Sometimes it’s Good Not to Follow the Leader

I hope that the people reading this blog are not like Wal*Mart. I’m not saying that Wal*Mart does not have some fabulous business systems, or super-smart negotiators, but in the world of marketing, it seems like they are just playing “catch-up.” Today’s Marketing Daily article from MediaPost talks about how Wal*Mart.com is (finally) looking at consumer engagement as something they might want to focus on.

Laurie Sullivan’s Marketing Daily article reports that, “The retailer recognizes that 75% of Wal-Mart’s customers go online, but not all shop at Walmart.com,” according to Cathy Halligan, Walmart.com CMO. “Our engagement online is too low, compared with growth rates seen in social network sites,” she told Marketing Daily at last week’s Forrester Research Marketing Forum 2008 in Los Angeles. “We’re growing at two times the industry growth rate, but when you look at what else is growing, such as non-transactional sites, we’re not growing as fast we would like.” 

The push toward “engagement”–an industry buzzword describing everything from media buys to customer interaction with brands–has become the latest marketing craze. The trend gives retailers the means to monitor more closely what consumers say about the brands they sell, so employees can quickly respond. For Walmart.com, it switches success metrics solely from transactions to engagement, as more information about consumer preferences comes through blogs, wikis, social network sites and videos.

You can read the whole article here:

http://publications.mediapost.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.san&s=80500&Nid=41478&p=401846

Hopefully, you are sitting there thinking, “Of course consumer engagement is important.” Hopefully, you already have efforts on-line to learn from your customers, find new ways to talk with them and get them talking with each other.

If you are like Wal*Mart and happen to be a little late to the party, then I say, “Jump in. The water’s fine.” Don’t just stick your toe into this “new-fangled thang” called interactivity. It’s less expensive than a thirty second commercial in prime-time, but it will take more commitment to do it right. However, nurturing communities can reap huge rewards building your brand, increasing your sales, maintaining top-of-mind awareness. Welcome to marketing in the twenty-first century.

More Marketing Lessons from the Eleven-Year-Old

Today, I wanted to follow up on last week’s blog about “Simple Marketing Advice.” My entrepreneurial son sent a flyer around the neighborhood to solicit work. He got his first customer, and he was so excited. I coached him on how to do a good job for him and be respectful. He came home beaming, with a crisp ten dollar bill in his hand. “And Mommy, he says he has other jobs that I can do next Friday too!

 

My son is learning the lessons of commerce: the excitement of your first customer, the desire to please, your customer, the thrill of getting paid, that indescribable feeling of endless opportunity stretching out before you.

What’s the marketing lesson? It’s a LOT easier (and cheaper) to keep a customer than to get a new customer. Once you get a customer, treat them like gold, because they will keep coming back for all the great things you have to offer. Find new ways to delight them, and you will be able to prosper with them.

The Future of Digital Social Networking

I posted a comment on the following blog

http://blogs.forrester.com/charleneli/2008/03/the-future-of-s.html

The premise Charlene Li, who works at Forrester Research, puts forth is that, in the future, social networking will be ubiquitous and as natural as breathing. She talks about creating management tools to simplify the many social networking groups one can belong to, and an interesting proposal for technology to help monitor and manage the natural relationships we have in many forms of communication (phone, email, IM, meeting appointments). She also talks about how to better identify and leverage (as a marketer) the influencers of a given group. It’s an interesting post, and worth the read. Here’s my addition to the conversation:

I love this conversation, and the ideas Charlene puts forth are quite interesting. As with everything, though, the context of who you are talking to (and with) plays an enormous role in establishing the verity of your statement that social networking will be like “air.” I say that as an over-40 year old who has had a LinkedIn account since 2003 and has just recently (reluctantly) gotten a Facebook account.

I see the value of networking from a business standpoint, but my personal relationships are, for the most part, not web-based. I strongly agree with the comment posted “We don’t need social networks to have a social life. Social networks are trying to reproduce our real social activities, not the opposite.”

