Delivering on the Marketing Promise

We all know that promises are made to be kept. And let’s assume that most marketers are intent on delivering the promises they make, even if the promotional wording of those promises may be somewhat exaggerated.

marketing management
“community-manager,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Enrique Martinez Bermejo

We all know that promises are made to be kept.

And let’s assume that most marketers are intent on delivering the promises they make, even if the promotional wording of those promises may be somewhat exaggerated.

The problem is that unless we can truly control every step in the journey from the first promotional articulation through to the timely receipt of the goods or service and payment, Murphy’s law — “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” — may come into play. I remember many years ago making a unique “Act Now: One Day Only” offer for a book club membership drive and being hit by the season’s worst snowstorm at the end of the “One Day Only.” We waited and waited for the response: one day, two days and only on the third day did the mailed orders begin to trickle in. Of course, it never caught up with expectation.

Not long ago, a Brazilian marketing company had launched a major campaign for magazine subscriptions using, as a medium, promotional inserts in a bank’s monthly credit card charges’ mailing. The bank promised that 100 percent of its invoices would have the insert. When response was well below tested expectations, it was discovered that only about 60 percent of the promotional pieces had been inserted: Someone in the lettershop had mislaid boxes of the printed inserts and never alerted anyone, lest it slow the tightly scheduled invoice mailing. Had the marketer endured the boredom and personally paid a visit to the facility when the job was being run, a significant and very expensive disaster could have been averted.

We have no way of managing the customer’s expectation other than scrupulously delivering what we have promised or even a little more than we have promised — just in case Murphy is hanging around. We all know that one of Amazon’s greatest strengths is its delivery follow-through. It doesn’t only “ask” for — it almost insists — on customer feedback. It carefully monitors every step of the process and listens and responds to comments, whether bouquets or brickbats.

Sadly, in my experience, not enough companies listen carefully to the recordings of telephone interactions the law requires them to announce and proactively respond to about customer complaints.

We are at a strange time in marketing’s history.

We have more tools than ever before, and these allow levels of sophistication not even dreamed of only a couple of decades ago in the age of Addressograph plates and before computers were on every desk. But it seems that the promise of the future — super technology to deal efficiently with all the minutiae of the selling, purchasing and payment processes — often falls short of keeping that promise.

The easy thing to do is to blame it on “those lazy, overpaid, long-haired techies” and software that “doesn’t do what they promised it would do.” But, as the saying is, “the fault lies not with the Gods but with ourselves.”

As managers of data-driven marketing enterprises or service companies, most of us have come a long way from the days when management by walking around (such as visiting the lettershop facility in the earlier example) was in vogue. That meant actually seeing if what was happening where the real work is done, away from our elegant offices, matches the promising PowerPoint presentations we see in the conference room.

Our customers want and need us. They applaud with their purchases, in the convenience and economy of the digital world where everything is immediately available and even better than promised.

But for those of us who have left the “reality” down on the shop floor and manage by keeping an eye on our ever-fancier dashboards, it might be good to remember the anecdote about a possible future airline flight whose passengers were told that the flight was historic, the first one to have no crew. The joke about that flight is the announcement promised: “This flight will be flown by a faultless new technology and nothing can go wrong … go wrong … go wrong.”

We would do well to make sure that our promises are being kept the old-fashioned way — walking around.

Experience vs. Expedience in Digital Marketing

As a marketer in a time-starved world, you are walking a fine line when it comes to gaining your audience’s attention and keeping their attention. These are two very different things. One requires an experience with personality. The other requires a streamlined presentation.

Experience MeterAs a marketer in a time-starved world, you are walking a fine line when it comes to gaining your audience’s attention and keeping their attention. These are two very different things. One requires an experience with personality. The other requires a streamlined presentation.

In order to gain their attention, you need to establish personality on some level. You need to create a brand that gives you the space to establish the all-important emotional connection. Without that connection, you have little chance of standing out from your competition and rising above commodity provider status.

At the same time, a significant portion of your audience at any given moment isn’t really interested in your story. They just want the facts. As in, “Answer my questions so I can be on my way.” No fluff, no filler, no backstory.

Brand and Content Must Be Married

Together, these two truths mean that in order to create a great online presence, you need to find a way to bake your personality into the experience itself. So rather than having a really clever animation occupying center stage on your home page (and annoying those folks who really just want to get where they’re going), your personality needs to shine through in how you present not just your story/brand, but also in how you present “just the facts.”

New Content Formats

This will have an impact on the content you create. The spreadsheet that was OK a decade ago — and may still be just what the doctor ordered, depending on your audience — is, in many cases, better presented as an infographic now. The thousand-word treatise on how a client can tell whether they’ll benefit from your expertise will be more effective as a short video. (With an illustrated, annotated version of the treatise available for those who prefer to consume your content that way.)

