Amaze and Respect: Essential Verbs to Enhance Your Brand Strategy in 2015, Part 1

No doubt your strategic plan has powerful verbs in it already: verbs like activate (previous customers), entice (new customers), cross-promote (merchandise across channels), engage (customers with content) and increase (profitability). I expect those verbs are baked into most plans. But brands that make a difference in the lives of their customers often add a few unexpected verbs into their strategic planning and their actions.

Harvard Business Review recently featured a cover story that promoted three key verbs as critical to marketing success: THINK, FEEL, DO. Does your 2015 brand plan include those verbs?

No doubt your strategic plan has powerful verbs in it already: verbs like activate (previous customers), entice (new customers), cross-promote (merchandise across channels), engage (customers with content) and increase (profitability). I expect those verbs are baked into most plans. But brands that make a difference in the lives of their customers often add a few unexpected verbs into their strategic planning and their actions. As the new year quickly approaches, I invite you and your team to consider a few of these:

Amaze
The brand builders at Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender and the second largest retail home lender in the United States, have mindfully incorporated a powerful verb in its tagline: Engineered to Amaze.

The verb amaze is a driver in all of the company’s brand touchpoints—from the short video clip of Quicken Loans’ amazingly simple mortgage process on the home page to the text query (“AMAZE” to 26293) to the Zing! Blog where “Amazing Insights on Home, Money and Life” are offered to customers.

Breaking out of the maze of bureaucracy and painstaking processes that the mortgage industry is known for is what drives the leaders of Quicken Loans to create products and services that are amazingly useful to customers. Delighting its customers with a fast, efficient, friendly loan process distinguishes this brand and is part of the reason J.D. Power ranks Quicken Loans the “highest satisfaction in primary mortgage origination” for the last four years.

What do your customers find amazing about your brand? What new strategies might you adopt in the upcoming year to be even more amazingly useful to your customers?

Respect
Where does the verb respect fit in your brand’s DNA? For Jeffrey Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield, the two co-founders of Harry’s, an online men’s shaving boutique, this verb dominates their strategy. Here’s how the two describe their service:

Like most of you, we’ve long had to choose between over-priced, over-marketed razors that disrespect your intelligence, and low quality, cheap razors that disrespect your face. We knew there had to be a better way, so we created Harry’s as a return to the essential: a great shave at a fair price.

Respecting customer intelligence, respecting the customer’s face, lathering in an edited and simplified shopping experience (like one of these men did in his first business—Warby Parker) and creating a meaningful charitable connection all adds up to a new venture that elevates a daily chore. Harry’s believes “a great shave is powerful, preparing you to conquer the world in your own way, every day.”

It’s apparent that this respect for their customer’s time, attention and wallet coupled with respect for the activity of shaving informed all Raider’s and Katz-Mayfield’s brand launch decisions. The co-founders conducted their own shave tests and found all existing products on the market lacking. In addition to finding a European manufacturer to make a different type of blade, it led them to reconfigure the razor handles and craft two unique and exclusive Harry offerings: The Winston and The Truman, inspired by old pens and knives.

“With Harry’s,” Raider says in a Fast Company interview, “I think we care about customers a lot, but it’s more about respecting them and giving them a product they really like, but not overwhelming them with choice-just sort of giving them a shaving tool we think will work really well.”

Plain and simple, how well does your brand respect your customers’ attention, time and wallet? In 2015, how can you be ever more respectful?

Tune in in early December for the final three verbs you should use to enhance your brand strategy in 2015!

Google: The Elephant for Search Marketers

Pierre Trudeau, the former Canadian Prime Minister, once remarked about the United States: “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Search marketers can say the same about Google. Every move that the search giant makes has some impact on the search marketplace. Google announces major algorithm changes as “weather reports” and indicates how Google expects the change to impact sites. These changes are usually couched in terms of what type of Web spam the search giant is attempting to reduce. Although designed to weed out poor quality sites or those that are gaming the system, these changes frequently catch many unwary sites in their net. In some instances, site owners may believe that they are following the rules.

Pierre Trudeau, the former Canadian Prime Minister, once remarked about the United States: “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Search marketers can say the same about Google. Every move that the search giant makes has some impact on the search marketplace. Google announces major algorithm changes as “weather reports” and indicates how Google expects the change to impact sites. These changes are usually couched in terms of what type of Web spam the search giant is attempting to reduce. Although designed to weed out poor quality sites or those that are gaming the system, these changes frequently catch many unwary sites in their net. In some instances, site owners may believe that they are following the rules.

Few online marketers have developed disaster plans for what to do in the event that their site takes a serious tumble in the search rankings. Many marketers focus huge efforts on improving their search positions, but few plan for sudden, precipitous drops in search traffic. It is incumbent upon all online marketers to build their own disaster plans so that they do not have to react in haste.