You mentioned that friends in your morning walking group “don’t participate in social networks and won’t for the foreseeable future.” These are the type of people who don’t necessarily know the short-hand language of text messaging, don’t really see the difference between e-mail and IM, and do not understand the panic of not being able to find your Blackberry when you already late for work in the morning. The conversation about social networking is happening within certain circles of people who are more comfortable communicating digitally. I personally hate it. If you want to talk with me, pick up the phone and call me. Sadly, I think that preference simply shows my age.

But I know that there are MILLIONS who do choose to communicate this way, and for them, I agree with Charlene that it is (and will be) as natural as breathing. But as you continue this discussion, understand another of the challenges, which is, essentially, the reach (or the limits of the reach) of this type of communication.

Related to that, the challenge of establishing the marketing value for marketers goes beyond just figuring out how to make it happen, it goes to how to make it relevant for the marketer.

I am a Marketing Strategist who has leveraged on-line communities for consumer conversation, as well as product development and introduction when I worked in the marketing department at LEGO. Now that I am a consultant, I find that it is hard, in some cases, to convince someone to invest marketing dollars on networking sites. For the most part, I am dealing with people of a similar age to me (or older), who did not have a Facebook account (or even an email address!) when they went to college, so the personal belief in digital social networking is not there. It’s easier to support a recommendation for a Facebook effort to one Client who is going after the graduating senior in college, but it’s a much harder sell (and a much murkier marketing challenge) for my Client who is looking to sell a Cadillac.

I also find the discussion about whether or not to recommend a product to be somewhat funny. I disagree with the commenter who posted, “There is a big difference between a fan of some music band and a fan of a computer brand or a car, etc.” No, there isn’t, not when you really believe in the product. The social networking value for a marketer is simple:

  • Provide something truly of value to a consumer group
  • Then let that consumer group know that you are providing it.

A strong, community-based marketing effort really just fans the flame of a specific target’s desire (that should already exist for a compelling product). If you are selling crap, any marketing effort will fail. One of the first things marketers learn is that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. Everyone tries it, hates it, and you’re done. Perhaps Charlene’s ideas of simplifying the process for social networking management will help broaden the reach of social networking and bring it closer to being “like air.”

Who Cares?

Oftentimes we forget about looking at what customers really want. We get so caught up in the features and benefits that our products and services provide that we forget to stop and ask ourselves, “Is this a feature or benefit that my customer cares about?”

I am currently working with a client developing some creative to communicate the key benefits that their service provides and we had an interesting discussion. They are excited because they see some competitive advantage, some things that their competitors don’t do that they do. The question becomes, “Yes, but does anybody care about that?” Oftentimes, we get caught up in cool technology or features that provide a competitive advantage that nobody cares about.

In my consulting work and in my marketing seminars, I teach marketers how to identify the rational and emotional needs of their consumers, and then, how to turn those needs into meaningful benefits that become the focus of their communications. The key word there is meaningful, something that is going to move people. So when you are developing your communication pieces, make sure that you are touching on the needs that your customers care about.

If you want to find out more about how to communicate meaningful benefits, sign up for my half-day seminar “How to Make Yourself Irresistible to Your Customers.” Click here for details: http://www.beacon-marketing.com/programs.php

Filling the Void

Yesterday was a perfect example of a marketer’s opportunity. Millions of Americans were wondering, “There are no football games on.What should we do?” I suppose that some watched Tiger Woods blow away the rest of the golfing field at the Buick Invitational, but really? How exciting could that be? Yawn.

If you were a retailer, you could have created an event for people to come to, on-line retailers could have created some fun on-line game for people to engage with their brand. There are a million possibilities.

At Beacon Marketing Group, we work with clients to find what we call “Magic Media Moments.” These are moments when your customers are still, when there is not a lot of other distractions, when a marketer can easily engage with consumers in an uncluttered environment. One example of this would be in theaters. Movie-goers are sitting there, munching on popcorn, waiting for the show to start, watching the slides of movie quotes and trivia because there isn’t anything else to do. Is there something you could do there to engage your customers with your brand? How can you fill the void?

