To each according to his influence

Palms’ chief marketing officer, Jason Gastwirth, is currently building out “The Klout Klub,” which “will allow high-ranking influencers to experience Palms’ impressive set of amenities in hopes that these influencers will want to communicate their positive experience to their followers.” The Palms is already pulling in data from Klout and referring to it as part of their reservations process.

That quote is from this piece in AdAge which has a lot of great comments and the main thread running through them is this “treating influencers differently creates an unrepresentative impression of your brand experience”.

I can see the ones-and-zeroes sense in taking note of influencers, using software to identify them makes a lot of sense but there are plenty of problems with this. Treating someone as a VIP because of the influence they wield means they will never be able to give an unbiased opinion of a service because they haven’t experienced it the same way a regular person is likely to.

The last thing a restaurant critic ever wants is to be recognised before the meal is served. If a critic’s readers found out that a review was compromised in that way they would lose respect.

A big part of this week’s Six Pixels of Separation podcast with Mitch Joel and Joseph Jaffe is on this topic and Mitch followed that up with a blog post explaining why he doesn’t want to use the influence or platform he has to get special treatment and by using tools like Klout, as Mitch implies, brands are asking for it. Read the comments to Mitch’s post too, some great stuff there.

It’s a thorny topic – preferential treatment based on celebrity and status, driven by a desire to please and to be praised can make a brand seem sycophantic but the alternative risks provoking the wrath of the influencer. Surely even thinking that way is the brand admitting ‘our regular level of service isn’t good enough to be remarkable and can randomly fall apart so badly as to make people angry’. Should brands aim to solve for the many or salve for the few?

Image credit: TimOve

Make your customers look good

Here in the Czech Republic it’s a long weekend. And by long I mean very long; there are two bank holidays, on Monday and Tuesday.
It seems like the whole city’s shutting up shop right now (Friday afternoon) and heading out of town but not everyone will be able to get out of the city for the 4 day weekend.
My gym has taken the opportunity to offer an “Open Holiday” to members’ friends. From Saturday through Tuesday you can take a friend who is also stuck in the city to the gym with you, free of charge. Fact is their 4 gyms will be deserted over these 4 days anyway, why not give members the opportunity to share their gym with friends. Maybe those friends will like it enough to join up too.

Action Item

What can you do in your business, at minimal marginal cost, to encourage trial by flipping the funnel and have your existing customers help out with your acquisition and allow them to give something to their friends too?

You’re nobody till somebody hates you

You know you’ve made it when otherwise sane and rational people spill bile and hatred all over the internet at your company, your product and your customers.

This week ought to see Apple reeling from the sucker punch of the ever-so out of context reporting of recent suicides at a subcontractor’s plant in China. Reporting that goes to great lengths to mention that Apple’s iPhone and other products are assembled there whilst neglecting to mention that HP, Dell and Microsoft all have their products made by Foxconn.

This has made the news, and given Apple-haters plenty of opportunity to point fingers. Someone I’d previously thought a friend took exception to me adding some balance to a Facebook post about Apple/Foxconn, in so doing branding all Apple owners as ‘a cult of smug wankers’ then laying into me in no uncertain terms.

Personal sleights aside, this week has also seen Apple surpass once-mighty Microsoft’s market cap, the international launch of the million-plus selling iPad, with lines around the block in London, Sydney, Tokyo and many other cities across the world ,I shouldn’t wonder.

And in news that’s going to make authors across the US (a US tax ID is required) sit up and take notice, Apple also announced that authors will be able to cut out intermediaries and publish directly to the iBookstore for iPad.

I’ve been a Mac user since 1993, I owned a Mac all through the ‘dark times’ for Apple; I was a subscriber to Guy Kawasaki’s EvangeList mailing list; I’ve done my fair share of encouraging friends and family to switch. I guess I’m one of those people that Apple haters despise. I won’t pretend to understand the motivation of these people – to so diligently troll online forums, blog comments and magazine websites for opportunities to spread hatred. Any discussion of Macs, wherever it takes place is considered fair game to go off topic and rant about whatever the anti-Apple issue of the day is.

On the other hand, Apple’s so-called fan-boys have been known to get pretty heated too when seeking to redress the balance of negative reporting, though there’s a little less of that since the days of ‘beleaguered Apple’ in the 90s.

