Maximizing The ROI From Your FB Fan Page

“70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook For Marketing” by John Paul Titlow (ReadWriteWeb.com, 8 March 2011). It’s safe to say I spend quite a bit of time online. Reading, looking, analyzing, working, searching, testing, conversing, evaluating, collaborating, etc. I am a champion of technology and innovation as a means to enabling David to take on Goliath. Or at least to let David be less of a dull boy in the sense of what all work and no play can do.

That said, I am also a believer in the fundamentals—both online and offline. My philosophy is that technology and innovation are tools. They are a means to an ends, not the ends itself. While occasional they can be panacea-esque game changers, the majority of the time using any given means is much more basic than that. Often it comes down to two things: finding the right tool and using that tool correctly to its full potential.

Based on my experience of interacting with brands on Facebook, I am willing to say that the title of John Paul’s article should instead be, “70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook for Messaging. 10% of Those Are Actually Marketing. The Other 90% Are Probably Wasting A Lot of Time.”

Coincidently,  a couple days ago I decided to check up on the FB Page of a local e-commerce company that I have had some discussions with over the last year or so. The initial meeting centered on technical changes they were making to their CDN and from there they were planning to ramp up their marketing. “We want to be in the Internet Retailer Top 100,” I was told by the owner of the company. A noble and impressive goal indeed.

The time had come to check on their progress.

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 1Sadly, this outfit is a text book example of the 90% who are not actually marketing. At the very least they are not using the tool to its full potential in spite of having a significant number of Fans (i.e., people who Like them), as well as (from what I recall) sizable revenue.

It’s time for a free AU makeover:

Recommendation #1—The Page’s profile image should always be the brand’s logo. That image, as small as it might be, is what catches people’s eye when Page status updates show up in a fan’s News feed. Marketing 101: The logo should be consistently associated with every message delivered by the brand.

On the other hand, if the primary image is always in flux then there is no easy and consistent way for a FB News feed skimmer—we skim updates in Facebook, and then we read, don’t we?—to pick out this brand from that stream.

Recommendation #2—Don’t assume that people are taking the time to visit your page. It’s better to assume most people are digesting their fire hose of updates via their News feed. That is, what FB plops in front of them once they login. When they spot something worth stopping for they do, else they just keep scrolling. Unless there’s a good reason for them to go to your actual Page chances are good they aren’t going to make that extra effort. It’s just not necessary.

Here is a representative sample of Status updates I pulled from the Page:

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 5Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 4Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 3Recommendation #3—Always provide a link back to the specific page/product being mentioned in the message. Since this company uses Google Analytics on their website they should also be using Google URL Builder to tag their links. I am of the belief that each URL that is pushed out is a “campaign” and should be treated as such.

As it stands now it is almost impossible to measure the effectiveness of their Facebook Page as a sales/marketing tool. Analytics might show Facebook at the source but that’s too vague. By definition, no measuring means they are not marketing. At best they are merely messaging. (Note: In the not to distance future I am going to do an article on how I like to use Google URL Builder.)

Recommendation #4—Stop doing Status updates and instead post Photos. The caption to a photos doubles as status update. The benefits are two fold. First, when you post a photo to a Fan Page, Facebook also includes the Share link when that photo shows up in a fan’s News feed. Making it easy for people to Share your brand’s message forward to their friends is one of the most powerful tool of social media in an online marketer’s tool box. Second, this is where flyers and other special one-off images can be distributed (instead of using the page’s profile photo). For example, in the first Status update above, there should be a photo of the Everywhere Knit Pant.

Recommendation #5—Adopt the usage of a third party tool (e.g., Postling) so Status updates can be scheduled to be pushed out throughout the day. One and done isn’t ideal. It appears as if someone is doing an update first thing in their East Coast morning and then that’s it. It easy to imagine that a fairly high percentage of their fans probably aren’t even seeing their messages.

Also, depending on how they decide to use URL Builder, this company could make the hour scheduled one of the tag values. This would allow them to identify the most productive time(s) to post. Maybe lunch time and/or evenings maximize results? Maybe there’s a time of day that generates less clicks but more sales?

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 2

Recommendation #6—I would give serious consideration to reducing the number of times the exclamation point is used. I am a passionate and excitable person by nature and even I found the excessive usage to be tiring. Based on what I understand their target market to be I would add that exclaiming almost everything is probably inappropriate as well.

Recommendation #7—There’s got to be a more inspiring tag line than, “Happy Shopping!”

Recommendation #8—Also adopt the use Twitter. It certainly can’t hurt. Worst case it would add a minute or two per message being sent. Yes, those URLs should be tagged such that Twitter campaigns can be differentiated from FB campaigns. That extra step takes some time but it’s the different between truly marketing and merely messaging.

As you can see there is significant opportunity for improvement. The good news is, most of these recommendations can be done with minimal additional investments in time. That said, an outfit of this size and brand of this stature should probably have someone dedicated to being responsible for their social media marketing efforts. I’m not suggesting that this is worthy of a full-time position. At this point there’s probably not enough incremental sales to justify that amount of budget. On the other hand, I am suggesting that just winging it for a couple minutes a day is leaving quite a bit of sales on the table.

Marketing, Motivation & Being Human

“4 Ways to Capture Me & Make Me a Buyer Forever” by Steve Woodruff (MarketingProfs, 3 February 2011). This is one of those classic instances where after the first read it all sounds simple and logical. However, once you dip into the reader comments your perception changes a bit, and sometimes more. Initially Steve’s list seemed fairly benign, but then there was a comment that triggered me to contribute this:

Agreed Nick! However, I believe that focusing on motivation(s) should be #1, not #5. Trying to effectively attend to #1 – 4 isn’t really possible without have a damn good idea what the motivational target is, eh? And that comes from listening.

