For Sustainable Sales, Follow the Herd

One cannot spend even a day in Yellowstone National Park and not be moved by the many lessons learned from nature that apply to so many aspects of our lives, including sustainable sales — as the title implies. For me, two days at this spectacular park just this week did not disappoint or leave me not pondering the amazing wisdom animals of nature share with us. It was the American Buffalo that moved me the most.

One cannot spend even a day in Yellowstone National Park and not be moved by the many lessons learned from nature that apply to so many aspects of our lives, including sustainable sales — as the title implies. For me, two days at this spectacular park just this week did not disappoint or leave me not pondering the amazing wisdom animals of nature share with us. It was the American Buffalo that moved me the most.

Just a few miles into the wilderness toward Lamar Valley, we encountered a Buffalo — AKA, Bison Jam. A herd of about 200 head decided to cross the highway, and take their sweet time standing in the road staring at us humans as they ate sagebrush and rounded up their families. It was hard not to notice “couples” together, grunting as they nudged the same young ones and then crossed together as a group and stayed together on the other side of the road.

And it was not hard to see how the herd was all very much aware of all of the others and what they were doing and where they were going — once they decided to get off of the road. And then we heard stories of how a few months earlier, a herd circled a young calf that was not able to walk well, and fought off a pack of wolves trying to get to it.

And beyond the Buffalo, the herds of elk all running together toward safety, and then learning how they communicate with each other about where to move and when to assure their “community’ is safe. Even trees that share a root system know when one of them is in need and when it’s time to share their nutrients to keep others in their woods or “tribe” alive.

Nature is wired to be part of a community, to help others, and to stay together; in order to thrive as one, or as a tribe. Like the buffalo, elk and all species of life that share this world with us, we need others. We need to be with others who are like us. It is what makes us safe, secure, and makes us confident to try something new, different and be bold.

Studying human psychology, not just animals in nature, we discover just how inherent “community” is in our psyche, and our survival DNA. We need to be with others — whether being with others gives us power, resources, security, socialization or love; we cannot thrive when alone.

We saw lone buffalo that left the herd, and these were those that were injured and just didn’t appear to be thriving. These buffalo were those that were left vulnerable to the threats of wolves and lions that share their same landscape.

And Yes, There Is a Marketing Lesson About Sustainable Sales in All of This

Brands traditionally treat customers as individuals. And that is what we have spent millions learning how to master with our data modeling and segmentation strategies and technology. We personalized for personas and down to individual transactions and preferences. And we marketers are excited and proud of just how 1:1 we can get.

But wait a minute. Instead of stopping and being proud of how “individual” we make our customers feel, what if we put just as much effort into making them feel a part of “tribe,” a “herd” or a “flock”? The same formations that we observe in nature that help animals not just survive in the wild, but thrive? What if we found a way to bring customers together in communities based on what we know about them individually and enabled them to the power, confidence, excitement and joy of belonging?

I remain amazed at how many brands do not build “community” into their marketing programs and instead focus only on “individualization” which, trite as it is to say, is so “last decade.”

We marketers need to build programs beyond our products that bring customers together and make them feel safe, secure, valued, recognized, and part of something bigger and more rewarding than their ability to make a purchase — whether it be $100,000 luxury car that puts them in the VIP “clubs” for Jaguar, Lexus and more, or a smartphone that makes them seem more “cool” and artistic than perhaps they really are.

Automobile companies have done this for years, and it has always paid off, even when the quality of their machines was poor. Saturn, now in the dead brand graveyard, rallied 30,000 or more customers to events to celebrate the Saturn and meet others in their “tribe.” Harley Davidson’s HOGS — Harley Owners Group — has around 1 million members who get together with friends and strangers, for a ride organized by Harley, and ride some of nature’s best highways and byways, reveling in the joy of riding their beautiful bikes and building friendships that have only one thing in common: They love their bikes, and love talking about the experiences they have with these bikes with others who have the same bikes and similar stories. They bond with each other and they bond even more strongly with the brand that brought them together. That’s even when the joke about Harley’s quality was that you had to have two bikes: One to ride and one for spare parts.

Regardless of your business — whether it’s selling B2B SaaS software to marketing companies, healthcare products or pharmaceuticals, children’s clothing, commodity goods from a corner store, or apps to keep us more addicted to our smartphones — you, too, can build a community.

Here are just a few things to think about:

  • Online: Use your website to create forums for discussion so customers can exchange “fish” stories or battle stories that make them proud to be part of your brand.
  • Offline: Bring customers together for good time and important times. Throw block parties, like Samsung did at Times Square to introduce its latest phone (smaller scale parties work for smaller budgets), or invite customers to join you for neighborhood clean ups, or game hour at the senior center.
  • Referral Networks: Encourage customers to bring others to your herd by offering discounts for friends and discounts or other rewards for those they being to your brand.

These are just a few things you can do to bring people together to share their passions about your brand, and gain the strength and power of numbers, while bonding with each other in ways that keep each other close to your brand.

Marketing to individuals is of course the right path for today’s high-maintenance customers who expect everything to “be all about me.”

Yet when you fail to build communities among your customers, you fail to safeguard your revenue from the threats of competitors. Like tribes in nature, consumers and customers feel secure and powerful when among others just like us, whether we realize it or not.

When you keep customers together through communities that share stories or do good together, you minimize the risk of customers wandering off like lone buffalo, becoming at-risk customers, out of network, where competitors can prey on them and forever take them away. And besides building communities, you’re building sustainable sales.

