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  • Jennifer Voisard
    06.26.2009

    Evolve or be left behind.

    Honesty and transparency. From a customer’s point of view, these two words are essential for a great experience from original research, to purchase to consumption. We want what we think we are buying and are delighted when we get more. Some brands like Best Buy, Intuit and Southwest Airlines for example, adopted customer centric business practices, and use social media tools and online communities to engage their customers and employees and act on insights learned.

    If honesty and transparency isn’t part of your brand experience, you flirt with an onslaught of negative conversations and shared horror stories. One blog post, one tweet, one well placed bad review and you could be in for a bumpy ride

    As consumers, we are desensitized to fine print and hidden fees because we deal with them on a daily basis. When a positive experience comes along we are delighted, and we readily share the information with our friends, family and anyone else that will listen. But a bad experience yields a big public ouch as we share our frustrations, anger and gory details with all who will listen: both on-and-offline.

    So you know what’s coming: my horror story, which involves American Airlines and my quest to return to Denver from the WOMMA conference in Miami.

    I usually fly Frontier of which I am a huge fan. Since they had no flights to Miami, I flew American. My return experience was THE single worst EVER. I arrived two hours early, made it through the airport rigmarole and found a place to eat dinner by my gate. For the entire two hours the monitor said FLIGHT ON TIME. Went to board, but was stopped by a cranky employee. She informed me of a gate change (which was a two hour walk), oh and your flight is also delayed. No other information was offered. I started my trek and came across an updated monitor. Two hours late!

    Found an AA customer service center (which is an oxymoron) to get the scoop on the delay. Major weather in Dallas, the plane can’t depart from there yet. OK, bad weather — can’t control that. How about the United flight that leaves in 30 minutes? You’ll never make it on time; it’ll take you an hour just to get there. This is your best option. Hmmm. Wonder why the monitor said ON TIME for the last two hours, when the plane hadn’t left the ground? Simple. This way we had no other options to get back home. While I waited my tweets summed up my mood and opinion on American. Five hours later we FINALLY boarded. Overhead, under seat, buckle up. Let’s go! Here’s your Captain speaking….sorry for the long delay we have been waiting on the arrival of a part. Back up. Did he just say the arrival of a part? Really?

    Back home, my research uncovered that I wasn’t alone. Blog after blog mirrored the same sentiment and experience I had. American Airlines created a work-around for some of their fine print. Their policy states that if the reason for a flight delay is beyond their control, they do not account to the customer. So in order to avoid any responsibility, they have a constant fall back: fictitious, bad weather in Dallas!

    Many of the blog posts I read spoke of the same thing. The “bad weather in Dallas” ruse is used for different reasons such as waiting for a pilot, or the arrival of a fax. The list goes on. Am I missing something? How can this happen in the age of transparency? Doesn’t American know about the weather channel? Anyone can—and does—check that weather in Dallas, often finding sunshine, no wind, no turbulence. When asked about the low score the airline earned on the Customer Satisfaction Index, American’s managing director of customer experience stated “I can’t account for the …Index, but I can tell you that American's internal customer satisfaction surveys…..show marked improvements from a year ago.” He reiterates the bad weather accountability point three times, and talks about being transparent to the customer. Click here to read the interview in full. My guess is that he doesn’t use the internet. His perception is not reality.

    American Airlines is not doing well financially. Big surprise! This airline is analogous to the dinosaur; they are failing to evolve with changing conditions. Word-of-mouth in a digital world is fast and furious. Consumers are empowered with knowledge and platforms that they didn’t have before. Yet, we are still riddled with big corporations resistant to change. American Airlines and others alike, I leave you with a single message. If you don’t change your business practices soon, you’ll suffer the same fate as the mighty T-Rex. Evolve or be left behind.

    Filed under: Engagement,Strategy

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  • Kathy Baughman
    06.22.2009

    Is it really good or only relatively good?

     

    I sometimes feel like Diogenes searching for an honest man. Only I’m looking for an honest benchmark. What’s that? A yard stick for social marketing performance that tells me if a program is doing really well or only relatively well. For example, if a community has 10,000 members and another geared to the same group with pretty much the same objectives has 25,000 members, I might be high fiving all around if I’m the community manager for the latter. BUT! Does the larger community look great only in relationship to the smaller one or are they both underperforming? If I look at the engagement levels of the 10,000 and find they are much more prolific than the 25,000, then is the smaller community actually the high performer? We could go on and on.

