Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why you should focus on brand-in-action

“Our differentiator is service. Others may say the same thing, but they don’t deliver like we do!”

So said the sales associate showing me a car on their lot last week.  In essence he was telling me that his success is no longer about automotive brand…

…it’s all about brand-in-action.

Building, positioning, selling and evaluating the brand is what many of us in the marketing field do.  However, when it’s employees who bring the brand to life; when service is a major part of what customers care about, then it’s time to recast brand as brand-in-action.

I probed the sales associate about vehicle pricing and how they compare with other dealers offering similar cars.  His answer was almost philosophical (for a used car dealer anyway):  “Web-enabled information access has completely changed price comparison shopping.  The only real differentiator is how we treat you now and after you become a customer.”

This tells me that if you are marketing anything beyond packaged goods, then you are in the business of service delivery.  Your opportunity is to shape the message of the real value proposition that draws prospects to your market.  Where employees deliver that value proposition to customers, they need to be part of your marketing message.

It’s the same for people who work with financial products: when you get them to disclose what they really think, they say there isn’t much difference in the products they offer vs. their closest competitors.  But they will swear by some measure of service differentiation – faster processing, easier access, more personal customer service. 

If you are in the creative side of the business, take a lesson from Paco Underhill, author of Why we buy: The science of shopping.  Observe how customers buy; then look for ways to market to that experience.   Or map post-purchase experience and market to the best of those experiences.  USAA’s financial services ads, targeting military families, does a great job of this with their message, We know what it means to serve. Let us serve you.

The real opportunity for marketing is to capture the experience and build a brand message around that experience.  If you want a sustainable message, then build one that employees will choose to live out each and every day:

1.     Identify aspects of the service experience before, during purchase that make it memorable and worth sharing with others.

2.     Ask what skills and interaction employees should display at those customer touchpoints.

3.     Define the value proposition based on what you want customers to experience at key touchpoints

Brand-in-action – it’s the real value of your brand.

Marc Sokol is an organizational psychologist with an eye for how people and teams can be more effective, even in a dysfunctional company. He is part oM Squared Group, a data-driven marketing consultancy.   

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Partnering for a Cause and Customers

Cause marketing (or selfish giving as some call it) can be a great way to build brand awareness, help a cause that you are passionate about, and potentially increase sales.  For-profit and not-for-profit organizations can combine resources to create a win-win program.  But you have to get creative!  Let me share a little about our recent holiday giving campaign.

The goal: Gain 3000 new fans on Facebook (nearly double our fan base). This would equate to a $3000 donation to the non-profit ($1 for every new "Like" of our Facebook page).

The strategy: Partner with an organization that is credible and relevant to our customers. Since our company makes
standing frames for people who use wheelchairs, we chose the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Give the campaign a deadline that allows enough time to reach the goal, without losing momentum. Keep it simple. Build a theme around the program that is meaningful and catchy.  Our campaign was part of an annual giving campaign during the Christmas season.

The marketing:
  1. If the campaign delivery is focused on social media, partner up with a non-profit who has an engaging social media presence (as strong or stronger than your company). 
  2. Develop a custom Facebook tab using static FBML to welcome prospective fans with a message relevant to your campaign. Be sure to set it as the landing page for new visitors.
  3. Create a landing page on your website, in addition to a custom Facebook tab. Create ways for easy sharing (Tweetmeme or Sharethis) via Facebook, Twitter, and email. Here is what our landing page looked like.
  4. Use your corporate blog to write about the campaign from different angles. Don’t forget to include content that is related to your non-profit. For us, this post with embedded video of Christopher Reeve talking about his Wheelchair on Sesame Street was a hit.
  5. Promote the campaign through your email newsletter and email blasts if applicable.
  6. Write and distribute a press release related to the campaign, if it is newsworthy and/or you have a good relationship with editors.
  7. Work with the non-profit to determine other ways they can help promote to their followers (i.e. blog, homepage link, email, social media).
  8. Target Facebook advertising to demographics that have interest in both your product and the non-profit.  Try to write the ad copy to include both the product/service benefit, as well as the call to action that benefits the non-profit.
The result:
The goal of 3000 new "Likes" was ambitious but we made it happen by combining traditional marketing with social media sharing and targeted Facebook advertising. We exceeded our goal and our Facebook “Likes” grew by 79% in less than 30 days. To top it off, we made a year-end donation to the Reeve Foundation for $3000, increased awareness of both our brands, and established a strong foundation of fans for 2011.
How do your goals align with those of other organizations? How can you partner with a non-profit to reach mutual goals?  What methods can you use to attract new fans to your Facebook page? 
 Jackie Kaufenberg is the Marketing Manager for Altimate Medical Inc. in Morton, Minnesota. They manufacture standing frames for people who use wheelchairs and also have a blog for people with disabilities, and medical professionals. You can reach her via Twitter @jkaufenberg.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Be Beautiful on the Inside, too

“Dahlink, you look mahvelous” – Billy Crystal, comedian, 1985, SNL

In his classic song, “You Look Marvelous,” Billy Crystal, playing Fernando Lamas on Saturday Night Live, says to himself, “Nando, don’t be a schnook, it’s not how you feel, it’s how you look.”  If you look great, he says, it doesn’t matter what happens inside, you are doing great.

But for data-driven marketing, the opposite is true.   Differences between the outside and the inside can be the deciding factor in whether 2011 holds great gifts or lumps of coal come next holiday season.