1 Ingredient for a Happy New (Marketing) Year

Business success has long been founded on making products that make people happy and making people happy about products. For most, the driving vision and mantra has been: Make people happy with my product and service and they will come back for more.

Business success has long been founded on making products that make people happy and making people happy about products. For most, the driving vision and mantra has been: Make people happy with my product and service and they will come back for more.

Yes. And no. Many studies on human happiness find that “Happiness” from materialistic, external things is fleeting and does not always result in repeat business. In fact, it rarely does. We may be happy with a buying experience. And we may tell people about it as it occurs — and intend to go back for more. But then once the novelty of the product purchased wears off, we move on to new things and find new sources of “happiness.”

This kind of happiness, the kind that comes and goes — and is assigned to new products, places or people — is often no more than a dopamine or oxytocin rush. They’re hormonal experiences that make us feel exuberant, ecstatic, on top of the world, loved and appreciated. At least for a moment.  Creating these feelings among our customers can bring them back for more product when they need that happy rush again. But it is not sustainable for the long-term in a market where they can get similar rushes of “happy” feelings from competitors who can imitate, duplicate and replicate anything you do faster than ever before. Or in a market with customers who are well-conditioned for instant gratification, and so the demands and expectations to keep them happy change instantly, too!

So what’s a product marketer to do? Ugh.

Do we buy more technology? Clean more databases? Create more content and social dialog and push it out more often?

While all of the above may work for generating sales and happy customers for the short-term, what is it that we can do to generate a lasting commitment, long after the novelty of our product or initial experience wears off? It’s kind of like asking what keeps couples together after the hormonal rushes and honeymoon become past tense.

You might be thinking, “build a better experience,” “create more emotional relevance and value through better relationships,” and many of the things discussed in my posts over the years. And yes, these matter, but there’s another element that is critical and not often thought of building customer bonds— culture.

There’s a lot of sociologists, bloggers and reporters out there trying to discover the “happiest place on earth” and many of those on this mission end up at the same place.

Denmark

Denmark was just named the “Happiest Country on Earth,” per the United Nations’ “World Happiness Report,” according to an article recently published by CBS News.

It may seem odd that the happiest place is not some tropical island where its always warm, sunny, and pina coladas run free for locals and tourists. Instead, it’s Denmark, where it can be cold, dark and a bit on the dreary side in terms of climate — with rain 50 percent of the time.

So why Denmark? It’s the perfect example of how a culture has more lasting impact than purchase alone.

Here are some insights:

While Denmark’s culture has many elements to it, there are three that stand out to me as elements we marketers can bring home to our brands. These are:

Equality

Loyalty programs have morphed into elitism for VIP customers. And while these programs may be profitable, they can also be limiting in terms of acquiring new customers and keeping a base of steady but lower transaction value customers who provide the long-term stability all brands need. In Denmark, equality reaches a different level. People view each other as equals, despite occupation and income, and thrive on socializing often with people who have like hobbies and interests, building bonds on common values — not common bank accounts. I loved the example shared on a site promoting tourism to Denmark, quoting a garbage man about how he feels comfortable with lawyers and doctors because wealth does not matter as much as time with friends and family, as well as what you do to bring light and warmth to your circle and to others around.

How Does This Apply to Marketing?

Quite simply. Instead of finding ways to elevate the elite in your customer base, find ways to make all customers feel equally important. One of the things that just baffles me is how airlines treat you so blatantly differently for boarding. Remember how airlines used to roll out a red carpet for first class and extremely high mileage customers? What a blatant statement of inequality to all of those whose collective value for economy fare far outweighed the value of the six to 10 first class tickets who were made to feel like superior human beings. Yes, give perks to high-transaction and high-value customers, but not in ways that make others feel worthless. Present experiences and interactions that make people feel like your most important customers. It’s not hard to do.

Social Values

Hygge (pronounced hug) refers to the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures and embracing friends, family and graciousness over wealth, status privileges and materialism. This translates into a culture where all feel welcome, appreciated and secure. These feelings translate into staying power and loyalty for consumers to brands. When people come together to celebrate bonds, relationships and kindness, they create a welcoming atmosphere of acceptance and safety that outweighs the fleeting joy of a new toy, digital widget or out-of-the-normal experience. People go back to social circles like chess clubs, book clubs, cooking groups and so on, where they can mingle with like minds and feel equal, despite their social status or wealth contribution to the hosting organization.

Marketing Application

Bring customers together just because. Not to try or buy a new product or to spark sales in any way, but to do what the Danes do — share light, warmth and friendship, and create an atmosphere of coziness and happiness. We will come back to these experiences and communities and stay loyal to those who continue to make us feel enlightened and valued at the same time.

Trust

Despite being one of the most written about and overly discussed topics, it still is and will always be the structural pillar of strength and success. Trust is one of the primary cornerstones in the Danish culture, and in ways that would be scary in our U.S. culture. Danes are comfortable using the honor system in business and letting kids play alone at parks while parents shop nearby.

Elevating Trust

Consumers need to have unbridled trust that they can count on brands to:

  • Deliver on the product and service promises made directly and indirectly in all communications, promotions and experiences.
  • Stand behind all purchases and meet customer expectations for service, refunds, returns, repairs and so on.
  • Create an atmosphere of transparency on all levels. By sharing financials, corporate values, updates on product and industry issues, and other insights to keep customers informed about your brand and related issues, you build indirect trust that creates that sense of hygge mentioned above and stronger emotional bonds that transcend price and other competitive elements.

