Archive for "Online Marketing"

Is Your Brand Capable of Listening to Your Community?

Agency Initiatives, Best Practices, Branding, Online Marketing, Social Media Apr 03, 2017 No Comments

Not Just Another Post About Social Media Overload, but Instead About Our Ability to Actually Comprehend

With all the chatter on the Twitter Machine (230 million tweets are sent each day), the constant barrage of Facebook updates (30 billion pieces of content shared monthly), seemingly unstoppable Foursquare check-ins (2 million every 24 hours), eMail SPAM messages (estimated at 262 billion a day), the explosion of blogs (171 million to date) and their respective posts (900,000 articles published daily), are we losing our ability as a society and as brand managers to listen and comprehend? Possibly.

What’s More Important — Hearing or Listening?

A friend Gregg Voss of the BrandEmpire Blog, poses the following question: ‘What’s More Important – Hearing or Listening? He cites the example of a Twitter colleague who recently tweeted a message to a vendor reminding them to “be nice to customers like him because they can hold the key to other opportunities.” The post clearly implied that something had previously gone awry between the two parties. The vendor’s response Tweet contained a “thank-you for the compliment.” The vendor obviously wasn’t listening.

The Definitions of “Hear” and “Listen”
defines the word “Hear” as:

  • to receive information by the ear or otherwise

And defines the word “Listen” as:

  • to pay attention

With all of the ways we and the brands we represent can now interact with customers, are we losing our ability to listen, understand and respond appropriately, as in the example above?

Our Ten Commandments for Effective Client Service

Recently we published a post outlining our agency’s “Ten Commandments For Effective Client Service.” Among our ‘Commandments’ are practices we consider essential to fostering and maintaining successful business relationships. However, the concept of “Listening to Clients” was edited out of the list as we thought we’d covered it in other areas. But Gregg’s post illustrated why it was a mistake to leave it out. And it may actually be the most important of all our ‘Commandments.’

Bad Customer Service is Bad Brand Management

Customer service is sorely lacking in brands across the board. Currently, I’m trying to have a dishwasher fixed, for the 4th time. It was purchased at a big box store. A 2nd big box store provided an extended service agreement. And I’ve found the process and customer service offered by this 2nd retailer unacceptable. Now, I’m waiting impatiently for the agreement to expire so I can replace the appliance and be done with them. My frustration with this brand stems from a breakdown in their ability to provide effective customer service, as evidenced by their inability to actually “listen” to issues raised and subsequently resolve them.

Brand Focus Should be on Listening and Comprehension

With a myriad of ways that brands interact with customers via social media, it’s crucial they make the extra effort to actually listen. Listening takes more time and energy than hearing. Because we’re becoming used to hearing in 10 second soundbites and communicating via 140-character mini-messages, the effort required to listen to what is being said in the social world is more important than ever.

Every brand must ensure they’re listening and understanding what they’re hearing from their customers in order to act appropriately on that knowledge.

In a world where Tweets, Updates, Shares, Check-Ins and Stumblings rule, we can’t permit the art of comprehension to slip away from us. Among the endless daily chatter and information overload, it’s up to us as professional brand managers to make sure our efforts are focused in the right direction.

Social Media is a Tactic Not a Tool

Advertising, Branding, Online Marketing, Social Media Jan 29, 2017 No Comments

Where the Heck Does This Social Media Thing Fit In?

Social media activities should be viewed as tactics that enhance a brand’s overall marketing efforts, not as a new tool replacing traditional methods of promotion. While social media has forever changed the landscape of marketing, beware the thousands of self-proclaimed social media experts, gurus, and authorities offering up opinion on using social media as a substitute for traditional marketing tools.

Has Social Media Replaced Advertising?

The short answer is no. Shouting advertisements at your customer base on social media platforms just doesn’t work. No one in the Twitterverse or on Facebook wants to be bombarded by direct advertising messages couched in 140 character tweets or wall-clogging updates.

For most businesses large or small, advertising continues to be the primary method to effectively generate awareness for your brand. This is not going to change. Social media hasn’t, nor will it, replace traditional advertising, whether your “tradition” is print or digital.

However It Has Made It Better

To be fair, social media platforms have fundamentally changed the way that brands advertise. Social media has made advertising more effective by providing better audience targeting, increasing overall advertising impressions and ad effectiveness. Social media platforms integrate analytics and measurement tools that help marketers adjust campaigns based on the message that works best. As a tactic, social media will not replace advertising, so next year’s budgets should still include marketing dollars for traditional advertising as well as social. Where the ad dollars are spent — outdoor, print, digital, etc. – will depend more on the nature of your business, not on your social media activities.

