Why Your Engaging Content Won’t Produce Leads

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

Why We’re Failing to Sell with Engagement
For years now, we’ve been rising each morning, downing our coffee and suffering through questions like, “How do I know what to blog each day?” And the biggie, “How do I become engaging enough to produce leads and sales?”

Most of us are busy producing engaging content on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other social media. But in the end, even our most engaging blogs, YouTube videos and other forms of online publication fail to produce leads and sales. At best, sales are blindly attributed to content as part of a mass media branding success using fuzzy math. Why?

My on-going research confirms it: We’re failing to create sales engaging social media because we’re building content marketing on an outdated foundation. We’re clinging to mass media advertising ideas and values. Instead, we should be exploiting direct response marketing tactics.

“Marketers often come from two distinct backgrounds,” says best-selling author and IBM distinguished engineer Mike Moran.

“Brand marketers are the ones whose work you see on TV. They are all about branding, brand image, brand awareness—use whatever word you want—and their success has made Coca-Cola and many other consumer products into household names. Direct marketers are decidedly less sexy … constantly searching for the next idea that increases response. They are all about sales, and couldn’t care less about brand image as long as the cash register rings.”

Moran says engagement marketers with an interest in driving sales have much to learn from the practice of direct response marketing. Again, it’s not about influencing or leading thought, it’s about being a thought provoker.

How to Always Make the Sale
Why do so many of us pursue getting “liked” on Facebook or followed on Twitter? Because of this single idea: getting a lot of customers’ attention (reach) over and over (frequency) is enough to earn a sale … somehow, sometime. This is how advertising works.

Today’s best social sellers do not believe for a minute that exposure to engaging content will result in a sale. They have no faith that it will produce a lead. Rather, they believe in, and execute on, carefully mixing in calls-to-action. The content they create solves customers’ problems or vividly demonstrates (proves … think “infomercial”) compelling experiences relating to their service.

The best way to sell on Facebook is to solve customers’ problems (yes “for free”) in ways that earn trust and ultimately help them navigate their way toward your paid products and services. And by the way, I’m not saying attention or branding doesn’t matter. It does. I’m simply saying it’s not enough. Stopping at earning customers fleeting attention is a sure-fire losing strategy online.

I say avoid getting sucked into the profitless prosperity black hole by thinking in terms of direct response marketing when engaging with social media and content marketing. What do you think?

Generate Leads With Social Media by Provoking Thought, Not Leading It

Why is it so difficult to generate sales leads using social media? Probably because we’re all busy creating “quality content” (whatever that is!) rather than designing content to generate leads. At the risk of my wife divorcing me, I decided to take a year off and find out how businesses who actually are quietly succeeding with social media are doing it. A year’s worth of research confirmed my suspicions about the so-called “social media revolution” and revealed an exciting opportunity: A chance for more B-to-B and B-to-C marketers to generate tangible business leads and sales using tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs and video.

Why is it so difficult to generate sales leads using social media? Probably because we’re all busy creating “quality content” (whatever that is!) rather than designing content to generate leads. At the risk of my wife divorcing me, I decided to take a year off and find out how businesses who actually are quietly succeeding with social media are doing it. A year’s worth of research confirmed my suspicions about the so-called “social media revolution” and revealed an exciting opportunity: A chance for more B-to-B and B-to-C marketers to generate tangible business leads and sales using tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs and video.

The secret is now revealed: Selling with social media requires shifting the paradigm away from being thought leaders and toward being thought provokers.

These Brands Are Making Social Media Sell
My research revealed how people like Laura Messerschmitt of Intuit are convincing more and more customers to sign up for the Online Payroll product. I learned how investment and property management firm, Jones Lang LaSalle is generating tangible leads on seven-figure commercial real estate deals using YouTube. I discovered how Wisconsin’s AnchorBank and the Queensland Teachers’ Credit Union are increasing share of customers’ wallet and acquiring new customers at record pace.

