Ernan’s Insights on Marketing Best Practices

Monday, March 28, 2011

Social Media Self-Destruction: Aflac and Chrysler

THE PROBLEM: A single thoughtless social message can cause a major PR disaster.
THE SOLUTION: Use common sense and Voice of the Customer feedback to keep your organization's social media messaging appropriate and on target.

What's funny on Twitter can be very funny indeed. Until it isn't.

That's the primary lesson from the recent "twimmolations" of former AFLAC voice artist Gilbert Gottfried and the unlucky marketing consultant working for Chrysler. Each story of "the tweet that went too far" has by now been retold many times, often with the same moral: Be smart and beware!

Twitter rewards creativity and zaniness with visibility, but then condemns it when it "crosses the line" ... a line that is sometimes hard to identify. Playing for global visibility in the social media space means taking risks, and the common tactic of pushing boundaries of taste or humor can make those risks immense.

That may be the right lesson for the world at large ... but the lesson for marketers is a different one.

We are not out to make the entire online world laugh. Rather, we are out to engage, over time with a carefully defined subsection of cyberspace: our customers and prospective customers.

That means we must use social media channels as a LISTENING channel first and foremost. We must deploy Twitter, Facebook, and other channels to determine what kinds of products, services, and communications our customers want ... and we must use these tools to take their temperature constantly about what does not belong in our communications.

Untargeted, irrelevant, or offensive messages always hurt our cause. Rather than "experiment," our goal is to know with greater and greater certainty what our customers consider untargeted, irrelevant, or offensive ... long before we hit "send."

Social media can help us confirm what is, and is not, likely to be perceived by our own customers as "crossing the line." However, everyone connected with our organization must understand

arrow When they do and do not represent the enterprise on-line.
arrow What kinds of messages are on the right side of that VOC-defined line, and what kinds are unacceptable at any time and via any medium.
Our job is not to win global attention by ignoring our own VOC-defined boundaries of good taste! Rather, it is to use the constant stream of information we receive from our customers and prospects to get a clearer sense of what they do and do not expect from us. As Craig Kielberger, founder of Free the Children, put it in a recent interview, social media offers "indispensable real-time feedback about what we're doing -- what's working and what is not." Empower your people to use that feedback ... and you'll avoid fiascos like those experienced recently by Aflac and Chrysler.

View Twitter as a major channel of communication for your company. Train and manage staff accordingly. This is not a casual activity for "someone on staff".

Gather customer feedback regarding what they do and don't want to see in your enterprise's social media messages.

Formalize guidelines for your company's social media content standards.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Use Twitter as a Voice of Customer Marketing and Service Channel

THE PROBLEM: A Customer Got Less Than Your Best...and Is Now Using Social Media to Tell The World.
THE SOLUTION: Use That Same Social Media Channel to Ask for a Second Chance!
Imagine this scenario: one of your customers has launched a complaint against your company. It is directed not only at you, but also at the universe of customers who buy from you, and...prospective customers who may buy from you in the future! What is your response?
Use the complaint as an opportunity to establish a person-to-person, Voice of Customer, (VOC) dialogue. That dialogue must unfold in public, using the social media channel of the complaining customer's choice...and it must use careful LISTENING to show why your organization deserves a second chance.
If you follow the etiquette of the social media channel your customer has chosen, the odds are good that you will not only receive a second chance, but also earn the right to convert that complaining customer into an evangelist for your organization.
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Here are just two examples of dialogues that transformed complainers into evangelists, each of which unfolded on Twitter. Twitter has emerged as a preferred channel for voicing service complaints by today's social-media-savvy consumers. This means that Twitter is a channel every VOC-driven organization should now be monitoring closely.
COMCAST: During an unsatisfactory phone exchange about a refund for an unused premium channel, a Comcast customer used Twitter to send the following message to the world: "I hate Comcast." By the time she hung up with the service rep, she was preparing to launch a wave of complaint messages all over the Internet. Before she could do so, however, she saw a return tweet from one ComcastBill: "What's the issue?" The customer explained the situation; using Twitter, ComcastBill actually listened to the customer, paused for a moment, and then announced a $170 credit from Comcast. This from the same dialogue that could easily have sparked a large-scale "I hate Comcast" consumer revolt. The same customer wrote a blog entry praising Comcast's quick response to her Twitter complaint!
Southwest Airlines: A traveler whose baggage had been delayed and left in the rain tweeted an unflattering message about Southwest. The next morning, he saw this tweet: "Sorry to hear about your flight--weather was terrible in the NE. Hope you give us a 2nd chance to prove Southwest=Awesomeness." Surprised at this human-to-human engagement, the passenger wrote a detailed blog praising the personalized service...and informing the world at large that "the flight back was great." You can read the blog here.
If you’re not already using Twitter to monitor references to your company...you should start!
When a problem arises, use the channel of the complaining customer's choice (for example, Twitter), to begin a dialogue. Engage (publicly) with the goal of LISTENING well enough to EARN A SECOND CHANCE.
If you made a mistake, take full ownership and apologize.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Use Voice of Customer Insights to Effectively Gain and Retain Customers