Also,  in some regards #1 almost seem comical. Is this where we’re at, “extreme marketing”? Yes, there’s a lot of noise but does that dictate things must escalate to nuclear volume? (As seemed to be implied.) When in doubt, shout? Really?!? Correct me if I’m wrong, the object is quality attention, not more of it. Yes, that requires creativity (and maybe I’m parsing words too much) but “daring” (as well as the example) just sounds a bit sloppy to me. But again, such focus is all a function of determining motivation, which as noted, is missing from this list.

On top of that I’d like to add that, “…make me a buyer forever,” probably isn’t practical either. Noble yes, but more likely than not a goal too far. The reality is, there is going to be churn, as well as the uncommitted. As humans we naturally deviate (for convenience), experiment (out of boredom) or just don’t always do what we say we’d like to do (because we’re human). As a result, try as you might, a very low percentage of your customer base will buy 100% from you 100% of the time.

Get used to it. Embrace it! The fact is, you have you have no choice.  Be smart and reformulate your goal to make more efficient use of your resource. Instead of going for all, consider coming down a notch and build relationships and ambassadors for life. Less really can be more. Whether The Guest is always buying from you isn’t as important as they are always telling others to buy from you. They can leave—and  they will—the key is to connect in such a way that keeps them coming back again and again and again.

It should be noted that such a long term quality relationship might not result from a “$20 for $10″ first kiss. I’m not saying it can’t. I’m simply noting that getting attention from dropping your trousers is not the same thing as something that might be less “daring”. But that’s often the difference between a relationship and a one night stand.

Dispelling Myths About Facebook Fan Pages

“Facebook Fan Pages: 7 Dos and 7 Don’ts for effective Community Development” by Dimitris Zotos (WebSEOAnalytics.com, 24 January 2011). A couple days ago this article popped up in an RSS feed. I read it, left a somewhat skeptical comment, and moved on.

However, over the last couple days I realized that wasn’t enough. In my quest to rid the world of misinformation and myth as generated by “social media gurus” I felt a more thorough response was in order. Please note, I’m not trying to discredit Dimitris as much help others not be misled. With that said, let me run right down his list:

7 DOs for Facebook Community Development

1. Focus on the Content – Upload images, videos, texts and other media types around your brand, focusing on the interests of the community you want to build.

Yes of course. Focus on keeping it relevant and don’t over do it. Yes Virginia, you can tweet too much. If you’re a smaller one-man/one-woman show don’t mix personal with business. For example, if you the person wants to tweet then have a separate account for that. Business feeds that chatter about the weather, lunch, etc. are annoying.

2. Encourage Discussions – Try to engage users by asking and answering on various updates. People are more likely to interact to a human tone of voice instead of a cold corporate talking. Tip: Use @ before a user name to mention specific users –like twitter).

Yes, but again don’t over do it. For example, Mashable uses the old ask a question trick with each and every update on Facebook. After a while that gets tired and in turn counterproductive. If your public wants to chat they’ll chat. But don’t judge success by the amount of small talk you inspire. If people are following you to satisfy certain information needs and you’re doing that, they very well might not have anything to say. They’re busy too, remember

3. Setup Contests and games – Be creative! Motivate people to participate and add entertainment value to their online experience.

Again, another overused cliche so be careful. If you elect to try this out make sure you stay true to your brand. Make sure the contest/game is relevant to your brand and the expectations of your community. People might not embrace your brand to be entertained.

4. Reward your fans – Why should I hit the “Like” button? Do you offer only information for your company and products? A way to attract more “Like” thumbs is to offer something special for your fans. (Vouchers, special offers etc).

I strongly disagree. A Like is ubiquitous and vague as it is. If you want to trade Likes for some special offer that’s fine. Just understand that that changes the meaning of Like. If you start to get disLikes will that mean they don’t like you? Or is it someone you baited to Like you and now they’re just returning to where they should have been in the first place? Don’t believe the hype, a Like is a pretty meaningless measurement.

5. Promote your Fan Page – Add your Fan Page’s link in your website, blog, e-mail signatures newsletters and printed media.

Yes, of course. But also be mindful that Facebook might not be around forever. For example, look at MySpace. A lot people invested quite a bit of time and energy in their MySpace presence. Once that bottom dropped out that investment was gone. You should have an overall web presence with a hub (i.e., your own freestanding website) and social media should be the spokes that feed that hub. Not the other way around.

6. Create Custom Tabs – Create custom tabs with compelling images or videos. This could be a presentation of your company, a contest announcement or even an application.

See point #1 about content. This might be a great idea, or it might be a waste of time. Add value, not novelty.

7. Be prepared to respond to negative reviews – These days people are more likely to express their negative reviews and comments straight to the brand. You should always be prepared to respond a negative review and you should not just try to hide it by deleting the post. This requires a specific policy and the right.

The better recommendation would be, “Be prepared to listen.” The new paradigm is about conversation. Naturally, there are going to be things you’re not going to want to hear. Should this happen then learn from that interaction. Chances are good that if the person was truly dissatisfied they wouldn’t have said anything to you/your brand at all. They have something to say so listen. In most cases you’ll be happy you heard from them.

7 Don’ts for Facebook Community Development

1. Don’t invite all of your friends – You should not invite all of your friends but only the ones you believe that are interested in the page. It is really annoying to receive notifications and invitations from things you are not interested in or even dislike.

Actually, not really. First, in the context of some of the Dos it sounds awkward. Baiting with a contest is okay but inviting friends is not? Aside from that, the beauty of FB, etc. is that the receiver is empowered to decide. In other words, invite them and let them Like you, or not. Or maybe they’ll Like you today and then unLike you tomorrow. It doesn’t matter since an invite is far more authentic than baiting.

2. Don’t leave the spam posts – Don’t let spam posts and links within Fan Page’s wall. This kind of moderation is not against freedom but it ensures that users will respect the community members.