Essentially, when you build a culture, you build a community. And building communities is critical in a world where consumerism is turning to minimalism; people are turning to experiences over materialism; and trust and respect for business is waning. It’s is critical for short- and long-term success. Largely because people flock to communities more than they do to products or brands that distribute them. As we learn from religious and political “communities,” we humans tend to stay aligned with people who reflect our values, as well as build our sense of belonging to a safe, secure group that understands us and what motivates us.

Takeaway

Study what matters most to your consumers in terms of values, lifestyle and culture. Create events, experiences and communications around those values, and find ways to bring customers together around those values. State Farm is a good example of just this. If you go to the brand’s website, you can find a calendar of volunteer events you can join along with local agents in order to further good causes in your community, and of course experience “hygee” with agents and employees that can result in sales and loyalty.

Shaking Up Sales, Loyalty With the Human Touch

It’s easy to rely on the latest breakthroughs in marketing technology to drive sales, meet quotas and secure our jobs. But in the end, we’re all human. And that human touch goes farther than the latest integration to your marketing stack. A great example of how the human touch builds brands and always will is Shake Shack.

Shake Shack logoWith all of the emphasis on customer journeys and engagement, a whole new genre of marketing technology has cropped up. We have Web content management, programmatic, social listening and customer experience platforms , just to name a very few of the many tools available. In fact, in February of this year, Gartner reported that 89 percent of marketers expect customer experience software to be key to how they set their brand apart and build value among customers. With the feedback mechanisms inherent in customer experience management (CEM) platforms, marketers can identify attitudes, issues, needs and reply quickly with relevant messaging and encouragement to take the next step in a brand’s journey toward lifetime value.

All of the computerized processes for tracking and deploying messaging are all we marketers need to secure repeat sales, referrals and lifetime value from our customers. Or not.

It’s easy to rely on the latest breakthroughs in marketing technology to drive sales, meet quotas and secure our jobs. But in the end, we’re all human. And that human touch goes farther than the latest integration to your marketing stack.

A great example of how the human touch builds brands and always will is Shake Shack.

What started as a fundraiser to rebuild Madison Square Park in New York City, has blossomed into a highly successful business and example of what can happen when you build a brand around human values not just shareholder value.  In 2001, Shake Shack started as a hot dog cart selling hot dogs, chips and lemonade to help support the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s first art installation. Its quick success resulted in a permanent kiosk just three years later and a larger menu, which now stands out among the best in all markets it serves across the globe for burgers, shakes and custards, all made from natural ingredients.

But if you ask Edwin Bragg, VP of marketing communications for Shake Shack, the foundation of the brand’s success goes back to its roots and the initial goal of bringing people together to enjoy good food, events and times just being with others.

As Edwin puts it:

“Shake Shack was built around the goal of bringing people together for a good community cause and to simply bring people together, too, while serving high-quality food that represented the American culture of gather events, like BBQs in the park, fun, and relaxation with friends and others in your community.”

In just a few years, the Shake Shack community has grown to 81 Shake Shacks in the U.S. and 132 worldwide, including locations in Dubai, London and Istanbul.

More than the latest marketing technology for capturing customer data, segmenting into key personas and deploying relevant communications about offers and products,  Shake Shack has succeeded by staying true to its goal of bringing people together. Beyond serving great food in great locations where people want to gather and relax, Shake Shack has built a running community among its customer base, the Shake Shack Track and Field.

Started by Shake Shack’s general manager in Philadelphia, Allen Ng, the first run went so well the brand decided to repeat it and now it has 10 chapters across the country. Each chapter meets up once a month for a group run, which ends at the local Shake Shack location where all runners get a drink on the house. And like the Shake Shack menu, this program has expanded to include bike rides and yoga sessions. In short order, the program gained more than 4,000 followers on the Shake Shack Track and Field Facebook page. More importantly, it gained support, enthusiasm, loyalty among consumers and a brand community.

This story inspires me because, even with all of the technology we have available to monitor manage and maximize our customers’ value to our brand, nothing takes the place of the human touch. Building experiences that go far beyond your brand matter. Not just in building running clubs that bring people together and cement loyalty and repeat sales. But in bringing people together to work toward common causes, like raising funds to restore art, vibrancy and community at a local park in a busy city.

As you build your marketing strategies and technology plans, its critical that you build in customer experiences that are not managed or executed by a computer system, and that don’t just work to make masses of customers feel noticed among the multitude of others. Find ways to create human interaction and bulid communities in person, in real-time and around real values. Brands who do this will be the brands that succeed far after the latest innovation in technology has been replaced and long forgotten.

The Keys to Customer Success

How far are you willing to go to make sure your customers are successful with your products or services? It’s a different way of looking at marketing, but it’s essential to building strong relationships and repeat business.

How far are you willing to go to make sure your customers are successful with your products or services?

It’s a different way of looking at marketing, but it’s essential to building strong relationships and repeat business.

http://players.brightcove.net/2045965075001/ryzbDLTP_default/index.html?videoId=4430168640001

Customer Success? Not Don Draper’s Problem

Traditionally, marketers are focused on convincing customers to believe something, and it’s almost always an idea that will help sell the product.

It’s the part where Don Draper gets up, takes a slug of whiskey and says, “It’s not a slide projector, it’s a time machine.”