This Is How They’re Doing it
What’s their secret? Turning friends, followers and content into sales, leads and subscribers means solving customers’ problems in ways that nurtures demand for larger solutions. These companies are helping customers gain clarity on complex problems and then leveraging that clarity. How? By answering questions in ways that make it increasingly rewarding for customers to take action, identify themselves as a lead.

Selling with social media demands brands become thought provokers, not just thought leaders.

Design to Sell, Become Addictive
Successful social sellers know: Engagement is not an outcome. It’s an opportunity to create response. But not by chance. Engagement must invite customers’ questions and respond to it in a deliberate way, as part of a social media-driven direct response marketing plan. This design gathers up customers’ itches (problems), scratches them (gives answers) in yet in incomplete ways. Holding back on providing the full solution is key.

The formula is incredibly close to the illegal narcotics trade. You give customers’ a sample providing momentary satisfaction, but not enough for the desire to be completely sated. In other words, here… have a little bit. You will feel something that you’ll enjoy but it won’t be enough, you’ll want to have more of it. In order to have more you’re going to have to talk to me—and you may even find yourself wanting to buy some from me!

Today’s true thought leaders are thought provokers. They are putting interesting, valuable, addictive thoughts “out there” in ways that prompt customers to ask for more, more often.

Take Action
Make social media sell. Ask yourself: are you giving customers a reason to talk to you on LinkedIn? Are your blogs so bold they provoke action? Does your content marketing strategy show customers ways to avoid risks they don’t yet know they have? Do your YouTube videos or white papers reveal hidden opportunity? Are your campaigns designed so that customers will contact you—so they your team can help them more clearly understand what you just provoked?

How to Know What to Blog—Always and Forever

How do I decide what to write about in my blog? What’s the right balance of “providing value” and my product/service? These are great questions and everyone is asking them. So here I am answering them. In doing so I’m demonstrating how I, myself, generate leads for my business. Sure, I’m about to provide you with value, but if this story is going to serve a business purpose I need to write it as part of a larger plan, a content marketing system designed to produce leads and sales.

How do I decide what to write about in my blog? What’s the right balance of “providing value” and my product/service? These are great questions and everyone is asking them. So here I am answering them. In doing so I’m demonstrating how I, myself, generate leads for my business. Sure, I’m about to provide you with value, but if this story is going to serve a business purpose I need to write it as part of a larger plan, a content marketing system designed to produce leads and sales.

And by the way, I like writing this stuff. I do it with pleasure and so can you, providing you take pride in serving your market.

Gotcha With the Headline
As you can see, my headline got your interest enough to earn your click. it was pithy, useful, unique and very specific to a pain you’re experiencing. So make sure your headlines on Twitter, your blogs—anywhere and everywhere—are the same.

The hands-down source for just about everything blogging is Brian Clark’s Copyblogger. At the end of this article I’ll give you a link to his Magnetic Headlines resource that will give you the practical knowledge, inspiration and motivation to write nothing but magnetic headlines.

It’s About the Problem, Not ‘Value’
Ok, so you’re still reading. Why? Probably because you think I have the cure for your pain. I effectively secured your attention and now am beginning to scratch an itch you have (your urge to find a better way to blog). Of course, I’ve also set your expectation and had better deliver! I’d better provide value.

My point is focus this: Focus on customers’ problems. It’s not about providing value. Providing value is a meaningless industry buzz term, folks. Functionally it’s a cop-out. Your success at lead-focused blogging (and keeping your sanity if not finding a bit of joy in your work) depends on addressing your customers’ problems in a systematic way.

The System
The best way to describe the system is this: Be an answer center for your customers. Good news! This is a familiar concept to many direct marketers. But those who aren’t traditionally “direct savvy” are getting in on the game too.

The idea of being an answer center for prospective and current customers isn’t new to Amanda Kinsella of Logan Services. It’s what this residential heating and air conditioning product and services company has been doing for many years offline—at home improvement shows, for instance.

What works in blogging is rooted in an old idea: trading answers to serious problems with customers for insight on their “state of need” as a way to nurture leads (not just relationships) to fruition. “Then we can be there when prospects need our products and services,” says Kinsella.