  • Do you have a plan for what you might do if you were to lose 30 percent to 50 percent of your search traffic?
  • Do you know the impact this might have on your bottom line?
  • How would you backfill the loss?
  • What other marketing channels could you use to drive sales?
  • Would a huge drop in search traffic cripple your business?

For a pure-play e-commerce business, a serious fall-off in search traffic might spell doom.

Sites do recover, but there is no set time frame for recovery, and the recovery is usually gradual. Troubleshooting and fixing the problems is a time-consuming and costly effort, so it is important to have in place an alternative traffic plan—a search disaster plan. You may never need it, but given that you live next to an elephant with the capability of crushing you inadvertently, it is an excellent idea to have just such a plan in your back pocket.

8 Recommendations Before Hiring New Digital Direct Marketing Talent

If you’re an employer that recognizes you need new digital direct marketing approaches, you may be apprehensive about hiring new talent. Here is an eight-step plan to install the right digital marketing groundwork before hiring that new employee to make sure you are both successful.

If you’re an employer that recognizes you need new digital direct marketing approaches, you may be apprehensive about hiring new talent. When you hire new people, you risk a cultural misfit between the style and approach of a traditional direct marketer and a digital direct marketer. If it doesn’t work out between the employer and employee after a few months, there is a lot of lose-lose for all parties concerned.

The employer has made a costly mistake with the hire. The employee has possibly given up a good position and relocated. The employer gives up on digital direct marketing, declaring that it’s conceptually not a fit with traditional direct marketing, when it may actually have only been company cultural barriers, skills of the employee, or a lack of commitment to fund digital initiatives by the employer.

Consider, too, that there is the high demand these days for digital talent. Target Marketing’s recent article, 5 Trends in Direct Marketing Job-Hunting and Hiring, by Executive Recruiter Jerry Bernhart, raised excellent points about the state of human resource recruitment for direct marketing companies.

It’s clear, based on Bernhart’s experience, that candidates are getting multiple offers, suggesting that those individuals who are trained in digital marketing, or those who have reinvented themselves, are the folks getting not only offers, but competitive offers with higher pay.

But what if you’re among those “… tens of thousands of companies out there that have little more than a rudimentary Web presence,” referenced in the article? How do you, if you’re faced with the need to reinvent your marketing approaches, recognize the right talent for a new digital direct marketing position and process that’s unproven inside your organization?

Here are eight recommendations, with complete acknowledgement this is a biased perspective coming from my personal experience of having started new departments to lay the groundwork before hiring a new employee.

  1. Retain a Consultant First
    Bring on an independent consultant to work with your organization a few hours or days a week to create your new department, or your new digital direct marketing infrastructure. This individual should be expected to work with you for several months and be made responsible for several initiatives outlined in the following points.
  2. Create a Digital Direct Marketing Plan
    Your consultant should be versed in more than basic websites and email marketing. The plan probably includes development of a content marketing strategy, using multiple cross-channel media, that is designed to bring in leads. Perhaps the role includes the introduction of customer relationship management (CRM) software. The plan might also include acquisition of a marketing automation system that enables sophisticated nurture marketing programs to integrate direct mail, email, personalized microsites, social, mobile, content marketing and more.
  3. Fund It
    You must be ready to invest the money it will require to see results. Be prepared for this transition to take anywhere from six to 12 months of refinement before it’s clear how this can work for you. This can be challenging if your company is seeing slowly declining sales, but the alternative isn’t so rosy. If you wait too long, you won’t need to worry about funding it as your company slowly disappears into non-existence.
  4. Empower
    As a business owner or senior manager, obviously you’re going to want to have input in the digital marketing plan and how your company’s money is invested. But you must accept that to be successful you’ll need to empower people to make decisions on your behalf. Of course, with empowerment comes accountability on the part of the consultant and your staff.
  5. Your Company Culture May Be Stressed
    Chances are that if you’ve brought on a consultant (or fulltime new hire) to make change, your staff will feel threatened. Budget dollars that went to fund existing traditional direct marketing initiatives are likely diverted to new initiatives. That will create anxiety and stress from current long-time staff. And it’s human nature for people to become hostile, passive-aggressive, and even work to discreetly sabotage new efforts.
  6. The Org Chart May Change
    The consultant you contract with should be able to objectively evaluate individual staff’s strengths so they are placed in a role where your current employees come out winners. The organizational chart will probably evolve during this process.
  7. Be Flexible and Agile
    The future belongs to companies that are flexible and agile. If your culture is slow and overly methodical, ask yourself if you’re willing to leave your comfort zone. If not, reread the last sentence in No. 3 above.
  8. Your Plan to Transition From Consultant to Full-Time Staff
    The consultant’s responsibility will be to create a transition plan to hand off the keys to new initiatives and processes that have been created (and proven) for your new fulltime hire. Often, the consultant works with an executive recruiter to identify a replacement, and stays on for a few weeks after the new hire starts to ensure a smooth transition. Sometimes, a consultant is asked to stay on fulltime, but consider that a consultant is most likely energized by “the chase,” so to speak, and will want to move on to help reinvent the next company.

