Social Anxiety

Company CEOs are responsible for a lot. From setting the long-term strategic future of their companies to driving their short-term health and success, CEOs play several important roles. There seems to be one role, however, too many are avoiding.

A recent study from shows that more than 60 percent of large-company heads have no social media presence at all – not all that surprising, actually, when you read further and find how many view an active social presence as more negative than positive, especially when it comes to their brands.

Those leaders opting to stay on the social media sideline are missing out on big – and unique – opportunities, unfortunately. While still in the minority, the list of CEOs becoming active on social continues to grow – and continues to demonstrate daily why it’s a smart marketing move for CEOs and their companies:

  • It sends a message about their brand. Perception is reality, we’re reminded all too often, and usually because of negative circumstances. On the flip side, however, savvy consumers perceive CEOs who maintain an active presence on social media very positively. And that perception often extends across the entire brand.
  • It’s where your customers are. As companies grow, so do the layers of insulation around CEOs. Sometimes, this insulation gets to the point that it’s hard for a company’s leader to truly know what’s taking place on the front lines, especially when it comes to customers and their experiences. In addition, social provides a window into what customers really think about their services, their products, and their people.
  • It helps build trust, inside and out. CEOs must consistently fight against the perception – there’s that word again – that they’re removed, insulated and out of touch. An active presence on social media can help leaders change those perceptions – and build a stronger level of trust with both employees and customers in the process.

If you’re a CEO fearful of becoming active on social media, fear not! Instead, embrace it. Employ it. Enjoy it. You, as well as your customers and employees, will be glad you did.


Escape from Marketing Island

As marketers, it can be easy to feel like we exist on an island. To bury ourselves in our work and maintain an exclusive, almost laser-like focus on…well…our marketing. Because that’s what we do. The same can be said of salespeople – existing on their own island, maintaining their laser-like focus on…well…their sales. Because that’s what they do. But what if working together – building a bridge between those two islands – made both sides better?

Sales and marketing are often lumped together in terms of how a business operates, which makes the seas that can rise up between these two islands all the more surprising – and disappointing. Marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all, and neither does sales.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Indeed, as this recent article helpfully reminds us, “by collaborating with sales reps during the content development process, marketers can create content resources that will better meet the needs of salespeople.” And, in turn, such collaboration means salespeople can help marketers more effectively create such content.

How? Well, as the same article explains, there tend to be six levels or degrees of personalization when it comes to content marketing. These cover the full spectrum, from generic (no personalization) content to lead-specific (highly personalized, one-on-one) content. Marketers can often see the most productive use of their time spent at the more generic end of the spectrum – delivering the most content to the most people – while salespeople often want to spend the majority of their time at the more personalized end of the spectrum – building and maintaining individual relationships with customers and prospects. How, then, can we bridge this divide?

For marketers, the key is to move further down the personalization spectrum. While true one-to-one content marketing isn’t always feasible or practical, making content more segment- and audience-specific can empower sales people by providing them with a marketing asset that’s more personalized and targeted.

Equally important is the ability of marketers to train, equip and support salespeople to either personalize existing content, or create individualized content for their end of the spectrum. “The conventional wisdom,” the article continues, “has been that salespeople should not be spending their time developing content.” There are certain types of content, however, that are best left for a member of the sales team to develop.

Salespeople can help marketers become more effective in developing more personalized and targeted content. And marketers can help sales people become more effective in developing content of their own in the right situations. This is where collaboration between sales and marketing – bridging those two islands – can be so valuable and profound.

The state of things

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is one of Silicon Valley’s most legendary and prestigious venture capital firms, having helped give rise to some of the largest and most famous digital_icons_lgcompanies in the world, including Google, Twitter, Amazon, Spotify and Uber.

So when leaders at KPCB talk about the future of the Internet, people tend to listen.

And, as she has for the past several years, KPCB partner Mary Meeker did just that, giving her hotly anticipated and widely read annual “Internet Trends” at the end of May. Even though her presentation – all 196 slides of it – is almost overwhelmingly comprehensive and wide-ranging in its topics, there are several trends it touched on that should be of particular interest to marketers, even if they’re not all that surprising:

  • Ecommerce keeps moving to mobile. Our on-demand culture is meeting head-on with our increasingly mobile culture, meaning brands have to get increasingly sophisticated in order to make their mobile shopping experience as simple as possible.
  • The death of email (again). Proclaiming email overwhelming, too cumbersome and, as a result, on its deathbed is nothing new, of course. It’s just that there’s more and more evidence this is the case – take the explosion of internal communications and collaboration apps like Slack.
  • Users generating content in droves. The explosion in smartphones makes it easier for people to create content on the go and share with their networks. The challenge – a perpetual one – for brands is to monitor, capture and share high-quality content, which gets more and more difficult as the number of content-sharing platforms continues to grow.
  • Speaking of content, a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to writing, millennials are all like, “whatever.” It’s no coincidence that the explosion of visually driven social networks – Vine, Snapchat, Instagram – has come as millennials came online en masse over the past several years. So it’s important for brands – especially ones with younger audiences – to understand that content isn’t just the written word anymore. Indeed, it’s often anything but.

