Five Steps that will Guarantee Customer Loyalty

I've been in the marketing profession for many years, with experience in both the for profit and nonprofit sectors.  I've been on the sales side and on the client side.  Call me a geek, but I love marketing.  I think there is a tremendous payoff, both personally and professionally, when a marketing strategy succeeds.

However, after years in business, what bothers me most about my own profession is how little respect other marketers have for it. 

I recently read a blog post by an author who was advocating for greater certification in the marketing profession.  What a great idea!  I think that it would weed out those who have little concern for the customer or the company.  A more educated, informed and accountable a marketer is more likely to enhance the profession and improve his/her performance!  Marketing is a talent that requires skill, creativity, ambition, and innovation.

However, while there is definitely a science to marketing, when push comes to shove, I believe successful marketing only requires you live by five simple rules:

1. Ask the customer what they need or want
2. LISTEN to the customer's response
3. Give the customer what they need or want (not what you want to sell them)
4. Negotiate a fair price
5. Thank the customer for their business

That's it!  If you do these five things I guarantee you will gain and keep far more customers than you will lose. 

Do I have the data to back up this bold claim?  Yes, it's called "every successful sale in the history of mankind".

How you execute these steps is up to you.  I recognize that there are any number of variables that can impact the process.  But if everything you do from a marketing standpoint is built on the foundation of these five simple principles, you will succeed. 

So why is it that so many marketers and sales professionals fail to follow these five easy steps?  Simple.  Because they're either uneducated in marketing 101 or they're lazy.

It really doesn't take brain surgery to figure out that the best way to sell a product or service is to ensure that it meets the needs of the consumer.  Failing to appreciate a customer by attempting to force them to buy something they neither need nor want, only results in working twice as hard as you need to, while damaging your reputation and all but eliminating repeat business.

After all, everyone knows that keeping a customer costs much less than acquiring a customer...don't they?

where social media & PR collide

In chapters 3-6 of Engage, Brian Solis discusses our use of social media and the "next web" and their implications on our lives.

In our expanding world of social media, which most of us practically live our lives on, there exists many words, terms, and phrases having having to do with the practices of our online network activity. Solis brings to mind the fact that it is important that we not overuse or misconstrue such terms or they will lose their meaning or take on new ones.

The term "next web" refers to blogs, wikis, podcasts and the like. Far and wide people, corporations and organizations are mastering the fine art of the next web to their public relations advantage. Doing so can veil the fact that it is actually the person/corporation/organization behind the online project, like in cases of blogs that seem to personal to be corporate, or wikis that support a specific company or organization because it is actually their property and under their direction.

Engage has given us a lot to think about in our world of social media. I'm sure I will think twice next time I see a company-driven blog or wiki or misuse a word associated with networking.

Social Networking gets "Colorful"

A new social media application is causing quite a buzz, even though most people don't actually know what it is - or how to use it.

Color is the newest way to share and compare photos of what you're doing in real time. What sets this social network apart from others is that there is no "checking in" to a location, and it is not dependent on a friends list or followers; it revolves solely on where you are at the moment of your photo upload. Your photo is then shared with everyone in the vicinity. An interesting twist is that there are no privacy controls - whatever you share will be shared with everyone around you.

With Color, you can keep up with the happenings of those around you in real-time. However, what exactly is the point? In essence, it seems that you will only be sharing (bragging) your fun night to strangers who happen to be in the same geographic vicinity as you. That, or you will be checking your Color app only to find that everyone else around you is having a much better time than you are.

Something to think about: the advent of this technology causes us all to wonder about the effects it will have on our real lives. Much like people being fired due to questionable tweets or finding trouble getting hired after years of irresponsible Facebook use, won't Color's lack of privacy settings land you in hot water?

On the other more positive hand, this technology could in theory be extremely helpful and even groundbreaking for uses more serious than boasting about your fun night on the town or whatever silly antics you're currently getting into (not that those aren't enjoyable and post-worthy). Considering the recent social movements such as the uprising in Egypt or even the marches to support Planned Parenthood taking place across our nation, an application such as Color could be extremely useful in connecting and sharing to promote a common cause.

With so many possible consequences/exciting opportunities yet so little experience with this new application, it will be very interesting to see what will become of Color.

Happy Birthday to Twitter!

It's been five years since the launch of Twitter

Most products and services would still be in the infancy of their lifecycle after five short years, but Twitter has already helped influence global change both politically and economically.   Who would have thought that a mico-blogging service would achieve so much in so little time?  Pretty amazing!

