Tag Archives: brand

The CEO in 2016: Five things you can do for your brand

Agility and customer centricity are primary themes today. Mapping the customer journey. Launching products and features quickly to adjust them — or pivot — just as quickly. All kinds of new technologies for analyzing reach.

Yet companies must still satisfy the classic marketing requirements of producing good stories and inspiring the loyal purchase.

CEOs, pressed for time and focus, often relegate marketing to a lower level of attention. It’s a habit left over from the days of slower message cycles, broadcasting and a lot of assumption about buyer values. Plus CEOs have to think about everything by the quarter. So with an at-best preoccupied and at-worst absent chief ambassador, the marketing investment — even when powered by the most powerful tools and visionary messages — suffers from not reaching its full potential. Because the CEO is the leader for a reason. She provides the direction and the inspiration. He keeps every stakeholder front-and-center.

The purpose of a business
Peter Drucker on the purpose of a business

Here are five ideas for CEOs who want to manage distraction and be on the ground while breaking new ground for their brands in 2016.

Demonstrate your devotion to the customer. If you must, think of it as taking a coffee break from the typical responsibilities of running a company. Not only does this pull you into the marketing effort, it sets a company standard for looking outward.
Quarterly: Call a customer. Or better yet, visit one.
Monthly: Share a customer story — good, bad, ugly — with your employees. Cover the key learning points the company should absorb and address.
Weekly: Ask a manager to communicate one key customer or competitor insight to the entire organization.
Daily: Pick one item from your daily non-company reading [you’re doing that, right?] to share with the company. Make it about the market, buying trends, innovation — anything that will align your brand with the marketplace and maybe equip people to amplify the brand’s values.

Test your own assumptions. About your people, your competitors and your customers.
Quarterly: Ask your marketing team to give you a short briefing on what is being said about your brand.
Monthly: Visit competitors’ websites and social media accounts to see if you want to add any insights to what your teams tell you about competitors’ products, services and customers.
Weekly: Check what industry influencers are saying about trends and shifts in your marketplace.
Daily: Ensure that what customer says — good, bad, ugly — gets addressed by marketing messages and literally turned into marketing copy.

Tell an elegant story. Uncomplicated, drama-free, yet compelling. Invite customers and influencers to align with you, not just to buy your products.
Quarterly: Write something to share with customers and employees — something that demonstrates your company’s connection with the marketplace. Use an editor.
Monthly: For employees, share an anecdote about an employee who has done something to exemplify the brand’s reach and impact on customers.
Weekly: Schedule five minutes to talk with an employee about what is working on the street — and what is not.
Daily: Look at your marketing outreach, particularly social media, to offer guidance and to make sure the team is on message.

Surround your brand with leaders who have talents you do not. Whether it’s your marketing team or an event you are sponsoring, spare no time or expense in bringing the fresh air of new perspectives to your company. At the same time, vet attitudes as well as capabilities. For example, make sure every speaker your team invites to your company events is someone you can respect. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but let’s say the team finds someone who is billed as an expert in diversity. And it turns out they attack people on Twitter. Your invitations to people like this — as advisors, speakers or employees — say volumes about the brand. And no amount of clever marketing will correct the mistake of people who wound your brand through a thousand little cuts.
Quarterly: Ask for an audit of the content and experts your team is using to burnish or represent your brand. The marketing team should be doing independent research, not just looking at the experts’ or agencies’ marketing material.
Monthly: Go to a professional event that’s featuring a speaker or a panel. Remember what you liked and pass it on to your marketing team.
Weekly: Keep and update a file of quotations or essays you like. Having this on hand when you’re approving an event agenda will help you ensure content relevant to your brand.
Daily: Check the editorial page of a publication you like.

Reward actors, not bystanders. One of the great consumer frustrations today is the inability of customer service reps to go off-script — to actually come up with a solution on one’s own to a customer’s problem. The advent of social media has had a positive effect on the robo-response tendency — but we have a long way to go. Rote answers to customers’ concerns are the province of the bystander employee. As Cate Huston wrote in this excellent essay on the problem with corporate bystanders who don’t nip sexism in the bud, “it starts with refusing to be a bystander by calling things out”. Same phenomenon at work in branding: all the beautiful design and expensive messaging in the world won’t compensate for front-line employees asked to divert customers from what bothers them.
Quarterly: Listen to or read how a customer rep handled a problem. See if it resonates with your brand strategy.
Monthly: Ask direct reports to give an example of a problem solved that improved on customer service practice.
Weekly: Ask for a memo on the top five customer comments on social media.
Daily: Show your internal teams that you are confident enough to go off-script, too.