Social Media Has Forever Changed Public Relations

Back when Edward Bernays started the Public Relations industry, industry professionals carefully crafted and controlled messages in an effort to influence consumer perception, generally via unpaid methods like media placements. PR spinmakers of the past could maintain a stranglehold grip on a message, but in the social media enabled world PR is a new beast altogether.

PR firms have had to refine their efforts, accepting that brand messages are no longer controlled by agents of the brand, but rather are heavily influenced by consumers using platforms like Yelp!, Google Places, and Facebook. As a result, social media tactics are crucial to the tool of public relations. In order to control the message, PR mavens and social community managers must build relationships with a brand’s consumer base where that base congregates on the web, in order to have an impact on how a brand is perceived.

Social Media is Great for Sales Incentives

After Public Relations, offering sales incentives is likely the next best fit for your social media activities. There are social media venues where sales promotions are effective, including both Facebook and Foursquare. Facebook is rife with examples of B2C brand marketing that develops and nurtures a brand-loyal following open to receiving special promos. Coupon sharing and product deals remain some of the most prolific Facebook updates, and have proven success to quickly and efficiently grow a qualified consumer fanbase.

The Power of Social Proofing and Foursquare

And since everyone wants to be the mayor of something or other on Foursquare, the platform offers a unique way to connect with your customers. Relying heavily on the concept of Social Proofing, Foursquare works on a very basic premise — that people are more inclined to support one product or business over another when that product or business is supported by the masses.

By using geolocation tools, Foursquare allows users to scan nearby businesses, viewing exactly how many others (both friends and strangers) have “checked-in” to each business, thus psychologically influencing their choice to patronize one business over another based on sheer numbers of supporters — social proofing. When faced with the option, wouldn’t you choose the full restaurant over the empty one next door? We are creatures of habit, easily influenced by the habits of others. And, Foursquare brilliantly makes use of this phenomenon.

The Bad Marriage of Social Media and Personal Selling

Social media platforms have not historically been good venues for direct or personal selling. However, social media tactics are quite effective when developing general brand awareness, extending customer service activities and overall networking; ideally leading to direct sales. Of course, depending on your business, some social media platforms are more effective than others for such activities. B2C businesses will likely find a better fit with Facebook and Twitter over LinkedIn. Whereas LinkedIn is the #1 tool for B2B networking activities.

Whatever the platform, your activities should focus on developing community. To decide which is best for your particular business, you should probably find an integrated agency that understands that social media activities are tactics, and not tools, that can help you connect with your audience wherever they may be on the web.

Social Media is a Tactic, Not a Tool

We view social media activities as extremely effective tactics that must be part of your arsenal in order for your marketing efforts to be successful. This view won’t make us popular with social media-only agencies, but we strongly believe that social media tactics should be utilized to connect with your audience and reinforce your brand’s promotional elements across your marketing mix. Social media is not meant as a replacement for other activities, but rather a necessary and valuable enhancement to those activities.

After the Social Media Honeymoon

As we move beyond the honeymoon phase with social media, agencies and professional marketers who rely solely on social media as a tool will either cease to exist or will find it necessary to adjust their focus. If you’re working with a strictly social media agency, you’ll likely be looking for a new agency next year.

Top 3 Small Business Marketing Mistakes

Blogging, Branding, Interactive, Online Marketing Jan 24, 2017 No Comments

Small Biz Marketing Learning Curve Still Too High

As an agency hired to provide professional marketing counsel to our clients, we work with businesses large and small. As expected, the big guys have a much better handle on the concepts of brand management and marketing. But the learning curve for small businesses still seems to be a bit high.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that many small business owners don’t understand the basics of marketing in today’s digital age. Here’s our all-time top 3 things that most small business owners fail to understand when building their brand.

1. Thinking That a Logo is a Brand

Creating a professional looking logo is probably one of the first steps that small business owners undertake when developing their brand. And then they stop.

While it’s true your logo will be your unique visual identifier, developing your brand properly goes way beyond an icon and typography. To develop your brand the right way you must identify your unique offering, create a brand story around your offering, deliver on your promise to your customers and always practice what your brand message preaches. And you need to do this consistently, over and over and over.

If all your brand development effort includes is installing a nice logo above your door and printing the same on business cards and sales brochures, you need to take a longer look at the story your business tells — which is the essence of your brand.

2. Developing a Static Website

Static websites, sometimes called Brochureware, were common in the days of Internet 1.0 when businesses everywhere re-purposed existing printed sales materials, reconfigured them in some digital format, placed them online and voilà a website was born. This type of website no longer makes the cut.

Every website developed today for any business large or small needs to be a content-rich publishing hub that serves as the central point from which to push your marketing initiatives from and direct all inbound activities to. Without a modern, social media enabled, search engine optimized website that’s updated frequently your business will not be found through organic search. Proper site management and SEO activities are long-term, ongoing activities whose value cannot be overstated. The best way to develop a content rich business hub is to include a blog on your site, encourage social media sharing of your content and stimulate open, uncensored feedback.