What do you think has been (or will be) Twitter's greatest social impact?

Perhaps this short video will give you some ideas.

Tweet on!  :-)

Social Media Trends 2011

Social media changes from month to month. Trends come and go quicker than the seasons change. Having said that there are some trends that I think will continue over the coming year and with that in mind I wanted to share them here. All in all it should be an exiting year in social media with these expected trends escalating and expanding in 2011.

1. Social Commerce: 

Group buying + Facebook Commerce + Mobile Commerce

It’s all the same thing: new ways to leverage your social circle to help you shop or share your haul. Social commerce with the end goal of increasing conversions, leads, and sales started to gain attention years ago with consumer reviews and began to escalate in different methods. The connection of social media to sales, sales indicators, promotions, and other measurable or valued marketing and sales conversions, including couponing, is fueling the investment in social media as companies begin to prove the capability to drive commerce.
  • Group buying: You should have heard of sites, such as Groupon, that sell for discounts if you get your friends to “group” together to buy a product or service? Like all kick ass ideas this one is incredibly simple and instantly understandable and there is something in it for everybody. Groupon and like-minded sites are expected to continue to grow, offering a new way to reach different audiences.

  • Facebook commerce: 
Facebook has joined the social shopping market by launching its functionality called Facebook Connect. In short, you can now sell on Facebook by letting your customers buy, but also letting them tell their friends. And letting their friends tell their friends. Even if you don’t offer ecommerce on your website, it’s now possible to provide that service through the social network. And it’s overly simple to set up. YouTube has been recently extracted this concept with what was described as the first "YouTique" launched last September, by French Connection.

  • Mobile Commerce: Mobile payments enable eCommerce merchants to expand their offerings and create new experiences on the phone, a trend we expect to see continue as mobile blurs the line between offline and online. Shopping will become even more social. Your mobile phone will soon become your identity.

2. Content Curation: Branded Content
Brands are starting to realize that one of the main ways of engaging their customers and offering value is to create content that enriches the user’s social media experience rather than just blasting messages out at them. All companies should become media companies, in that the content they provide is valuable, consistent, and non-salesy. With users starting to get more and more aware of ads and adding their own filters the smart brands will create bespoke content that engages users in a meaningful way and offers value. Building that content in to Facebook and other social sites while all hooking back to their own website will be crucial with video playing a more and more important role in the branded content play.

3. Crowdsourced Innovation
Crowdsourcing as a term and idea is nothing new, but 2011 will likely be the year where it becomes a core part of many organization’s social and customer engagement strategies. Additionally, there is an increased understanding from customers about the concept of Croudsourcing, which means it will no longer just a way of engaing the social media savvy, but rather a much broader audience who will share their ideas and thoughts with brand simply for the reward of recognition and being heard by the brands they purchase form everyday.

4. Niche Location / Location Casting
The ability to drive commerce and hence expand the potential advertising and marketing opportunities is fueling the growth of location-based social networking. Location is a key factor in the future of search, social, commerce, and media, among a lot of other things. It is the most important signal to emerge in the database of intentions since the link. If 2010 belonged to Foursquare and its playful, competitive and sometimes addicting ecosystem of badges, mayorships and specials, it's likely that Facebook will rain on Foursquare's parade in 2011 with its completed Facebook Place.

5. Social Gaming
New media models are being built based on virtual goods and currency, currently connected directly to the increasingly popularity of social games. As a category, social gaming has grown incredibly quickly, becoming one of the dominant drivers of usage on Facebook. The current leader moving this trend is Zynga, which is building a new media model from micro-transactions. From this trend, viable marketing opportunities are emerging, so-called "engagement ads." These are basically an exchange between a player and an advertiser, where players earn points or currency to raise or extend their game play in exchange for some brand-related activity like taking a quiz or sharing an ad on Facebook. The power of gaming to drive revenue and marketing benefit for advertisers, as well as its increasing capacity to catch mass engagement, is driving not only new offerings but also new partnerships, startups, and other innovations.

Recent Study Shows Brand Heavily Outweighs Price on the Value Scale!

In a recent BizReport article, Helen Leggatt writes about how brand now heavily outweighs price on the value scale.

Where do you fall on the value scale?

The findings of a Millward Brown's Value-D study show that only 7% of respondents made purchases based on price (down from 20 percent ten years ago), while 81% made purchasing decisions based on the brand.

