Ernan’s Insights on Marketing Best Practices

Monday, December 19, 2011

2012: Year of Preference-Driven Multichannel Marketing Breakthroughs

PREDICTION: Marketers who deploy their multichannel marketing mix at key points in customer’s lifecycles with the company and per customer’s individual preferences will win. Those who don’t will just be creating multichannel irritation.
Marketing Paths in 2012Brand Paths in 2012
For some brands, this will be the year of multichannel breakthroughs. For other brands, the next twelve months will be another painful period of trial and error -- mostly error.
Per recent Voice of Customer research we conducted with major BtoB and BtoC marketers, customers want brands to use an integrated multichannel mix that engages them to share their preferences regarding offers, alerts, frequency of contact and media preferences. Using this integrated multichannel mix, marketers can provide relevant communications…at key points in the consumer's lifecycle with the company.
Thriving in 2012 ... and Beyond
To thrive in 2012, assume that both "old" and "new" media will play a role in your customer's personalized multichannel mix.
Elements of a preference-driven mix include online, social, direct mail, print, broadcast, narrowcast, and all the possible person to person "touch points," including both face to face and phone interactions. As an excellent Epsilon study, The Formula for Success: Preference and Trust, referenced here, put it:
"Consumers use and trust certain communications channels more than others. This means that marketers need to understand which channels resonate most at various points in the consumer purchase cycle and incorporate a cross-channel strategy that leverages data and technology to communicate on a one-to-one basis.... Our study suggests that brands should use a variety of mediums to build relationships, starting with trusted channels like direct mail, then layering the message to re-enforce it through other channels."
This multichannel mix must be deployed at key points in the customer’s lifecycle with your company and per the consumer's individual preferences ... or you will lose ground in 2012!
Four Takeaways for Marketers
arrow Trust your customers to tell you: Gather Voice of Customer (VOC) research-based insights regarding how your customers define a truly personalized multichannel relationship, and which communications are most relevant at key points in their relationship lifecycle with you.
arrow Understand the behaviors that equal "engagement": Use VOC insights to understand what range of actions from your side drive engagement from the consumer's side, such as recognition, personalized rewards, the opportunity to share their point of view, the chance to enter a contest, etc.
arrow Be media agnostic: Offer both "old" and "new" media options your customers can select to satisfy their media preferences.
arrow Measure it. Track the results carefully over time. What matters is not how many eyeballs or fans you have. It's what people are actually doing ... and buying!

Monday, December 12, 2011

"The Customer Is Always Wrong"

THE CHALLENGE: We invite retention problems, loss of market share, and loss of good will when we consistently ignore big problems that gall our consumers ... and assume that they must be wrong when they complain.
Although this challenge affects all marketers in all industries, I want to illustrate how important it is by looking at an industry that everyone is familiar with, as a consumer: The airline industry.


Passenger Seating IssuesMost US air carriers have inadequate policies for dealing with issues arising from being the seatmate of a "passenger of size”.

They start with the assumption that customers who complain about this are probably wrong.

They tell their employees to deal with these problems on a case-by-case basis, trusting that their (overworked) front-line service people can sort it all out. They can’t. This leads to absurd situations like the one pictured here.

The bottom line: Far too many US airlines inconvenience and humiliate larger passengers and their seatmates. The horror stories here include this PR disaster on USAir, in which a passenger was forced to stand for seven hours during a flight because his seatmate took up two seats ... and a travel nightmare recounted in a recent Dear Abby column in which a customer was sandwiched between two "passengers of size" for three hours.

Ask a sampling of passengers about the best way for airlines to solve this problem, and you will hear a clear consensus: People who take up two seats should be charged for two seats ... ahead of time.

Back in 2002, Southwest listened. It is the only major US airline I could identify that has such a policy in place. The Voice of Customer feedback I am hearing personally and reading online indicates that was the right call ... and that the rest of the industry needs to do a better job of engaging with its own customer base on this issue. Notice that Southwest is number one in customer satisfaction the US airline industry!
Are we asking our customers the questions that will help us uncover the most irritating problems they face ... and their possible solutions? Are we listening carefully to the answers we hear?
Management’s job is to create a culture that values customers, a culture that does not start with the premise that the customer is always wrong! We must recognize customer value and have systems in place to listen to, and act on, the feedback and needs of customers.
Check to see what industry leaders and other players are already doing to address the problems that irritate your customers most. If they're doing a better job of listening ... catch up!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Holiday Blues: Lost Opportunities, Knee-Jerk Discounts

Holiday ShoppingTHE CHALLENGE: As the holiday season kicked off, online and offline marketers wasted millions of precious opportunities to engage with customers, capture preferences, and build the foundation for a year-long relationship. And most marketers relied too heavily on discounts.

Using discounting alone to drive purchases is not a strategy. It's an addiction. The result is a downward cycle: The only compelling reason for a consumer to visit the company’s store or web site is to get another discount ”fix.” The retailer becomes more and more dependent on discounts. The low-loyalty, low-information cycle deepens ... until someone else offers a better discount!


For too many consumers, the beginning of the holiday season began with too many hassles and disappointing experiences.

Case in point: I am a long-time customer of Sheplers, the iconic cowboy outfitter. I called the company Get em in get em out last weekend to order some shirts. While the recorded auto attendant was folksy and appealing -- “We’re just as busy as cows at a salt-lick” -- the reps were curt, transactional, and could not answer the simplest questions.

The mindset: "Get 'em in, get 'em out!” What a lost opportunity.

Here are 7 questions to help marketers move beyond the purely transactional "card-swipe encounter" this holiday shopping season.


Don't get distracted by how many times you were able to take an order this year compared to a year ago. Move past the "knee-jerk discount" business model. Start by asking your team:

Question# 1: How much information were we able to gather about our brand new customers? Can we connect a specific buyer to a specific purchase? Will we be able to send relevant, personalized communications to this new customer based on capturing their preferences and interests?

Question# 2: How many of the people we sold to recently were repeat customers? How do we know? How could we increase that percentage?

