Monday, August 31, 2009

Volunteering To Keep You Going

By Emily Jasper

Not everyone had the luxury of knowing at the age of 18 that you wanted to be a marketing professional and chose a business major in college. In fact, many people fall into marketing through analytics, operations, HR, and so forth. Throw in liberal arts majors with backgrounds as diverse as the people themselves, and the path to marketing has drastically changed. So if you want to progress, what do you do?

The answer I always hear is: Get a MBA.

Okay, sure, grad school. You get experience, knowledge, networking, and some excellent exposure over the X number of years it takes to finish. But there’s a problem: The Recession. This very real recession has made funding difficult (many companies have stopped tuition assistance), loans can be hard to come by, and admissions are more competitive since so many people have turned to these programs to get them out of their professional rut. And while the degree will eventually pay for itself, you have to make ends meet now. Taking on thousands in education debt when you’re taking on credit card debt to feed your family may not sit right with the family budget.

So what do you do?

Get the experience elsewhere until you are in a position to get the degree. Volunteering is the best thing you can do to get diverse practice in an area you are currently exploring. Plus, you get the warm fuzzy feeling of doing something philanthropic for a group. There are many places that need your assistance right now because they don’t have a budget to hire anyone either.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Obviously, any chapter of the American Marketing Association needs volunteers. These chapters need contributors on any scale, from being a blogger (like me) to President.
  • Your place of worship will take marketing volunteers to help drive membership. Did the AC break in your chapel? Well, membership money goes to getting that fixed. Marketing professionals can help with attracting new members, in addition to fundraising with current ones.
  • Local businesses can use any help you can provide. Especially if someone is just getting started, you can lend a hand with the website, doing some heavy-lifting at events, or even advising on growth strategy. You, in turn, can learn something about being an entrepreneur in a specific market.

The beauty of volunteering is that you can commit the time you have available and try something new. What if you want to drastically change your career path? There may not be anyone hiring right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer. It’s like a trial period to see if you even like this new path.

All this volunteer work should go on your resume just as your job would. At the same time, you have the benefit of creating a portfolio (of print and online projects) to further yourself in your career.

Because at the end of the day, experience is experience and you can always get more.

Emily Jasper is a Marketing Manager for Technology Alliances with PDI Ninth House. In addition to marketing, Emily has sales and PR experience from previous roles. She currently writes a blog, "From the Gen Y Perspective," and can be followed on Twitter at

Bookmark and Share

Monday, August 24, 2009

You Have Now Entered... The Twilight Zone

By Dave Folkens

No, not the wonderful and innovative sci-fi/horror show from the late 1950’s that made Rod Serling famous, but rather that hazy realm of where marketing, sales, pr, and communications all meet. It may be on a new initiative or perhaps when a tactic crosses over existing department boundaries like an organization making the leap into social media. Or perhaps there is a celebrity that mentions your product in a positive manner and you need to identify how to capitalize on that momentum. Is that a marketing effort? PR/communications? Perhaps the sales team wants the lead?

How should organizations handle this zone? Much like the old show, you better be ready as often times strange things take place in the Twilight Zone. It’s a realm where a misstep with a response to a customer or prospect can result in lost opportunity and create internal clashes and finger pointing. These missteps can stress, and break, relationships that organizations depend on to succeed.

Do responses to these types of issues have to depend on a mandated relationship or can all these groups work together with slightly different skills to get the job done? I believe the answer will indeed vary from company to company, as it should, but the key in determining the right mix needs to be based on the skills to meet the challenges rather than seniority or title.

In an environment where brand reputations are on the line in real-time, organizations should spend some time while not in a critical situation to evaluate the talent they have available to understand where they are strong and where they are vulnerable. You may be better off having a great salesperson that listens to concerns very well work directly with a customer on a complaint instead of a customer relations manager that doesn’t see the problem in a particular case.

Seek out those with strong skills in understanding the simple question of “what’s in it for me” from the end user perspective. Focus on the right fit for each situation. It may not be as easy as it once was but your customers expect that personal responses be, well, personal.

Do customers really care who responds to them or do they care more about how you respond to them?

