s gotten a lot easier.’

I downloaded The White House app and it works as promised. Plenty of photos and videos; access to the White House blog, which is pretty informative. Apparently I can watch the State of the Union speech streamed live next week. After just a few days the reviews on the App Store are pretty good. It’s clean and quick and those who have used the streaming say the speed is good. Only real complaint I saw is that it’s not compatible with the first generation iPod, but to be fair, it says that on the store page. I’m a huge fan of the first dog, so I choose a screen capture that included him. The White House furnished several screen captures—they know quite a bit about promotion—and you can see more on Huffington Post.

The study says that Facebook is still the most popular venue for apps with 45% of the marketers surveyed having developed Facebook apps. iPhone comes in second with 42%. Our own site or community comes in third at only 36%. How do you choose? According to eMarketer:

Engagement was the top reason to choose either mobile or social as an app platform, but social sites were perceived as better for many top goals, including engagement, audience targeting, sharing and branding potential, and reach. Mobile scored higher on creative control and persistence.

Interesting! I recently ran across a Facebook app that lets you send a newsletter from your page—sort of. According to Nutshell Mail, you can “Automatically send the latest feeds from your page to your fans' email inboxes.” Not for me, thank you. It’s worth looking at, though, just to see what’s possible.

There are at least two take-aways here:

1. Apps are still in their early days and marketers are finding more creative, and even useful, ways to use them. Think branding, think pushing your message out to people who have indicated willingness to receive it.
2. Mobile is finally here, although it still has a lot of room for development and growth. Think about the moms described yesterday who are using smart phones to manage their lives, shopping included. Retailers were urged to take heed. Brand markets are also.

What’s next for The White House?, according to the blog.

What’s next for this app user? While I was looking for this one, I found a camcorder app that is getting pretty good reviews for 3G users who don’t want to spend the money for a 3GS. At $.99, the app is a much better buy. What else does that say about today’s mobilized world?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Digital Moms on the Move

Every so often I get energized to write a post on moms on the web. I’ve done Mommy bloggers—who they are, how to reach them, and the importance of transparency. The latter was before the FTC proposed regulations and guidelines.

Moms have always been purchasing agents for their households; now they have digital tools to do it. The chart from the Razorfish/Café Mom study shows the digital channels moms use, categorized by mainstream channels used by over 50% of moms, mainstream used by about 1/3 of them, and emerging used by less than 25%. eMarketer adds to this picture by pointing out that moms are using their smartphones to do things like searching for recipes online. Think of the opportunities for reaching them in the course of such activities, but also note that the best way is not advertising in many channels, especially mobile. The second chart suggests that ads on social nets get a rather small amount of attention and even less action. Awareness? Maybe.

What made the subject top of mind was a headline in Marketing Charts a couple of days ago: “Retailers Can Lure Moms with Social Media, Free Stuff.” That’s not exactly a surprise, but the chart on what promotions moms find most influential is interesting. It’s also interesting that moms are more influenced by everything than are adults in general—the purchasing agent effect in operation. What interests me even more when I look at this chart is the ways in which marketers can reach moms with the promos they care about. Just a few examples:

• Notify moms of Product Samples In-store on their social networks (message your fans, advertise to others) and by reaching out to the ecosphere of mommy bloggers
Actually, that advice hold true for most of the items on this list.
• Use the database from Store Loyalty Cards to reach moms with permission email and mobile coupons based on behavioral data.
In-Store Events and Parking Lot Events can be Tweeted to build excitement and momentum.

Think about it: what promotional techniques should you be using? How can you notify moms that they are available?

Ponder this quote from the RAMA study that produced the promotion data:

“Retailers who aren’t engaging customers through social media could be missing the boat,” said Mike Gatti, Executive Director for RAMA. “Twitter, Facebook and blogs are becoming increasingly popular with moms as they search for coupons or deals and keep in touch with loved ones. The web provides efficient, convenient ways for brands to stay in front of their most loyal shoppers and attract new ones.”