Social media and business strategy: Integrating around a dynamic website

Part 3 of 3.  The KickApps
seminar I attended last month yielded a wealth of information, from
both advisors and corporate marketing people, about what to do with
social media if you're a company.  For the next three posts, I'm
sharing what I took away from the afternoon.  [To become a member of
KickApps own social network, click here.  You'll be able to watch the videos of the seminar presentations.]

These brief points are compiled from the excellent presentations made by Alex Blum of KickApps, Dylan Boyd of eROI, James Mastan of Blue Rain Marketing, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester, and Sandy Carter of IBM.

Integrate social media into every campaign

  • Always integrate — never segregate — social media, and always think of it as an element of your overall marketing effort.
  • Make listening to the user — consulting the user — a key activity during product development.  And do a lot of betas.
  • Identify the folks who seem to influence the rest of the community and converse with them.

Identify the elements appropriate for your marketing strategy

  • Figure out which tools are used by the majority of your stakeholders — users, customers, influencers.
  • Learn the language — the words — your customers use to talk about your product
  • View downloads as a metric; they are a measure of interest.
  • Add widgets and an RSS feed.
  • Put your own people on the website.
  • Choose metrics carefully.  Be particular about the metrics that tell you the most about what you
    want to know.  There's no one formula.  You have to play with this a
    bit.  Start by building a profile of the qualities and credentials that
    define a credible response from a customer or stakeholder.  In other
    words, for metrics, build a credibility engine that gathers the most
    important comments.

Identify the tactics appropriate for your marketing execution

  • Put tips and tricks in headlines around the site, including related sites such as blogs and networks.
  • If you have a boxed product, do an unboxing video — they're big right now.
  • When you create a community, start small.  Identify the alpha users
    — they will be the influencers over time.  Give existing members the
    ability to extend beta invitations.  Use pin-coded invitations and even
    handwritten notes. 
  • As the community grows, find community managers from within it.  
  • Pilot changes to your website in a contained environment — and
    remember that looking home grown is appropriate if not advantageous.
  • Avatars have five times the click through rate than regular ad-style features.
  • Twitter is food for announcements, Facebook is food for the persona.
  • When you're doing gift certificates, start small and ratchet up the value — it creates anticipation and demand.

The bottom line:  Understand the new basics of marketing as rendered by social media

No one is an expert — some of this is by instinct.

Be transparent about your features.  For example, if a character is a persona or fictional, say so; just make sure it has a unique voice.

Make sure your tone is pitch perfect for the stakeholders with whom you share ideas and information.

If you're a sales person from way back, just remember that this is a long sales cycle — but it's potentially just as rich.

Communicate personally to help each person in your community feels special.

lifestyle — understand intimately the people that are interested in
your brand, products and services and build a set of experiences around
their expectations and behavior.

to the voice of the user/stakeholder/customer and incorporate their
wishes in your strategy.  One way is to create an advisory council
whose conclusions will speak volumes to the company folks who don't
necessarily want to take the next step forward with building a more
social website or building social media into a marketing strategy.

Always keep people at the center of this equation — and make sure the technology you use serves them.

adding talent to your team, look at case studies of what they've done
in the past and consider them in the context of what you want to
accomplish.  The magic of social media comes not from the tools but
from what you do with them — how you tailor their use to your specific
situation.  This magic needs no slight-of-hand.

Social media and business strategy: The dynamic website

Part 2 of 3.  The KickApps
seminar I attended last month yielded a wealth of information, from
both advisors and corporate marketing people, about what to do with
social media if you're a company.  For the next three posts, I'm
sharing what I took away from the afternoon.  [To become a member of
KickApps own social network, click here.  You'll be able to watch the videos of the seminar presentations.]

These brief points are compiled from the excellent presentations made by Alex Blum of KickApps, Dylan Boyd of eROI, James Mastan of Blue Rain Marketing, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester, and Sandy Carter of IBM.

Make your website more open to viral discovery

  • Customize it — not just the design but its searchability and usability

  • Focus on content that is yours — differentiate

  • Enable syndication via widgets

Integrate your website planning into your overall marketing strategy

  • Use tools that enable you to graph your user data

  • Let your branding approach give your website its context

  • Make it easy for visitors to interact with you and your brand —
    build a community or better yet, give users the ability to grow one

  • Make sure your strategy accommodates the fact that your
    communities will define your products — so don't try to control the
    communities, just be part of them and help to seed the networks within

  • Craft  your website in such a way that it helps your community
    experience not just your products but the Web itself more vibrantly

  • Remember that community members trust each other more than they trust marketers

Consider three important social tools for the website

  • A wiki — a great way for customers to contribute their ideas

  • BOTs — to increase clickthrough — but use them sparingly because that's their power

  • An independent social network around your product

Social media and business strategy: The website

Part 1 of 3.  The KickApps seminar I attended last month yielded a wealth of information, from both advisors and corporate marketing people, about what to do with social media if you're a company.  For the next three posts, I'm sharing what I took away from the afternoon.  [To become a member of KickApps own social network, click here.  You'll be able to watch the videos of the seminar presentations.]

