Improving the Customer Experience with Social Media

I have been thinking lately about how customers form their perceptions of brands and what we can do about influencing those memories. Brands and products can easily become look alike commodities, which makes gaining mind and wallet share more difficult. Brands want to be distinctive, stand out among the crowd and be noticed by consumers. The rise of social media has, in my opinion, provided more insight into consumer’s perceptions as well as opportunities to use listening tools and pay attention to one’s own social networks for a rich data set of clues. If done correctly, a brand can address issues and show gratitude to customers and create connective memories to that experience and ultimately the brand.

In my direct experience customers either start their conversation with a company using social media or turn to it as a last resort. Regardless, brands need to be watching these spaces closely and jumping in as soon as possible. It goes without saying that when I say jumping in I mean with trained professionals.

There’s a fascinating behavior economics principle called the peak-end rule. It was first suggested by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner for Economic Sciences in 2002.

According to the peek-end rule we judge our experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak (pleasant or unpleasant) and how they ended. Other information is not lost, but it is not used.

It could be fair to say that consumers who post on social media streams are at a peak with a brand. Skilled companies who engage these customers quickly, acknowledge their emotions and work to solve the problem will deliver an end that can leave the customer with a better perception. Ending on a high note means you have won half the battle.

Social media is potentially a new customer experience tool that can be employed to improve interactions on both sides and perhaps nudge the perceptions customers have of a brand. If your customer truly is at a peak, then we should do everything we can to end the event on a high note – if it has been unpleasant – or propel a good experience even further up the scale. Social, has the power to leverage immediacy, intimacy and interaction into a powerful generator of memories.

Image re-drawn from Greg Ness’s graphic

Facebook is a Tough Place for Brands to Call Home

There’s no denying that Facebook is becoming a major channel for brands on the planet. I spend quite a bit of time there and likely you do as well. Brands are investing significant amounts of thought, human capital and money in hopes of garnering customer engagement and eventually revenue. But Facebook doesn’t make it easy.

We create content around the Facebook page design and try to understand how their technology works. We sift through the countless companies who claim to know how things work on Facebook, and just when you think things are getting there, Facebook makes a major change to the design, or code, or interface and suddenly much of what you have made is now broken, or will no longer be useful to you. It’s frustrating, and should cause all brands to take a step back and re-evaluate the role external social networks should play in their company strategy.

Facebook is great at helping us understand their ad platforms and targeting, but don’t seem to be as focused on trying to understand where pain points are for brands who place their intellectual property on Faceboook. Or, in providing ample notice when major changes are about to occur. It would be wonderful to have a technology roadmap, or at the very least an outline of what might be coming. This would help brands plan their investments. It’s hard to argue that with Facebook’s size and large head start that they need to keep everything close to the vest.

Research done by Forrester, indicates that consumers trust the information they find at a company web site (30%) at higher rates than email, TV ads and direct mail. Company blogs (12%), online banner ads (9%) and mobile ads (6%) are at the bottom of the trust list. This means that your earned media, in particular your web site, is where most of your resources should be placed. Brands control the content, design and the technology of their own internet properties, making planning and tracking much easier than in the paid and earned media spaces.

Facebook offers significant access to consumers as well as a platform that is truly social, and this means you can’t leave them out of your social framework. How much you include them and in what way depends somewhat on your brand and how valuable consumers find your web site. The more your customers visit your site, the lighter your integration efforts in the social networks should be. If you have trouble getting people to your site, then Facebook might be a richer platform for you.

Other considerations are who owns the data and how much can you track or attribute back to the networks you work in. By all means I think Facebook is valuable for brands, but like anything, the value will evolve over time. The majority of your investment should be on your own web site.

There is No Social Media Playbook

As the calendar has turned to 2011, we have been inundated with an endless barrage of Social Media predictions compiled by experts and dabblers alike. Some of what I have read are excellent and well informed perspectives backed by data and research, while others appear to be, well, nil-informed. As Yogi Berra once said, “Prediction is very hard, especially about the future.” No predictions here, just some observations about Social Media based on 3 years of experience working inside a large firm.

There is No Playbook

This medium or channel, or whatever you wish to call it, is way too new to have a reliable playbook. What works for some brands will not work for others. I would go so far as to say that Social Media does not have any common marketing ground. Direct mail and basic advertising principles are largely transferrable across brands and verticals even though retail is very different from financial services which is different from manufacturing. Social lacks such helpful fundamental truths.

Outcomes are Slippery

Save one or two examples (Dell Computer coupon codes on Twitter comes to mind), there is low confidence that a marketer could reliably forecast results from activity in the social sphere. Your CMO wants to know what she/he can book if your Social Media team is given $500,000. The CMO isn’t getting good answers to that challenge.

Mobile Adds Complexity

Social and mobile are matching luggage. They just naturally go together. A very different beast from the early web days of the late 1990’s. Back then the channel was confined to the desktop computer, a narrow pipe and a basic interface. We were able to make progress with a measured development roadmap. But with today’s always on, high speed connections and smart phones, there’s so many more variables to consider. Location, screen size, gestures, cameras, text messages, etc.

You Will Always be Outnumbered

One of the things that raises the possibility that there may never be a Social Media playbook is the injection of the consumer into the mix at every turn. They chime in when you least expect it and on topics that are completely unpredictable. When they called you had a private conversation. Today it takes place in public. Consumers sometimes comment because they just don’t understand, or have unrealistic expectations, or forget (don’t care) that we run a business and need to make a profit, or are just plain angry over something. We need to respect the fact that employees in a firm will always be outnumbered by consumers. People will just keep coming at you.

Fail Fast and Often

We can’t take our own sweet time. Social years will make online years look like we were standing still. Remember 2000 when we joked about “Online Years?” One year online was equal to five years off line. If you thought that ratio spun your head, try “Social Years” where one month might equal five Online Years! Social Media is not about what we’ve been doing all along. It’s about what we’ve never done before. We will need to learn faster than any previous time. It’s not just a new language, it’s an entirely new world and the wheel has yet to be invented.

My best advice. Do lots of things and count on failure. In fact welcome failure so you can rule things out. The list will grow quickly, but so will your knowledge. Make Social Media everybody’s business in your firm and eventually you’ll develop an edge over the competition and who knows. You may be able to walk into the CMO’s office and say. Give me this and I’ll give you that.

Three Years of Blogging. Really.

Breaking news! Today marks the third anniversary of my first blog post, and you probably don’t care. But that’s the beauty of a blog. People post even if no one cares. The past 1,095 days as a blogger will be remembered by me as both an enriching and challenging experience. One has to face the blank page (screen; I still miss typewriters) and the clock, and try to produce something that is not only readable, but informative and occasionally entertaining. For me, someone who likes to roam free, it has been helpful in forging a more formalized approach to my hobby of watching society and technology become one.

I like to watch things merge and converge, but most of all I like to watch things collide. You can call it a guy thing if you want. When I was a boy I would build model cars and then stage elaborate collisions. I would use flame to melt fenders and doors to make it look more realistic. I wish there had been digital cameras then. No one was harmed in the making of those scenes.

When something tries to occupy the same time and space as something else, it usually results in a release of energy. The result is always interesting and occasionally dangerous. And if you watch closely enough, perhaps even play it back in slow motion, it can reveal the mysteries of the past and open a window to the future.

So what have I learned these last three years? It’s hard to blog. Blogging is writing on deadline. More akin to journalism than manuscript writing. But it’s not who, what, when, where and why. It needs to be perspective, perhaps even controversial, but not insulting (so sensitive these humans). It’s humbling because there are so damn many great bloggers out there. But above all, it’s social.

Comments on my blog keep me going. Occasionally I’ll run into someone at an event or conference and they say, “Hey, I read your blog post about…” That’s like lighting up your synapses with extra epinephrine. No re-uptake inhibitors allowed. I’ve also co-blogged or cross-blogged with some friends, and although it’s more work, it is the best of all blogging experiences. Blogging, despite the fact it is done almost exclusively on your own, in a quiet, empty room, is actually one of the most social things you can do.

There is a very simple and true force of nature at work when you blog that gives credibility to the principle of the Oneness of LIfe and it’s Environment.

If you give freely on your blog, you will receive 10x in return.