Relationship Marketing Innovator: Palms Trading Company
New Mexico Trading Post embraces cutting-edge marketing strategies yet stays true to its ties to the Old West and generations of Native American artists.
THE PROBLEM: How to use sophisticated marketing strategies to gain new customers and retain existing customers…in ways that are true to a low key, folksy, and friendly culture?
THE SOLUTION: Trust the wisdom of customers and prospects to advise you regarding the marketing they feel is effective and authentic to your core culture.
Palms TradingNew Mexico-based Palms Trading Company is one of the country's oldest Native American trading posts. It was recently named one of New Mexico's Top 25 Small Businesses. The company has historic ties to the Old West and to generations of Native American artists.
When I first visited Palms Trading over a dozen years ago, I was struck by the quiet dignity of the Native American artists who brought in flimsy plastic laundry baskets filled with what appeared to be rags. When they unwrapped the rags to show their pottery, the intricacy and quality of their work left me speechless. These gifted artists had been working with Palms Trading for generations and had developed a bond of trust, which was now being maintained by Guy Berger, the owner.
A similar sense of trust and personal connection was obvious in Guy's interactions with his retail and wholesale customers, some of whom had been buying from his company for decades. Yet, as Guy was quick to admit, he and his team needed help on a new marketing initiative. His sales to certain wholesalers were not as robust as he wanted. Did I think he could dramatically expand his market share among wholesalers...without changing the unique person-to-person culture of his enterprise?
I was certain Guy could expand his business, and at the same time respect its unique culture, by doing what he was already doing with those artists and with his own best customers: Listening well.
We designed 1 hour depth-research interviews to understand the needs and expectations of wholesale customers and prospects. Findings from this Voice of the Customer (VOC) research indicated that they wanted a stronger, more personal, and more proactive relationship with the company, via multiple points of contact: face-to-face, online, and telephone. They were also very specific regarding the role and value each of these points points of contact needed to provide.
As a result, Palms expanded its specialized Personal Shopper customer service program (which had up to that point been targeted exclusively to retail customers), and tailored its offerings to meet the multichannel needs of the wholesalers on-line, in person, via phone and in person.
The VOC-driven process has continued to provide important guidance. For instance, it helped Palms create several new online and social media strategies, for both wholesalers and retailers. An exciting example is an opt-in driven e-newsletter, meant to increase understanding and appreciation of the beauty of Native American art. These proactive outreach efforts are driven by the opt-in preferences of wholesalers regarding the frequency and focus of communications.
The VOC identified ways to deliver even greater levels of service and care, while ensuring that the tone and feel of these increasingly proactive communications retained the low-key, caring, and folksy flavor of their company culture.
RESULTS: Since the inception of the VOC-driven program, sales increased at an average rate of 10 percent year-to-year. During these tough economic times, the strong customer relationships have kept the company on an even keel, while many in this industry have suffered.
Click here to read about the customer service lessons learned from my chimney cleaning company.
Trust the wisdom of your customers and prospects. It is in their interest to provide blunt, candid insights to help you improve.
Be humble enough to ask for guidance and wise enough to recognize the value of the voice of the customer.
We recently completed our 100th VOC research effort. The company turned out to have been one of our very first VOC research clients. They have been humble enough to keep seeking the voice of the customer so they can keep improving the quality of the customer experience. The company: IBM.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Social Media's Power To Help Charities Engage Donors: Relationship Marketing Innovator; Free The Children

THE CHALLENGE: According to a survey from Merrill Lynch and Indiana University, charitable organizations around the country are reporting a noticeable drop in donor contributions. Wealthy donors in particular are cutting back sharply on donations.
THE SOLUTION: Broaden and strengthen your base...by enlisting social media to recruit true evangelists who will advocate for your organization on an ongoing basis.
I recently interviewed a fascinating Relationship Marketing Innovator, Craig Kielburger. He is the founder of Free the Children, the world’s largest network of children helping children through education, with more than one million youth involved in their innovative education and development programs in 45 countries. The primary goals of the organization are to “free children from poverty and exploitation and free young people from the notion that they are powerless to affect positive change in the world”.
FTC’s Facebook fan base has nearly doubled in the past year. I asked Craig to share some of the social media best practices his organization uses to attract evangelists and broaden his total base of stakeholders, even in a down economy. Here's what he recommends:
Reach out to your community members regularly to learn what's relevant to them. Remember that the true power of social media tools lies in your ability to generate and sustain two-way conversations with them. Build your "live" events around what really matters most to your stakeholders.
Ramp up the "sharability" of your content. Make it easy to tell others about the event, idea, or cause you're sponsoring. Make it easy for them to express interest or approval in what you are doing.
Maintain an ongoing dialogue with “hand raisers.” This means constantly cultivating those initial (low-risk) expression of interest (see above), and then using that initial contact as the first step in donor acquisition. According to Craig, “within one week of any event (or initiative), individuals who expressed interest in learning more receive both an e-mail and a phone call to help them build an action plan. This serves as the first step to engagement and involvement with Free the Children.”
Let more of your individual team members give a “face” to your social message. Many people are more likely to "follow" an individual who posts regularly on Facebook than they are to follow institution.
Don't send irrelevant messages to your stakeholders. Respect their trust; communicate only what is relevant to them.
Click here to read the CMO.com article: “How Dannon Cultured Multichannel Marketing.”
Try This:
Use social media to stay connected and transparent with both current donors and new prospective donors. Engaging with both groups can help you to build up an army of evangelists who will spread the word about your cause.
To do this, consider modeling successful, targeted charitable initiatives that engage, inform, and mobilize both current and future stakeholders.
For instance: Free The Children’s annual “We Day” events, have inspired schoolchildren to volunteer more than 2 million hours of their time and raised $10 million for 500 causes.