3 Ways to Create a Stronger Brand through People Management

People as Corporate Brand

How do the following recent headlines regarding workforce policies and practices impact corporate brand?

Clearly changes in the workforce have the potential to be brand-enhancing or brand-marring. It’s important that businesses contemplate how people management policies will be perceived in the public domain. Consider these three ways to create a stronger brand through people management.

Brand Tip #1 – Include a marketing liaison on human resources policy teams

The Marketing Department is commonly where the best understanding of marketplace trends lie. Marketers keep up with the latest trends, including changes in the demographics and psychographics of the population. Having a marketing liaison on human resources policy teams guarantees that this knowledge is front and center as an organization considers policy changes. A marketing liaison can provide input to the team to also ensure that any changes that are made align with the corporate image and brand. He or she can assist in developing strategic verbiage that would be well-received if human resource policies are shared externally. And, a marketing liaison can offer guidance on policies regarding external communications for customer-facing employees. Having a marketing liaison at the human resource table can help produce stronger brand-consistent policies.

Brand Tip #2 – Develop a clear social media policy for employees

As social media becomes more integrated into everyday conversations, employees—who often identify the company they work for in their social profiles—have an opportunity to represent (or misrepresent) the company. Therefore, businesses should have clearly defined and communicated guidelines for social media. A social media policy provides guidance that aligns, as much as possible, with company-managed social media pages and accounts. A common and sensible policy includes requesting that employees, who identify with a company but who are not managing company social media accounts, note that their posts are their own personal opinion. Clear guidance can help employees steer clear of brand-marring blunders.

Brand Tip #3 – Hire well

Attitude can be as important as aptitude when hiring employees. Certainly you want to hire for the competency needed to get the job done. But, as you identify qualified candidates, your next layer of analysis should be screening for character. Searching for candidates with a positive, hardworking and ethical temperament can minimize unwarranted strain on a company’s image and brand. Similarly, it is important to screen for cultural fit. Let’s define culture fit not as the homogeneity of the workforce but rather the ability to adapt behavior to effectively navigate and thrive in a particular environment. It is a delicate but important distinction between sameness and adaptability.

As we move deeper into a service economy, the workforce of a company has a greater impact on the company’s overall image. Make sure your workforce policies support creating a stronger brand.

Is Big Data Really Such a Big Deal?

Creativity with big data

I have worked with data for most of my career.  After college, I started out as a pricing analyst in the insurance sector.  I spent hours poring over data–you could call it big data–to figure out the optimal price for a risk.  I would look at historic cost data by a number of segments and try to predict what future costs would be.

In the last couple of years, many companies have been built on the idea of using “big data” and predictive analytics to make better decisions.  None of this is new to me.  However, my perspective on data has evolved.  I have come to the realization that businesses have to evolve beyond pure data.  Here’s what we need to know:

  1. Good judgment still matters.
  2. “Big data” will not identify all trends.
  3. Creativity will survive and thrive.

Good judgment still matters.

I am a Twitter user.  I like the platform but I don’t love it.  It’s noisy and it has some maturing to do.  Too many relationships—and I use that word loosely—on  thare shallow.  People follow to be followed.  My “Who to follow” list is littered with the most popular people to follow rather than the most relevant people to follow.  And, here’s the thing, Twitter has a TON of data.  Someone has actually written the algorithm that fuels my “Who to follow” list.  It’s just all wrong.

It is as if the process that is used to process the big data did not take into account any goals for the organization.  Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that anyone with big followings on Twitter has done any more than game the system.  Follow a few people.  Get them to follow you back.  Unfollow a few people.  Then repeat.  (Maybe pay for a few ghost followers too.)  Twitter is in the middle of a management shuffle.  I suspect they are in search of leadership that empowers, motivates and rewards others to use good judgment.  It matters…even when you have big data.

“Big data” will not identify all trends.

Media companies are in a frenzy today over cord-cutting.  Subscribers have been falling quarter over quarter for years for many cable and satellite providers.  For too many years, the providers’ answer was to raise prices; after all, they needed to replace the lost revenue.  Of course, that just led to more subscribers bailing.  While the media companies had millions of subscribers and terabyte after terabyte of data, they have been slow to get in on the megatrend of consumers watching video content online.  These same companies have been touting their data scientists’ ability to predict blockbusters. Unfortunately, developing more content for online consumption did not showed up in the tea leaves early enough.