Not everyone gets this yet. Especially people steeped in their business as it’s been in the past. For example, yesterday I was in a brainstorming meeting (yes another one) with some very smart people. On a flip chart someone wrote the following words, “What do you want to get out of Social Media?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is:

What are you prepared to share with your community through Social Media?

Give, share, be open, reveal yourself. If you do that, YOU will be happier about this blogging stuff. Forget everything else. Blow it up. Remember, technology is boring, information is useful and people are interesting. But relationships are fascinating. Oh, one more thing. When you blog, collide.

Image by: OnyxBlackman

Adaptive Marketing: Coping with Real Time Customers

The theme of the recent Forrester Marketing Forum held in Los Angeles this past April was Adaptive Marketing: How to Design a Flexible Organization to Thrive on Change. As usual there were Forrester speakers and presentations by big brands who have been working to either adapt their own marketing efforts to the fast-changing consumer, or providing solutions for marketers to better adapt. This post summarizes the ideas, notes and quotes that struck a meaningful chord with me and epitomized in my mind the concept of adaptive marketing.

What is adaptive marketing? Forrester defines it this way.

A flexible approach in which marketers respond quickly to their environment to align customer and brand goals and maximize return on brand equity.

Ok, fine. But what does that mean and where do we begin? Well, it begins with data, and lots of it. More data than we as marketers have dealt with in the past. And we need it faster than we have received it before and must be willing to improve our agility and act on the data much closer to real time than ever before. It’s tricky because we have all been handcuffed in the past by analysis paralysis. By not knowing when we have enough data to make the decision. Being an adaptive marketer means giving up a little on the temptation to ask for one more cut of the data to make a perfect decision, and act now on making a good decision, then, well, adapt.

Why is adaptive marketing something we should be talking about today? I believe that it has a lot to do with the fact that consumers are enjoying their new found power of being at the helm, and becoming more comfortable with bypassing traditional channels to research and learn from others who have had real experiences with brands, products and services. It’s a new world for consumers and brands, and the consumers are moving ahead. But then again it’s much easier to be agile as a single person than it is an inertia-laden bureaucratic corporate dinosaur (oh, that felt good). The traditional marketing funnel is breaking down as consumers bounce out and check blogs, forums, networks and friends before making a buying decision. This activity is accelerating an an alarming pace. Power is shifting. Thus, marketers need to adapt or risk becoming irrelevant.

Let me be clear. I am not sounding an alarm or posting my version of the Mayan calendar. Today’s marketing machine is pretty darn good. But change happens faster with each passing year, and the consumer is like Benjamin Button, he’s getting younger all the time. Good firms tend to devote a lot of thought to the future. And a funny thing happens when you raise your head up and peer over the walled garden. You see what’s out there. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll see.

Adaptive Marketing: Rethinking Marketing Methods in the Digital Age

Among a number of interesting things presented by David Cooperstein, VP of Forrester, was a brief history of media. He took us through radio, TV, and early as well as modern digital media. It was a clever parallel of media and marketing, and in fact he states Media = Marketing

  • Viewers – customers
  • Distribution = media fragmentation
  • Journalists = marketers

The history lesson was backed up by data that shows new media has mass appeal and is being adopted very quickly. People consume different kinds of media simultaneously, but the content they consume is oftentimes different.

This has significant implications on marketing messages, especially advertising. The user’s attention is fragmented. Wireless networks combined with the powerful capabilities of smartphones means consumers multitask to the hilt. Not good news if you want to breakthrough with your new product release. This is an important point. If a marketer can stack their message cross various media and reach the consumer during this multi-tasking moment, it will improve consideration and conversion. An article in today’s New York Times states:

For the first time the amount of data in text, e-mail messages, streaming video, music and other services on mobile devices in 2009 surpassed the amount of voice data in cellphone calls.

Mr. Cooperstein lists three tenets of adaptability one should consider to deal with this new reality.

  • Think and move differently
  • Listen more, react intelligently
  • Target people, not statistics

Probably to no one’s surprise, social plays a large part in adaptive marketing. And of course no Forrester forum would be complete without some new illustrative framework. The Social Intelligence Life Cycle was posited several times during the day and a half. It warns marketers that they must begin to manage the analysis of customer data from social sources, and use this data to activate and recalibrate marketing programs.

Forrester Research

Now you may not be sold on the value and importance of social just yet. That’s fine. I would be the first to admit that it’s not mature and can’t compete head-to-head with traditional marketing practices. But there’s one fact no one can deny. It’s a treasure trove of data that marketers don’t usually work with. That’s a critical aspect of adaptive marketing. And yes, it’s 1,000 miles wide and one inch deep. Here are some guiding principles from Forrester.

  • Adapt your process
  • Plan iteratively and frequently
  • Partner for creativity, not durability
  • Use predictive metrics in addition to descriptive ones

Integrated Customer Marketing™: Technology And Services That Enable Adaptive Marketing

The Merkle Chairman and CEO, David Williams spouted some great ideas from the big stage. Merkle helps companies collect, manage and interpret all types of customer data. Here are some of his wise quotes.

  • Adaption is how marketers can create competitive advantage.
  • The digital revolution is enabling and accelerating the customer revolution.
  • Competitive advantage in the future will live in how effectively an organization can understand, track, engage, measure and influence consumer behavior at the individual level

He showed a graphic depicting how one might leverage data to attain a competitive advantage. As marketers move from mass to conversation the data gets more granular. The more one can collect, understand and act on granular data, the greater the advantage they will have in the marketplace. Makes sense.

He offered the following advice to marketers:

  • Push more money/spend into trigger marketing
  • The next decade is about media, not channels.
  • Real time data needs real time interactions
  • Create strategies that optimize the value of consumers over time
  • Move from a campaign mentality to a customer mentality

Mr. Williams had his twist on adaptive marketing termed Integrated Customer Marketing™. Defined as an optimization framework that maximizes customer portfolio value through targeted management of customer interactions across marketing sales and service throughout the customer lifecycle (there’s that word again). He spoke about managing a campaign inside a conversation (social). Interesting. If we could do that we would unlock tremendous value.

Know Me And Be Relevant: How Disney Creates Guest Relationships

I think we would all agree that Disney is a great marketing company. If you have ever been to their parks it gets hammered even further home. Tom Boyles, Senior Vice President Global Customer Managed Relationships for the Disney parks and resorts spoke about how they leverage customer data in a real time world. Here are some of his thoughts.

What is relevance and marketing? Knowing your customer well enough at any point in time or place that you would know exactly what to do next.

He shared real examples of how they are constantly adapting their data collection and marketing practices to improve the customer experience and impact business results.

  • It’s not so much about did we get someone to the park. It’s more about did we get them back to the park.
  • A customer never met a channel they didn’t like, so closely manage them all.
  • Connect with your customers across all the channels and media on their terms.
  • No one owns the customer, but everyone owns the moment.
  • Our view is that it’s not just customer relationship management, but CCRM, continuous customer relationship management.

Transforming to a Real-Time Marketing Organization

Steve Sickel, Senior Vice President, Distribution and Relationship Marketing for Intercontinental Hotel Groups (IHG) took the stage. He was an outstanding speaker and had lots of information to share. As the largest hotel group in the world they have lots of experience with customers and data. For Mr. Sickel, it was all about moving his marketing team quickly into the digital world. He echoed what we constantly hear. That customers are more informed, they control the purchase process and demand greater relevance. Traditional media is the wrong tool for the job today because it’s too slow and generic. Customers behave in real time and IHG was behaving in batch. His formula for success: investment, technology and organization.

  • Investment – Move traditional media to digital media. IHG has now shifted 85% of their media spend to non-traditional channels. This includes search marketing, online advertising, web retargeting, mobile and social.
  • Technology – Automate marketing systems and transform them from slow, reactive and limited to “Right-Time” marketing where they can do thousands of personalized campaigns at a time.
  • Organization – Break the silos of customer data and experience trapped in each individual channel and  make accessible across the enterprise, as depicted below.

Old IHG Organization

New IHG Organization

Very clear, focused strategy to ensure IHG is poised to market to their future guests. Of all the presentations, this one laid out the best framework for how a company might go about adapting their marketing practices, systems and personnel.