Think about it in terms of your business. Might you already be helping customers solve problems in ways that capture information on the prospect’s “state of need” in return? When you answer questions for customers do you ask them in ways that lead customers to asking more? This is the key.

The Purpose of ‘Providing Value’
Ms. Kinsella says hammering away at calls-to-action and constantly asking for the sale won’t work. Because it never has. It’s not very sociable. What will? A more traditional, familiar tactic: answering questions that are important to the prospect in ways that entice them to ask more.

That’s providing value, yes, but Logan Services always provides this information in return for insight on their prospect’s need—where they are in the purchase consideration process, for instance. These details always-always-always connect to a lead-nurturing process. That’s the purpose of providing value. Right? The trick is to answer questions in ways that prompt more questions.

One Simple Idea That Works
Put this idea of answering your customers most frequently asked questions (or FAQ’s) to work today. Make the questions your headlines and the answers your bait. Make the answers complete (valuable) but always leading to more questions.

Dangle a hook nearby (in the form of a call to action) for a “complete guide to” resource that requires email registration, for instance. But resist rolling into the office and asking, “How often should we post stories on our blog, and on what day is best to get re-tweeted?”

Be like Amanda. Ask a different question. “What problems do my customers need solved? What itches can I scratch for them today?”

“How can I measure the value of a blog subscriber? How much engagement on her blog or re-tweets on Twitter is needed to have a positive effect?” People like Amanda don’t know—and don’t care. Because they know it’s the wrong question.

Here’s that link to Copyblogger that I promised!

How to Convert LinkedIn Contacts into Qualified Leads

Answering your customers’ most commonly asked questions opens the door for discovery … and for brands to make relevant suggestions. You can offer prospects a friendly tip or useful trick or, if appropriate, outline benefits of taking a trial, downloading a whitepaper or attending your webinar.

Turning LinkedIn contacts or LinkedIn Group members into leads rarely happens using what I call passive engagement. It takes something more than occupying prospects’ time. You’ve got to convince them to sign up for your webinar or download your whitepaper.

Luckily, converting LinkedIn contacts to leads is easy. Just start by solving your target market’s problems in ways they find irresistible. Then plan engagement—carefully map it out to connect your target customers’ questions to the answers your content marketing devices (webinars, whitepaper) deliver.

The Engagement Myth
If you’re like most B-to-B marketers, you’re struggling to turn LinkedIn contacts and group members into leads. But getting it done is easier than you think. After a year of interviewing B-to-B and business to consumer businesses experiencing remarkable success using social media I found the common success principle: Ditching passive engagement—and giving contacts, friends, followers and such a reason to offer more than a “like” or merely consume content.

Many LinkedIn gurus claim awareness, reach and influence leads to conversion. They say, “regular online participation in LinkedIn Groups and with followers on other social platforms can convert them from followers into leads and on to customers.”

Yes, it can but this belief isn’t much different than the “reach and frequency” promise of advertising. Namely, if we beat the drum loud enough (reach) and often enough (frequency) it will cause people to perform an action—register, attend, download. As Dr. Phil likes to say, “and how’s that working for ya?” This is what I call passive engagement.

But there is a better way: Designing engagement to produce actions by solving customers’ problems in places where questions often get asked—like LinkedIn Groups.

Solve Customers’ Problems
You’ve probably heard that posting a certain number of times, on certain subjects, on certain days inside LinkedIn Groups where your target market congregates is the key that unlocks success with LinkedIn. Or maybe you’ve heard that frequent posting of blogs you’ve written in LinkedIn Groups will generate leads. These ideas don’t work. The key to success is solving customers’ problems in provocative ways.

For instance, use LinkedIn to generate questions among customers that your webinar or whitepaper gives answers to. Creatively bait customers to communicate or complain about problems (in LinkedIn Groups) that your content marketing device provides solutions for. Next, provoke actions—exploit those complaints by enticing, “ethically bribing” prospects to register for a webinar, download or perform an action that helps you qualify them as leads. It’s a snap.

