ideas that have stood the test of time

In a past life, I had a little agency called M19 MEDIA. It technically still exists—I'm still paying to host the site after 20 years, so that's something, right? When I wasn't helping clients, I produced a WordPress blog about marketing, design, UX, and whatever else I could think of. These are a few of the articles that I still think resonate today. Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did writing them.

brand culture: creating a community around your small business (2012)

Years ago, when the Web was relatively young, I remember business owners asking me to build them a website with the rationale that “they just needed one.” There was no more discussion than that. Me, being young and hungry, built them a site that, for the time and my skill level, looked great. But then they sat and luckily, only a few of those sites from that time still exist.

One of the main reasons that I am glad that they aren’t around anymore is that no one, including me, connected with this project ever asked the question: What do you want this site to do for you? Of course now I ask the question as a matter of routine. What I am noticing now that time has passed, business owners are doing the same thing with social media. ”We need a social media presence” and that’s the end of the sentence, and I suspect, the end of the thought process. That’s unfortunate, because with social media, you’re playing with fire.

So how does a company build a community around their brand? There are a few steps, and not all of them are simple.

Define your brand as a persona: What does your brand like? Dislike? Stand for? Stand against? What is the ethos of your brand? What is your brand promise? Your brand story? And what kind of car would it drive? Some of these questions sound silly, but you’ll need to look at your brand as an individual actor amongst a group of actors in the social media ecosystem. Once you have defined your brand as a persona, then develop a list of keywords that have a connection to your brand. This is a good time to break out that mind-mapping app and gather people who know your brand and whose judgement you trust. The more diverse the group the better. Now that you have found your brand’s persona, who are the people who would gravitate towards the products and services that represent your brand at its best? What do THEY like? Dislike? Stand for?

Once you have identified that audience, then come up with the keywords that connect to that audience. See how those keywords mesh. When you combine those lists, you may come up with new keywords. Make that your master list. Now, if you haven’t already, set up your social media touchpoints; Facebook and Twitter at a minimum. Once those are set up, make sure that all of your other touch points mention your social media presence. Current customers can be a great way to build your fan base.

Okay. So everything is set up to go after new fans.

Four steps:

Invite: Through your social media and other channels, invite your target audience to join your fan page or follow you on Twitter. You can find these people by searching the Twitterverse or Facebook using your previously developed keywords and see who comes up. Engage them honestly in your authentic brand voice and ask them to check you out. Some will, some won’t. The trick is to keep at it.

Incentivize: Integral to the invite process is to create an incentive for them to like your brand or follow you. This incentive needs to align with the values of your brand and the values of your audience. If your brand is aligned against an environmentally-conscious group, perhaps a $1.00 contribution to reduce their carbon footprint for every like might get them to sign up.

Impress: Show your audience how authentic your brand is and gain credibility with this group and their trust. Give examples of when you’re putting your money where your mouth is, or show real world examples of how your product is helping people just like them.

Interact: Here is where many businesses drop the ball. Once you have initiated a conversation with your audience, you must continue to communicate with them and respond to them as if you are in a real conversation (because you are). You must also remember that your brand is just one of the people speaking in this many-to-many communications model. Of those that actually try your product or service, make sure that they are blown away. If you do create an impression on (and hopefully delight) a customer, invite them (again) to make their thoughts known on your social media page, regardless of their experience. They will feel heard.

Through this process, you will create brand advocates who will make the job of getting new sign-ups easier. Remember those keywords? When you make a post, any post, make sure that at least one of those keywords are included in every post or tweet. Make good use of the hashtag (#) in Twitter AND Facebook. This will make it easier for others to find you. Over time, your brand will become associated with those keywords and in the minds of your new, growing, vibrant fan base.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you may have on the subject and any details about your experience creating/maintaining your social media strategy.

Facebook microtargeting (2012)

One of the goals of marketers is to create a message that the viewer believes is meant solely for him/her. Considerable time, money, and effort is spent developing the right message for the right audience. The smaller the audience, the more specific and compelling the marketing message can be. The practice of delivering messages to very small audiences is called microtargeting. 

As a marketer who serves small businesses, I rely on Facebook’s ability to make microtargeting easier. I am currently working on a second round of Facebook ads for my client, author Cal Smith. With some research, we were able to microtarget based on similar authors. Originally, we lumped all of those people together and delivered a fairly generic message.

The ads performed fairly well, around .028% CTR. But the cost per click began to rise steadily and conversions were very low. So once that campaign ran its course, we looked at new ways to reach that market. We broke the larger group into smaller groups, groups that centered on one author, not all of them.

We selected the three authors who are most similar in style to Cal and created targeted messages that let the reader know why they were seeing that message. So far, the ads are performing splendidly. CPC is extremely low and the CTR is close to .16%!