He’s being tactful! Unless your women customers are all over 80, you need to be actively pursuing social media strategies—listening and engaging, not advertising. Otherwise, the boat goes without you!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don't Let Your Brand be Martha Coakley

It’s been clear for a week or two how the senate election in Massachusetts was going to end. But that doesn’t make it easier for people in and out of the state to accept. For the record, I’m a registered independent, on the email lists of both John Kerry and Barak Obama. If you mined both databases you’d find that I contribute early--important in politics. Not large amounts generally, but I did come close to maxing out in support of Obama. Ok, now you know more about me that I’m comfortable revealing, but it’s important to the story of why Martha Coakley lost when she was 30 points ahead for most of the campaign. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will say that it’s a textbook lesson in missed opportunities, but I’d like to give a marketing perspective.

1. Bad candidate. Snippy comments like ‘am I supposed to stand on a cold street corner and shake hands’ (not a direct quote, but you get the idea). That on a (cold) weekend when Scott Brown was all over the airwaves standing on a street corner shaking hands.
2. Bad messaging. Generic, appeals like ‘I’ll go to Washington and support health care for all’ (again not a direct quote). It’s typical of how I interpreted all of her ads: I’ll go to Washington and vote the straight party line. I don’t think that fits the mood of the electorate.
BTW; Massachusetts has universal health care with an individual mandate. It actually works pretty well. You either submit proof of insurance with your state tax form or pay a fine. It took a while for them to get systems in place to help people get insurance, but it seems to be working ok now.
This election wasn’t about health care per se. As I read it the main issue was government and government spending out of control.

3. Really bad campaign management.
• She announced her candidacy last summer and essentially disappeared for about 3 months, until a week or so before the primary election. She was 30 points ahead, and it made sense to save money, but no foundation was being built.
• The foundation needed was donors and an email list. Both Kerry and Obama have retained control of their lists but they make them available for acquisition on a limited basis from what I see. I never received a donor solicitation or anything else directly from the Coakley campaign. When they began to panic, senators and democratic campaign committees began forwarding her emails. Small Coakley list? I think so.
The email sign up is under the Get Involved tab on her site. Feels like kind of an afterthought. And when you go there, just a page asking for email and zip code. Nothing about what you’ll get, no privacy statement. Not best practices for any brand.
• When things started to turn about the first of the year the campaign had nothing to fall back on except fund-raise out of state (not a good image, given the nature of the campaign) and robo calls. Toward the end, I was getting maybe a dozen a day. I have ANI, so I didn’t answer them. Some did record, including one from the candidate on election day saying; “I know you’re getting a lot of these calls, but. . .” Is that going to affect behavior? Not unless maybe you forgot that yesterday was election day and that was pretty hard to do!
• Both candidates used direct mail and rental lists. I got two from Scott Brown the same day last week, obviously different lists. The same day I got one from Martha Coakley, also a rental list—thanks for knowing that I’m a loyalist!
• I saw Scott Brown ads all over the Internet during the last week. They were on sites like TechCrunch that would get traffic from Gen X and Gen Y techies, a large population in Massachusetts and likely to be independent voters. I saw no Coakley ads.
• Both had active Facebook and Twitter programs. I didn’t follow either—once again I was never asked—but the Boston Phoenix did. Another clear edge for Brown, apparently. I didn't see much PPC advertising for either, but I wasn't paying a lot of attention.

Neither campaign got below the surface of issues and that seemed to suit both of them for different reasons. I’ll leave it to political pundits to dissect the issues; just don’t believe all the nattering about health care as an issue; that’s also superficial.The impact, however, may be large; the media is not good at separating the two.

One comment last night did strike me. I think it was David Gergen who pointed out that the polls began to turn on the news of the sweetheart deals with Senators Nelson and Landrieu to win their health care votes. That was late November, and the turn makes sense from what I was seeing in terms of voter issues.

So this may have been a flawed brand from the beginning. But there is no doubt that the campaign did not speak to voter concerns—they could have been doing some serious listening last fall and some crafting of messages. In the end, when the crunch came, they had no way to reach a critical mass of supporters with a message that resonated.