Translation: Use a service like Posting (www.Postling.com) to help monitor and manage your Internet presence.

3. Don’t post from the same source – Don’t keep on posting only your website’s feed, even if you have a news media website.

Do what you feel most comfortable with and let your fans be the judge. Ultimately, quality and relevance is more important than source.

4. Don’t spam your users – Don’t send promotional notifications every day. It is not effective but annoying.

Agree 100%, finally.

5. Don’t forget the Privacy issues – Don’t upload images or videos and don’t tag users without a given permission. Privacy is a sensitive part that you must be extra careful.

Yes, it’s a fine line. But again, people can police when they have been tagged and detag themselves. If the photo is of questionable value (read: it’s risqué) then maybe your brand shouldn’t be posting it to begin with.If you’re not sure how your community might react just tag a couple photos and see what kind of feedback (or not) you get. And of course, if you do decide to be proactive expect an occasional complaint.

6. Don’t create fake accounts – Don’t create fake accounts to represent or support brands. Your target in a social media campaign is not to collect tons of fans or friends but to build relationships.

Should you have faux identities to post on your own page? No, of course not. On the other hand, be aware that when you are the admin of a page you can not interact with that page as your own identity. For example, if a small biz owner sets up a page for his/her business then that owner’s comments on the Page will always appear to be coming from the Page (not the person). If that person/brand promotes “personal service” then the expectation might be to see interaction coming directly from the owner. If that is the case then a second faux account should be used to set up the Page. Note: Faux accounts are a violation for the FB terms of service so be careful. Maybe your “newborn” or “great great grandmother” needs a page. Understand?

7. Don’t be so serious – For the community managers: Don’t take yourself so serious. People always enjoy a cool attitude.

Disagree! What you should be is brand appropriate. Humor is similar to politics and sports, in that it can be easily misinterpreted. The goal is to be authentic, and don’t confuse “business casual” with bogus attempts at being “cool”.  I certainly wouldn’t want my lawyer or my doctor to be focused on having a “cool attitude”. Would you?

Bottom line…Once you jump into the social networking and social media pool there are plenty of “experts” out there with snake oil to sell. Always be on the lookout for new ideas. But also be aware of the fact that there is plenty of noise as well, and don’t assume that just because you read it on the Internet that it’s true.

To Blog or Not To Blog

In the event that you haven’t been following my more granular work stream site Chief Alchemist (ChiefAlchemist.com), I’ll recap a bit. A couple months back I was commissioned by Trenton, NJ based Association Business Solutions (ABSNJ.com) to do a guest blogging series. The topic? Blogging. Yes, blogging on blogging.

Below is Part 5, the final chapter in the series. To read the prior four chapters just follow the linked titles back to the ABS blog.

Blog or Not To Blog: Part 5 (It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4)

Hard to imagine that you started down this road to blogging bliss less than two months ago, isn’t it? What once seemed to be an insurmountable unknown has evolved into a 2011 must-do. In the spirit of you have to start somewhere, just embrace your inner athlete and as Nike says, “Just do it!” But maybe you’re feeling just a bit under-inspired? If that’s the case then how about a quick recap?

Part 1: The Four Letter “B” Word?
The best place to start is at the start. What we learned here was that blogging isn’t as bad as many interpret it to be. In fact, blogging is just another fairly simple way to communicate.

Part 2: Self-Publish or Perish
Things picked up a bit on Part 2. I explained that as marketing evolves from being one directional to conversational a blog is the perfect way to embrace your public, and they you. Regardless of simplicity, for those organizations that want to reap the benefits, blogging is becoming the new business card. That is, it’s a necessity.

Part 3: Social networking friends with blog benefits
You asked for more benefits and you got ‘em. The content in a blog can be instrumental to improving your website’s SEO (search engine optimization). In short, Google’s bots and algorithms like blogs. A blog is also a great way to disseminate information by harnessing the power of social networks and the “share culture”.

Part 4: They say, “Everyone has at least one blog in them.”
And then in the previous chapter we resolved your final set of fears. “I don’t know what to write about,” and “I’m not that good of a writer,” and “I’m too busy,” were all resolved. Another answer was the soft sell – contact Karla or Paula at ABS and they’ll work with you to develop a solution to meet the needs of your business. Done deal!

Regardless of what your personal feeling are about the Internet, I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s here to stay. It’s certainly not going to go away just because you ignore it. Whether it’s blogging, using photos & video, tapping into social media or whatever other innovative trend or staple is ahead, your brand is going to have to participate in some way. There’s no need to overwhelm yourself, just chip away at it. The more you do, the more you’ll learn. And of course there are also resources such as myself to guide you along the way.

When it comes to business and marketing what I like to say is, The Internet. You can figure it out now, or you can figure it out later. But you will need to figure it out.

The Guest Defines The Experience (Not The Brand)

“Your Club Experience Is Your Marketing” by Denise Lee Yohn (ClubIndustry.com, 4 November 2010). This is yet another solid article that falls under, “it doesn’t just apply to gyms/clubs.” Much of Denise’s philosophy is similar to my own. That said, there are a handful of things I’d like to tight up a bit.

“That means the key to continued robust sales is less about attracting new members and more about retaining the ones you have.”

— Yes and no. First, the problem I typically have with the club industry’s view of retention is that it’s rarely seen as a marketing issue. That is, it’s rarely addressed that maybe you attracted the wrong customer in the first place. Some people are going to leave. Maybe it’s best that you let them go as quickly and as quietly as possible? Else, your brand could become the victim of online “bad mouthing”.

Second, there’s no reason to believe there aren’t new customers available. Sure, you might have to be more creative about attracting them and smarter about motivating them to buy, but they are there. If you ignore them now, that could come back to haunt you later. Don’t give up on attracting the new. You don’t want that muscle to go soft. (Pun intended.)