Question# 3: Did we generate referrals of friends and family members? How many? What would make it easier for consumers to use social media channels to tell people in their "circle" about their buying experience with us?


Ask each customer to respond to a few very brief questions so you can provide them with ongoing value, as defined by their individual needs/interests. Many will be happy to respond! Let the others disengage instantly if they choose. Your questions should cover these four key points.

Point # 1: Would they like to receive additional information, useful tips, or promotions regarding the product(s) they just bought? (Start with this simple question. It's easy to say "yes" to.)

Point # 2: Are there other products in the store/catalog/web site about which they would like to receive information? (If you don't ask, you'll never know!)

Point # 3: Is there any friend or family member they would like to send this information to? (Measure the number of referrals this question generates!)

Point # 4: Can we keep in touch? (As a result of offering value, you have earned the right to request the consumer's email address!)


How many more engaged current and future customers could you generate now and in the months to come ... just by asking these questions?


Monday, November 28, 2011

When Customers Push Back: 3 Recommendations

Listening to the crowd.Empowered, activist customers are getting better and better at making their displeasure known ... and, as they proved this year, they are also getting better at winning battles against big companies.
Occasional problems with customers are inevitable. The question is, how do you reduce the odds of those problems turning into crises for your company? Following are three marketing takeaways for handling conflicts with today's social-media-savvy consumers.
TAKEAWAY #1: STAY CONNECTED. The video rental service Netflix announced a bold new initiative, Qwikster, that hadn't been adequately field-tested with consumers. Listening to the crowd.Customers, still furious over a recent price increase, went ballistic. As of today, Netflix stock has lost 75% of its value in just 4 months, and the company has lost approximately one million customers. Netflix did considerable self-inflicted damage before it finally started listening to the wisdom of its customers. Whether it listened in time remains an open question.
The moral: Don't be arrogant. Get the advice of customers before you make big decisions that impact them.
TAKEAWAY #2: STAY FLEXIBLE. Opposition to Bank of America's plan to charge debit-card users a five-dollar monthly fee hit a national nerve, and the planned fee became a lightning-rod issue for consumers who were already cranky with the entire banking sector.
Listening to the crowd.Over 300,000 on-line signatures demanded that Bank of America drop its plans for a monthly fee. It did. Then, quietly, the bank more than made up the difference with a range of account pricing changes more closely pegged to individual consumer behavior ... and less likely to fuel a national debate about banks.

The moral: Be flexible and agile enough to change course when customers are legitimately upset. That's better than becoming a lightning rod for dissatisfaction against an entire industry.
Listening to the crowd.TAKEAWAY #3: STAY HUMBLE. This year, The Gap announced a new logo that was widely lampooned by consumers and media. Instead of digging in its heels and insisting that it knew how to choose its own marketing images, the company restored the familiar Gap logo consumers knew and trusted ... and acknowledged, tactfully, that consumers had been right to demand its return.
The moral: Remember that we are living in volatile times. Be humble. Listen when consumers take the time to share their opinions with you ... especially when they're saying something you didn't necessarily want to hear!
Next year, we will see more evidence of increasingly assertive consumers who know they can push back and win. Empowered by new communications technologies, and ever more willing to gather forces when circumstances require, these consumers will only make life difficult for those marketers who ignore them or take them for granted. Implement these three takeaways ... and you will be better positioned to succeed with 2012's more demanding consumers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Real Reason They Wept for Steve Jobs: A Marketing Revelation

This week, I finally figured out the real reason customers mourned and wept when Steve Jobs passed away.

Steve JobsThe answer emerged, like the missing value in an algebra problem, shortly after I had watched this remarkable video from the TED series of lectures, a talk filmed years before Jobs passed away. In it, Simon Sinek, examines the messages delivered by Apple, Martin Luther King and others. He explains why those messages did such a superb job of inspiring and motivating people, and why they had so much more impact than competing messages did.

For this blog, I'll be looking only at Sinek's conclusions about the Apple message ... but I urge you to watch the whole video so you can learn from the other examples he cites.

Steve Jobs was not interested in selling you a computer ... although that's what most of his competitors were interested in selling. Computers are a “what” topic. Many of Jobs's competitors, over the years,focused on the “what” of their offering when they put together their marketing messages.

Often, they did this by fixating on some glamorous "money shot" of the object they were trying to sell. But even when Apple showed consumers its product, the larger point of the marketing message was not the “what” that you got when you decided to buy from Apple.

Nor was Steve Jobs interested in selling you faster processing speeds, crisper images, better sound, or enhanced memory capacity. The technical wizardries that deliver those classic marketing “benefits” remain the basis, even now, of most of the marketing messages of Apple's competitors. “Pixels” and “megahertz” are classic “how” topics and they are not the reason thousands of Apple customers left carefully inscribed messages of personal grief at hundreds of customer service centers.

So ... what was Steve Jobs selling you?

The power to shake up the establishment and tell the Powers That Be that you have a better idea. That was -- and is -- Apple's mission, its internal and external marketing message: THINK DIFFERENT.

WHY MessageThat is a “why” topic, and it is far, far more powerful as a marketing tool than any “what” or “how” topic. All the revolutionary Apple products were simply means to an end. That end was you rocking the boat and challenging the status quo. Apple's offerings happened to be the tools you could use to challenge established thinking.

The Power of “Why” Message

Once marketers understand the difference between Apple's compelling “why” message ... and the less compelling “what” and “how” messages of its competitors ... they will understand why so many people mourned the passing of Steve Jobs. It was the “why” message that he shared. Jobs made Apple Inc. the embodiment of something special, not just a technology manufacturer.

Most companies have not invested sufficient time and energy to formulate a “why” message, and thus cannot benefit from this powerful competitive advantage Do your customers know your “why”?

Three Big Takeaways for Marketers

Marketing Takeaway #1: Devote the time and effort necessary to separate the three levels, so you become crystal clear on the "what”, the “how”, and the “why” of your business.