I was told not long ago that this online media stuff was easy and it didn’t take much time. So wrong! Unless you have the strategy and the tools in place, you cannot react to either the good or the bad events that affect your brand! That’s the marketing message from this election. I wish I thought it was the only message.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Social Media Readies for Super Bowl 2010

Social media efforts for Super Bowl XLIV are already in full swing. It’s not news to advertisers that there’s lead time for all marketing programs. But there’s a difference in traditional ad planning and execution from social media planning and execution; you have to start earlier in social media if you want customer engagement and participation leading up to the big day.

This chart shows the online viewing of ads, which totaled more views than people watching the game live according to Ad Age (subscription required). The impact of social is interesting as is the difference between industry segments. In case you missed the article here are Ad Age’s recommendations for getting maximum benefit from your Super Bowl ads (assuming you’re planning to spend the $2.5 to 2.8 mil necessary to run one):

• Capitalize on pregame buzz
• Build virality into your creative
• Buy smart search terms
• Think real time
• Don't forget the call to action

It doesn’t take much thought to realize that all of this is aimed at leveraging the impact of a 30-second ad—and that most of it involves social media. The real-time issue I find the most fascinating. Listen to Ad Age:

Gone are the days when a CMO can enjoy an uninterrupted game in the network's luxury box. Today smart marketers will be talking on Twitter, tweaking search campaigns and leaving no rock unturned in their quest to drive impressions. Like E-Trade's baby, the star of H&R Block's spot, Tax Guy Murray, turned up on Twitter and actively reached out to people talking about the ad or taxes -- during the game. "My prediction is this year you'll have armies of marketers fanning the flames of their ads on Twitter," said Pete Blackshaw, exec VP, Nielsen Digital Strategic Services. "'Did you like it? Check out this link. Thanks so much for the high five.'

Oh, those poor CMOs!

One big piece of news is that Pepsi pulled out of the Super Bowl this year. They are concentrating their money in social media—in a cause-related program that’s almost guaranteed to generate engagement. Augie Ray has interesting commentary on the Forrester blog with good background links. The upshot of it is that Pepsi is spending $20 million on a program to support community-level projects. They are accepting proposals each month during 2010, starting January 13, 2010. Take a look at the top and bottom sections of the project home page. Have they forgotten anything for either project sponsors or the general public which is to vote on submissions?

They’ve also got some interesting things going on. One is that each category has an “ambassador,” one of whose roles seems to be to support applicants in that category. Some are also blogging; I’ll bet all of them will before it’s over.

The other is that there was a lot of buzz last week about initial glitches in the submissions. Apparently some people had problems submitting and others didn’t get a confirmation. Pepsi’s response is a textbook example of community monitoring and response. TechCrunch was quite critical, even though the Facebook page captures they published showed that Pepsi was all over the problem on the 13th, the day the site went live. Even better, go to their Facebook page. The last entry as of this writing is Jan. 15 and at the moment it has 86 comments. Read through them. Some applicants are still having problems, some are seeing their submissions going in properly. Applicants are talking to one another. Pepsi is talking to them. Pepsi is confirming some submissions directly to the Facebook commenter; they are promising to get back to others. They are listening—and responding! I’m not sure it gets any better and the applicants seem to be pretty happy and accepting of the fact that technology, especially in the beginning, can go awry. What’s important is that the marketer pays attention and fixes it, keeping users informed along the way!

Let’s revisit the initial premises. One is that you either do traditional broadcast advertising or you do social media. Wrong. You waste your money on traditional broadcast in this rarefied environment unless you do effective lead-up and post-game work. A lot of that is online and much of it may be social. It’s not one or the other.

The other is that a wise social media investment may pay greater long-run dividends than even a blockbuster Super Bowl ad. That remains to be seen. But stay tuned throughout 2010 to see how Refresh Everything goes. It’s certainly been exciting so far!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fund Raising is Mobile and Viral

Social media and marketers have increasing roles in dealing with social issues in general and natural disasters in particular. The effects of the earthquake in Haiti are devastating and heart rending. Let me sum up some of the things I’m seeing.