Similarly, trends like advances in the sharing economy (think Uber and Airbnb) hit the transportation and hospitality industries a bit late.  And, why did Apple rather than a banking institution, with their troves of financial transactional data, innovate on the mobile payment systems first?  Perhaps data isn’t really king.

Creativity will survive and thrive.

I have a deep appreciation for data and analysis but it is quite clear that we have to evolve beyond our data.  Don’t get me wrong, I love math and science and we have made amazing advances in incorporating both to make better, stronger businesses.  But, ultimately, we will stick as much of those advances into a system or process that can generate automated outcomes.  What will survive and thrive is creativity.  I’m not just talking innovation.  Innovation builds upon some that exists.  I would say it’s even an outcome of predictive analysis.  But those who are creative, those who have an original idea that can be implemented to add value will be those who thrive.

Big data needs big thinking.  Take your data gathering, analysis and interpretation to the next level with creativity and good judgment.  You might just find yourself ahead of the trend.

Email Marketing as a Key Digital Marketing Tool

Stand out with digital marketing

Email marketing continues to be a strong marketing tool for a variety of organizations.  Whether you’re a nonprofit looking to raise funds, a government agency promoting new programs or a business looking to sell more products, email marketing can be an effective digital marketing tool.

Email is a low cost promotional vehicle.

Email is a low cost digital marketing option for many organizations. There are a number of email marketing software companies that offer competitive pricing for an automated email marketing platform.  Small businesses can opt for a no frills, high value package at no cost.  Organizations with more than 500,000 email subscribers can purchase an online email marketing service for less than a penny per subscriber. These automated systems keep a history of email marketing campaigns and help users stay compliant with the CAN-SPAM regulations.

Email marketing can be used as market research.

Organizations can use email marketing to introduce new products to customers.  Open rates and click-throughs inform the sender about customer interest.  When a customer or prospect opens an email, he implicitly expresses interest in the topic or product included in the subject line.  A clickable call-to-action (CTA) in the email gives the email opener an opportunity to further engage.  Whether the CTA is “buy now” or “reorder” or “subscribe”, clicks tells the sender which customers are interested in engaging further with the company and how.

Senders can use emailing marketing to test pricing by simply A/B testing different price points and sending the test emails to separate (but similar) email segments.  Senders can gather information about effective messaging by testing subject lines.  The dynamic nature of email marketing allows users to gain insights about customer preferences through observation of their behavior.

Personalized emails encourage future customer engagement.

The best email marketing campaigns are personalized.  If an organization is holding an event at a specific location, it may be prudent to send an email campaign only to recipients near that location.  If an organization has a program or product for a specific audience, personalized emails with relevant messaging can be sent to just that audience.  No matter if the email list is consumers or businesses, a well-built email list, with pertinent and relevant data, can be an incredibly effective marketing tool.  Sending targeted emails to specific segments increases open rates and click through rates and increases the likelihood that future emails to the same recipients will be opened.

Despite the flood of emails that can accost consumers’ inboxes, a robust, opt-in email list represents a powerful marketing opportunity.  Email marketing is a cost efficient form of digital marketing that can used to grow sales or gain insight.  It is an efficient promotional vehicle that should be a part of most organizations marketing strategy.

Referral Marketing: Letting Customers Lead the Way

Referral Marketing - Employee Engagement

Referral marketing is all about getting leads through existing relationships.  People like to share good finds and good experiences so developing a referral marketing effort should be an essential part of a nearly every marketing plan.  Your plan should focus on the customer and their experience and aim for customer-centric leadership in the channel.  Let’s look at why customer referrals work.

Birds of a feather really do flock together

Your best leads—the ones most likely to convert to a sale—come from employees and customers.  Why?  It turns out that your parents were right when they told you that birds of a feather flock together.  Networks tend to be full of like-minded peers.  Business owners network with other business owners.  Lawyers tend to belong to the same professional organizations.  Stay-at-home moms share finds with other stay-at-home moms.  The goal of referral marketing is to get targeted leads from your existing customer base and relationships.  Find your way into the circle-of-peers conversations by encouraging customers to share their product experience with others.

You already have their attention

While the Marketing department creates leads, it is Sales organization’s job to convert them.  Right?  Absolutely not.  Sales and Marketing must work collaboratively to develop qualified leads.  When a sales rep closes a deal with a customer, she should ask “Do you know anyone else who could benefit from ….”  There is little downside to asking for the referral.  Another good time to ask for referrals is during a service experience.  Of course, good judgment is required here.  If a customer service manager is handling an escalated call, it may not be a good time to ask for referrals.  You should assess your customer touch points and identify the best opportunities to engage.