Then Don walks away, content knowing that once someone buys the product, whether or not they are successful in “time traveling,” it is 10,000% not his problem.Don Draper Doesnt Care About Customer Success

Only it is your problem, because if your customer is not able to use your product or solution successfully, they’re not likely to buy again, or say good things about the product to other potential buyers.

That makes customer failure a silent killer of lifetime value.

And it’s a difficult problem to address because the issue is often less about your product and more about your customer’s understanding of how to use it.

If you sell someone software to, say, do their own taxes, and they’re happy with the software but in the end they still aren’t able to do their own taxes, next time they’re not going to buy the software, they’re just going to go to an accountant.

Beyond Satisfaction

This isn’t about customer satisfaction. Customers can be satisfied that they got what they paid for, even if they aren’t able to use it successfully.

Yes, I am saying your customers may not be competent to use your solutions. The question is, what do you do about that?

How far are you willing to go to ensure customer success?

New Ways of Thinking About Marketing in 2016

What are you to your customers? A vendor? A catalog? A funny commercial mascot? For many brands today, there’s a chance to be so much more. The key is in how you think of what you are to them.

What are you to your customers? A vendor? A catalog? A funny commercial mascot? There’s a school of thought that says that’s all you should be; that customers will say “I don’t want a relationship with my cough drops, I just want them to fix my cough.”

GrumpyCatParadigmFor many brands, new ways of thinking about marketing offer the chance to be much more. With today’s tools (social media, websites, apps, etc.), your brand has the chance not just to sell products and services, but to entertain your target market, help them make friends, or even reach their goals. The key is in how you think of what you are to your customers.

Here are four new ways of thinking about your marketing that could open a whole new world of customer connection. I’ll go into one in depth, and hit the others briefly. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments and we’ll explore them in more detail.

The Undiscovered Country
The biggest difference between online media and offline is space. Your marketing content is not constrained by air time, page counts or the budgets to get them. When a new prospect finds your company, your entire online presence is a vast new space to explore. Give them something to discover!

The Undiscovered Country is really about content, and it works best when your products or services have interesting nuances and details to talk about and stories to tell, because your goal is to get the audience to spend a lot of time exploring it. Content marketing does a lot of great things, but usually we focus on it as a way to improve SEO, or to generate leads. Here you’re using content as a way to earn prospect and customer mindshare and become an online destination.

By creating a deep content destination with articles, videos and other content that defines your space, you give fans a place to come and hang out. A place to spend time thinking about the hobby, job or task your products are used in. You become like Disney: The first brand that comes to mind and one that’s associated with entertainment and good times.

In the B-to-B space, you can see this done well by the marketing automation companies like HubSpot and Marketo. They educated marketers about lead generation, nurturing and the other marketing tactics their tools enabled through extensive blogs, downloads, webinars, studies and other content. Those things gave their audience new ideas, and exploring those ideas paid off by making that audience better at their jobs. And all of it promised there’d be more to discover if they bought into the products.

In the consumer space, think of what Red Bull does with its content marketing, completely owning certain areas of extreme sports and providing hours of discoverable, bingeable content on Red Bull TV. Or what Maybeline does with makeup tips. Or what Home Depot does with home improvement project ideas.

People spend an unbelievable amount of time looking at content online, they might as well be looking at that content with you.

What Are Some Other Ways of Thinking?
I’ve seen marketers using other strategies that I think qualify as “new ways of thinking.” And I’d be very interested to hear of ones you’ve spotted, too.

One I’ll call The Tribe is when companies use social media and the reach of online marketing to create branded communities (on their own websites, as well as on the relevant social networks) where their prospects and customers can meet like-minded individuals and discuss things related to that market. Like The Undiscovered Country, the goal is to become a destination for your target audience and earn mindshare. But it’s access to like minded individuals that brings them and keep them coming back. This works well when your product is in a niche with strong enthusiasts, especially if they’re geographically dispersed. The social sharing enabled by companies like Nike, which uses online tracking to allow runners to connect and compare their achievements, is a good example.

When I look at companies like Salesforce, or Apple when Steve Jobs was alive, I really see them leveraging what i would call The Movement. They’re not just selling a product, they’re selling a new way of approaching the world and getting adopters to evangelize it to other users. They hold huge events to build devoted fanbases that really believe (perhaps correctly, I don’t mean to be cynical about any brand using these tactics) that they’re using better tools in better ways than everyone else. Unlike The Tribe, The Movement uses live events and spaces (conventions, Apple Stores) to bring followers together to celebrate The Movement, its new products, and to have a good time with like-minded individuals. It’s a powerful tactic, and you can probably think of someone in your life who’s been swept up in one.

Finally, it’s not hard to look at what a company like Tom’s Shoes is doing and see The Mission. The Mission is about taking the focus off of the transnational aspect of your relationship with customers, and proving to them that by doing business with you they’re making the world a better place. Tom’s famously donates a pair of shoes to children for each one you buy. Jessica Alba’s Honest Company isn’t giving anything away, but they are spearheading a movement to have open, honest, simple ingredients in cleaning and beauty products people use. You could look at what Ben & Jerry’s has done for years as an example of exactly this kind of strategy (not all of these ways of thinking grew on the Internet). All of them put the focus on selling their mission, and sell products almost as an afterthought.

Take a look around at the companies that grab your attention and the potential they may or may not be cashing in on. What are some other ways of thinking to add to this list?