• Within hours (2 or 3 maybe?) of the first news about the earthquake I saw a crawler on CNN/Situation Room soliciting mobile contributions. There are several firms that support mobile fundraising. The Mobile Giving Foundation seems to be the largest and best known; their site gives good information on how it works. According to a press release yesterday, their clients had raised over $7million--all in $5 and $10 amounts to the best of my knowledge. This quote from one of their how it works pages sums it up:

Mobile often outpaces on-line donor acquisition by a 3:1 factor. It is also clear that mobile giving represents purely incremental gifts predominately by a new, younger demographic. Donor canibalization doesn’t occur.

• Consumers are confused and wary, and rightly so. Remember all the scams after Hurricane Katrina? ABC News was quick to explain how to tell the difference in a post that I’ve also seen on the national site and a local affiliate site. That’s helpful.

• But we’ve all seen how quickly rumors and incorrect information can flood the Internet via the social networks. The AdAge article about consumer confusion points to issues experienced by both American Airlines and UPS. The latter is particularly interesting; I had just watched a video on how (and why) they had been working on their social media strategy over the past months. That kind of preparation allowed them to respond quickly to the incorrect information with correct information on their own blog. The video is 20 minutes long, but it’s well worth your time—especially if you have a brand to protect!

The Internet is flooded with reports of corporations’ pledges of help, and that’s as it should be. Perhaps also, they shouldn’t expect anything in return for doing the right thing. But as a proponent of cause-related marketing, I don’t fault companies for wanting credit. I saw Art Hogan of Jeffries securities on CNBC this morning. Before he talked about stock prices he pushed his company’s efforts which include a corporate donation, the opportunity for employees to donate a day’s salary, and the donation of all their commissions today to the relief fund. That’s a joint effort and seems to me to be all to the good. He said they had already seen increased trading volume in London and, pre-market opening, it looked as if they would see the same in the US. I checked their website and there’s nothing there. They must have gotten the word out by emailing their clients. However they did it, good for them!

What are the take-aways? First, mobile and viral have both upsides and downsides; all channels need to be monitored for both. When it’s important, get out a correction. Distribute it as widely as possible; I couldn’t find evidence of the informative blog post on either UPS’s Twitter or Facebook pages. Second, cause-related marketing is usually a long-term investment, and the Jeffries anecdote provides nice support for the belief that it does provide ROI. It’s one part of the shift of marketing expenditures from traditional media to social media. Third, today’s environment calls for rapid response. You can’t respond rapidly in social media when the need arises unless you have built a solid foundation.

And needs will continue to arise from all quarters—you can bet on that!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Threadless--Marketing Success through Community

Isn’t it what we’d all like to achieve—having our customers do the work for us? We all know it’s not that easy, but t-shirt site Threadless has built a community that powers both product development and sales. Read about it in Chief Marketer’s new e-magazine.

It’s another of those edgy sites that got started almost by accident. They made a lot of mistakes in the early days, when it was described as a “crowdsourcing” model. Today they are careful to describe it as a “community” model, pointing out that crowdsourcing implies a random group of individuals while a community has to be carefully nurtured.

Threadless does that on its own site

on Facebook; this is the New Tees! page

on Twitter.

There are two things you notice immediately.

Ecommerce. Threadless is selling t-shirts on both Facebook and Twitter. Did you know you could do that? Facebook has a Marketplace although you pretty much have to know it exists in order to be able to find it. (Why doesn’t Facebook work on its navigation structure???), Steven Walling of ReadWriteWeb tried the Twitter version and he has issues with it—worth reading!

Privacy. Once again, there is none! I didn’t go as far as Steve Walling did on Twitter, but I did click on the box to find out what was required to sign in on Twitter. What I found was a box requesting permission for Twitter Tees to access my Twitter account. I don’t do that (at least I thought I didn’t). The permission box says you can revoke the permission by going to your Settings page. I looked at my Settings page; there are two apps there that I apparently have given permission to, neither of which I remembered—scary!

On Facebook I found two interesting issues. The more perplexing one is that I was on the New Tees! page yesterday. Today, when I went on again, I found a comment box with my account picture beside it beside every product; and no, I didn’t give either Facebook or Threadless any permissions. When I went to the Marketplace page I found a row of pictures across the bottom—Facebook friends of mine from around the world who are using Facebook Marketplace. They are all connected to me, so I guess that’s ok. I do have a bit of a problem with the fact that they captured my visit and, in effect, reported it publicly. However, I choose not to be upset; it’s what you should expect on Facebook.

