A-Plus: Marketing Students Try Their Hand at Technology

It’s nearly graduation time with a new legion of graduates about to enter the marketplace. In my previous post, I noted how many are seeking careers in data, and we’re glad to have them in the marketing field. We need them by the thousands.

It’s nearly graduation time with a new legion of graduates about to enter the marketplace. In my previous post, I noted how many are seeking careers in data, and we’re glad to have them in the marketing field. We need them by the thousands.

One prerequisite to a career in marketing (or just about anywhere) is having a demonstrated comfort level in technology. Universities are spending a mint designing and delivering digital labs in their technology builds—but in the world of advertising and marketing, there’s not much measured in ad tech investments that I can find. Providing students with rewarding internships is one great way to give prospective marketing practitioners invaluable exposure to tech, working alongside professionals using these tools.

Some universities also have student-run ad agencies, providing real work for real clients. Perhaps the next opportunity is to arm these students with campaign management platforms and other advertising technologies that reflect what’s really going on in the workplace today.

The University of Akron is doing just that, in its Taylor Institute of Direct Marketing. Three years back, during a Direct Marketing Association Conference, Professor William Baker initiated a conversation with Michael Hall, vice president of business development, V12 Group. “Michael was intrigued from the start,” Professor Baker told me. “He explained V12 Group’s Launchpad Marketing Cloud and we began to brainstorm ways that we could employ it in an educational setting. [We were looking for] Data, data and data, as well as the ability to apply the key concepts associated with Direct Interactive Marketing. As Confucius said, ‘I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.’ Our goal was to find a way that we could enable our students to turn key a database digital interactive campaign as a part of their educational experience.”

Students are using V12’s LaunchPad to devise and execute targeted campaigns for student agency clients, he explained. “The attraction to V12 Group is student’s ability to learn it quickly and marry data to the launching of email, display advertising, social media and print from one desktop system,” Professor Baker said.

To date, “Approximately 200 students have gone through [the tech] training,” said Vanja Djuric, University of Akron’s Director of Analytics. “I would estimate that in the future we should have anywhere between 200-300 students per semester—depending on the projects and class enrollment.” In few instances, the clients—often local businesses and organizations in the Akron area—have their own customer data, in which the technology acts as a customer relationship management tool, Djuric said. Most often, V12 Group-sourced data is used to identify, select and contact intended targets.

What matters most, of course, is the impact such tech use has on students. “I definitely think that using a professional tool … has enriched my education,” said Sarah Wright, who recently was graduated with an Integrated Marketing Communications degree, and is currently a Business Analytics MBA Candidate. “Having knowledge of and experience with a standard automated marketing tool sets me apart from the rest of the pool of candidates. Before, I could understand the theory behind automated marketing campaigns, but learning how to create and launch the campaign has given me the full picture. It is the type of practical, real world experience that companies are looking for in marketing candidates in today’s business world where companies compete on the quality of their data and their skills in leveraging that data.”

Students crave these real-world experiences. And we’re all better off in our marketing organizations when it comes time to put these graduates to work. Anybody hiring?

Thank you to the University of Akron and V12 Group for offering one great example of an education-private sector partnership in our field.

Mentoring: Give a Little, Get a Lot

Last summer, I heard that my alma mater was launching a mentoring program between graduates and enrolled Seniors. Even though I no longer reside in my college town, I quickly volunteered to be a guinea pig for remote mentoring

Last summer, I heard that my alma mater was launching a mentoring program between graduates and enrolled Seniors. Even though I no longer reside in my college town, I quickly volunteered to be a guinea pig for remote mentoring.

The woman running the program was hesitant at first—her vision was to put grads and students together face-to-face and create events that would bring the mentor/mentees together outside of 1:1 meetings.

Even though I reside in the San Francisco Bay Area and my college is in chilly Ottawa, Canada, I convinced her to team me with a student who was studying abroad for a semester so neither of us would be on campus.

Luckily I was paired with a wonderful senior named Mitch who was spending a semester in The Netherlands and studying marketing. We hit it off immediately, swapping stories about our pasts, our work experiences and talking about his goals when he graduates (to work in sports marketing). Mitch proved to be intelligent, inquisitive and eager to learn about the real world of marketing and advertising.