You can view the full report here – as always, it’s a deep dive and very educated guess into what the future holds, especially for marketers.

Of mobile milestones – and momentum

Whether the smartphone/tablet revolution has made it easier for us to live more mobile lives – or whether our increasingly mobile lives have created the need for the social_tablesmartphone/tablet revolution, one thing is clear: our society is at once both a mobile and a connected one.

This is, by and large, a very good thing. Staying connected is important for us, both personally and professionally, and we greatly value being able to carry our digital experiences with us in the palms of our hands. At the same time, the momentum behind mobile means many, many things we have traditionally used via our desktop or laptop computers are moving to our mobile devices – and that includes something very near and dear to our hearts.

We speak, of course, about advertising – and mobile advertising is prepared to hit two significant milestones by the end of 2016:

Taken on their own, each milestone says a lot about the incredible growth of mobile advertising. Put together, it’s a serious statement about how the digital advertising landscape is shifting right before our very eyes.

Mobile advertising brings with it any number of challenges for brands, to be sure, but also offers up a number of promising opportunities. More than anything else, it forces us to think differently about advertising – people are interacting with brands on the move, on a small screen, held in their hands. More often than not, what we think of as traditional advertising – even in the digital realm – won’t work. It may not always be the easiest thing to start from scratch when thinking about how to advertise in a paradigmatically different platform – but it may just be the thing we most need.

Mobile advertising is coming – and it’s already here. Is your brand ready for it?

Show and tell

Ah, the trade show. A thinly veiled junket. A free trip to somewhere warm. Where days are spent manning booths inside cavernous, windowless convention centers, making small trade_showtalk with uninterested visitors. Counting down the hours between expense-account meals.

At least, that’s what many people think of when they hear the term. Based on the great experiences we had just this week with our friends at Freightliner Custom Chassis at this year’s Work Truck Show, however, we think trade shows can be incredibly valuable for all kinds of organizations. The important first step, of course, is looking at them as key opportunities instead of extensive – and expensive – time wasters. From there, it can be as simple as following these steps.

  • Plan ahead. Seems silly to say that, but how often do you truly put together a dedicated, strategic plan around a big trade show or industry conference? This is more than planning which brochures and posters and tchotchkes you want to take with you; it’s defining real goals about what you and your team want to accomplish and how a successful event can be defined – and achieved.
  • Make some time to meet. Don’t just hide out in your own space, waiting for others to come to you. As part of your overall show strategy, identify key customers, thought leaders, members of the media, etc., that you would love to connect with in person. And then ask them to do just that. Send a personalized email and follow up with a phone call, asking for a few minutes to meet and talk.
  • Take a hike. Schedule time at least once a day to wander (with purpose) throughout the entire expanse of the convention floor. Stop at other booths or spaces randomly, taking in the experience the way someone would when visiting yours. Scout out competitors, vendors and potential partners. Take note of what you like about particular booth experiences and designs – as well as what you don’t like.
  • Share your adventures. It’s easy to think that trade shows and industry conferences exist in a vacuum – anyone and everyone who matters is already there. And yet rare is the instance where this is the case – there will always be people not attending the event, whether they’re industry media, potential or current customers, vendors/suppliers, etc. – this is why it’s so important to include them in your communications efforts during the event. Create a mini communications plan for the event, laying out how you’ll share what you’re up to via your social presence, your website, your media contacts, etc. Give those not there a sense of what they’re missing – be their eyes and ears.

By spending a little bit of extra time planning your team’s efforts and defining your goals, you can turn your next trade show or industry conference into a more successful and valuable utilization of everyone’s time and skills. You’ll certainly feel less guilty about expensing that nice steak dinner.

Put your ear to the ground

When developing a social media strategy, the two questions brands most often focus on answering are:

  • Where? (What platforms should we be active on?)
  • What? (What do we talk about?)

ear_guyAnd both are important questions, to be sure. The first question answers the critical audience part of your strategy; after all, if you’re not where your audience is, how will you connect and engage with them? The second question answers the equally crucial content portion of your social media strategy. If you don’t provide informative and entertaining content to our audience, after all, how will you connect and engage with them?

While these are of vital importance, there’s another component of a sound social strategy brands must be mindful of. While the questions above both focus on what you say, it’s just as important to focus on what you hear.

