Fundamentals – Revisited

As Ferris Bueller said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

You can also get so involved in the now, that fundamentals can sometimes become blurred in the day to day.

So on Friday afternoon I though it a good time to just reiterate a few essentials when working in this fast moving world…

1. Listen

Before you can take a step forward, take some time to listen to what people are saying about you, your brand, your products, your competitors etc etc. If you want to know how to listen, we should talk!

In fact the best way to visualise what good listening means is to consider the following scenario:

You, or rather your brand, has just arrived a cocktail party. You’re welcomed by enthusiastic guests who love your work! They can’t help but rush to tell you how much they adore you (there’s a lot of company Facebook pages like this!). The odd guest might have a slight niggle about something, but you can deal with that. So you thank everyone and at a certain time you make your excuses and leave (there are a lot of company Twitter pages like this!!)

In fact doesn’t this sound a lot like customer review tools? Feefo and the like?

But what you didn’t notice were the other guests at the party who spotted you across the crowded room. And of course these guests had their opinions too. They did what we all do, they talked about you behind your back!

This is where the richest source of gossip is to be found!

So listen to the people talking about you, not just to you!

2. Social is something you are, not something you do

How many times do you hear marketing bods ask “Oh yes, we’re doing a lot on social media now”? Of course they probably mean, “we’re pushing out offers on Facebook”.

That’s just selling. The fact it’s on Facebook doesn’t make it social.

So quite simply, stop being a carpetbagger and be human. Be the customer and consider what they’d expect.

3. The opposite of love is indifference

Salmon P. Chase served under Abraham Lincoln but always harboured ambitions for the Presidency himself. However, whereas Lincoln was a master at cultivating relationships with apparent enemies, Chase lacked the charm or natural inclination to relate easily to people. As a consequence he lacked the support of those closest to him, even in his own state of Ohio. After failing to secure enough support to run for the presidency, Chase lamented, “I think the hardest kind of death to die is that occasioned by indecisive, or lukewarm friends”.

And so it is with customers. Those who simply leave you without a complaint or a rant In fact those who do rant are manna from heaven! You can always over deliver in compensating these people. Far more dangerous to the health of your business are those who just stop buying and disappear.

By focusing on nurturing relationships with customers, your best ones, you can help to make the hole in your bucket of customers smaller. Not just by throwing more and more discounts at them, but by talking to them about things that matter to them.

And how do you find out what matters to them?

You could always start listening….

Can Google Ever Eclipse Facebook

I was watching a pretty amateurish item on the early morning BBC news programme yesterday about Google + and it’s attempt to use video chat a way to eclipse Facebook.

Of course, as in a great game of poker, Facebook saw Google + and raised the stakes with Skype.

So armed with the first, best and most well loved social network in the world and now the number one video chat tool in the world, Facebook and Microsoft would seem to have Google’s number.

And quite honestly I see no way past it for Google. I mean when we say Facebook we are talking about a way of life for many people. The first thing we check in the morning, last thing at night etc. has an emotional grip on us like nothing else and I don’t think Google can possibly loosen FB’s fingers from around our throats.

Surely, they are better off focusing on what they do better than anyone – search.

Google Panda is a wonderful step in thy direction. Making SEO a qualitative discipline as opposed to the boring scientific proceed it had become.

Stick to what you know.


Vodafone Call Off The Dogs – But Still Gets Bitten

In a move that may have passed many by last week, Vodafone Essar (the giant telecom’s Indian arm) withdrew a legal notice against a customer who had criticised Vodafone’s services on Facebook.

Vodafone had claimed that the customer had made false and defamatory statements about them on social media sites and were seeking to protect their reputation.

However, in a significant move, they decide to withdraw the notice claiming that “Vodafone Essar states that the legal notice served to the customer has been withdrawn in good faith. Vodafone Essar would also like to take this opportunity to inform that as a customer obsessed organisation, we have always welcomed critical feedback and suggestions from both direct and social media customers as it helps us to constantly improve ourselves to serve their discerning needs,” a spokesperson said.

But this wasn’t enough to persuade the customer who said “So finally, Vodafone relents. After two long meetings and several calls and SMS and emails with over two weeks one of their very senior management person sent me a mail today early morning stating that they have in “good faith” decided to withdraw the legal notice.

However, they cannot concede to paying damages/compensation. I have informed them that I retain my right for a legal recourse.”

Whether he does or not is another issue. but again this is surely an example of a global brand struggling to face up to the new world of consumer power. Unless his comments were indeed libelous, surely Vodafone could have handled this better – on a human scale.

Again a reputation suffers as a result of clumsy mismanagement of a sitaution that is surely to become more and more familiar in the future.

The lesson – be human, be fast, be outstanding.