“Customers also are becoming more knowledgeable and discriminating. They’re swayed less by savvy salespeople and cool promotions, and their brand preferences are formed more by what they experience when they do business with your company. People also rely on the actual experiences of others…

In this environment, traditional sales and marketing tactics are becoming less important—and your club experience is emerging as your most powerful marketing tool.”

— The first bit is (obviously) very true. Stop whining and deal with. Someone said to me last week, “No one steals your clients. You lose them yourself when you don’t do your job to a level that matches their expectations.” True, very true.

As for the second bit, be wise and put heavy emphasis on “becoming less important”. That said, the traditional channels can still be effective. They are after all just channels. However, how you used them (read: the messages you send out) should be under review at any give moment. If you’re in set it & forget it mode then please don’t expect dynamic results. We no longer live in a set it & forget it world.

And finally, Denise’s list of action ideas is good but I believe she missed a key one. That is, speak/interact with your customers (and make a habit of it). Find out where they’re at. See how *they* define “experience”.

No matter how hard they might try, the brand is extremely biased and therefore should not make decision without consulting with The Guests. My point being, what the brand emphasizes as key to the “experience” might not be relevant to The Guests. A brand’s message(s) will only be as effective as those engagements actually connect to real Guest motivators. A point of differentiation is meaningless if The Guest doesn’t care about that point.

In short, look before you leap because The Guest defines the experience, not the brand. Assume otherwise at your own peril.

A Spin-free Culture Will Save You Money

“Patagonia, from the ground up” by Jennifer Wang (Entrepreneur, June 2010). It’s worth mentioning that the sub-headline is: While the rest of retail was tanking, Yvon Chouinard’s outdoor clothing and gear company was having its best two years ever. Here’s why.

Regardless of economic conditions the question everyone is constantly asking is, “Where are we headed?”. Today’s answer for both the means and then ends is Patagonia. As you read you’ll quickly realize that Yvon and Patagonia live in a spin-free zone. They not only talk the talk and walk the walk, they live the life as well.   Patagonia is not successful for what it  sells or how it markets. It’s much deeper and basic than that. Patagonia is successful because of what and who it is. And in doing so, it creates its own destiny.

I can guarantee it’s not staffed by zombies who are only showing for the pay and the benefits. Might that imply that the size of great companies will be limited going forward? Yes, it certainly seems that it does. It’s often said that smaller companies are more agile. Yes, but that still doesn’t quite explain it. The true difference is the level of passion and commitment. It’s not the size that matters per se. It’s how the size makes it easier to instill the culture consistently throughout the organization.

Let’s close with a good pull quote to engage you:

EM: Why do you compare yourself–and entrepreneurs in general–to juvenile delinquents?

YC: Yeah, I think entrepreneurs are like juvenile delinquents who say, “This sucks. I’ll do it my own way.” I’m an innovator because I see things and think I can make it better. So I try it. That’s what entrepreneurs do.

So, how much budget do you think Patagonia saves not having to force their marketing to spin an image that really isn’t there?

A Tweet Is Not A Like

“5 Winning Social Media Campaigns to Learn From” by Zachary Sniderman (Mashable.com, 14 September 2010). Full disclosure, this isn’t Clearing The Editors’ Hurdle as much as it’s Shameless Self-Promotion. But we don’t have a category for SSP. Maybe we should?

The point to be made here is not in the article itself. It’s more or less well…um… crap. None the less, if you have a moment, please read it so that that comments that follow will have the necessary context. I don’t remember exactly but I must have eaten my take no prisoners Wheaties that day. It’s the only way I can explain how I ended up ranting a bit. It happens but it’s not something I usually do, especially on Mashable.

That said, that’s not even what the bottom line is here. What is  interesting is that one of my comments got 5 Disqus Likes and the other 2.  In other words, I hit a chord with others. What’s even more interesting is the article itself had over 2,300 tweets and about 350 FB Likes/Shares. Ultimately, an opinion is subjective. On the other hand, when reading that article as an objective profession it still has a fair share of stink about it.

One has to wonder how many of those Twitter and Facebook people actual read the article. And then from there, how many actually bothered to think about it. My belief is, not many. Actually, all the tweets could very well have been similar to my “This is crap” but we can’t tell. Come to think of it, am I the only one who assumes that a tweet is synonymous with a FB Like? But it’s not, is it?

A Classic Case of Shopping Cart Abandonment

While typically this blog is not for venting, this experience is worth sharing. Besides, it’s not so much venting as trying to prevent such things from happening in the future. Preventative e-comm medicine if you will.

As the story goes, I received an email from Barnes & Noble this past Thursday. It had a mystery coupon. By that I mean, you wouldn’t know the amount of the discount until you entered it during the check out process. Too cute (and vague) for me, but maybe it A/B tested well for them. None the less, I left the email in my inbox just in case.

Earlier today while reading CopyBlogger.com  I spotted a book that looked interesting, “Success Secrets Of The Social Media Marketing Superstars”. When I visited the book’s web site I noticed the B&N logo, remembered the emailed, did the math and went to buying work. The fun ended there.

Faux pas #1 – Of the five step check out process, the coupon code entering didn’t come until the last step. In fact, I thought I missed it. When I went back and didn’t see  it I almost gave up. I didn’t want to get suckered into paying full price. Why should I? I suspect my feelings are atypical, so what does the coupon come last instead of first?

Faux pas #2 – As it turned out, the coupon was expired. The problem was the coupon code was in the lower left corner/area of the email while the mention of the expiration date was in the upper right. In other words, being focused strictly on the coupon code meant I wasn’t going to see the expiration. Obviously another good reason for the coupon being earlier in the process.

How do you say, “Duh?”

The bottom line is, not only didn’t I get the book but I wasted unnecessary time. About the only positive aspect of the experience was the inspiration for this blog post.