Know Thy Customer: How Customer Intelligence Becomes a Strategic Weapon

The last keynote I’m going to mention came from Dave Frankland, Principal Analyst at Forrester. It was a perfect place for his talk. Much of what was said up until this moment was about data; specifically collecting, managing and acting on it. Mr. Frankland took it up a notch by challenging us to translate that data into customer intelligence for better decision making. He defines customer intelligence this way

The management and analysis of customer data from all sources, used to drive marketing performance and business strategy.

He parses the concept into three buckets.

  • Functional intelligence
  • Marketing intelligence
  • Strategic intelligence

The way to do this, according to Dave, is to begin to look at your customers as assets and liabilities. Not all customers are alike. Overlay your business balance sheet on your existing customer segments and you will see who makes you money and who causes you to lose money. Here’s a great focusing fact from Larry Selden, Professor emeritus at Columbia University.

The bottom 20% of customers can drain profits by at least 80%… while the top 20% can generate 150% of a company’s profit.

He cited some case studies from Fresh Direct, Farmers Insurance, Best Buy and ESPN. All great examples of how going through this exercise transforms data into intelligence.

What I Didn’t Hear Enough About

Which brings me to something I didn’t hear enough about at the forum, but alluded to earlier in this post. Mr. Frankland’s presentation got at it extremely well. That is marketers must refine the art of knowing when enough data is enough. We don’t need reams of it. We need the right data fast and then we must be able to recognize that we’ve got enough, then act. It also goes beyond enough, into, is it the right data? Marketers need to also look for new sources of data, vs. looking at the same old reports. It’s implied in many of the keynotes and track sessions, but knowing when to stop asking for data and having an eye for knowing what data to collect (it’s not all data) is something we probably could all learn more about. Forrester people, I know you’re out there. Perhaps you can assist here.

In Summary

I’m a veteran of Forrester Forums, and no matter how many I attend, I’m always rewarded with some great nuggets and outstanding networking opportunities. They excel at monitoring the vital signs of the marketplace and at delivering content right when it’s most useful. Keynotes here were very strong and consistent. Track sessions as always are more uneven.

Here’s my vote for best quote from the forum. I apologize that I am unable to attribute it.

Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.


All slides are property of the firms that presented them. Content in this post originates from my notes taken during the forum combined with my personal perspective. All photos are mine.

Consumers Wield New Found Power – Is it Being Abused?

Power1I have always been an advocate for listening to the voice of the customer. In the eighties I was the GM for a bookstore chain. From time to time I would receive letters from customers who had an unpleasant experience with a staff member, or felt our practices, or title selection, was not acceptable. I would answer those letters personally and would spend time with the store manager discussing how an associate could be coached to ensure a better customer experience was waiting around the corner.

On one occasion someone went so far as to write a letter to the local newspaper to complain about certain magazine titles that were on display. The paper published the letter on their opinion page. I was a businessman and those magazines sold well so I didn’t want to give up that revenue. But the community got behind this person which meant I had to find a solution that worked for consumer as well as commerce. I instructed the store to remove the magazines from the rack and put up a sign that listed the titles available and informed the customers they could be purchased by asking any clerk at checkout. We did lose some sales, but I think that was more than made up in political capital with the community for seriously listening and taking action.

While in that store a short time later I overheard customers talking about the incident and noted what we had done in response. Their reaction was very positive. I immediately went back to my office and took it a step further by adopting this policy across the chain. Certainly many people did not have an issue, but it was a public store and as such, part of my job was to create an environment that was comfortable for as many people as possible. That was how community played out in the 1980’s. You wrote letters; yes on paper with envelopes and stamps. My customers taught me an invaluable lesson early on in my career; listen to them. A side note. That year we set a sales record and crushed the competitor, Walden Books, who had a much better location in the mall.

Fast forward to the digital age

One of the first things I do every morning these days is read customer comments submitted through the web site. I read them on my Blackberry at home while eating breakfast. I want to know what my customers are saying before I get to the office. It’s a sobering, enlightening, humbling, frustrating, humorous and an interesting experience. The Customer is Always Right is the classic phrase. Perhaps a more appropriate modern take is The Customer is the Customer. No ridiculous notions here. Businesses need customers, but consumers need and desire the products and services brands offer.

Enter Social Media

It has been perceived, in my opinion, that brands have enjoyed an advantage in the relationship with a consumer. Social media has for some consumers been a way to level that playing field. All well and good, but I have been observing some interesting data over the past few months directly related to all the talk about customers controlling brands and using social media as a bully pulpit to right the wrongs that businesses foist upon them. Just click on customer threads from almost any industry and you will see it. Customers want to tell the brand when they feel they’ve been wronged. Getting in touch with company people, not just the call center reps, is difficult and time consuming. Thanks to social media technology it’s much easier to write a blog post, comment on a conversation some one else has started or upload a photo. Consumers have expectations they expect brands to meet. I’m also a customer and couldn’t agree more. But if consumers decide to go public they need to exercise the same amount of care and honesty that they expected from the brand. If you don’t want your son to turn out like Bart Simpson, don’t parent like Homer. The visual below depicts how consumers move through the expectations / perceptions cycle in the world of social media, as well as what socially aware brands are doing in this new era.


Recent observations

Much of what I read from my customers is anonymous, but sometimes they identify themselves because they are looking for help. It’s fascinating what you find when you tie back detailed customer comments to their actual business records. What consumers write in public does not always reflect what’s on the private record. It’s not surprising. Anger and emotion can frequently  overwhelm calm, fact-based thinking. Especially when there have been repeated attempts to solve the problem. This puts the brand in a difficult position. They can’t call out the customer, or argue. The best they can do is apologize for problems and take the conversation off line. My point is that if you find yourself with a new power, use it wisely. Exercise the same honesty and genuineness that you expect from your brand.

Multichannel Mania at the 2009 Forrester Consumer Forum

BeanJust back from the Forrester Consumer Forum. I say just back, but actually it took place in my hometown, Chicago. There was a great turn out and some very engaging keynotes. One of the major benefits of attending a Forrester event is the quality of presenters and attendees. I had lunch with Brad Brooks, VP of Consumer Windows Marketing at Microsoft and got to question him on their new retail store strategy. He was very engaging and open, and if this is a harbinger of things to come from Microsoft, it will be interesting to watch them. The forum theme was The Three Dimensional Consumer: Creating Breakthrough Multichannel relationships. Forrester defines the three dimensions through the lens of the consumer; their needs, interests and questions. Not a groundbreaking thought by itself, but the way in which Forrester shaped the content with context and examples was very effective and useful.

Consumers are becoming more digital, more mobile and more social. These stats were presented in an opening day Keynote by Henry Harteveldt, a VP and Principal Analyst with Forrester.

  • 79% of US consumers are online and 75% of that number have high speed Internet access
  • 18 – 43 year olds spent 20% more time online in 2009 than they did in 2007
  • 62% of US online consumers who purchased a financial product in 2009 researched it on the web first
  • 46% more people belong to social networking sites compared to a year ago
  • Twitter grew 1,382% year over year, registering 7 million new users in February of 2009 alone
  • 97% of phones are data devices
  • 36% of smart phone users and 63% of iPhone users access the web every day from their device

At Forrester everything comes in threes, so Mr. Harteveldt laid out a framework depicting the three things digital consumers expect from brands; information, transactions and help. Information = engagement, transaction = interaction and help = deliver great service.

Multi Model
Information, Transactions, Help

He offered some great advice on how to excel in satisfying the needs of the digital consumer across all channels.

  • Offer channel appropriate communications
  • Match the task with the channel/device
  • Use social media (if relevant to your customers)
  • Replicate off line processes online
  • Extend digital channels into the off line world
  • Provide relevant tools, forms, payment options, etc.
  • Excel at service (make it easy, channel-agnostic and utilize social media for immediacy)

Harvey was humorous, bright and on target. Right out of the textbook for Forrester; a balanced mix of facts and vision.

One of the most entertaining and genuine presenters of the forum was Virginia Suliman, VP of Digital Design and Development for Hilton Worldwide with Hospitality is All Around You: How Hilton Delivers Consistently Good Multichannel Guest Experiences. I’m a Hilton Honors member and have been for a while. It’s a brand on my personal watch list. She began with a nod to a world gone by, a nostalgic look at Conrad Hilton’s original vision for the hotel chain. Mr. Hilton wanted there to be a Hilton on the moon. Connie, have you taken leave of your senses? it’s location, location, location. The moon is not on the way to any place.

