Stretching Toward the Everyday

GOING VIRAL!!!

It’s the holy grail of marketing in the digital age. If you’re clever enough and smart enough and lucky enough, some advert or bit of shaky video, or incredibly amusing cartoon/blog post/*insert favorite virtual flotsam here* will spread all over the interwebs in a torrent of giddy, intoxicated interest.

By contrast, the more plain vanilla versions of word of mouth marketing are much more hum-drum. Much more everyday. Friends quietly and simply telling friends. Bo-ring. In a sense it’s all viral, but the less–shall we say– “pandemic” word of mouth seems like nothing to get excited about. Yet in our marketing efforts, these everyday actions are what I think we really should be stretching for.

Getting something to go crazy-viral is fun and cool and exciting, yes. But if we expend a ton of energy trying to get the creativity, luck, energy and juju lined up to pull off a viral coup, a lot of everyday connections will slip through our fingers.

The kind of word of mouth marketing I’m talking about is about long-term engagement, not just short-burst attention grabbing. Viral  is about the cool, the new, the uber-popular. Sustainable word of mouth is focused on connecting with the customer, thanking them, and offering tools to share what they like with their friends.

Take something as simple as a smile. Colgate developed the Colgate Smiles campaign which invites users to simply share a smile by uploading a photo. This is fun, sweet, and connects so directly with the brand – happy people showing off their mouth full of freshly brushed teeth!

Word of mouth prophet Andy Sernovitz suggests not just asking your customers for generic help, but for specific help. Read his entire post on the subject here:  Invite your customers to commit to a specific action (like uploading a photo) and then another specific action. If people love what you’re doing, they’ll likely have fun sharing what you’re doing.

The upshot: Viral pandemics are nice work if you can get it, but there are plenty of other solid word of mouth strategies which will sustain your business for the long haul.

It’s the difference between a sneeze and holding hands. While this might be satisfying for an individual for a short time…

This is what most of us are looking for…

How Small Businesses Leaders Use Social Media

Some small businesses are really going to town engaging with customers, sharing knowledge, and gaining new business through the use of social media. If you have not explored these tools for your business, 2010 is prime time to start. Below is a graph of social media use among small businesses in 2009, broken down by industry:

From attending “webinars” to reading business blogs to engaging in conversation about specific products or services, social media tools are out there for you to utilize to grow your business.

The fine folks of Marketing Profs have been researching this trend. The link below gives you a taste of some of their findings:  How Small Businesses Leaders Use Social Media. Enjoy!

Listen, Solve a Problem, Don’t be Precious: Copywriting 101

Looking to communicate in a way that gets attention and connects? Try a pie in the face and a hand buzzer. No, that’s both annoying and much too time consuming. How about writing that connects and grabs the right people’s attention?

Several years ago when I started out in marketing/corporate communications, I began to hear comments like: “Wow! You really captured the essence of the project/product that we’ve been trying to tell people about.” That’s actually how I found out I have a knack for writing. Sometimes you don’t know you have a strength until somebody points it out. So I’m reflecting on what makes for strong marketing writing and sharing a bit of that here today.

Lesson One: Listen

Listen to the client. I was describing a project to a local reporter once, being diligently, obnoxiously clear about who our target audience was. When I read the news report the next day, the description of our target audience was the exact polar opposite of what I had described. Come on! Just listen, ask some clarifying questions, and then get feedback. In a client relationship, you’ll definitely get feedback, so being a careful listener up front will save some headaches along the way.

Lesson Two: Features are Cool, But Solve a Problem

How will your product or service solve a customer/client’s problem? This is basic, and you probably know this, but it takes some finesse to get your message out this way. In listening to a client recently, I discovered that they were perhaps the one remodeler in the universe who absolutely stays on budget. That solves a big problem! The customer’s pain of “How much is this new sunroom REALLY going to cost me?” is solved. That is a unique position in the marketplace and should be shouted from the mountain tops. So that’s what I encouraged the client to do.

Lesson Three: Less I/We language, more You Language

Related to solving a problem is to focus on the customer. Uber copywriter Sonia Simone gives the advice of writing to one customer. She suggests developing an “avatar” a specific customer to whom you direct your attention. I hadn’t thought of it exactly that way, but it’s a great idea. Make your copy personal. Say what you need to about the company, product, or whatever you’re selling – but it’s really about the customer. Write to them and about them as much as possible.