Yes, but maybe your brand just kinda sucks

“Are You Listening?” by Mary Brandel (ComputerWorld, 12 July 2010). Yes, all good points. But let’s just cut to the chase… Maybe your brand just kinda sucks.

For example, take the Domino’s Pizza YouTube incident. A few months ago I responded to an article by an (old school) PR type. Evidently, she was appalled that one person and a video could do so much damage to a brand. While it was unfortunate, the fact was,  in terms of quality and stellar brand reputation Domino’s was already in questionable territory.The video was a symptom.

I’m not trying to imply that guy did with the video was right. One the other hand, the management at Domino’s made a conscious effort to built the brand around, “Delivered in 30 minutes of less.”  Not, “The best damn pizza without leaving the house.” Nor was it, “Domino’s Pizza — Quality delivered.”My contention was that the video had meaning because to enough who viewed it it was feasible.

Long story short, Anne and I went a couple rounds until eventually the discussion ran out of gas.  However, it should be noted (in a last laugh sort of way) that Domino’s latest campaign is about quality. Why? Because, yes Virgina, the perceived quality of the product, including taste, impacts how one perceives the overall brand. Yes, that video was low. Low enough to strike Domino’s right between the eyes.

Or maybe you kinda suck in a different way…

Twice in the last week or so I’ve been told by two different outfits, “…but we meet with our perspective clients…” That’s great, provided that’s how the merchant/client wants to be approach. Maybe that cold call walk in is an interruption? Maybe, much like myself, they want to gain all they can online and then if interested schedule proper meeting to get right to the meat of the matter?

I agree that in today’s world pounding the pavement and the flesh is a great differentiator. But it’s not a panacea. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Online reputation management is important in a reactive sense. But don’t stop there.  Don’t overlook the possibility of being proactive and ensuring best you can that your brand doesn’t kinda suck to begin with.

Be BI smart and respond (but that includes proactive listening too)

The journey of this post starts here: “Business Intelligence Meets BPM: Using Data to Change Business Processes on the Fly” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 17 June 2010). On one hand this is fascinating stuff — collecting data, analyzing it and distilling information that objectively drives business action. The business side of my brain goes, “Wow!” But then reality sets in and that, “Wow” turns to, “Wow, scary.” This freight takes two forms:

1) The private person in me shutters to think that Big Brother is not only watching but he’s storing, tracking, cross referencing and analyzing too. This is taking place at and unimaginable level of granularity.

2) The business side of my brain also appreciates the fact that Guests are people. They are not just data points on a graph or cells in a spreadsheet. Analysis is certainly essential but one would bet there are plenty of companies over-valuing this new found power. They are forgetting that they are in business to serve people, not just respond to ones and zeros. As a matter of fact, read this article first: “Superhighway to Hell” by Stephen Saunders (InformationWeek.com via InternetEvolution.com, 19 June 2010).

Back to the first article by Kim Nash. There are some bits to this article (pull out of the context of the whole article) that beg to be addressed AU style:

As Kilcoyne and Coyne learned, modern business intelligence and analytics tools can extract data from enterprise software, populate pre-built statistical models and quickly produce insights that used to take weeks. “In the past, doing predictive analytics needed a PhD in statistics to build a model and interpret results,” says Aberdeen’s White. But newer analytics tools “hide the underlying statistical nerd details,” he says. “Business people don’t have to worry about how the sausage gets made.”

One word: Derivatives. No one needed to understand those either, correct? Information is only as good as the understanding the business people have of the data that was used to compile it. A report without caveats and context is no report at all. If BI is about removing assumption then that thoroughness should be part of the end to end approach.

Key to game-changing decision making is the ability to detect and respond to market changes, taking into account historical knowledge. DirecTV uses analytics to save customers who want to cancel their television service. The company started the program two years ago when it sought to cut churn rates.

What’s interesting is that the examples sited are all reactive. There is some action and then analysis is used to define the appropriate way to respond. Maybe this should be supplemented with a proactive approach as well? That is, avoid upfront engaging customers who don’t meet the good customer profile. For example, for a fitness club, membership retention would be less of an issue if the right customers were attracted in the first place. Waiting to see who leaves seems archaic, no?

How hard agents press depends on how valuable the customer has been to DirecTV, Gustafson says. “There are some people we just do not want to lose.” About 60 percent of customers who want to depart are deemed worth trying to save, he says. The company uses tools from Teradata and SAS to analyze past behavior, evaluating data such as the average annual revenue the customer represents, her payment history and how many pay-per-view shows she buys.

This is a perfect example of forgetting that we’re dealing with real people here. Maybe I am a marginal customer. But if I have 500 Facebook friends and 1,000 Twitter follows then that should be a factor too. To simply place a value on an account (notice I did not say guest or customer) is at best dangerous if the evaluation is this superficial.

Every customer saved is one less customer the company has to try to win back weeks or months later—an expensive process, Gustafson says, that can involve mailings, e-mail and telephone calls as well as sending someone out to reinstall the service. “When the customer first calls, they have a certain mind-set: They want to cancel,” he says. “When we call back, they’re unprepared. It’s a little psychological advantage we have.”

Oh no he didn’t! Forgive me if this sounds insulting but only an idiot would go on record saying such a thing. But again, Mr. Gustafson’s statement is another example of forgetting that guests are real people, not rats to be manipulated.

Now, though, the My Coke Rewards program has helped the company develop more in-depth knowledge about loyal customers. The inside of every bottle cap is printed with a 12-digit code that customers can text or type into a website or desktop widget to accumulate points that can be exchanged for prizes and other awards. Those who opt in to e-mail marketing receive regular offers to gain more points, as well as other marketing pitches. Each is customized based on segments created from demographic information and behavior collected by the site. On average, 285,000 customers visit per day, entering an average of seven codes per second. Information embedded in the codes may include a region or location where the bottle was sold and whether it had special packaging, such as an Olympics logo, that Coca-Cola uses to tailor its pitches.