Hilton Nostalga
A look back

Ms. Suliman observed that the hotel experience and the home experience have begun to converge. Hotel furniture, bedding, beds and flat screens are easily attainable and affordable for millions of consumers. The cocooning of the early 2000’s and the current economic downturn have caused personal and business travel to slow. She spoke of how her biggest challenge is getting staff to be genuine to customers across all their brands, even the limited service properties. She said, “Hilton is not a technology company, it’s a hotel company.” I really respected her approach to solving the multichannel, multidimensional problem. She attacked the customer experience with a framework that is essentially a usability model.

Hilton Usability Framework
Hilton's framework for delivering a great customer experience

But the real solution was in fact technology, despite her downplaying this aspect of the firm. Hilton built an integrated infrastructure platform connecting consumers to all properties so employees at any of the hotels would have access to the same master database. It’s called OnQ and provides a 360 degree view of the customer, including preferences, but is optimized for profitability. This is a reminder that if you are a big brand (like mine) with lots of customers, outlets and channels, you can be as genuine as pie, but you won’t fully excel without strong technology skills.

Hilton has realized positive business impact as a result of the OnQ effort. They track revenue per available room as a key metric and grew it by 6.2% after OnQ was installed. They have also extended this platform into Hilton University for training.

Virginia Suliman, VP Web Design, Hilton Hotels

CMO of Best Buy, Barry Judge gave a talk a talk called Blurring the Lines Between Customer Service and Marketing. Barry and Best Buy really get the social media concept. I had the privilege of sitting on a panel with another Best Buy executive, Tracy Benson, Senior Director of Digital, also of Best Buy. She told me they set up a monitor in Barry’s office years ago that was tuned to the social media channel. A rolling screen of direct customer conversations; irresistible. Soon he was asking for it to be available on his mobile device and then began responding to customers directly. He also started a blog

Key messages in Mr. Judge’s presentation were:

  • Talk with customers, not at them
  • It’s about customer 2.0 – not just keeping the doors and phone lines open, but proactively going out to look for customers to serve
  • The best marketing is when the consumer doesn’t even know it’s marketing (candidate for best forum quote)
  • Their mission – Buyer be Happy

Their Twelpforce (Twitterers) are licensed to help customers. Best Buy employees who want to Tweet for customer support have to take a test and receive a badge, official deputies of Twelpforce. Best Buy’s experience and learnings in this arena have led them to create a Social Shopping Facebook page with over 1 million fans. It will be followed up with a new web site premiering on Christmas day that has the objective of helping consumers get the most out of their electronics purchase. Tips, tricks, user-generated content and experiences.

Their mobile iPhone application allows consumers to see products, reviews and prices; full transparency. This shows that Best Buy has moved beyond the fears of Social Media that paralyze most firms, and into a brave new frontier. This kind of courage will pay handsome dividends. One more note on their mobile efforts. You can text a short code related to products and immediately be sent all the reviews.

No consumer forum would be complete without Harley Manning making a plea, a begging plea in fact on one knee for marketers to embrace the multichannel customer with his presentation Designing a Multichannel Customer Experience in the Real World. His presentation was a mash-up of personal experiences, stories, Forrester frameworks and very sharp new ideas. Hard to keep up with him sometimes, but therein lies the fun. Here are some of his insights.

  • Design with channel pairs in mind. Most projects are single design projects, but channel transition is likely in almost any interaction, so plan for it
  • Pay attention to the most connected channel. Where will the consumer learn about the message first?
  • Solve the small problems first and build allies in the organization. This will enable you to bridge the the channels in bigger projects later on
  • Use research, especially ethnographic research
  • Create multichannel customer experience maps and multichannel management platforms

Getting executive buy-in is compulsory, so Mr. Manning provided a test sheet you can self-administer that will help you determine which category your executives fall in related to digital and multichannel design. You will find out if they are passive, willing or engaged. Once you type the executive you can tailor your discussions and presentations to that style with the objective of moving them along the path to engaged.

If you attended the forum, I’d love to hear your reaction to this post and get your own observations.

User Generated Content Disrupts Brand Search Results

In a June 8, 2009 article from Marketing Vox and Nielsen BuzzMetrics SES Magazine entitled Turning Blogs and user-Generated Content Into Search Engine Results, Chris Aarons, Andru Edwards and Xavier Lanier state:

25% of search results for the world’s Top 20 brands link to user generated content

This is probably at once exciting and frightening for companies. Frightening for CMOs and CEOs who are not connected, and exciting for the pockets of social mavens emerging inside their organizations. Prior to Social Media conversations, brand-posted content dominated search results. But we are in a new world. A world where consumers can express their experiences immediately through social media technology. These customers far outnumber the employees of even the largest brands, and so, their self-generated content will dwarf what firms can create and they will do so at a staggering pace. When you couple this with the fact that consumers trust their friends recommendations at a 90% rate and other consumer opinion postings at 70% (Nielsen Study on Global Advertising), we may now be at the tipping point for who influences whom. Consumers still trust brand sites at a 70% level, but if user generated content continues to hijack search traffic, the brand site will likely not be the first place consumers visit after they have entered their search terms on Google or Bing.

Here’s a sobering thought for you advertising types out there. What if just prior to every TV commercial you spent millions of dollars on was aired, two consumer made commercials about your brand where shown first. But you have no idea of the content nor any clue who made them. I’ve just struck fear into the hearts of thousands.

What does this mean?

The carefully orchestrated messages brands weave and broadcast in the traditional mediums will have less influence on business results because consumers will get consumer perspectives first. Since consumers surround brands (sorry brand stewards it’s not the other way around) there is no way to stop this landslide of content.

What to do about it?

Influence the user generated content. If consumers see what others say about your brand, then take steps to improve the odds that what is said is positive. More effort will be needed to reach out into the community and demonstrate that brands genuinely think and feel what their customers think and feel. Brands that humanize their messages and practice empathy at key customer touch points will influence user-generated content. No customer experience occurs in a vacuum or inside the clinical environment of a marketing campaign, so don’t pretend it does. I’m beginning to shape a concept I am tentatively calling Customer Context. More to come on that.

Inspiration for this post came from the Socialnomics blog entry Statistics Show Social Media is Bigger than you Think.  Thanks for compiling a great list of stats.

Will the Next Agency be the Client?

I’ve worked with agencies nearly all my professional life. Big, small, east coast, west coast, midwest, south, you name the region, I’ve worked with a company based there. Always thought I should switch sides at least once in my career and work for one, but so far the opportunity hasn’t presented itself. Perhaps someday it will.

As the Internet emerged the Interactive Agency was born. Traditional advertising firms tried to set-up digital shop to compete but it took them years to catch-up, many of them never succeeding. Interactive companies tried an end around play to capture advertising business. That had equally mixed results. As technology became more and more embedded in marketing efforts, numerous specialized firms sprung up. The client had to choose carefully so as to not become overwhelmed, swarmed or outnumbered with external services and experts.

The growth of Social Media led to yet another specialty group of agencies. But social will be done best and most effective by the people who are in the company. A successful social strategy will be supported by three pillars.

Service and commerce already exist inside the corporate walls. Once firms establish and sharpen their social media skills they will be well positioned to execute on all three of these pillars.

Three pillars of Social Media
Three pillars of Social Media

Social Media

The Social Media express has lifted-off with rocket ship thrust and settled into solid orbit. It will be the hardest of the three pillars for companies to understand, learn and practice. As we know it’s about people, communication and relationships, not polished marketing, campaigns and sound bytes. The brands employing authentic people will get this right very quickly, providing senior management steps-up and legitimizes Social Media along side the likes of direct marketing, advertising and others.

Social Service

Brands known for great service and placing appropriate focus on the customer experience will naturally gravitate toward social tools to service their customers. Phone, IVR, e-mail, online chat and SMS are staples of the mature service department today. That evolution will simply continue through the use of social tools and technology. It will also allow other, more expensive channels to be reduced.

Social Commerce

We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on this one but mastery will be required or the entire social revolution will fizzle out in the C-suites, then cost centers; relegated to road kill. Selling inside the social graph is inevitable and it will be effective. Consumers will sell brands and products without even knowing it or stopping to think about it. Enabling this will require an unprecedented level of collaboration between Marketing, advertising, customer service and IT, and it will be entirely digital.