These brief points are compiled from the excellent presentations made by Alex Blum of KickApps, Dylan Boyd of eROI, James Mastan of Blue Rain Marketing, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester, and Sandy Carter of IBM. 

Three reasons to incorporate social media into your market and website plans

  • It enables deeper engagement with your community.

  • It automatically makes your digital footprint more dynamic.

  • It's cost effective.  In many cases, existing staff can easily participate, and many of the networks are free.  And the money you budget will buy a lot more than traditional media buys.

Understand what social media is doing to the website and cyber communications

  • Registration pages are going away, to be replaced by social
    features that capture information in a way that is useful for the
    visitor as well as the company.  Any contract-esque feature will become
    informal and behavior based, not statement based.

  • Email will begin to merge with a social inbox

  • Branding will become more contextual — in the context of the user's point of view, mindset and purpose

  • Your product and brand will achieve relevance based mostly on its
    usefulness to the customer — and much of that will be gauged not in
    terms of the information you gather via interrupting the experience,
    but in the information you share through the experience of using your
  • Be ready to go where the most customers are — to the most popular
    areas of the website — not necessary where you think customers should
  • Aggregate conversations and behavior to make the user experience more valuable to them and to the company

Manage your risks

  • Privacy

  • Noise

  • Insularity around narrow interests

Social media and business strategy: What I learned from professional services marketing

Traditional, conventional business strategy has relied upon one kind of marketing for decades:  broadcast.  The advent of social media is doing more for what creative marketers have advocated for years — the actual engagement of each and every stakeholder in a conversation, or a debate, or a brainstorm, not a one-way blast.  But traditional marketers are afraid of anything they cannot control, so most are still waiting for the pioneers to show why we should embrace social media instead of fear it.

I think the real problem is that traditional marketers, some leaders among them, are actually threatened by the fact that social media is making it possible for communication between a company and its stakeholders to occur independently.  You can just hear them asking, "what about my job?"  Well, this post isn't for them.  Or for anyone who believes that the best route to job security is to keep corporate marketing in the dark ages.

I was fortunate to have learned marketing not in a college classroom or a consumer conglomerate but in what some would have considered a stuffy sanctum, the executive suite of an accounting and consulting firm.  The longer I'm at this, the more I appreciate my unconventional background.  It has given me the fuel to look at every new innovation, real or trumped-up, with an eye to what it will do for the relationship between my clients and their stakeholders.  Because relationship is where it's at with professional services.

This is the first of a couple of posts I'm planning about social media and the corporate marketing function.  I'm inspired by a couple of things right now:  my work with startups and the need to look at every penny spent on marketing, and an afternoon I spent this week as the guest of KickApps at a really terrific seminar they hosted for their clients, potential clients and the social media community.  It's great and it's fun that companies like KickApps even exist.  Great because it's about time the best marketers create firms like this that really help companies maximize their involvement in the worldwide web — fun because marketing is going to be fun again, thanks to the early case studies to which we were exposed.

Before I go into sharing what we learned this week, though, here's what it made me remember, courtesy of my still-relevant experience at Andersen Worldwide.

  1. The best marketers are not parked in the marketing function, they live at the front of the company.  This means all employees.  They are the actors, not just the symbols, of the brand.
  2. Relationships are the most meaningful platform for marketing.  When you look to establish a relationship with a customer or an influencer, like a journalist or blogger, you get yourself out of the sales or publicity mode and into a real conversation.  You learn what interests them and what they need.
  3. Whether a sales cycle is long or short, establishing a relationship depends upon understanding what the customer [or stakeholder] really wants, not what you want them to think or do.  You build a brand by understanding what your people and your products or services can do for the stakeholder, not how much money you can make from the relationship.  The money — and the success — will follow organically and easily.
  4. The best marketing happens face to face or one on one, which means that the social network is perfect for building and sustaining a relationship.  What we have today is akin to what we had yesterday — a means to connect over content.  It's perfectly fine that the connecting happens via digital correspondence.
  5. Authenticity will out.  You cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
  6. Some of your best ideas will come from listening to what your critics, including dissatisfied customers, say.  Whether it's about your company or someone else's, or even if it's about you.  Play on a team of rivals.

Airlines: Turn your employees into brand managers

I flew USAirways last month and had something of an unsettling experience.  Suffice it to say that there was a gate agent in Charlotte with a Hitler complex on a power trip.  Not a good combination.

I have a long, long relationship with USAirways, dating back to when I was a kid and it was called Piedmont.  It's pretty much the only airline that has flown consistently into eastern Tennessee, which is where I have to go when visiting Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  And in my experience, USAirways people have always been at the top of the industry in terms of customer service.