    Social marketing is an industry in search of benchmarks that will give organizations meaningful insights about the health and wellness of their initiatives. To a degree, I agree with a recent post by Matt Rhodes about the growth of a healthy online community.. He makes the point that performance is relative to the type and purpose of a community. This is true, but benchmarks apply when we are trying to measure against peer groups. I think to get beyond the sophomoric comparison of page views as a metric to something truly meaningful, we need to use an algorithm-based approach to measurement. We need to filter multiple data points to create performances indexes. These should give us the insights we need to make surgical adjustments to community engagement and drive growth and vitality. In turn, these indexes provide a foundation for measuring performance against a peer group.

    For example, we recently completed some research that looked at the differences in rewards and recognition preferences between consumer, IT Pro and developer communities. Not surprisingly, software developers have very different motivations for returning to a community and using it frequently than consumers do. Before this research, we knew this intuitively. But now my client knows very specifically, how to design reputation management systems that will resonate with the audiences it wants to engage. It also informs the selection of data points that can lead to some meaningful performance indicators. We can for example look at engagement KPIs such as UCG volume, views, posts, comments, click-throughs, peer support, etc in correlation to specific reputation management approaches. The same algorithm could be applied across a community peer group and yield benchmarks that give insights into not only what to adjust but also how to make changes.

    If my score is low, I can surgically tinker to deepen engagement by changing three things about the way I reward community members. This type of approach helps me know both if my community is relatively good in a meaningful way AND if I am also really good! High fives all around.

    The social marketing industry needs benchmarks to catapult it to the next stage of professionalism. I don’t think we can continue to gauge how we’re doing only in relation to our own objectives or by using metrics that are interesting, but not useful. ComBlu is looking for some smart folks who would like to collaborate on a benchmarking study for social marketing. We’re calling it the Diogenes Project. If you’re interested, contact me .In the meantime, we’ll keep searching.


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  • Steve Hershberger
    06.19.2009

    Dell and Twitter: Bada-ching!

    There is a debate bubbling up on this topic.  Why?  I really have no idea. 

    In March Dell was able to generate $1,000,000 in revenue and cultivate 100,000 followers for their @delloutlet handle.  Today they have 677,825 followers.

    Here is a sample tweet:

    “@Sc00ter Did you order it from the Outlet? DM me your order# and I can see if I can help.about 24 hours ago from HootSuite”

    Some individuals out there are actually obtuse enough to be arguing that this is not a successful social media example but instead a successful ecommerce example.  Isn’t this a useless argument? 

    I see a few things in the tweet that I have posted above.  Based on the groaning in the marketplace about this We are going to diagram it just like elementary school grammar.

    “@Sc00ter [This is a Name, which makes it a personalized one to one, from the brand to the user message] Did you order it from the Outlet [This is a Distribution and Logistics question designed to identify the order’s point of origin from the business enterprise]? DM me your order# [this is a Unique ID Code designed to find the order in the businesses CRM or Sales Management Software system] and I can see if I can help [This is a CRM Response with a call to action].about 24 hours ago [This is a Time Stamp] from HootSuite [This is a Method of ID and Contact from the responsible party who has taken ownership of resolving the problem]”

    Well, bummer.  Since there is no viral video or game involved, of course it can’t really be social media, as the agencies and pendants define it.  I say let them argue and split hairs over the latest shiny penny tactics.  Let’s focus on the bigger prize.  Maybe the Dell/Twitter example isn’t social media but maybe it’s something better, social marketing integrated with social operations.  Maybe it is something that is meaningful and useful to all parties.  Maybe we have tapped into mechanisims to finally deliver on Pepper & Roger’s Shangri-La; One to one marketing.

    As compared to this.

    Skittles

    Just because it isn’t sexy doesn’t mean it isn’t right.  It is.  The Dell example worked in creating awareness AND engagement AND affinity.  The Skittles example is just lame-brained.

    The Dell and Twitter partnership is exactly what everyone should be point to as a best practice (not the only one but a darn good one) or at worst yet another viable and meaningful use of Twitter that doesn’t involve saving expats from a kidnapping or reporting and organizing election revolt in countries with dictatorial regimes.  