“Social listening” is what it’s called, and it’s pretty much just like it sounds. It’s the act of observing and measuring how the market talks about your products, your services and your brand online, and especially via social media – and using that intelligence as an important cog in your marketing machine, content development and brand strategy.

It’s just as important as content and platform – and, ideally, an integral part of your overall strategy. And it’s more than just casually scanning various social platforms and the web for mentions of your brand. Doing so would be incredibly time consuming, of course, and inefficient, creating a ripple effect that negatively impacts all other aspects of your social strategy and activity.

Here are a couple of key aspects of a good social listening program to keep in mind as you get started – or as you look to refine what you’re already doing:

  1. Set your terms. Define and map out the specific words, phrases and terms you want to listen for. These will cover your brand, your products and your services, to be sure, but think beyond the basics: Names of leaders and key personnel, competitive brands and products, industry thought leaders, etc. Clearly defining what and who you want to listen for gives you a key benchmark and commonly understood parameters.
  2. Keep your ears to the ground. Always. Having a defined sense of what you’re listening for helps you be more consistent and proactive in how you listen. There are many great monitoring and listening tools out there to help you streamline and centralize the process beyond the Google Alerts of the world. A couple of very good lists of such tools can be found here and here and here.
  3. Analyze and adapt. The market and industry in which you operate is always changing – your social listening habits should be the same. Monthly – or quarterly at the very least – measure and analyze your social listening data and then answer key questions about what is working and where you may be missing important sources of input and insight. And adapt your social listening habits as a result.

What you say – and where you say it – are both of utmost importance when it comes to the perception of your brand via its social presence. Here’s an important reminder that knowing what others say – and where they say it – about you is just as important.

Is your brand in conflict…with itself?

It used to be, companies had customers. Now brands have audiences. Existing customers. Potential customers. Industry influencers. Trade media. Basically, anyone who “experiences” your brand in some meaningful way on a semi-regular basis is an audience. And, the digital revolution has created an almost dizzying amount of new touch points for those audiences to experience your brand. This is good, of course, because it’s many new avenues through which you can engage your audiences. It’s also potentially bad, however, because it’s many new avenues through which you can confuse your audiences if you’re not consistent.

lightbulbIt’s very important, obviously, to find and maintain consistency across your many different touch points and toward your many different audiences. And while it may seem a bit overwhelming at first, taking a huge step in that direction may be simpler – and closer to home – than you think. The key to consistency in communicating your brand, then, may lie with one very unique group – a group that is both a touch point and an audience: Your own employees.

More often than not, employees are the most overlooked audience when it comes to a brand’s marketing, advertising and communications. The reasons for not involving them early and often in marketing can be many; the reasons for swiftly changing that approach, however, are just as numerous and important. After all, as this great blog post from Boston Consulting Group points out, “to become part of its customers’ lives…a company’s product and brands will first have to be ‘lived’ by its employees.”

Your employees are the first line of the most intimate and memorable experience audiences have with your brand. If they don’t deliver on your brand promise – especially because they’re not fully aware of what that brand promise is – the damage can be swift, harsh and often irreparable.

Take stock of your employee communications today – what do you do well when it comes to keeping them up to date, informed and inspired about what you’re doing? Where can you improve? “A tight linking of all the aspects of brand management,” BCG continues, “ensures that brands leverage their most significant asset – employees – to create more powerful and relevant brands for today’s changing world.”

In other words, the best way to ensure harmonious brand management across your many different audiences is to focus on – and engage with – the one closest to home.

Persona non grata

How well do you know your customers? Like, really, really know them? Buyer-persona’s-gebruiken-om-content-meer-menselijk-te-maken_900_450_90_s_c1_smart_scale

Sure, we all think we know and understand our customers – everything from general demographics like age, gender and race to psychological factors such as color or design preference, purchase history, shopping habits, etc. So often, however, what we think we know about our customers can be little more than assumptions and generalizations based on outdated experiences, insights and data.

Truly knowing your customers is important for any number of reasons, of course; the most important of them all perhaps being that it could – and should – drive every strategic plan and decision you make.

Is there a way, then, to better and more completely understand and know your customers? We’ve found the best way to better understand all of your customers is to identify and define one of them.

Many people know this process as developing a customer “persona.” Other industries can call it different things – the consulting firm Bain calls it a design target – but the concept is the same: using a customized mix of demographic, geographic and “psychographic” factors, you build a model of your ideal or typical customer. No detail is too small – name, age, sex, race, location, social media habits, TV habits, car, living situation, family or no family, white or wheat, etc. You get the picture. And getting this picture is very important and potentially valuable.