I’d love to hear more about how you handle the Twilight Zone and your thoughts.

Dave Folkens is the Director of Communications for Minnesota Aids Project. Follow him on Twitter @dfolkens or contact him by e-mail at

Bookmark and Share

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mind Your Knitting: Establishing an Effective Social Media Presence

By Meghan Wilker and Nancy Lyons

Two of the first, and most important, steps toward establishing a successful social media presence have nothing to do with social media. If you want to get any value from the world of social media, you'll have to do a little bit of homework first.

Mind Your Knitting
The first step in developing an effective social media strategy is to look first at your home base. For most people, this is their corporate web site. Or perhaps a microsite. All the tweeting and Facebooking in the world cannot help you if your web site presents a broken experience, if your product offering is terrible or if you can't provide decent customer service to the people who find you online.

In Nancy's words, "mind your knitting."

Assuming all of that is in order, you've got to figure out your content strategy:
  • Why are you getting involved in social media? What is your goal? (reach more people, build awareness)
    Note: If the answer is, "To sell more stuff," stop now. Social networks are not a direct marketing channel and if you treat them as such, you are destined to fail. To succeed in the social media, you must be willing to be social. To build relationships with customers who matter to you.
  • What will your Friends, Fans and Followers get out of it (customer service, special offers, inside information)?
  • How are you monitoring and responding to the networks?
  • Who is responsible for updating content? How often is it updated?

Grab a piece of paper and draw a box for every place your company exists online: websites. YouTube. Facebook. Twitter. Make note of what the purpose of each site or presence is. As an example, at Clockwork (our "day job"), we break our sites out this way:
Next, draw arrows to show how -- and if -- those things are connected to each other. In the Clockwork example, we have accounts on Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, Delicious and many others. Our diagram shows all those places, what type of content we focus on at each location, how often we try to update it and who is responsible for doing so.

This is a work in progress. Make one diagram that shows where you are today. Make another that shows where you want to go. And then figure out how you can take incremental steps to get there. Start small to ensure you can manage it, and add components over time. In other words, baby steps.

Listen First, Talk Later
Visit and enter in the terms you'd like to keep an eye on. Do this one term at a time. The search box works a lot like Google (put quotation marks around words or phrases that you want to do an exact search on -- to monitor for Geek Girls Guide, I enter "geek girls guide").

Rinse, lather and repeat for all the different words and phrases you want to keep track of. Start with as many as you can think of and see what's good and what's not. (For example, we get a lot of value from "geek girls guide" but much less for "geek girls".)

To monitor URLs (as opposed to keywords), try Enter any URL (your own, your competitors, etc.), and you're in business.

As you comb through these search results, listen to them. I mean, really listen. You'll start to get a sense of how people feel about your brand, your company or your industry. Use what you gain from that listening to help inform that strategy diagram you're creating. Really hearing what people are saying will help you figure out what your company can bring to the social media party. Because the value you get from it is a result of the value you put into it.

Nancy Lyons, President and CEO, and Meghan Wilker, Managing Director, work for Clockwork Active Media Systems. In 2008, Lyons and Wilker launched the Geek Girls Guide blog to demystify technology and publish their perspectives on the interactive industry.

Nancy and Meghan will be speaking at the 2009 MN AMA Annual Conference. Please visit the new conference web site and register today.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, August 10, 2009

Today, Good Service Is Just as Important as Brand Image

By Matt Cassem

You can find many businesses that do a great job of branding their organization. They have a great web site, great advertising, and if you were to walk into their offices or stores you would be just as impressed. But how does a customer’s interaction with a company via traditional channels reflect on the company brand?

What I’m talking about is the customer interaction lifecycle (from pre-purchase to post-purchase). When you think in terms of your brand, you’ve gone to great lengths to make sure customers perceive you in exactly the way you planned. You make sure your website looks a certain way. You’ve made sure your logo and identity match the product or service you’re selling and you make sure your advertising is spot on. But how many customer touch points, where your customers or prospects have a chance to make a decision about your brand, have you not thought of?

