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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Social Bridge Building To The Future: Happy 2009!

How will you engage with customers in 2009? Will you consider social  media to build bridges [or a snowman] with them? 

I love how practical social media is. It's the ideal tool - assuming you've thought through your business strategy - for marketing, communicating and cooperating effectively with your audience.

It's ideal because it's readily available without your being dependent on an expensive outside resource to make something happen.

It's also ideal because it allows your humanity to shine, which lets your customers know that you aren't a cold facade, but rather a live person who cares passionately about your customers' experience. [For more perspective, read Peter Kim's Social Media Predictions 2009 and download a copy of the predictions/perspectives he received from 14 prominent thinkers. Note how often 'real people' come up with respect to customer service.]

On the flip side, it means you can't just delegate the project to an outside resource. You need to be personally involved. You have to get your hands dirty and be committed to that effort for the duration.

Does that seem intimidating? It shouldn't.  After all, isn't that why you are in business?  For the duration?

And, if you're serious about your business, you've already put thought into who you're trying to reach, what you want that audience to know about you and how to offer them value.  Right?  In fact, you're probably passionate about talking to and delighting your customers.  You want them involved.

The new Web 2.0 marketing tools help communicate how you delight and bring value in ways that the old tools don't.  How? Because they allow you to connect directly with those customers to whom you are relevant.  But, they take time to establish themselves.

So, why not start now with social media? Why not start experimenting and developing a voice? Make it a 2009 resolution.

For inspiration, read this Dell Small business profile: Masi Bicycles interview with Tim Jackson from Masi Bicycles who writes the Masi Guy blog.  Tim has created something amazing with Masi Guy - from scratch.

Another source of wisdom is The Secrets of Marketing in a Web 2.0 World from The Wall Street Journal [done in collaboration with MIT Sloan Management Review].  Based on 30 interviews with professionals from large and small organizations who are experimenting with social media, it lists "a set of emerging principles for marketing."  

These principles include:
1. "Don't just talk at consumers -- work with them throughout the marketing process."
2. "Give consumers a reason to participate."
3. "Listen to -- and join -- the conversation outside your site."
4. "Resist the temptation to sell, sell, sell."
5. "Don't control, let it go."
6. "Find a 'marketing technopologist'.
7. "Embrace experimentation."

As you read it, think back on Tim Jackson and explore Masi Guy.

For additional perspective, read David Churbuck's Triage for tough times - The Dour Marketer.  

Finally, do read Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old where thought leaders like Mack Collier, Ann Handley, and Steve Woodruff - with many more to come in 2009 - share their wisdom about social bridge building to the future.

I wish you boundless success in 2009 with endless opportunities to experiment and learn as you engage with customers.

Thank you so much for reading and participating in this adventure!

Happy 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Check Out The Smith College Alum Blogs

First, to those visiting from the listing of Smith College Alum Blogs, Welcome!

For those of you not familiar with this listing, I encourage you to learn more about a fascinating project described in the recent Smith Alumnae Quarterly in an article titled "Calling All Bloggers."

Two recent Smith College alumnae - Sarah Winawer-Wetzel '05 [an MBA student who blogs at Stalking Sarah] and Amanda Hanley '06 [a social media consultant whose blog is Come the Revolution] - decided to compile a list of all of the blogs created by Smith College Alumnae [it almost sounds like a project worthy of Guy Kawasaki's AllTop...].

I heard about it through the article above.  I was curious.  Who from Smith is blogging? Is blogging that prevalent? 

I was taken aback at what I discovered.  Imagine.  The graduating class of 1960 is the earliest class to blog with three blogs! The classes of 2004, 2005 and 2006 are the most prolific - so far. Notice how class blogs appear as early as 1993. No surprise, the latest class with blogs is 2008.

I submitted all three of my blogs [Flooring The Consumer, The Carpetology Blog and The Smoke Rise Blog], but was shocked to realize that -to date- I am the only class of 1983 blogger.

Blogs are indexed by year. A few years don't yet have representation.  So, if you know of any Smith College Alumnae who blog - particularly for years 1962, 1964, 1966, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977 and 1984, please do encourage them to submit theirs to the list.

Topics so far range from travel, politics, food, knitting, going green and juicier... With my additions, they now include marketing, carpet and Northern New Jersey related local history, community events and hikes.

Launched in March 2008, the site now includes 275 blogs, spanning 5 decades with only a few years not yet represented.

I consider this impressive, humbling and really fascinating.

And, by the way, chances are these are your customers.