In our weekly calls, I answered a lot of questions (about marketing strategies and tactics and concerning specific job functions in the industry), but we also talked about some very practical things like how to put together a solid resume and a LinkedIn profile. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that in this social media crazed world, this very bright student was not that familiar with LinkedIn and how to use it to his advantage. Upon having further conversations with my college graduate son and his friends, it seems none of them were particularly savvy about LinkedIn and how leverage it to their advantage.

Helping Mitch with his resume was a fascinating exercise in marketing. His first draft provided a laundry list of all his summer jobs, but didn’t successfully position his experience and his growing expertise. As I quizzed him on what he actually did at each job, I helped him extract the salient messages he needed to convey about his skills and accomplishments—it was similar to working with a client to help them clarify and synthesize a product’s attributes and benefits, and how they stacked up to the competition.

For example, during his Junior year, Mitch worked for a marketing agency that was helping Microsoft increase its mindshare among college students. He described that job as “Independently reach and educate University students regarding the benefits of Microsoft products while entrusted with expensive technology.”

After some probing into what he was REALLY doing and the knowledge and skill set it required, we rewrote it to read “Manned an on-campus booth and answered questions about various Microsoft software products while retaining proficiency in Microsoft Windows 8.1 and the Microsoft Office Suite of products. Using Microsoft-provided software / hardware, performed a Pre- and Post- Attitudinal Behavior Study.”

Now he sounded impressive!

What was most exciting, however, is that this week Mitch advised me that a Netherlands-based sports organization that he follows on Twitter had tweeted about an opening for a marketing assistant. We quickly got to work refining his resume to match all the skills the job description required and crafted an introduction letter that further highlighted his skills.

We also did a LinkedIn search to determine who the position would report to and poured over the hiring managers resume. I encouraged Mitch to spend time on the company’s website, social media sites to become immersed in the brand, its mission, brand positioning, communications messages and key issues the company is facing.

Yesterday Mitch was contacted by the hiring manager and asked for work samples and to set up an interview. We then went to work prepping him with questions he might ask during the interview process. Honestly, I was as excited as Mitch was!

As I finish this column, I’m waiting to hear the outcome of that first important job interview, but either way, I’m confident that this young man will be a marketing rock star and any firm would be lucky to employ him. And, I relish the opportunity to help another grad enter the world of marketing fully knowledgeable with the skill set to market themselves successfully.

At Your Service! Really!

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

As a brand strategist and a customer of many brands, I am in tune to the many ways companies tout their customer service. If your experiences are akin to mine, actual meaningful and truly excellent service still seems to be a rarity. Customer service gets lots of talk time (the one true brand differentiator!) these days, but is it time to double check and see if your brand is paying more than lip service to this important customer-centric activity?

Do you know if your service level is actually accomplishing what matters most to your customers? Would customers consider it a concierge experience? Take a peek at these examples and see how a few companies pay more than lip service to this important function:

Focus: Target Audience
Bed Bath & Beyond knows that the back-to-school season is almost akin to Christmas-in-August for its brand. With thousands of new freshmen heading to campuses nationwide in need of all things dorm related, Bed Bath & Beyond has truly gone beyond in creating an amazingly useful college-prepping brand experience. The website is chockfull of helpful advice about pertinent things top-of-mind for new college students. Take a peek at the topics covered in their online College Checklist:

  • Storing Your Stuff
  • Making Your Bed Better
  • Climate Control
  • An Inspiring Work Area
  • Resolving Technical Difficulties
  • Keeping Your Room Clean
  • Doing Laundry
  • Surviving a Shared Bathroom

After perusing both a printed checklist, a succinct magalog and an online version, students can enter their colleges in the company’s website and see if there are convenient Bed Bath & Beyond locations near their dorms so they don’t have to haul all this new merchandise from home. This concierge-esque brand takes it even a step further and has prepared lists of what the specific colleges and universities have already provided, what they want students to bring and what is not allowed. There’s even a college registry available, all set for family members who may want to gift the new freshmen upon high school graduation with these dorm life must haves.