Business Stripped Bare – How to Recruit and Retain Customers in a Tough Economy

With interest rates at record lows, inflation at twice the Government’s target, unemployment still ‘unacceptably high’ and with economic growth barely managing to register anything more than the promise of a recovery, we all know just how tough a tough economy can be. And it’s not going to change anytime soon.

What’s fascinating in all of this is just how impotent the state has become. As a leading commentator in the US said recently about the American landscape, “the economy really is on its own now”.

Well to me this feels as though we are in a cathartic realignment of things. People are having to accept that fundamentally, they are also on their own. The level of debt and size of the deficit means that benefits are being cut along with every other area of government spending and so an almost Darwinian state of affairs has arisen.

Survival of the fittest and natural selection sounds like a terrible way to describe the way that civilised society should operate, but in the world of business, that’s what’s always happened, and now people in society are feeling the same pressures. No longer will the state be able to fund income support, pensions or maybe even provide a free NHS, for an indefinite period. Priorities have changed.

The Obama administration’s stimulus packages of 2009 and 2010 – paid for by huge levels of borrowing – have run out and many publicly funded programs now lie unfinished and the workers they briefly employed, have returned to the unemployment lines. The truism that government can’t create real jobs is now clear.

With nowhere for governments in the UK and US having anywhere to turn, economics has been stripped bare and now we see it for what it always was. A balance between incentives and disincentives.

In his great work, Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt analysed human behaviour in a number of situations – from drug dealers, sumo wrestlers and day care centers – and observed that it is incentives, or the lack of, that truly effect power from one body over another.

For example, it wasn’t the levying of a small fine on parents that dissuaded them from being late every day to collect their children at the day care that changed their behaviour (that was just viewed as cheap babysitting!) – it was publishing their names and addresses on the front door. Naming and shaming.

Now businesses can only grow in three ways:

1. Increase the number of customers
2. Increase the average transaction value
3. Increase the number of transactions per year
For each of these, incentives are the key. But crucially I’m not talking merely about simply discounting, or BOGOF offers.

I’m also not talking about naming and shaming!

The Fajita Effect

The incentives businesses need to consider revolve around what Chris Brogan has called the ‘fajita effect’. You know how it is in a restaurant when someone at the table next to you has a sizzling hot plate brought to them and everyone turns to watch the theatre unfold? Immediately everyone thinks, “I’ve got to have that!”

So how can you create this effect amongst your customers? How can you incentivise customers to spend more and recruit new customers?

Well in the same way the sound of the sizzle and the aroma of the dish appeal to very basic human emotions in the restaurant, by demonstrating your brands awareness of your customers, by not just seeing a number, but by being human yourself, by recognising customers needs, concerns and genuine preferences, you can create a powerful incentive for them to interact and engage with you.

The greatest incentive you can offer your customers and prospective customers is one that’s based on a very real human need. That of being recognised and seen. By demonstrating that you respond to people on a one to one basis, that you don’t switch off your customer service channels, or your social media channels at 5pm and say, “call us in the morning – goodnight”, you can powerfully demonstrate that by listening and engaging directly with individuals, others will hear about your levels of care – in the same way they currently hear about your lack of care – and you’ll be seen as a generous brand forever, not a mean one who offers 15% of for a limited time only.

Strip down to essentials and be human.

Square Up!

I absolutely love this!

Square is a new device from the guys behind Twitter, currently only available in the US. It’s a small piece of hardware – a credit card reader – that plugs into the headphone jack of your iPhone or Android and an app. Both the card reader and app are free and what’s great is that users don’t need a merchant account.

So, both businesses and individuals can take credit card payments sent directly to their bank accounts.

The cashless society and paperless society are coming very soon!


Alterian release SM2 5.0

Today marked the release of SM2 5.0 by Alterian. Ever the pioneers in social media listening technology, 5.0 takes SM2 to a new level.

My early impressions are that Alterian have sought to introduce a greater focus on the practical side of managing the listening function within your business. By focusing on assignment, prioritisation and response, brands now have little excuse to begin the engagement process. I think 5.0 is a major step towards the normalisation of this functionality within businesses today.

Of course the danger here is that the process becomes SO normal, that some try to automate the whole thing. I heard on a radio show the other day that Kodak have a Chief Listening Officer. This is all good, but again it has to be stressed that the lesson in all of this is that customers are now demanding a response from businesses on a human level. A very real and genuine response to their comments, complaints or compliments.

5.0 certainly appears to be a step towards the day when technology gets out of the way and information is served to those who carry the responsibility to make sure their brands are truly customer centric.

Are you ready to start listening and engaging right now?

Our Nation of Shopkeepers Need to Be More Sociable

I had the pleasure of speaking at Internet World in London last week and my final point to audience was the headline from a recent blogpost of mine – social is something you are not something you do.