So we are left with two questions; does Twitter offer the opportunity to create a stable e-commerce platform. You’ll have to stay tuned on that one. Second, are you comfortable—more important, will your customers be comfortable—with Facebook’s stated policy of linking everyone to everyone and everything? It goes back to my oft-repeated warning to be careful what you do and what you expect your customers to do.

Threadless has made a great business with their community-based model. I’d be willing to bet that their Facebook and Twitter sales account for only a small part of their total revenue. Customer engagement and customer acquisition are fundamental on the network platforms and sales are a by-product. That seems to describe the scene at present; it could change over time.

What should clearly grow, however, is the importance and value of a vibrant customer community. Cam Balzer said in Forbes recently:

The secret isn't growing a huge fan base. We have 100,000 Facebook fans, but those fans have all come to us organically. We believe the more organic the growth, the more loyal the fans, the more likely they will be repeat customers.

Amen to that—whichever platform you are talking about!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Customer Experience Counts in All Channels

Forrester recently completed its 2010 customer experience ranking. Data was collected from 4,653 US consumers in November 2009. The full report is available only to Forrester clients, but Bruce Tempkin released key summary statistics yesterday.
His summary of the findings, much of which is displayed in this chart, is interesting:

Retailers take 12 out of the top 20 spots. I’m happy for them, but I also wonder why retailers appear to think that customer experience is more important than do other types of businesses that sell things—B2B or B2C, products or services?
Healthcare, Internet and TV services dominate the bottom. Quelle surprise! We all have our stories. My most recent one is yesterday. I called a physician’s office for an appointment instead of her competitor whose office’s customer service was dissed on local ratings services. So far, so good—the appointments secretary was nice to me on the phone!
There was very little excellence. Again, not news to most of us. Excellent customer service, and it’s outcome, excellent customer experience, is a sustainable competitive advantage. Why? Because it’s hard and it requires upfront investment.
• Liberty Mutual improved the most. Interesting. I’ve actually paid attention to their “responsibility matters” TV advertising. I wondered how that fit into their ability to improve customer experience, so I decided to look around.

What I expected to find was some trade buzz that Liberty Mutual had really been working on its customer service. Maybe they have, but that’s not what I found. I found The Responsibility Project. Business Week had an article and video interview with Stephen Sullivan, senior vice-president, communications services at Liberty Mutual. Sullivan talks about the challenges the firm faced in 2008 as it tried to expand market share in the face of competitors who could outspend and customers who didn’t trust. He says:

"It's a wonderful thing to say that we do the right thing, but it's also a more difficult message to get across to consumers because so many people want to say that," says Sullivan. "What we wanted to say is 'We recognize that personal responsibility is one of your core values and if this is true, then you will like doing business with a company like us because we share that value; in fact, we celebrate it on your part.'"

That view is the core of The Responsibility Project. TV is the responsibility of Hill, Holiday. PR comes from Ketchum, which describes the project as follows:

The Responsibility Project, created by Liberty Mutual, uses entertainment content to create a forum for people to discuss personal acts of responsibility. Through short films, online content and television programming, The Responsibility Project is a catalyst for examining the decisions that confront people trying to “do the right thing.”

Take a look at the project website. The entertainment content is obvious with short films from Liberty Mutual and “responsibility partners” including NBC, Slate and BeliefNet. I was interested in the box that describes their outreach to bloggers at the summer BlogHer conference. The site is reasonably interactive with a blog and an opportunity to post stories, vote on issues and make comments.

Individually, the pieces are impressive. More impressive is the degree to which Liberty Mutual integrates the “doing the right thing” into all its messaging—from the blogger outreach this summer to the career pages on its website. In the Business Week interview Sullivan made the point that employees had to believe in the message in order to be able to deliver on the promise. That starts with hiring the right people, as they are obviously trying to do. One assumes that management at Liberty Mutual is behind the program in both word and deed. Otherwise, the results wouldn’t be showing up in customer experience rankings.

