• 23Apr

    I’m sorry. I have been remiss in keeping the PRagmatist up to date in recent weeks. I realized it’s been more than a month since my last blog post so it is high time I added some fresh thinking here to share with you.

    But then, I’m just following the trend of corporate America. According to a new research report from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, corporate blogging is clearly on the decline:

    Of the companies they surveyed, only 37% were blogging in 2011. That’s down from 50% in 2010. If you look only at Fortune 500 companies, the percentage drops to 23%.

    Why are corporate blogs falling out of favor? USA Today says, mostly because Facebook and Twitter are so much easier to manage.

    Well that makes sense. I heard a news report today that with the pending Facebook IPO there are now more than 900 million active Facebook users. Twitter says they have hit 500 million users. Clearly people are hanging out on Facebook and Twitter as their online water cooler, and that’s where a lot of companies want to be seen, with an impact.

    And as Cynthia Boris points out in her blog, Marketing Pilgrim, imagesCA29WMKZ

    Keeping up a blog is a lot harder than people think. I’ve dealt with dozens of clients who jump in with grand plans of updating every day! They soon learn that updating even once a week is a chore. It’s amazing how quickly seven days pass when you need to come up with a fresh blog post.

    Facebook and Twitter are easier to keep up with, but everyone is throwing their pebbles into the same pond so it’s harder to make a splash, let alone a ripple. People with interesting things to say will rule. Just ask George Takei who has 1.7 million Facebook “likes.” He reposts material from his fan-base and occasionally sprinkles in information about his latest project or a political message. The funny posts keep it interesting so he can deliver the stuff that matters. For most companies, keeping it interesting and staying on brand message is a real challenge.

    What blogging does does for you is give you focus. It allows you to tell a story in a way that you can’t do in 140 characters or a status update. It allows you to elaborate on an idea in a way that builds a different kind of rapport with your audience. Why does corporate blogging matter?

    • Blogging lets you tell a story in detail, with nuances and context.
    • Blogging gives you an independent voice isolated from the social media noise. If takes you away from the cocktail party  for an intimate conversation.
    • Blogging gives you greater searchability. You build more web credibility and Google credibility with a blog than you can with Facebook posts or tweets.

    I like blogging because it forces my clients to focus their best brand thinking, and it’s that thinking that drives outreach through Facebook and Twitter. I consider the blog home base of the mother ship; the incubator where you can test and refine ideas before you take them out on the road.

    So while the survey says that corporate blogging may be on the decline, those companies that are passionate about their brand and sharing that passion with their customers and others will continue to blog. It’s still the best forum to tell a complete story.

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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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  • 05Jan

    I have been talking to a lot of executives over the years, gathering information for press releases, case studies, and strategic plans. And as I have become more involved in customer relations, I spend a lot of time talking to IT managers and C-level executives about tactical issues that affect their business. Interviews are tough, because you don’t want just the Jack Webb interview – “Just the facts” – but you want to get the Piers Morgan interview, with deep and colorful, quotable responses.

    Many marketing and PR pros (and even journalists) are being consumed by the ever-increasing demand for content. They have lost the fine points of conducting a really meaningful interview that yields more than just who, what, when, where, and why. Interviewing is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced or you get rusty. I want to thank Carol Tice for providing a refresher course from the freelance writer’s perspective. Here are some of her tips on the best way to conduct an interview, adapted with some of my own experience to make them more relevant for the marketer:phoneinterview

    1. Email exchanges are not interviews. I have been relying more on email questionnaires for convenience, but the information I get from those exchanges is always sparse. I have seen more journalists and analysts doing the same thing, and I have to urge my clients to dig deeper and provide a little color with the facts when they write their responses. Carol also notes that emails are not really quotable as part of best journalistic practice; live interaction is always preferred. You always get more from a spontaneous exchange that is fresh and quotable.

    2. Make a connection. I find that the best interviews come when you establish a rapport with your contact. Take the time to set the stage with a couple of ice breaker questions about family, sports, the weather – something to forge a connection. If you need to use that contact in the future, then be sure to leave the door open for future discussions, and try to leave a thread to reestablish the link. If they are fans of the Red Sox, for example, open with a baseball reference they next time you call.

