• 18Dec

    I just received the end-of-the-year wrap up from my friends at High-Tech Connect, including some predictions on what’s going to drive marketing budgets in 2013. The insights, taken from their own observations and the results of a survey by StrongMail as reported in MarketingProfs, indicates that social media and online search are going to continue to drive marketing programs in the year ahead. And when it’s all about feeding the Web, those who can deliver the content are going to benefit.

    According the the StrongMail "2013 Marketing Trends Survey", social media is commanding the lion’s share of marketing dollars (46.2 percent). Spending is going to Facebook, viral marketing, Twitter, and the means to manage those campaigns.

    Here’s how MarketingProfs explains how the social media channels stack up:image

    Marketers rank Facebook as the most valued social media channel (receiving a score of 1.92 on a scale of 1 to 8 with 1 being most important). Twitter is No. 2 (2.76), followed by YouTube (3.48), LinkedIn (4.30), Google+ (4.68), Pinterest (5.06), Instagram (6.53), and Yelp (7.27).

    What do all of these social media channels have in common?

    They are all hungry for content.

    Here are some of the coming trends in marketing according to the survey findings (with editorial interpretation from High Tech Connect and myself):

    • Executive as brand is being driven by social media. The concept of “executive as brand” is not new, just ask the folks at Virgin or Apple, and as executives continue to gain visibility, social media will increasingly become their megaphone to speak to their target customers. Those executives who learn now to establish a rapport with their market base, without pretention or a sales pitch and with humility and authenticity, will come out ahead. The wise ones will look for help from strong communicators and writers who can help them package and polish their personal brand.
    • Content is still king! Social media is hungry, and needs to be fed regularly to entice followers to continue to follow. And search engines and online visitors need fresh information to keep then interested. Marketers will be seeking out new content sources, including written material, audio, and video, to keep social media sated.
    • Mobile is moving up. More folks are accessing information while on the go, using smartphones and tablets to access data and social media wherever they are. Mobile marketing is following the trend, and while more companies embrace BYOD and enable the new mobile workforce, professionals are turning to their handhelds to deliver up-to-the-minute, business-critical information.
    • The tried and true is tired. Interestingly, the tried and true programs, like public relations and direct mail, are taking a back seat. Public relations is down to 13.9 percent of the budget, and direct mail 15.5 percent.

    So as marketing programs continue to find new channels to reach consumers and potential customers directly, through conversation and social media content. So to feed these tactical programs, professionals will need more writing and content development services capable of keeping up with social media marketing demand. That’s where we come in; helping our clients tell their story and talk to their customers with customized content that is compelling and that promotes conversation.

    Happy holidays and here’s to a prosperous 2013 for all of us.

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  • 24Feb

    As a marketing and communications professional, I appreciate the challenges of launching any kind of customer outreach program. I have recently been working on a marketing campaign for a client to reach their customer base with a new product, and we have been walking the tightrope of how much outreach is too much? These customers already get two or three regular communications each week with pertinent research and other data. How many times can we add a sales pitch to the mix without alienating our clients? Just because a contact opts into a mailing list doesn’t give you the right to bombard them daily with spam.

    Which brings me to Orchard Supply and the debacle of their new customer loyalty program.

    spam_jpgI went to the hardware store last weekend in search of some sandpaper and stain to refinish a dining table for our deck. When I pulled into the parking lot I noticed a large banner announcing Club Orchard, Really Useful Rewards. My first reaction was: “Cool! Now I get rewards for my home improvement projects. Guess I’ll have to stop going to Home Depot.” So I signed up.

    I got my first communication for the rewards program today.

    Between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. this morning I received not one, not two, but 20 identical “Welcome to Club Orchard” messages, each inviting me to register online. I found this annoying and laughable at the same time. So I hit reply and basically told OSH corporate to tell their marketing department to get their act together. Naturally, the email bounced, so I had to do some investigating to find the right link, navigate to an online form, and lodge my complaint with OSH corporate. I immediately received a trouble-ticket acknowledgement via email, and about four hours later I received a message thanking me for my efforts and concerns. Shortly after that, I received another canned message of apology – obviously a blanket response to their screw-up earlier in the day. And still later in the day I received TWO MORE INVITATIONS within 10 minutes to register for their new customer loyalty program.

