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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

CMO 2.0 Conversation with Paula Drum, H&R Block

In I'm a Member of Marketing 2.0. Are You?, I referred to informative and practical sessions about real life marketers using social media to benefit their businesses. In other words, CMO 2.0 Conversations.

Here follows what transpired during the first conversation in the CMO 2.0 Conversations series which took place 9/25/2008 with Paula Drum, Vice President, Marketing for H&R Block. [If you didn't catch it, you can also replay the interview.]

I learn a great deal from marketers in traditional organizations or industries - particularly when they experiment with innovative marketing approaches. Take H&R Block. They provide a critical service to consumers: support for filing taxes and financial advice. We all have to file taxes at a certain time of year. There's no getting out of it. It's stressful, and we'd rather it be done correctly with the least possible negative impact on us.

During this CMO 2.0 conversation, Paula Drum explained how the Internet has changed how consumers access information as well as what information they have available. It has transformed how consumers use technology to connect and relate to each other and companies. That transformation means that companies - like H&R Block - must market differently to reach consumers.

That realization triggered experiments with social media. Two years ago, she launched a YouTube video contest and an island on Second Life.

Last year, she created a community called DIGITS which now has 1.5 m unique visitors, extended into Facebook and Myspace, and started with Twitter. The goal is to communicate how deeply committed H&R Block is to the community and to build trust with consumers. With these experiments across different platforms, she discovered that the more relevant H&R Block, the more successful the response. Offering tax advice and related information led to valued interactions. However, off-topic [e.g., a Facebook application to find your financial match] activities were considered irrelevant.

Tax expertise and related financial implications are why consumers want to connect with H&R Block. That's what gives H&R Block permission to communicate new professional content. For example, the IRS published information about the AMT late last year, and consumers had many questions that H&R Block professionals were able to help with - a tax expert blogged about what it all meant and how rules were progressing thru government. The same happened with the recent tax rebate. People had questions about the implications of these new decisions. H&R Block could help.

As a result of these experiments, Drum has learned how important it is to integrate social media with traditional marketing programs for better customer engagement. She has also noticed benefits from involving all of the functions - including customer support - to ensure success. It's important to figure out how to be useful to people in their lives and to communicate with them as they want to be communicated with.

Her advice for getting internal support around innovative marketing programs includes:
+ for the ROI audience: be sure to start small; position early efforts as test/learn opportunities.

+ for the Brand audience: explain the importance of moderating the interactions, but not for opinion. It's important to realize that all of these conversations are happening. The decision we have to make as marketers is whether to be part of the conversation or not.

+ for the legal audience: involve those parties early on. Offer case studies showing how other organizations have been successful.

The lesson from all of this: pay attention to your customers, where they are, how they are communicating/obtaining information, what they value you for. Participate in your customer community with content your customers value.

Chances are that -even if you are doing this offline- you will need to be doing this online, too .

NOTE: Don't forgot to register for the next conversation in the CMO 2.0 series taking place on 10/9/2008 [i.e., tomorrow]. It's with Jay Gillespie, VP of Marketing at Fiskars, who created the Fiskateer community and Spike Jones, the Firestarter at Brains On Fire. Register for this conversation now.

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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