That employee touch point is already a sunk cost

If you think that the time it takes for a sales or service rep to ask for a referral is too expensive, I encourage you to think more deeply about your costs.  Most sales reps are salaried with commission.  Consider the incremental cost of asking for the referral versus spending your marketing budget on another marketing channel (radio, direct mail, even social media).  You will likely find that the cost of using additional media far exceeds the cost of using the human resources you already have engaged.

Of course, you don’t have to limit your referral marketing to customers and employees.  You can give vendors, contractors and others an incentive to refer leads as well.  But before you dive into an incentive-based referral program, start with a no-incentive program.  Start with the low hanging fruit.  Start with your customers.  You might be surprised by what happy, satisfied customers will do for you.

Good Content That Isn’t Found Doesn’t Matter

Good Content - Shared

Content marketing drives search engine optimization (SEO).  Developing content is relatively easy, but it simply does not matter if it cannot be found by your target audience.  And, if your content is found and found NOT good, it may not matter.

Good content is (highly) rated
In the 1970s and much of the 1980s, we watched whatever was on television—good or bad.  We did not have much choice.  Today, consumers have many choices, including unplugging completely or turning to another device.  This is exactly why we have come to a place where much of the content we have access to is rated.  If we are looking for a movie on Netflix, we check out how it’s rated.  If we search for a book on Amazon, we check out its rating.  Developing content that is rated differentiates the good from the bad and the ugly.

Good content is shared
Shared content is a practical evolution of rated content.  Rated content could come from any source, someone we know or someone we don’t know.  But shared content usually comes from someone within our circle.  When a Facebook friend shares content on our timeline, we value that content a bit more.  So, when developing content , remember that shareable content is more likely to be consumed.

Good content trends
For sure, “good content” is relative.  However, in the spirit of understanding that “good content” is not good until it’s read or viewed, we must acknowledge that good content trends.  Trending content is crowdsourced content.  What we collectively read and watch becomes good content.

You can surely create excellent content that is never read.  It will do nothing for awareness, nothing for growth and nothing for anyone else.  It’s like the tree that falls in the forest when no one is there to hear it.  Did it make a sound?  Doesn’t matter.  Turn your content into something that matters.  Get it ranked.  Find ways to share it.

Moving Beyond Loyalty to Customer Advocacy

Beyond Loyalty to Advocacy

The average U.S. household participates in nearly 22 loyalty programs every year.  However, that does not mean that householders are, in fact, loyal to these brands.  Repeat purchases rather than just loyalty program sign-ups ought to be the core metric for loyalty.  How many widgets a person buys determines how loyal they are to the widget maker.  But, in our digitally-charged economy, companies should aspire to lead customers beyond loyalty to advocacy.

“They generate word of mouth advertising.  They like your social pages.  They share information on your brand on their own social pages.  They refer other business your way.  And, they generate more revenue…”

Customer Advocates Improve Your Top and Bottom Line

A customer advocate not only makes more purchases but also tells others about their positive experience with your brand.  They generate word of mouth advertising.  They like your social pages.  They share information on your brand on their own social pages.  They refer other business your way.  And, they generate more revenue—from their direct purchases and influenced purchases.  All of this activity reduces your acquisition costs, which improves the bottom line.

There are some categories that lend themselves to higher levels of customer advocacy.  For instance, new car owners are more likely than toothpaste buyers to be passionate about their purchases.  However, when new features are introduced—even in toothpaste, a campaign aimed at increasing customer advocacy can really help a business improve the efficiency of the marketing spend.

Customer Advocacy Should be Nurtured

We have all seen the social posts that say “The first person to tweet ‘#LoveXYZProduct’ gets a $25 gift card.”  These ads are promotions but they do not increase customer advocacy.  They are a temporary, one-time lift in awareness that is not likely to be sustainable.

Advocacy Through Social Media

Customer advocacy in social media should be initiated by the customer BUT making it easy for the customer to share information can increase advocacy efforts.  Include social buttons on your online product pages.  Be sure your social handles are included on product packaging that reaches the customer.  In mobile advertising, use hashtags or shareable links in your creative.  Take advantage of very opportunity to help the customer share your message.