Read that again… It’s not a 12 digit number, it’s a code. In other words, you can’t drink a soda in peace without wondering when and how Coca-Cola is going to watch you. Scary, right?

After four years, My Coke Rewards is among the longest-running marketing programs in Coca-Cola’s history. And as the program has grown, the company has changed the way it runs in response to insight from analytics, Rollins says.

First, of all the programs Coke has ever had four years constitutes “among the longest-running”? MyGawd, has their marketing department been thinking or just rolling the dice and hoping to find something that sticks. Must be nice to have that type of budget. Furthermore, this reads as if they are responding to analysis, not guests. Not good.

Coca-Cola uses the FICO Precision Marketing Manager suite of statistical analysis tools to study data from its websites. Marketers look at which come-ons elicit the most and best responses, says Thomas Stubbs, Coca-Cola’s interactive marketing director in global IT. Coca-Cola also exchanges data with companies that supply prizes, including Nascar, Nike (NKE) and Sony. “As technology has evolved, we’re able to do more and have a relevant dialog with customers, not just push our ideas out there,” he says.

“A man might not want to admit that he’s a Diet Coke drinker. He will say in a survey that he prefers Coke. But we see he enters only Diet Coke PINs and market accordingly.”

Danger Will Robinson! While it’s true that Coca-Cola might want to know more about who consumes their products, Coke is treading on thin ice if they believe that their definition of the guest is better than the guest’s himself/herself. Do such details constitute useful information? Yes, of course. Might they also be making over-confident decision, and possibly insulting the guest? Yes, that’s very true too.

The idea is not just to save business but to create new business. Successful projects spark new ones. Analytics tools help companies create more money-generating interactions with customers and shave costs from internal operations. CIOs should connect analytics technologies with ideas about refining business processes, says Aberdeen’s White. “Meld them together and that’s very powerful.”

Bottom line… it’s about The Guests, not data and analysis. This shouldn’t be about “refining business process” but about improving The Guest Experience. Same ends? Maybe (but probably not). Different means? Yes, very different means. One puts The Guest first and one does not. If you could analyze the two approaches which would you bet to be the winner? Of the companies you deal with which try to improve The Guest Experience and which are more concerned about their processes and their bottom line?

And finally, to help get it all back into perspective: “It’s Not Your Relationship to Manage” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine via DestinationCRM.com, May 2010).

World Cup: Bud vs Bavaria

“Fifa acts after ‘ambush marketing’ by Dutch brewery” by BBC News (news.BBC.co.uk, 15 June 2010). Being a lover of The Beautiful Game, this off the pitch sideshow is worth mentioning.

Internationally televised or not, if the Budweiser brand is fearful of three dozen women in orange dresses then there is something significantly wrong with Bud’s marketing efforts. In raising the issue to the legal level, FIFA and Anheuser Busch have probably played to Bavaria’s hand and have given the tiny Bavaria the even higher profile they were seeking. Haven’t we’ve seen this tactic before? Are FIFA and A.B. that naive?

Finally, as the anti mega-corporation climate continue to grow amount consumers, Buds excessive counter attack against the underdog Bavaria in all likelihood risks additional push back against the Bud brand, as well as the Anheuser Busch family of brands. Worth it? Probably not. What’s next, supporters being banned for wearing their squads’ colours because a sponsor doesn’t like that colour?

For violation of the spirit of the game, “The King of Beers”  should be sent off.

What do you think? Is FIFA and A.B. acting in their own best interests, or looking to be a social media victim of their own 20th century mindset?

Content is Queen. “Quality” is King.

“Interview: Ricky Van Veen – College Humor CEO Shares His 10 Web Content Urban Legends” by Brenna Ehrlich (Mashable.com, 8 June 2010). A quickie worth sharing. Three universal themes worth noting are:

1) Content isn’t king — quality is.

2) But it is the receiver who defines quality. Quality is relative and based on perceived value of the experience.

3) Based on the perceived value it is the receiver who makes it viral, or not. It doesn’t matter how much you try to spin it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

How to save the fans from the NBA

“6 Ways to Fix the NBA” by Stephen Fried (Parade.com, 20 June 2010). As luck (?) would have it, this article managed to come my way via Google Alerts. And yes, sports as an analogy for business is overdone. None the less there are some interesting observation here that apply to incentives, as well as cause and effect gone astray.

Here is a version of the comment that was submitted:

Dear Parade,

I read the six recommendations on improving the appeal of the NBA and would like to comment. My thoughts are as follows:

1) Change foul out rules — While it’s true people wish to see the star players, no one comes to see fouls either. In any sport fouls are the “ugly” side of the game. I find it hand to believe that what ultimately comes down to more fouls is going to be appealing for the fan. Is there any prescient for ugliness increasing a fan base of any sport?

2) Increase scoring — I would like to suggest there are two flaws here. One, accelerating scoring will only accelerate the gap in two mismatched teams. Does the NBA really need more blow outs? Two, it’s supposed to be a game and sport, the tit-for-tat approach of focusing on scoring is going to wear thin very fast. One could argue it’s the perceived (?) lack of strategy is actually what’s hurting the NBA today. Pass… Pass… Dunk. Followed by pass… Shoot… gets dull after a while. We know they can score, the question is, do they have game?

That said, an interesting idea might be just giving the team that’s leading less time to shoot? Or the team that’s down more time so they control the pace, can readjust, etc.

3) Raise the age limit — Again, two flaws. One, what if the stars-to-be opts out of the college route and decide to play in Europe instead. Two, does this not confirm the criticism that many already make about college basketball? That is, it’s not about education, sport and developing students into citizen, but instead it’s just the minor leagues for the NBA.