Marketing Takeaway #2: Gather a "brain trust" that includes your senior leadership and a sampling of your customers. Analyze and refine your company's “why” until it is memorable and compelling enough for you to build your marketing message around it.

Marketing Takeaway #3: Once the “why” becomes clearly defined, you will realize that it is not only of value to marketing, but helps align every other part of the company!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Learn from Coke's 3 Facebook Best Practices

LinkedInRecently, Coca-Cola edged out Hyundai as the most popular brand on Facebook, according to a study by Covario, thesearch engine marketing agency.

Coke has more than 34 million Facebook fans; each comment the beverage producer posts on its page generates over 200 comments!

"What is Coke doing right on Facebook? At least three things.

Best Practice #1: Coke's Default Setting Is "Talk To Us." User-generated content gets posted automatically (as opposed to being filtered or edited first). Yes, lots of brands are skittish about this. On Coke's page, inappropriate messaging is removed, but only after it has been posted. Coke's relationship with its fans is solid enough to make this work.

Best Practice #2: Coke Wants You To Upload Images to Its Photo Album.

This makes perfect sense, given the iconic, collectible status of the brand. Many users want to show off branded Coke images they have acquired (or created), and many others want to show off as they consume the product! Coke supports both groups.

Best Practice #3: Coke's Driving Facebook Principle Is "Collaborate." The page itself was founded by two Coke fans ... and later embraced by the company! It is truly a shared undertaking with Coke fans who spend time on Facebook, not something imposed upon them from the outside.

The Takeaways for Marketers:

Conduct a comprehensive review of your branding and social media strategies. Develop strategies which enable you to answer "yes" to these questions:

Do you trust your brand enough to:

* trust your customers?

* give Facebook users an open forum?

* encourage and facilitate collaboration with your customers?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Verizon's "Opt-Out" Policy; What Marketers Should Do Differently

LinkedInUnfortunately, Opt-Out marketing policies are the norm. They allow marketers to send you information and offers they want to send and to use on-line and other information about you to target their marketing.

You can Opt-Out if you don’t want this to occur. But the message is this: if you don’t like these practices, or receiving the e-mails, calls, ads, etc., the burden is on you to Opt-Out of communications with the company.

Frustration with these campaigns is coming not just from consumer groups, but from Capitol Hill. Two members of the House sharply criticized the telecom giant Verizon for new marketing initiatives allowing advertisers to launch appeals based on consumers' locations, sites visited, and search queries.

"While we understand the benefits of tailoring advertising to customers, we strongly believe that customers should be in control of the sharing and disclosure of their personal information through an Opt-In process,” Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) said in a joint statement. Markey and Barton chair an important bipartisan privacy caucus. Proposals for further legislation seem likely.

Today's empowered consumers are questioning why the burden should be on them to Opt-Out ... rather than marketers competing to engage consumers with compelling value propositions that inspire them to Opt-In. Consumers now feel they should choose when and from whom to receive preference-driven communications, offers, and resources, and they have not been shy in expressing their feelings on this issue.


Results from over 100 Voice of Customer relationship research efforts we have conducted for companies such as Microsoft, NBC Universal, IBM, and many Growth companies, indicates that there are five criteria consumers have as they evaluate whether to Opt-In to sharing in-depth information with a marketer. They are:

1. Consumers have to trust that the company will adequately safeguard their information and use it in a responsible way.

2. “Responsible” means that consumers must believe that their information will not be rented or sold to third parties.

3. “Honor my preferences” reflects the expectation that their “Opt-In” self-profiled preferences will be used to drive increasingly targeted communications and offers... and suppress those that are not relevant per the expressed preferences of individual customers.

4. The value consumers receive in exchange for providing in-depth information must be obvious and compelling. To overcome the legacy of receiving untargeted and irrelevant communications, consumers must see an obvious improvement in relevance. This expectation of relevance applies both to their online experience and subsequent email, direct mail, etc. If the value is not obvious, consumers will assume you have betrayed their trust and expectations.

5. Consumers must see proof that the company will be able to deliver on requirements 1 through 4 above, not just once, but consistently over time.

We can expect Congress to take some kind of action on this issue, and sooner rather than later. Whatever form the new rules finally take, I suspect that the marketers who survive and thrive in the new regulatory environment will be those who consistently meet the five requirements above.

Monday, October 31, 2011

LinkedIn Fatigue? VW Doesn't Think So

THE SITUATION: There’s been some discussion recently that a broad and expanding "social media fatigue" has set in, ( for example, click here) ... and that even users of established sites like LinkedIn are in danger of burning out and disengaging from marketing messages appearing in these media.

LinkedInTHE CASE STUDY: Volkswagen proved in an innovative user-referral campaign that LinkedIn remains a
viable and important tool for marketers. The campaign's success suggests that recent news reports of a decline in interest in social media channels like LinkedIn may actually reflect boredom with irrelevant, untargeted content -- a long-standing problem consumers have had with "spray and pray" marketing messages delivered in many different media.

Too many companies try to "sell" on LinkedIn, and forget the necessity of providing a sponsored platform for expressing feelings and opinions within a specific targeted audience, as Volkswagen's "company page" has done for upscale Indian professionals. When the content is relevant and connected directly and credibly to a customer's personal experience and network of acquaintances, the bottom-line results can be stellar. Volkswagen's results bear this out:

* Over 2500 recommendations of VW autos were generated by the trusted peers of specific users, using LinkedIn's well designed, easy-to-navigate "company page" feature in combination with paid Recommendation Ads. Read more about LinkedIn's "company pages" in this LinkedIn page, and in this overview from B2B Voices ... and find out how Recommendation Ads work in this equally intriguing LinkedIn case study.

* VW's recommendation total represents an increase of over 500% compared to the target number the company was hoping to generate.

* The recommendations were generated in a very brief timeframe -- less than 30 days.


Marketing Takeaway #1: LinkedIn's potential for marketers remains robust ... as long as we make sure our messaging remains relevant to the experiences, opinions, and relationships of individual users.