Scratch Customers’ Itches in LinkedIn Groups
For instance, grocery store Harris-Teeter pays customers to ask its dietician health-related questions on Facebook. Why would a grocer—or you—do that? Because helping customers put out a fire or scratch a bothersome itch is powerful. It can be done on any social platform where your target audience is engaging, like LinkedIn.

Answering your customers’ most commonly asked questions opens the door for discovery … and for brands to make relevant suggestions. You can offer prospects a friendly tip or useful trick or, if appropriate, outline benefits of taking a trial, downloading a whitepaper or attending your webinar.

Always beware: leads don’t “just happen” passively using LinkedIn. You need to solve problems with a plan in mind. That said, using a question-and-answer technique takes much of the work out of the process. It can even be fun. What do you think about giving this a try?

Get Your PCRM On!

Never heard of PCRM? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist—not yet, anyway. But it should. For those who are unfamiliar with Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, it describes a strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers and prospects. The key to any CRM program is that interactions are with your customers and prospects—and that means you know something, usually a lot, about them.

Never heard of PCRM? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist—not yet, anyway. But it should. For those who are unfamiliar with Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, it describes a strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers and prospects. The key to any CRM program is that interactions are with your customers and prospects—and that means you know something, usually a lot, about them.

And as any experienced database marketer knows, knowledge means power—power to tailor the marketing message based on what you know or learn. Essentially, it’s a marriage of marketing and data. Unfortunately, however, many CRM programs miss the boat when it comes to taking advantage of this fact, and fail to communicate with customers and prospects on a 1:1 basis. Hence the need for Personalized CRM, or PCRM, instead.

Personalization is important because, let’s face it, we live in an age of information overload. According to an article in the New York Times published in 2007, at the time Americans were exposed to 5,000 ads a day—and it’s safe to say that number has continued to climb since. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, this fact has been painfully obvious. For marketers, it’s meant a steady and inexorable decline in response rates across the board, in an increasingly futile attempt to get the attention of a distracted populace. How pronounced has the decline been? While a 3 percent response rate might have been the gold standard for a prospecting direct mail campaign 10 years ago, for example, today it hovers at around 1 percent, according to the DMA.

One effective strategy to cut through the clutter is personalization, or 1:1 marketing-a strategy you should be implementing across the board on all your CRM initiatives. Think about it: These are your customers and prospects, and you’ve captured tons a data about them. You know when they became customers, and how. You know what campaigns they’ve responded to, banners they’ve clicked, emails they’ve opened, and so on. You know their gender. You may even know their birthdays. So use this data to drive personalization!

When it comes to implementing 1:1 communications, the good news for marketers is two-fold. First, in our multi-channel world there are increased opportunities to add a personalized touch to your communication strategy; email, direct mail, landing pages and mobile can all be personalized based on your CRM data. Second and perhaps more importantly, the past few years have witnessed a proliferation of new and exciting technologies that make it ridiculously easy for rank-and-file marketers to communicate on a 1:1 basis, much of it not requiring any IT support.

Direct mail, for example, can now be personalized using Variable Data Printing (VDP) software, a technology used by virtually all digital printers in business today. Never tried it? Well, maybe it’s time you did, as the days of ‘spray and pray’ are long gone. And although VDP may be more expensive than traditional offset, the improved response rates can mean improved ROI. On the Interactive side, email marketing and demand generation software have grown up to the point where it’s a snap to personalize both images and text in an email message based on profile data, not to mention trigger multi-touch drip-marketing campaigns based on lead scoring.

When driving customers of prospects to the Web, keep in mind that a personalized landing page can convert traffic up to five times better than a generic Web page ever will. The fact is, keeping customers and prospects focused on the marketing message interlaced with personalized content is a winning combination.

Maximize Holiday Sales

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

Community tagging. Tag existing offline marketing efforts with Facebook/Twitter tags. Integrate “Like” opportunities at key touchpoints, such as your homepage and product pages. A recent study from Syncapse and Hotspex found the lifetime value of a Facebook fan is about $136 to top brands. Consider offering an incentive to encourage consumers to become a fan of your brand, such as making a donation to a cause/charity for each sign-up. And remember to stress the value of being a fan or follower. Adding a “Like” button or “Join the Community” call to action only makes return on investment sense if you have a strategy and communication framework established to engage the community once you’ve converted them.