Following these eight steps will set up better odds for a win-win for employer and employee. By the time a new-hire is on board, the organization has had time to absorb and accept cultural change. Assuming the outcome is successful, this process gives confidence to not only the employer, but the new hire and the entire staff. Most importantly, you have broadened your approaches to reach your market through digital channels that are capturing more of their time and attention

Positioning Crisis to Look Like a Clever Plan

It’s the holidays. And winter weather. Anything can happen to the best of our marketing plans, along with product or service delivery, no matter what time of year. So what is your plan if your biggest product shipment, event or other signature aspect of your organization is snared in a dizzying downward spiral because of circumstances out of your control? And how do you respond so, in the end, the boss says

It’s the holidays. And winter weather. Anything can happen to the best of our marketing plans, along with product or service delivery, no matter what time of year. So what is your plan if your biggest product shipment, event or other signature aspect of your organization is snared in a dizzying downward spiral because of circumstances out of your control? And how do you respond so, in the end, the boss says, “Your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.”

If you’re like many direct marketing organizations, you don’t feel you have time to plan for crisis. As many of our long-time followers know, we do pro bono work for a performing arts organization in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The first weekend of December was to be the group’s annual Christmas Shows, and for the first time in its history, the entire region was iced in. Three out of four performances had to be cancelled—at the last minute. They have been rescheduled, but we focused on one thing at a time through the scheduling crisis.

With that fresh experience behind us—and the lessons we learned about how to successfully keep ticket cancellations and refunds to a minimum—we offer these 10 recommendations that, someday, you may need to use in a crisis:

  1. The Customer Comes First There will be anguish about cancelling a delivery, event and more. But the customer’s personal safety, expectations and experience must come first. They will remember how you handled a crisis for years.
  2. Present a Solution, Not a Problem Foster a culture in your organization so that no one drops a problem at your footsteps and doesn’t offer a solution. Encourage problem solving and solution offering. If you’re not all in the same physical location, get on the phone. Email and texts are a lousy way to encourage dynamic creativity and solve problems.
  3. Communicate Internally First. In crisis mode, it’s easy to think the customer must be notified first. Our experience: internal decisions must be communicated to everyone inside the organization first because there will be those on your staff who are posting on Facebook or Twitter. They’re intent is good, they want to help. But if they have any detail wrong, it can confuse and damage your reputation.
  4. Be Transparent and Truthful. Your customers, patrons and donors deserve the unvarnished truth. In our case, the reason for cancellation was obvious. But customers deserve to know that you’re working on solutions. Tell them what you’re doing through social media and via email.
  5. Empower One Individual to Push the Messaging Buttons. This isn’t to say that others shouldn’t help implement the plan. The point is that one person calls the messaging shots and gives direction so your organization (including the top) speaks with one voice.
  6. Update Your Website Minute to Minute. Watch your analytics reports and you’ll see quite quickly that your customers will look at your website first. Have it update-to-date by the minute. Use in-your-face graphics, in a prime location on the home page, with your announcement.
  7. Mobilize Communications Immediately. In the old days, we would have done our best to make thousands of phone calls. Thankfully today, email and social media can get out the word quickly. Email segmentation allowed us to pinpoint exactly which patrons were directly impacted, and they were sent an email (without distracting thousands who are on the email list but not affected).
  8. Constantly Monitor Social Media. Social media announcements of this magnitude spread in minutes. If you have staff or volunteers, tell them exactly what you should say. Often your customer wants to help you and spread your message for you. Give them the information. Then monitor comments so you can answer questions and clarify misinformation.
  9. Enhance Your Product Once Delivered. Most likely your product is, well, your product. It can’t be changed. But you can include a gift or bonus for the inconvenience. Or make light of the situation through messaging and give your customers an even better experience.
  10. Stay Calm and Carry On. The best compliment you can receive after the worst is behind you is, “Your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.” How do you build successful teams? Foster an encouraging, solution-driven culture. And don’t permit your organization to become paralyzed in the decision-making process.

Hopefully you’ll never have to manage a crisis. We don’t want to have to ever do this again.

If you’re curious about how the messaging was handled for this organization, you can read the details here through the end of December.

The 4 Pillars of Mobile Strategy

Your brand must have a well-thought-out plan that captures data from all interactions it has with each and every customer so that every customer interaction is contextually relevant. If this element is missing from a brand’s marketing plan, it will be severely limited — customer engagement and profitability will be hampered.

