Resilience and Reinvention: 2 ‘Essentials’ Brands Need to Practice Now

As marketers and consumers alike have felt the effects of the pandemic, there are ways to rise above the challenges of being compromised or shuttered as our country has sheltered in place to avoid COVID-19. There are two attributes of the human spirit that have helped societies thrive: resilience and reinvention.

As marketers and consumers alike have felt the effects of the pandemic over the past couple of months, there are ways to rise above the challenges of being compromised or shuttered as our country has sheltered in place to avoid COVID-19. There are two attributes of the human spirit that have helped societies rise above and thrive — despite the odds and tragic setbacks out of one’s individual control — resilience and reinvention.

Resilience

Difficulties often force us to look at life from different angles, and quite often those angles reveal opportunities we wouldn’t face otherwise.  One of the things we hear from friends and colleagues, and admit to even ourselves, is that while sheltering in place we’ve learned what really matters, what we really need, and what we don’t. Focusing on “essentials” is a positive we can apply to all aspects of our lives.

In business, we are learning to do more with less, and as customers we are learning to expect less of the “thrills” in order to meet our “essential” needs, like being able to go to a store vs. shop online and hope we get something on time. Our values are changing out of necessity and these values are likely to linger longer than the rules of social distancing.

This is an ideal time for businesses across sectors to rethink the “extras” designed to add value, and focus on ways to deliver the quality and service your customers need without adding to your overhead. Consider:

Reward Programs: I can’t believe I, the person evangelizing customer experience for years, is suggesting to drop your rewards program, but I am. For at least now. Customers want you to stay in business and have learned to focus on “essential” vs. “extra” perks. Cutting out “Free This and Free That” can help you protect your cash flow and get back in the black as we re-open the economy.

Chances are, if you run the numbers, you’ll find a lower percentage of customers cashing in those awards than you think, and when this is the case it is not likely to cause you to lose customers. Right now, customers are just happy to be able to shop again, and want to keep their favorite businesses in business more than they want that “free gift.”

Hours of Operation: So you open earlier and close later to make it more convenient for customers, right? But those extra two hours could be costing you potentially thousands a year, and may not be generating that much in return. While it may make sense to open earlier for particular customer groups (such as having some early morning hours for senior citizens or the immuno-compromised to shop more easily) the current environment doesn’t dictate additional convenience. Now, most customers are just grateful to have you open for a short period of time and are willing to adjust their schedules around you.

Audit Your Inventory: There was a time when customers would buy those cute non-essential items near the cash registers or on the endcaps of aisle just because they could. I’m guessing that when we are all free to move around our worlds and shop freely, in person, at live stores vs. virtual platforms, this will change. Many of us consumers have learned to get by with less, and we’ve learned that “stuff” is just that – stuff.

By eliminating some of those non-essentials from your shelves and counters, you reduce your costs to operate, set yourself up to get to profitable sales volumes faster, and simplify the shopping experience as customers are allowed back in your stores. Now more than ever, the old adage, of “less is more” is critical to live by.

Reinvention 

There are plenty of stories about businesses that are making ventilators instead of cars; making face masks instead of clothing; and the like. This is a powerful and critical strategy for all businesses in all categories as we come out of a shuttered economy. Our world has changed and so must we all if we want to rise above and thrive as we move forward.

Reinventing your business(es) applies to not just what you offer customers, but how you operate within the community. Consider this example:

A company making backpacks and duffel bags wasn’t getting any orders. So they offered to use their production facilities to help a local manufacturer of medical protective gear produce more of what was needed instead of focusing more on their products. As a result, that company has kept its people busy and company healthy. They also started making and selling T-shirts as a fundraiser to help raise money to be able to support more healthcare workers on the frontline. The company donated more than $30,000 from their T-shirt campaign, which will pay off much more as people remember that brand and choose to support them when they can purchase more freely again.

Ponder on how can you collaborate with other companies that are fitting a more “essential” need than yours, so you can keep busy, pay employees, and “reinvent” your relevance beyond just the core business you once had.

Another example is a business videographer I work with who isn’t booking those big events due to cancellations. To keep his name top-of-mind for the hopefully near future of business events again, he has started a tutorial offering. He is creating DIY videos and e-books to help clients do their own videos while they can’t afford his services, knowing that when they are back in their groove, he will be too.