So you don’t just need great content now. You need to produce that content in ways that take more creativity, effort, and, yes, budget, than a couple of paragraphs of text would.

As if that’s not challenge enough, we marketers also need to keep in mind the venerable ideas of Steve Krug. The title of his book says it all: Don’t Make Me Think. It is about web usability most directly, but applies to digital marketing much more broadly. It is well worth the read.

Exceed Expectations, Don’t Explode Them

His message is that your creativity can’t challenge your audience’s expectations to the point of confusion — even momentary confusion. People expect a contact link on the right-hand side of your main menu or your header. Is there any compelling reason to move it to the lower left? Or to call it “reach out” instead of Contact? Maybe, but you’d better be sure that your audience agrees with you.

Have you been wrestling with this balance? I would love to hear from you if you’d be willing to share your story, even anonymously, and would be thrilled to share the experiences of any of you who have succeeded in striking a balance that works for your marketing and your organization.

Customer Loyalty: Obligation or Happy Marriage?

Consumers cheat on brands in many of the same ways lovers cheat. If you don’t like your spouse, or are bored with pillow talk or household conversations, you can easily go online and “meet up” with someone new behind the closed doors in Skype, Facebook or any other online “chat” room. Pretty much the same way we hook up with new brands.

cheatingNews Alert: Marriage today has reached an all-time high and all-time low. According to research referenced in a recent Time magazine article, married people describe marriage as “more satisfying or less satisfying” than any other generation ahead of our time, meaning the degree of happiness or the opposite is higher than ever.

The author of “30 Lessons for Loving,” Karl Pillemer, also referenced in Belinda Luscombe’s Time magazine article, sums up marriage as “really, really hard work” and a “commitment device”-like a program or system that locks people into situations they may find dreary or inconvenient in order to achieve a goal or reward later on. For some, those temporal states of dreariness or inconvenience are worth it as the good outweighs the bad in the end. For others, it’s not worth even the slightest bit of dismay.

Not hard to see where I’m going with this, but it is important to ponder.

Consumers cheat on brands in many of the same ways lovers cheat. If you don’t like your spouse, or are bored with pillow talk or household conversations, you can easily go online and “meet up” with someone new behind the closed doors in Skype, Facebook or any other online “chat” room. Pretty much the same way we hook up with new brands. Without social listening devices to help identify those who are happy with us vs. frustrated, and who are “chatting” with our competitors, we brand marketers are set up to be the “last to know” — and often, it’s too late to repair the damage.

With all the alternatives for just about any product and brand these days, and the easy access to new flings, making your brand experience a “marriage” worth enduring vs. “easy to replace” is critical, no matter what business you’re in. The divorce rate for marriage is about 50 percent, and according to reports on loyalty by various research firms, that’s roughly the same percentage of customers who stay loyal to brands these days. Accenture puts the customer loyalty rate at about 48 percent, indicating that 52 percent have switched brands due to poor customer service. And around 30 percent of customers switch just for fun, which makes it that much more “fun” for brands to secure lifetime value.

Growing apart is one of the top five reasons marriages fail. And yes, it’s a big reason why many brands lose around 40 percent of their customers every year and have to spend their valuable time and resources rebuilding their base vs. enjoying their profits.

With all the attractions out there luring customers from one brand to another, and all the demands and high expectations customers have today, is there really a way to keep marriages between consumers and brands alive?

Yes. Here are just a few ways to help assure you and your customers can celebrate many anniversaries ahead.

Listen

Many sources reporting on infidelity, from Fox News to WebMD, state that women cheat because of loneliness and a need to feel emotionally connected to a man, and of course, to have someone listen to them. Customers are really no different.

According to statistics on customer loyalty compiled by Access, a report by Apptentive shows that:

  • 55 percent of consumers out there are likely to switch to another brand if their feedback or needs are being ignored by a current brand they patronize.
  • 97 percent say that they are somewhat likely to increase their loyalty to a brand that listens and acts on their feedback.

Creating dialogues with your social media rather than monologues you hope they’ll “like” and “share” or “heart” and “retweet” is more than just good social manners. Per the above statistics, it’s critical to long-term commitment and sustainable revenue.

Engage

Engagement is not just about putting a ring on it! It’s about interacting with customers in meaningful ways that spark those warm fuzzies when we feel noticed, appreciated and connected with someone who has like values and seems to like us, too. By engaging with customers in ways that allow them to speak and be heard, and providing them with experiences that enable them to be part of the brand via user-generated content, applications, events or more, customer loyalty can soar.

Just look at the video game industry that now generates about the same revenue per year as Hollywood’s film industry. Gamers love to generate ideas for the games they play, attend their events in full costume to represent their favorite characters and avatars, and they bring others to their virtual worlds as they evangelize in ways that rival the success of even the best of religious missionaries.

