There was another smart and interesting Social Media Breakfast (#SMB26) yesterday morning organized by Bob Collins (@RobertCollins).  CC Chapman (@CC_Chapman), Joe Chernov (@JChernov), Brian Babineau (@BrianBab21) and Rachel O’Connell (@RachelJOConnell) presented their thoughts on Content Marketing.

CC provided useful rules about content that are timeless - “speak human”, “re imagine don’t recycle”, “show don’t tell”, and “do something unexpected”.  Joe provided an overview of infographics and how they can be used to effectively drive traffic, build goodwill, and establish authority. Brian reminded us that we need to “embrace the people’s agenda” and that it starts with being generous and providing value.  Rachel spoke about her rules for content now that there are a plethora of channels where consumers can gain information and they are increasingly turning to friends and reviews to learn more about products and services.  Lastly, there was an ample Q&A period led by Bob.

In addition to great content, Social Media Breakfasts are also a great chance to meet other marketers, compare notes and share ideas.  I came away with some good ideas and examples to consider and you might too.  It is well worth checking out (www.socialmediabreakfast.com).

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The new year has begun. Now is the time to measure the success of your holiday campaigns. How did your campaigns perform? This is an opportunity to look at their effectiveness in terms of building awareness, generating revenue, increasing retention and aiding customer acquisition? How do your metrics compare to industry benchmarks as well as internal benchmarks? How much revenue did they generate and were they profitable? In addition, what worked and what didn’t? Now is the time to evaluate any tests that were done - date/time, subject line, creative, etc. Finally, compare the results of this past holiday campaign to the one before and analyze the differences. The insights from the holidays can inform your strategy for 2012.

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Even though it still feels like summer outside, now is the time to start planning for the holidays.

The first step is to evaluate all of the tests that have been done throughout the year in order to put your best foot forward.  In addition, it involves reviewing the results from the prior holiday season.  That means determining the most effective:

  • communication method (e.g., email, direct mail, multi-channel) by customer segment
  • timing (both day of the week and time of day)
  • creative (hero images, placement of links, etc.)
  • subject lines (when and where to mention free shipping offers, brand or product offers, etc.)
  • offers (discount percentages, dollars off, buy one get one free)

Next step is to evaluate any implementation issues from the prior holiday season.  Before coming up with your holiday strategy it is important to determine any limitations or challenges with respect to execution.  Your strategy cannot be developed in a vacuum.  Thus, I recommend that you review what has worked and what did not work with the entire team.

Once all of this information has been gathered, you can develop a holiday strategy.  It should incorporate the lessons from past tests and holiday campaigns as well as encompass:

1.  Start Date. The average holiday campaign begins in October.  Some retailers hold pre-holiday clearance sales and send informational emails to start their holiday campaigns.

2.  Black Friday. For Marketers, the holiday campaigns have been starting earlier and earlier on the calendar.  The same is true for Black Friday.  It is now beginning on Thanksgiving Day for some retailers.  When will yours start?

3.  Cyber Monday. While many digital sales are made on the Monday after Thanksgiving, digital sales are occurring earlier as consumer shop from home.  Will you wait for Cyber Monday or start earlier?

4.  Sequence. If you are using email, you can easily send at least an email a day.  It is important to determine the contact frequency and cadence.  Will all or a segment of your customers receive an email a day, every other day, every third day, etc.?  Will emails be sent only on weekdays or only weekends or a mix?  Will there be a resting period or a maximum number of emails that can be received?

5.  Free Shipping.  Many consumers expect to get free shipping online, especially during the holidays, and will not pay for shipping.

6.  Social Sharing.  Consider how to tie in Facebook, Twitter and other social sites with your campaign.

7.  After Christmas. Lastly, there is also the opportunity for follow on sales after Christmas.  It is the time to promote use of gift cards and purchases of parts or refills.

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I was driving by a shuttered Blockbuster store recently and naturally I thought about disruptive technologies.

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    When VCR tapes first became popular, Mom and Pop stores started catering to a newly created market for movie rentals.  I remember the excitement of being able to rent movies and, for a time, the video store became the place where you regularly saw friends and neighbors.  Then Blockbuster came along and pushed those small stores out of business.  The selection was better and you could keep the movie for a few days.  Now Blockbuster has been shoved aside by Netflix, despite launching its own website and providing a similar service whereby you receive and return DVDs by mail.  With its bankruptcy and later sale to Dish Network, Blockbuster and the video rental store has been officially rendered obsolete.

    Now Netflix offers on demand streaming video of movies and old television shows.  They have also announced deals for original content.  Blockbuster was too slow to evolve and see the value of a flat fee subscription service and the convenience of mail.  Netflix has taken the concept of video rental and is now becoming an important distribution channel and could possibly complete with cable channels for content.

    Every business needs to beware of disruptive technologies that will render its business model obsolete or redefine the market.  You never know where the threats might come from or how much time you will have to react to them.

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    Social media has radically altered the power of advertising and marketing companies.  With the rise of social media, consumers’ power has increased.  Through blogs, product reviews, Twitter, YouTube and other sites, consumers can voice their feedback and they have an authenticity that often carries more weight with consumers than the companies’ own marketing and advertising.   I know that I carefully read product reviews when contemplating a purchase, whether it be a book on Amazon.com, a shirt from LL Bean or a hotel room in Hawaii.  It used to be that feedback was provided by word of mouth or direct contact with a company.  Now one good or bad review can be seen by a multitude online.