If you want to drive your customers to your competition, then by all means rely on the old stand-by and build a static website.

3. Ignoring Social Media

Considered the least expensive method of marketing, social media sharing on sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are essential for any brand large or small operating in the modern digital age.

If your business isn’t actively using social media, you’re going to miss the boat on the best method to communicate your brand messages to your audiences. But don’t be fooled into thinking that social media activities are going to be easy. This type of marketing takes lots of time and effort.

The primary barriers for small business owners breaking into social media are 1.) lack of understanding and 2.) lack of available internal resources. The web is awash with information about social media. Search Google for information about Inbound Marketing. Create a LinkedIn account and join any one of a number of social media networking groups. There are plenty of resources at your fingertips to learn what you need to know to succeed. If you don’t have the resources to handle the level of work social media requires, partner with an external vendor that understands your business and gets your brand. Such a group will be able to get your up and running and help with ongoing community management.

If you want to make sure you’re business is a failure, ignore social media.

5 Ways to Handle Negative Comments

Branding, Online Marketing, Social Media Aug 31, 2016 No Comments

Turning Scared CEOs into Social Media Supporters

No matter how well-respected your brand, how brilliant your customer service, or how sincere you are with your community, you’ll inevitably face that thing that strikes fear in the hearts of many CEOs and business owners — negative reviews, unflattering feedback or potentially brand-killing commentary from someone in your community. That fear is the single factor holding back even the most forward-thinking manager from entertaining social media activities.

You know this type of manager. You’ve developed a comprehensive social media strategy, outlining all the awesome things you plan to do online and how you’re going to engage your customers to generate all kinds of new revenue for the company. You take your plan to the executives and they refuse your innovative ideas by raising issues of potential negativity and brand-busting. Why in the world would we risk putting ourselves on the line to invite negative commentary? Because the negative can be easily turned into positives with five easy steps.

Five Steps You Should Take to Address Negative Comments Online

1. Ignore Negative Comments at Your Own Peril

Never ever ever ignore negative feedback about your brand. Some brand managers still believe it’s a good idea to ignore negative posts, preferring instead to remain silent, praying they go away. Wouldn’t your response just bring more attention to the issue? This is the old way of thinking. It’s crucial you respond to every issue as soon as possible. If you don’t take the initiative, you voluntarily give up control, something you can’t do if you plan to succeed in social media. Resolve the issue publicly if possible. But sometimes you may find it necessary to take the discussion offline, handling it via email or with a phone call. There’s a possibility you may find some truth in the negative review, allowing you to permanently fix something that’s broken with your brand. As an effective communicator you should be able to resolve the issue and turn it around.

2. Goes Without Saying – Be Nice

Be as open, honest and transparent as possible. Social media is a very transparent medium, and you as brand manager must be as forthcoming and sincere as possible. Responding in a way that appears argumentative, defensive or condescending will backfire. Remember, in the community, you’re the face of the brand, and as such you need to be thoughtful, courteous and considerate even under difficult situations. If handled properly, your most vocal critic may actually be turned into a brand champion.

3. Live the Promise of Your Brand Everywhere

If your brand is truly a good brand, you must maintain your promise across every channel.
It’s important that in all interactions — online and offline, with customers and employees — that you maintain the integrity of your company, product or service everywhere. This starts in the workplace — with employees on the factory floor, with management and in the executive suite. If your company actually holds true to the values it claims, it will be evident in all your promotional efforts. Brands that are honest with themselves are rarely criticized. If you find you’re getting a lot of negative feedback, it’s likely you’re not as good as you think you are. Frequent online criticisms often result from a larger issue with the brand itself. Resolving negative feedback may be your opportunity to permanently change your brand for the better.

4. Develop a Contingency Plan

All social media activity should be based on a comprehensive social media strategy. This should include a clearly defined contingency plan that everyone involved in your social outreach is abiding by. Before embarking upon the world of social media, you should identify every conceivable situation that might arise and determine a plan of action to address each. Depending on your business, this might be a simple Q&A document or a more detailed crisis plan. And since there’s no way you’re going to identify every possible situation up front, make this blueprint a working document and add to it as new issues arise.

5. Never Fake or Stage Positive Reviews

Strategically placed reviews are a big ‘No No!’ There’s few things worse for your community than to be subjected to overly positive reviews that have obviously come from the corporate PR department. Considered established practice for some unethical spin doctors, strategic placement of positive reviews are unacceptable. Your community will see through overly-flowered and faked reviews, and you’ll lose all the credibility you worked to build.