For a company to incite such passion on either extreme shows that they’re doing it right. Keep it up Apple!

Image credit: kyz via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Who needs social media when you’re too busy being awesome?

fiber optic cableCatching up on some blogs this weekend, I found this post about Comcast’s usage of Twitter by Lisa Barone over at Outspoken Media.

Not living in the US I don’t have the opportunity to try Comcast’s service. My overall opinion of the way Comcast use Twitter is that it’s great for the people who get help that way, though it creates a two-tier support system – people savvy enough to turn to @comcastcares get ‘premium hotline’ support. Those who aren’t so connected (if your internet connection is out, you’re probably using your iPhone) are subjected to phone trees and hold music. If the team that use Twitter in some way can generalise problems and drive organisational improvements then I can see the up-side. Otherwise @comcastcares is just an insiders’ priority support channel.

Anyway, to my point. I’ve been in the Czech Republic since 2001. Over that time I’ve used numerous internet providers (cable, ADSL, Wi-Fi), but the one that’s always my first choice if it’s available (a few years ago we even paid to have a building wired up) is UPC‘s cable internet service.

Every year since I moved here their offerings have got faster, when their infrastructure could take it, or cheaper. They’ve driven a stake through the ADSL internet provision business of Telefonica O2 (previously Czech Telecom) by always beating them on price AND quality of service. They were the first ISP here to get rid of FUP limits. They don’t have blanket coverage of the city yet but where they offer service, you’d be crazy to go with anyone else.

UPC don’t do Twitter, getting support from them involves calling in, or filling in an online form, though as it’s impossible to outsource a Czech-language call centre any further abroad than Slovakia, UPC handle support internally. If you have a problem that they identify as a physical fault they have an engineer out the next working day. If you want an install, lead time in my experience has been 2-3 days. When I moved apartment a couple of months back we had internet the day after we moved in.

Business customers (the people paying a fair sum for 100Mb upstream/10Mb downstream connections) get priority support but there’s no way to queue-jump just by using a different support channel – everybody gets the same efficient service.

If UPC asked me what they could improve, I’d be at a loss for an answer.

If your service is awesome you don’t need to apply a band-aid.

Image credit: Stavros G. via Creative Commons on Flickr

Holding On – The right and wrong way in customer retention

apple pieCustomer retention seems to get little thought in some companies. The fact that retention tactics only kick in when you tell them you want to terminate your contract is a significant part of the problem. Customer acquisition is an expensive business but it seems that some marketers are obsessed with it, accepting churn as a fact of life, with holding on to existing customers given only cursory attention.

Keeping customers is too important to be left to a salesperson calling the customer after they leave, you should be aiming to be so good for your customers that they never even think about leaving. Good marketers do this by making sure that all parts of the customer experience are faultless. ‘It’s not my department’ marketers on the other hand constantly have to come up with ways to retain customers that are disappointed by the service delivery.

A personal example

My dad recently decided to switch gyms. He even took the time to tell the Fitness First retention agent that called him the reasons why he was leaving.

A few days ago he received this text message:

As a thank you for being a member we would like to give you Aug for FREE.
Limited spaces – 1st come 1st served!
Contact 0208743 4444 to redeem

“OK,” he thought, “a month for free, as a thank you, that’s a nice gesture, maybe they’re trying to win me back, plus I can go to the gym with my sister for another month.”

So he called them up and said “I’d like to take you up on the August for free offer you just texted me.” Only to be told that the August for free offer was contingent on signing up for a whole year. Even as a retention offer, 8.33% extra free is pretty weak but what really irked him was the fact that they’d sent him something phrased as a ‘thank you for your past custom’ that was contingent on future custom. So he called their head office and asked them whether they knew the difference between a thank you and an offer on a future purchase. They conceded that the message could be worded better. Whether they change their approach or not is doubtful at best.

Maybe the bright spark that came up with the offer thought it sounded compelling. Maybe they thought that the best way to entice lapsed members back is by offering them 8.33% off their next year’s membership fee. Maybe they didn’t really consider what it would feel like to receive this text.