The act of reinventing is not always about finding new products to sell, but about finding new ways to collaborate and expand your network while you add to your service lines. Instead, it’s about being relevant, present, and valuable so that the relationships you have in place will still be the ones that help you move forward and resume life as you once knew it.

No matter the nature or size of size your business, use this “time out” of your normal routine to contemplate ways to rise above by refocusing your time, money, energy, and resources on what matters and identify ways you can eliminate waste. Put energy into focusing your creativity on ways to collaborate with others in your community, reinvent your products to fit the needs of customers now, and add affordable services that meet current and future needs. Investing some energy into resilience and reinvention will pay off now, as well as later.

More than anything, keep believing in the you that has achieved the success you have, and do it all again. Shine on!

5 Data-Driven Strategies to Feed Your Customer Obsession

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

This Forrester Research recently claimed that companies obsessed with customer experience are more profitable and see higher growth. Consider Amazon, Nike or Mercedes Benz, where innovation is part of the culture. Consider how an obsession with innovation at Apple and Google translates to customer delight in their products. For the rest of us, it may be harder without that kind of a culture behind us, but frankly, there is no longer a choice for marketers: Each of us must adopt an attitude of obsession with customer satisfaction. Then, we need to employ a systematic approach to optimizing everything we do toward customer value. The key question to ask at every point in your day, “Is what I’m doing adding real value to a large number of high-value customers?” If not, change it or dump it.

Like any change, in life or business, it starts with attitude. If you don’t work for a customer-obsessed company, can you successfully meet the demands of your market and rise above the competition? At a minimum, companies must embrace that digital and customer experience is everyone’s business—great ideas and the seeds of change can come from anywhere, regardless of title, but do need to be cross-functional and valued to blossom.

It’s time to make this transformation personal. Consider how you can use the technology you have to adapt the customer experiences that you do control, and demonstrate success to the rest of the organization. This proof of concept approach is a great way to get more budget, too. Incremental change is great—improvements to a campaign for next time or an adjustment to the timing for a triggered message are good starting points. However, more is needed.

We must re-think the customer experience across an ecosystem, and not just a set of interactions with owned media or branded touchpoints. Collaborate with other suppliers and influencers to focus on digital efficiency so that you can react in “right time.” Right time is an alternate to “real time” that recognizes that immediacy is not the most effective reaction in all situations. This is especially true since the customer journey is non-linear.

Thinking differently can be difficult inside an organization—especially if you are successful. Often, good ideas are limited because of the way we ask questions about our customers or our marketing programs. A research experiment with third graders provides some proof of why creativity goes beyond tactical application of cleverness or humor. (The video is about two minutes long.)

The project gave two groups of third graders the same assignment—to make a picture out of a triangle. When the assignment was narrowly defined, the pictures came out nicely, but not that different from each other. When the assignment was not defined, the pictures came out wildly different—and much more creative!

Don’t just wait for disruption to come to your industry—learn to disrupt your own business. Truly aim to understand whatever is blocking your path to innovation and customer connection. Consider some of these strategic elements that can help you break free of legacy patterns and test new ideas.

1. Use the Data You Have to Zero-in on Key Segments. Use microtargeting to really get to know your customers. Dig deep into customization and personalization opportunities to find the small, yet potentially profitable subsets of your market and niche offerings.

2. Separate the Signal From the Noise. Being able to do so is a powerful intoxicant: If I can just repeatedly do that one perfect thing that will really drive our business forward, I’d dominate our market and be a hero. Problem is, identifying that one perfect thing is very hard. Marketing analytic models may be more accessible than you think—and perhaps are no longer a luxury, but an imperative for understanding the customer needs—and predicting future behavior. Bring these practices closer to the campaign management and segmentation strategy—and give your analytics teams a seat at the table. Consider some of these key questions that analytics models can answer:

a. What dynamic forces are affecting my customer and how effectively am I changing to meet these changes?
b. Are there new market opportunities developing that I can take advantage of and become the industry leader?
c. Would this new product be interesting to our current customers? What must be true for customers to feel pain? Who are our most valuable customers, and over time? What outside factors impact customer loyalty and retention?
d. What are the characteristics of our best prospects?
e. Which marketing messages and campaigns are contributing, and when do they contribute during the lifecycle?