    So yes, it is good use of social marketing and social operations…which is what keeps brands and their operating entities (the business enterprise) in business.    Being in harmony with your customer base is a very profitable and effective method of doing business.

    For many, that is still the plaything of agencies and sporadic marketing managers.  I think it is time to start understanding the difference.  If you want to continue debating the meaning of the word ‘is’ (which is in this case the debate about what is or is not social media), good luck.  The rest of us are moving on.

    Filed under: Measurement,Strategy

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  • Steve Hershberger
    06.18.2009

    Somebody get Bill Ford to read this

    Ford Motor company’s biggest competitive marketing weapon is a doddering 100 year old.  Actually it is about 100,000 doddering 100 year olds.

    The other day I went to a meeting and the person I met drove up in his Model T.  Well, it isn’t every day you see a Model T, so it attracted a bit of attention. 

    So when a throng of people gathered around, my friend was more than happy to answer every last question and show it off.  It isn’t pretty, but surely a piece of living history.

    Bill Ford

    I learned that there are about 100,000 of them driving across our U.S. roads every day and driven they are.  Heck, there are about a hundred in my neck of the woods.  Their owners drive them a lot.

    Unlike another friend of mine who owns a different type Ford (a GT 500 that turns more heads than the Model T), which seldom makes its way out of his well appointed garage, the Model T’s are driven a lot and pretty much all the owners are like my friend.  They love to talk about the car, the history of Ford Motors, etc.  Their knowledgeable, have great stories (like the pictures that Karl carries in the car of his grandfather in his horse and buggy on his way to buy this very car) and are generally likeable people.

    Apparently, the Model T is bomb-proof.  As a lot, they were well designed, well engineered and well built.  He changes the oil, using the original glass container and changes tires using the original jack and tools, which while ancient are as functional as the day they were made. 

    Bill Ford

    My friend’s has had no major work since it was bought in 1927; still it runs and runs as reliably as his other car, a Volvo.

    Hmm.  A direct comparison between a new Volvo sedan and a Ford Model T, and he is serious about the correlation.  He talks about Ford value and engineering and he gives examples….on occasion, using the car.  Heck, we even got to see what real floor boards look like! 

    Bill Ford

    I learned a lot in talking to Karl about Ford, some things were factual like the use of vanadium that was came from the wreckage of a race car.  Nobody in the U.S. knew how to make this metal (which was much lighter and three times stronger that traditional steel of the day).  So, Henry Ford financed and set up a steel plant to figure it out and then make vast supplies of it.  I learned that 30 types of black paint were used.  Why?  Because the car was built on an assembly line (the only one at the time) different mixtures dried at different speeds, and that, along with the parts the paint went on impacted potential choke points in the assembly line.  Don’t think in it’s day that wasn’t wicked-smart innovation.  Other things were anecdotal.   Both were interesting and informative the way no tv commercial or YouTube video ever could be.

    Let me tell you that the people who were asking Karl questions very much pay attention to what he says and he answers them and advocates in a very genuine way.  To the person, they leave the conversation with Karl with a very different perspective and a very positive impression of the Ford brand. 

    So Ford has 100 Ford Fiesta running as part of a social media campaign designed to drive interest in the European version of the car, which will debut here as the 2011 model.  Ford, like all of its, solvent and bankrupt competitors spends hundred millions of dollars on marketing.

    I would content that while all of this is fine, spending the equivalent to one television advertisement to support an ambassador program of Model T drivers to spread the word about Ford Quality and value (remember, value is the new black), as well as, fuel a grass roots movement to the return of value.  Ford style.

    It’s my guess that that such an approach would exceed the results of traditional mar/com tactics in terms of engagement metrics…by a lot.  A big bang for the buck. 

    So Bill, if you read this and I hope you do, you need to focus on tapping into the passion of your customer base and utilize what drove Ford to prominence in the first place:  Innovation and quality.  It’s all found there in that 100 year old car and its loyal, passionate, visible and quite large owner base.  I bet if you asked nicely, they’d help.

    Traditional approach to marketing a brand?  No.  Innovative and effective?  Yes.

    Filed under: Engagement,Strategy

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  • Steve Hershberger
    06.16.2009

    Artificial Flatness

    This morning I had breakfast with a gentleman named Karl who is a thought leader in organizational development and human capital and an all around good fellow.  I’ve reconstructed our in this blog post because it was very insightful.