Marketing Takeaway #2: Target your audience carefully. If you're trying to sell low-end consumer home maintenance products as impulse purchases, LinkedIn's upscale audience of aspiring, skeptical professionals isn't the right audience.

Marketing Takeaway #3: Remember that old-fashioned "spray and pray" campaigns will only bore and alienate users -- not just in LinkedIn, but everywhere else as well.

Marketing Takeaway #4: Consider incorporating LinkedIn's "company page" feature and Recommendation Ads into your social media plan. These tools give your customers the opportunity to follow your company and create personal recommendations for specific products and services.

Monday, October 24, 2011

5 Best Practices to Improve Customer Service

Your whole enterprise depends on them ... but if your front-line service people feel like they're on the low end of the totem pole, your customers are going to feel that way, too. It is never too late to change that dynamic!

Good Customer ServiceI believe that great customer service is the responsibility of every team and department within the organization, every working day. With that in mind, I would like to share five best practices based on working with world class customer service teams at companies like QVC, Hewlett-Packard, Cross Country Home Services, and Life Line Screening, among others.

Best Practice #1: Celebrate the Victories. Remember to highlight what your top service performers do well. If it's been a while since your customer-facing team members were credited for doing something right, change that!

Best Practice #2: Give Front-Line Service People More Authority and Respect Within Your Organization. For instance, you might provide people the autonomy to spend up to a certain dollar amount to resolve customer problems ... and then turn those employees who spend those corporate dollars effectively into internal role models for the rest of your organization.

Best Practice #3: Re-examine Your Compensation Plan. If the pay your customer service personnel receive is not commensurate with what your company says about its belief in good customer service ... then you won't attract top notch people who can deliver on that promise!

Best Practice #4: Create an Effective "Soft Skills" Training Plan. Too often, customer service people know all about the technical and product/service feature issues, but have not received thorough and on-going training on people skills and effective customer engagement. Make sure they get that training!

Customer Service Wow!: Last Saturday, my wife and I dined at the top rated restaurant, Le Bernardin. She enjoyed a wonderful crab meat appetizer, and unbeknownst to me, had found a very small piece of crab shell, which she left on the plate. A few minutes after the plates were cleared, the senior waiter came over and offered the Chef's sincere apologies for the piece of crab shell. We were surprised, since my wife had made no complaint.

We asked how the Chef knew about this. Apparently, the bus boy had noticed the (little) piece of white shell (on the white plate) and told the senior waiter, who told the Chef, who immediately sent his apologies.

Think about the level of training that caused the bus boy to notice the small piece of crab shell and initiate this escalation...without the customer even complaining.

This was a Saturday night, every table was booked, and we received the Chef's apology within minutes!

How can you achieve this level of real time, proactive customer service in your organization?

Best Practice #5: Do a Skill Set Assessment. Take a closer look at the people you're putting on the customer service phone or face to face on the front lines. If some of those people are simply not cut out for the empathetic, "people-first", task of hearing customers out, making them feel heard, and cheerfully solving their problems, you need to reassign them to other departments. This will lift the morale, and strengthen the customer focus, of everyone who remains.

THE MARKETING TAKEAWAYS: Implement these 5 best practices. Measure results. You should see a significant increase in: results, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Netflix: 3 Marketing Takeaways We Can Apply

It is hard to say whether, during its short lifespan, Netflix's recently abandoned Qwikster spinoff was more loathed or ridiculed among customers. The reversal of plans to split Netflixthe company in two (following a similarly unpopular price hike), resulted in Netflix's second global PR meltdown in less than a month. Yet I see, in the decision to abandon Qwikster, three "silver lining" signs that the company is hopefully getting back on the right track.
Silver Lining #1: Netflix is listening to the customer. Qwikster would have required millions of customers who wanted both streaming and video access to maintain two separate accounts and field two sets of bills. The (belated) recognition that this would cause major inconvenience to customers suggests that management listened, finally, to the growing chorus of discontent and made the right decision.
Silver Lining #2: Those customers angry enough to leave due to the controversial price hike have already left. The company can now focus on keeping its remaining 20 million-plus customers happy. It is better positioned to do that, I believe, than much of the coverage of the current furor has suggested. Netflix still offers a great on-line viewing experience and a huge array of DVD choices.
Silver Lining #3: "Core" customers appear to have finally stopped shouting. Significant portions of the Netflix user base either never took part in the on-line complaint frenzy, or have settled back into a less-furious routine with the company. As one user wrote on the Netflix blog,
"Finally, someone at Netflix listened to reason and to the customers. I was telling my mom yesterday that I was going to cancel after a 6-year relationship. Now it looks like I will be staying, at least for now."
The Netflix 3rd quarter earnings report is due on October 24. It will be interesting to hear the latest trends.
Three marketing takeaways from this extraordinary story.
Marketing Takeway #1: Maintain open channels for customer feedback. Netflix has definitely done this with its blog, and deserves recognition for that.
Marketing Takeway #2: When you drop the ball (and Qwikster was a major dropped ball), admit it. Netflix not only did this, it changed course quickly based on the Voice of the Customer feedback it received.
Marketing Takeway #3: Don't mistake the (loud) minority for the Voice of the Customer. Yes, there has been a good deal of shouting on-line, and there will be more. Sometimes, though, shouting is background noise.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steve Jobs: Two Major Lessons for Business Leaders

RIP Steve - You brought beauty and wonder to our lives.As I stood outside the Apple store and looked at the letters, flowers and apples people had left there, I knew there had to be some important lessons we as business leaders should learn from the remarkable life of Steve Jobs.

A quote from this excellent New York Times article by James B. Stewart, which I read later that day, helped me to identify the takeaways:

"How did (Jobs) take a commodity and turn it into one of the most iconic and desirable objects on the planet? ‘ Steve Jobs and Apple never — ever — wanted to be a low-margin commodity producer,' Donald Norman, a former vice president for advanced technology at Apple and author of Living With Complexity, told me this week."

And so did this potent quote from Jobs himself, also from the Times article:

"In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service."

Following are two lessons for corporate leaders, inspired by Jobs' remarkable career and the two quotes.

