Calling All College Students

We need the ideas and passion of college students interested in online marketing to keep our industry energized and growing. But judging by the many smart and capable students and grads we have been privileged to connect with over the years, your coursework has failed to adequately prepare you for the future you envision.

college studentIf you are considering a career in online marketing,  I applaud you.

We need your ideas and passion to keep our industry energized and growing. But judging by the many smart and capable students and grads we have been privileged to connect with over the years, your coursework has failed to adequately prepare you for the future you envision. And the industry is poorer for it.

Our educational institutions are starting to catch up with dedicated, digitally focused coursework and industry practitioners to help keep it real, but the ivory tower alone won’t sufficiently groom you for success. You will need to take your future into your own hands and look outside your required classes to set the stage for your professional trajectory.

In many ways, an entrepreneurial approach is excellent preparation for a digital career. Digital marketers are, of necessity, multi-faceted and in a constant state of change that favors the nimble and prepared. A solid set of core skills, a deep understanding of consumer behaviors online, demonstrated passion for this industry and the right attitude are infinitely more valuable than even specific experience that may soon be obsolete and can help prepare you to chart your own future and that of this industry.

Core Skills

In addition to learning the marketing basics be sure to come to your first job with the following hard, soft (and somewhere in-between) skill sets.

Data Acuity. The days of math-challenged or tech-avoidance students in marketing careers are long, long gone. As a start, get comfortable in spread sheets including more advanced skills like pivot tables and macros. Learn to read and manipulate data tables but use statistics and other analytics skills and programs to extract meaning that can be used for decision making. Know the difference between data and information.

Programming. You don’t need to be a professional coder but you do need to understand how bits and bytes work. Experiment with your own simple site to learn the basics of HTML.

Writing. Communicating in all channels and modes is a critical skill set for any professional and great communicators have a substantial advantage in any marketplace at any level. This extends to public speaking so work on your confident presentation by offering to deliver class projects or results in front of both small and larger audiences.

Perspective

Broaden your horizons with disciplines that will give you insights into human behavior and psyche. Behavioral economics, psychology and literature, among other disciplines, will advance your understanding of human decision making and make you a stronger marketer.

Go global. Our world is shrinking so understanding how others view and interact with the world beyond documented, aggregated buying behaviors is a plus. If you have the opportunity to study or travel abroad don’t pass it up. Foreign language skills will also differentiate you.

It’s also important that you don’t believe that your current set of college age, college educated friends represents the totality of even the US population. Get out of your bubble and get to know the broader population through travel, hobbies, activism or other means.

Entrepreneurism

Entrepreneurs seem to have the right DNA to succeed in the online marketing industry amid the demands of constant reinvention. Regardless of the type of business, show us that you have the desire and capacity to try to build something. Even better if you had to team with others as this will demonstrate your ability to collaborate and problem solve. If you have not built a business on any scale, show how you have responded quickly and successfully to changing circumstance.

Industry Passion

For online marketing, learning is about participating — not just hearing or reading — so you need to be a student of the industry. Demonstrate your interest by finding industry internships, following industry publications and staying current with major news, trends and releases. Use your social channels, personal site or other online avenues to present your POV or participate in the industry discussion.

Jump at opportunities like the Google Online Marketing Challenge or other student competitions to get some hands on experience in building plans and launching, optimizing and measuring campaigns.

Ask for student discounted or even free admittance to industry events when they come to your town and use the time to steep yourself in the industry and also network for contacts. Local ad clubs or the like often have student memberships or events that provide access to local professionals for industry mentorship.

To succeed in a digital marketing career you need more than what your school offers and a fair amount of personal commitment. Layer academic theory with some practical exposure and the right combination of skills and attitude to become a sought-after addition to any online marketing team. And should you decide to take a different career track you will still be empowered with an impressive and marketable skill set that most any employer would covet. Good luck!

At Your Service! Really!

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

As a brand strategist and a customer of many brands, I am in tune to the many ways companies tout their customer service. If your experiences are akin to mine, actual meaningful and truly excellent service still seems to be a rarity. Customer service gets lots of talk time (the one true brand differentiator!) these days, but is it time to double check and see if your brand is paying more than lip service to this important customer-centric activity?

Do you know if your service level is actually accomplishing what matters most to your customers? Would customers consider it a concierge experience? Take a peek at these examples and see how a few companies pay more than lip service to this important function:

Focus: Target Audience
Bed Bath & Beyond knows that the back-to-school season is almost akin to Christmas-in-August for its brand. With thousands of new freshmen heading to campuses nationwide in need of all things dorm related, Bed Bath & Beyond has truly gone beyond in creating an amazingly useful college-prepping brand experience. The website is chockfull of helpful advice about pertinent things top-of-mind for new college students. Take a peek at the topics covered in their online College Checklist:

  • Storing Your Stuff
  • Making Your Bed Better
  • Climate Control
  • An Inspiring Work Area
  • Resolving Technical Difficulties
  • Keeping Your Room Clean
  • Doing Laundry
  • Surviving a Shared Bathroom

After perusing both a printed checklist, a succinct magalog and an online version, students can enter their colleges in the company’s website and see if there are convenient Bed Bath & Beyond locations near their dorms so they don’t have to haul all this new merchandise from home. This concierge-esque brand takes it even a step further and has prepared lists of what the specific colleges and universities have already provided, what they want students to bring and what is not allowed. There’s even a college registry available, all set for family members who may want to gift the new freshmen upon high school graduation with these dorm life must haves.