Reframe so you can think like a customer

Here’s a trick for when you’re working out an offer, whether it’s a retention offer or an acquisition offer: reframe it into a different industry. I like to use hotels or restaurants to do this – everyone knows how they work and know what it’s like to be a customer, so it’s easy to explain and get others’ opinions on. The idea is to transplant your situation to an industry that you are a customer of. This works for pretty much any kind of marketing you do – ‘think like your customer’ is rather obvious but it’s amazing how many marketers have forgotten how to do that.

Reframing applied

Take the gym example above, reframed to a restaurant. A couple is dining at a restaurant, they decide not to have dessert and to just have coffee. The restaurant would like them to return some time and by foregoing dessert they’ve indicated that they’ll be finishing soon and asking for the bill. So when the bill is given to them, along with it is a coupon that says ‘We appreciate for your custom, as a thank you have a free dessert with your next meal’.

Is a free dessert, that the customer has to remember to bring a coupon for, on a future visit sufficient to convince them to return? Possibly, possibly not.

Ask yourself: would that work on me? If the answer is no, clearly you need to rethink your retention tactics. Think about how the restaurant could do it better and you have your answer.

What if instead of making that offer contingent on future payment, the waiter, when he takes the coffee-only order, says “how about some apple pie (offer whatever the kitchen has plenty of) with that, on us?”. Most people can make room for a free dessert. The customer is rewarded right there and then, they have an experience worth talking about – an act of unprompted generosity, and they’re more likely to return as well. Total cost – less than with printing a coupon, with more efficacy.

So how could the gym have handled it differently? Point 1, if it’s a thank you then it’s a gift, free as in beer. Point 2, don’t make people call up to claim a limited offer, tell the customer their membership has already been extended for them – if they don’t turn up it doesn’t cost you a thing, if they do, the marginal cost is negligible. Is this going to convince someone to renew at the end of the month instead of lapse? Who knows, but you stand a much better chance at winning someone back by giving them something instead of dangling a carrot.

What kind of marketer are you?

The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of marketer are you? Stuck in the 80s, with cut-out coupons, conditional offers and small print? Or evolved, aware that customers have more choice and power than ever before, aware that your job is to make your customer like you by treating them well, not beguiling them into signing something.

Image credit: code_martial

Because special doesn’t have to be perfect

I just found out about this happening at U2’s concert in Berlin a week ago (18th July).
Three young guys from the Czech Republic were at the concert, holding up signs with “Me + Guitar = Angel of Harlem”, “Me + Drums = Angel of Harlem” and “Me + Bass = Angel of Harlem”.
They’re no ordinary fans – they play in a U2 tribute band in Prague and they were trying to get the band’s attention – they dreamed of playing on stage with them and having Bono on vocals. Sure enough Bono noticed them and invited them up on stage to play Angel of Harlem. The other members of U2 chatting with their stand-ins and dancing to their music.
Was it the best live version of Angel of Harlem ever? Probably not, but it was a wish fulfilment for three young men and in getting them up on stage it made that night memorable not just for them but also for the whole crowd – sure they were there to watch the real U2 but for one song, it could have been any one from the audience up there with them, and that’s what’s special.

I just found out about this happening at U2’s concert in Berlin a week ago (18th July).

Three young guys from the Czech Republic were at the concert, holding up signs with “Me + Guitar = Angel of Harlem”, “Me + Drums = Angel of Harlem” and “Me + Bass = Angel of Harlem”.

They’re no ordinary fans – they play in a U2 tribute band in Prague and they were trying to get the band’s attention – they dreamed of playing on stage with them and having Bono on vocals. Sure enough Bono noticed them and invited them up on stage to play Angel of Harlem. The other members of U2 chatting with their stand-ins and dancing to their music.

Was it the best live version of Angel of Harlem ever? Probably not, but it was a wish fulfilment for three young men and in getting them up on stage U2 made that night memorable not just for them but also for the whole crowd – sure they were there to watch the real U2 but for one song, it could have been any one from the audience up there with them, and that’s what’s makes it special.

How to Get More Reviews

starsWe all know that reviews written by real people help to flesh out the details of a business. So why is it that hardly anyone writes reviews?

Several of my friends love to talk about their favourite places to eat, or shop but very few of them write reviews of anywhere they go. We talked about the reasons why this was the case. For some it was time – they just didn’t think it was worth their while to spend the time writing it. For others it was that they weren’t sufficiently moved either positively or negatively to bother. Always keen to solve the insoluble I’ve put together this list of how to get more reviews.