Where did this all start? Liberty Mutual, of the 133 organizations in 14 industries that Forrester surveyed, improved its customer experience rankings the most. That means it supported its words with actions in a most impressive way--another best practices example.

Social media is nice. However, marketers have to use all their channels and use them in an integrated way. If the message doesn’t resonate and the experience is not satisfactory, all social media can do is to reflect customer discontent. If social media is to reflect a strong and trusted brand, business actions are going to establish the foundation. Getting the message out is important, but the actions of employees and the everyday experiences of customers are the ultimate test of strategy.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Google Wave--Killer App for Collaboration?

A student recently posted this link with an interesting application of Google Wave—thanks, Jeff! It reminded me that I needed to try to understand this new Google product. It’s still in preview, not yet in publicly-available beta, so if you want to try it, you have to request an invitation. As of mid-December Mashable said there were about a million users. The slow rollout limits the usefulness of a collaborative tool, but there’s quite a bit of buzz on the web about bugs and general difficulty of use. “Take it easy” seems to be a reasonable approach and Google makes it clear that they will get invitations out as they think the system is ready.

In Google-speak Wave is “equal parts conversation and document,” it is completely shared with all participants, and it takes place in real time. Google’s Dr. Wave explains and demonstrates. The video is better on the Google site, where it’s embedded in a use example (clever of them!), than on YouTube where you can’t see what “Dr. Wave” is pointing at.

Here’s a more fully populated example from Mashable. Mashable people have written extensively about Wave, although the link to their Complete Guide is broken at this writing.

Google says Wave can be used to arrange events, collaborate on projects, share photos, share meeting notes, brainstorm and play interactive games. Ok, but that’s not only generic, it’s more consumer than business oriented. Howard Greenstein has an excellent post on Mashable. It suggests potential business uses and gives a hypothetical example of a team preparing a client pitch from multiple locations. His conceptualization of modes of use is especially helpful, and there are other useful links at the bottom of the post.

Can Wave replace email and other collaborative tools like wikis? That’s not yet clear, but it’s clearly worth keeping an eye on—perhaps giving it a trial when it becomes more widely available!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Social Shopping--Another Trend for 2010?

If I had added one more trend to Monday’s list, it would have been social shopping, so I decided to end the week with a summary. I’ve written a lot during the holiday shopping season about good uses of social media by retailers and results from the season confirm the importance of social media to ecommerce. According to Internet Retailer:

Another trend that emerged from the holiday season is the growing importance of online social networks, blogs and forums. Among consumers researching and buying holiday gifts online, 28% said social media influenced a purchase decision, compared with 11% who said they were guided by a customer-generated product review, 7% by an expert review and 6% by a Facebook message, comScore says. Observed comScore’s (chairman Gian) Fulgoni, “We are getting our first real glimpse at the impact social media will play on commerce as we enter the next decade.”

Earlier in the fall the site SheSpeaks asked about brand-related activities and found a lot of it on both social networks and Twitter. Other 2009 data from SheSpeaks found 55% of women they interviewed logging into social networks multiple times each day; 72% log in at least once a day. That’s huge!

The strategic use of social media by retailers is important, but the precise definition (if there is one!) of social shopping (or social commerce) is more narrow. It is an attempt to allow shoppers to bring onto the web some of the “social event” feeling of shopping in the mall with a friend. That may be an important part of the physical retail shopping experience that Internet retailers can provide on the web going forward.

As I’ve looked at the space, there are two basic ways to do that:

• Join one of the shopping sites that supports social experience. There are a lot of them and more being added. ThisNext is a good example of a site where a merchant can get a free tool that allows visitors to post a product to the site, where it joins the pool for online discussion. They have an application called Shopcast that encourages consumers to add ThisNext content widgets to their own personal pages. The common thread in this type of site is that retailers must encourage shoppers to list products on the site. Another set of sites appear to feature the products of partners; Couture Society is one of those.

Actually, it’s rather hard to find out precisely how retailers get products included; maybe that’s intentional, maybe it’s because the space is still new.