    So between 5:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. I have received 25 separate email communications from Orchard Supply OF NO VALUE TO ME WHATSOEVER.

    There is so much wrong with this program launch:

    1. It took five full days to send a welcome message for the new program. I know I entered my email and telephone number when I checked out at the register. Why wasn’t that information relayed to headquarters and used to IMMEDIATELY generate a welcome message waiting for me when I got home? The system is automated, and it should be simple matter to demonstrate how much the company values my trade with a timely welcome.image

    2. Why do I have to register twice? I registered for this program once at the store with an email and a phone number, then had to register a second time online. This may be one way to address the double opt-in concern but it is clearly awkward. Wouldn’t a confirmation email or some simpler, more customer-friendly approach suffice?

    2. No one bothered to test the message server. It is INEXCUSABLE for anyone to send out the same identical message every six minutes for two hours. The first rule of any marketing campaign is test, test again, and then test some more, and that’s not only valid for marketing messages, but the the delivery technology you are using as well.

    3. The feedback loop is clearly broken. When I correspond with editors, customers, or any group en masse, I am damned sure they have a means to communicate with me simply and easily. I try to use my own email address so an email reply goes right to me. Barring that, I make sure there is some easy way to respond to an email message beyond the required opt-out option. Two-way communications is the key to any successful campaign.

    4. There is no excuse for sloppiness and inattention to simple details. The shear sloppiness of this launch tells me a lot about this company’s marketing capabilities and sets a very low expectation for their customer service program. If they can’t get a simple thing like registering for a customer loyalty program right, then how can I be assured that they can offer reliable in-store service? Is this level of incompetence a reflection of the company overall? (Maybe the clock they used in their email message is really a ticking time bomb.)

    Granted, managing an effective customer loyalty program can be challenging, but when it’s done right, it really pays off. By way of contrast, I give you Safeway.

    clubcardWe all need groceries, and just as I can choose from a number of hardware stores, grocery chains abound. I like to shop at Safeway largely because of my Safeway Club Card. Granted, I have to drive farther to shop at Safeway, parking is not always as convenient, and occasionally they don’t have the specific product I am looking for but I still prefer to shop at Safeway. It’s because the Safeway Club Card has real value for me:

    1. It saves me money. I can see the savings at the register with the card discounts, and they typically are 20% or more.

    2. I can choose how I shop. If I am in a hurry, I often use the self checkout with my discount card – it’s fast and easy, and I still save money.

    3. I get in-store coupons. As a Safeway Card shopper, I get discount coupons at the register. Some are valuable, some are not, but I always check to see what might be useful for my next trip.

    4. I get paperless online coupons. Safeway’s new online shopping program gives me a heads up on sales, discounts, and even can register for product discounts online. The savings are automatically granted at the register when I use my card.

    What’s the common thread here? It’s savings, and its service. Using my Safeway card is easy and painless, and it always delivers a return. And I have multiple ways to get a discount. So it’s worth my going out of my way to shop at Safeway.

    Based on today’s experience, I am not sure I can say the same about Orchard. I guess I’ll have to go back to shopping at Home Depot.

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  • 28Feb

    badhireFor those of you are consultants or sole practitioners, you understand the need to balance your workload in order to provide superior customer service without stretching yourself too thin. I have run a “virtual agency” for a number of years – that means I have a database of contacts whom I can call on in a pinch to help with a last-minute client request or a new contract. The advantage of the virtual agency model is that you can scale your operation without maintaining unnecessary staff or overhead. And the clients still get your expertise instead of a handoff to a junior person; a failing I have identified with most large agencies who use the “bait and switch,” bringing in the senior team to close the contract and then the client never sees them again. Of course the challenge of consulting, or any business, is that you have to plan your workload to make best use of available resources.