Engagement does not just pay off in terms of keeping customers loyal and referring others, it pays off in increased transaction value, too. Cap Gemini research shows that fully engaged customers are worth at least 23 percent more in revenue and profitability than other customers. This same research shows that actively disengaged customers — who have chosen to find new relationships due to negative feelings — represent at least a 13 percent drop in share of wallet, profitability and revenue due to spreading bad vibes about a brand. With how quickly we can share our bad experiences via social media, this is a pretty serious issue facing all brands.

Benchmarking: There’s No Such Thing as an Average 2% Response Rate

It seems easy enough to answer the question: How to know if a marketing campaign measures up? But managing client expectations (whether they’re internal or external) is sometimes more fuzzy

It seems easy enough to answer the question: How to know if a marketing campaign measures up?

Often enough, there are predefined business objectives, acceptable margins for profit and cost, and a marketing return on investment that is straightforward enough to calculate. If one is able to know any and all of these markers, then one can know if a marketing campaign, or even a single tactic, is making the grade.

But managing client expectations (whether they’re internal or external) is sometimes more fuzzy. And a marketing execution doesn’t always go according to plan, prompting investigations on what might have gone wrong. (I’m still surprised how testing is underutilized, for example.)

On the happier end of the spectrum, stellar results might prompt a whole other set of questions: “Did we really beat the long-standing control? This campaign performed gang-busters, how does it measure up to efforts of our industry peers? Is this campaign award-worthy?”

As a public relations professional in the world of direct response, I’ve often been asked to help an agency or marketing client understand how good or bad a particular marketing result might be. When the question is about results that are less than expected, there is often internal wrangling about the creative, the list and/or the strategy — any of which might be the culprit. When the results are fantastic, clients often want to know, are we beating whatever the competition may be up to.

In both scenarios, among go-to options are various industry research sources. Anyone who has a subscription to Who’s Mailing What! archive (direct mail, email), or taps eMarketer or Econsultancy (digital and mobile information), or steps up to Gartner, Forrester and the like for subscriptions to qualitative reporting, certainly has access to great data and idea stores.

I personally keep a copy of “DMA Statistical Fact Book” (annually published) and “DMA Response Rate Report” close at hand. The “DMA Response Rate Report’s” 2015 version is recently published, and is available at the DMA Bookstore. Both are understandably Direct Marketing Association top-sellers.

The “DMA Response Rate Report” aggregates data from respondents — providing a true benchmarking resource. And it breaks response data out by media, and by industry (selling cars is not selling clothes) which gives marketers a helpful guide of what to shoot for and expect. It’s worth a whole other post to delve into its insights, but IWCO Direct and SeQuel Response recently offered some. A quick inspection of the report can let marketers know what they might expect from an otherwise well-executed campaign.

And I’m happy to say to some clients, too, as another benchmark, that they should enter the International ECHO Awards. It’s perhaps the best way to be recognized for achievement (beyond the paycheck). With judges inspecting the world’s best in data-driven advertising, an ECHO trophy says that a marketing team, agency or organization knows its stuff. This year’s competition deadline for entering is July 10, and DMA is offering a Webinar on May 19 to give tips and insights from the judges themselves (speaking will be yours truly, joined by fellow Target Marketing blogger Carolyn Goodman of Goodman Marketing Partners and Smithsonian’s Karen Rice Gardiner). Have only five minutes to spare? You can always hear directly from Carolyn here about the entry process.

Enter early and often! I’d love to point to your campaign as a “benchmark” later this year.

Take Heart: Send a Brand Valentine!

‘Tis the season for valentines. What makes me smile in my professional life is finding companies that foster an intentional and caring attitude towards their employees all year long. Of course, I am taking for granted that these brands already show an intentional love for their customers all year long. That’s certainly how they have become “Lovemarks” (to borrow Keven Roberts’ term for beloved brands) in their industries: building trust, continually wooing and wowing new and existing customers and exceeding expectations.

‘Tis the season for valentines. Those who know me well know that I am partial to all things heart-shaped … especially when found spontaneously in nature. I am drawn to heart-shaped rocks while hiking, heart-shaped shells on the beach, clouds in creative heart forms and fruits and vegetables that have grown unexpectedly in heart-shaped ways. Yes, these hearts make me smile in my personal life. But what makes me smile even more in my professional life is finding companies that foster an intentional and caring attitude towards their employees all year long.

Of course, I am taking for granted that these brands already show an intentional love for their customers all year long. That’s certainly how they have become “Lovemarks” (to borrow Kevin Roberts’ term for beloved brands) in their industries: building trust, continually wooing and wowing new and existing customers and exceeding expectations.

But I want to focus on a brand-building ethos that often can get neglected as companies pour all their attention in outward facing ways: internal brand love. A brand valentine of sorts! Brand leaders need to be sure that first and foremost their employees feel empowered, respected and celebrated.