Advocacy Through the Product Experience

Many customer advocates will share their experience in interacting with the product.  Marketers need to contemplate this in the delivery, use and ownership of the product.  To encourage customer advocacy:

  • Seamlessly integrate your product into the customer’s day-to-day
  • Make the product easy to buy and use
  • Deliver unexpected (and infrequent) surprises

Loyal customers generate revenue through their own purchases.  Customer advocates generate revenue through their own purchases and by influencing the purchases of others.  Business leaders would be well-served to identify and nurture customer advocates among their buying population.

Can Rebranding Lead to Sales Growth?

New Brand

In today’s world of the internet of everything and big data, every executive and every business owner is more concerned than ever about the ROI of every activity.  Marketing leaders have espoused the benefits of a strong brand for years.  Recently, more marketers have been asked to justify their activities, including brand-building efforts.  Business leaders want to know:  What return can I get from a branding or rebranding campaign?

First, let’s examine what rebranding is not.  There are components of rebranding that will, as standalone activities, likely have little or no effect on sales.

  • Rebranding is not simply a logo change.  And, a logo change in itself is not likely to increase sales.
  • Rebranding is not just a name change.  In fact, a name change may have a negative impact on sales, depending on the strength of your existing brand.
  • Rebranding is not just creating a new tagline.  Creating a new tagline is not likely to have an immediate impact on sales either.

When, then, does rebranding drive sales?

When more relevant messaging is delivered to the target audience.  Delivering the right messaging to the right audience is the core success factor of any rebranding campaign.  Your goal should be to increase awareness with your target market.  Of course, this requires knowing who your potential buyers are.  It also requires crafting a message that will make your product or service preferred over the competition.

When your media budget increases to support a rebranding campaign.  It is important to note when other changes that are implemented with a rebranding campaign.  Oftentimes, a rebranding campaign is a result of an increased marketing budget which includes other components, like increased media spend.  Be careful not to attribute an increase in sales to one campaign component without contemplating how all components may have impacted results.

When quality SEO is implemented to counter a decline in website traffic.  Google still owns the online search market and many online websites are still recovering from the so called Google Penguin update of 2012.  With this update to their search algorithm, Google closed the loop on SEO practices that artificially increased page rankings by gaming the prior search algorithm.  As a result, many websites have gone through a “rebranding” in an attempt to increase traffic.  The effort, accompanied by quality SEO (and often a brand new website and URL), has been successful for many.

The good news is that with the right components, a rebranding campaign will increase sales.  However, there is no magic formula for such and the process may be iterative.  It is important to have a clear strategy and a sound measurement tools to build an effective rebranding effort.

TV Advertising Is no Longer the Holy Grail

TV advertising

Fragmentation in advertising is good for small businesses as it gives such businesses an opportunity to compete effectively.  Where small businesses were previously left out of advertising on video-rich platforms like television, YouTube has created opportunity.

Nearly 50% of U.S. households now have digital video recorders (DVRs), which have resulted in fewer television commercials being watched, but the proliferation of DVRs is not the only thing causing the shift in ad dollars from television to YouTube.  Here are four other drivers of this shift that small business owners need to know to take advantage of the increasingly fragmented advertising market.

  • YouTube advertising is more targeted than TV advertising.  Because audiences are so broad on television, TV advertisers end up spending ad dollars on prospects that are not their target.  With YouTube, advertisers can specifically target subscribers by age, gender, location and even interest.  And, they only pay when their ad is watched.
  • YouTube advertising is more measurable than TV advertising.  An advertiser just cannot know with certainty if a specific audience was reached on television.  Nielsen’s use of a representative sample of the population (measured through people meters) is far less sophisticated than the viewer analytics available to advertisers on YouTube.
  • Smartphones rule.  YouTube audiences are growing while television audiences are shrinking.  YouTube is among the top ten most frequently used smartphone apps.  How many Cord cutters and Cord nevers have a smartphone?  A majority.  In fact, these individuals are more likely than the general population to use smartphones.  So, YouTube advertisers have an opportunity to reach an audience that is unreachable for TV advertisers.
  • YouTube advertising is more affordable than TV advertising.  Most small business don’t dare to dream of using television advertising to get the word out about their products.  By its very definition, broadcast advertising gets audio or video content out to a mass audience.  Mass audiences cost mass dollars.  Marketers can more effectively spend more modest advertising budgets on YouTube, where costs can be controlled on a daily basis.