And, once those students are settled in and living their particular collegiate lives, Bed Bath & Beyond continues to develop its student relationships with a “Grade My Space” program described as follows:

Grade My Space is a new interactive site where you’ll get an inside look at college living spaces and residence halls. Students connect and share ideas, designs, comments and provide the inside scoop on campus living and more.

How might your brand borrow brilliantly from Bed Bath & Beyond and put this usefulness in action for one of your specific customer segments?

Focus: Product Category
Target’s “guest-centric” brand attitude has always hit the bull’s eye, but the company is building on this experience in one particular category in a more nuanced way across 300 of its stores—Beauty. According to a recent press release:

Participating stores are staffed with a Target Beauty Concierge, a highly-trained, brand agnostic beauty enthusiast who is available to answer guests’ questions in-store. Serving as a trusted expert, the Beauty Concierge provides guests with personalized, detailed and unbiased information about beauty and personal care products offered at Target and acts as a knowledgeable source of advice in what can sometimes be an intimidating department. Beauty Concierges are located in the beauty aisles at Target wearing a distinct black apron. No appointment is necessary.

In addition to Target doing this with beauty, Lands End has done this with swimwear … a troublesome category for many women. Might there be a department or category within your brand that customers would welcome some one-on-one consultation? How might you enhance your service level in a key product category to generate not only more sales, but a more customer-centric experience?

Company-Wide Focus
Nordstrom has long wowed its customers with service that goes the extra mile. Today, its website reminds customers that unlike some other department stores, working with Nordstrom personal stylists is “fast, fun, free and zero pressure!” They’ll even prep your dressing room for you in advance of your visit.

“We’ll be there the whole time to offer new suggestions and honest advice—even if you are only looking to research, not to buy.” My girlfriend utilized this service in helping outfit her son, a new college graduate preparing for an international job opportunity. Not only was the time saved important, but now this stylist has all his measurements and style/color preferences recorded to make future shopping needs a breeze.

Office supply multichanneler, Staples, also is promising a company-wide concierge experience to back up its brand promise of “EASY”! Under its “Need Help?” tab is a listing for Product Concierge. Here’s what Staples says:

Can’t find what you’re looking for? We’re here to help! If you need help tracking down an item, we’ll search for it for you-even if it’s something we don’t currently have on our site. Tell us a bit more about the product and we’ll do our best to find it. There’s no obligation to buy.

Might your brand be able to promote this kind of across-the-board expectation? If not, what might have to change to do so?

Truly serving your customers concierge-style takes a full commitment from each and every brand ambassador within your company. It requires active listening and keen observation. It requires a servant heart and a willingness to sweat the small stuff to provide an excellent and memorable experience that will not only delight your customers once but keep them coming back for more … and raving about your brand to others.

Privacy – More or Less

As marketers, we should be gravely concerned about the questions of privacy and the ethics surrounding collection and use of what many email recipients consider private information. Please bear with me as I continue my commentary on the topic

As marketers, we should be gravely concerned about the questions of privacy and the ethics surrounding collection and use of what many email recipients consider private information. Please bear with me as I continue my commentary on the topics.

The line between business and marketing email is often blurred, and what affects one nearly always affects the other. Not surprisingly, privacy—and the lack thereof—is of heightened concern to businesses and individuals alike these days. With new and frequent discoveries concerning alleged abuse by both government and private agencies, this shows no signs of diminishing.

Google Is on the Hot Seat
It’s easy to despise Google. The company is a ridiculously successful behemoth that collects an immeasurable amount of data they then choose to use, sell, share and—seemingly arbitrarily—withhold in their quest to profit from what many recipients of email believe to be private thoughts, browsing experiences, correspondences, search phrases and more.

In two separate cases, Google’s collection and use of email data is being challenged.

In the first, a group of private email users have claimed Google illegally intercepted, read, and mined information from their private email correspondence in order to better understand the recipient’s profile and deliver targeted advertisements. (Wait. That sounds a bit like what I do as a marketer …)

In September, California Judge Judy Koh rejected Google’s bid to dismiss the case based upon their argument Gmail users had agreed to allow interception by accepting the company’s terms and privacy policies.