Thank you, Sarah and Amanda, for including me.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays From Flooring The Consumer!

It's truly that time of year... Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, New Year's Eve....  All wonderful Holidays!

We are in full Holiday mood.

Santa came up with an alternative method for delivering my daughter's Christmas letter [so long Operation Santa!]. Phew! We were on pins & needles.

Since 8:15am we have been tracking Santa's progress on Google Earth thanks to Norad. [I never realized that Norad has been tracking Santa since 1958 and since 1998 on the web!]

Hats off to Norad and to CONAD, its precursor.  Do read the Wikipedia entry describing how the project has evolved. I love how it got started and the marvelous goodwill and extensive collaboration the project represents.  By the way, did you know that it's Canadian-American?

And, as Santa and the elves have plenty to teach us - not least of which is just enjoying all the goodness and glory around us, I share with you the following.

From past Holiday fun, consider learning from Santa about the brand experience.  Would you add or change anything?

From the elves, there's plenty in Happy 2007 from Wear-Dated!

If you are desperate for elf time performances, I take part in four of them at The Carpetology Blog with the Women of Wear-Dated:

[Note: the elves disappear on January 15, 2009.]

Finally, I share with you a favorite story, The Night Before Christmas.

Thank you for being part of Flooring The Consumer. I wish you and your family a brilliantly warm and relaxing Holiday Season.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Mack Collier Blog Review

What makes an effective blog? That's a question that Mack Collier addressed during the recent MarketingProfs Digital Mixer when he reviewed several blogs [including Flooring The Consumer].

Mack knows blogs. He reviews them regularly on The Viral Garden in his Company Blog Checkup Series. He also writes about effective blogging.

Here's what Mack looks for in a blog:

1. Blog Content
What kind of information does your blog offer readers? Is is of interest? Or is it just self-promotion? Effective blogs discuss issues of interest; they provide value to readers so readers will return regularly for more.

Look at Graco's Graco Blog content [Note: Graco attended BlogHer Business 2008: Social Media Outreach Programs.] Notice, too, the posting schedule [i.e., see #4 below].

Mack's article What Makes a Great Company Blog? offers more detail.

2. Comments and Are You Responding?
Good content engages readers. Engaged readers leave comments. Are you responding to those comments? The more you respond and interact with your readers, the greater the opportunity you have to create a community.

Look at Life of a Farm blog and its comments. They are personalized and full of detail [did you know that Llamas are effective against coyotes?]. Also, look at how HomeGoods' OpenHouse's bloggers handle comments [Note, too, how the multiple bloggers are individualized, the photos in the posts, and also the value-added elements in the sidebar - see #3 below].

Mack's article What Makes a Great Company Blog: Comments offers more detail.

3. Sidebar/visual elements
What you include in your sidebar communicates information about you to your readers - who you are, how serious you are about your blog, and how easy you and your blog are to interact with. What have you included in yours? Is there a photo of you? Is there information about who you are and how to reach you? This helps establish your trustworthiness. Do you offer the means to subscribe to your blog? And, then, do you offer your readers resources and recommendations?

Look at Patagonia's blog, The Cleanest Line, and its sidebar. Note the del.ici.ous links.

Mack's article What Makes a Great Company Blog: Sidebars offers more detail.

4. How often are you posting? Do you have a schedule?
The essence of a blog is regular updates. At least weekly and ideally more frequently. Keeping to a regular schedule creates a rhythm that readers identify with, encouraging them to visit your blog regularly in anticipation of updates.

Look at Kodak's A Thousand Words blog with excellent content and a Monday through Friday posting schedule.

Mack's article What Makes a Great Company Blog: Posting Schedule offers more detail.

I love that Mack referred to so many corporate blog examples. After all, these represent benchmarks for doing things the right way. Here are a few more that he mentioned [notice, too, how these are integrated into the corporate websites]:

+ Turkey Hill's Ice Cream Journal Blog

+ Southwest's Nuts About Southwest Blog [check out the Flickr group, the video blog, the news, the polls and the media center - suggestions that Mack brings up in Your Blog is Reallllllly Boring... to add spark.]

Mack's article Examples of Great Company Blogs offers a few more examples.

When it came to reviewing Flooring The Consumer, Mack suggested a regular series. To him I owe, then, the idea for Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old [only fitting that he should be my first guest!]

Read Mack's article Need More Blog Posts? Then Start a Series! for additional perspective.

Finally, read 10 Steps to Creating the Perfect Small Business Blog to put all of this into a 10 step framework.

