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What Can We Learn: Part 2 – The Adventures of Gmail Jay

I have a Gmail account. I don’t use it that much, just usually to sign into some Google services. I’ve had it since the Gmail beta ages ago, when you needed an invite from a user to get in. It’s a simple address, “jaylawrence”.

gmail-logoUnfortunately, there are several people around the globe who, on a regular basis, enter my email address as their own. My email address has had some fascinating and entertaining adventures. Gmail Jay has been a real estate agent in Dubai, been a member of a multi-level cosmetics marketing scheme in England, been offered a job interview in London (can you be here this afternoon at 3?), once stayed at a YMCA residence in Sydney, Australia, and regularly orders pizza in Queensland, Australia.

Those, however, are just the international adventures! Back in North America, Gmail Jay once rented a movie from a Redbox at a Walgreens in Wisconsin, and then inexplicably returned it in Illinois. She apparently owns a Toyota, and regularly has service done at the Toyota dealership in Hanover, PA. She loves to shop at a particular Williams-Sonoma in Florida, and received preferred customer emails from the store manager. She uses Progressive for her insurance needs. He once had Dish Network installed in Connecticut. Poor Gmail Jay also once applied for a job at Taco Bell, and was turned down.

Email-buttonYou may have noticed alternating “he” and “she” pronouns above. That’s accurate, as the users of my address usually provide their own names when filling out forms. Gmail Jay has been male and female.

Gmail Jay has also joined countless social networks, and regularly gets password reset requests from Gmail, when the brilliant folks who keep using my address realize they do not have the password for it. One managed to successfully do a password reset on me once, requiring some quick action to save the account.

An entertaining story, but here’s the dark side: almost none of the mistakes above were fixable on email. Very few of the emails that arrived had valid reply-to addresses. Almost none had valid unsubscribe links. Emails to the customer service departments of the above organizations were routinely ignored. I still regularly get real estate listings from Dubai from “other” real estate agents, possibly even real agents and not mistaken ones like myself.

The Dubai Government was the worst offender. All emails asking to be removed from the national registry of realtors were completely ignored. A close second was Hanover Toyota, which I had to repeatedly telephone to be removed from the service database, since all emails to that dealership and to Toyota head office were ignored. Williams-Sonoma, the YMCA, and the pizza places all ignored my responses.

The Progressive Insurance account was the most disturbing. I had all the policyholder’s personal information from name and address to bank account and social security number. If I had notions of malice, I could have sold the info, or used it myself. As it happened, Progressive opened a fraud investigation to discover how such a large privacy breach could have taken place. Again, there was no unsubscribe or reply function. Fixing this required two telephone calls to Progressive HQ.

One last anecdote before our lessons. When Dish Network emailed to confirm my installation appointment, they did not respond to my notes that they had the wrong person. I checked the information and discovered the proper contact information. I called the guy in Connecticut, and let him know that the crew would be there Saturday morning. An easy fix!

What could we possibly learn from these foibles? A few things:

  • When people sign up for an account on your site, require confirmation
  • Make it easy for those confirmations to be denied in case of mistakes
  • Never send personal information to an unconfirmed email address
  • If you send email as part of your permission-based marketing, make it easy to alter the subscription
  • Have a valid reply-to address
  • Understand that permission-based marketing requires permission – if someone wants to revoke it, let them
  • Trying to keep subscribers to your email marketing by making it hard for them to unsubscribe is a negative experience

Not understanding the basics of permission marketing does irreparable damage to your brand. For instance, should I ever move to Hanover, PA, I would likely not deal with Hanover Toyota. Most of Gmail Jay’s adventures were a result of people not paying attention as they typed. It was not the fault of the marketers. However, the fact that it was so hard to fix the issues was entirely their fault.

If you make it easy to end a permission-based marketing relationship, you are far more likely to get that person back than if you tried to obfuscate and complicate the unsubscribe process.

Twitter’s Customer Service Revolution

Let’s start today’s entry with a little story, shall we?

Last week I received a new debit card in the mail. A perfectly routine and normal thing that everyone experiences once in a while. Mine, however, had a small error in the printing. Not a big deal, but it was my name, and when shopping online, I would have to enter my name wrong in order for the data to match that which had been erroneously printed on my card. A minor inconvenience, and I somewhat naively assumed the solution would be just as minor.

First thing I did was call the toll-free customer service number on my card. I explained the issue to the agent. He, naturally, assumed that an error of this sort was not possible. I managed to persuade him that it was indeed a problem, and that it needed to be fixed. He told me that he couldn’t help me, and that I would have to go into a branch.