    3. The subject is as worried about the outcome as you are. Your job is to gather the information for that killer case study, application profile, or for use in a press release. You have something at stake in the conversation. So does the other party. He or she wants to make sure you get your facts straight and don’t make them look foolish to their boss, their peers, or their customers. Use that mutual concern to work together toward the common goal – getting the best story down on paper.

    4. Be prepared. Don’t walk in cold saying, “tell me what you do.” Do your homework. Read the company  web site. Understand the basics of their business. Research their business challenges. You want to bring sufficient knowledge to the interview to ask meaningful and revealing questions, not waste time asking questions to which you should already have the answers.

    5. Respect the interviewee’s time. Schedule your interview in advance, be prompt, and be brief. Executives don’t want to waste a lot of time talking to you so be focused and get the information you need. If possible, leave the door open for a follow-up call or contact for clarification or more information, when you can go into greater depth if you have to.

    6. Be prepared to follow up. Thank your sources. Keep them apprised of the progress for a specific project. Get them to review the content as part of your fact-checking. Be sure that you have your subject’s complete contact information, and determine who else in their organization should be involved in reviews and approvals, or who else might provide additional information.

    Developing marketing content is not the same as writing for a newspaper or a magazine, but the rules of a good interview are still the same. Your objective is to get the best story you can, with all the facts and in living color. The final approval process will be different. You will won’t just be fact-checking, but you usually share the finished product with the interviewee for formal approval. That doesn’t mean you should put the onus on them to fill in the blanks or correct a sloppy interview. Think like a reporter and get everything you need the first time around. It saves a lot of effort and embarrassment later on.

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  • 30Sep

    The challenge with being in a service business is, well, providing the best customer service. And providing the best service often means doing what’s best for your business and not necessarily what the client wants. After all, as a consultant you are the expert in your field, and the client is paying you for your expertise. In essence, they are paying you to disagree with them when necessary, and that is not always pleasant.AliceTeaPartyClose

    During my years working with different PR agencies I have worked with a number of difficult clients. My agency bosses always emphasized to me that the client is always right, even when they are wrong, and there have been many instances when I have been put in an uncomfortable situation because the client asked for six impossible things before breakfast, and the agency bosses were too concerned about losing the account to say “no.” (Note that this is not universally true, and that I have had some wonderful bosses in my day who would never ask me to compromise my professional integrity.) However, one of the advantages of running your own business is you get to say “no” when you want to, and you get to decide what’s impossible, what’s not, and what can be delivered before breakfast.

    The truth is, you run your business, your clients’ don’t. Granted, your clients pay the bills and keeping them happy keeps the lights on, but if you have a client who asks you to do something unethical or illegal, or even unpleasant, then you have to ask yourself how far you are willing to go to keep the customers satisfied.

    I have been following a lot of commentary these past two weeks about Netflix decision to split its streaming and DVD businesses, and the backlash over the latest changes to the Facebook interface. These changes have created a number of pissed off customers, which has generated a lot of negative traffic on the Web. As Eric Brown noted, however, in a recent blog post for Social Media Explorer entitled “Always Listening to the Customer is a Race to Mediocrity”:

    Perhaps we can all do a better job delivering news, however no one knows or sees what that Entrepreneur, CEO, or Business Owner sees. No one has the information he or she has to know why they made the decision they made. And here is another dirty little secret, your customers haven’t a clue about what your the next innovation or product release should be. Even the best evangelist, if they really exist don’t know the next answer, otherwise they would be the Entrepreneur.

    Your customers don’t have your best interests in mind, and they actually don’t really care if you stay in business, no matter how loyal they are. You have to determine your own future, which means you often have to make tough decisions to protect your business. You have to assess whether a client relationship is going to cost you more in the long run than it’s worth to you. And there are different ways to assess costs, whether the client is not respectful of your time which means you can’t service other clients; whether they aren’t respectful of your ethics which could damage your reputation; or they are just too hard to work with which will cost you your sanity.

    If you give your client your best counsel and they choose to reject it, that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. But you don’t have to watch a train wreck either just to have the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so”; that won’t help your professional reputation. And you don’t have to be a slave to your clients, or let them abuse your professional relationship by demanding more than you are willing to commit to, or they are willing to actually pay for. It’s still your business, and sometimes you just have to just say “no!”

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