Building Your Brand Religion

Even with the most finicky of customers in an increasingly chaotic and complicated world, lifetime value and brand loyalty can still be achieved. But not how you might think. It’s not the loyalty programs, frequent purchaser points (only 35 percent enrolled redeem these, per Forrester Research), and free gifts that stack up the purchase orders for a given customer. And it’s not the great service that can be matched by your competitors, either. It’s something much deeper. The same something that keeps the church pews warm, tithing coffers full and baptismal fonts busy.

Even with the most finicky of customers in an increasingly chaotic and complicated world, lifetime value and brand loyalty can still be achieved. But not how you might think.

It’s not the loyalty programs, frequent purchaser points (only 35 percent enrolled redeem these, per Forrester Research), and free gifts that stack up the purchase orders for a given customer. And it’s not the great service that can be matched by your competitors, either. It’s something much deeper. The same something that keeps the church pews warm, tithing coffers full and baptismal fonts busy.

The secret to lifetime value and referrals from your customers is really no secret at all. It’s simply the psychology of hope, loss and rewards, and trust that has made religion the biggest industry worldwide. Without question.

Consider:

If loyalty were dead, all of this money could not be generated from the millions of loyal believers who give up, on average, nearly 3 percent of their annual incomes to their religious faiths. If you take just U.S. wage earners with an annual income of $40,000, that comes up to about $93 billion a year in tithing—the equivalent in revenue for the worldwide video game industry in 2013, according to Gartner Research. And you wouldn’t have nearly 44,000 people attending a single group’s service on Sunday where the only product being sold is hope.

While we direct marketers are clearly selling more than hope as we peddle tangible products and services to millions of customers each year, our marketing ROI could truly become divine if we follow even just a few of the tenets from religious psychology. The primary tenets or cornerstones of all successful religions are:

1. Hope or faith in a better life (in this case, an afterlife);

2. Trust in your leaders to guide you with integrity;

3. A sense of community, or like-minded souls who have the same values, ideals and beliefs; and finally,

4. A fervor so strong about your beliefs that you are willing to spend much of your time on this earth spreading your faith’s gospel and bringing others into the fold—all on your own time, at your own expense and without any pay (besides the joy of knowing you brought eternal joy to others).

These are the same four cornerstones that make for successful branding and must be present in any brand’s marketing programs today.

Hope: All products are emotional purchases—your car, life insurance, clothing, furnishings and even food. Each time you swipe that payment card, you are doing so with the unconscious hope of gaining some intangible value associated with that product. Be it status, safety, reliability, an image that will attract romance or job opportunities for you, or a break from the fear of failing your children, spouse or job. What is the hope associated with your products? And yes, this applies to both B-to-B and B-to-C.

Trust: I’m not sure if there has even been a lower level of consumer trust for big brands as there has been in the past decade. Regardless of what industry you are in, trust is fleeting and hard to get, even for a small moment in your customers’ lifetime. Consumers are eager to find brands they can truly trust to stand behind their promises and products, and to actually put consumers’ interests, and those of the community at large, ahead of their own. There a few who do that well. Tom’s shoes is a great example. Even though the company sells a pair of shoes for around $65 which costs it $9 to make—earning it a profit of around $56 a pair—people love and trust Tom’s, because it promises to donate one pair to a needy child for every pair sold. And Tom’s produces evidence that it really fulfills this promise. The leaders of Tom’s shoes are right up there with the rich pastors of the world for selling hope that the world can be a better place, providing people with a means to make it that way, operating with integrity and cashing in on millions at the same time.

Community: Also known as “congregations,” we flock toward people with like values to feel safe, validated and empowered. Many people lose their faith at some point in their lives and question the religion of their childhood, and a large number of these fallen-from-faith adults stay true to their religion at the cost of losing a community of support, friends and a trusted network to be there when they are in need. Leaving is too high a price. The same applies to brand communities. Brands that bring consumers together for events or group discounts like “Family and Friends” create unbreakable equity as consumers pay a price to switch that is far higher than money, in many cases.

Evangelism: We love telling friends about a great purchase and then getting great satisfaction (really, decision validation) when they buy the same thing. It is our innate need to know we are making wise choices that others believe are wise, as well. This is particularly strong when it comes to our faith. The Mormons are famous, partially due to the recent Broadway musical, “Book of Mormon,” for their aggressive missionary program—whereby they have 80,000 missionaries evangelizing all over the world paying their own expenses, and working for free to build the church’s membership base. Why do they do it? Because they truly believe they have found the secret to a happy life and an even better afterlife, and they are compelled to bring others into their joy. This same need to share sources of personal joy with others applies to customers. Like religions, brands just need to create the tools to make it easy to do. Religions like Mormonism and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church have a book that members share with others. Religious-like brands have discounts and free trials for loyal customers to share freely.

When you find the right tools and provide the right incentives to your loyal customers, you can engage free marketers for your brand who will work on their own time, at their own expense and for the reward of knowing someone else loves your products, too! Seriously, what more can a brand want? (Other than a tax exempt status!)

As you start a crafting a new marketing plan, throw out the four Ps and starting focusing on the above “Four Cs”—the cornerstones of your brand’s religion—and see how quickly you reap the rewards in this lifetime (and the next!).

The 10 Rules of Social Media Marketing Engagement

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans. Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic. But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix. However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program.

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans.

Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic.

But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix.

However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program:

1. Be Aware. Get to know each community’s rules. Each site (network, forum, blog, chat room and bulletin board) has its own set of rules—many you have to agree to, if you read the fine print, when you sign up for membership. If a site has a specific area for promotional or marketing messages, keep posts of this nature restricted to those areas. If rules dictate what type of messages are allowed (such as no overtly self-serving, defamatory, illegal, elicit or pornographic material), follow the rules. Any deviation will prompt a warning by the site’s moderator or immediate ban from the site.