Without an ethos that highly values employees’ contributions, there is no foundation for valuing customers or stakeholders. Even the best external brand-building activities will be soulless. You know it when you experience lukewarm (at best) service from a brand ambassador at a retail establishment or at a restaurant or on a plane. There is no real human connection … it is simply a transaction. Conversely, the experience that occurs when brand ambassadors feel highly motivated and engaged with their work comes across as genuine, true and helpful.

Several years ago, Kip Tindell, CEO and cofounder of the Container Store, started National We Love Our Employees Day—a celebration (coinciding with Valentine’s Day) to show appreciation for all that its employees do for the company, their colleagues, customers, vendors and communities. This is not a publicity-driven effort. It stems from Tindell’s deep-seated belief that employees are the heart of its business and how employees are treated are how customers will be treated. (Read Tindell’s inspiring book, “Uncontainable,” for a deep dive into this stellar brand.)

And, just last year, Tindell continued to celebrate this ethos by creating The Container Store’s Employee First Fund. Here’s how it is described on the website:

The Fund provides grants to employees experiencing unforeseen emergencies like a major medical situation, a catastrophic event, or other grave challenges that they are not financially prepared to deal with. This fund will support our company’s commitment to an employee-first culture, ensuring all employees are well taken care of, safe, secure and warm. It’s a culture that is driven by our seven Foundation Principles® and results in an environment where the lives of everyone connected to our business are enriched and brimming with opportunity—where everyone can thrive—starting with our employees FIRST!

So, take heart! In this season of love, why not take some inspiration from Tindell and find a creative way show (and tell!) your employees just how much they matter to your brand!

Building Customer-Centric, Trust-Based Relationships

More than a buzzword, “being human,” especially in brand-building and leveraging customer relationships, has become a buzz-phrase or buzz-concept. But, there is little that is new or trailblazing in this idea. To understand customers, the enterprise needs to think in human, emotional terms. To make the brand or company more attractive, and have more impact on customer decision-making, there must be an emphasis on creating more perceived value and more personalization. Much of this is, culturally, operationally, and from a communications perspective, what we have been describing as “inside-out advocacy” for years.

More than a buzzword, “being human,” especially in brand-building and leveraging customer relationships, has become a buzz-phrase or buzz-concept. But, there is little that is new or trailblazing in this idea. To understand customers, the enterprise needs to think in human, emotional terms. To make the brand or company more attractive, and have more impact on customer decision-making, there must be an emphasis on creating more perceived value and more personalization. Much of this is, culturally, operationally, and from a communications perspective, what we have been describing as “inside-out advocacy” for years.

Most brands and corporations get by on transactional approaches to customer relationships. These might include customer service speed, occasional price promotions, merchandising gimmicks, new product offerings, and the like. In most instances, the customers see no brand “personality” or brand-to-brand differentiation, and their experience of the brand is one-dimensional, easily capable of replacement. Moreover, the customer has no personal investment in choosing, and staying with, one brand or supplier over another.

A key opportunity for companies to become stronger and more viable to customers is creation of branded experiences. Beyond simply selling a product or service, these “experiential brands” connect with their customers. They understand that delivering on the tangible and functional elements of value are just tablestakes, and that connecting and having an emotionally based relationship with customers is the key to leveraging loyalty and advocacy behavior.

These companies are also invariably quite disciplined. Every aspect of a company’s offering—customer service, advertising, packaging, billing, products, etc.—are all thought out for consistency. They market, and create experiences, within the branded vision. IKEA might get away with selling super-expensive furniture, but it doesn’t. Starbucks might make more money selling Pepsi, but it doesn’t. Every function that delivers experience is “closed-loop,” carefully maintaining balance between customer expectations and what is actually executed.

In his 2010 book, “Marketing 3.0: From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit,” noted marketing scholar Philip Kotler recognized that the new model for organizations was to treat customers not as mere consumers, but as the complex, multi-dimensional human beings they are. Customers, in turn, have been choosing companies and products that satisfy deeper needs for participation, creativity, community and idealism.

This sea change is why, according to Kotler, the future of marketing lies in creating products, services and company cultures that inspire, include and reflect the values of target customers. It also meant that every transaction and touchpoint interaction, and the long-term relationship, needed to carry the organization’s unique stamp, a reflection of the perceived value represented to the customer.

Kotler picked up a theme that was articulated in the 2007 book, “Firms of Endearment.” Authors Jagdish N. Sheth, Rajendra S. Sisodia and David B. Wolfe called such organizations “humanistic” companies, i.e. those which seek to maximize their value to each group of stakeholders, not just to shareholders. As they state, right up front (Chapter 1, Page 4):

“What we call a humanistic company is run in such a way that its stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, business partners, society, and many investors—develop an emotional connection with it, an affectionate regard not unlike the way many people feel about their favorite sports teams. Humanistic companies—or firms of endearment (FoEs)—seek to maximize their value to society as a whole, not just to their shareholders. They are the ultimate value creators: They create emotional value, experiential value, social value, and, of course, financial value. People who interact with such companies feel safe, secure, and pleased in their dealings. They enjoy working with or for the company, buying from it, investing in it, and having it as a neighbor.”