    That’s why I was frustrated this week by a flurry of new business activity that failed to pan out. I think it was a combination of miscommunication and expectations on both side. At the start of the week I had three new contracts pending; verbal agreements with commitments like “we are ready to go and need you now!” By the end of the week two of the three contracts faded away, despite the verbal commitments and the signing of NDAs. It seems the prospects’ priorities and budgets changed. I guess a handshake on a deal isn’t worth what it used to be.

    My dilemma, or course, is that I had to find the resources to support the new work, which as a good consultant I did before committing to the contracts. Now I have the resources lined up and no work. It would be a bigger problem if I had staff waiting idle in the wings rather than other consultants awaiting instructions. But I still find it irksome that experienced executives from profitable companies can’t manage their operations more effectively. It’s not as though they are asking for a quote on a car or an estimate on a construction job – not once they have looked you in the eye and said “you’re hired.” If you have already written the proposal, given your best advice up front, and received a commitment from the prospect, there should be no question about moving forward.

    Consultants aren’t protected by the same labor laws as employees, and there is always an element of risk with being self-employed. I have been stiffed by a client or two in the past 20 years, and often have had to renegotiate contracts to accommodate changing client needs and budgets. It’s never pleasant, but it’s a necessary part of consulting.

    What can you do to protect yourself? Here are some thoughts based on my experience:

    1. Discount for cash up front. If you need to close a deal, cash is king. I usually ask for a retainer when I take on a new client. If they are willing to put their cash down up front, then I know they are serious. And if they are willing to show me the money, then I am usually willing to give them a break and show them the discount. It’s a good way to set the ground rules and cement the relationship.

    2. It’s all about expectation setting. You need to make sure the client knows what they are buying, which is not as obvious as it sounds. Provide a list of deliverables and, if you can, a timeline for delivery. Your best bet is to take the guesswork our of the contract, and they will commit.

    3. “Pay me for process, pay me for results.” This is an adage that was passed on to me by one of my first clients, and I continue to live by it. You can pay me for process, like keeping timesheets and activity reports, or you can pay me to deliver the goods. If I can focus on the objective, you get more value in the end. Keep your eye on the prize and don’t let process get in the way.

    4. Set your terms up front. I always give my clients an escape clause. Most agencies I have worked with use 30-day termination clauses in their contracts, and I find that makes the uninitiated nervous. Be willing to compromise. Offer 10-day or 15-day out so they don’t feel trapped.

    5. Know when to dump a bad client. The difference between hiring staff and hiring a consultant is like the difference between marriage and dating. If you hire staff to deal with your problem, it’s a much bigger commitment, since most staffers cost 150% percent of their salary when you add in benefits and overhead. By comparison, consultants are a cheap date, and if it’s a bad date, know enough to walk away. If you aren’t getting what you need or there is something that doesn’t feel right, it’s better to cut and run than hope it’s going to get better.

    6. Stand up for yourself. Okay, consultants are easy targets. They are sole practitioners; hired guns with only expertise to sell. So when a client decides to stiff you and complains you didn’t deliver, it’s time to look inside and ask yourself, “is this a valid complaint, or are you getting stiffed?” Consultants seem to be fair game for unscrupulous companies who just don’t want to pay. You don’t have to take it. There are law firms our there that will work for you on contingency. I recall a client many years ago who claimed they were underserviced and wouldn’t pay. I had nothing to lose so I found a lawyer to sue them (out of state) and since my complaint held up an IPO, they paid at least two-thirds of what they owed, which was better than nothing. The bottom line was they expected me, as a consultant, to give up and go away. Don’t.

    It would be nice to think that all clients are willing to honor their obligations on a handshake. They often don’t. So learn to protect yourself with solid contracts and well-defined deliverables and business practices that put you in control. Just because you choose to maintain a small business doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be mighty.

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