LESSON #1. A truly customer-focused experience is about designing every aspect of the experience to be the finest possible. It’s not about settling for “acceptable/good enough” Jobs didn't let concerns about the cost of the product, for instance, block him from developing a completely differentiated customer experience. This resulted in a higher-priced product compared to the undifferentiated competition.

Today, many companies express concerns about “spending too much on customer service”.

If we fool ourselves into believing that  "good enough" is all we should invest in the service interaction, in product design, or anywhere else, we will only perpetuate mediocrity. Hiding behind the mantra of "cost containment”, or the myth that "customers won't notice”, will prevent you from delivering a competitively differentiating customer experience.

LESSON #2. Don’t treat the customer experience as a "quickie" transaction meant to drive short-term sales. Look at every interaction a customer has with your company as an opportunity to move beyond the transaction and build a relationship. Examine all the opportunities for delivering a customer experience exceptional enough to create not only a repeat customer, but also an advocate for your brand. Look closely at how you can better leverage:

arrow The power of positive word of mouth recommendations on purchase decisions.
arrow The moment of purchase.
arrow The interval between purchases, which may last for months or years. How do you provide customer appreciation and value throughout this phase?
arrow Customer service and technical requests.
arrow Renewal solicitations.
arrow All the other opportunities to demonstrate that the customer's relationship with your company is special.

THE MARKETING TAKEAWAY: If Steve Jobs could transform what others saw as a commodity-driven tool called a computer into a source of passion and pride for customers ... what can you do to make buyers of your product or service passionately proud?

If this can be done for a computer, why can’t it be done for an insurance product, which has more intrinsic personal value to the consumer, or a cellular service, or a health care product or service ... or your product or service?

This week, customers around the world left moving personal tributes to Steve Jobs at Apple stores that are, let us remember, the sales and service facilities of a very large global corporation. What company’s sales or service centers could claim anything remotely similar? Clearly, Apple products touched those customers at a deep emotional level.

The emotional connection Jobs created goes straight to the bottom line: Apple’s market capitalization is now $347.3 billion, and its profit margins are 33%.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Facebook's Makeover: Breakthrough or Big Brother?

Last week Facebook announced its new Timeline feature, which makes it easier for users to see what people in their network are doing, reading, and listening to.

Facebook - Facelift?The Washington Post has called the result "a comprehensive and curated version of your entire history on Facebook." The feature is now optional, but will eventually become Facebook's default profile.

The new developments at Facebook bring at least three important advantages to marketers.

MARKETING ADVANTAGE #1: MORE RELEVANT MESSAGING. The redesign and the new media partnerships that follow in its wake make it easier for marketers to launch more targeted, relevant marketing mesages to Facebook users, based on the increased number of preference points users are able to express. Most consumers, I think, would  prefer to see relevant advertising than be forced to pay for all the services and content they are getting via Facebook.

MARKETING ADVANTAGE #2: A BETTER ENVIRONMENT FOR ON-LINE PUBLISHERS. Both Timeline and the new emphasis on Facebook apps help publishers of free content to create more diverse offerings and to reach a broader audience. One entrepreneur I spoke to observed: "As a publisher of free content, I don't think people necessarily have a right to consume anything and everything they want on line, all the time, at no cost. There is a cost. What Facebook or any provider is really saying to you every time it lets you access all this incredible content without charging you for it is, 'If you are going to use this service, we need to know a lot about you for targeted, relevant advertisers to take action on -- because that's the best way we know of to keep our service free for you.' "

MARKETING ADVANTAGE #3: ONE STEP AT A TIME. Facebook is doing both marketers and consumers a big favor by rolling out Timeline slowly. Everybody who uses Facebook needs time to become familiar with the new features. (Here's an overview from Business Insider of the upcoming changes.) A whole lot is changing here; at the same time, though, most of the users I have spoken to seem to feel that the new features are simply a logical extension of the kind of sharing that people are already used to on Facebook. The whole company, after all, is premised on giving people the opportunity to share a wide array of information.

Even with these advantages, however, I am concerned about two issues.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN #1: NO EASY OPT-OUT. Facebook users, in my opinion, must already jump through too many hoops in order to stop sharing information about their behavior and choices with marketers. It seems likely that this trend will continue with Timeline, and that the only realistic way of "opting out" of a given campaign will be to quit using Facebook altogether.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN #2: PRIVACY PROBLEMS? I am no expert in the privacy field, but a rising chorus of concern from people who are experts suggests that Timeline presents some troubling "Big Brother" questions about consumer privacy  (See these posts from the Washington Post and ZDnet, for two good discussions of some of the as-yet-unresolved privacy issues.) 

After every major redesign of Facebook, privacy concerns tend to loom large, and then fade into obscurity. That may well happen this time around, too ... but Facebook should still do a better job of contributing to the debate and explaining how it plans to protect user privacy.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Netflix: What Worked and What isn't Working

THE SITUATION: Netflix announced a new pricing plan over the summer that resulted in a substantial increase for most of its customers. CEO Reed Hastings recently sent customers an email acknowledging that he "slid into arrogance," and apologizing for the fact that "many members felt we lacked respect and humility" in making the pricing change.

Netflix Customer Service IssuesYet the company did not reverse its price increase. Instead, Hastings announced that Netflix would be split into two companies, with a new entity, Qwikster, assuming DVD distribution, and Netflix focusing exclusively on video streaming. Social media feedback suggests that many customers are still feeling alienated and hostile, due to the changes. The company's stock price is way down.

THE MARKETING TAKEAWAYS: 3 best practices to emulate and 3 mistakes to avoid.

BEST PRACTICE #1: Apologize when it's clear that the Voice of the Customer is signaling broad dissatisfaction with something you did. Netflix did this, and even though many customers felt that Hastings's apology didn't go far enough, the company deserves credit for issuing it.

BEST PRACTICE #2: Offer a human face when you apologize. Netflix did this too, and Hastings should be commended for putting himself front and center, rather than hiding behind a committee or logo.