For these authors, a truly great company is one that makes the world a better place because it exists. It’s as simple as that. In the book, they have identified about 30 companies, from multiple industries, that met their criteria. They included CarMax, BMW, Costco, Harley-Davidson, IKEA, JetBlue, Johnson & Johnson, New Balance, Patagonia, Timberland, Trader Joe’s, UPS, Wegmans and Southwest Airlines. Had the book been written a bit later, it’s likely that Zappos would have made their list, as well.

The authors compared financial performance of their selections with the 11 public companies identified by Jim Collins in “Good to Great” as superior in terms of investor return over an extended period of time. Here’s what they learned:

  • Over a 10-year horizon, their selected companies outperformed the “Good to Greatcompanies by 1,028 percent to 331 percent (a 3.1 to 1 ratio)
  • Over five years, their selected companies outperformed the “Good to Great companies by 128 percent to 77 percent (a 1.7 to 1 ratio)

Just on the basis of comparison to the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, the public companies singled out by “Firms of Endearment” returned 1,026 percent for investors during the 10 years ending June 30, 2006, compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500—more than an 8 to 1 ratio. Over 5 years, it was even higher—128 percent compared to 13 percent, about a 10 to 1 ratio. Bottom line: Being human is good for the balance sheet, as well as the stakeholders.

Exemplars of branded customer experience also understand that there is a “journey” for customers in relationships with preferred companies. It begins with awareness, how the brand is introduced, i.e. the promise. Then, promise and created expectations must at least equal—and, ideally, exceed—real-world touchpoint results (such as through service), initially and sustained over time, with a minimum of disappointment.

As noted, there is a strong recognition that customer service is especially important in the branded experience. Service is one of the few times that companies will directly interact with their customers. This interaction helps the company understand customers’ needs while, at the same time, shaping customers’ overall perception of the company and influencing both downstream communication and future purchase.

And, branding the customer experience requires that the brand’s image, its personality if you will, is sustained and reinforced in communications and in every point of contact. Advanced companies map and plan this out, recognizing that experiences are actually a form of branding architecture, brought to life through excellent engineering. Companies need to focus on the touchpoints which are most influential.

Also, how much influence do your employees have on customer value perceptions and loyalty behavior through their day-to-day interactions? All employees, whether they are customer-facing or not, are the key common denominator in delivering optimized branded customer experiences. Making the experience for customers positive and attractive at each point where the company interacts with them requires an in-depth understanding of both customer needs and what the company currently does to achieve that goal, particularly through the employees. That means companies must fully comprehend, and leverage, the impact employees have on customer behavior.

So, is your company “human”? Does it understand customers and their individual journeys? Are customer experiences “human” and branded? Is communication, and are marketing efforts, micro-segmented and even personalized? Does the company create emotional, trust-based connections and relationships with customers? If the answer to these questions is “YES,” then “being human” becomes a reality, the value of which has been recognized for some time, and not merely as a buzz-concept.

Marketing Interns—The Uncle Sam Scam

Last summer, my college-age son was lucky enough to land a summer internship at a manufacturing company in Southern California. Considering there were over 100 applicants, he was thrilled to have been selected for a position where he could demonstrate his newly learned marketing skills. And as a college Junior, he was excited with the promise of full-time employment upon graduation. He started the job with relish, and 4 and a half months later went back to college feeling on top of the world.

Last summer, my college-age son was lucky enough to land a summer internship at a manufacturing company in Southern California. Considering there were over 100 applicants, he was thrilled to have been selected for a position where he could demonstrate his newly learned marketing skills. And as a college junior, he was excited with the promise of full-time employment upon graduation. He started the job with relish, and 4 and a half months later went back to college feeling on top of the world.

So he was stunned when he discovered this week that there was NOT a full-time position available to him this summer. Instead, he was offered a part-time, minimum wage position with, again, the promise of potential full-time employment at the end of the summer.

When he pushed back and suggested that his long hours last summer meant he had already been “trained” and could hit the ground running and therefore it might entitle him to a little bit more than minimum wage, he was told that he should consider himself “lucky” to have the part-time job offered to him when last year over 50 applicants applied for the open position. In other words, this organization has no strategy in place to hire, train, and groom future employees. Instead, they hide behind a summer internship as a way to get free labor for the summer, lower their overhead expenses and avoid paying Uncle Sam for payroll and other taxes.

While I realize my sons’ experience may be the exception, I was disgusted by this company’s behavior and wondered how many other organizations build and run internship programs properly (and with good intention)?

