Yeah Dad, But They’re From Akron…


In my adolescent years, a fan favorite amongst my friends was the series of “Vacation” movies with Chevy Chase for all of the subtle , sophomoric one-liners, laced with double-entendre. Being from the Akron area made the European Vacation movie especially fun – if you can write to me and tell me about the scene I quote in the title above, I have a special prize (HINT: the prize is an invite that starts with a “G” and ends in “+”).

What does Where we are from, say about Who we are?

For centuries, the difference between friend and foe was often as simple as geographic boundaries. There was no thought given to the trials and tribulations, aspirations and dreams, or the wants and desires of “the others” only the belief that they must be conquered. Sad to say, many of today’s leading consumer brands still feel this way. These brands have been extremely succesful at conquering the U.S. and maybe a few other “mature” markets, but when it comes to global expansion, they are learning that a one-size fits all approach will not work.

Will “What plays in Peoria“, play in Singapore?

The motivations and aspirations of the consumer sector vary greatly from region to region, and again from country to country, and yet again when comparing urban and rural consumers within a single country. We all know this is true and inherently understand it by being a part of it – in the U.S. that means red states, blue states, and even “green” states, but diving deeper exposes distinct groups even within the states, counties, cities, and even neighborhoods. So how do you know how various population groups will respond to your call-to-action? It seems obvious to most of us the differences between New Jersey, Manhattan, and Long Island – but given the close geographic proximity to each other this could be difficult for a non-American (or non-East Coaster) to understand that the three groups of consumers in these areas couldn’t be more different. The same could be said for a wider geography – say we compared the attitudes and aspirations of consumers in the major metropolitan areas of New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston – talk about three different worlds; and this doesn’t account for the Bible Belt, the Rust Belt, or much less anyone not in the hustle bustle of the northeast. A product launch in NYC will (and should) look very different than one in Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, or L.A. And what about the population segments in the suburbs of those cities – surely you can see how complex and challenging it is to identify the right consumer audience in a country where you’ve never lived.

Don’t forget – I have Google+ invites for those that tell me about the scene I quote in the title above…

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DMA webinar: Swing for the fences – 8/10


Go global with your marketing – I am speaking at this FREE DMA webinar on 8/10 http://t.co/nXHUEoK

Anyone out there suffer from Marketing Withdrawal?


It has been said that on a daily basis, American exposure rates to advertising and marketing messages in ranges from as low (low?) of 500 to several thousand and beyond depending on the source.  Most Americans have tuned out buzz and as a result most marketing messages are wasted.  However, in my case, as Marketer I pride myself on trying to be exposed to even more than the average bear so I can continue to build my body of knowledge and understanding of what is working and what is not.  I quickly, but carefully, look at each email, direct mail piece and banner ad presented to me.  I’m the kind of nerd that  likes sorting and taking inventory of my direct mail mail at home; this enables me to create an index or barometer of sorts in my mind about the state of marketing and more specifically consumer targeting and relevance in my small part of the world and for my “peeps” who share my demographic category – we typically receive multiple pieces for each category below in either CRM or prospecting efforts on a weekly basis:

  • financial services
  • automotive dealers and manufacturers
  • insurance companies
  • credit card offers
  • cable and satellite TV
  • real estate
  • travel
  • education and seminars
  • pool cleaners, landscapers
  • local restaurants and shops
  • home improvement mag-a-logs
  • mail order catalogs

You name it, we get it; the volume of mail ebbs and flows to a cadence I quickly would recognize.  I gleefully open and devour each one, thinking about the relevance, the creative and the offer presented.   Now that I have moved to a new house, our mailbox is very empty these days.   Since much of this mail is not sent First Class, it is not forwarded by the post office, and the mailer will have to wait until they process their file through the NCOA process to discover that I have moved.  The fact is, moving in to a new house costs money and advertisers are missing a key behavioral cue – when you move you need things and you are eager to spend on building the nest.  We also need to know who delivers take-out food here, where is the closest grocery, and where I will get my dry cleaning done.

You may have read on this blog the on-going saga related to my recent residential move and the customer service challenges we have faced with the various service providers for [Satellite TV] [DSL Internet] – the DSL situation was never resolved and I have since cancelled the service.  In trying to place an order for Cable Internet service there seems to be some complications there as well – more to come.  I thought we were becoming a service economy?  If so what happened to service? 

Anyway, as a result of no direct mail and no internet access at home (for nearly a month now) I must say that I am suffering from Marketing Withdrawal.  As a Marketer, I feed on marketing and rely on it to spark new ideas and thoughts.  Has anyone else suffered this condition?