3. Marketing Automation Tools Are Slowly Evolving to Help You Manage These Changes, but you may need to bolt together point solutions in the meantime (especially if a big upgrade is not in your budget this year). Look to consolidate applications into a platform with data and process level integration to improve efficiency and effectiveness; work to integrate marketing technology with the enterprise infrastructure to reveal deeper insights into customers, partners and market opportunities. Here is a good reason to establish inter-disciplinary teams with IT and sales and customer service and legal to improve marketing contribution, vendor management, due diligence and governance practices.

4. Paid Placements (Native Advertising) Are Here to Stay. Spend your money on the right content and platform and understand which digital properties are performing best. Build budgets and relationships around content placement, sponsorship opportunities, syndication services and content recommendation platforms. Content marketing can’t be limited to owned and earned media if you need to reach larger and broader audiences.

5. Focus on Quality Content; we are all publishers now. Mobile will continue to dominate, so master its impact on your content and targeting. All our writing has to be compelling and adaptable across platforms, and written to the tastes of narrowly targeted personas. Automation tools help to make sure your content is repurposed with panache and context.

Clearly there’s lots of opportunity for growth in many areas of marketing success, particularly as we align our investments in areas where vendors have incentives to innovate. Scouring your budget for “past success” might be a good place to start: Given the advances in technology, will what worked in 2010 or even in 2014 work now in 2015? Please share your own tips and challenges for creating a customer-obsessed culture in your organization in the comments section below.

CEM: Getting Acquainted With Your Customers

You’ve probably heard of CRM, right? CRM is old hat. An acronym standing for Customer Relationship Management, the goal of any CRM program is to manage a company’s interactions with prospects and customers, while reducing the costs and building customer lifetime value. Now how about CRM’s twin sister, CEM? Probably not.

You’ve probably heard of CRM, right? CRM is old hat. An acronym standing for Customer Relationship Management, the goal of any CRM program is to manage a company’s interactions with prospects and customers, while reducing the costs and building customer lifetime value.

Now how about CRM’s twin sister, CEM? Probably not. Unknown to many, CEM is an acronym that stands for Customer Experience Management. As a side note, Customer Experience is sometimes also referred to as CX. Now if you’re a marketer, regardless of what you decide to call it, Customer Experience Management is a discipline you need to get acquainted with.

In general, CRM programs tend place a heavy emphasis on marketing and communications. After all, establishing touchpoints with customers or potential customers at crucial points in the customer journey is incredibly important to achieve desired behavioral outcomes. Fair enough.

In many ways, CRM programs tend to be one-dimensional in nature, focusing on how the firm makes decisions as regards place, product, price and promotion, with little emphasis on customer needs or desires. It shouldn’t be too surprising then to learn that many CRM programs fail because they use an approach that—while brilliant on paper—is misaligned to actual customer wants, needs or expectations.

This is where CEM steps in. You see, it turns out that to succeed in today’s challenging multichannel and mobile/social environment, firms need to expand their scope of their CRM initiatives to create a program that aims to focus like a laser on customer needs, both rational and emotional, and drive toward expected outcomes and KPIs.

At a baseline, the goal of any CEM program is ostensibly to move customers from satisfied to loyal and then from loyal to advocate by taking a holistic view of the totality of their experiences—regardless of place, time or channel.

This is important because, let’s face it, at the end of the day customer perception is built through interactions across multiple events—most usually through multiple channels. As such, successful CEM programs all feature the capability to manage and track engagement where they actually take place—on the Web, on a mobile device, when a customer speaks with a customer service rep or deals with an automated switchboard on an IVR. It all adds up.

Depending on the type of business, customer engagement channels might include contact the Web (main website), mobile (mobile website or app), brick-and-mortar stores and call centers, while touchpoints may include phone (call center, IVR or in-house customer service team), Social Media, email, self-service Website (traditional or mobile) or in-person. Lifecycle engagement includes ordering, fulfillment, billing and support.

But that’s not all—CEM programs also take into account when engagements take place in relation to the customer’s (or buyer’s) journey. An initial conversation between a sales rep and a new customer would be tracked and discerned, for example, from an inquiry on the Web. And this has real-world repercussions. A customer service inquiry by a high-value customer, for example, would be handled differently than in initial inquiry by a prospect on a Web form.