Internships are a way to give back to our youth—to help them take their text-book based learning and put it into action. And it’s a chance for us, as employers, to invest in the future of our business.

Thinking of leveraging an internship program for your business? Consider these 3 business rules:

1. Establish Clear Program Objectives
What does your company hope to gain by hiring an intern? If the answer is “free labor,” you’re on the wrong track. Program objectives might include:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to test their interest in <> before a permanent commitment is made.
  • To help students develop skills in the application of theory to practical work situations.
  • To help students adjust from college to full time employment through the acquisition of good work habits and a sense of responsibility.

2. Develop a Job Description
Just as you need to create job descriptions for any full- or part-time employee, interns need a job description in order to help you and the entire organization understand expectations. Since misaligned expectations often lead to conflict, it’s important to make sure your intern is set up for a successful experience. That means everyone needs to be on the same page as to the responsibilities of the position. (I’ve been part of an organization that used their interns as the “go-fer” and the interns spent their time scurrying back and forth to Starbucks … not exactly the marketing experience they expected when they were hired.)

3. Create Feedback Mechanisms
If you’re truly trying to help your interns have a positive learning experience, then you must provide them with feedback—and on a regular basis. Once they start, you need to train and keep training by encouraging questions (and lots of them), providing explicit instructions so they can get it right the first time, and by stepping back and delivering a bigger picture around the task at hand to help put it all into perspective.

Let me also add that you should never assume any kind of baseline office knowledge from your interns. We recently discovered that the youngest member of our staff (a 2012 marketing grad) didn’t know how to use several pieces of office equipment. It never occurred to us that making Xerox copies, sending a fax or adjusting a printer setting from “portrait” to “landscape” were skills we had gained through years of employment and were not a natural part of the knowledge base of a 22-year old!

And if you’re reading this, work for a company based in San Diego, are looking to hire a bright and determined college grad from a not-so-inexpensive UC school with heavy experience in teaching kids how to surf, just let me know. Oh, and it should include a paycheck.

Updating Your Marketing Database

It’s amazing how quickly things go obsolete these days. For those of us in the business of customer data, times and technologies have changed along with the times. Some has to do with the advent of new technologies; some of it has to do with changing expectations. Let’s take a look at how the landscape has changed and what it means for marketers.

It’s amazing how quickly things go obsolete these days. For those of us in the business of customer data, times and technologies have changed along with the times. Some has to do with the advent of new technologies; some of it has to do with changing expectations. Let’s take a look at how the landscape has changed and what it means for marketers.

For marketing departments, maintaining updating customer data has always been a major headache. One way to update data is by relying on sales team members to make the updates themselves as they go about their jobs. For lack of a better term, let’s call this method internal crowd-sourcing, and there are two reasons why it has its limitations.

The first reason is technology. Typically, customer data is stored in a data hub or data warehouse, which is usually a home-grown and oftentimes proprietary database built using one of many popular database architectures. Customer databases tend to be proprietary because each organization sells different products and services, to different types of firms, and consequently collects different data points. Additionally, customer databases are usually grown organically over many years, and as a result tend to contain disparate information, often collected from different sources during different timeframes, of varying degrees of accuracy.

It’s one thing having data stored in a data warehouse somewhere. It’s quite another altogether to give salespeople access to a portal where the edits can be made—that’s been the real challenge. The database essentially needs to be integrated with or housed in some kind of tool, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or customer relationship management (CRM) software that gives sales teams some capability to update customer records on the fly with front-end read/write/edit capabilities.

Cloud-based CRM technology (such as SalesForce.com) has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years to fill this gap. Unlike purpose-built customer databases, however, out-of-the-box cloud-based CRM tools are developed for a mass market, and without customizations contain only a limited set of standard data fields plus a finite set of “custom fields.” Without heavy customizations, in other words, data stored in a cloud-based CRM solution only contains a subset of a company’s customer data file, and is typically only used by salespeople and customer service reps. Moreover, data in the CRM is usually not connected to that of other business units like marketing or finance divisions who require a more complete data set to do their job.

The second challenge to internal crowd-sourcing has more to do with the very nature of salespeople themselves. Anyone who has worked in marketing knows firsthand that it’s a monumental challenge to get salespeople to update contact records on a regular basis—or do anything else, for that matter, that doesn’t involve generating revenue or commissions.

Not surprisingly, this gives marketers fits. Good luck sending our effective (and hopefully highly personalized) CRM campaigns if customer records are either out of date or flat out wrong. Anyone who has used Salesforce.com has seen that “Stay in Touch” function, which gives salespeople an easy and relatively painless method for scrubbing contact data by sending out an email to contacts in the database inviting them to “update” their contact details. The main problem with this tool is that it necessitates a correct email address in the first place.