4) Encourage quirk — Ha! In this day and age?? Even at 140 characters Twitter is enough for some of these guys to hurt themselves and ruin their careers. In a society that expects perfection this recommendation is just an accident ready to happen. Furthermore, just because they are great athletes does mean they have “personality”. What’s does shooting a basketball have to do with anything other than that? Yes, let them be who they are. Just consider the classic, “Be careful what you wish for”.

5) Change the trade rules — Truth be told, there is already collusion between the agents and the front offices. The free market will be great as long as there is a way to ensure it is remains a free market.

6) Shortern the season — Finally something that makes sense. And please suggest the same for baseball and hockey too. The NFL has it right, as does European football (aka soccer). The irony here is this is a call for quality, yet more (read: quantity) scoring was recommended earlier.

The bottom line… More fans will pay attention when the NBA, or any brand for that matter, becomes a better entertainment value than other choices fans might already have. I’m not so sure most of the six recommendation listed really workt towards that goal. That is to consistently entertain to a level that exceeds expectations.

Thanks for listening.

Mark

p.s. I thought it was interesting that the woman’s league was not mentioned. It very well could be that the WNBA is cannibalizing fans from the NBA. Maybe this is because in the WNBA it ismore about “game” than about size, or should I say size of egos?Btw, when was the last time a fan got beat up at a WNBA game?

Social networking is only a means

“Interview: John Jantsch – 5 Minutes with…” by: Daria Meoli (NY Enterprise Report, 19 April 2010). You know John, author of Duct Tape marketing, as well as his new book The Referral Engine: Teaching Your Business to Market Itself. Good stuff, right?

Well, if you read and retain one thing this week then this paragraph should be it:

DM: What does “teaching your business to market itself” mean?

JJ: I actually went out and interviewed people from about 50 or 60 companies that get a lot of referrals. They’re doing a lot of business by word of mouth. What I discovered pretty quickly was that the number one way that these organizations were successful in generating referrals had nothing to do with a super special cool way to ask for referrals; they just did stuff that made the experience of doing business with them so great that people voluntarily wanted to talk about them. That’s the idea behind teaching your business to market itself. How do you become the trusted resource? What are all the touch points? What about your culture and your people? The idea is to get your clients so connected to your business that they’d go out of their way to refer you, and not just because they like your product and it does what it says it does, but that they really want to see you succeed.

Brilliant, eh? What did you think of the rest of the interview? Are you going to buy the new book?

When the push is the process – Part 2

“Campaigns No Longer Matter: The Importance of Listening” by Shashi Bellamkonda (SocialMediaToday.com, 4 May 2010). Just a quick follow up on the ideas in the post from earlier this week. Embrace it for this is the current state of the art of “marketing” in 2010. Two rules (aka absolute truths): (1) Walk the talk . (2) Actions speak louder than words.

Picking up Website Magazine’s slack

The good news and “the huh?” news…

WebsiteMagazine.com, a fairly reputable resource when it comes to well… um… websites, recently published a list of their “Top 50 Design Resources”. (Note: We have not vetted this list, nor given the endless resources on the internet should it be consider all inclusive.)

Now here’s “the huh?” There are 50 URLs and they a published as an image. In other words, not links, not even HTML text that can be copied and pasted. A .gif! But wait, there’s more! That image is named: top50may2010.gif. In terms of best practices it should be something like: top-50-web-design-resources-may-2010.gif. And finally, they don’t use the alt=” ” in the HTML for the image. Again, another SEO no no. Website Magazine? Huh?

So in the spirit of “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” here are the first 25 of those Top 50:

1. cssbeauty.com
2. cssdrive.com
3. thefwa.com
4. thebestdesigns.com
5. cssvault.com

6. unmatchedstyle.com
7. designmeltdown.com
8. designshack.co.uk
9. webcream.com
10. cssheaven.com

11. cssremix.com
12. bestgalleryweb.com
13. cssmania.com
14. patterntap.com
15. csselite.com

16. cssclip.com
17. designbombs.com
18. siteinspire.net
19. edustyle.net
20. styleboost.com

21. genuinestyle.com
22. css-website.com
23. cssbased.com
24. mostinspired.com
25. stylegala.com

Btw, when it comes to design, web design and web development two of the AU must visit (and must RSS) are SmashingMagazine.com and SpeckyBoy.com.

When the push is the process the mountain moves closer

“Special Report: e-Commerce Payment Processing & CRM” by Mira Allen and Laura Quinn (NonProfit Times, 1 April 2010). It’s not easy being a 501(c)3. With so much focus on the mission the necessary level empathy for those on the outside looking in can be difficult to muster. This is especially true when it comes to fund raising. Rarely will the guest (outside) be as committed as those fulfilling the mission (inside). Guests have their own mission(s) as well. Work, wife, kids, etc.

In short, successful donor engagement is no longer a once a year push, but an ongoing process. Resources are of course tight so management must embed the push in the day to day process, which in turn needs to align closer to the day the day lives of the target audience(s).

Mira and Laura (from www.IdealWare.org in Maine), cover many of the highlights in how to best to eat the donation elephant.

“As for any campaign, it’s important to formulate a plan before rushing out to ask for money. Start by developing a compelling message to inspire people to donate. Tell supporters a story — not just about why it’s important to support your organization, but specifically what the donations will support. Maybe the goal is a scholarship fund to help more people take advantage of your programs or a new piece of equipment. When possible, put names or faces to the people the campaign will help, or paint a vivid picture of what the hoped-for results will look like.”

Actually, for best results the story should be ongoing. It’s something that should reflect the mission and be constantly reinforced with every “blurb” that your org puts into circulation. Marketing in the 21st century is about a two-way conversation and not just traditional one-way messaging. It’ s a walk the talk world so be prepared to show them what you got. And then keep showing them! Additionally, it’s getting to be more difficult to meet fund raising goals when the marketing machine only gets ramped up once or twice a year. How do you think it makes your donors feel when you only come looking for them when you want money? While that might not be entirely true, if that’s their perception then consider it written in stone.