What it boils down to is how do you create value for others? Which gets back to the points that Ann Handley made about how we connect with customers...

This blog review session did for me from a blog perspective what Paco Underhill does for me from a retail experience perspective: create a renewed sense of appreciation and awareness for the customer experience.

Thank you, Mack!

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Social Media Series: Steve Woodruff on Bridging New & Old

This week's guest for the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Steve Woodruff.

Steve Woodruff is fascinating on several fronts. First, he bridges two worlds: pharmaceuticals and social media marketing. Second, within marketing Steve has developed a reputation for branding, experimentation [check out the Marketing Bloggers Portal] and intense musings. Third, he lives just a few miles down the road from me in Northern New Jersey.

On the pharmaceutical front, Steve Woodruff publishes Impactiviti, focusing on pharmaceuticals and training. StickyFigure is where Steve talks marketing, branding and social media. Have you read through his multi-part discussion about what he refers to as "Metamee" or One Interface to Rule them All? It's guaranteed to have you thinking about which social media marketing tools you use, why you use them and how the future might look...

In addition to Twitter and LinkedIn, you will find Steve at the MPDailyFix and Small Business Branding.

CB: How/why did you get involved in social media?

Steve: I'll blame LinkedIn for getting me started. I didn't have a fully-formulated social media plan those years ago (and even today, any strategy continues to rapidly evolve!); it just seemed like a very cool approach to something I wanted as a professional - better networking. Things really took off when I began blogging 2.5 years ago - first as part of launching my pharma consulting business (Impactiviti), then I began to give vent to my long-suppressed marketing and branding thoughts (StickyFigure). Social Media has been a very important outlet of self-expression for me - finding my writing and creative "voice" in a supportive community of other networked folks.

CB: What do you like most about social media?

Steve: I like the combination of strategy and serendipity. Much of what I do has planning and purpose behind it. Yet, when it comes to discovering new people and building relationships via networking, there is a wonderful "pinball" element to it. There would be no way to plot out or anticipate the people I've come to interact with (and greatly value) via blogging, Twitter, and other connected networks.

CB: What do you like least about social media?

Steve: It's a big, fragmented mess. But that's to be understood - the technologies are relatively young, the approaches are being hammered out iteratively, it's a messy evolutionary process. A new generation of tools is needed to help make sense of it all, and bring personalization and order to the info-storm.

CB: What 3 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users? This can include specific [and effective] examples you have observed.

1. Companies should consider having one (or more) designated "spokespeople" for the brand, who skillfully build relationships using social media platforms. Scott Monty (Ford) is a good template for this [CB Note: Please consider reading Scott's post about Ford and the US Auto Industry].

2. Social media is a great opportunity for brands and companies to "get a life" and learn to have some informal fun with people in the marketplace. That builds attachment more effectively than expensive and monolithic one-way branding campaigns, IMHO.

3. Change the mentality from "buy my brand" to an invitation to "come on in" to the brand. Social media can be used as a welcome mat, an open door of hospitality to become part of the brand. Stop thinking of consumers, and start thinking of participants. That approach can span both old and new media approaches by simply looking at the audience in a different way, and building a comprehensive strategy with new entry points.

CB: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers.

Steve: We're coming full circle, to where a human face and personality can once again be attached to the things we buy. For quite some time in our mass media, that was obscured (except for celebrity endorsements, which are a different matter). We like to buy from people. Social media provides unique ways to restore this fundamental human drive to marketing again.

Thank you, Steve!

Comments? Reactions?

What about the notion of once again attaching human face & personality to what we buy? How feasible do these notions seem for your business? What other ways come to mind for bridging old and new?

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Retail Window Displays Matter

Two weeks ago, I received an inquiry from Annie Karni, News Editor and Senior Writer for The New York Post's Page Six Magazine. She was working on a feature story on Bergdorf's and Barneys' holiday window displays for and had come across my post about Engaging The Consumer... Via Store Windows! and Linda Fargo. Would I answer some questions, she asked?

More specifically,

+ Why are talked about window displays important to a store?
+ Do they help drive sales?
+ Do they help establish a store's reputation?
+ Aside from creating beautiful street art, why is it important for these department stores to invest time and money in their windows?

Here is how I answered.

Stores bring people and products together. Stores lead to shopping, and possibly to a decision to purchase. The most successful stores engage all of the senses to seduce shoppers into becoming buyers.