Assuming your salespeople are diligently updating data in the CRM, another issue with this approach is it essentially limits your data updates to whatever the sales team happens to know or glean from each customer. It assumes, in other words, that your people are asking the right questions in the first place. If your salesperson does not ask a customer how many employees they have globally or at a particular location, it won’t get entered into the CRM. Nor, for that matter, will data on recent mergers and acquisitions or financial statements—unless your sales team is extremely inquisitive and is speaking with the right people in your customers’ organizations.

The other way to update customer data is to rely on a third-party data provider to do it for you—to cleanse, correct, append and replace the data on a regular basis. This process usually involves taking the entire database, uploading it to an FTP site somewhere. The database is then grabbed by the third party, who then works their magic on the file—comparing it against a central database that is presumably updated quite regularly—and then returning the file so it can be resubmitted and merged back into the database on the data hub or residing in the CRM.

Because this process involves technology, has a lot of moving parts and involves several steps, it’s generally set up as an automated process and allowed to run on a schedule. Moreover, because the process involves overwriting an entire database (even though it is automated) it requires having IT staff around to supervise the process in a best-case scenario, or jump in if something goes wrong and it blows up completely. Not surprisingly, because we’re dealing with large files, multiple stakeholders and room for technology meltdowns, most marketers tend to shy away from running a batch update more than once per month. Some even run them quarterly. Needless to say, given the current pace of change many feel that’s not frequent enough.

It’s interesting to note that not very long ago, sending database updates quarterly via FTP file dump was seen as state-of-the-art. Not any longer, you see, FTP is soooo 2005. What’s replaced FTP is what we call a “transactional” database update system. Unlike an FTP set-up, which requires physically transferring a file from one server and onto another, transactional data updates rely on an Application Programming Interface, or API, to get the data from one system to another.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an API is a pre-established set of rules that different software programs can use to communicate with each other. An apt analogy might be the way a User Interface (UI) facilitates interaction between humans and computers. Using an API, data can be updated in real time, either on a record-by-record basis or in bulk. If a Company A wants to update a record in their CRM with fresh data from Company B, for instance, all they need to do is transmit a unique identifier for the record in question over to Company B, who will then return the updated information to Company A using the API.

Perhaps the best part of the transactional update architecture is that it can be set up to connect with the data pretty much anywhere it resides—in a cloud-based CRM solution or on a purpose built data warehouse sitting in your data center. For those using a cloud-based solution, a huge advantage of this architecture is that once a data provider builds hooks into popular CRM solutions, there are usually no additional costs for integration and transactional updates can be initiated in bulk by the CRM administrator, or on a transaction-by-transaction basis by salespeople themselves. It’s quite literally plug and play.

For those with an on-site data hub, integrating with the transactional data provider is usually pretty straightforward as well, because most APIs not only rely on standard Web technology, but also come equipped with easy-to-follow API keys and instructions. Setting the integration, in other words, can usually be implemented by a small team in a short timeframe and for a surprisingly small budget. And once it’s set up, it will pretty much run on its own. Problem solved.

There’s an Ad for That

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

As the expression “there’s an app for that” reaches its cultural saturation point, advertisers need to gain a clear understanding of the differences between mobile web and in-app advertising, as well as the importance of context when setting performance expectations.

According to eMarketer, mobile ad spending in messaging, display, video and search is expected for the first time to top $1 billion in the U.S. this year, showing the highly fractured nature of the mobile ad market. Research from several mobile ad network providers shows the difference in performance between approaches and resulting user behaviors, with expanding ads performing extremely poorly in terms of clickthroughs versus simple animated banner or video ads. Adding to the challenge of choosing the right approach and setting expectations of performance is the sheer number of ad formats and networks available.

Consider Context
Don’t just think about how and when users are exposed to ads on their phones, but also where they are and what they’re doing at the time. This establishes a complete picture of the context for the ad. Some formats don’t make sense in a broad variety of contexts, therefore a critical consideration would be to ensure that whatever network you’re using offers this type of contextual placement in addition to other targeting options.

There are real differences when considering advertising in apps vs. mobile websites. While casual web surfing on a mobile or tablet device would support the use of display ads to reach an audience, in-app behavior is distinctly different from surfing. This means that even if in-app advertising is available, you need to carefully consider its effectiveness during real-world app usage and the overall impression it would give users encountering it in a particular context.

Consider the following: Do mobile users really need or want a banner ad consuming valuable screen space in the apps they frequent most? It’s this total picture of context that should be the driving consideration for design, placement and expectations of performance. Even if ads aren’t currently available in that location, the ability to leverage background application processing or emerging geo-fencing options allows marketers to take advantage of what would normally be a missed messaging opportunity.