• Add social shopping functionality to your site. Clearly, this would be the more expensive option, but it gives retailers control. I wrote about Decision Step earlier in the year. BazaarVoice is another firm that offers a robust set of social applications. These, obviously, work on your own site and the merchant doesn’t have to rely on a third party site.

Be it social media in general, or social shopping in particular, interaction between shoppers seems to be the direction in which ecommerce is moving. Does it create a new type of business model, or is it just value-added to the existing ecommerce model? For now, I think it’s the latter, but that could change. It certainly is a part of Web 3.0 – the open ecosystem that is gradually replacing the walled-garden sites of the early Internet.

Internet marketers should keep an eye on what is going on in this space. It seems to offer merchants a way to reach out—often to the friends of friends (“birds of a feather”) who might also find the offering attractive. That’s cost-effective customer acquisition!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tracking Coke on Social Media

While doing research for the best practices article yesterday, I noticed that Starbucks had pushed Coke out of first place in one of the listings—engagement, I think. I don’t pay much attention to the “who’s on first” kind of lists; I’m interested in looking for strategy. Coke, though, seems even less amenable to online social media than Starbucks, although I did write about an experiment they did in Second Life quite awhile ago. In any event, I checked it out.

The first thing I found was that there are over 1,000 Coke pages on Facebook. Lovely for them, but I was looking for their official fan page. I found it, and it’s impressive in design and content; clearly not a DIY effort! They have 4,107,432 fans, which sounds like a pretty good second place! More interesting is the integration of customer effort into their Facebook presence. Coke marketing people were paying attention to what customers were saying—and the rest is history. Check out this video for what they did and how they did it!

Again, lovely for them for co-opting their customers into their own marketing, but I looked a little further. It didn’t take much effort to find that they have a year-long promotion, launched in Madrid on New Year’s day. The three winning adventurers are already off on Expedition 206. The header pretty much says it all; the mission is to seek and share stories of happiness.

It’s worth spending some time on this site. The three young people are delightful and seem to be having a wonderful time 3 days into their excellent adventure. I was especially interested in the ways to follow it. The last similar thing I followed was a National Geographic deep sea project; those reports came to me by email, which suits my lifestyle. No email here that I can see. You can download the widget, which looks like fun. You can get posts on 4 of the major social networks; MySpace and Twitter are obvious; don’t know where Yahoo! puts it, although the link took me to my account sign-in. If you’re not a fan of Facebook Connect, you should click on the Facebook link and see what it tells you. See how fan pages can get a lot of fans quickly?

There should be a word on Facebook privacy (or lack thereof), which has once again been in the news recently. Facebook Connect brings in all your friends. When I went directly to Coke’s Facebook fan page, I got an interesting privacy notice from it. By clicking through to the page I gave Coke permission to access my Facebook information. Ok, but I do appreciate being made aware.

You have no privacy on Facebook; “get over it.” As individuals, be aware of what information you are putting out there for the world to see. As marketers be aware of what you are asking your customers to do—and be transparent about it! As long as you don’t put data or content out there that you wouldn’t be happy for your mother—or your best customer—to see, this is good fun!

Ok, so most of us aren’t Coke, and we can’t do a 206-day global promotion (actually, most of us probably don’t need to!). Is your business doing something that you’d like for people to know about and to follow—a green project is a good candidate these days. So is an event you sponsor. As is a cause you partner with.

On a smaller scale, I’m willing to bet that most of us have things we should be sharing with our customers—good things, innovative things—things that build our brand, whether it’s global or local!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Social Media Best Practices for 2010

As social media marketing matures, there’s a continuing stream of firms and non-profits that are doing significant things. I looked back over 2009 to find some of the ones I had characterized as “best practices.” If you look down the list, consumer products companies appear to be underrepresented. I’m not sure whether that’s a reflection of reality or just a reflection of what I pay attention to. Stay tuned for some additions to that list!

Legal Zoom applies consumer marketing techniques to legal services marketing and does so in a way that supports instead of devaluing devalue the professionalism of their offering. A lot of the posts to their Facebook page continue to promote their contest, but there’s a cool New Year’s Resolution app. They don’t appear to have a blog, so the posts are more than blog feeds and the they seem to have a number of employees involved. Worth the attention of non-lawyers!