Turn Your Detractors Into Your Evangelists

Our recommendations aren’t entirely ground-breaking, nor hard to implement. Simply put, when faced with negative online feedback, as a responsible brand that’s truly one of the “good guys,” you must respond like a genuinely concerned human being who’s a sincere member of the community, and interested in resolving the situation. No matter how cliché it may sound, the customer really is always right. And it’s your job to make sure they know you understand that.

What 70s Rock Teaches Us About Modern Social Media

Blogging, Online Marketing, Social Media Aug 23, 2016 No Comments

One is the Loneliest Number

Back in the 1970′s there was a very successful rock band by the name of Three Dog Night. And they had a very popular song titled “One.” Three Dog Night’s “One” is a great example of what no longer works for marketing.

This old way to sell your services and the concept of One-Ness is what we now refer to as Outbound Marketing — where brands develop a consistent message and push it out far and wide in the hopes that it will resonate and result in sales. One brand. One message. One voice. All applied consistently across a variety of mediums. This approach is over, much like the popularity of Three Dog Night themselves.

Today in the age of Inbound Marketing, where getting discovered by and engaging with your customer base has emerged as a more influential method of communication, the idea of One is no longer sustainable and is truly the loneliest of numbers.

Social Media By Itself is Not a Real Community, So Don’t Fool Yourself Into Thinking It’s So

Any social media agency worth their proverbial weight in whichever mineral you’d like to use as simile, should tell you this. If you’re working with an agency that doesn’t, you probably should find a new one. Some social media “experts” will happily fill your head with what you want to hear while also gladly cashing the checks you give them. We don’t. But then, we’re known for not being your “normal” agency. By itself, social media is not a real community. Instead, it’s merely a gateway to community, the success of which is completely up to you provided that you take five simple steps to make it so.

1. Network

Taking the “Build It and They Will Come” approach will result in less dream and more nightmare. When it comes to online social media activities, draw on your existing offline networking strategies. As a business owner, you should already be constantly networking — always meeting others both in and out of your field, sharing information about your business and your personal business experiences, and developing lasting, meaningful relationships. Your social media activities shouldn’t be much different. You need to locate your customers wherever they are and join them on their playing field. Initiating such relationships are the key to offline networking, and social media is no different.

2. Listen

The best problem solver in the room is usually also the best listener. And it’s just as important to listen to your online community as it is to the customers walking through your door or calling you on the phone. Remember it’s the voice of your customer and the value of their opinions that’s the primary reason you’re undertaking social media activities in the first place. Your goal should be to encourage the exchange of dialogue, whether good or bad, showing customers that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. You either joined them on their turf, or they took the initiative to join you. Either way you need to listen, even when you don’t like what you hear. Remember first and foremost, it’s their words and their mouths that are the backbone of your word-of-mouth advertising and community efforts.

3. Learn

Unless you already know everything, and you don’t, there’s always something to learn from your community. Take every opportunity to educate yourself about your customers. Embrace what they say about you, your products or your services. This information will help you in a variety of ways, including giving you valuable insight on how to improve what you’re offering. Just because you’ve got an MBA from a well-respected university and your customers haven’t been fortunate to even attend college, doesn’t mean they can’t tell you a thing or two about your product. Dismissing their insights for any reason can potentially result in failure.

4. Cultivate

Inbound Marketing thrives on the free exchange of ideas. Censoring your members in any way or hiding negative feedback from public view may have very dangerous repercussions. We recently posted an article, with the tongue-in-cheek title “How to Censor Your Social Media and Still Thrive at Word-of-Mouth Marketing,” that addresses just this issue. There are very few instances that we would ever recommend setting up roadblocks to communication, or worse, editing or otherwise censoring community members. View such issues as an opportunity to effect change. You can read our thoughts on the topic here.

5. Engage

The way to hold an actual dialogue is to engage. Everyone says it: engage, engage, engage. And we say, engage some more. And just as in offline conversations, the only way to truly engage is to support open, honest and, most importantly, sincere communication with your online community. This isn’t about talking AT your members; but instead talking WITH them. You’re a real human being and so are your community members. And you need to act like one. Be open to collaboration and the two-way sharing of ideas and feedback. There are literally hundreds of examples of successful social media communities, and the common thread among each is the ongoing engagement between all members. Only if you’re committed to open and honest engagement will you be successful at Inbound Marketing.

Leave One-Ness in the Past Where it Belongs

Your social media activities aren’t much different than daily interactions with family, friends, colleagues, or strangers on the street. As with offline relationships, online social activity needs to be initiated, nurtured, tested, refined and nurtured some more. It’s a constantly evolving process and one that you can’t stop once you start.

In the age of Inbound Marketing, there’s no single method of connecting with and cultivating relationships; there are hundreds. No longer do the old ways of doing things work. We suggest you heed the message of Three Dog Night and incorporate the above steps into your social media plans. The easiest way to ensure that your Inbound Marketing efforts fall short of your goal is to continue to embrace the concept of One.