2. Be Active. Don’t be a “hit and run” marketer. In other words, don’t just go in a few times and hit members with your marketing message then forget the site for weeks or months at a time. Get involved. Participate in discussions. Interact with members. Read and respond to engaging posts with no hidden agenda. Involvement encourages interactivity and interactivity solicits followers and reinforces credibility within the community.

3. Be Relevant. Some “rules” are not imposed, but is common sense if you’re a seasoned marketer. Targeting your message to the right, relevant audience will prompt better results. Make sure the community and site itself are synergistic with your goal, target audience and message. Also, ensure you’re posting in sub areas of the site that are relevant to the topic you’re discussing. Many forums have segmented subfolders by category and interest level. This granular dissection to your target audience helps the members easily find the topics they’re interested in and keeps you from muddying the waters in unrelated areas of the site.

4. Be Genuine. Posts that are contrived, unrelated and have a hidden agenda can be seen a mile away. Let the conversations flow organically. Contribute real, thought-provoking comments that members will find interesting. Talk to your audience, not at them. Not every post has to be a marketing message.

5. Be Useful. As a social community member, your goal is to participate in intelligent, useful discussions. Make sure you’re adding value to the site in some way. Your comments should also be valuable to the readers and not random posts. Nothing gets under members’ skin more than messages that are blatant spam.

6. Be Subtle. Many marketers embed their entire message with URLs to whatever page they’re trying to drive traffic to. If a community allows links in your post, use them sparingly. Less is more here. Some sites even have rules about not allowing links in the body copy of a post, but keeping them only in the auto signature field where your username is. Links should be relevant to the post (such as a great article that you want to share with members—then enclose the link so they can read for themselves).

7. Be Balanced. Mix up your messages. Not all your posts have to be promotional (and they shouldn’t be). Hang out in the community. Read other posts. Get to know the members and the site. See which areas have topics and discussions that vibe with you. Mix up your posts. Find balance with the editorial and marketing messages. The idea is to provide value and engage.

8. Be Informative. Be aware of what’s happening in your area of interest. Be able to have intelligent discussions about different news, events and publications under your subject matter. If you see other related articles that you think members would find interesting, even material from other publishers, share the knowledge. After all, that’s ultimately what social media is about.

9. Be Personable. Develop relationships with the community on both a “friend” and an “expert” level (for your area of specialty). Let your personality and credentials shine through with the information you share. Offer free expert advice. Share funny stories. Have witty discussions. Start to truly develop a memorable presence and bond with the community members. This helps your posts stand out in a whirlwind of background noise that passes readers each day in their news feeds.

10. Be Respectful. Don’t spam your fellow members. Some social communities allow users to post their email addresses on their Profile pages. This could lead to a flurry of unsolicited emails from social marketing barracudas who use this personal information for their own self-serving purposes. Remember, just because an email is posted on a user’s profile page doesn’t mean that person opted in to receive solicitations, promotions or similar email communications. Sending unwanted and unsolicited email is spam, plain and simple. Don’t exploit community members’ personal information.

What Social Sites Should YOU Be Using?

Most people know about mega-popular social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, I get a lot of questions about other, underutilized sites that are on the tipping point of mass popularity—specifically, how these sites can be leveraged for marketing purposes.

Most people know about mega-popular social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, I get a lot of questions about other, underutilized sites that are on the tipping point of mass popularity—specifically, how these sites can be leveraged for marketing purposes.

But before I go into that, I’d like to clarify the differences between various “social”-type sites:

Social bookmarking, news and tagging are sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious and Pinterest. These websites allow users to “bookmark” things they like—content, images, videos, websites—and allow others in the community to see what’s been bookmarked and “follow,” if they wish. This is the epitome of viral marketing and community interaction. When groups of people are like-minded, it’s fun and easy to share feedback of things of common interest. For business purposes, it’s also a strong way to bond with your audience through content, news and images that are synergistic and leverage those interests for increased website traffic and more.

Social networking sites are communities like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus. It’s a way for groups of people to meet and stay in touch with each other, for personal and professional purposes. People can friend, follow or fan someone based on affiliation or interest. Another new site is Quora.com, which is a social question and answer site. Users can view by category and post questions or answers on virtually any business-related topic.

Social media refers to sites like Youtube, Flicker or Tumblr, where groups of users share media content such as video, audio or pictures (photos). There’s also new sites like Spotify.com, which are social music sharing sites, where users can listen to mp3 files themselves, as well as with friends, via Facebook.

The following are some social sites that you may want to include in your online marketing mix as well as some other tactical tidbits:

  • Pinterest.com is a social community where users “pin” (think of a bulletin board) things that they like. Quite simply, it’s a virtual pin board. Users can re-pin (which promotes viral marketing) or follow someone with the same interest. Pinterest is a fun site because it focuses on the visual element. You can leverage your keyword-rich content when you add your descriptive text to your “pin.” In addition, Pinterest asks for your URL, which will be a back-link to that webpage. This will encourage search engine marketing, branding and webpage traffic. Pinterest uses graphics, images (pics) and video pictures. And that’s what will grab community members’ attention, along with well-written descriptive text.