As the legal wrangling ensued, the lawsuit lost a bit of steam when the judge ruled these plaintiffs could not band together in a class-action suit because the proposed classes of people in the case aren’t sufficiently cohesive. Her ruling may well impact a number of other email-privacy cases in which she will be asked to rule, including lawsuits against Yahoo and LinkedIn. (In other cases, Facebook and Hulu are defending their right to monetize their members’ data.)

In a submission to the court, Google has said users of Google’s email service Gmail should have no “legitimate expectation” that their emails will remain private. A “stunning admission” of the extent to which internet users’ privacy is compromised, proclaims Consumer Watchdog (CW), a US pressure group.

This causes me to ponder: Yes, of course, Google collects more information than we do—but is it simply because they can? If we, as marketers, had the ability to collect to the same degree, would we? Is the difference between Google and my company the temperance with which the small business (compared to the conglomerate) would collect? As I said in my last blog, Spider Trainers—and other marketers—should proceed carefully, respectfully, and exercise care in not just what to collect, but how to use it. But is that a distinction without a difference to the average recipient?

Students’ Consent
In a similar lawsuit, students in California have come toe to toe with Google claiming the company’s monitoring of their Gmail violates federal and state privacy laws. This case, being heard by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, was brought by nine students whose emails were subject to Google surveillance because their accounts were provided in part by Google in their Apps for Education suite; a suite touting more than 30 million users worldwide, most of whom are students under 18.

Google admits to scanning student emails to serve students targeted advertisements even though display ads are not shown in Apps for Education. Contained in a sworn statement, Google “does scan [student] email” to “compile keywords for advertising” on Google sites.

What’s different about this case is the age of the typical recipient. FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) issued in 1974, ensures the privacy of records of students under the age of 18 and, as big as Google is, they should not be immune to legal constraints of this act. Like the previous case, the students are seeking class-action certification for the case.

This begs the question: Are marketers immune? Perhaps in our B-to-C events, we too must be mindful of the age of our audience. Certainly we know that we are collecting more than most of our recipients imagine. What preteen suspects that emails from her favorite store are actually vehicles for accumulating information about her buying behaviors in order to send her more relevant email offers?

Extending Acceptance
The pivotal topic in many of these Google and Gmail users discussions should be this: Even if the sender understood and agreed to the terms and conditions, that consent could not and should extend to the recipient who has not consented and who is probably unaware their data and profile is being assimilated from these communications. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is also concerned about Google’s ability to build detailed profiles of Gmail users by augmenting email-collection data with information collected by Google’s search-engine cookies, though Google denies such cross referencing occurs.

The Government
For most adults, searches are easily defined. If law enforcement suspects of us wrongdoing, they get a warrant, search our house, our car, our locker, and then seize the evidence of a crime. With an email account—be that Gmail or any other—it’s different. Emails are seized first and then searched for evidence. It’s similar in approach to the argument of the Obama administration for collecting every American’s phone records—law enforcement doesn’t know what is relevant until they have reviewed it all. In other words, it’s a fishing expedition on a grand scale.

So, it’s not just the private sector misbehaving if a federal judge has found it necessary to admonish our own justice department for requesting overly broad searches of people’s email accounts—nearly all of whom have never been accused of a crime. It’s widespread, but worse; all data collectors are at risk of being painted with the same brush. It’s coming to this: If you’re collecting data, you must be committing some sort of offense in the form of invasion of privacy, and perhaps even acting illegally. (Wow! All I wanted was to send you a personalized dog food coupon because you have three mastiffs and a poodle named Fred, Pete, George, and Ginger.)

In this case against the justice department, Judge Facciola concluded prosecutors must show probable cause for everything they seize – especially since it is possible for companies to easily search for specific emails, names, and dates of content relevant to an investigation. It’s therefore not necessary to ask for all electronically stored information in email accounts, irrespective of the relevance to the investigation.