0) Be remarkable
In case you were wondering why I’ve numbered this point zero, this is because being worthy of comment is the ground zero of getting reviews. Ever wonder why Seth Godin just won’t stop banging on about being remarkable? That’s because it’s important! If the average response you illicit is ‘meh’ and would have most people ticking the ‘just average’ box on a comment form, you’ve got serious problems. Take care of this first. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, if you can’t find something to give people to talk about, ask your customers what would blow them away and find a way to do that. If you’re still stuck, and wish you weren’t, maybe change your line of work.

1) Just Ask
Granted some people just won’t write reviews but in a lot of cases all it takes is asking someone if they wouldn’t mind spending a few minutes, next time you get a compliment on your product/service, to share that sentiment with others. (The same goes for referrals by the way). Afraid of coming across as needy or narcissistic by asking straight out? If you really want to avoid that, soft-pedal with the suggestions below.

2) Provide links to/excerpts of existing reviews
And not just the great ones – people aren’t stupid, they can find the average and even the bad reviews. Some people just don’t appreciate what you do, so learn from it and show that you’ve learned from it. If the site/medium the review is in lets you reply and you think you can make things right by stating your side, do so. If your side is indefensible, apologise. Whatever you do, do not use the phrase ‘it is against our policy’. Customers and potential customers don’t want to hear you spouting stuff that could have come from a software license agreement. They want to know that you’re human.

3) Link to the places people can submit reviews
Not just from your site either, though if you don’t have any reviews up on the site, linking to review sites is a good start to getting some. If you have a physical location show signs and logos to the same end. When customers leave give them their receipt wrapped in a short note from the owner or manager, with details of where they can write reviews.

4) Make it easy for people to write reviews by providing them the means to do so at your location. Anything from comment cards to providing free wi-fi. If you want to spread good word of mouth, there’s nothing so effective as handing people a megaphone.

Photo credit Stefanvds

Get outside your comfort zone

 

2793349195_24fccd46caWe’re all guilty of sticking to what we know; whether it’s in our choice of where to eat, or which brand of breakfast cereal we buy, and the way jobs and careers go we often find ourselves ploughing a very similar furrow. I’m all for specialisation – that’s how you get to be the best in your field. A deep network of contacts and domain knowledge are excellent reasons to hire someone.

But what if you were to get outside of your chosen vertical for a while? Whether that’s giving some marketing advice to a friend or family member, helping out at a non-profit or a small local business that you use. Doing this gives you the opportunity to test out your marketing abilities in a completely different direction.

In our day-job we (should) know the customer inside out. Things are a little different when you’re presented with the challenge of marketing to a customer base you don’t know so well — even if you’re one of them. It’s then that you can strip away the accumulated domain knowledge and get back to applying basic principles, testing your assumptions and truly stretching yourself. You might be the world’s best marketer of widgets but that’s almost irrelevant when you’re marketing a gourmet deli. It’s time to apply what you’ve learnt to a completely different niche and see just how universal your skill-set is.

Whilst I’m in transition between jobs I’m using some of the time to reach out to small businesses which can’t afford big-shot marketing consultants and don’t have all the skills in-house required to shift their marketing up a gear. Both of the business owners I’m working with have agreed to me posting details of my work for them here and I look forward to chronicling the development of their marketing and (hopefully) the lift this gives their businesses.

 

Photo credit: jhaskell

Helping out your competition

busy restaurantSparked by a comment on twitter recently by Justin Levy, co-owner of a restaurant and social media proponent.

I own a restaurant and we’re doing great due to SM. But I see a lot of restaurants closing which sucks to see happen

he was replying to this question by Dave Ferrick:

Last few local restaurants I visited in the past 3 months said they’re closing down despite excellent service. SM Gurus where are you?!

The sad truth of a weak economy is that discretionary spending is one of the first things to get cut – we go out a little less and we spend less when we do. Restaurants are one of the first businesses to feel the pinch, certainly the more up-scale and generally ‘better’ ones. Conversely, McDonald’s and KFC are doing bumper business.