BEST PRACTICE #3: Give customers the chance to keep the dialogue going. Although much of the feedback is still strongly negative, Netflix appears to be doing a good job of letting people express themselves. It is not, for instance, trying to lecture, or censor visitors to its Facebook page, like Nestle did.

MISTAKE TO AVOID #1: Not building the Voice of the Customer into the planning process. It is obvious that Netflix wasn't listening to its customers when it set up its new pricing. If they had been listening, then (at the very least) they wouldn't have been caught flatfooted by the intensity of the consumer anger.

MISTAKE TO AVOID #2: Not acting promptly when customers have identified a problem. Netflix took far too long to provide a high-visibility response to the immediate, widespread customer dissatisfaction. The months of inaction cost the company dearly, in terms of customer losses and stock value.

MISTAKE TO AVOID #3: Making up a strategic plan as you go along. There are disturbing signs that the huge new branding decision, namely splitting Netflix in two, was not thought through. The Qwikster web site is, as I write these words, a holding page with no content, and an embarrassing series of Twitter posts have spotlighted Netfix's failure to figure out who actually owned the handle @Qwikster. The company has been firing off initiatives with major strategic implications, but appears to be supporting them with minor-league planning. As a result, Netflix is creating, and then having to manage, a series of PR nightmares.

CONCLUSION: Netflix still enjoys a huge, largely loyal customer base. The current turmoil is not necessarily representative of all Netflix customers, but this sure isn’t helping the brand! The alienation, frustration, and hostility the company is currently navigating may be a short-term problem that eventually dissipates ... or it may signal a deeper disengagement from customers that creates major openings for the competition. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Help Your Customer Service Reps Engage with Customers

MARKETING SITUATION: Recently, a client for whom we were developing Customer Engagement strategies asked for help in identifying the reasons for low customer satisfaction scores.
Voice of Customer research determined that a major reason for dissatisfaction was a recent company initiative to limit “talk time” in the Customer Service center. The CSR’s had been told to limit talk time to 90 seconds. The emphasis on talk time made the CSR’s feel pressured to wrap up calls quickly. As a result, they began to rush customers off the phone and in their haste, began to miss key steps in the customer service process. This created an increase in call backs by customers who were now irate because they had to place an extra call to fully resolve their needs.
Call Center The mandate to "wrap calls up" within a short time was also causing CSR morale problems. Things had to change quickly. We started by changing management’s view that you can increase customer engagement and impose tight "talk time" limits on your CSR’s. You can’t have it both ways. This doesn’t mean that customer engagement necessarily drives significant increases in talk time, but you can’t insist on greater engagement and shorter talk time.

1. Do your CSR’s have the autonomy and authority to engage customers, create rapport, and deliver win-win outcomes, or, are they bound by talk time limits?
2. Are your CSR’s receiving poor performance reviews because of occasional lengthy calls, which exceed talk time limits, but solve problems and build good will?

Create a Customer Engagement Plan for your CSR’s that will encourage customer centric behavior and reduce stress by:
1. Identifying what is causing increases in talk time and stressful exchanges with customers. Talk about those root causes with your people, not the end-result "talk time" number you want. For instance: Do your front-line service people have to put customers on hold so they can track down a manager to authorize a (common) solution to a problem? Could the team solve more of those problems on their own?
2. Giving your team the autonomy and authority to provide value in every call. Let your people know that you trust them. Remind them that you hired them and trained them to connect with people and solve problems. Ask them to critique their own calls. This level of respect builds trust and allows for calls which truly serve customer’s needs.
3. Creating meaningful individual and team rewards. Don't dish out rewards based solely on "talk time" metrics. Reward your people for providing exceptional service to your customers.

THE TAKEAWAY FOR MARKETERS: Implementing the three action items will:
arrow Increase both customer and employee satisfaction scores.
arrow Reduce callbacks.
arrow Reduce average call handling times!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Facebook Coupons: Money In The Bank?

MARKETING SITUATION: Could coupons shared via Facebook add a powerful dimension to your marketing programs? This intriguing case study from Social Media Jungle, which profiles an on-line loyalty program from the specialty ice cream producer and retailer Cold Stone Creamery, suggests that the answer could be "yes" ... IF.

As In: IF you listen to your customers, IF you create engaging content that motivates people to opt-in, and IF you can identify a compelling program that will engage on-line fans. If you can do that, you may be able to pull off what Cold Stone Creamery did: dramatically higher redemption rates (14% vs. 0.2%) at dramatically lower costs per redemption (39 cents vs. $3.60).

Coupon for Coldstone

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER: Do your best customers have the opportunity to "like" your company, product, service, or brand via a Facebook page?
Could you leverage that interest with a targeted eGift campaign, enabling a fan of your page to send a discounted present to someone in his or her network?

FOUR RECOMMENDED ACTIONS: The four best practices Cold Stone Creamery followed appear below.

1. Create a strong reciprocal value exchange. By "liking" the company's Facebook page, customers and prospective customers receive a stream of engaging, regularly updated content. Over 1.6 million people now follow Cold Stone Creamery on Facebook.

2. Listen to your fans. The initial idea for an on-line coupon campaign came from Cold Stone Creamery fans.

3. Give Facebook users a simple, memorable way to interact with each other. If Jack sees that his friend Maria is having a difficult day, he can send her an on-line coupon for Cold Stone Creamery ice cream from the company's fan page. A staggering 14% of those encountering the offer redeemed the coupon, as compared with 0.2% of previous on-line coupon campaigns. The low-cost campaign generated $10,000 in incremental sales.

4. Make on-line friends look good. Jack's thoughtful gift to Maria shows up in Maria's News Feed, which means Maria's whole network of Facebook friends sees it. The coupon campaign generated 66,000 new fans for Cold Stone Creamery in just eight weeks.

THE TAKEAWAY FOR MARKETERS: Consider building a loyalty program on Facebook that is based on a strong reciprocal value exchange, that gives users the opportunity to send a memorable gift, and that makes the sender of that gift look good.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Twitter Fatigue? Or Irrelevance Fatigue?