Important Tip! For marketing purposes, you can use Pinterest to promote your business or websites related to your business, such as landing pages, squeeze pages, product pages and more. What’s important to know is that if your website, or the webpages you’re thinking of pinning are flash (dynamic) webpages, you will be unable to “pin” it, as there’s no static images on a flash page for Pinterest to “grab” for posting.

So if you’re thinking about using testing Pinterest in your social marketing plan, make sure to pick websites or modify your own webpages to be graphic-, image- or video-rich. Also, like any marketing tactics you’re testing, make sure it’s in sync with your overall marketing plan and target audience.

If you’re target audience is an older crowd, then this may not be the best website, or channel, to reach them.

  • Quora.com is a great online resource community of questions and answers. If you want to reinforce yourself as an expert, you can search questions related to your area of expertise and post responses that are useful, valuable and actionable. If you have a legitimate question about any topic, you can post by category and view replies from others who may be versed in that field. Quora is a great way to create visibility for yourself. As well, it allows you to upload relevant back-links which encourage website traffic and linkbuilding.

Important Tip! It’s important to keep a steady presence on Quora. Stick to your areas of expertise (categories and topics). Make sure you have a keyword rich descriptive bio about yourself and include back-links to relevant websites. As with most all search, social and content marketing strategies—relevance and usefulness is key. All of these things help with credibility and branding. In addition, Quora’s pages are indexed by search engines and do appear in organic search engine results pages (SERPs). That, in and of itself, can expand your reach and visibility, which can lead to increased website traffic, which can then be parlayed into leads or sales.

  • Digg.com.com is one of my favorite content bookmarking sites. You can upload content “snippets” or news nuggets. The site will also pull in any images and well as back-links appearing on the same page as your content. Content can be given a “category,” so that the right readers will find it. The more popular your content (number of “digs”), the more people in the community it gets exposed to. Viral marketing and traffic generation (to the source website in the “digg”) are typical outcomes from this website. Reddit.com is a similar site, which allows users to upload a content excerpts (article, video, picture) and link to the full version. This is a great site to increase your market visibility and extend reach. It’s also a powerful platform to drive website traffic.

Important Tip! Use content that is “UVA”—useful, valuable and actionable, something newsworthy and/or interesting to your target reader. It’s very important to have a strong, eye-catching or persuasive headline that people in the community will want to read. There’s so much background noise on Digg that you want your content/headline to jump out at the reader. Also, include a back-link in the body copy you are uploading. This will help with branding, link-building and traffic generation. With Reddit, your content excerpt space is limited, so make sure to pick content that will not only resonate with the target audience, but also screams out to the reader to “click here” to read more. Then link to your full article, which should be posted on an inside page of your website.

  • Google+. Google Plus is Google’s attempt at social networking. It’s not as popular … yet … as behemoth Facebook (900 million users as of April 2012), but it’s got “teeth,” at around 90 million users. And because it’s Google, there’s some great search-friendly benefits built right in. For example, it’s indexed by Google, so your messages can get found faster. This helps with search engine visibility and website traffic.

Important Tip! For business purposes, you can share relevant information and personalize your “social” circles; thereby, targeting your message better for each group. It’s easy to share and rank (a combination of Digg and Facebook) content such as posts and messages. And there’s also a variety of sharing options like content, video, photos (similar to Pinterest, Flickr and YouTube).

With social marketing, it’s a matter of matching the content type to the most synergistic platform and audience. Social marketing may not be for every business. But I believe it’s certainly worth a strategic test. Just remember an old copywriting rule of thumb, which is “know your audience.” If you know who your target reader (prospect) is, then you can craft enticing messages and pick social platforms where those prospects are likely to congregate.

Most any social marketing site can be leveraged for marketing and business purposes. But make sure to keep your messages fun, entertaining, engaging and interactive. Because, after all, that’s what the “social” in “social marketing” is all about.

Putting Pinterest to Work for Your Brand

Pinterest is the new hot property. Overnight this visual curation powerhouse has generated more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Its clean and simple design, including pleasing graphics and neat organization, allows users to quickly and easily gain access to the content that matters to them. Marketers have taken notice and are asking themselves, “How can Pinterest help me form a deeper relationship with my customers and prospects?”

Pinterest is the new hot property. Overnight this visual curation powerhouse has generated more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Its clean and simple design, including pleasing graphics and neat organization, allows users to quickly and easily gain access to the content that matters to them. Not surprisingly, both unique visitors and time spent on site have steadily increased. Marketers have taken notice and are asking themselves, “How can Pinterest help me form a deeper relationship with my customers and prospects?”

The answer often starts with building a connection around a shared passion aligned to your brand, be it music, sports, travel, fashion, cars, food/cooking, interior design, gardening, technology, etc. For Real Simple magazine that meant creating more than 58 boards and 2,312 pins focused on giving followers practical, creative and inspiring ideas to make life easier, which is central to the brand’s core mission. Specific boards include “Organization Inspiration,” “Weeknight Meals,” “Spring Cleaning” and more. For more inspiration, check out the 10 most followed brands as well as some of the power users with huge followings (provided by Mashable):

10 Most Followed Brands: 1. The Perfect Palette 2. Real Simple 3. The Beauty Department 4. HGTV 5. Apartment Therapy 6. Kate Spade New York 7. Better Homes and Garden 8. Whole Foods 9. West Elm 10. Mashable.

And here are some power users with huge followings: Jane Wang, Christine Martinez, Jennifer Chong, Joy Cho, Maia McDonald, Caitlin Cawley, Mike D, Daniel Bear Hunley.