Store windows start the romance between shoppers and the products within the store. They start a conversation, generate curiosity and excitement about what's happening inside the store. They communicate to passers by the store's soul, its brand and personality. They set expectations about the store -- 24/7 and for all who pass by.

Store windows are critically important and need to change frequently [Paco Underhill says approximately every 2 weeks; Linda Fargo says every 2 to 3 weeks] to encourage people to return and revisit. Keeping the windows updated and fresh signals how much the store cares, how passionate it is about what it does, and that it is alive and engaged in interacting with shoppers.

Look at comparable examples around us. Newspapers have fresh headlines every day. The Huffington Post does so several times a day. Effective blogs post updates several times a week. A flower store or farm stand makes sure that only the freshest, newest items are showcased. Imagine the message that wilted flowers and rotten tomatoes would send to those shopping! These are the equivalent of retail window displays.

Finally, look at stores like Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters that disavow direct selling. Instead, they have created engaging retail buying experiences - starting with window displays and every other element within the store - that encourage the consumer to 'sell' herself into purchasing something.

Annie translated that input into the following:

'The success of these windows, which can cost millions of dollars in planning and execution, directly affects a store's profits, says Christine Whittemore, who studies consumer trends for manufacturers. "Store windows start that romance between the potential shopper and the product within," she adds. Many retailers stock the same merchandise, and reaction to the windows can determine which store shoppers decide to spend their money at. "The more the windows appeal to the senses, the more successful they are at making people become purchasers."'

Annie Karni's article titled The War of the Window Dressers is a mesmerizing read whether you are fascinated by Barneys and Simon Doonan or Bergdorf Goodman and Linda Fargo, or not. I am honored to have been quoted in an article that highlights retail window displays and their ability to create conversation between shoppers and products...

So, tell me, when is the last time you updated your store windows? I hope recently...

[Note: I'm scheduled to 'do' the New York City department store Christmas windows next weekend with my daughter.]

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Integrate Your Retail Experience

This article, titled "Integrate Your Retail Experience!" appeared in the September 15, 2008 issue of Floor Covering Weekly.

Have you considered that what matters to your customers is what makes your retail experience distinct from anyone else’s in your marketplace? And, further, that it constitutes your value in the marketplace?

What is it that matters to your customers? Is it a store stunning in its details? Is product selection second to none? Are your installers perfection personified?

Imagine having a flooring store that resembles The Apple Store. It infuses customers with Zen vibes and relentless passion. Customers immediately relax upon entering. They like to linger, considering possibilities. They willingly and enthusiastically take the plunge and purchase from you. They expect only the best. But, then, your store representative measures your customer’s room inaccurately. To make matters worse, your installer botches the job. In fact, this is the experience most of your customers encounter once they leave your store. What will your customers say to one another? How long will you survive?

What if you offer a selection of flooring products second to none and your deals are phenomenal. Unfortunately, your store's appearance is dreadful. Samples are strewn about the floor. The carpet underfoot is worn and stained; the bathrooms are best ignored. Consumers must undergo fumigation after walking through it. Despite the amazing deals and extensive product, how impressed is this shopper with you?

Picture this: your store is attractive; your installers are good, but no one follows up with the customer to ensure that the installation has been scheduled, let alone conveniently. No one has attempted to educate her about how to maintain her carpet. Your consumer encounters problems and learns that her warranty has been voided because she didn’t care for her carpet per IICRC and CRI recommendations. How satisfied do you think your customer will be?

These scenarios are common. Ask around. If you’re lucky, someone will be honest and share them with you. They all reflect a missed opportunity to better integrate all aspects of the retail experience so customers are delighted and impressed with us, talking about us in reverential rather than disgusted tones.

My mother is one of these disappointed consumers. Her experience was good enough from the average retailer’s perspective, but not from hers. Although her three projects look great, she endured three months of missed appointments, frustration, miscommunication and aggravation. One room was measured incorrectly, resulting in a backorder and a different, more expensive final solution. She personally had to pursue store representatives for basic information [when are you coming? Are you still coming? Where is my carpet?].

So, what’s going on? Experts will tell you that the back and front ends of the store experience haven’t been adequately integrated. Rather than work together as a team, they work competitively and at cross purposes.

Whereas such an approach might have been good enough not too long ago, those days are gone. Not only are we over-stored, but the social web offers consumers the tools to research, document and investigate reputation.

That places the consumer front and center. What matters to her, matters to you. Provide her with a flawless experience, and she will reward you with her business and her loyalty. Offer her a partially satisfactory solution and not only will she take her business elsewhere, but she will let everyone know to stay away.