Marketing vs. Hucksterism

Please excuse me while I get on my soapbox for a minute. I was reading a post on techcrunch.com about “Secret Strategies Behind Many Viral Videos” and simply have to comment. http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/11/22/the-secret-strategies-behind-many-viral-videos/

The post hypes a company that “assists” in helping companies with viral campaigns, giving strategies that some young Stanford grad student/ entrepreneur uses to help companies boost viewings on YouTube and other sites. Some of the strategies are useful and interesting:

  • Keep the clip 15-30 seconds
  • Design the clip so that it can be easily remixed
  • Don’t make it a “hard sell”
  • Make sure the thumbnail is clear (suggesting high video quality)
  • Ideally the thumbnail should have a person in it
  • Have a catchy title
  • Releasing all videos simultaneously
  • Use tracking mechanisms

 

However, what made this blog so controversial are the other strategies listed, which are described as a “morally repugnant, disgusting,” and other choice phrases, according to the myriad comments posted. These strategies include spamming, creating fake comments, generating misleading titles, using sex to sell, paying bloggers to post, and other such noble “strategies.” Naturally, there are many comments, including, amazingly, a post back from the author which says, “What we do is grease the viral wheels. If that means commenting back and forth between fake users, who cares? It’s all about entertainment – we’re just making the whole experience entertaining.” Clearly, this young deluded Stanford grad student doesn’t have a moral compass. In the same way that sensationalism isn’t the same as journalism and a reputable auto dealer isn’t the same as a pinky-ring-wearing, plaid-coated used car salesman, these “strategies” will definitely work until such time when law-makers catch up with those who engage in these sorts of chicanery!

 

 

Now, I am not so naive as to think that products and services do not benefit from getting the boost that good marketing provides, but there need to be standards. If you are a marketer dealing with questionable tactics, look in the mirror, dig deep down, find some integrity, and fire the people who are using trickery to build your business. There are so many honest ways to work; don’t sell your soul in pursuit of a buck!

Irresistible Grocery Shopping

I am giving a talk February 21, How to Make Yourself Irresistible to Your Customers, and I went in to 2 grocery stores in Pennsylvania that are great examples of two brands actively trying to accomplish this. Giant and Wegman’s are two grocery stores in Pennsylvania that are working hard to understand their customers’ lives and adapt to their needs.

Giant has built a superstore that has, in addition to all of the groceries and fresh produce you would ever want, a cooking school, a cafe, a children’s care center so that you can shop while your children play and a community center that has meeting rooms and catering available for a myriad of civic events.

Wegman’s is an up-scale superstore with a “European market” type feeling. The pharmacy area feels like a pharmacy; the bookstore area feels like a bookstore; there is a market cafe and deli, there is a Starbucks-esque dining/meeting area. They have tea sampling; they have an area where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about cheese, and they sell newspapers from all the major US and international cities the world.

These are two stores that are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and become indispensable to their communities, and it’s working. As one customer described Wegman’s business, “People are coming in from the hills in droves, just to shop here.” These companies need to be competitive, to find ways to make the shopping experience so pleasant that no one would ever consider going anywhere else. Both are meeting the needs of their community in very different ways. It creates a highly competitive environment, and it will be interesting to see who will win. My money is on the consumer!

Eye Tracking Research & the Speed of a Child

I read an interesting synopsis of some eye-tracking research done on website viewing habits and the subsequent implications that provides for development of any website. There are some very helpful tips if you manage or develop websites. Here’s the link: http://www.virtualhosting.com/blog/2007/scientific-web-design-23-actionable-lessons-from-eye-tracking-studies/

I also found one on newsletters that may also be helpful if you have an on-line newsletter:

http://www.useit.com/alertbox/newsletters.html

In both instances, the results speak to the importance of words’ compelling headlines that grab a reader’s attention and convey benefit-oriented information.