Once your brand’s Pinterest mission and vision has been determined, attention turns to growth and engagement. Leverage your existing communities to grow awareness for your Pinterest presence and stress the unique value and content that can be found there. For example, Lowe’s saw a 32 percent increase in followers to its Pinterest page after it integrated a Pinterest tab into its Facebook community. In fact, some Lowe’s boards saw as much as a 60 percent increase. Additionally, Pinterest referrals back to Lowe’s Facebook page increased 57 percent, demonstrating the importance of using each community for its inherent strengths, be it breaking news, discussions or photos. More recently commerce powerhouses Amazon and eBay have added tiny Pinterest buttons to their deck of social media sharing options on individual product pages.

Next, build on this awareness by thinking creatively and forming programs that engage and accelerate growth. Apparel brand Guess used the inherent strengths of Pinterest’s visual platform to ask consumers to create inspiration boards around four spring colors and title their boards “Guess my color inspiration.” The four “favorites,” as selected by Guess’ noted style bloggers, received a pair of color-coated denim from the Guess Spring Collection.

Other retailers such as Lands’ End created a “Pin It to Win It” contest designed to encourage consumers to pin items from the retailer’s website for a chance to win Lands’ End gift cards, while Barneys asked consumers to create a Valentine’s Day wish list using at least five items sourced from Barneys’ website. In each case the brands leveraged the strengths of Pinterest’s visual platform to engage followers by encouraging them to create their own inspiration boards associated closely with the brand and its products, thus increasing buzz, visibility and followers.

While it’s important to experiment and have fun as you grow your following, you also want to gather critical insights and learnings along the way. Treat your Pinterest promotion or program just as you would any other digital marketing program. Set up goals, objectives and appropriate key performance indicators, and be sure to communicate those metrics to all involved to properly gather learnings and the overall impact and success of the effort.

For consumer product goods brand Kotex, it was all about honoring women and leveraging the power of Pinterest to reward the women who inspired it. The program included finding 50 “inspiring” women to see what they were pinning. Based on those pins, the women were sent a virtual gift. If they pinned the virtual gift, they got a real gift in the mail based on something they pinned. The result: 100 percent of the women posted something about the gift across multiple social networks (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), resulting in greater reach and visibility than was initially anticipated.

In addition, more than 2,284 interactions occurred overall and Kotex’s program generated more than 694,864 impressions around the 50 gifts. Lastly, the YouTube video summarizing the program has been viewed nearly 18,000 times, indicating the program has been a source of interest and inspiration to other brands and marketers alike.

Don’t forget to leverage Pinterest’s API to collect data, including activity, in order to build insights as well as preference and intent as expressed by your audience.

With meteoric-like growth, Pinterest now finds itself among the top 30 websites in the U.S. and shows no signs of slowing down. The social media platform not only offers brands an opportunity to curate and visually organize information for consumers in an appealing way, but it creates a community of real enthusiasts and advocates for your brand and shared topic of interest. Happy Pinning!

3 Social Media Musts to Grow Your Community

With 2011 holiday sales surpassing expectations, marketers entered 2012 with new customers and a renewed optimism. However, given the ups and downs of the past several years, now isn’t the time to rest on your laurels. 

With 2011 holiday sales surpassing expectations, marketers entered 2012 with new customers and a renewed optimism. However, given the ups and downs of the past several years, now isn’t the time to rest on your laurels. Building community will require a renewed dedication and attention across these three areas:

1. Innovation. Success and differentiation will require proactive planning and a lot of experimentation. Marketers serious about building community must be creative and unafraid of failure. Create an innovation budget is my No. 1 must. Dedicate a portion of your 2012 budget to test new ideas to support new social media programs, networks and technologies.

You’ll no doubt continue to see the emergence of new community players this year (e.g., the increasing influence of Google+ brand pages), as well as the continued expansion and maturity of others, making them viable community platforms. Set aside a portion of your budget to support the building of such platforms as well as the testing of new programs, including but not limited to location-based services, augmented reality efforts, retargeting programs and more.

2. Data analysis and measurement. Data is the holy grail. If you haven’t already integrated your social media communities into your CRM database, 2012 is the year to do so. Looking at behavior such as engagement across multiple channels (e.g., web, email and social) will be essential in indentifying key influencers and brand advocates. Build a social media measurement framework to better track and analyze the impact of your social media efforts on individual programs as well as your brand overall. Measurement frameworks should include the following:

  • awareness: reach and impressions;
  • interest: views;
  • excitement: “Likes,” comments, +1s, @mentions;
  • advocacy: shares, retweets, testimonials, endorsements;
  • conversion: attributable sales; and
  • economic value: upsell success, multiple product ownership, increase in satisfaction/likelihood to recommend, loyalty, multichannel engagement, lifetime value.

3. Splinternet expertise. With more than 37 million iPhones sold over the holidays, smartphones as well as apps have become an increasingly important part of all of our lives. The proliferation of smartphones, new technologies, and proprietary platforms and networks has given rise to what Forrester Research calls “the Splinternet.”

As a result, growing and increasing participation across your social communities via mobile platforms will need to be a key focus in 2012. Marketers and their agencies will increasingly need to hone their communication skills in order to reach and engage consumers. Creating positive user experiences will be paramount and content optimization expertise will become as important as program ideas in 2012 as consumers engage with your brand across platforms.

The key to building community in 2012 will require a bit of left and right brain thinking: A thorough analysis of who your customers are and what they want, mixed with some creative thinking and flawless execution across multiple proprietary plaforms.