Education
It’s going to become necessary to become educators—we marketers must educate our clients on appropriate collection and use in order to delineate what we do from what is happening with Google, NSA, Yahoo, and others. Without our input, and our self-regulation, it is quite possible that we will be spoon-fed rules of engagement—and likely that those rules will reduce future access to less than what we have now.

With the caching of images and relegation of email to specific tabs, Google is already getting in between us and our recipients by intercepting data to which we’ve already become accustomed. It’s a slippery slope to be sure, but we do have an opportunity to steer this downhill roll in a direction that will protect our ability to be good marketers in a healthy balance with the privacy of our recipients.

In Other News…
In an ongoing case, a U.S. appeals court has again rejected Google’s argument that it did not break federal wiretap laws when it collected user data from unencrypted wireless networks for its Street View program.

In the U.K., the High Court ruled Google can be sued by a group of Britons angered when using Apple’s Safari browser by the way their online habits were apparently tracked against their wishes in order to provide targeted advertising. Google asserted the case is not serious enough to fall under British jurisdiction.

Microsoft is feeling the heat after acknowledging it read an anonymous blogger’s emails in order to identify one of their employees suspected of leaking information. The FBI was involved only after the emails had been read.

Maybe I need a new blog: Privacy Erosion.

How a Dirty Mind Can Help Save Your Creative

My journalism mentor Charlie Adair [RIP] was an utterly twisted human being, but in the best way imaginable for a student who wanted to learn to be the best reporter he could be. He could have taught marketers a thing or too, as well-for example, about empathy, hitting deadline, and always thinking on one’s feet. The final exams for Charlie’s infamous interviewing course were legendary for putting students in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions. … Team Obama could use a Charlie Adair.

My journalism mentor Charlie Adair [RIP] was an utterly twisted human being, but in the best way imaginable for a student who wanted to learn to be the best reporter he could be.

He could have taught marketers a thing or too, as well—for example, about empathy, hitting deadline, and always thinking on one’s feet.

The final exams for Charlie’s infamous interviewing course were legendary for putting students in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions.

According to a post on his eulogy, one class “was merely given phone numbers to call for interviews. The students discovered people who were blind, who had AIDS, who were in great distress—all assembled by Charlie for the exercise.”

“Typical Charlie,” I thought as I read it.

For another exam, he loaded the entire class into an Econoline van, drove them to the front gate of New York’s Attica state prison and told them to go in and get quotes from lifers.

The final exam for my interviewing class was a quote scavenger hunt that included having to find, phone and quote people who were obscurely referenced—maybe by just a name or nickname. This was before the Internet.

My exam also involved getting a quote from Buffalo, NY’s then mayor Jimmy Griffin, a man legendary for physical altercations with reporters.

I aced that exam. For example, I knew Mayor Griffin would get increasingly agitated by the calls from Charlie’s students and would stop accepting them, so I made sure I was first.

Charlie called his interviewing class “boot camp for the terminally over privileged.”

Just before he died, I met him for lunch during a trip back to Buffalo. After we shook hands, I produced a copy of iMarketing News, the dot-com trade newspaper I had launched for DM News.

“Everything you taught me is in play in this newspaper,” I said. “Your name’s not on it, but you’re all through it.”

He died in 2000 from unexpected complications from what was supposed to be minor surgery. He was 58.

I think of Charlie often, especially when circumstances arise that he warned us would come about.

In fact, I thought of Charlie recently and how he would have chuckled when an email arrived from the Obama team with “Michelle” in the “from” line.

“Sometime soon, I want to meet you,” said the subject line.

Team Obama could use a Charlie Adair.

One of the simplest but most enduring lessons he taught me was that the best editors have dirty minds. They can help avoid publishing embarrassing copy with unintended meanings.

For example, I once saved a reporter from including a line in her piece about a football practice bubble that had been “problem plagued since its erection.”

If a Charlie Adair were on team Obama, he would have told them that subject line in the “Michelle” email sounded like something from a pornography spammer.

Everyone can use a Charlie Adair on their copy team-including you. That guy or gal on your team with the dirty mind could mean the difference between a sale and a giggle.