But these two studies remind me of an eye-tracking study done with kids. The study was showing the visual path of a mother shopping in a toy store. The second part of the study showed the visual path of a child shopping in that same toy store. As an adult watching the footage, I can tell you that the child’s eye patterns were physically difficult for me to watch. The child’s eye movements were at lightning speed compared to the adults, flitting from logos and images with the speed of a hummingbird. If you have a difficult time viewing movies that use the creatively kitsch technique I call “Shaky Camera,” then you would never have been able to keep up with this child’s view of the world. What it highlights to me is that, even when we are talking about eye-tracking research, you have to think of who the target audience is. I know I get boring by saying it over and over and over, but you must know your consumer; you must know your consumer; you must know your consumer. Read the tips provided in the articles highlighted above; but if your target audience is a child, you need to think about how to visually appeal to someone with the energy and timeframe of the cartoon character “Road Runner” or “Speedy Gonzalez.”

The Importance of Managing Consumer Engagement

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on the settlement of a lawsuit that Apple & Steve Jobs filed against Nicholas Ciarelli, a student at Harvard who ran an on-line site that reported on Apple product news and rumors called “Think Secret.” Apple wanted to know the source of some significant product information leaks; those were never revealed. Wall Street Journal reports, “Mr. Jobs never got the names of Mr. Ciarelli’s sources, but he got part of what he wanted: Think Secret will stop publishing as part of a settlement Mr. Ciarelli and Apple announced today.” You can read the full article here:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119816965323942663.html?mod=fpa_whatsnews

This lawsuit brings up an interesting dilemma for marketers who are serious about consumer engagement. Part of consumer engagement is allowing – even encouraging – fans to build communities where they can talk about your products. It deepens the bond with the brand and strengthens customer loyalty.

But what about confidentiality? Trade secrets? There are serious competitive issues (not to mention a whole host of free speech and other judicial questions) to be considered. But let’s stick with the question of active consumer engagement. Other companies have run into this problem and it is one that needs to be managed carefully. In my experience, it pays to build relationships with those hosting such sites. These people can be seen as HUGE assets, not liabilities. If people are going to talk about you anyway, wouldn’t you like to have a seat at the table? I’m not saying that Apple doesn’t work with their community. Of course they do, many times with tremendous skill. There may have been no way to avoid this lawsuit. But there are marketing lessons to be learned.

I think of my own experiences, most notably with LEGO. LEGO has a huge fan base, with fan sites too numerous to count. There was direct interaction between the Marketing Department and the fans. In addition, there was a whole team of people devoted to developing and managing those community relations, building a mutual trust, finding ways both parties could benefit and, yes, working actively to avoid the kinds of sticky situations the Wall Street Journal article discusses. One guy who worked masterfully with LEGO fans while I was there now devotes all his time to helping companies think through, manage, and build community relations (you can find him at Communityguy.com).

Community management is an important part of your marketing efforts. It can have a huge, positive impact in building buzz about your product before it launches (hmm, kinda like when the iPhone came out). But if you don’t manage the relationships, you can end up on opposite sides of a lawyer’s conference room table (kinda like Steve Jobs and Think Secret did).

Make sure you actively work with your customer base, not against them.

Outrageous Customer Service Absolutely Creates Buzz

Promotions work, even for the consumers that don’t take advantage of it! Have a look at this post about the best customer service email I’ve ever received. It’s humorous and enlightening. Here’s what I get from it:

Outrageous offers absolutely create buzz.

Outrageous customer service absolutely creates buzz.

Customer complaints should always been seen as an opportunities in disguise, usually an opportunity to deepen the relationship with customers. The key ingredient here was to empathize and appreciate what the customer is looking for (even when you cannot supply it).

There are people out there with a delightful sense of humor. Question: Are you viewing your customer’s complaints as opportunities? What can you do to ensure that your customer service creates buzz? Here’s the post: http://consumerist.com/consumer/good/amazon-sends-best-customer-service-e+mail-ive-ever-received-332639.php