Lesson Four: Don’t Be Precious

This just came up for me in a meeting last week. There are LOTS of ways to say something. Don’t be precious about your writing. Maybe you’re a genius. Maybe you love the little flourishes you put into your copy. But you’re probably working on a team, and if not, you’ve got a client to please. Choose your battles. Don’t die on every hill over whether to say “you’ll be pleased as punch,” or “you’ll be happy as a clam” (though think hard before using either of those.) It probably isn’t going to break the campaign. If you’re 1000% sure it will, that’s the battle you should choose!

Ok, that’s all for today. More ideas may come, but I hope this is helpful for you. Let me know!

Light a F.I.R.E via Twitter

I’ve been encouraging my small business clients to utilize Twitter as a piece of their word of mouth strategy. To those familiar with Twitter, this is a no-brainer, but to many, Twitter remains a world of mystery and pure self-involvement. “Why should I tell the world that I’m clipping my toenails right now?” is a composite of the kind of puzzlement I’m greeted with when I talk about Twitter with someone who hasn’t jumped on this particular bandwagon.

I’ll frame my encouragement around the F.I.R.E acronym used by my close personal friends at Brains on Fire. The F.I.R.E. acronym stands for Fascinate, Inspire, Reward, Engage. Twitter, among other social media platforms, can be really well utilized in helping “fuel the flames of fandom” for who you are and what you do. In other words, social media is a way to stay connected with and encourage some of your strongest advocates. Here’s a brief overview on lighting a F.I.R.E via Twitter.

BOF emblem

Fascinate. Use those 140 characters as a platform to bring fascination into the lives of your followers. It can be about what you’re selling: “Here’s why local, organic produce is important to us…” if you are a restaurant owner (for instance,) or something you’ve seen online and just want to pass along. This is your chance to offer something of value and interest – to bring a bit of “wow!” into people’s lives.

Inspire. Tell people about the 10k run you are participating in. What inspires you, what breathes life into your day, will probably do the same for someone else. @kriscolvin and @createtomorrow are some folks I look to for inspiration during a given day.

Reward. Lots of businesses have taken to offering special discounts and other offers specifically to those who follow them on Twitter.

Engage. This is where the real power of social media connects with your business. @BlackForestDeli in Bethlehem, PA does a fantastic job of this. They talk about what’s happening at the store, but they ask questions, they check in. When I posted about a nasty cut on my thumb, they were quick with first aid advice. Being a nice human being goes a long way in bringing a customer on board.

Twitter and other such applications are just a piece of the marketing puzzle. They are tools that are there to be utilized, along with more traditional ways of getting the word out. But they are tools at your disposal right now. As you become familiar with the platform, you can nuance and bolster its use in your marketing mix. There are tools within and beyond Twitter to monitor the chatter about your product or service, to analyze and to determine more precisely who your audience is and how to tap into potential new audiences, to discover and engage in topics of interest to the people who are or should be using your product or service.

Enlisting Your Satisfied Fans

screaming_fans

In good times, it seems, word of mouth can work almost too well. If a small business has a great reputation and low overhead, selling services is still work, but it is manageable work. These days, companies who have relied on clients/customers finding them are in the position of scrambling harder, wondering how to go about this process the way the rest of us must – getting out there themselves and finding the work.

I’m addressing this post to those in business who not only talk about customer satisfaction, but have woven positive customer experience into the very fabric of your organization. These days, even you might not have potential clients banging down your door.

The good news is your fans are out there. The customers for whom you have delivered a great and rewarding experience, these folks are a contact away. They are not a “resource,” to be exploited (but you know that,) yet they do represent relationships you have cultivated and perhaps willing partners in guiding you to that next client. You probably know that, too.

The question is “How?” You want to honestly engage the help of your biggest, most loyal customers – but you don’t necessarily want to announce, “I’ll be belly up in two months if I don’t get a few new projects in the pipeline!”