Arguably, no agency can do this better than a brand or company. Social Media is not services purchased. It’s in the DNA of a brand. The mission, vision, practice, philosophy and most of all people who show up everyday because they enjoy it. That last part is crucial. You don’t have to love your brand to churn out marketing collateral or pick up the phone and answer inquiries. You can’t write a purchase order for passion. It’s table stakes in the social graph.

Despite the fact that agencies are working hard to crack the code on where they need to go to cash in on this next curve, it might be a futile attempt. The top CEO’s will soon see how all these orbiting customer touchpoints (online, phone, mobile, social networks, blogging etc.) are shaping how consumers consider and choose products and services. However, there will be a cost. Either through expansion of staff and resources or a measured replacement of existing “traditional” personnel and cost centers. My opinion is we are long overdue for a complete re-imagining and re-structuring of the marketing organization.

Am I saying the next agency will emerge from within the walls company? Not an agency in the way we know it today. Instead a new corporate classification of marketing. A new way doing business that can only be accomplished by people who work for the brand.

All the News That’s Fit to Digitize

Photo from Google images

There is a precipitous drop in printed newspaper readership. Digital media delivers the same information more quickly, more efficiently and of course in an interactive manner that paper can’t touch. But touch is an important distinction. You can touch a newspaper. How many of us love to wake up Sunday morning and reach for a cup of coffee, the paper and settle into a comfy chair? It’s been a ritual for decades for people all over the world.

There’s something tactile and tangible about opening a newspaper and hearing that familiar crinkle sound, and folding it again and again to find the most interesting articles. A form of cerebral origami. It takes hundreds of people to create, print and deliver a newspaper to your home everyday. Holding a paper reminds us of that collective toil and helps give more weight to the difficult task of writing to inform and entertain.

Making a great paper is expensive and requires great skill. Creating a blog or obtaining a web address and then merrily type on your keyboard (just like I’m doing now) is easy. We came to rely on journalism ethics and reporting. There was a confidence when you “read it in the paper.” Much more so than when you type a term into Google and out pours 9,000 results. Who wrote all that stuff? Can I trust it?

Growing up we actually got the paper twice a day. The morning version and then an evening edition. That’s almost unbelievable to me now and I lived through it. When The New York Times began their online version of the paper, they held a reader’s contest to select their online news tag line. Off line it was “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The prize was the same nominal amount that was awarded when they held the identical contest for the newspaper. The winning entry urged the Times to keep the same tag line, and they did. It was an important nod to preserving integrity and a high level of quality.

Photo by Steve A Furman

As any reader of this blog knows, I get The New York Times delivered to my driveway each and everyday. And I never let even one edition find its way to the recycle bin until I’ve gone through it page by page. Sometimes I have two or three weeks worth piled up. It doesn’t matter. I simply stage a reading marathon until I’m finished. It was a habit that I learned from my parents, and I am hoping to pass it down to my children. But the fact that many cities are losing their papers, means that storied tradition could be lost. No more clipping articles and pasting them in a scrapbook as memories for future generations to leaf through down the road.

Newspapers have been deeply embedded in our society for so long, but it seems inevitable that it will be transformed into digital files on a hard drive. So if that’s what is coming, then we should focus on the future. The obvious place to start is with the interactive nature of online newspapers. Web 2.0 advances have taken this to new levels observed last year in this space here. Digital mediums are much more easily searched, don’t require trees to make them, don’t need to be physically delivered, take up almost no physical storage space and perhaps most importantly are becoming social networks.

These social aspects may have the most profound effect on this media transformation. We can read an article online and post our own personal reaction. They can be social bookmarked to dozens of sites and converted to tiny URLs and proliferated through Twitter. You can even get email responses from the journalist if your timing is right and your question compelling. If an error is made in a story, it can be corrected on the fly and the next reader will see the proper version. This has already become a standard practice at the Times.

A typical online correction from

So what is to come of the traditional paper? It might find itself fitting into a format that is more like a Sunday magazine to ease people away from the daily edition. But this will most likely be a short lived phase, followed by complete extinction for most of the country. I do believe that in large metropolitan cities the paper will still be printed and remain a viable medium. But don’t be surprised to open the door of your hotel room and not find a copy of the USA Today at your feet.

Rapid Fire Marketing Techniques are Required for Social Sites

test-patternThe New York Times recently ran a story by Randall Stross assessing how big brands are doing with advertising campaigns on social networking sites like Facebook. The results have not been encouraging for advertisers. Top line: big brands can get consumers interested (term used loosely) using old school tactics like sweepstakes or spend gobs of money on slick interactive campaigns. Neither keeps them engaged for long. In meetings at my own company as well as monitoring conversations across the Internet I hear the same basic question posed over and over. “How do you advertise on these sites to get results that move the business?” In my humble opinion it seems there needs to be an entirely different question, or set of questions asked.

Advertisers/marketers are thinking about things the way they’ve always thought about them (for the most part). Create a knockout, break-through-the-clutter, campaign/commercial and people will flock to your product or service. It has definitely gotten more integrated over the last few years, as advertisers have moved from the :30 spot as king, to stacking several mediums to reach a more attention-fractured public. But anytime a new audience-set or demographic is discovered, the same stale old playbook is put on the field. That’s followed by a lot of money being poured into agencies and media. That in turn is followed by head scratching, research and then in many cases a pause in all activity until it can be “nailed.”

Social media sites are about humans connecting with other humans and sharing common thoughts, information and experiences. The hooks get deeper when people began allowing others a view into the window of their emotional world as well. A health challenge, work success, family milestones, etc. People used to go online for two things, to learn or to do. Now you can add to connect as the third pillar of that stool. Ads are tolerable, and perhaps even occasionally welcome under the first two scenarios, but way off limits in the third. “Don’t pollute my pristine landscape with billboards and neon, I’m tryin’ to take a picture here.”

Two decades ago the media world revolved around the :30 second TV spot. Advertising started there and then radiated out. Today the heart of that solar system has been replaced with the Web. Not a web site, the entire web. There is a difference. A television was a television was a television. Fully compatible, everyone had the same experience, one form factor. You sat on the sofa and watched. Today, with the web at the center, complexity sets in. There are browsers on computers, televisions, mobile handsets; a consumer could be anywhere. The technology is all over the map and advancing weekly. Ads are now embedded in YouTube user-generated content videos for heaven’s sake.

No one single campaign will be able to make a big enough impact any more. Hitting that big home run is tougher and more expensive, which raises the risk. In today’s economic climate brands are looking to cut back, not spend on experiments. As I’ve said over and over in this space, don’t gold plate your efforts. Instead, create dozens of small, mini-campaigns, spend as little as possible and get them out there in rapid fire fashion.

Ideate, execute, learn, repeat. Senior managers will require you to justify a $500,000 campaign, and if it doesn’t pay back, it’s curtains. But no one will really pay much attention to something that costs $10,000. Just think you could do 50 smaller campaigns for the price of one big one and avoid all that scrutiny. And, you will get more data back in small bites that can be incorporated into the next small effort. It’s iterative advertising (a term just coined by me).

We’re a long way from cracking the code here, and arguably we may never fully crack it, because it’s a moving target. TV held still for a generation. The web will always keep transforming. One thing I’m sure of. Banners won’t work in places where people go to connect.

Get Keynote Presentations without the Travel

Time is money (does that mean money is time?), so I pick and choose what conferences I attend very carefully. I’ve got to have a high level of confidence that I’ll be able to learn something valuable, bring it back to my staff or others in the company and expand my network of people that will be mutually beneficial. I also try to make efficient use of that trip by seeing a vendor or client, or visit an operations center.

We’re all cutting back on travel which means fewer events. So if we slow or cut attendance, is there a way to still get access to those presentations and interesting ideas? Well how about using the Internet? I’ve been using SlideShare for over a year for just this express purpose. If you’re not familiar with SlideShare, it’s a community web site that allows anyone who wants to join the ability to upload their PowerPoint presentations and tag them. You can search the content by categories, tags, community members, lots of ways. The slide shows can be viewed right on the page, expanded to full screen, and most can be downloaded. All can be shared with colleagues in a simple forward to a friend feature. Some also have audio, so it’s almost like being in the presentation.


Here’s how I use SlideShare to expand my knowledge and help me keep up on trends.