In today’s world, we have to think about our brand’s introduction, how our customers make purchases, how satisfied they are with their purchase, how we market to them after that purchase, and how we maintain that relationship with them over that lifetime. To be more specific, how have we positioned our brand when a sales representative interacts with our customers? How are our customer service representatives interacting and upholding our companies’ brand when there is a problem? What is our brand’s message every time our customers or prospects interact with our employees? Customer experiences include maintaining our brand at every touch point so that those interactions don’t minimize the message that we’ve been trying so hard to spread.

There are numerous ways in which we can communicate and continue carrying our company’s message; but so too can our customers. All of our marketing efforts may not be reaching their peak value, if we’re not managing every touch point because of negative experiences. If we’re doing a great job at managing our customers’ interactions online but forgotten about the traditional channels in which our employees interact with our customers, now might be a good time, thanks to social media.

In today’s world, every interaction whether on the phone or in person, helps to either strengthen or weaken our message. Good service can be a great advertising channel, while bad service can be spread ten times further. With today’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube communities, people are increasingly telling their friends about their bad experiences (just try searching Twitter). How we’re using these interactions will hopefully reinforce the messages we do want carried out versus ones we don’t.

Every interaction is a chance to tell our story and communicate our company’s personality, character, service, and brand. How our sales team or staff communicates in the beginning, to customer service, to how we’re enabling our customers to explain their experiences online may all contribute to the success of future marketing campaigns. One recent negative example from YouTube is “United Breaks Guitars.”

Each interaction creates a story in the customer’s mind and either creates believers in our marketing or creates people who don’t believe in our message. If you’ve taken the time to create a company message and identity, than you will most likely want to take some time and see how well all of your customers’ interactions align with that message. It may only take one person to spread the word about your organization and I hope that that message is positive. Take some time now to see how your staff is carrying out your message through each step, so you won’t have to repair your brand and reputation later on.

Matt Cassem is a creative marketing manager with a focus on the customer experience for small to mid-size companies. You can follow him on Twitter @mcassem.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Value of $19.95

By Philip Wocken

We all know the importance of price in consumers’ purchasing decisions. You look at any product, it seems, and it’s $49.95, $69.99, etc. Those few pennies seem to make such a difference in consumers’ minds. Today I wanted to reflect specifically on the pricing formula used in the “As Seen On TV” commercials.

Every time you see Vince Shlomi (AKA the “ShamWOW! Guy”) or the late Billy Mays (yes, he will still be on TV), you can be sure that the product is available for $14.95, $19.99, or “4 easy installments of $19.99.” In fact, in Discovery Channel’s series “Pitchmen,” Billy Mays stated in Episode 1 that all of the products he sells are $19.99. After you finish shaking your head at the silly “bonus gifts” that they throw in “ABSOLUTELY free,” take a minute or two to reflect on this strategy. For years, companies like Telebrands, who brings you products like Pedi Paws and Stick Up Bulb, have made millions of dollars every year – one $20 bill at a time. But what’s so magical about staying under $20?

For some of the bigger ticket items, like a Time Life CD collection that might normally be $100, it’s a tough sell in 30 seconds. However, if the consumer quickly sees “5 easy payments of $20,” the smaller denomination psychologically provides more value to the consumer. It’s easier for consumers to part with a $20 bill than with a $100 bill, even if they’ll spend the same amount in the end.

But wait! There’s more... University of Florida marketing professors Chris Janiszewski and Dan Uy conducted a study on the difference between $19.95 versus $20. Their study appeared in the February 2008 issue of Psychological Science. They concluded that when something is priced at $20, consumers would value the product in even numbers (“Is it worth $18, $19, $21?”). When a product is priced at $19.95, the consumer is thinking about nickels and pennies, so they would value the product in smaller denominations with a smaller standard deviation (“Is it worth $19.50 or $19.75?”). The product, therefore, holds its value better at $19.95 than at $20.

I still can’t figure out how they come out ahead when they’ll double your order AND toss in a power drill (an $80 value!)...I better hurry and order that one up, they’ve got to be getting close to the first 100 callers by now...

Philip Wocken is an inventive marketing manager specializing in Online Marketing techniques. He can be reached at http://BuzzBrains.Biz and he can be followed on Twitter @BuzzBrains.

Bookmark and Share