Belly up to barcodes. It’s estimated as much as 70 percent of all purchase decisions are made at the point of sale (POS). Therefore, it’s critical to stand out on store shelves and to offer some extra value. How about integrating new 2-D barcodes, which enables consumers to use their smartphones to “Like” your brand or product at the POS? Also, pay close attention to mobile applications like Foursquare, which now boasts more than 4 million users. Mobile will increasingly become a critical channel to not only acquire new customers, but grow the community and drive sales via the serving of location-based offers.

Segment and socialize. Implement sharing capabilities on banner ads and email marketing efforts. For existing email efforts, segment your audience based on engagement and social profiles. By targeting best customers and testing various incentives, you can encourage your best customers to get actively involved in the promotion of your brand, thus extending your marketing efforts’ reach and effectiveness. Remember to not only identify who shared the information, but flag them as an influencer for future campaigns.

Email, social and loyalty. Lots has been written about the integration of email and social media. But the importance of coordinating efforts across channels cannot be underestimated. Coordinate socialized email deployments with Facebook and Twitter posts. Furthermore, for those of you with established loyalty programs and sites, don’t forget to sweeten the deal for loyalty members.

The old rule still applies: With proper pampering, your best customers will become your best advocates. Studies and data also show that they buy more products and purchase more often, so remember to treat them extra special. Integrate offers into loyalty websites and statements, and highlight additional benefits for your best customers.

Remarketing/targeting. If you’re a direct response marketer, you likely have access to lots of data. Start with the basics this holiday season by implementing a remarketing strategy for key efforts. With average open rates hovering around 20 percent, look closely at open/click activity and resend offers based on observed behaviors and actions. Consider sweetening offers when and where appropriate. Implementation of a remarketing strategy can lift overall conversion rates anywhere from 50 percent to 200 percent.

However, be careful not to annoy your customers. Be conscious of the law of diminishing returns. Also, look closely at website data and leverage cookie/pixel technologies to target users both onsite and offsite via ad networks with relevant, targeted offers based on their profiles and behaviors. Don’t forget to review your privacy policy, always be transparent and offer users the opportunity to opt out.

Search and destroy. Search remains an effective and efficient vehicle to drive desired behaviors as consumers are actively in the market for your products/services. But search remains underleveraged. Think carefully about corresponding landing pages, and look to integrate data-capture opportunities that offer relevant value to encourage subscriptions. Doing so will allow you to continue the conversation. Also, pump up your search marketing efforts by adding social links to paid search terms to increase visibility and “Likes” for your social efforts.

Earlier this month, the National Retail Federation forecasted holiday sales to increase 2.3 percent, slightly lower than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent. While this year’s estimate represents a significant improvement over last year, marketers must continue to look for operational and marketing efficiencies. That means working smarter, not harder. While paying close attention to supply chain management, inventory control and minimizing markdowns is a must, marketing must overdeliver as well. Marketers must learn to better leverage data, their best customers and emerging/efficient channels like mobile, social media and email to drive sales in today’s difficult market.

Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?

Imagine people sitting in a bar boozing at 8:00 a.m. It’s OK. Most of these morning drinkers work the night shift and this is their cocktail hour. Could these be some of your customers?

Imagine people sitting in a bar boozing at 8:00 a.m. It’s OK. Most of these morning drinkers work the night shift and this is their cocktail hour. What’s more, they want their TV news during prime time when they are having breakfast and getting ready to go to work.

Meanwhile, sometimes I cannot sleep and get up at 4:00 a.m., walk the dog, make coffee, scan the headlines. Alas, the printed newspapers are ipso facto yesterday’s news. What happened overnight?

From The New York Times, August 31, 2010:

Stations in Boston, New York, Washington and other cities are adding 4:30 a.m. newscasts this month, joining a backward march that started in earnest a few years ago. And those are not even the earliest. One station in New York, WPIX, will move up its start time to 4 a.m. on Sept. 20.