As is the case with most disciplines, CEM programs have evolved over time. This is a good thing. If you look at the chart, you’ll observe that I’ve broken down CEM into its three dimensions: Engagement Channels, Engagement Touchpoints and Engagement Lifecycle.

You’ll notice that I’ve bolded four of them in red. I’ve done so because these are recent additions to the CEM value system.

Okay, I know I could go on more, but I’m running out of room for this post. Got any questions or feedback? Please let me know in your comments.

Thanks,

Rio

Five Ways to “Get Real” With B-to-B Social Media

Today, 89 percent of B-to-B marketers in the U.S. are using social media, says a study conducted by iTracks and the Business Marketing Association (BMA). In fact, B-to-B use of social media may have even eclipsed that of consumer marketers, according to another report from White Horse Productions. But the B-to-B marketers I talk to still sound confused. “What should I be doing,” they ask. “What’s really worth my time?”

Today, 89 percent of B-to-B marketers in the U.S. are using social media, says a study conducted by iTracks and the Business Marketing Association (BMA). In fact, B-to-B use of social media may have even eclipsed that of consumer marketers, according to another report from White Horse Productions. But the B-to-B marketers I talk to still sound confused. “What should I be doing,” they ask. “What’s really worth my time?”

What you want to do is get out of the hype, get real, and get results. Here’s a simple plan of attack.

First, get busy on LinkedIn. This is the no-brainer of B-to-B social media marketing. You, your company, and all your employees need to take maximum advantage of the exposure. Your LinkedIn to-do list looks like this:

  • Fill out your profile 100 percent. LinkedIn will prompt you on how to make sure every element is captured. Encourage your employees to set up their profiles, including their skills lists. Prospective customers will check out you and your staff as part of their due diligence before doing business with you—so be prepared.
  • Set up a company page, with your logo image, plus a crisp, benefit-laden company description. Invite links from your customers, suppliers and friends. Along with a Google search, this is how you will be found in the marketplace.
  • Join groups, or set up fresh groups, in your field of expertise.
  • Post regular status updates in the micro-blog area LinkedIn provides.

Then, examine your marketing objectives. Each social medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. What you want to do is get the most bang, by applying them to their best use.

Here’s a typical array of business marketing objectives a company may be pursuing. Let’s look at how social media can be applied to support what you’re trying to do.

Understand your market opportunity. In other words, market research. What customers and prospect are talking about on social media gives companies valuable insight into customer needs, issues and trends. You can set up a listening post using tools like Radian6, or simply set up an RSS feed from sources like blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Focus, Quora, YouTube and Wikipedia, so you can keep current with what’s being said in your field.

Stand out in the crowd. Social media can help you differentiate your company from your competition. If you want to be seen as a thought leader in your industry, or a trusted advisor to businesses trying to solve problems, then it’s all about content. You’ll be publishing white papers, research reports and case studies, and tweeting about them. Or publish an informative blog and promote it via Twitter and LinkedIn micro posts.

Blogging can be a powerful way to establish thought leadership, but it does represent a risk. Only start a blog if you have valuable content to present, and if you can commit to keeping it up. Editorially, the tone should be informative, not sales-y. If you don’t have good writers in house, there are plenty of freelancers available to help. Another tip: If you hesitate to take on a blog on your own, you might provide guest posts to influential blogs managed by someone else. (As you see, this is the route I took for myself—it’s great!)

Find new customers. There’s a lot of hue and cry out there about whether social media can help you find prospective customers. Of course it can. The trick in B-to-B is to turn your social media messaging into a lead generator, with the addition of three essential elements:

  • A compelling offer, such as an intriguing research report or white paper.
  • A clear call to action, like “Download now.”
  • A dedicated landing page that captures the respondent’s contact information.

We can debate the merits of gating your content for lead generation, versus making it available to all, for thought leadership. A worthy discussion. But if your objective is to launch a business relationship with a prospective buyer, than the lead generation route is the way to go. So add an offer and call to action to your blog posts and tweets.

Expand current customer value. Social media can serve as another useful “touch” in your ongoing effort to penetrate accounts and deepen your relationship with current customers. Encourage customers to follow you on Twitter, subscribe to your blog, or connect with you on LinkedIn. A smart salesperson will link to every possible contact at a current account, and post company and product news in the LinkedIn microblog a couple times a week.

