Ernan’s Insights on Marketing Best Practices

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sheplers: 116 Year Old Company Engages Customers to Select a Logo for New Apparel Line

THE PROBLEM: Consumers are distracted by all the competing messages and media clutter. How can you ensure that your offers and messages are relevant to them?
THE SOLUTION: Ask them for help and guidance! Trust the wisdom of their recommendations and requirements.

Many marketers would be resistant to the idea of trusting the guidance of customers for something as critical as a logo design. A happy exception is the legendary country and western apparel retailer Sheplers, which traces its history back further than a century, but recently launched a cutting-edge e-mail campaign to its customers that effectively turned them into marketing consultants!

Sheplers, it turns out, is launching a new independent clothing line: Gibson. Rather than simply announce the Gibson line, the retailer sent out this email:


Sheplers is developing a new line of men's and women's clothing and we need your input... VOTE NOW by clicking on your favorite logo below!

There follows, below those words, a collage consisting of four intriguing, very different, possible logos for the new Gibson line. Which one will Sheplers customers prefer? Only time will tell. Whichever it is, I have a feeling the marketer will begin the new clothing line with a major market advantage: It will be communicating with a base of advocates and evangelists ... not just "selling" to a base of passive observers.

With its e-mail message, Sheplers made the bold decision to leverage the loyalty of its customers -- and turn them into valued partners. At the same time, it reinforced that loyalty by asking for input ... and showing respect for the customer's insights.

How can you leverage the loyalty of your customers? What opportunities to share feedback, offer ideas, or express their preferences can you offer customers via e-mail, social media, or research interviews?

Consumer empowerment is a reality. Customers expect input, interaction, and dialogue with their favored   merchants and service providers. You can only be assured of providing what customers want by asking them for their guidance. Now more than ever, loyalty and customer engagement go hand in hand ... and reinforce each other!

arrow Use e-mail, social media, or telephone interviews to get guidance from your customers about your next big brand launch, special offer, messaging, or any other important initiative.
arrow Be humble and trust the wisdom of your customers. The insights they provide will help you build deeper, more engaged relationships.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Which Social Media Channels Matter Most?

THE PROBLEM: “Competition is eating away at our market share … and using social media to do it.”
THE SOLUTION: Recalibrate your social media plan. Interview your customers and prospects to learn which social media channels are most important to them and why. Conduct in-depth interviews to learn exactly what kind of value and information they expect from you…across multiple channels. Use the voice of customer insights to craft a new, multichannel customer engagement strategy.

It’s true: Ignoring or minimizing the importance of social media now carries major competitive risks. Today’s consumers not only demand that the companies they buy from offer them easy access through multiple channels ... but they also expect companies to keep track of all their interactions across multiple channels! That expectation definitely includes social media exchanges.

In addition, an organization's highest-value customers interact with the enterprise through more than one channel. That applies to social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter as well.

Today, offering customers multichannel access using these and other social media tools is not merely a trendy add-on to a single campaign, but a long-term strategic imperative for the whole enterprise. A recent study conducted by BtoB magazine found that 93% of all business to business marketers are now “engaged to some extent” in social media marketing campaigns.

Major takeaways from this and related recent research include:

arrow LinkedIn is a major lead generator in the B to B segment. At this stage, it should be considered an important part of any B to B channel mix.
arrow Facebook is the next most popular business-to-business social media channel, despite its emphasis on connections with friends and family. This is largely because of its potential strength in the area of branding.
arrow Despite wide use, Twitter has serious limitations, including a perception by many of "spamminess."
arrow Customer communities and targeted message boards can yield major competitive insights -- as well as invaluable first-hand feedback about your target audience's messaging, value, and channel preferences.
Top Mistakes Direct Marketers Make
Click here to read the BtoB Online article regarding what top marketing experts have to say about improving current marketing practices.

Use feedback from in-depth (60-minute or longer) VOC interviews to identify which of the "big three" social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) your customers prefer for communication with your company ... and why.

Learn exactly what kind of access, updates, and value customers expect to receive through these channels. Build the best suggestions into a brand new social media plan.

Be sure, while you are conducting VOC interviews, to also learn how customers want to engage with you across the broader multichannel mix, of which social media are one important element.