MARKETING SITUATION: There has been a lot of talk recently (here for instance) about "Twitter fatigue" and "social media fatigue." Actually, I think what we are looking at is isolated pockets of "irrelevance fatigue," based on using old thinking to drive the deployment of new interactive media. Twitter is by far the most personalized of these new media.Using Twitter

How customized is your tweetstream to topics raised by individual users? Do you send untargeted messages without names of individual users? How often do you use Twitter to communicate with specific, named followers, one at a time?

Twitter's strength for marketers lies in one-on-one exchanges with individual users, and specifically with users who are having problems or who want to share insights with your company. Don't try to use it as a platform for mass communication.

Click to read our article The Voice of Your Customer: GPS for your Company During Tough Times as posted by The Marketing Forum.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Create a Twitter Messaging Customization Plan that will:

ensure 50% (or preferably more) of your tweets use "at signs" (this symbol: @) to have conversations with individual users. This means using Twitter to communicate with one user at a time. This is one of the best practices followed by companies like Comcast, Zappos, and Dell.

minimize or eliminate broad, unfocused messaging that is meant to be read by "the world at large" like this one from an on-line billing system: "We are looking for new payment gateways to integrate. Tell your gateway to get in touch!" Unless you are a celebrity with millions of followers who hang on your every word, your message will be ignored.

THE TAKEAWAY FOR MARKETERS: Don’t damage your social media strategies by doing “spray and pray” tweet blasts. These will alienate your followers. Use Twitter to connect one-on-one.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About: Creative Use of Social Media

THE SITUATION: You know that your customers and prospects are talking about your company in various social media channels. But are you being proactive and developing content that will engage them through relevant communications and humor?
The Marketing Opportunity: connecting with customersEngaging customers and prospects effectively will result in increased trust, brand equity, goodwill, and revenue. And the good news is that it's easier to do than you may think!
Engaging via social media channels is now not only a basic marketing responsibility ... it's also where some of the greatest opportunities lie. Consider this extremely creative April Fools sunglass promotion, which hinged on effective monitoring of Twitter discussions.
The Idea: Fashion accessory e-retailer OneClickVentures.com decided to move beyond the stale "the joke is on us -- look at these low prices" pitches that others use to drive April Fools promotions. It chose to focus on something that would tell consumers more about the personality of its brands.
The firm crafted a suite of playful fake ads for three surreal new products and promotions. An offer of a free tiny dog with each purchase of a handbag big enough to hold it was the focus of one ad; a pair of sunglasses that turned moonlight into privately visible sunlight appeared in another. The third ad, which looked more plausible than it sounds, had images of models showing off a new line of invisible reading glasses.
The Execution: The messages lead to a page which informed the recipients of the subterfuge, thanked them for being good sports about the joke, and invited them to look at some of the (actual) products on sale. The OneClickVentures team carefully checked all the links and tested the e-mail messages on a small group of insiders. The company sent the messages off on the morning of April 1 to a targeted audience of "subscribers who typically receive promotional emails.”
This was a carefully planned, multi-tiered monitoring campaign. One tier involved direct engagement with Twitter users employing phrases like "free puppy" or "invisible readers," or just the name of the online store. Twitter's search function made it easy to locate the discussions and jump in. (A typical company remark: "It's all in good fun, though, right?")
dog in a bagThe Results: Customers loved the promotion. One tweeted: "Who can be mad at a puppy in a handbag?" And, they purchased products.
Results from the OneClickVentures.com case study:
Handbag Heaven – April Fools’ compared to Average Campaign:
+42% Open Rate
+60% Click Rate
+43% Revenue increase
These numbers speak for themselves ... about the importance of identifying where and how customers are speaking about your brand!
Conduct regular searches on the terms customers are most likely to use that relate to your company, your brands, and your promotions.
Join the conversation. Two great (and free!) places to start are the Twitter search bar and the extremely simple setup page for Google Alerts.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How to Introduce Customer Centric Thinking into Your Organization

THE SITUATION: When discussing customer centricity, I often hear questions like: “Why in this tough economy, should we invest time or resources chasing some elusive new customer centricity initiatives, when we have so many other priorities? What's the payoff?" Marketers and executives at all levels face this kind of skepticism and resistance.
Making the Bottom-Line Case for Change: Recently, the senior vice president of a client company delivered an eloquent, and instructive, response to this challenge. Based on recent Voice of Customer (VOC) call center repsresearch, management had learned that their customer service reps were perceived as technically competent, but not very easy or pleasant to work with. This was alienating a critical segment of their customer base.
The senior vice president not only made the decision to invest in creating a new VOC-based Customer Centric Training, but he also employed three critical best practices for helping the customer service reps embrace the new, customer-centric way of doing business.
Best Practice #1: Focus on the Metrics. The attendees at the first Customer Centric Training probably thought they were in for another (boring) round of "soft skills" training, with no direct connection to anything anyone would actually hold them accountable for after the training. How wrong they were!
The SVP informed them that the company had an obligation to deliver the highest possible return on investment per customer, by increasing lifetime value. He then explained that a critical factor in achieving these goals was to improve the team's phone-based relationship skills, and then use those skills to achieve far deeper engagement with customers, as determined by the VOC research findings.
With the full support of the CEO and President, he focused the Customer-Centric Training around customer lifetime value goals and introduced ROI performance goals for the reps to achieve after they completed the training.
The message was clear; Customer-Centricity goes straight to the bottom line.
Performance indicators include: customer satisfaction, increased purchases, increased lifetime value, and reduced attrition. The SVP stated that this was a message he personally wanted to deliver to the customer service reps. And, he explained, he would be personally monitoring these results indicators and expected to see a dramatic increase!
Training ClassBest Practice #2: Emphasize Personal Responsibility. The SVP concluded his remarks by assuring the team members that the training was vitally important, not only to their own careers, but to the future of the company. He instructed them to bear in mind that everyone in the company had a fiscal responsibility to ensure that the training was successful ... and that it would be fiscally irresponsible to do otherwise. The team got the message!
Best Practice #3: Executive Leadership and Visibility is Essential. The visible participation of senior execs was critical in communicating management’s commitment to the Customer-Centric change process. The SVP and President attended the opening session and delivered passionate remarks in support of the Customer-Centricity culture change process. The fact that they made time to attend the opening of the training made an impact on the reps. The SVP was visible for the remainder of the 2-day training.
Communicate to all levels of your organization that Customer-Centricity is an essential culture change process, especially in these tough times, and that results go straight to the bottom-line.
Empower employees to demonstrate customer-centric behaviors and to provide their own recommendations for how to improve the customer experience.
Emphasize that the impact of customer-centricity is measurable, and that all members of the organization will be measured on their individual contributions to customer satisfaction, increased purchases, increased lifetime value, and reduced attrition.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Double Dip Recession? Not If You Listen to Customers