To the branch I went, and explained the situation again. Again, disbelief was expressed that this particular error could occur in the first place. The staff finally got it, and patiently explained that there was nothing they could do about it, and that I would have to call the toll-free customer service number. “But wait”, said I. “I’ve just done that, and they sent me here”. “Sorry”, said the teller, “all I can do is call that number myself”. She kindly offered me the use of a phone in the branch to contact the customer service line once again. I sat in the branch and waited 15 minutes on hold before giving up and going about my day. I resolved to call the next morning when wait times would be shorter.

The next morning, I had the much better idea to tweet my troubles.

@(bank) new debit card arrived, my name is wrong. 1-800 says branch can help, but branch says it’s 1-800. Help?

A response was almost immediate, inviting me to DM some details. A brief conversation in DM followed, while I explained the situation. The Twitter CSR told me that yes indeed, the branch was the solution. I explained, while rolling my eyes, that I had been to the branch and they couldn’t help me. “Which branch and who did you speak with?” was the encouraging reply.

Then a remarkable thing happened. My cell phone rang. It was the manager from the branch I had been to the night before. I had not provided any account info to the Twitter CSR, but they had tracked me down. Off I went to the branch, where I was greeted personally by the Branch Manager. With a few quick keystrokes, my name was restored to what it really is, and a new debit card was dispatched from head office.

Sitting quietly in the corner was the teller from the previous night, looking very sheepish indeed.

The whole episode struck me as particularly remarkable. It would appear that my bank has the most empowered and and engaged customer service agents monitoring social media. Why?

It’s public.

That’s the silver bullet of customer service via social media. Everything you say about a business is on the public record for all to see. Companies and brands want to make sure their online reputation is the best it can possibly be. Smart businesses engage quickly, resolve issues promptly, and make sure they are seen doing just that.

Now some tips for business, and some for consumers as well:

For business:

  • Be available via social media, and monitor your channels. People are talking about your brand whether you are there or not
  • Realize that you cannot control what people say about your brand
  • Monitor related search terms so you can proactively respond to issues involving you that haven’t been brought to your attention
  • Respond promptly to complaints
  • Once contact is established, take the conversation private, via DM, email, or telephone
  • Solve the issue as quickly as you can
  • When there is a resolution, follow up with the complainant.
  • For huge bonus social media street-cred, follow up again a few days later, publicly. “Hi @123, just checking in to see if everything is still OK!”

I read a blog post this morning where a major hotel chain (Novotel) appears to be actively discouraging customers to complain on social media. It was a pretty shocking read, almost to the point of scolding the author who had complained to the front desk, to no avail, and then tweeted about the problem. The chain did not respond for days, and then admonished the author for not letting the front desk know. This kind of customer service is incredibly damaging to a brand. See tip #1 above. The conversation is taking place with or without you. Best to be a part of it.

Social Media Tips For Consumers:

  • Find the correct Twitter account to complain to – Some brands have several
  • State your problem clearly, without editorializing
  • Ranting, raving, insulting, swearing, or generally being abusive will work against you. You won’t get what you want this way. You are likely to be ignored
  • If a brand invites you to discuss in DM, do it
  • If there is no resolution, don’t be afraid to restate the trouble publicly
  • Communicate from an established account. (More on this later)
  • It’s always nice to thank the CSR publicly upon a successful resolution

One more thing for consumers: If you start a tweet with @brand, only the people who follow you and @brand will see that tweet. If you start a tweet with “Hey @brand” or even a dot, “.@brand”, everyone who follows you will see your tweet. The more people who see your tweet, the more impact it has.

Twitter certainly appears to have quickly supplanted mail, e-mail, phone, postcards and telegrams as the most effective customer service channel. The public nature of twitter encourages business to much quicker action than a private phone call ever would.

What Can We Learn: Part 1 – The Shutdown

I’m a big fan of learning. I like to look at a situation and see if that circumstance can teach me anything. Since my background is in marketing and communication, the lessons learned are often related to that.

I’m going to write a series studentover the next few weeks based on just that: learning important lessons from unusual situations.

The big news today of course is the shutdown of the non-essential parts of the Government of the United States of America. Pretty incredible that grown adults can let things deteriorate to the mess that the US finds itself in. No matter. Let’s look at the shutdown and see if there aren’t any marketing lessons to be learned. Since politics = marketing, this should be an easy one.

Sure, the Democrats and the Republicans disagree. Political parties usually do. Still, one likes to believe that they have their citizens’ best interests at heart. Not this time.

In business, you want to provide a product or service to your target customer, in a manner that serves the customer right, and makes the business money.  In government, that customer is the taxpayer.

Sometimes, business owners get it in their heads that the object of the business is to beat the competition. When you believe that, you are well on your way to ruin. That is what the American political parties believe today. They are past caring what the Right Thing to do is. All they want to do is to beat, and be seen beating, the other party.