Let’s consider in-ad gaming for mobile, specifically ads during active gameplay. Even at a load screen, would you really expect an ad to drive a clickthrough? Would it do anything but generate an ad impression? As a gamer, I’m not likely to click if I’m stealing a few minutes during the day for a casual gaming session to relax before resuming my day. However, seeing that ad still works for branding purposes as past data suggests.

Mobile is Actually Local
The reality is that the mobile device is inherently local, which needs to factor prominently into planning a mobile campaign. While mobile users are unlikely to be surfing and clicking on banners while walking within the proximity of a nearby coffee shop, you can use technologies such as geo-fencing and background application processing on mobile devices to offer them $1 off an oh-so-satisfying latte. This example makes a strong case for carefully considering branding versus direct response versus promotional programs. It definitely reinforces the importance of context.

Where this gets even more interesting for advertisers is in the ability to exchange data and share interaction points for local, geo-targeted ad or promotional models. If a loyalty or transaction app is already installed on a consumer’s phone, and it enables proximity notifications through access to the device’s location, a retailer can let five other retailers within walking distance leverage this trusted channel to provide truly localized messaging opportunities at a premium.

They can even support a performance-based model, which could accurately determine if the consumer subsequently walked into the establishment. This is all no more complex than any self-service ad model in place today, with legal and privacy concerns addressed via proper disclosures and notifications during installation and/or activation of the app.

Display advertising on mobile obviously isn’t going away. The sooner you realize that it’s not the web as you know it today, stop trying to force current ad models into current mobile platforms, and that context is key, the sooner you’ll be able to generate not only results you can brag about, but returns clients can truly appreciate.

What’s On a Retail CMO’s To-Do List?

Focusing on their customers and setting the right expectations for their CEO when it comes to marketing plans are just two of the many priorities chief marketing officers at retail companies are putting on their to-do lists for the remainder of 2011.

Focusing on their customers and setting the right expectations for their CEO when it comes to marketing plans are just two of the many priorities chief marketing officers at retail companies are putting on their to-do lists for the remainder of 2011.

This information was gleaned from a session titled “CMO/SVP Panel: Uncovering a CMO’s To-Do List” at eTail 2011 in Boston this week. Kevin Conway, global director of consumer brands at Savvis; Matt Corey, chief marketing officer of Golfsmith; Lou Weiss, chief marketing officer of The Vitamin Shoppe; Bill Wood, vice president and chief information officer at Brookstone; and Jim Wright, senior vice president of e-commerce and customer marketing at Express, discussed their remainder-of-2011 goals and priorities.

“We’re focused on four specific pillars right now,” said Express’ Wright. “Driving e-commerce, growing the international side of our business, improving our brand for existing stores and opening more stores across the U.S.”

In addition, Wright said he’s focusing on how to integrate the Express brand across channels, optimizing return on investment from marketing programs, and understanding how Express customers shop in-store and applying that information to mobile applications.

“The customer has more control than ever before,” Wright said. “We have to conduct focus groups, ask them what they want from their experience with us, then make those changes.”

Most of the time, Express customers want their shopping experience to be like what they get on Amazon.com. The good news is that “they’re willing to get that experience if they give a little,” Wright said.

Focusing on the customer is also at the top of Brookstone’s Bill Wood’s to-do list. “If we understand our customers better, we’ll understand how to speak with them,” he said. “Two-way communication is important.”

In addition, Brookstone has “eight to 10 initiatives on our plate right now for our website, including video,” Wood said.

For Matt Corey of Golfsmith, setting the right customer expectations about the brand’s marketing plans is top of mind. “All CEOs today are asking their CMOs, ‘What’s the value of a customer on Facebook?’ We just say we’re going to test it, measure it and then decide.”

When discussing marketing programs with your CEO, use “Peter Rabbitt English,” Corey said. This is his term for using basic, plain speech with them. “Don’t use terms they don’t understand. Instead, tell a story.”

Of course, focusing on the customer is also key for Golfsmith. “We have a great online community called the 19th Hole that we turn to all the time for insight,” Corey said. “We ask them about anything from brand messaging to store experiences to taglines. What do they like? What don’t they like?”

What’s more, Corey added, “these types of communities are cool and cost effective. We’re spending less than $75,000 for an entire year to find out what our customers want. That’s a lot less than the cost of small focus groups.”

For Vitamin Shoppe’s Lou Weiss, his primary focus is on the brand’s already successful loyalty program.

“Now we’re trying to figure out how to evolve our loyalty program by integrating it with our social programs, stores and website,” Weiss said.

Another focus? Growing The Vitamin Shoppe’s marketing team. “We’re looking for experts in interactive and social marketing,” he told the audience.

For Kevin Conway of Savvis, his current focus is on cloud computing. “We’re working with several software vendors on putting their applications in our cloud,” he said. “Once in the cloud, the applications can be turned on and off easily to accelerate your business.”

What are some of your 2011 end-of-year priorities? Let me know by posting a comment below.