    Karl:  Talked to a FT 500 company yesterday.  They are proud they have no turn-over.

    Me:  So?

    Karl:  I told them this was a very bad thing for them.  Very, very bad.

    Me:  Why?

    Karl:  Because when the economy improves the artificially retained people will leave en-mass.  You see, they are staying because of healthcare and a paycheck.  A huge chunk of their employees hate their jobs and hate their employer.  If the government ever gets to some form of universal coverage…and they will, even more people will leave.  Imagine, 20% of your work force, both customer facing and internal facing leaving within one year.  The organizational stress will be beyond belief. 

    Me:  Wow.

    Karl:  Yeah, and what’s worse, this company and lots of others just like it will go from being a market front runner to a market laggard because of one key thing.

    Me:  What’s that?

    Karl:  They have very little in the way of enterprise wide customer engagement tools that are solid and embedded into the organization.  That’s a fancy way of saying they haven’t figured out how to engage customers using both community and social marketing tools.  Note, I didn’t say social media.

    Me:   Hmmm.  Tell me more.

    Karl:  Well, when the collapse comes, and it will, the business won’t have an external support structure.  You see feedback and advocacy is critical to a company not becoming a commodity.  Plus they are totally measuring the wrong stuff!Companies that behave in this manner are not flat.  If they did, they’d be flat.  Size doesn’t matter, culture and focus does.  Flat organizations perform at higher levels. Period.  Let me demonstrate.

    Karl takes some of the crumbs from his bagel and scatters them on the floor underneath the table.

    Karl:  Hey Mike!  (the owner of the little place we met), your floor is dirty!  Mike comes over.

    Mike:  Hi Karl (Karl lives in the neighborhood and goes there a lot).  What do you need?

    Karl:   Floor is dirty Mike.  Thought you’d like to know.  One other thing.  Did anybody ever tell you the new menu is too hard to read?  Oh, and the new coffee blend is terrific. To die for. Can I get a pound?

    Mike:  Sorry about the floor (someone comes over and sweeps up the crumbs while we are talking).  Yeah, a couple of other people told us about the menu.  Josie is picking up a new one at Signworks this afternoon.  Thanks about the coffee!  You know, I never thought about selling it.  Just serving it.  Think it would catch on?

    Karl:   Totally.  Give me three pounds.  I’ll give a few away as gifts and tell a couple of people.  I bet it catches on.  I even have a name idea for you.  By the way, how much do you pay for your straws?  You use a lot of straws don’t you?

    Mike:  Thanks for the idea.  Umm, no idea what I pay for straws.    Yeah, we do use a lot of them but nobody has ever asked me about my straws…

    Mike leaves and Karl says to me, “See flatness.  Satisfied customer. Instant feedback and results. How many areas did we cover?”

    Me:  Let’s see…floor, sign, coffee, straws.  Four.

    Karl:  Wrong.  Five.  The name of the coffee.  See, big companies can’t do what Mike does.  He has five employees.  He can respond instantly.  Very flat.  Big companies are siloed and are not flat.  In fact, most are incentivized or rewarded for not being flat!  They can create artificial flatness though.  They can do this by integrating across their organization customer engagement tools.  I like the words you use:  ‘Social Marketing and Social Operations’.  To me that type and breadth of engagement means flat.  Oh, by the way, there is somebody somewhere who is obsessing over measuring their version of straws….even though in the scheme of things, counting straws doesn’t make a bit of difference.

    Me:  So in essence, businesses that integrate more deeply with their stakeholders using social marketing tools will always out perform their competitors?

    Karl:  Well by stakeholders, if you mean vendors, customers, employees and the like.  Yes.  General statement, but yes.  Most companies can’t or won’t make this type of change until the platform is on fire and even then for some it won’t matter.  Those that do will thrive.  You see everything is interconnected.  Marketing, customer initiatives, product development, operations don’t operate independently.  Or at least they don’t operate well independently.  Heck, you don’t even have to do it all at once.  Start the ball rolling.  As it works, it gains traction and momentum.  Pretty soon, everybody says it was ‘their’ idea.  Oh, and the people sitting in the corner counting straws.  They are quickly reduced to irrelevant quivering lumps of Jell-o.

    Me:  Cool.

    Karl:  Yep.  Flat is where it’s at.

    Filed under: Strategy

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