In catering to the earliest of the early risers, stations are reacting to the behavior patterns that are evident in the Nielsen ratings. Simply put, Americans are either staying awake later or waking up earlier — and either way, they are keeping the television on.

In the past 15 years, the number of households that have a TV set on at 4:30 has doubled, to 16 percent this year from 8 percent in 1995. At 11:30 p.m., by comparison, when most local newscasts end, 44 percent of televisions are on, up 10 percent from the levels 15 years ago.

-Brian Stelter
“TV News for Early risers (or Late-to-Bedders)”

Do you know your market and how, when and where to reach it?

Takeaways to Consider

  • Marketing guru Axel Andersson bought a small mail order study course in Germany after World War II and turned it into the largest “distance learning” organization in Europe. Axel retired to Florida, a millionaire many times over. When he would come to Philadelphia to consult, he insisted on staying at the Clarion Suites. Why the Clarion Suites—emphatically non-deluxe lodgings in the middle of Chinatown? “Certainly I could stay at a four-star hotel,” Andersson said. “But first of all, I get a suite with a living room where I work and a bedroom where I sleep. Secondly, the price is very reasonable. And thirdly, I see real people! At the Marriott or the Four Seasons, I would be among people just like me. I see those people everywhere. You can’t learn anything from them!”
  • “If you are a marketer, take the bus, subway, train or streetcar to work. These are the real Americans that you want to reach with your messages.”
    —Axel Andersson
    Direct marketer, founder of the Axel Andersson Akademie, Hamburg
  • “Listen to the murmur of your market. Create feedback loops in your database environment so that you can record what your customers and prospects are saying about your products, your service, your company and your competition. There is no more valuable source of information.”
    —Don Jackson
    Direct marketing insurance consultant

Web Sites Related to Today’s Blog
TV News for Early risers (or Late-to-Bedders)

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: What Marketers Can Learn From Divorce Attorneys

This week, I learned an interesting statistic about social networks: Eighty-one percent of the nation’s top divorce attorneys have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years, according to a survey published earlier this year by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. What’s more, Facebook holds the distinction of being the unrivaled leader for online divorce evidence, with 66 percent citing it as the primary source, according to the survey.

This week, I learned an interesting statistic about social networks: Eighty-one percent of the nation’s top divorce attorneys have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years, according to a survey published earlier this year by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. What’s more, Facebook holds the distinction of being the unrivaled leader for online divorce evidence, with 66 percent citing it as the primary source, according to the survey.

The main reason divorce attorneys use social networks is to track any possible contradictions to previously made statements and promises by estranged spouses. Apparently, it’s relatively easy for lawyers to gather this information, at least according to a June 1 article on CNN.com.

“It’s becoming all but impossible to protect your information, unless you spend hours and hours figuring it out,” said Lee Rosen, a divorce attorney in North Carolina, in the CNN.com article.

To be fair, Facebook has acknowldedgd that it’s gradually relaxed privacy settings over the last year, enabling some members’ personal details to be leaked without users realizing it. And, as a result, last month it announced new tools that make it easier for users to tighten privacy settings and block outside parties from seeing personal information.

Still, lawyers are relying on the sites and other social tools for gathering evidence. According to the CNN article, for example, they’re accessing sites such as Flowtown.com, which allows them to enter a peron’s email address into the site, and the site returns various social media profiles on that person.

I thought this sounded interesting, so I investigated. It seems that Flowtown was co-founded in January 2009 by Ethan Bloch, a serial entrepreneur who founded his first business at the tender age of 13.

Flowtown, according to its website, is a “platform that businesses use to connect with their customers everywhere in the social web. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace have made it standard practice, for all of us, to publicly share information about ourselves. Flowtown helps make sense of all this data and turns it into meaningful output in the form of stronger business relationships.”

I thought I’d give it a whirl. I registered on the site (it took all of 60 seconds), added a few of my personal email addresses, and bam, within seconds my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles appeared. While it took me aback, it made me realize what a powerful tool this could be for marketers.