It was thrilling to then be mentioned on Twitter as having delivered the quote of the day! It’s something I picked up in the US last year and I now use it as something of a mantra in client meetings, in proposals and interviews.

And then I read this week that the UK Government are to appoint Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas to save Britain’s High Streets, through a series of ‘engagement’ events with customers.

The decline of the high street in the UK is quite shocking – it’s not just the UK by the way, but it has failed to deliver just what people want. In an age when books and music can be downloaded and shared and when generations young and old are more than comfortable buying online, the question is surely – “what is the high street for?”

In hard times, those offering huge discounts are clearly satisfying one need – that of saving money. But this isn’t a sustainable model. The prospect of deserted, once thriving commercial centres is very real.

But I’m optimistic about the future. I don’t agree with Ed Miliband’s view that legislation should be introduced to prevent large retailers moving in to homogenise the high street. That’s crazy!

What’s not crazy is to look at what it is that has always been valued by people – an exciting, engaging, friendly but overall human experience.

At Internet World I spoke of the retailers of our grandparents generation who knew their customers so well. That the butcher would save a prime cut for Mrs Miggins because he knew she had family staying – because he’d actually spoken to her about things other than meat!

These are things people have always valued and I would argue value more and more now in these harder times.

Add social media to the natural conversations that shopkeepers should be having with their customers and this approach becomes scalable. Learn about your customers lives beyond their relationship to you. They can be quite interesting people you know!

What is it that gets you onto the high street and off the laptop?

Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

I’m closely following the fortunes of my beloved Chicago Bulls in the NBA playoffs right now. They had the best overall record in the regular season and lost just two of the last twenty three regular season games.

So then to the play offs. In round one, in the best of seven series, they won 4-1. As I write they are leading Atlanta 3-2, with a road trip up next. Basically play off basketball is a different game. They’re finding the play offs tough. They’re not like the regular season at all – they sort out the greats from the regular players!

It gets tough in there! Elbows, arms, heads all clash and guys get hurt.

“You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable’, as coach Tom Thibodeau said last night.

And as I heard him say this, I realised that this is just how brands need to think about facing up to social media.

The social web is a difficult place to be for brands. It’s inconvenient, transparent, random, seemingly out of control. It’s uncomfortable.

But you can’t not show up in the play offs and brands can’t choose not to play on the social web – it’s not their decision. Customers have made that one for them.

So how do you get comfortable? It’s not easy. Remember, winning on the social web doesn’t mean organisational change – it means changing the organisation. It means remaining focused, more than ever on listening to your customers – the right ones, engaging with them, being smart, being human.

Humanising your business mans play off time for many businesses, because the rewards are huge.

Who are the brands that can win in the play offs and go on to win the Championship?

Why Social is Something you ARE, not Something you DO

Converse, the leisure / fashion footwear brand currently has just under 16 million fans on Facebook. Its parent company and global behemoth, Nike, has just over 4 million.

I don’t have the turnover figures for the two brands to hand, nor do I know what their marketing budgets are, but I’ll bet my mortgage on the fact that the disparity between the two is reversed – and then some.

So, why does one win on Facebook and the other, relatively speaking seem to be struggling to attract the numbers that its market share would suggest it should have? Well, closer inspection shows the proliferation of the Nike pages – football, basketball etc., but the prime business for both brands is to sell shoes that are worn for leisure and recreation.

But by looking at both pages, you can quickly see that social media is looked upon by the Converse team as more than simply a channel to talk about themselves. Nike, seem to talk about Nike rather a lot.

I’ve maintained many times that social media is like a cocktail party. Guests arrive and talk and listen and engage naturally on a very human level. Spot the person who simply talks about themself and they’ll be the one with no friends at the end of the evening.

That’s why Converse’s plan to hold auditions in cities around the US for up and coming bands, demonstrates a crucial and yet so seemingly obvious point; that the people who love Converse, have more going on in their lives than wearing shoes. They are into music, fashion, movies etc etc and Converse engage with people on this level.

For British brands, particularly with that slightly stiff approach to communicating with customers, this change in the way people roll is a challenge. An inconvenient, awkward challenge that takes them out of their comfort zone. You can’t go to the cocktail party and then start dancing like a Dad at a wedding because you think it’s cool!

But you can listen to what your core customers are talking about on social media and do something with them in the same space.

I’m talking about humanising your business. Relating naturally to customers and not necessarily just on the familiar territory that you’ve occupied before – catalogue, page advertising etc, but on their patch – their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

In fact the marketing textbook term, ‘brand awareness’ reveals the current problem for some – but think about it the other way around. People want to know that brands are more than simply being ‘aware’ of them. They want brands to ‘see them’, ‘hear them’ and ‘talk to them’.

How can you socialise your brand? You could talk to us! The prizes for getting it right are magnificent.

[first posted on]