Welcome to the new world order, where customers call the shots!

So, let’s rethink the situation. Aren’t consumers simply looking to find a perfect flooring solution for their beautiful home and a place where the relationship extends beyond the immediate transaction?

That requires that every aspect of your retail experience work seamlessly together, that all parts be integrated. It matters to her that you facilitate internal communications, and foster cross-departmental cooperation rather than competition so everyone can be a part of delivering solutions.

It matters to your customers. That means that it matters to you.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Social Media Series: Ann Handley on Bridging New & Old

Ann Handley with MarketingProfs
originally uploaded by David Alston.
This week's guest for the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is the amazing Ann Handley.

Ann lives and breathes new marketing. You may know her from MarketingProfs where she is Chief Content Officer - and chief instigator, editor, nurturer, community builder and conversationalist - skills she developed as co-founder of ClickZ.

As much as Ann is immersed in new media tools, what I enjoy most about her is that she gives new meaning to storytelling. Yes, she writes for MarketingProfs, and MarketingProfs Daily Fix. But, you'll also find her on The Huffington Post, This Mommy Gig and her recently launched blog, Annarchy [which will soon celebrate its first blog anniversary], where she will grip you unexpectedly with each post.

I couldn't think of a better person than Ann Handley to follow Mack Collier!

CB: Ann, how/why did you get involved in social media?

Ann: Well, when I was a child I invented blogging when I launched into many conversations with 9 different pen pals, all at once. So once the technology caught up, I guess you could say the social media found me, not the other way around.

Of course, I’m kidding: I say I invented blogging because the whole idea of keeping my own take on things private has always been boring to me. I was never the girl who kept a diary under my mattress, because it seemed pointless to write for only myself. I mean, I know what I think, and I didn’t feel a need to record it. For whom?

Instead, I craved interaction and feedback. Feedback – and now, comments and “friends” and social connections and readers – help me evolve my own thinking and understanding, which is why I readily embraced blogging a few years ago with the launch of the MarketingProfs group blog, the Daily Fix and then, later, my own personal blog, Annarchy. For me, writing and communicating is not a solitary activity. I can’t shut myself in a room and write my heart out and feel satisfied. I need to share. I need to listen. I need the interaction.

So blogging literally feels like something I invented when I was a little girl alone in my room, writing to my community of pen pals.

CB: What do you like most about social media?

Ann: I love the way things are amplified and intensified. Relationships forged there are fun and insightful and (sometimes) surprisingly intense. And real. There’s a wonderful camaraderie and depth of community among its participants. I think that’s because it’s hard to be inauthentic in social media. You can’t really hide who you are.

What’s more: in social media, everyone has a voice, because everyone suddenly has a platform. Which means that everyone matters. Everyone is potentially an influencer. Everyone is a “Who” on the “Who’s Who” list.

Like most of us, I embraced social media as an individual. But it doesn’t take long before you start to see the business possibilities inherent there, too.

From a brand’s perspective, I like the way that companies like Zappos and Comcast who have readily embraced the social media space have set a new standard for the way brands interact with their customers, in terms of the customer responsiveness and service. If a customer complains about Comcast service on Twitter, for example, he or she will hear from Frank Eliason (@comcastcares) or one of his colleagues. Social media platforms amplify what companies do… or don’t do. It’s hard for them to hide who they are, too.

CB: What do you like least about social media?

Ann: Paradoxically, I sometimes dislike the way things are amplified and intensified.

In the recent case of the Motrin Moms situation, for example, its silly advertisement earned them a run through the hot oven for disrespecting their community. Was it deserved? Maybe. But my guess it that Motrin’s initial takeaway is that the Twitter community – which loudly walloped them – is filled with hot heads and critics. This kind of thing has happened many times over, in other places, on other platforms.

Brands will misstep, but I much prefer social media to use its powers for good, rather than evil. To teach, rather than criticize. To focus on the potential.

I wish for a little perspective: It’s not an easy thing for companies in these very early stages. Social media is a risky minefield. Doing it wrong can bring on a punking, and staying on the sidelines could leave a company vulnerable, as Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang has said.

CB: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

1. Understand that social media isn’t magic, smoke, or mirrors. For marketers, it’s part of a larger mindset shift toward listening and interacting with your customers, and not just pushing out advertising and collateral.