While it’s great to have a budget large enough to warrant television advertising, it is not the only place to build brands today.  Advertisers with modest budgets can deliver targeted, measurable ads online and reach an audience that is not even accessible on television.  TV is no longer the Holy Grail of advertising…and that’s good news for small business owners.

Social media is not “free” marketing

Social Media - Not Free Marketing

Many business leaders, especially those with limited marketing budgets, think of social media as a free way to deliver their brand’s message in the marketplace.  While it is true that the barriers to getting into the social media fray are low, there are costs to developing successful social media campaigns.

This post is not meant to deter any business from setting up a social media account.  By all means, pick a username, set up your profile and post a few logos and pictures, but be sure that you have considered the following:

  1. You will need to develop content regularly.  Simply developing an account and linking your website to your social media account is a futile exercise.  If you do not have a plan to deliver content—that is, posts, pictures, videos, infographics, etc.—regularly, you need to rethink your social media strategy.  The point of the social media account is to initiate a relationship with your target audience, which can only be done through regular communication.
  2. You may need multiple accounts.  Consider why you are setting up a social media account.  Are you trying to attract new customers?  Do you want to build brand awareness of a specific product?  Are you ready to answer customer questions?  If you search for Amazon on Twitter, you will find @amazon, @amazonkindle, @amazonvideo, @amazonassociate, @amazonappstore and @amazonhelp, among several other Amazon accounts.  Each one serves a different market need.  It is not likely that you will need as many accounts as Amazon, but it may be desirable to give customers a social service “line” that is distinct from your primary brand-building account.
  3. You should have an integrated marketing plan.  Your social media marketing strategy should be one component of your overall marketing strategy.  Think of it as an extension of what you do in other marketing channels and be sure your have consistent messaging across media.
  4. You must measure your social media efforts.  Given the time spent doing #1 through #3 above, you will want to be sure that there is value in your social media activity.  Are you getting enough views of posts to efficiently build awareness?  Are you reaching your target audience?  How has your customer satisfaction changed as a result of creating a social service account?

All of these things will affect the marketing budget but there are a few things you can do to mitigate the above costs.  For instance, there are tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck that increase the efficiency of managing social media accounts.  These solutions allow users to manage multiple accounts from a single platform.  They also allow users to schedule posts for a future day or time.  So, executing a social media strategy often becomes less arduous with these tools.

Being selective about which social media platforms you use can also mitigate costs.  It is not likely that you need to be on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and Google+ and Instagram and every other new social media.  Select the platforms that are most relevant to your target customer base and focus on optimizing your presence there.

Consider hiring a social media expert.  It may seem counterintuitive but if you are inefficient because of lack of familiarity with Hootsuite or because you do not have the bandwidth for developing content, it may make sense to hire an expert so that your time can be spent where you add the most value.

Social media is not free but with the right support and tools, it can be an effective and efficient component of the overall marketing strategy.

Improve Retention Rate through Better Service

Airport customer

Renewals, repurchases or reorders–whatever you call them in your business–are a key component of growth.  And, every single customer touch point can affect your retention rate.

Recently I flew across country on a no-frills airline. In the online sales process, if you want a carry-on, you pay a fee. If you want to check a bag, you pay a fee. If you want an assigned seat, you pay a fee. Expectations are set. But, my non-stop flight from Los Angeles to a remote Midwestern city was only $250 so I do not mind the nickel-and-dime sales process. When I was checking in for my flight to return to Los Angeles, I was asked to place my carry-on bag in the bag sizer to ensure it did not exceed the maximum dimensions. No problem. Where this airline went terribly wrong was when the gate attendant asked two young women to put their duffle bag into the bag sizer before boarding the airplane. The gate attendant who collected their tickets asked (very loudly, I might add) the airline employee who stood over the two women as they struggled to get their bag into the sizer if indeed the bag fit. It was a very public, unfriendly, embarrassing event for the passengers. Because they were right behind me, I saw everything and overheard them say they would never fly the airline again.

In my email inbox the day after I returned home, I received a thank you for flying the airline email. Can you imagine the two women’s reaction when they received the same email? Customer communications are key to retention but so is the sales process and every other customer touch point.

It is essential to have the appropriate evaluation tools in place to monitor when customers leave and why. Ask customers about their experience at every touch point from the buying process to the experience. If you improve the process, you might also just improve your retention rate and increase sales.