Why is this of any consequence in a blog about brands? 

Right now, each and every airline has a huge opportunity in front of it — the opportunity to make itself seem to be the most vigilant, courteous, professional, customer-loving entity in the air.  Because the airlines have had to cut back the amenities, more than ever they must compete on price, schedules and service.  Which means that their brands will be either polished or tarnished by employee behavior.  For the next two years, the primary point of differentiation between airlines will be employee demeanor.

Like my mother always said when we got less than an A in deportment, your conduct is the easiest thing to do right.  Along these lines, some suggestions for how USAirways — and every other airline — can help their people turn service into a recognizable competitive advantage.

1.  Make sure the people you put on the front lines of customer interaction are equipped to handle it — in terms of exposing criminals as well as dealing with a challenge.  I'm not likely to take someone seriously who is either doing standup [American has one of those in Chicago] or has tailored his uniform to gangsta style.  Come up with a test to expose the employees most likely to lose it with passengers.
2.  Edit the content you share with passengers.  Transparency doesn't mean over-communication, it means precise communication.  Besides telling passengers that a screw is loose on the pilot's flight panel, take the time to explain why you shave 15 minutes off the boarding time and must rush them onto the plane.
3.  Make sure that all your people send the same message, whether it's about what type of carryon is permitted on what type of flight equipment or how happy they are to have us as customers.  Consistency in messages and their deployment is critical to good branding — especially in a service business.
4.  Teach your gate agents to think of their jobs as relationship managers, not cargo movers or g-men.
5.  Remind your gate agents that any negative behavior on their part most likely will fall on the flight attendants, which will then fall on an entire planeload of people.
6.  You have a captive audience in the gate area.  Remind people of the rules — example, why a rolling carryon cannot go on a particular plane — and enforce them across the board.  jetBlue is excellent at this — authoritative without  being abusive.
7.  When you say you're sorry, mean it.  USAirways does this very well.  And I don't mean free vouchers here.

America the brand

Today, we are expected to have a personal brand, a digital brand, a business brand, a family brand — all for the purpose of aligning our various brands with other brands so that we can all make a bigger footprint and even more money.

God bless America.  The land of the brand and the home of the brazen promoter.

Back before brand and branding became part of everyone's vocabulary, a brand was the thoughtfully-chosen set of verbal and visual symbols that described a product in a way that invited repeated transactions.  Before that, a brand was an identifying mark soldered onto your hide, if you were a steer.  Maybe not a bad idea for those who throw the word around as if they know what they saying.  Just kidding.  Before that, Tennyson referred to Excalibur as King Arthur's brand, in Morte d'Arthur.

That famous poem gives us the dying Arthur asking a knight, Bedivere, to return Excalibur to the lake in which it had been created.  The knight's first impulse was to preserve the sword for posterity — as evidence of Arthur's existence and accomplishments.  Bedivere asked himself,

And if indeed I cast the brand away,
Surely a precious thing, one worthy note,
Should thus be lost forever from the earth,
Which might have pleased the eyes of many men.

It took Bedivere three trips to the lake's shore to summon the will to hurl the sword toward the lake's center.  If there is such a thing as a brand champion [cliche], Bedivere is it.  Farsighted enough to consider Excalibur as a symbol worthy of protection.  Loyal enough to honor his vow to Arthur and to respect the king's wishes.

For Americans today, the only loyalty expected of us is to avoid committing treason.  Unlike Bedivere, our king arthurs are faraway figures who thought and gave on our behalf, leaving us the brand to protect and to honor.

Many of us think of Brand America as our flag, our military might, our borders, our businesses, our landmarks, our prosperity.  We think of our country in terms of its symbols.

I have the great good fortune of knowing people who chose to become American citizens last year.  One of them recently shared a passage from the congratulatory letter he received from the White House; the new citizen shared this as encouragement to others in our circle to consider citizenship.  In reading it, I found what I think is our Excalibur.

Americans are united across the generations by grand and enduring
ideals. The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding promise that
everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, and that no
insignificant person was ever born. Our country has never been united
by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by principles that move us
beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what
it means to be citizens. Every citizen must uphold these principles.
And every new citizen, by embracing these ideals, makes our country
more, not less, American.

We've just begun the season in which we celebrate uniquely American milestones and beliefs.  At the end of this season, we face the task of choosing the successor to a column of leaders, some good, some bad, put at the American helm by our forebears and by us.  Our so-far overcast age has always had one thing going for it:  the fact that any one individual, including the president, is only a part of the American story, not the whole story.  The presidency itself is an esteemed emblem of the American brand as well as a pivotal aspect of self government.  But the person who steps into the role is never the whole story.  We are.