2. Research what all the fuss is about. MarketingProfs has lots of great content on Social Media from a marketer’s perspective, as does its blog, the MarketingProfs Daily Fix. Most recently, Jason Baer, Amber Naslund, Beth Harte have all been looking at the fundamental steps, as does Mack Collier, consistently.

3. Read other smart folks in this space. Almost all of the marketers who blog for the MarketingProfs Daily Fix – including the four I named above -- write their own blogs. Explore them, and you’re bound to find a few voices that resonate with you and your needs.

4. Listen. See what bloggers and Twitter and other social media users are saying about you or your products or others in your space. To start, use blogsearch.google.com and search.twitter.com to monitor the conversation. If you want more, Andy Beals suggests eight free monitoring tools here.

5. Wade in. Start using social media tools as an individual. Get a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile. Read and comment on blogs that interest you. Pretty soon you’ll start to see the business possibilities inherent. I know I did.

CB: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers?

Ann: Social media is just one tool in a larger New Marketing toolbox, which is about shifting your approach to the way you connect with customers. Marketers for companies of all shapes and sizes should be like Walmart greeters, asking themselves about their customers, "How can we help?" I don't mean that pejoratively or literally: Rather, I mean that companies should be positioning themselves as a trusted resource.

To that end, they should be creating content that helps their customers do their jobs better, that educates them. In a larger sense, the marketer’s job these days is understanding what your customer needs to know, and then delivering it in an interesting and compelling way. I think that shift lies at the heart of forging stronger bonds with customers.

Paradoxically, the more it’s about them, the more it’s about you. You know? ; )

Thank you, Ann!

Comments? Reactions? What do you think about the notion of companies needing to position themselves as trustred resources? And creating content that helps customers? What about social media being only one tool in the larger New Marketing Toolbox?

What other thoughts do Ann's responses trigger in terms of bridging old & new media?

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Monday, December 08, 2008

5 Marketing Lessons From Social Media & The Elections - Part 4

originally uploaded by misschloeemily.
Amazing what marketing lessons a successful presidential election campaign can teach us, particularly when the winner has been willing to use new tools and integrate them effectively with more traditional ones.

Chief amongst those lessons is the value of having a sound marketing plan in place where all of the strategic elements work in coordinated fashion to deliver the desired result. In other words, marketing works.

Good marketing ensures a consistent and convincing message - here about change - that generates contagious enthusiasm with distinct calls to action [contribute, register, vote, organize...]. Good marketing applies not just to politics, but also to business and the retail experience.

I'm not the only one to find marketing lessons in these events. In fact, I suggest you check out Rohit Bhargava [see below], David Meerman Scott [see Ten marketing lessons from the Barack Obama Presidential campaign], Henry Lambert [see Obama’s Lesson’s For Marketing], Meron Bravo [see Wednesday Jabber: Market Like A Poll Star!], Kim Cornwall Malseed [see 6 B2B Marketing Tips Courtesy of McCain & Obama] and Aarti Shah's 11/5/08 PRWeek article titled "Obama's savvy comms propel him to victory."

As I read through them [which I strongly recommend that you do, too], I noticed that they seemed to fall into 5 'uber' categories.  So, without further ado, I share with you 5 marketing lessons from social media & the elections - mashed from the articles above and my own observations.

1. A strong and consistent brand matters.

The Obama campaign developed a visual brand for itself, something more typical of a consumer product than of a politician.  The brand successfully evoked themes of hope and change and in a "shareable" format.

In How Obama's Brand Helped Him To Win The Election, Rohit Bhargava states that among the campaign's marketing lessons, "strongest is the power of having a strong AND shareable brand. Obama's logo and brand identity were consistently used across all his communications, but also treated with a flexibility that would drive many holders of a brand identity completely mad. Instead of taking a closed approach to his brand identity, the Obama campaign let people remix the brand for their own uses." He includes two graphics he created to illustrate the range of interpretations created - amazingly varied, but also powerfully consistent.

The brand cleary and simply articulated what the campaign wanted people to believe.

Other considerations:  be different and stand for something big.  Be prepared to be flexible.

2. Embrace different means for reaching your audience. Be where they are.

This is where social media comes into play as we transition away from conventional top down communication in favor of interactive communication. Social media and the new rules of marketing are essential. Embrace citizen journalism.  

Definitely take advantage of multi-channel marketing/PR strategy [i.e.,fully integrate all of your marketing].  Face-to-face interaction is effective and valuable.

3. It's about your customers, not you.

Many observations fall into this category.  No surprise, most result from the transition away from top down to interaction.  