Spray and Pray is NOT a Customer Contact Strategy


My family and I recently moved  into a new house, and in the process I utilized the “moving” services offered by Big Satellite Company [name changed to protect the guilty].  I was a little perturbed when I was unable to coordinate the moving service online, but that’s another topic.  Anyway, all went well and the move went great – they even threw in some free premium channels for free as a “value add” to using the service.  Great way to protect against attrition to competing companies or, god-forbid, cable.

Here’s the kicker – a day later I received an email from Big Satellite Company asking me “Did you know that you can manage your account online?”.  My first inclination was to reply and ask them “Do you know that I had been doing so for my 10+ years as a customer?  Not to mention that the account service I most recently used was not accessible online?”.

Obviously there is a business rule trigger that sent me the email, likely because I called in to the service center to request the moving service, but the automation rules failed to recognize the fact that:

  1. I am frequent user of their online system for account changes.
  2. The service most recently used in not available online.

To borrow from the ESPN crew, C’mon MAN!

I know this is probably rocket-science to some, but companies can do better!

Spray and Pray is not a Customer Contact Strategy – by this I mean that automating communications with your customers should not be done simply for the sake of doing it, and furthermore, not all customers are created equal.   A sound Customer Contact Strategy should span each and every potential interaction a company could have with a customer regardless of contact or delivery channel.  And, these contacts should be well thought out, situational, and personalized to maximize relevance to the customer.  This results in improving sentiment towards your brand with the big payoff being not only the retention of customers, but perhaps more important, the recommendation of your product or service to the customer’s extended “network” of friends, family, and colleagues via social networks .  This is often exacerbated by the  interactions being handled through different software platforms and the wide spread practice of outsourcing portions of CRM processes to different companies (or handled internally by different teams)  as well as the proliferation of subcontracted delivery channels – but trust me when I say that it can be done!

Ask me how…

If the World is Flat, why do you need a Sherpa?


Flat Earth Sherpa

By now, I am sure you all have read The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman?  If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend you read it right away – it will change the way you think about the future that is already here.  With that said, the basic premise that I took away from the book in a single sentence is that technology has essentially “flattened” the  Earth by enabling real-time collaboration on a global basis. The concept of a small manufacturer in India, sourcing raw materials in China, perhaps on Alibaba, with funding via micro loan from the UK, and selling finished goods on eBay to an American consumer is now a reality.

This is where the irony enters.

This new flat Earth has been a tremendous enabler for small and medium-sized businesses, but has muddied the waters for much larger companies.  I spend a great deal of my time consulting with some of the world’s largest and most recognizable consumer brands, and for the most part these companies recognize and are actively trying to exploit this new flat Earth, but frankly they have no idea how to choose the best countries for expansion, how to maximize growth for those countries they are already in, and in either case, how to navigate the myriad of technology, data, cultural, legal and consumer privacy challenges.

Hence, the need for a Sherpa (hint: ME).

If your company or if you have a client that is facing these types of Global Expansion challenges in this new flat earth, please let me know – I can lead the way.

It has been a while since I have posted an article, and I certainly have no shortage of topics to write about; the fact remains that  I simply do not have enough time in the day.  And to add insult to injury, my travel schedule and client load keeps me flush with article ideas, but  no time to write about them.  I actually did some of the final editing for this post on my new iPhone 4 (more on that in future articles) while my son drank his milk and watched Little Einsteins from my lap!

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and keep your eyes open for a few rapid-fire posts over the next week or so – having not written in a while, they will be based on my travels and observations over the last couple of months.  Don’t forget to leave your comments and provide feedback.

Thank you for reading and Happy Hunting!

Restoring Faith in the Universe!


EarbudsEveryone has heard the expression “bad things happen to good people” and for about the millionth time in my life, I was thinking it to myself last week.  I was traveling on business (again) and in my typical, helpful fashion I was assisting an older woman lift her “way-too-large-to-be-a-carry-on” bag into the overhead compartment, and painfully watched in slow motion as one of the ear buds on my BlackBerry headset launched into the air and tumbled end-over-end into the darkness between 2 very large passengers seated below.  Rather than put myself in the middle of that mess and and hold up my fellow boarding passengers, I simply moved on, mumbling under my breath.  This meant that a) my in-flight music would not be in stereo  and b) the client call I had planned during my trek through the Atlanta airport would now carry a higher degree of difficulty given the background noise that can only be produced on a weekday morning in that mammoth airport.