The good news – there are an incredible number of resources, templates and worksheets that break down the persona-development process. If you don’t already have a customer persona in place, or are suddenly concerned about using outdated concepts to define your current customers, make the time before the end of the year to do it. Your success in creating many new customers just may depend on you better defining just one.

Don’t like this post? That’ll be $500.

Don't be meanThis week, a hotel in Hudson, NY, found itself in the center of an Internet sensation it did not want – but one it had no one else to blame but itself.

This hotel, it seems, really took its online reputation seriously, and really wanted its guests to give it good reviews to strengthen its ranking on a variety of online sites, including Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare and others. All well and good, of course, that a hotel would want good reviews online to help build its very important and very valuable online reputation. It’s the means the hotel chose in pursuing these ends where it ran into some serious trouble.

Instead of focusing on the aspects it can most directly control pertaining to its guests’ experience that would bring about a positive review – clean rooms, friendly service, quality food and drink, etc. – this hotel took the road less traveled. It threatened its guests with a $500 fine if they said mean things about it online. Specifically, in language inexplicably laid out right on its website, the hotel warned prospective guests that “there will be a $500 fine deducted from your deposit for every negative review…placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and / or attending your wedding or event.”

Well, after this audacious little policy was pointed out by a few high-profile “internet sites,” you can probably guess what happened next. Previous guests came out of the woodwork – and went out of their way – to absolutely destroy the hotel on Yelp and several other internet sites.

The hotel’s response was almost as ill-advised as the policy that caused it – quickly pulling the language from its website and then claiming the whole thing was a big, inside, misunderstood joke. The damage, unfortunately, had already been done – the hotel’s maniacal obsession with driving up its social rankings and reputation had the absolute opposite effect. It’s a humorous but telling reminder that, yes strategy (in this case, to drive up social ranking and reputation) is important, but so too are the tactics you use in service of that strategy.

Does your social strategy include customer service?

Let’s start with the obvious: It’s very important for brands to have a strategic plan in place when it comes to their social media presence. It’s important because companies can leverage social media for any number of strategic reasons – to communicate, to engage, to promote, to listen, to sell.

All of which are essential, to be sure, because they all help a brand bring in new customers. What is equally important, however, and what brands often fall short in using social media effectively for, is engaging with their existing customers.

Here, it seems, is where there’s a lot of ground for brands to make up, not to mention a huge disconnect between how brands perceive their handling of customer service via social media and how their customers perceive it. Indeed, a recent study showed that approximately 80 percent of companies believe they provide superior customer experiences via social – only 8 percent (!) of their paying customers agree. A big reason for that Grand Canyon-esque gap may be due to another figure from the same research – that 20 percent of companies rarely, if ever, respond to customer inquiries or complaints made via social.

There are few things more damaging to a brand’s perception via its social presence than a customer complaint sitting there, unanswered, lingering, smoldering, haunting. Most often, a complaint goes unanswered because brands either don’t know it’s there or don’t know how to handle the complaint appropriately in a quasi-public forum. Neither reason is good; however, there are just a few easy steps brands can take to address both and become more effective at handling customer complaints.

  1. Build an alert system. All of the key social platforms have a wealth of built-in notification tools to alert you immediately any time a customer leaves any type of comment via your official presence, including complaints. Getting notified almost immediately whenever a complaint is posted makes it easier to…
  2. Acknowledge the complaint. It doesn’t say “solve the problem,” does it? This is where brands often get caught, because they don’t know how to solve the problem raised by the complaint right then and there via social. Odds are, they wouldn’t ever be able to, and that’s okay. All they need to do is acknowledge the complain – “We’re sorry to hear you’re having a problem, Customer X, and want to make this right. Can you email us at EMAIL ADDRESS so we can learn more?” It’s the last part of this exchange that’s most important, because it enables you to…
  3. Move the conversation offline. Why get into a complaint-specific conversation in the comments of a Facebook post while your other followers watch? No good can come of it! Instead, ask the customer to call or email and provide the proper contact info for both. Not only does it enable you to handle the complaint in a more personalized and intimate way, it also gauges how serious the customer and the complaint are. (You may find this shocking, but sometimes customers just like to blow off a little steam in the comments of your brand page. If they have to pick up the phone to call or send you an email, they may not actually do it.) By acknowledging and moving the conversation offline, you can then remove the complaint from your page. And, if the customer decides to come back to offer compliments for the way his or her complaint was handled, that’s just icing on the cake.

When it comes to handling customer complaints via social, you don’t want your approval rating to be lower than Congress, do you? The good news – avoiding a fate worse than that can be easily accomplished. And it’s accomplished directly when brands ensure their social strategy focuses on not just new customers – but existing ones as well.