Now, what about Facebook? With 845 million users worldwide, it can’t be ignored. Ask yourself whether your customers are there, and whether they want to interact with you there. According to Globalspec, 66 percent of industrial workers have Facebook accounts, but 67 percent of them say they cannot access Facebook from their office computers. Given its vast reach, at the very least set up a company page on Facebook—for employee recruitment, if nothing else.

And don’t forget YouTube, the world’s second largest search engine. Set up a channel to give exposure to your product demos, training videos and corporate videos.

So, with that, you have a reasonable attack plan for cutting through the hype and putting social media to work for you in a manageable way. Now, what have I forgotten? Do you have any good social media applications you can share with the rest of us business marketers?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

5 Steps for Putting Twitter to Work for Your Brand

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Coming on the heels of a recent $200 million investment and $3.7 billion valuation, Twitter has firmly cemented itself as a force to be reckoned with. A critical communication tool for leading brands, marketers are flocking to this burgeoning social media platform, adding more than 65 million tweets each day. However, establishing and building an effective presence on Twitter takes more than grabbing a name and sending a tweet. It requires work, just like any other channel. With that in mind, here’s a checklist to get you started:

1. Establish your Twitter objectives and do your homework. Spend the necessary time up-front to identify areas of your business that can be served by Twitter — e.g., customer service, tech support, marketing, PR. Define your objectives and metrics for success. Do your homework by conducting a competitive analysis. Read case studies and learn from industry experts and your peers by attending Twitter industry events.

2. Build your presence. Create and complete your bio. Include a clear description of your brand and your stream. Create an avatar and custom background to help reinforce and distinguish your brand. Include a URL to your website or other official brand communities in your bio. Check out @twelpforce if you need help.

3. Develop compelling content and dialogues. Start by listening before speaking. Investigate how your brand/products are organically mentioned and look for opportunities to establish a conversational feed with brand advocates. To engage users, share relevant content and look for opportunities to provide unique value on Twitter, such as offers or photos not found anywhere else. Test content themes such as trivia, historical facts or challenges, and reward your loyal followers with prizes.

Over time, consider establishing multiple accounts to streamline content or interest areas. For example, the NBA uses its primary Twitter account for game updates, offers and breaking news. However, it launched a separate Twitter feed dedicated to historical facts: @NBAHistory.

Also, remember to listen and respond to customer inquiries quickly. Weave conversations across communities. Many brands, such as @CastrolUSA, share news on Twitter and invite followers to join the discussion on their Facebook page.

4. Grow your audience. Promote your communities using all touchpoints — e.g., TV commercial tags, call centers, email. Consider integrating your Twitter feed into your existing website, and experiment with Twitter feeds and advertising units in contextual environments to peak interest and increase followers. Find people already tweeting about your subject and follow them. Identify key influencers, showcase them and encourage them to retweet or @mention you.

Publish Twitter lists to further extend your content and attract followers. List your Twitter account in directories and test sponsored tweets and/or promoted accounts.

5. Manage and measure. A recent study by R2integrated found dedicating time and resources to be the No. 1 issue for marketers when managing their social media presence. Create a team micro-blogging strategy to help keep your social operations nimble and responsive.

The good news is that many people and groups across your organization are interested in learning more about Twitter, and they’ll all benefit from a successful Twitter presence. Get them involved and consider investing in a social media campaign management tool to streamline the process of creating, implementing and analyzing tweets and Facebook posts.

Campaign management tools also enable organizations to manage multiple users. Create benchmarks around key metrics such as customer satisfaction and service levels. Leverage the real-time nature of Twitter to solicit feedback. Be a stickler about channel attribution by using unique coupon codes or tracking URLs tied to shortened URLs.

Finally, take the time to understand the difference and dynamics between public and private tweets, and use direct messages to handle private or sensitive one-to-one conversations.

Twitter isn’t only a new ecosystem, but a constantly evolving one. While a great deal of its evolution is driven by its users, the recent influx of $200 million and focus on making money is certain to increase the opportunities for marketers — advertising and beyond. For marketers to effectively embrace this channel, however, they need to galvanize their internal teams, build a compelling strategy aligned to corporate goals and customer needs, stay current on industry best practices, and maintain and grow their followers by building an engaging dialogue. In the end, some things never change: same marketing fundamentals, different channel.