Right now, I’m reading Satisfaction: How Every Great Company Listens to the Voice of the Customer by Chris Denove and James D. Power (yes both of J.D. Power and Associates.) This book is a few years old, but has some insight that stands the test of (two years :) ) time. In addition to solid measurements of the impact of satisfaction on the bottom line (it matters-in a big way!) there is a chapter on fandom.

Fandom is becoming a bit of a buzzword, and in danger of becoming as slippery and potentially meaningless as “satisfaction.”  But it seems to me that if you have a satisfied and loyal customer base, you’ve got fans. What you need more than anything is to understand their passion. I have a friend who realized he wasn’t just an electrician. He is a “lighting design specialist.” He loves lighting up an interior or exterior space to showcase the architecture, strike a range of moods, and generally enhance the heck out of the place. He attracts customers who understand what he’s doing and are in turn passionate about how lighting enhances the quality of their life – something most of us don’t give a second thought to. My friend knows his passion, and his very satisfied customers know how he’s helped them and now share his passion.

My point is your fans are out there. Make that contact, ask for their help, offer some rewards (some, honestly, will just be glad to be reminded and glad to recommend you w/out reward). But offer a reward anyway!

Join the rest of us in getting out there, and getting that new business!

The Metrics of Annoyance

This post I did for FastCompany.com is a good way of understanding where I’m coming from in marketing and brand strategy. Let me know what you think!

annoyed_person_op_400x600In one way or another, I often write about those qualities and touch points of business that make for positive customer experience.

But the opposite has been on my mind lately. Annoying people mercilessly pestering you online, on the phone, or in your face. Not taking no (or “NO!!”) for an answer. The hard sell. Spamming. Auto DMs on Twitter that are all about @them and their latest fantastic e-book or whatever–not at all about @you. Tweeting with Bots! The slick, ingratiating, grating: “What’s it going to take for me to get you [to toss your money away on my product/service you don't need or want right now]?”

Why do these worst practices persist!? Does this behavior pay in the long or short run? In order to find answers, I’ve been exploring what I call the “Metrics of Annoyance.”

The metrics of annoyance is about seeking real measurement of the effectiveness of a given annoying marketing practice. Spamming is the most prime of examples. The practice of spamming has of course been maligned, derided, and otherwise tisk-tisked since the very first male enhancement notice was sent to your AOL account back in the deep mists of time. Yet spam is around, and here to stay. It clogs your inbox and gives gainful employment to anti-spam code developers at McAfee. Josh Catone has done a great job describing why spammers keep doing their thing. (read Josh’s post here) With an abysmal .000008 response rate–one in 12.5 million–it still is evidently enough of a payoff from a relatively inexpensive marketing method. So for spam, the metric is one in 12.5 million. Note to the one: click “delete” please, and let the rest of us get on with our lives!

Izea is among the latest to dip its toes into the metrics of annoyance (has been treading water in it for years according to many). Izea has begun a pay-per-tweet program on Twitter, with regular folks posting 140 character “sponsored tweets.” When I heard about it last week, I thought, I understand that. No big deal. Then I saw one of my friends’ sponsored posts. Annoying. Channel surf to avoid the stupid commercial annoying. As Spike Jones of Brains on Fire puts it in a recent blog post, “You’re paying people to talk about you. Paying them. In the vast majority of cases, there’s no quality of content there. It does not matter to me that they can say what they want about their “sponsor’s” product. If you have to get paid to talk about something, I’m immediately going to question your motivation, which I’ll assume is cash.” That’s exactly my reaction when I see a sponsored tweet. What are the metrics on pay-per tweet? Izea has been paying people to blog for some years now, (and receiving plaudits from the likes of Forrester Research) so evidently the metrics are working for them, enough to dive into the pay per tweet action. But for many of us, this is another sad day in the marketing world.

These practices will persist, no doubt. The Metrics of Annoyance, no matter how miniscule the ROI turns out to be, will be with us always. Is it a personality thing? I don’t know. I’m not posturing this as a “good” versus “evil” battle for the soul of people who buy things. This is a discussion of what are Best Practices and what are Worst Practices. Being kind, being genuine, being human, these traits are the win-win bedrock on which best practices are grounded. That’s the ground I want to be standing on in my own work. How about you?