Upon arriving in Atlanta, I made a beeline for one of those airport kiosks for a replacement, and found that the gentleman wanted $8.99 for a set of 5 pairs of different ear buds in multiple sizes, shapes and colors.  I told the guy I’d pass, and as I started to walk towards the newly opened Blackberry store across the way,  he called me back.  What happened next might go down in history as a business traveler miracle – wait for it – he reached into a drawer and pulled out a single pair of replacement ear buds, shrink-wrapped oem-style, and handed them to me with a smile and a Merry Christmas.  I patted his shoulder and said Merry Christmas to you too.

So carry on good people of the world – give and you shall receive!

So what does this have to do with marketing?

Take your pick – whether it is asking for permission to market to your customers or resolving client complaints without them going ape-crazy on you first – do the right thing and it comes back to you!  I promise.

What do you think?

 

What’s worse? ‘Kids Today’ or Client Expectations?


 

Little Rock Arkansas

Image compliments of Little Rock Beautiful Comission

 

I know I have not posted lately, but I have been traveling a lot.  As a matter of fact, I just returned home from Little Rock, Arkansas and my trip, as well as a brief conversation with some strangers on the last night, were the catalysts I needed to write this! 

My last night in town it was raining, and as I made way back to The Peabody,  I was ducking (no pun intended) under storefront awnings and doorways to avoid getting drenched.  I was half way to the hotel and as I popped into a doorway, there were a couple of “dudes” in their early twenties standing there.   Small talk ensued, mostly with the shorter one.  They appeared to be a gang of two; the shorter one did all of the talking and the other always looked at the leader before speaking when he did.  The leader asked me what I did for a living.  At the risk of confusing them (sometimes it is not crystal clear even to me), I simply said ‘I’m a consultant”.  He followed with “What’s that?” and I told him “I give people my opinion”.   Now the quiet one pipes up and asks “You can get paid for that?!” with his eyes wide open.  Now the simple conversation turned into more of a Magic 8 Ball session – they asked me about all of the secrets of the universe, as if I were the Dhali Lamba himself.  The last question came – “How much money can you make buying stocks?” he asks.  I tried to explain it was a matter of the amount invested, the stock, and the time period – but mostly luck.  The short one said “How much can I make if I buy $1,000 in stock?” – “It depends” I say, “But it wouldn’t be hard to get 10% in return over some time period”.  He then asks “How much is that?”. 

As I dash into the rain, running from the fear that I would get dumber if I stood there any longer, I was thinking to myself what every generation before me has thought, “What is it with kids today?”.  

This brings me to wondering what’s worse – “kids today” or client expectations?  Let me explain. 

Stethoscope

Image compliments of the Fordham University Blog

 

On a regular basis, I work with many of the most sophisticated and successful companies in the world, and I am amazed at how often they come to my company with a sincere desire to improve what they’re doing, yet when we ask them direct questions about their business challenges and other details that are variables that will dramatically affect our ability to help them, not to mention our price, they refuse to answer.  They just keep asking us “When can you provide a solution and how much will it cost?”  That’s like going to a doctor and telling her you that don’t feel well, but then not answering any of her questions about your symptoms or letting her examine you.

How can we prescribe a solution if you don’t describe the symptom?

Not sure which is worse – what do you think?

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing RIGHT…


We’ve all heard variations of this sentiment – many credit it’s creation to Hunter S. Thompson in his epic adventure “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” (yes I called it epic).  Having spent nearly 7 years in the Army, I vehemently subscribe to this train of thought and often find myself discouraged when business owners and marketers take short cuts to save a buck now, when in reality they could be costing themselves more in the long run. 
Here are 2 recent “personalization” experiences that illustrate the point (I have changed the names to protect the guilty).  In both cases, these prestigious, national brands are applying technology to reach consumers with personalized communications, but the effort is lackluster at best due to some shortcomings on the data side:
 
I am a subscriber to the print edition of Super Cool Business Magazine, although I have not activated or created an online profile with the companion website.  My subscription to the magazine was offered to me via direct mail, and I responded (and paid) via the web, and this is not the only title from the publisher to which I subscribe.  So – let’s recap.  The publisher has my name and postal address, as well as information about other magazine titles they offer to which I also subscribe.  They have my personal email address derived from the online subscription activation/payment as well as online profiles associated with other titles
 
Herein lies the rub – over the last month or 2, my wife has been receiving emails from Super Cool Business Magazine and “trusted partners” personalized to me (“Dear Mark”).  Obviously they have performed some sort of email address append to their file and/or performed some data massaging to “household” my record – the result is that my wife’s personal email address is associated with my name and postal information.  I say to her – “No problem – just forward me the email, and I will go online and update my communication preferences to include my email address instead of yours”.  Easier said than done.  When I clicked the link in the email to make changes to my profile, the only option was to completely unsubscribe.  So I did – too bad for this publisher – now their database is short one email address and who knows how many others experienced the same thing?  All of this results from having the right intentions (combination of marketing + technology) but with poor execution. 
 