The lesson here, as expected, is simple. If you focus on your competition, you lose. If you focus being the best service or product there is, you will succeed. Yes, be aware of what your competition is doing, but if that’s all you concentrate on, if all you want to do is beat someone, your product and your service suffers.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t want to win. You should, and badly. Do that by giving your full time and attention to making your business the best business it can be. Hopefully, if you take a glance at what your competition is up to, it will be in the rear view mirror.

Marketing Yourself in an Election: A Primer (Part 2)

Yesterday we discussed a few things that can help a candidate stand out in an election campaign. Today, a few more.

If you are new to the politics scene in your neighborhood, you’ve likely got an uphill battle. You’ve probably got an unknown product (you), up against an established, successful product (the incumbent). Make an impression. Stand out. Be a purple cow.

Social Media: Important, but don’t take on more than you can handle. It is far better to have one active Twitter account then inactive accounts on Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Pinterest, and whatever else you might want to connect with. Connect is the key word. If you haven’t got time to connect because you have far too many social media channels running, you’re not going to make an impression.

Engage on Social Media: but know when to disengage. Politics can inspire some spirited conversations. Letting yourself get bogged down in a heated debate in a public forum leaves a negative impression. When things do turn negative, or you’re in danger of being mired in minutia, gracefully disengage. Offer a more detailed response via email, telephone, or in person. Be polite.

QR Codes: don’t bother. Once thought of as the Next Big Thing in social media, QR codes really haven’t hit critical mass. Yes, they are different, and do stand out, but how many more people do they help you engage? If the code is on an outdoor sign, thinking people will stop a vehicle to scan your code is not realistic. If it’s on a flyer delivered to the home, isn’t it easier just to list the website? It stands out but does not give you any advantage. Worst of all, if your code leads to a website that is not readable on a mobile screen, you’ve just turned off a potential voter and wasted their time.

Your picture: have one, but not the one you think. You aren’t going to stand out with the usual smiling-into-the-camera head shot; taken, of course, while wearing your best suit and tie. In radio advertising, active verbs cut through the clutter, help get past the gatekeeper and inspire action. Similarly, in visual marketing, action pictures are more compelling than static headshots. Use a picture of you actively engaged in your community. It will stand out, and it will connect.

Your Opponent(s): be nice. Politics can be a rough business. It is not for the thin-skinned. Be the candidate that sticks to the issues, and explains to the voters what you can do for them. Time spent talking negatively about other candidates is time wasted indeed. It’s a negative that sticks to you. Negative campaigning turns off voters. Be the candidate that encourages voting, not the one that sours people on the process. Yes, at a national level, sometimes negative campaigning is used as a tactic. However, all it does is re-energize the “base”, or the people most likely to vote, and it encourages those who are just moderately engaged to not vote at all. At a local, municipal level, going negative is not likely to produce any positive results.

Be different. Don’t do the same things as everyone else. Stand out, and you’ll be noticed.

Marketing Yourself in an Election: A Primer

Election campaigns boil down to a lot of marketing messages crammed into a month. It’s cluttered and messy.

Our province is just heading into municipal election season. The campaign has been running on low heat for a couple of months, but with all the nomination deadlines this week, high gear is now on.

As with business, standing out from the crowd is the key to getting noticed. Follow these tips for a better chance at sticking out like a sore thumb. (Hint: these tips also apply to your business)

Campaign Signs: The subject of much debate. Are they necessary? Do they work? Are they just colorful litter? In most cases, no, no, yes. Most campaign signs look exactly the same as the ten signs next to them. Like any outdoor marketing medium, signs need to make an impression in seconds. You have that long to stand out from the cluster of signs. Be clean and simple, and keep information to a minimum. Be different than the others. Make sure the sign is high-contrast and can be easily seen.

326px-Vote_icon.svgWebsite: have one. Like the sign, it needs to be simple. Include information on how voters can contact you. Engaged voters are more likely voters! Clearly state your goals, your positions, and a little about yourself. Make sure, no matter what else you do, that your website has a mobile version. If you direct people to a website from your outdoor marketing, a lot of voters are likely to access your site via a mobile device. If your website is unreadable on a smartphone, you’ve lost the opportunity to make an impression.

State your case: clearly. Make your goals clear, attainable, realistic, and measurable. A campaign promise to “engage residents” is meaningless. How do you plan to engage those residents? “Improve services” similarly says nothing. What services would you like to improve, and how are you going to do it? The more specific plans you lay out, the more those plans will connect with voters.

Youth: find a way to connect. Older people are more likely to vote. That’s a given. That’s why candidates for every election visit every community center and retirement community possible. However, the youth vote is a huge, largely untapped market. If you’ve got an idea to connect with younger voters and actually get them out to vote, you will have that group all to yourself.

Shake hands: it works. Meeting people, looking them in the eye, and asking them to vote for you is still a great way to make an impression. It seems shallow, but people will vote for you if they like you.

Running in an election is the same as marketing a business or product. It’s just that the product is you. Be different, be clear, and connect.

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