Imagine importing entire email lists into your system and getting access to thousands of customers’ social networking profiles. This information could be used to track which customers are key influencers talking about your brand (or your competition), as well as what your customers’ interests are.

What do you think? Have you ever used Flowtown.com? Let me know by posting a comment below.

What Would the Korean Taco Truck Do?

Some of the most interesting marketing ideas aren’t coming from big consumer brands and award-winning agencies, but instead from scrappy local businesses such as Kogi BBQ, AJ Bombers and The Roxy. Los Angeles-based Kogi BBQ, for example, started the mobile food truck Twitter trend and is now a marketing legend, its story covered by everyone from the New York Times to the BBC (and, coincidentally, eM+C).

It’s 12:30 in the morning and you need a Korean taco fix. No worries, Twitter is there to enable. If you live in a metropolitan area, odds are there are a dozen or more mobile food vendors that are broadcasting their latest location, specials of the day and wait time via Twitter.

Some of the most interesting marketing ideas aren’t coming from big consumer brands and award-winning agencies, but instead from scrappy local businesses such as Kogi BBQ, AJ Bombers and The Roxy. Los Angeles-based Kogi BBQ, for example, started the mobile food truck Twitter trend and is now a marketing legend, its story covered by everyone from the New York Times to the BBC (and, coincidentally, eM+C).

Another small business that’s getting its share of headlines is AJ Bombers, a Milwaukee burger joint. It made news in March when it attracted over 150 foursquare users to its restaurant who were looking to earn a coveted “Swarm Badge” — awarded when 50 or more foursquare users check in at the same time. It has since held another Swarm Badge party, most recently on foursquare day. Yes, there’s a foursquare day. It’s April 16th, mark your calendar.

When the new owner of The Roxy took over the famed L.A. nightclub, one of the first things he did was replace its website with a blog. He also collaborated with other entertainment venues on the Sunset Strip, including The Viper Room and The Comedy Store, to promote each other’s events via Twitter and Facebook. And then came the Sunset Strip Tweet Crawl, now an annual event, where tweeps (Twitter followers) enjoy free cover charges to bars and clubs on the Strip, prizes, and drinks specials announced via Twitter throughout the night.

What they’re doing right
These businesses have all succeeded in standing out by embracing new marketing techniques, letting their unique personalities shine through. But above all, they’ve maintained a relentless focus on pleasing their customers. What they’re doing feels personal because it is personal. Here’s a look at how you can do it, too.

1. Lighten up. Have some fun and don’t take yourself so seriously. Over 230 foursquare users showed up at A.J. Bombers last month to claim a custom “I’m on a Boat” Swarm badge by checking in at the kayak located at the front of the restaurant. It’s not always about the “value exchange” of coupons and points; often, good old-fashioned silliness can be an incredible motivator to join in. What’s your kayak?

2. Stay in touch. Communicate frequently with your customers. Use digital media to reflect the vibrant, living, breathing company you are. This is especially important for social media. If you have a Twitter follower base or Facebook fans, these are your hand raisers — i.e., people who want to hear from you. Talk to them; tell them what’s going on.

3. Play nice in the sandbox. Man cannot live on kimchi quesadillas alone. Many of these small businesses have a collaborative approach with their competitors. Koi Fusion, a Portland, Ore.-based Korean BBQ truck, regularly banters and sometimes smack talks with competitors such as Whiffies (the deep fried pie guys) and Potato Champion via Twitter, but also wholeheartedly cross-promotes them on its blog. Might there be alliances with “frenemies” that are mutually beneficial?

4. Behave like a person, not a “brand.”
Think about the way you’re treated by your favorite supermarket cashier, bartender or restaurant waiter. That’s the standard by which you should be addressing your customers. If you’re going to start a Twitter account or already have a Facebook page, get ready to respond. Want to see this in action? Just mention JetBlue in a tweet and see how quickly you hear back from them.

Think small

Imagine yourself in the place of these entrepreneurs. What would your company do differently if you just started a brand new business? Is it getting by on a shoestring marketing budget (OK, maybe that part doesn’t take that much imagination) with just a few hundred customers, most of whom you know by name? What would the Korean taco truck do?