Build your following from the ground up.  Put your fans first. Embrace the little people, too. Think long term relationship with your customers rather than a one-time transaction. Marketing is about relationship building vs. a hierarchical/corporate approach. Find commonality. Be committed to change, to improvement for the greater good and the good of your customer base.

Converse don't dictate.  People don't like tele-marketing. People don't care about products and services, instead they care about themselves and about solving their problems. When someone becomes a customer, s/he wants to talk about it.  

Figure out a way to help your supporters help you. Offer partnership for your audience. Embrace behavioral economics.

Listen. Listen some more.  Listen so you understand which issues are relevant and what's at stake. Don't wear out your audience. Stay connected.

4. Optimism is infinitely more powerful than negativity [and more contagious].

Negativity doesn't sell, so be optimistic.

5. The brand is only as good as the people who form the organization.

This one gets to authenticity and reinforces the consistency of the overall campaign:  be genuinely likeable; plan, organize and delegate well; surround yourself with passionate, committed people; find smart, trustworthy people to advise and help you; demonstrate knowledge and ability; show discipline, determination and hard work; don't obsess over the competition, and take time for your family.

I'll leave you with the following image.  It particularly appeals to me when combined with Diva Marketing Toby Bloomberg's characterization of social media as a living room into which you welcome friends for a conversation.  It comes from the slideshare presentation on Henry Lambert's post.

Imagine your brand as host or hostess who welcomes, makes introductions and keeps the conversation alive -- brand as the soul of hospitality, totally focused on his or her visitors, and eager to nurture a long term relationship...

And, then, apply the lessons above.

What do you think?

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Social Media Series: Mack Collier on Bridging New & Old

[Mack Collier with Becky Carroll and me at the recent MarketingProfs Digital Mixer]

My first guest for the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old is Mack Collier. In case you've not heard of Mack, he writes the The Viral Garden, an insightful and influential marketing and social media blog. He frequently contributes to Marketing Profs, the MProfs Daily Fix blog, and small business blog Search Engine Guide. On top of that, he is an amazing social media strategist and consultant.

What I appreciate most about Mack - apart from how approachable he is - is his down-to-earth and practical approach to social media and marketing. He constantly experiments and tweaks to better understand the ramifications [e.g., as in The Z List] and then shares what he learns.

From a corporate blog learning perspective, do check out his Company Blog Checkup series, and if you need a recommendation of marketing blogs to start reading, look no further than Mack's weekly updated Top 25 Marketing Blogs [which - I'm honored to say - included Flooring The Consumer for weeks 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67 - i.e., last year!].

CB: Mack, how/why did you get involved in social media?

Mack: I got involved by accident. I was active on the advertising and marketing message boards on the Talent Zoo website, and TZ decided to start an advertising blog called Beyond Madison Avenue. They picked several of the most active participants in their forums, including myself, to be the writers for BMA. That was in Sept of 2005; by December we had about 2,000 unique visitors a day, and I became the de facto editor for the blog. It continued to grow, and by March of 2006 I decided I wanted to start my own blog, and launched The Viral Garden.

CB: What do you like most about social media?

Mack: How easy it is to meet so many amazing and interesting people. And not only that, but how connections made online carry over so easily to offline. When I first started attending social media events and conferences earlier this year, the thing that struck me was how I could 'meet' someone that I had already connected with online, and it was as if we were old friends. I would meet someone and attempt to introduce myself and shake their hand, and they would counter with 'I know who you are Mack; give me a hug!' It's really amazing!

CB: What do you like least about social media?

Mack: I think the ease at which you can connect with people can also be a bit of a downside in a way, because it's tough to really know too many people. For example, I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and am constantly following more people, now around 900. But I would bet there are probably only about 20 or so that I *really* know, and that's just that I haven't been able to spend time getting to know them outside of Twitter. I haven't been lucky enough to meet them offline like I have with you at Blogger Social and then at the Marketing Profs Digital Mixer.

Something else I don't like is that since it is so easy for people to connect, I think it's also easier for groupthink to kick in. It's easier for those of us that evangelize social media (such as myself), to become a bit blinded to some of its limitations or shortcomings, if we don't connect with people outside our fishbowl.

CB: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

1 - Start paying attention to social media. You don't have to become experts, but start making yourself familiar with the space, and why your customers are using these tools. I write for two sites that are wonderful resources for helping you get up to speed on social media, MarketingProfs.com and SearchEngineGuide.com.