My second example comes to us from a respected German automaker; my wife and I both drive cars from this brand and we loyaly use the local dealership for our maintenance and repair needs.  Our vehicles are both model year 2004 sedans, but different models.  The dealership’s use of email as a CRM extension and marketing tool has been sporadic at best.  The various emails we receive related to marketing promotions, coupons, and service appt reminders all seem to be coming from different systems – to the point that the email templates (colors, logos, fonts) seem to have no cohesive design elements connecting them. 
 
Herein lies the rub – the dealership cannot seem to get my email address associated with me and my vehicle, and my wife’s email address associated with her and her vehicle.  They will personalize a marketing message with “Dear Mark”   and reference my Model/VIN# in an email to my wife and vice-versa.  Sometimes, the emails will have her name and my VIN# to my email address.  There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason.  To add insult to injury, there is no way to go online and self-police the data in a communication preference center – again, the only option is to unsubcribe, and the unsubscribe page for each email is different.  We have even made calls to the dealership providing updated information to no avail – it appears that the dealer marketing system, the dealer service scheduling system, and the corporate marketing database are not synchronized. 
 
So what’s the lesson?  Don’t take shortcuts and make sure your data is in order before personalizing communications or at least offer a 2-way dialogue that enables consumers to contribute to the conversation.  Here is a great article on personalizing email communications from MediaPost:
 

How to increase customer response with trigger-based marketing (via MySalesHero’s Blog)


I have written about this topic before, but here is another angle and great insight from my colleague, MySalesHero….

How to increase customer response with trigger-based marketing You don’t have to be a superhero to know how important it is to be in the right place at the right time. It’s the same for your marketing programs. Timing is everything. Photography services for the recently engaged. Accounting assistance for an expanding company. Lawn care services after a new home purchase. By delivering the right offer just when your customer is ready to buy, you’ll improve buyer response every time. These trigger events in yo … Read More

via MySalesHero’s Blog

5 Ways to Boost Business


In 1975, Paul Simon had a hit with “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”.  As a kid I obviously did not know what it was about or even what the name of the song was, but I would gleefully belt out the catchy chorus, rhyming about Jack, Stan, Roy, Gus, and Lee (special prize to the first reader to tell me the other half of the rhymes!).

The song really only highlighted 5 of the ways to leave, so I thought I would take some poetic license and offer you my “5 Ways to Boost Business”.

1.       Understand Your Audience

Steven Covey, author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, begins his Habit #5 with “Seek First to Understand”.  I personally rank this much higher, but nonetheless we should all agree that this is a pillar of any successful endeavor.  One of my previous articles detailed some relatively simple ways to better understand your customers.

2.       Reach Them Where They Are

There are a myriad of choices today regarding “where” to try and establish a dialogue with your customers.  Notice I said dialogue, implying a 2 way conversation.  This is possible with newer and growing approaches related to Search, Online Display, Social, and Mobile – including location-based services, and even present in the tried and true of methods using Point of Sale promotions, Direct Mail, and Email.  A major step in creating a customer dialogue is to do it on their terms.  Channel preference is often overlooked yet can be a critical factor in defining the customer’s overall experience and opinion of your products and services, and most importantly their willingness to recommend you to others.  Don’t overlook or disobey your customer’s channel preference – if you don’t know their preference, JUST ASK! 

3.       Make Timely and Relevant Offers

Matching an offer to the target audience can be approached several ways from the complex methods of predictive analytics to the simple like using basic demographic information, geography, Life Stage segmentation, Life Event Triggers, or even triggered actions (or inactions) from your own transactional data.    

4.       Give/Get

In today’s economic climate, it seems that Customer Loyalty is at an all time low, with consumers switching providers or changing brands based on price.  The underlying message is that the product or service is viewed as a commodity because there is no intrinsic value in buying it one place or the other.  All things considered equal, lowest price will win every time unless there is a compelling value in the relationship.  The path to retention (and growth) requires you to reward your customers, or “GIVE”, so that in turn you are rewarded by the customer and “GET” to keep and expand the business. 

5.       Deliver Great Service

Lastly, great service is hard to come by these days.  I am not sure why, but it seems to have been going downhill for some time.  Too many companies are focused on getting new clients in the door and are not providing the “care & feeding” of the clients already on board, and customers leave as fast as Sales can land them.    

I hope you find these tips useful and I look forward to your questions or feedback.  Don’t forget – I have a special prize to the first reader to tell me the other half of the rhymes in the song!

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