According to Peter Walshe, Global BrandZ Director for Millward Brown, "Too many brands fail to fully optimize their power and instead overemphasize price and downplay desire. The consumer usually desires a brand first and then considers the price to determine whether to purchase or not."

The article goes on to list the Global Top 10 Value-D brands:

1. Amazon
2. Colgate
3. Nokia
4. Pampers
5. Visa
6. Coca-Cola
7. Microsoft
8. McDonald's
9. Nescafé
10. Lidl

To see the Top 100 Global Brands or top geographic rankings, view the BrandZ report.

While brand has always played a big part in the value equation, I'm surprised that it so heavily outweighs other purchase drivers such as price, location, convenience and habit, especially during the recent and sustained economic downturn.  Though during tough times consumers often tend to take fewer risks, which means they are perhaps more likely to rely on brands they trust. 

Do your purchasing habits match the Value-D study?  Is the brand more important to you than the price?  I'm going to have to do a little self-analysis to see where I tend to lean on the value scale.

Vietnam's Social Media Landscape

“A lot of brands jumped in and said, ‘I need a Facebook, I need a MySpace, I need to do SEO, I need to share all of my content everywhere.” But often it’s lacked of a brand tone of voice. And it’s just created some form of presence that’s not based on strategy at all”, said Daniel King, director of digital, JWT Melbourne. In the emerging markets, which are quite young in onine marketing, the moves might be even slower and lots more problems exist. Vietnam is one of thess cases.

Vietnam has a large population (13th in the world) and half of the country is under 30. The young active Vietnamese are all over the Internet. They’re watching videos, listening to music and reading random news. They’re spending and they’re talking. But there’s little connection that companies here want to cement between those two actions. You could say Vietnamese Internet usage is almost caught up with the world. If the US and Europe are in 2011, then they are in 2008 or 2009. Yet Vietnamese online advertising is still 2002. 

1. Deny acknowledging the trend and taking the lead.
The biggest problem in Vietnam is not that brands or companies are incapable of understanding the fact of the increasing online media power. It’s just that they don’t need to. Understanding online and social media is acknowledging that online could propel an existing brand to greater heights, or it could take a nothing product to become the new star. And though there’s incredible opportunity online because no one is really strong here, no one really wants to consider what that means. 

2. Lack of knowledge 
The second problem is the proper understanding of online media landscape with its current trends and insights in order to furnish the brand strategy and motivate the business to find a real effective communication channel with the target audience with less competition and more cost-effectiveness. Many businesses in Vietnam do not fully understand how social media works and how they could use these channels effectively to benefit their brands and companies. Many marketers or managers in Vietnam may ask you what Twitter is.

3. Lack of attention to detail
Another problem is the lack of attention to detail indicate attitude of most of Vietnamese businesses when go online, especially in customer service. If social media is anything, its core is at customer service. If customer service is not important, then social media cannot be important either.

4. Lack of strategy
Although the rising power of social media, SEM and mobile services, is obvious in all over the world and rising strongly in Vietnam, most of Vietnamese businesses still got very simple reactions when going online, just like the age before social media:

“Let’s put up banners and count the impressions”

“Let’s make a microsite, spend a ton of money to fuel registrations and gather personal data, and then what we’ll do is never use that data and never follow-up. And we can do this all over again next year too.”

Traditional media channels, such as TV, print, radio, outdoor, have been here for ages and intensively competed. But online is completely open, waiting for someone to think and innovate. If you can dominate in this, you could just completely take over – no one else is here or cares. Or they just not care enough to take the lead.

Is there a limit to exceptional customer service?

A colleague of mine who works in the executive office of a luxury hotel, recently shared an internal customer service debate with me.

Like many B2C companies, this hotel had budgeted for gift certificates that it would use for VIPs, promotions, disgruntled guests, etc with the goal of enhancing the hotel's reputation by making valued customers, partners and prospects happy.

The internal debate was whether or not the hotel should assume any balance on a gift certificate used in its restaurant if the value of the gift certificate didn't cover the full cost of the meal.  In other words, if the gift certificate was worth $100, but the check came to $150, should the hotel assume the $50 balance to further enhance its brand as a five star, customer focused property?

There were some members of the team who felt absorbing the additional cost (within limits) was a small gesture that could have a big impact on the hotel's reputation, while others believed it was unnecessary, as the gift certificate itself was a generous gesture that exemplified the hotel's goodwill and hospitality. 