  • I visit almost daily to see what has been surfaced by the SlideShare staff. Usually there is at least one deck that is somewhat relevant to myself or a colleague.
  • I search on my favorite key terms; usability, social media, mobile, or whatever information I need at the time.
  • I keep track of the conferences that I might like to attend, but won’t be able to, and search for presentations specifically from those conferences when they close.
  • I search for forward thinkers by name to see what they have posted. Many of them have their own SlideShare space and a profile. You can also connect with them directly.
  • I pass along relevant slide shows to my staff and colleagues.

Here’s a great example. I couldn’t attend the recent Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. I scanned the agenda on their conference site and discovered that Mary Meeker from Morgan Stanley was going to present her annual Internet Trends presentation. This is one I always try to get my eyes on. Sure enough only days after the conference ended, there it was on SlideShare. All this information, zero travel.

SlideShare continues to make improvements in their design and usability. They had some reliability issues at first, but those seem to be ironed out now. Give it a try. Oh by the way, here’s a link to my SlideShare space.

Last and Final from the Forrester Consumer Forum 2008

Wagons west

As mentioned in the last episode, this post will skip the Forrester speakers and customer presentations and cover one of the “outsiders.” Forrester always places a strong speaker at the end of the second day in an attempt to help keep their attendees on site. It usually thins out anyway, but for those who stay they are richly rewarded. The forum theme was Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow’s Customer. You can catch up on my first two installments here and here.

The forum keynotes closed with the animated Paco Underhill, an environmental psychologist and founder of Envirosell, a firm that specializes in studying how people interact with retail and service environments. He is also the author of Why we Buy and Call of the Mall. He had very few slides, instead he told his story using actual footage captured while in the field. His talk, Shopping as the Dipstick of Social Change, was more like being in a meeting with him vs. listening to a presentation. Of all the sessions I attended, I took more notes in this one than any other by a factor of at least 3. Here are some of my favorite sound bites.

  • The world is designed by men but experienced by women. The men should ask the question, what makes my product or service female friendly?
  • Do you feel more time poor or money poor? Most answer time poor.
  • Online is about saving time.
  • As you design something think about how someone will use it the 12th time just as much as you think about how they will use it the first time.
  • Run your company like a global firm, but relate on a local level.
  • Convergence is the collision of online, mobile and bricks & mortar.
  • Shopping will transform more in the next 10 years than it has in the previous 50.
  • The best technology is the least technology.
  • Tech needs must be better engaged with culture needs
  • Stop thinking sitting down (meetings, excel, word, PPT)
  • The word for the 20th century was strategy, in the 21st century it will be tactics. Get a tactical grasp on your strategy.
  • Amenability is linked to profitability.
  • Health care is the only growth industry we have today.
Paco Underhill on stage

He showed clip after clip of how humans shop and voice tracked how that behavior was a barometer for a social change taking place across the globe. He didn’t neatly tie up the loose ends in a nice tidy Forrester-style theme, but he accomplished something just as important. He got me to think and think deeply about many of the things I have been working on.

A few weeks ago one of my agency partners came to town for a typical meeting. She was not on the iPhone train yet, and watched me use mine. I let her make a call and as she put it to her ear the first thing she said was, “How do I look?” What an insight I had. Cell phone stores should put up mirrors right by the phone displays. Their sales would go up. It underscored what Mr. Underhill had been saying. A man asks himself a very different question when he tries out a technology device. And sure enough Paco mentioned that phone retailers should have mirrors by their displays. Once again, great minds think alike ;).

He also put forth his hypothesis of why Social Media has grown so quickly. It is in large part do to the number of consumers who reside in the suburbs and live a much more lonely existence vs. their urban counterparts.

In summary the big ideas I took away from the forum were:

  • Tune into your online customer
  • Create value by making change
  • Nail down a multi-customer point of view
  • Empower your customers by embracing Social Media
  • Challenge your current organizational structure to prepare for the customer of tomorrow

There were some very helpful take aways for for all of us as we work to weather the current economic climate, Thanks Forrester for another helpful forum.

Use of Social Media Will Accelerate in an Economic Downturn

I have been pondering something lately, and have formed the following hypothesis. The current economic climate will lead to an increase in the growth of Social Media participation. More people will explore it for the first time and others that have only dabbled will move up the participation ladder.

thinkingcloudThere is a convergence of elements that will contribute to the growth and usage of Social Media networks.

  • Winter is coming – it’s darker and colder and people stay inside more
  • Consumers will pull back on their spending – eating out, travel, shows, etc.
  • Rise in unemployment – some will unfortunately be forced to look for a job

Social networks and the rich content they provide will be an even more valuable channel to research career information, obtain financial advice and connect with people. It also provides a level of entertainment and stress relief (YouTube videos for instance) which will be a nice counterweight to the increased stresses of the time. Consumers can participate in Social Media for no more money than their current internet access investment and they will have recaptured time on their hands, affording them the opportunity.

Social media content is briskly rising in search results rankings and as such exposes more Internet users to social sites during their online research. The more time they spend on these sites the more they will be drawn into it for utility reasons. This will then become the gateway to full-on social participation.

Brands will want to tap this increasing traffic by customizing their content to meet these evolving consumer needs. Bank of America has begun to advertise their savings products as “risk free investments.” Smart considering what’s happening in the marketplace. It’s also might be a great time to think about how to inject E-Commerce into social platforms in preparation for the inevitable upturn.

Would love to hear some thoughts on this.

Forrester Consumer Forum 2008: Maslow is Dead – First in a Series

I attended the Forrester Consumer Forum in Dallas earlier this week. It was my 16th Forrester event which speaks volumes about how I respect the company, value their people and study their work. It’s a day and a half of data, insights and big thinking with a sprinkling of small track sessions scaled down to snack size bites. They are also the consummate hosts. This year’s anthem was Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow’s Customers. An interesting theme, since most of the attendees (including me) were dialing back growth to match a briskly receding consumer. But Forrester did a great job at keeping things upbeat while recognizing the current economic climate and giving us some weapons we could take back and use.

One of the things that has been missing for me during the big top presentations as of late has been bold predictions. The research is still top notch, the analysts are smart, “wicked smart” as Carrie Johnson would say in her Boston accent, and they are frequently ahead of almost everyone. But some of the edge has dulled. I entered the main ballroom wondering if I would get something provocative, forward looking and passionate. My take? I got more stick your neck out than usual, and I was really excited about it.

James McQuivey, Ph.D. began with a talk called Satisfy Consumers for the Next Decade (and Beyond). He brought long lost relatives to life on the stage in an effective manner illustrating his story about why some consumers adopt early, and others late. His theme was: People share a set of universal needs. Satisfy those needs and you will win. He was really getting me to lean in until… Until he trashed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He said.

Maslow’s needs are not ordered, not orderly, and in fact they’re messy.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - Graphic: Wikipedia

As I said, I was looking for provocative statements and guts, and I got both. As a formally trained psychologist I take umbrage to disparaging Maslow. He had sound methods and studied some of the most actualized people he could find to help him create this classic pyramid. I don’t claim it’s perfect, that would not be remotely possible in psychology. But it is a storied framework that has stood the test of time and is to be respected. I don’t believe Maslow intended his concepts to be the basis for business sales, but Mr. McQuivey made a strong case for how the current social media trend should cause us to rethink many things. He then laid out his own take at people’s universal needs.

  • Connection
  • Uniqueness
  • Comfort
  • Variety

According to Mr. McQuivey, everyone has all four, but they vary in importance by individual, can shift over time due to changing circumstances and people will ultimately trade off one need against another. These are interesting to ponder and even more so as he lays them out in a Needs Profile designed to help marketers target consumers better.

Forrester Research
Copyright © 2008 Forrester Research

He built his next section on the idea of a Convenience Quotient that can be found in research released earlier in the year. A Convenience Quotient (CQ) tells you how you compare with competitors as well as with other ways to meet the same needs. It applies to products as well as services.

I went from upset to inquisitive to interested by the time he wrapped up. At a high level it made sense, but I didn’t really know how to reliably arrive at a CQ for any of my products or services. Seemed very manufacturing focused. Will need to go back and ponder some more. Perhaps I’ll give him a call.