THE SITUATION: The US government avoided default by the skin of its teeth ... but instead of stability, we have a first-in-history downgrade of the nation's credit rating and world-wide financial turmoil.

THE OPPORTUNITY FOR MARKETERS: Is it possible that good margins, robust market share, and growth are possible, even in the current market environment? Industry leaders I work with think the answer is "YES”. They have learned lessons about today's markets ... from direct interviews with their own customers.

Three Essential Marketing Takeaways: The consumer landscape has changed in some important and, I believe, The Ideal Customerpermanent ways since the first of our two recessions kicked in in 2008. Although specifics vary by company, three principles of Customer-Centricity can apply broadly to all major industry sectors.

Permanent Market Change #1: Attrition matters. The pre-2008 complacency about whether customers defect to the competition, or stop buying altogether, is no longer acceptable. "Plenty of fish in the sea" may be a good maxim for dating, but not for marketing. Indifference is not a viable starting point for today's relationships between seller and buyer.

Respect is mandatory; it starts with truly caring whether the customer sticks around, and today's economy-savvy, Internet-savvy, social-media savvy consumer knows that. What's more, market leaders have developed a new respect for the high cost of replacing a disaffected customer, and as a result, they do not stop asking themselves, "What can we do to improve the customer experience ... and reduce attrition?" See this blog post for some insights on how the legendary merchandiser QVC did this.

Listen to the customer

Permanent Market Change #2: Consumers expect to be listened to via their own preferred channels and media. They are far more outspoken and explicit about their preferences, and they want to share specific preferences such as: how they define a value added relationship, how they wish to be communicated with, and what mix of media they wish to use to engage with companies.

As a result, today's market leaders are building their relationship marketing strategies around the rich feedback about multichannel preferences they receive directly from consumers. See this article for an overview of how Customer-Centric market leaders have achieved double-digit revenue increases by following this approach.

Permanent Market Change #3: Consumers expect true personalization in exchange for providing personal preference information. They want to be able to determine the content, messages and offers they receive, based on their unique personal preferences, and they want to have a clear sense of what custom-tailored value they will receive in exchange for sharing this information.

If you establish a powerful value proposition that justifies what I call a Reciprocity of Value Equation, consumers will provide you with invaluable opt-in information regarding their message, offer, and media preferences. This information becomes the core of a uniquely powerful preference-driven database ... which will drive double-digit increases in response and revenue. This case study shows exactly how Microsoft did this.


Learn how your customers define a compelling Reciprocal Value Exchange with your company. Understand how they want to deepen their relationships and what type of information they would provide in exchange for specific value added information and offers.

Do not attempt to launch this type of high engagement program without guidance from the voice of your customers!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Four Lessons About the Power of Twitter from the Debt Ceiling Drama

THE SITUATION: Twitter played an important role in helping move Congress to finally pass the debt ceiling legislation.

A Beautiful Setting

THE MARKETING TAKEAWAYS: At several points over the past few weeks, the President called a press conference to repeat points that he had already made many times before. Why did he bother?
Because each of these press conferences included a direct appeal to voters to email, call, and tweet the members of Congress who represented them.

Obama repeated those appeals on his Twitter account, which boasts nine million followers. And each time he did that, Congressional offices were swamped with constituent communications in support of the President. Marketers should be curious about how the President pulled this off.

Whether we agree with his handling of the debt ceiling standoff or not, we have to admit that Obama and his team know how to use Twitter. Multiple mainstream media sources (1: Federal Computer Week) (2: The Register) have acknowledged the effectiveness of the White House's use of this powerful medium, and a few (3: Media Matters For America) even seem to suggest that it might have been one of the turning points in resolving the crisis.

Obama used Twitter to mobilize his base of contacts and issue calls to action that people quickly obeyed. Here are four best practices, straight from the Oval Office.

Ernan Roman inducted into the DMA Hall of Fame. To learn more, please click here.


The difference between treating people like a record on a database and treating them like valued customers or supporters, lies in keeping them updated on the issues that affect them. Obama's team did this, regularly keeping millions of followers up to date about the latest developments in the crisis, and explaining what needed to happen to resolve it.


Building the Emotional Equity

The bigger the story got, the more interested Obama's core base of Twitter followers became in updates and other messages from the White House. Obama's team saw this need, and positioned the White House as an alternate news stream on the story. Keep this in mind as you consider the power of relevant communications.


Twitter is all about speed and immediacy. If you are going to be effective in this space, you need to post new material regularly. Obama's team certainly did this, offering dozens of posts a day. Is it wise for your organization to try to hit that level, no matter what? Probably not. But you should get Voice of Customer feedback regarding the frequency and content of the messages customers and followers want to receive from your organization.


This is a huge part of good Twitter etiquette. In fact, it's almost an end in itself. It was impossible not to notice how often the President used Twitter to thank his followers over the past few weeks. Here, he thanks them personally at the end of the crisis, via a special video link embedded in a tweet.

Thank people for following you on Twitter. Thank them for mentioning you. Thank them for anything you can credibly thank them for.


To support your brand and build an engaged base of motivated followers, do these four things on Twitter ... whatever your politics happen to be.