This debate raised an interesting question:  When does good customer service end, and being taken advantage of by a customer begin?

I remember when I was the marketing director for Clear Channel Radio and one of the radio stations I was responsible for held a contest for a trip to a couples only resort in Jamaica.  What we didn't know at the time was that the resort didn't accept same sex couples, and the winner of the trip was gay.  Needless to say he was not happy that the resort wouldn't allow him to bring his partner, and quite honestly, neither were we.  We offered to send him to another resort, but he insisted on staying at the resort promised in the prize package.  After some negotiating with the resort, they agreed to bend their rules and allow the winner to bring his partner.  However, the problem wasn't resolved yet.  The winner also wanted to travel on a holiday weekend, even though the contest rules and the airline voucher both clearly stated that holiday black out dates applied.  After having already resolved one delicate situation with the winner, we spoke to the airline and they graciously agreed to waive the black out dates.  NOW the problem was solved right?  Wrong!  The winner was upset that he had to pay for his airport transfers.  Therefore we agreed to pick up the cost.  Resolved now?  Not yet.  The winner was still angry and felt that due to the anguish we put him through we should also provide him with a cash stipend for his trip.  In an effort to provide the best possible customer service and finally resolve the matter, we agreed to give him $250 in cash.  But he demanded $500 ($250 for him and $250 for his guest).  At this point, we drew the line.  We felt we had done everything we reasonably could to make him happy, but it just wasn't enough.  We came to the realization that nothing was going to please him, and the more of an effort we made, the more he was going to demand from us.

I actually debated for quite some time about whether to draw the line; though in retrospect, the decision to do so seems clearly justified.  It is one thing to make every effort to please a customer, but another thing to sacrifice the integrity of your product/service for someone who is making unreasonable demands. In this particular case, the winner wasn't even a listener of our radio station. He won the contest by registering for it at a sponsor location.

The question still remains however:  At what point do you draw the line?  Where does a company cross over from providing excellent customer service to being taken advantage of? 

While every company should strive to provide outstanding customer service, as the vast majority of customers will never take advantage of a company's goodwill, is there a point when potentially losing a customer is the lesser of two evils?  Please feel free to share your experiences and where you believe the line should be drawn...if at all.

Word of Mouth

While reading the Groundswell chapters 7 & 8, I found myself reflecting a lot on my own personal experiences with the subject matter. The chapters discuss energizing the groundswell and the importance of word of mouth. I find this to be extremely true, especially in the last couple of years.

As new technology and websites have developed, it is easier than ever to share praises and warnings with other consumers. Yelp especially is coming to my mind. Other sites, such as Make Up Alley, have become little addictions of mine as well. Yelp provides rating systems and review comments for establishments while sites such as Make Up Alley provide a space for consumers to share reviews on specific brands and products. I find myself relying heavily on user reviews before I spend money on a product or dine out at a new restaurant. Most of the points made about energizing the groundswell and the importance of word of mouth really resonates with my personal outlook, and I feel it is safe to assume the same for my peers.

@CharlieSheen joins Twitter, world watches in excited horror

"America's Bad Boy", Charlie Sheen, has joined Twitter. If this doesn't interest to you, I'll assume you have been living under a rock in recent days/weeks/years.
Charlie Sheen's wild antics, rants, and less-than-sober lifestyle has landed him in the spotlight as well as in some hot water. Celebrity-obsessed America has been following his every move starting a wave of speculation and dialogue as to his drug use, at-home rehabilitation, and outrageous remarks on national television. His hit show "Two and a Half Men", for which he is now the highest paid TV actor in the nation, has even been shut down for the remainder of the season due to his recent escapades. So what's the best plan of action for Mr. Sheen? Probably not to start a Twitter account.

Earlier today, @CharlieSheen was verified thus confirming that the account is really him. According to Gawker, the Twitter account is "gaining followers at a rate of approximately 500/second" - even though he has yet to post a single tweet or set up any profile information, including a picture. The Huffington Post also reported that at one point, the account gained 4,812 followers in 60 seconds.

So I am wondering: why on earth would Charlie Sheen be allowed to create a Twitter account? Wouldn't his PR people stop that immediately considering his outlandish, ridiculous tendencies? Sure, it will be extremely entertaining to watch, but won't it likely lead to lots of embarrassment for him and possibly cause damage to his career?

Oh, his publicist quit on Monday. That explains it.