The event was held at the Gaylord Texan. Essentially it was like being in The Truman Show. A space the size of a city block enclosed in glass and steel. It looked more like a movie set than a resort. Perfectly manicured and very comfortable. We affectionately began calling it “The Bubble.”

Fellow Tweets Amy & Jayne
Tweeters Amy & Jayne

P.S. I attended my first TweetUp in Dallas. It was really a fantastic experience. Twitters send out Tweets and before you know it over 50 people descended on a BBQ restaurant in Grapevine, TX. All kinds of genuine, creative and fun people. Everyone is relaxed and talking about social media, politics, their start up efforts, etc. I felt so comfortable. You can get a better feel for what a TweetUp is by watching this video shot by Top Tweet and an amazing Forresterite Jeremiah Owyang. Check out his insightful and content packed blog here.

More to come on the Forrester Consumer Forum.

Rethinking Social Media in an Economic Downturn

It doesn’t seem like that long ago we were in the midst of the dot com bust. Remember shredding the brokerage statements without even opening them? Remember going through all those organizational exercises at work and being asked to do more with less? We got really good at it as I recall, and it appears we will need to resurrect those skills once again. But let’s be wiser about it this time. Let’s not let our growth muscles atrophy. Let’s keep going to the gym no matter how painful it may be. Pain is gain. Most of us still have viable business models and products that consumers need. It’s fine to scrutinize, but don’t turn the burners off.

The last time we started coming out of the downturn we were woefully unprepared to get back up to speed. We forgot what it felt like to actually grow. Like going back to the gym after a three year hiatus. Can’t find the bag or the workout clothes, and by the way, what are all those new-fangled machines those people are using? Walking back onto the gym floor was like being a stranger in a strange land.

We have many more cost effective tools at our disposal now. Web 2.0 technology and the rise of social media completely changes the game this time around. Hopefully you have been paying attention to this and building social media skills and capabilities to leverage your assets in this new space. If you haven’t been doing this, it’s not too late, but it will be much harder to convince your senior managers now.

Even if you have been in the social sphere, you may need to rethink your social media strategy. If your management was on the fence they will likely be retreating from it in a big way unless they can see the value. Here are some things you may want to keep in mind as you approach this challenge.

  • Think really hard about your objectives: I love the Forrester Research listening, supporting, energizing, embracing, etc… framework. But in this economic climate it may sound too much like brand building. You will need to go back to key business drivers and reconnect these noble goals with something more tangible.
  • Listen closely to what your CEO is saying: His or her priority right now is to retrench, protect the business and weather the storm. Support this strategic change with how you frame your new social media strategy and be prepared for it to change.
  • Think narrowcasting: The broad media map has exploded over the last 20 years. Take that and increase it by a factor of 1,000 and you’ve got social media today. To make it work you need to do the opposite of broad media. Sharpen your target, find out where that target hangs out and customize the message to them. You may find out your segment count doubles or even triples. You won’t be able to afford this many more creative/marketing approaches, so either make a bet or lower your production costs, or both.
  • Burn your laundry list: Do two or three (one is even better) things extremely well, and quickly. Have your list of what’s next, but you must meet your objectives and demonstrate proficiency before anybody will give you more money or time. This will help everyone reset expectations, and allow you to keep going. Activities alone won’t cut it for the next six months or so.
  • Decide if you are building capabilities or skills: You probably won’t get the money or support for both, so choose wisely then…
  • Partner with experts for the other one: Your senior managers will be very jealous of every hour of your time. Find someone (or some company) that can help fill in where you can’t and manage them closely.
  • Make sure it scales: If it works (of course it will) they will want more and fast. So be sure your “what’s next” list can come to life repeating what you just did.
  • Measure, measure, measure: Enough said.

We will all need to work hard to keep our social media initiatives going and growing. But like anything else a business is doing it will need to be re-examined. Be proactive and do this now. Stopping social media efforts would be a big mistake. Consumers are more ready than ever to turn to other consumers for help and advice. If we do this right we will be well positioned to turn up the volume quickly and methodically when the we get on the good side of the cycle.

Would love to hear other thoughts on this.

Managing Your Career with Social Media

There are many reasons people use social media. Some use it as a forum for stating opinions, others to keep in touch or getting back in touch. Still some for no other reason than it’s interesting and fun. Most of us connect on Linkedin, to keep our eye out for a new journey or just in case the economy continues to tank and there may be a need to find a new job.

If you are a hiring manager you no doubt conduct searches on your candidates to learn whatever you can. Most of the discussion in corporations is about not hiring someone that has embarrassing photos or videos, or questionable friends. The internals of your firm are concerned about reputation and security. But there is another side to this issue. There are lots of people who are now well established in the social media space and are writing and creating exciting and insightful content. They have built formidable networks and are becoming influencers in their own way or on their own topics. An argument might soon be made that these people should command a premium when considering them for jobs, projects or unique roles. Perhaps even compensation.

Charlene Li, former Forrester Analyst and VP touched on a concept called Personal CPM. No proven formula exists yet, but to summarize, it’s based on:

  • Your authority on a topic
  • Your network’s interest and authority on a topic
  • The trust your network places in you for the topic.

She was connecting this to how marketers might look at social networks as a business model. They might pay to reach the higher CPM people, and networks might compensate them to join their network. Interesting. In this post I am taking a slightly different approach and aiming it as managing your career path.

Employers who need to make some tough decisions on who to keep when they re-organize their businesses, could look more favorably on employees who are more connected (higher CPM) in the social space. If you have a lot of followers and an impressive network you may in fact take them with you to your next job if you leave. That could translate across a wide set of impacts, from lost customers to reduced brand reputation.

For years most people could only connect with me when they physically saw me, via my phone, street address (a letter on paper) or e-mail. Thanks to the explosion of Web 2.0 and social networking applications my psyche manifests itself in many forms and as a result I have a continually growing number of identities. Getting in touch with me now, or leaving a comment is amazingly easy. Here is a sampling of who I am now.


I can compose or upload to any of these services from my browser and most of them from my iPhone with ease. There are services like that after a simple set-up allow you to update all your social networks from one place.

Building your social network is critical to managing your career these days. But how do you do it? Here are some simple steps to building your network and establishing your social identity to further your career.

  1. Move beyond your resume. Establish yourself on Linkedin and build your network. Connect with your peers from work, your past jobs and schools. Ask for recommendations on your work from trusted associates. Join and be active in groups that match your expertise and interests.
  2. Start a blog. You are one of millions, and so you must break through. Leverage what you get paid to do at work and connect it to your passions on your blog. Obviously don’t give up the trade secrets or publish the strategic or financial plan. A good way to start is to think about all those things you’d love to change about your industry or particular craft and write about it. What are others doing well or doing poorly. Critique them. If you affiliate yourself with your firm on your site put out a disclaimer that these are your own ideas and not ones endorsed by your company.
  3. Put your ideas on SlideShare. Create some powerpoints, set-up a SlideShare profile and upload them. Connect with others on SlideShare and join groups. You will be exchanging ideas and getting new ones almost immediately.
  4. One word, Twitter. You’ve heard about it. It sounds silly and a lot of work. Trust me, it’s a great way to find people who are interesting and influential. People who are active on Twitter are very well connected. They really “get it” when it comes to social media and are interested in helping people, not just stroking their egos.
  5. Set-up a FriendFeed conversation. You can start discussions and have them play out on FriendFeed. It can also be embedded in your facebook page for instance. It’s a way to subtly inject your more professional thoughts into your personal spaces. Helps expand the conversation.
  6. Keep the usual suspects fresh. That is facebook, MySpace, friendster, flickr, YouTube. These sites will normally display the more personal/family aspects of your life. We are all human and work-life balance is critical to success. This is the other side of your game face displayed in meetings.
  7. Promote, promote, promote. Communicate with your network to drive traffic to your sites and elicit comments and interest. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” carries some weight. When I attend forums or summits, I’m always exchanging blogs and Twitter IDs with people I find interesting and connected. No place is easier to connect than through social tools and spaces. Much faster and easier than those boring parties.

Now for what not to do. Never, ever plagiarize. If you read something on a blog and like it, no problem as long as you are building on the ideas. Give credit. Your credibility and reputation is at stake. Remember, you’re using this space to enhance your standing and expertise. Copying others doesn’t support that. Re-Tweet is a fine thing, just mark it RT. Same for photos. I try to use my own, but when I don’t I always give credit.