Get fresh VOC feedback on a quarterly basis (at least) on how your execution of this plan is being received by customers.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Customer Councils: A Powerful Source for Voice of Customer Insights

THE PROBLEM: You are a small company and cannot afford a full-blown Voice of Customer, (VOC) research program, yet you need VOC guidance.
THE SOLUTION: Create a Customer Council as a low cost way to obtain VOC feedback and identify opportunities or threats. Implemented properly, the insights will always improve bottom line performance.

A Customer Council is an ad-hoc committee that can include your best customers, lost customers and prospective customers. It is important to include a cross-functional team representing key areas from your company. The most effective Customer Councils include the company’s senior management plus some front-line service people who actually work with customers on a daily basis.

Chris McCann, CEO of 1-800-Flowers, emphasized the strategic importance of such a group in a recent interview with us: He said: “From its earliest days, this company has been founded on the principle of building the relationship first, and doing business second ... One of the things I’m proudest of has been launching our own customer panel. This group got its start when I asked for the e-mail addresses of our very best customers. I then e-mailed each of them, and asked for his or her help. I said, ‘I am looking for something—a group that I can turn to when I have questions.... You can offer me suggestions at any time, just by picking up the phone and calling me. Would you agree to do this?’ People said ‘yes,’ and suddenly we had a customer panel.” The panel has become a critical strategic resource for 1-800-Flowers, one that gives McCann (among other things) valuable, relevant, and rapid input on new product and service ideas. It also delivers referrals!

Another innovative, revenue-generating use of the Customer Council concept takes advantage of video and social media tools to share customer testimonials generated at these gatherings.

Visit the Ascend Worldwide site and you can find (and share) YouTube videos of actual C-level decision makers, all members of Ascend's Customer Council, offering their own personal experiences about doing business with the aerospace consultant. This is an extremely powerful marketing tactic. Don't be surprised when one of your competitors starts posting videos like this!


Follow Chris McCann's lead. Get the e-mail addresses of a group of your best customers. Reach out to them and ask them for help, guidance, and support on an ongoing basis.

Ask members of your Customer Council questions like this:

arrow How can we improve the quality of our service or product?
arrow How can we make it easier for you to do business with us?
arrow How can we increase the likelihood that you will do business with us again?

Monday, April 4, 2011

5 SEO Voice of Customer-Driven Best Practices

THE PROBLEM: “Our SEO program is not hitting the mark.”
THE SOLUTION: Create an ongoing Voice of Customer feedback data stream and use it to refine and constantly improve your company's SEO programs.

The Relationship Marketing Innovator we will focus on in this blog post is Tiny Prints, a successful online retailer of personalized greeting cards and customized stationery based in Sunnyvale, California. They have won significant market share by identifying—and acting on—Voice of Customer (VOC) information about customer desires and preferences based on careful analysis of data and on-line behavior. We reached out to Anna Fieler, the VP of marketing for Tiny Prints, and asked for her five critical Voice of the Customer SEO takeaways:

"ONE: At Tiny Prints, we make sure we know which specific keywords to optimize for, based on hard research. For instance, in November and December, we know the 'Christmas cards' search volume is much higher than the volume for 'holiday cards.' So we constantly work to optimize our site with new products and content—in a way that helps customers meet their intent when they are on our site."

"TWO: We make sure we have a content-rich site that’s well organized, so users and Google bots alike can find just what they’re looking for."

"THREE: We get the word out about our brand virally by evangelizing our community of passionate customers and bloggers. This is essential, because Google search bots give credit to the number and strength of links to your site."

"FOUR: We encourage our community of passionate influencers, such as bloggers and loyal customers, to endorse our product and write reviews. Tiny Prints hosts reviews on our site where thousands of customers post reviews of our products; we get an average of 4.8-star ratings out of 5. This is all user-generated content that helps SEO immensely."

"FIVE: We build the brand by encouraging customers to become a fan of our Tiny Prints Facebook community and follow the Tiny Prints brand on Twitter. 'Brand-driven' search marketing campaigns—ones that take advantage of a consumer’s willingness to type the words 'Tiny Prints' into a search engine rather than 'birth announcement'—tend to be more profitable than other online campaigns."

arrow Commit to ongoing keyword research.
arrow Make a discipline of asking what your best customers are most likely to search for on-line.
arrow Learn what customers expect to find on your site, and make sure they get it.
arrow Make it easy for people to leave their mark, link to your site, and share on-line reviews about your products and services.
arrow Use social media to build your brand over time.