And, once those students are settled in and living their particular collegiate lives, Bed Bath & Beyond continues to develop its student relationships with a “Grade My Space” program described as follows:

Grade My Space is a new interactive site where you’ll get an inside look at college living spaces and residence halls. Students connect and share ideas, designs, comments and provide the inside scoop on campus living and more.

How might your brand borrow brilliantly from Bed Bath & Beyond and put this usefulness in action for one of your specific customer segments?

Focus: Product Category
Target’s “guest-centric” brand attitude has always hit the bull’s eye, but the company is building on this experience in one particular category in a more nuanced way across 300 of its stores—Beauty. According to a recent press release:

Participating stores are staffed with a Target Beauty Concierge, a highly-trained, brand agnostic beauty enthusiast who is available to answer guests’ questions in-store. Serving as a trusted expert, the Beauty Concierge provides guests with personalized, detailed and unbiased information about beauty and personal care products offered at Target and acts as a knowledgeable source of advice in what can sometimes be an intimidating department. Beauty Concierges are located in the beauty aisles at Target wearing a distinct black apron. No appointment is necessary.

In addition to Target doing this with beauty, Lands End has done this with swimwear … a troublesome category for many women. Might there be a department or category within your brand that customers would welcome some one-on-one consultation? How might you enhance your service level in a key product category to generate not only more sales, but a more customer-centric experience?

Company-Wide Focus
Nordstrom has long wowed its customers with service that goes the extra mile. Today, its website reminds customers that unlike some other department stores, working with Nordstrom personal stylists is “fast, fun, free and zero pressure!” They’ll even prep your dressing room for you in advance of your visit.

“We’ll be there the whole time to offer new suggestions and honest advice—even if you are only looking to research, not to buy.” My girlfriend utilized this service in helping outfit her son, a new college graduate preparing for an international job opportunity. Not only was the time saved important, but now this stylist has all his measurements and style/color preferences recorded to make future shopping needs a breeze.

Office supply multichanneler, Staples, also is promising a company-wide concierge experience to back up its brand promise of “EASY”! Under its “Need Help?” tab is a listing for Product Concierge. Here’s what Staples says:

Can’t find what you’re looking for? We’re here to help! If you need help tracking down an item, we’ll search for it for you-even if it’s something we don’t currently have on our site. Tell us a bit more about the product and we’ll do our best to find it. There’s no obligation to buy.

Might your brand be able to promote this kind of across-the-board expectation? If not, what might have to change to do so?

Truly serving your customers concierge-style takes a full commitment from each and every brand ambassador within your company. It requires active listening and keen observation. It requires a servant heart and a willingness to sweat the small stuff to provide an excellent and memorable experience that will not only delight your customers once but keep them coming back for more … and raving about your brand to others.

How Your Bank Can Generate Leads with Social Media

You are about to discover a step-by-step way to make social media increase share of customer wallet for your bank or credit union. Whether you’re a branch manager, a banking associate or corporate executive at a major institution, keep reading and I’ll give you the key to unlock success.

You are about to discover a step-by-step way to make social media increase share of customer wallet for your bank or credit union. Whether you’re a branch manager, a banking associate or corporate executive at a major institution, keep reading and I’ll give you the key to unlock success. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs can help you actually get customers to identify themselves as candidates for your most important products.

Skeptical? I don’t blame you. But think about it. How will it feel to know that everything you’re doing with social media will result in more leads? Let’s get going. Here are my best tips to help unlock the true potential of social media marketing in your institution.

Solve Problems & Answer Questions
Today’s most successful banks and credit unions are setting aside the technical and tactical aspects of social media and, first, focusing on solving customers’ and members problems. I talk about this problem-solving and behavior-focused approach more in my book, Off the Hook Marketing but, in essence, this requires having a focused plan.

Close examination of successful banks, like Wisconsin’s AnchorBank, reveals a key success principle: make everything you do with/on social media answer a burning question or solve a problem for customers in ways that drive behavior.

Scratch Customers’ Itches
For instance, you might use Facebook to spark a discussion among college students aimed on avoiding an increasing problem like personal bankruptcy. Telling true, horrific stories can be paired with sensible approaches—good credit management habits to form. Those sensible approaches can be leveraged into behavior in ways that connect customers’ problems to answers—your products.

But beware: they aren’t just answering questions or listening to customers using social media. They’re taking the time to capture insights on customers’ problems, fears and goals. They are finding what’s itching customers so they can scratch those itches.

Provoke Responses
Are your tweets, posts or updates designed to provoke a response, generate customer behavior? The fact is today’s most successful, socially-savvy banks and credit unions are using social media to provoke responses from customers.

For instance, when using Facebook it’s best to give customers a reason to think about something that’s important to them in a powerful new way—something that gives customers a reason to contact a banker. Why would a customer do that? So they can more clearly understand what you just provoked. Again, consider the prior example with college students.

Translate Need
Now I know this goes against what “the gurus” say but the key to success is avoiding “telling stories” with social media. Resist broadcasting stories; instead, structure interactions with customers in ways that prompt them to tell you about their pain points or financial goals. Once you have this knowledge, your goal is to prompt them to ask questions—that your products often answer.

And beware: don’t stop at informing customers and avoid entertaining them. Focus on purpose-driven interactions that are part of a dialogue—a translation process. Whenever appropriate, guide customers toward products they actually want and need.

That’s it. This is the best, most effective, step-by-step way to make social media increase share of customer wallet for your bank or credit union. Now go get ’em!