This only scratches the surface, there are many more ways to do this. Hopefully this has at least sparked some new thoughts on how to manage your career for greater success and satisfaction. More ideas? Let’s have ’em.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations – Book Notes

Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations combines the revolution of social networking with real world, real people examples. Throughout the book, Mr. Shirky takes what could have easily ended up as classic case studies (boring) and brings them to life with characters and a sense of drama. This technique draws the reader in and gets them to care about what’s happening to these people, then adroitly connects the story line to the world of social networking.

His examples span the globe and cover both commonplace happenings (someone loses their cell phone) to lightning rod subjects (the Catholic church scandals). He effortlessly weaves psychology, sociology, anthropology and business into a compelling story that explains the world of social media as not something mysterious, but commonplace, even routine. Perhaps not so yet, but it’s definitely moving in that direction and quickly.

Mr. Shirky believes someone’s age has a big impact on social tool adoption. The idea that older people have to unlearn old things in order to embrace and adopt the new things. He says:

…young people are taking better advantage of social tools, extending their capabilities in ways that violate old models not because they know more useful things than we [older people] do but because they know fewer useless things than we do… Meanwhile my students, many of them fifteen years younger than I am, don’t have to unlearn those things, because they never had to learn them in the first place.

Doesn’t that mean that young people today are learning more things now, that will be useless much sooner than what we learned?

This evoked for me the concept of the disappearing internet. As so many things now ship connected to the web and access to it is becoming ubiquitous. So much so that the concept of the internet recedes into the background. This has energized the development of new devices that can access the web and replace older form factors.

George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research wrote a post on his blog entitled The Digital Vanishing Act. He has crafted a list of devices or platforms and what they have replaced. “Wikipedia made my Britannica go away, E-Z pass vaporized the friendly toll taker” and so forth.

It’s a bit of a wake up call to execs that continue to rely on their experience and track record as a rationalization against the growing disappearance of all things familiar. If they don’t unlearn that lesson, they won’t learn the new one, and it won’t end well for them.

Bottom line, the need for human to human connection is as strong as ever. People will instinctively organize to accomplish their goals and gain power, and the convergence of devices/platforms and the web is accelerating the process. Social networking cannot be stopped. It’s like life, it will find a way.

Here Comes Everybody is a bit long, but thoughtful and accessible. Well worth the time. You can find Clay Shirky’s Internet Writings here.

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies – Book Notes

It seems all the marketing world is abuzz over social media. Everyone wants to do it, but there is no best practices approach to follow. That is until now. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, two high powererd analysts at Forrester Research published a book this spring containing their recipe for starting and nurturing social community.

It’s part blueprint, part self-help book and part research report. I found it to be comprehensive and exhaustive, at least as much as any study can be at this early stage of a new wave. The book can help brands of all sizes and from all verticals, but is tilted towards the bigger firms.

In typical Forrester style they have done their homework. Consumers, brands, software firms, you name it and they looked at it. The style is straightforward and easy to read, oftentimes playing back actual conversations they’ve had with clients. Case studies of course, and even some that didn’t work out.

My company is just beginning to explore this new way to market our brand and content and I found this book incredibly helpful. I’ve given 5 copies out to senior executives at work, and making it highly recommended reading for my staff. It starts with listening to your customers and ends with embracing them to help you make better products. But there is a whole lot of things to do, and not do, in between. It’s all mapped out.

The authors are realistic and clearly outline potential pitfalls, constantly reminding us to be patient, go slowly and get buy in at the highest levels.

Near the end they challenge the more sophisticated thinkers to imagine how working in the groundswell will actually transform their companies over time. How they market, conduct service, carry out PR and launch new products. I’ve been on a hunt for more sources of value for my company, and I believe this could be a viable one.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to come up the curve quickly on social media and community. A must read for all marketers, even if you’re not looking to launch into community at this time.

To get a taste of the book and the Forrester style of analyses, visit the Groundswell blog here. Or you could just buy the book here.

P.S. Charlene Li has recently left Forrester. I have relied on her advice and work for several years and I will miss that. On her “Why I’m leaving Forrester” blog I wrote a three word description of Charlene Li; a rare person. Hopefully our paths will cross again some day as we navigate through our professional lives. Best of luck to her!

Forrester Finance Forum 2008 – Last of Three Posts

Customer Expectations During the Online Application Process

This post closes out my series on the Forrester Finance Forum held in New York City on June 23rd and 24th, 2008. You can read part one here and part two here. I always walk away from a Forrester Forum with a rich list of insights. If I were to stop and try to characterize one benefit that attending a Forrester Forums gives me, its energize me to challenge the status quo.

Photo Credit: Steve A Furman

Brad Strothkamp, principal analyst at Forrester, presented Mastering Web Sales by Focusing on Shoppers’ Expectations on the second day. The stats are interesting and compelling. 40MM consumers applied for a financial service product online in 2007, and 50% of them were applying online for the first time. That’s significant, because most of us who design online applications do so with deep knowledge of financial products and how the systems work. We are also keenly aware of what we want as a business, which influences how applications are designed and coded. We are too close and too knowledgable. Consumers are seeing our application designs for the first time. Brad’s presentation caused me to step back.

He talked about how there are many missed opportunities, and if we got even a little bit better, we would be richly rewarded. His stats say that consumers appear to be happier applying by phone or in person vs. the web, despite all the work and time that has been put into creating online applications. We in financial services want everyone to apply online, but of course the reality is not everyone will. Consistent and systematic improvement is the goal.

I have seen a statistic from Jupiter Research that states, 50% of consumers who start an online financial services application have no intention of completing it. They are there to shop or learn more about products. I didn’t see this referenced in Brad’s presentation. I wonder if Forrester has come across this, if it was taken into account, and what they would say about it. Forrester takes questions on 3 x 5 cards that are passed to analysts during the talks. Questions are then asked in the room at the end of each session. I submitted this question, but it wasn’t asked.

Consumers have a set of expectations they carry across all channels. Clarity, anonymity (only give as much personal information as is absolutely necessary) and speed. But they hold the web to a higher standard. Convenience (can I do it all online?) and the desire to not be pressured score high with prospects. The online process must of course be simple, secure and transparent throughout. And consumers want a safety valve if things go wrong, meaning human assistance immediately. Firms need to balance having a lower cost for taking the online application with offering human help in case it’s needed. This is a maximize sales at the lowest cost problem that needs to be explored through testing.

Brad spent his time on human reported behavior as well as presenting some good and not so good real life examples that drove the point home. He did not touch on application form design, but design is critical to getting someone to the finish line. There are oh so many ways to design a form, but there are clear best practices. Here is a short slide show that offers some. Coupling Brad’s insights with web form best practices would be a winner.

I was a little surprised Brad didn’t address a growing trend on the part of consumers to consult the social sphere of information before completing a transaction. Clearly his focus was on the application process, but there is a very complex set of interactions now at play immediately prior to and perhaps even during this moment of truth. That would be the social community. Consumers trust companies less and their peers more. The traditional marketing funnel is losing power. I’ve heard Forrester talk about this, but was it wasn’t brought out here, probably due to keeping the talk focused.

I am seeing a lot of evidence that consumers research on company sites, then pause their shopping to consult the social sphere of information. Who else has this product? What are they saying about it? If it passes the test, a consumer will possibly return to the company site and proceed through the sales funnel.

Once they come back to the site, the basic requirement seems to be speed, as 46% of consumers expect to complete the application in 10 minutes or less. People want to do everything fast, even when it comes to complicated or critical financial transactions. And of course FI’s want it to happen fast as well. Convenience is not a feature of the channel, it’s an assumption, and more importantly, 57% of consumers expect to be using the product in 24 hours or less. Instant gratification for an instant society.

Financial services products have become very much a commodity over the last few years, which makes it more difficult for firms to find meaningful differentiators. Each company copies the other as competition for the credit worthy or wealthy has become fierce. We all chase the same customers for the most part, which elevates the application process to an extremely significant moment of truth.

One thing that is critical to remember to get dead on right is the product page. Although consumers say they want speed, they want the right product even more. This is where your product page comes in. It’s got to work hard and deliver on the key features of your product and why it’s better. No one is applying for anything without looking at the product page. Get it right.

Looking forward to the Forrester Consumer Forum in the fall.