I recently spoke with the team over at Merkle in order to better understand what it takes to successfully embrace mobile marketing. According to Bruce J. Hershey II, mobile marketing strategist at Merkle, brand marketers must identify where their brand stands within the mobile ecosystem before moving on to specific mobile tactics and campaigns. Bruce emphasized that in order to achieve results with mobile marketing, it’s imperative that brand marketers develop and execute against a comprehensive marketing strategy that includes mobile rather than simply focusing on mobile capabilities in isolation. Doing so will allow your brand to stay focused on its overarching marketing strategy as you weave mobile or any other digital channel into the mix.

I asked Bruce what it takes to build a mobile-enabled marketing strategy. “Without a reliable and proven framework to use as a guide, developing and successfully executing a marketing strategy that includes mobile and achieves its desired and expected results can be a difficult thing to achieve,” he replied. According to Bruce, an effective mobile-enabled marketing strategy must account for everything, literally. You must understand the following:

  • your customers, the environment they live in and what they need;
  • your brand, including its objectives, resources, technical capabilities (both with traditional and mobile marketing), experience, and commitment to marketing and mobile at every level within the organization;
  • your existing strategy to meet your brand’s goals and objectives;
  • the technology that will enable your brand to implement that strategy; and
  • the media channels (e.g., print, email, television, radio, social networks, etc.) at your disposal that can be leveraged to reach and engage consumers.

I also spoke with Chris Wayman, vice president and general manager of mobile practice at Merkle. Chris emphasized that in today’s digital age another element to a successful mobile strategy is needed, namely connecting mobile data to your customer database. A CRM strategy helps businesses derive valuable customer insights by looking at all offline and online touchpoints throughout the customer journey.

In other words, your brand must have a well-thought-out plan that captures data from all interactions it has with each and every customer so that every customer interaction is contextually relevant. Chris noted that if this element is missing from a brand’s marketing plan, it will be severely limited — customer engagement and profitability will be hampered.

Merkle has developed a framework to help organizations build out their mobile plan. The framework steps through a process that helps organizations build out their plan along four key pillars:

  1. mobile audit and strategic road map;
  2. media integration of mobile tactics;
  3. mobile marketing tactics; and
  4. customer database integration.

By leveraging these four pillars and a proven approach to developing mobile-enabled marketing strategies, Merkle has found that its clients are able to properly integrate mobile marketing into their digital marketing plan, produce impressive list growth results, reduce uncertainty in the development and execution phases of their marketing plans, and generate predictable results for long-term, sustainable company success.

To learn more about what it takes to develop a mobile-enabled marketing strategy, join us for the following webinar on May 25: How Mobile Coupons Drive Revenue and Build a Mobile Database for Men’s Wearhouse’s K&G Superstore.

Do You Target Laptop Loiterers?

You should. I know, I’m one of them. When I’m about to meet a contact in Manhattan (I live in Brooklyn), I’ll often stop at the local Starbucks before or after to check email and work on articles. Sometimes I’m there for several hours. Oh, and I may even get a coffee (sometimes – don’t tell Howard Schultz!).

You should. I know, I’m one of them. When I’m about to meet a contact in Manhattan (I live in Brooklyn), I’ll often stop at the local Starbucks before or after to check email and work on articles. Sometimes I’m there for several hours. Oh, and I may even get a coffee (sometimes – don’t tell Howard Schultz!).

But apparently some coffee shops, though fortunately not Starbucks, are not too happy with us folks. A recent Wall Street Journal report, for example, discussed how many local coffee shop owners are pulling the plug on laptop users during the recession, as we take up seats and drive away diners. Some even cover their electrical outlets as a cost-cutting measure to save electricity.

For online marketers, however, laptop loiterers may be a new target audience. In fact, according to a mobile insights report from JiWire, a mobile audience media company, 38 percent of people using Wi-Fi at cafés or coffee shops make online purchases during their visits, and 77 percent are in the market to make major purchases in the next 12 months. Purchasing plans include the following:

  • 48 percent intend to buy new smartphones;
  • 54 percent plan to travel more than once on at least week-long vacations;
  • 28 percent plan to buy new laptops; and
  • 24 percent plan to buy cars.

Additionally, the report found online audiences in cafés and coffee shops use these venues as their extended home offices or college libraries, with 83 percent connecting locally in their own neighborhoods. What’s more, most are affluent males between the ages of 25 and 49, and 40 percent are business decision makers with management titles. Twenty-three percent have C-level or VP titles, while 44 percent are in small- to medium-sized businesses.

The report is based on data from 275,000 public Wi-Fi hot spots, as well as a survey of 2,057 customers randomly selected in more than 6,500 U.S. café locations that used JiWire’s Wi-Fi Media Channel between April and June.

So, how would you target these users? One idea may be to offer a special coupon — perhaps through Twitter — just for folks working in cafés or coffee shops. Any other ideas? Let us know by posting a comment here.