2 - After you start paying attention to social media, start monitoring online conversations to see if your company/brand is being discussed. Use tools like Google Blog Search and Twitter Search to see what the chatter is.

3 - Start responding to people that are talking about your company/brand online. If you have a blog, you can address their points there, and invite others. The key is to become a participant in the conversation that's happening online about you.

4 - If you want to launch a social media strategy, make sure your goals for that strategy align with your larger communication efforts. It's great to use Twitter to provide customer service, but if your offline efforts aren't ready to handle your SM [social media] efforts, it will all collapse. SM can't exist in a vacuum, they are connection tools and you can't have 2 guys that handle your blog being 'people persons' that love connecting with your customers and helping them, when no one else in the company supports that position. Your strategy and attitude toward how you will use social media have to be a byproduct of your company's culture, not the attitudes of that one geeky guy or gal that 'gets' social media.

5 - Think about ways you can integrate 'old media' connection efforts with 'new media'. If you blog, try adding links to some of your posts to the monthly email newsletter that you send out. If you are connecting with your customers on Twitter, don't be afraid to give them your phone number so you can walk them through a particular problem they are having. Think about how you can leverage product information on your website, to help readers of your blog find the information they are looking for. Social media didn't suddenly become the silver bullet that will save every bad business plan, just like 'traditional marketing' didn't suddenly become obsolete. Both can and should be utilized together, as appropriate in reaching and connecting with your customers.

CB: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers.

Mack: It sounds cliche, but you really do have to care about people. I think a lot of companies right now are excited about social media, because they see it as a cheap (time is often the biggest commitment) way to reach their customers. IOW, they want to find out how they can monetize the interactions they have with customers via social media.

Here's why this doesn't work; because people aren't using social media to be monetized by companies, they are using social media to connect with other people. We use social media to create and share information with each other. We become friends and share our thoughts and feelings. We connect as 'real people'.

So if a company wants to utilize social media as an effective way to reach their customers, they have to shift their mindset and use the tools in the same ways, and for the same reasons, as their customers do. They have to use these tools as real people trying to connect with their customers (real people). If you approach social media as a new channel to 'sell more stuff', then your efforts will likely fail miserably.

But instead, if you use social media as a new channel to connect with your customers and create valuable content for them, to give them information that they can use, then you are giving them a reason to connect with you. You are creating value for them. And a byproduct of doing so, will be that these customers will help promote your efforts, which results in the online conversation about your company increasing, and becoming more positive.

Which ultimately, will probably help you 'sell more stuff'. But that only happens when you enter into social media with the mindset of 'what value will our efforts create for our customers?', and not 'what value can we extract from this space?' It's all about shifting your mindset to using social media as a way to create value for your customers. If you can do that, you win!

CB: Thank you, Mack!

Comments? Reactions? What do you think about Mack's reference to 'groupthink?' What ideas about bridging old & new media do his comments trigger?

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old

Sydney Harbour Bridge#1 originally uploaded by Robert Brindley.
Social media is here to stay. That much I know. According to the 2008 Technorati State of the Blogosphere, "Blogs are Pervasive and Part of Our Daily Lives." We saw social media play an important role in the recent U.S. presidential elections. And tools like Twitter help funnel news during global events like the recent Mumbai terror attacks.

However, we still have a bridge to build between those in the know and those not yet involved.

Perhaps they are simply sitting on the fence. Or maybe they're technically uninterested... What if they are uncomfortable? Or rather the topic isn't relevant at this point. Perhaps they are unaware of what's happening? Regardless, they are definitely not engaged in the conversation.

We owe it to our customers and audience, though, to bridge the gaps that exist between the old ways of communicating and the new ones. It matters because those missing voices are important. They have something to teach us. And we must remain relevant to them.

During the MarketingProfs Digital Mixer, Arianne Huffington described taking whatever steps necessary to include prominent voices on Huffington Post. Whether it meant taking dictation from Arthur Schlesinger or faxes from others, the end justified the means. She made it easy for contributors to contribute and The Huffington Post is a richer resource as a result.

The same applies to social media in general. The conversation can only become richer if we include that variety of perspectives. How do we get there, though? It's not a quick fix solution. But it is one made for creative integration and re-interpretation of the old and the new. Don't you think?

To that end, I am starting a new series about Bridging New and Old Media. I hope it sparks discussion. I hope it generates actionable ideas on how best to reach all customers and include them in discussions about the value we offer. Perhaps it will also bring up ideas we haven't even considered.

My first guest is The Viral Garden's Mack Collier. Please stay tuned!

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