The issue is authenticity – how genuine are the interactions between the customer and your company.  And I mean ALL the interactions – from the call center to sales associates or sales people to route drivers to customer communications.   When customer experience research is conducted, it turns out that authenticity – truly caring about customers and understanding their situations, is one of the highest priorities and one of the key drivers of retention.  Because customers build relationships with people, not organizations.  When was the last time you felt genuinely close to the U.S. Government, for example?

You can do all the compelling direct mail and email you want.  You can have an industry-leading web site with personalization and lots of “web bling.”  You can do motivational speeches to your staff.  But if your people do not sincerely care about the mission to provide the best customer experience to your customers, the words will just ring hollow.  One poor in-person experience will trump all the direct mail, email and web sites in the world, every time.

Let’s call all in-person, web site, email and direct mail interactions “the brand,” since the sum of those is actually what your brand means to customers.  So how do you as a marketer help to deliver “the brand” genuinely across channels?  Here are three approaches to help you get a fast start to 2011:

·      Determine what your brand actually is, to your best customers.  Ask customers who love you what they love.  You can do this with web surveys and phone interviews – yes, you can actually pick up the phone and talk to customers directly.  You will be surprised at what you find out.  Ask about Moments of Truth, when associates went out of their way to make a difference – they are the real glue in any customer relationship.

·      Build and execute an internal marketing plan.  The marketing plan you deliver inside your company may actually be as important as the one you send to consumers – since the internal one helps to drive the right customer experience.  Don’t preach to your associates – that’s the best way to turn them off.  Instead of a lot of corporate-speak, let your best associates describe how they look at customers and how they have contributed to resolving customer Moments of Truth successfully.  This approach is always more successful than having corporate talk because the message is delivered authentically – a key if you want those associates to be authentic themselves. 

·      Measure, reinforce and make corrections.  Establish a benchmark of employee engagement with customers, execute your internal marketing campaign and measure the impact, not as a one-time event, but as an on-going measurement program to evaluate the success of your communications in helping to change attitudes and behaviors – exactly as you would do for a customer-focused marketing program. 

If you want to read more about how to make sure your measurement answers critical questions, click here to read my post

Authenticity is not something you create; it must begin on the inside.  Start “from the core,” with what you believe is the best about your organization.  Once you have identified that quality, you can build off it and reinforce it, not only internally but externally as well.  As a marketer, your job is to identify and reinforce the best your company can offer, both inside and out.
Doesn’t that sound like a rewarding way to start off a New Year?

Mark Price is Managing Partner of M Squared Group, a consulting firm focused on understanding and building customer relationships, and the author of the blog “Cultivating Your Customers,” where he writes about practical approaches to improve customer retention and overall customer value.
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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Using Feedback After Rejection

You applied for the job, got past the phone interview, and persuaded your way through 1, 2, even 3+ interviews only to find out that you didn’t get the job.  Why not? Did anyone tell you why?  Probably not.  Most companies refuse to give feedback to candidates not selected for the job for fear of a lawsuit.  You most likely hear a response such as “We ended up going with a candidate with a little more experience.”  It’s true that there are still numerous extremely qualified candidates competing for the same positions you are, but is that the whole truth?  Was there something more to their decision?

I recently interviewed for a director level position at a mid-sized Minnesota company.  The hiring company had narrowed the pool down to two candidates but asked each of us to work with an independent management consulting company and partake in a series of psychological and problem solving tests to assess cultural fit and our ability to perform the job duties as required.  After 8 ½ hours of grueling computer tests, role plays, simulations, and interviews, the job offer went to the other candidate.  However, I was offered the opportunity to receive a 30 minute feedback session regarding my results.  I took it.

My feedback session began with a list of the areas where I scored high: I have a strong work ethic, I’m ambitious and driven, and I have a strong focus on customer service.  No real surprises here.  Next came the areas for development.  My consultant told me that I had strong leadership skills but not a clearly defined leadership style. He also told me that I am a perfectionist and may get hung up on unnecessary details, which may result in a very long work day. 

His statement regarding my leadership style got me thinking and I realized that although I have served in a leadership role in many different settings, I do play it by ear and may vary my style accordingly.  It made me curious about the different leadership styles that exist and I made a vow to myself to research leadership styles and find one that fits me best.  The comment that he made about me being a perfectionist was right on.  Not only does my desire for perfection result in long business hours, it caused me to run out of time on the assessments for the interview, resulting in a lower score than I would have liked.  My consultant advised me to use the “80% rule”.  He explained that it takes almost as long to get a task from 80% perfection to 90% perfection as it does to get it to 80% perfection in the first place.  Therefore, once you get it to 80%, it’s good enough.

Only a few days after this feedback, I had my first performance review with my current employer.  Although the feedback was different, I began to see some trends.  Was it hard to hear? Absolutely.  But you know what is harder to hear?  “We ended up going with another candidate.”  I can assure you that I will be taking the feedback that I received and using it to make positive changes in my current role and in preparation for my future one.

What do you think?
·       What kind of opportunities have you had to receive feedback on your skills, strengths, areas for development, etc.?
·       Have you used this feedback to help you grow and develop?  If so, how?
·       Have you referred to feedback that you have received in performance reviews during an interview?  If so, what was the result?

Barrie Berquist is a Retail Analyst on the ConAgra Foods Team at Acosta Sales and Marketing.  She has been a member of the MN AMA since 2007 and is a member of the MarCom Committee where she serves as the Career Insider Blog Project Manager.  She can be reached at barrieberquist@yahoo.com.  You can follow Barrie on Twitter @BEBERQUIST. 
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