If you’re a restauranteur and you’re weathering the storm ok, consider who else you could help. Let’s face it, people won’t eat out at your place every time they eat out. You probably eat at other restaurants yourself, to check out the other guys, or maybe just for a change. If you’re a tex-mex joint, why not work with your favourite local sushi place? It’s possible for restaurants to succeed by working together – you’re not competing in the traditional sense that McDonald’s and Wendy’s and Burger King do. If most of the restaurants in your neighbourhood go out of business that’s not going to help you in the end – people will go to other neighbourhoods to eat because there’s not enough choice where you are.

Where I live there’s a loose chain of restaurants under the Ambiente banner. They have their own identities, unified by a core brand. Why is it a loose chain? Check out their site – there’s no more than two restaurants of any single concept – Brazilian, Cafe Savoy, Pasta Fresca, Pasta Caffe and Living Restaurant (think TGI Fridays’ menu but with more class). Each restaurant is a franchise, odd – when you consider what they’re really franchising is an umbrella brand rather than an operating manual driven system like McDonald’s. But it’s more than that – there’s co-marketing/cross pollination going on, on a variety of levels: gift certificates valid in all the restaurants, postcards for the other restaurants in the reception areas, city centre maps showing all the locations, advertising for the other restaurants in the rest rooms. They also have supply-side deals that bring them cost savings and consistency.

Granted, Ambiente is an integrated franchise operation but it’s clear to see that together these restaurants combine to create something much bigger than each could achieve on their own.

How far you go in co-operating with your fellow restauranteur is up to you – whether you teach them how to use social media to reach out to their patrons in the same way you are, share some of your marketing ‘special sauce’, do some co-promotions, run tasting stands at local events together, or just work with them on a basic reciprocal level of ‘when you hand the customer their check, also give them a coupon to come try my restaurant’.

If you’re doing any of this, or any of this applies to you and is helpful, let me know. If you’re interested in exploring the possibilities presented here and would like to talk through how you could make them work for your business, get in touch with me via twitter or by email – my inbox is always open.

Photo credit: Punch Pizza

Fish where the fish are

Or “grill where the people are having beer”

beer gardenOne of the many things I love about Prague is that there are many places, just out of plain sight, that tourists hardly ever notice – little oases for real Czechs to drink Czech beer and eat grilled meat (and vegetables too at the better places, like this one).

Here’s a map of where I had dinner recently.

[mappress]

So, Location, Location, Location eh?

Well kinda – what’s great about the location of this beer garden? Well it’s inside a ‘national monument’, site of a former castle, on the battlements of Vyšehrad. It’s hardly ‘picturesque in and of itself. There are great views, just over the hedges. Hardly anyone goes to look at the view though.

It’s not exactly easy to get to, approximately a 10 minute walk from the nearest metro station. What’s great about this place isn’t specifically the location, it’s the atmosphere – people sitting and chatting, people cycle to here, bring their dogs. There’s nothing better on a warm evening than a cold beer (24kc/less than £1, less than $1.50/€1.50) from the quick service hatch and some čevapi and grilled eggplant and zucchini from the Croatian-run grill.

queueingWhat makes this beer garden better than any of the many others in Prague? It’s the food; better than standard Czech grilled fare (usually un-spiced lumps of pork or chicken, most often questionable wurst). These guys really care about the food they serve. It’s always beautifully cooked and seasoned and it’s reasonably priced.

How did they get this busy? By making it really easy to do business with them? By spending loads of money advertising? No and no. The ordering process is a black art – for most items you have to go to the counter, place your order, often without the benefit of a menu or pricelist, based on what you see and what you see other people eating. They then give you an approximate lead time. You go back when the 20 minutes is up, queue up again and get your food. Hardly slick. They’ve also never advertised, word of mouth works so much better, why bother.

So now there’s a symbiotic relationship between the little pub and the grill (which are run independently). If the grill’s not open, business at the bar is slow. There’s a ‘whole product’ experience that lots of people love and come back for regularly, often bringing friends who’ve not been before, expanding the tribe.

What’s the marketing takeaway from all this? Is it ‘build it and they will come’? Or is it, as Twitter’s Ev said recently ‘do something awesome’? Maybe it’s just that sometimes, marketers need to just stay the hell away and let people do their thing.