Whatever your medium, make sure you create compelling hooks to encourage people to donate. A simple “Help support our organization” might not get the same response as a “Help add 100 books to the library by midnight!” Almost any online message — whether ad, email, or status update — should be crafted to grab attention. Entice your constituents with intriguing and motivating calls to action.

At the risk of sounding like a broken mp3, do realize that the hook is for the donors, not for you. It’s not what those on the inside should find engaging and only have time for. What’s most important is what do those on the outside of the .org hear and/or expect to hear. How many times have we all seen an advertisement – not just from a nonprofit – that is about what the sender wants to say, and not about what the receiver is expecting to hear as well as how they are wanting to hear it. A product/service benefit isn’t a benefit unless the receiver thinks it is.  For example, the sender say,”Been around for 50 years…” While the receiver thinks, “Big deal! What are you going to do for me today?” That’s not to say tradition and established aren’t important to some, but hey are certainly further a way from the benefit target than “saves you time” or “saves you money”.

Btw, as a rule any “sales pitch” should avoid “cute” and don’t over think “creative”. If it’s not reinforcing the idea(s) then it’s probably a distraction. Nine of out of ten time KISS is will get the job done. Do you have the time to wrestle with unraveling a “cute” message? Don’t be that sender.

It’s more difficult to tell how many people are responding to your social networking appeals, but you can look for spikes in donations when you post something to Twitter or Facebook. It’s also possible to collect donations inside Facebook (using the Causes application), making it very clear how much is coming from Facebook users.

Actually, and this goes for you for profits as well, there’s a tool from Google called URL Builder that is an extension of their free website Analytics offering.  In short, you can add parameters to each of the links you post and Analytics will be able to better track that incoming traffic for you. And not to worry, the URLs generated with URL Builder still work with URL shortening services like TinyURL, Bit.ly, etc. Yes, URL Builder adds 120 seconds extra step but it’s time well invested if your .org want to analyze and understand what worked and what did not.

Three to get ready (for next week and beyond)

You might not be an executive. You might not have users.  You might not be a CFO. However, if you’re looking for ideas, inspiration and strategies for staying on a path to success then this trio is for you:

“Escaping the Executive Bubble” by Kate O’Sullivan (CFO Magazine, 1 February 2010).

“There are a whole bunch of natural filters in an organization,” Roberto explains. “It’s not because people are necessarily hiding things, but as information moves through the hierarchy of a company, it gets packaged, streamlined, and analyzed.” As a result, the “news” that arrives at the CFO’s desk has usually been cleaned and polished. And distorted.

“Opinion: Love Your Users” by Frank Hayes (ComputerWorld, 22 March 2010).

Yes, users also burn up a lot of our time with password resets, downloaded malware and simple dumbness. We could cheerfully strangle them for things like that.

But some users, at least, have eyes, ears and brains that can be IT’s first line of defense against problems that we wouldn’t spot ourselves until it was too late.

“We Fail Fast, Learn, and Move On. An interview with Steven Neil, CFO of Diamond Foods Inc.” by David M. Katz (CFO Magazine, 1 April 1 2010).

We got our supply-chain folks involved, studied our approach, and identified what my kids call the “duh” factor. The way we had been loading the truck facilitated the operations of our warehouse rather than our customer’s warehouse. So we changed how we packed the truck to align with the layout of the customer’s warehouse.

Get it?

Opinion: Love your users

March 22, 2010 06:00 AM ET

I think I think I can

“Interview: Jonah Lehrer – Indecisions, Indecisions, Indecisions” by Joshua Weinberger and Jessica Tsai (CRM Magazine, February 2010). Lehrer’s latest book, “How We Decide” explores the more scientific side of decision making (read: making purchases). It seems that we are probably a bit more complex than most sales and marketing formulas give use credit for. That said, there are a couple bits here that good/better marketers should be aware of. It read quick so do give it a go.

And now for the customary pull quote to whet your appetite:

CRM: So—the less the rational distinction between products, the more emotional the marketing has to become?

Lehrer: Yeah, that’s exactly right. The less qualitative difference there is between the actual products, between you and your competition, the more important it becomes to turn the brand into this emotionally resonant thing. It’s all about what neuroscience calls predictive utility—how much pleasure we expect it to give us versus what it actually gives us turns out to be profoundly important.

Sounds tasty, right? Ok then, now dig in.

The moral of the web design story

“Keep Your Graphic Designer on a Short Leash” by Tim Ash (Website Magazine, February 2010). It’s Friday so let’s get right to the meat of the matter. First, it’s not just your graphic designer you need to keep on a short leash. Chances are good you need to keep you on one too. A web site is a tool. A tool that helps you meet certain objectives to engage your guests. But more importantly, it’s a tool that helps your guest satisfy certain needs. In short, it’s about them, not you. Define those needs and then work from there.

For example, just because you (or your designer) see something “cool” on another site does not mean it’s a good idea. The question is, does that “coolness” meet one of your defined needs or not? If it doesn’t help to meet a need then it should be taken off the table. No ifs, ands or buts. The fact is, there are far too many “cool” but bad ideas out there already. Don’t get sucked into thinking “cool” is the answer. Quite often such gimmicks get tired pretty quick. Unless of course you want your brand to seem tired.

Tim’s key pearl comes in the final paragraph:

The moral of the story is clear: When it comes to landing pages, graphic artists need to follow a minimalist visual aesthetic that focuses on conversion and not window dressing. The new landing page may not be exciting visually, but that is not the objective. On a toned-down page the call-toaction emerges from the relative stillness of the page. “Boring” works. And it makes more money — that should make it plenty exciting.

And while you’re at WebsiteMagazine.com be sure to also check the primer “Building and Maintaining an Online Brand” by Peter Presitpino (Editor-In-Chief). A good piece of back to basics to keep you on track.