Starbucks gets a lot of votes in best practices lists. I think the “Listens—and Acts” phrase pretty much sums it up. The My Starbucks Idea site is still going strong. A lot of the current ideas are about products; notice how many of them would make Starbucks greener.

Kraft is another skilled social media practitioner that might be seen as unlikely, since their products are sold through channels to consumers at retail. However, they’ve found ways to engage their customers and to reach them at the point of purchase with the iFoodAssitant iPhone app. Their social media efforts are well done, one reason being that they understand the needs of their customers.

One of my favorite social media initiatives is the Pickens Plan. I’ve written about it several times including a late 2008 post that describes their community monitoring efforts. You only have to look at all the activity on the site to understand how much effort it takes to start a community—even more, to keep it vibrant. Think also the Christmas card post from the Obama campaign office. When I finish this post, I’m going to replace the simple badge on this blog with one of the Plan’s interactive widgets. That’s the sort of community fuel that keeps it running (pun intended)!

Finally another of my favorites is the McKinsey Journal represented on the blog with the McKinsey marketing content widget on the sidebar. I find the widget useful; I hope readers do. Since I’ve written about their social efforts (and got an almost immediate comment—very social!), they have added a “What Matters” page. It’s a thought leaders page and not overly social, although it does appear to be built on a blogging platform. Perhaps more important to the McKinsey Journalit provides additional content that supports the McKinsey brand.

The most impressive thing about these five examples is that all of them are keeping up the momentum; most have added new activities since I wrote about them sometime in 2009. That's a sign of commitment to social media. It also reminds me of some rants I've read lately about it not being "social media campaigns" or "social media programs." Ok, how about social media initiatives? Just as long as there are measurement milestones!

If you search “best practices” on the blogger search bar you’ll get others, both recent and older. All are nourishing food for thought, and I have no doubt that 2010 will produce more!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Replacing Ads with Action in 2010

One day last week I had the ubiquitous CNBC on in the background when something about advertising caught my attention. When I turned to look the crawler at the bottom of the screen read, “Brands Replacing Ads with Action.” That prognostication by Brian Morrissey of AdWeek caught my attention as an apt summary of many things going on.

I scoured many, although not even close to all, of the digital advertising forecasts for 2010, looking for just the ones that specifically applied to social media. I worked hard to synthesize a list of just 5 trends; see if you agree.

1. Everything is going mobile—content and entertainment of all kinds will be available “anytime anywhere,” much of it via apps. Marketers will, as always, follow the eyeballs with advertising dollars. They will have to learn to make that advertising welcome, not intrusive.

2. Location becomes a key factor
– for marketers who need to do mobile ads that are localized, and therefore have a better chance of being welcomed, and for consumers who are using services like Loopt to interact with their friends.

3. Sharing of content is pervasive. Apps and sites encourage it in many ways, often without resorting to email.

4. Convergence will be defined by digital + social
, hardware essentially irrelevant. Ad Week says that “marketers will look at social as an integral part of their digital strategy.” Hubspot says it will be “the year of integrated inbound marketing.” However you choose to phrase it, social media has become part of the mix.

5. Privacy will continue to be an issue
Marketing Charts described it as a “privacy by design” approach. I’d prefer to describe it as a “be thoughtful” approach to any use of customer data. Ad Age’s view is that “brands will start taking advantage of social graphs” and pointed to Facebook Reconnect With as a good example. Maybe I’ll revise that to “be careful!”

Some other useful links include:

eMarketer’s prediction post
A summary from Online Social Networking
A post from Read Write Web
A good list from David Berkowitz, and an even better post using localization tools

If I hadn’t had my Twitter feed off most of the time for the last couple of weeks, the list would be much longer. It is a social and connected world, indeed!

I’d like to end with a quote from David Armano, writing in the HBS Publishing blog:

4. Your company will have a social media policy (and it might actually be enforced)

Think about it. If social media is pervasive and if it’s part of brand marketing strategies, how should you—how should your employees—interact with social media on the job? That’s an important question that companies of any size should come to terms with early in the new year of 2010!