I’m sure that it will level off, but so far, Cal and I are pleased. 

Check back for updates!

courtin’ and marryin’: thoughts on customer relationship management strategy (2011)

So as I am developing email marketing templates for a client, I thought it would be a good time to drop a post about customer relationship management or CRM. Many big brands pay very close attention to their relationships and are always looking for ways to strengthen them. I have found that many small businesses simply don’t think in those terms.

I ask a prospective client about his/her goals, and they invariably say something along the lines of “increase sales” or “get more customers”, but many small businesses don’t have a clue about how to keep the customers that they have or improve the relationship that they have with them in order to make them more than one shot deals, or, better yet, get valuable referrals from them.It’s a known fact that it’s cheaper to keep a customer than it is to get a new one, a fact that is lost on many small business owners.

The Customer Relationship Life Cycle
Essentially, the Customer Relationship Life Cycle works like this; every customer goes through these stages of engagement with your brand:
Engagement or Exploration

Each of those stages is an event and requires event marketing. This is not to be confused with a Back To School sale or a newspaper ad for Mother’s Day. This is about the events on the Customer Life Cycle.

The basic idea is to keep your customers in the Engagement/Commitment phases as long as possible. It used to be a time where people became loyal to a brand because that brand was what they grew up with or was the only game in town. Not so any more. There is competition from all over the globe to provide the kinds of good and services that you do.

So you have to have a plan.
Here are some key concepts to remember:

Acknowledge Engagement
Small businesses need to have a strategy to deliver a message to each customer when they reach a certain engagement milestone on the Customer Life Cycle. What do you tell a person when they make their first purchase? Their tenth? Their fiftieth? Or if they haven’t made a purchase in a very long time?

Each of those events is an opportunity to deliver a customized message to that particular customer that a) acknowledges the event, b) thanks/rewards them for the behavior that led to that event and c) creates an incentive to continue said behavior. Keep doing this and that customer will advance onto the next stage of the Customer Life Cycle.

Create Customer Evangelists
So when you have rewarded a customer to the point that they are in the Commitment stage of the Customer Life Cycle, something wonderful happens. They start telling their social network (friend, family, coworkers, Facebook, Twitter) about the wonderful relationship that they have with your brand. Think I’m kidding? Stand in a group of men and tell them that you are looking for a mechanic. You know the response that you’ll get. Each of them will tell you that “their guy” split the atom. Now you have a “sales force” working for you, bringing you even more business.

Develop a Multi-Channel CRM Strategy
Sit with your creative/marketing people (insert shameless pitch for M19 MEDIA here) and devise a plan to communicate with your customer base on a regular basis. Email is the cheapest way to do so, but don’t forget the other channels, like direct response mail. If you have a storefront, you can use postcards to bring them in. Likewise with lo-so media, like Foursquare.

Create incentives for repeated check-ins or purchases. Or, if your base is small enough, call them! Whatever you do, communicate your gratitude and you’ll keep those customers for life.

The mee goreng principle (2010)

A lot has been said about User Experience and how critical it is to the success of any website. I couldn’t agree more. Here is an example of what I mean: I’m in an Asian restaurant for the first time today. I’ve been past it, looked at the menu in the window, but never went in. At the door, I inform the hostess/owner that I only have 30 minutes to eat. She tells me that I have plenty of time.

Looking over the menu, I notice a Singapore Mee Goreng. The Indian version at Rasa Sayang is one of my all-time favorites. Same ingredients? Yes. I go for it. What I got was not at all what I expected. It looked different from what I really wanted, but it was vaguely recognizable, so I muddled through. I was in and out in 20 minutes. Great. 

What does that teach us about user experience? Simply put, user experience is the interaction between the user’s expectations and the business objectives within a particular medium. So let’s break it down: I came in wanting to be served quickly. I communicated that clearly and the restaurant responded to my needs. They know that about me.

You can also know that about visitors to your site. What kind of people are they? Why are they there? How can you as a business satisfy that demand and meet or exceed those expectations? The next point is the dish itself. Before you launch into me, I know full well that the restaurant had no way of knowing that I was actually looking for a dish from another eatery. And I also know that there are a brillion ways to make Mee Goreng. But what the restaurant could have done was to minimize the surprise by having a picture of the dish on the menu.

Some of the more fast-foody Asian establishments do exactly that. It’s the same for your users. How can you minimize surprises and make sure that the user is aware what’s coming next? The use of good, simple navigation, grouping your information in logical, germane categories and creating a user interface that prepares the user for the next step of the interactive process are good ways to achieve this goal. So, I’ll be back at Hunan Asian Cuisine for sure. Will I order the Singapore Mee Goreng?

Probably not.