    This shift has diluted companies’ power to direct their message and required that they be more responsive to consumer feedback.  Just yesterday a friend told me that he provided a review on a purchase, noting that one of three products he bought did not work.  When he said as much in his product review, he was immediately contacted by the retailer and offered a replacement.  His experience is now business as usual for most companies.  The risks of not being responsive are now too great as one bad review can last a lifetime on the Internet.

    At the same time, social media has given companies a channel that enables them to integrate their messaging and engage their consumers.  First, advertisers can now get more value from their mass media.  Ads seen on television have a much longer life now and potentially more power.  They can be seen on websites and YouTube as well as integrated into online campaigns.  Second, consumers can now engage with companies by suggesting and even sometimes creating their own ads, posting their pictures which are then included in ads, etc.  Or they can simply indicate their brand loyalty by becoming fans on Facebook.

    While social media has forced companies to be more responsive and in tune with the needs and wishes of consumers, it has also given them a channel by which to communicate more effectively one to one.

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    The recent discussions about parents promoting academic achievement had me thinking about what it means to be successful in the workplace.  In case you missed the Wall Street Journal’s article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, let me briefly summarize.  Amy Chua writes about how she restricts her daughters’ activities (no sleepovers, play dates, school plays, TV or computer games) and requires that they get all As in school, be the number 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, and that they play only the violin or piano.  Her point is that parents who raise successful children stress academics and tenacious practice.

    However, what is the effect of promoting academic skills at the detriment of social skills?  During play dates, sleep overs and other extracurricular activities, one learns important skills as well.  Most workplaces require that you work in teams and to be successful you must be able to collaborate and work well with others.  That means you need to be able to understand and deal effectively with a range of personalities.   It starts on the play ground and continues during play dates and sleep overs.

    Social skills are also needed outside of work.  For example, in business school I was assigned to a team of fellow students during my first semester.  There was no hierarchy but we had to work together to effectively learn and manage our considerable workload.  Since no one person had positional authority, one needed persuasion, negotiation and hard work to insure that the team met deadlines, allocated tasks, and helped each other.  One of my proudest moments was when a team member asked me to edit a team paper because he thought it could be improved upon.  He valued my insight and recognized that I was an effective team player.  Even though I had not been assigned to write this paper, I would help the team out.

    Stressing academics will result in educated individuals.  However, to effectively work well in an organization, you often need more than education and technical knowledge.

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    Much has been written about the value of Groupon and its power to drive traffic to participating retailers.  The hope is that new consumers will try your store and buy additional items, above and beyond the promoted item or coupon threshold.

    However, what if consumers come to your business and simply buy the item on offer?  The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a toy retailer that had offered $20 worth of merchandise for $10.  Most consumers bought just the minimum amount needed to redeem the coupon.  According to the Journal, the toy company lost money on 75% of its Groupon sales.  Further, most of the customers who used the coupon were existing customers.  While this is just one story, it is a cautionary tale.

    It is important to drive incremental trips and often coupons, discounts, and loyalty reward certificates are an effective means of doing so.  However, it is also important that these trips at least break even.

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    One of my clients was asking for my advice about trigger e-mails.  If you haven’t worked with trigger e-mails then you may not be familiar with the ability to set up e-mails that are automatically “triggered” by an event.  There are many behaviors that can trigger an e-mail and below is a selection of the types of trigger campaigns you can develop:

    1.  Welcome Campaigns

    If a customer makes a purchase or registers on your web site, this is a wonderful opportunity to thank them as well as up-sell existing customers and convert prospects into customers.

    2.  Birthday Programs

    Why not surprise and delight your customers with a special birthday promotion.  You can send a promotion or special offer in the month of their birthday.  For one of my clients, this program consistently generates among the highest response rates.

    3.  Specific Product Promotions

    You can leverage past purchase behavior to let customers know about products that might be of particular interest to them.  Amazon is a great example of this.  Based on books I have previously purchased, I receive e-mails about books on topics of interest to me as well as e-mails about new books from authors from who I have bought in the past.

    4.  Reactivation Campaigns

    If it has been a while since a customer has bought from you, a reactivation e-mail may be in order.  The purpose of a reactivation campaign is to remind customers about your products and services and encourage them to become an active customer again.   This is your chance to win back a lost or inactive customer.

    Trigger campaigns are one key element of your communication strategy.  They provide relevant content based on customer behavior and enable you to speak to the particular needs and interests of your customers.

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    To be most effective, loyalty programs need to continually evolve.  Loyalty programs need to be regularly re-evaluated as customers, products and the competitive environment change.  Stagnation can cause a once valued loyalty program to be seen as old and tired.

    To determine the health of your loyalty program, monitor its performance and perception.  The key performance indicators (KPIs) will be tailored to your program, your goals and your business.  However, there are four general metrics which are important for most programs:

    1.  The time it takes to earn a loyalty reward

    2.  The percentage of loyalty customers who earn a reward

    3.  The percentage of loyalty customers that redeem the reward certificate

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    4.  The percentage of loyalty customers that take advantage of the program

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    A loyalty reward must be attainable.  If it takes too long to earn a reward, the customers may get bored and give up.  The appropriate time to earn a reward varies by your business and customer behavior.  That said, do not consider this a static number.  It may be that an average of 6 months was appropriate two years ago but 3 months is more appropriate now.

    Similarly, if you have a program that requires a particular spending or mileage threshold, the minimum at which a customer receives a reward must be chosen carefully.  If you are a retailer whose median customer spends $250 per year and customers only receive a reward after spending $1,000 annually, very few customers will likely attain the reward.  If you want to encourage increased spending, you can always create tiers.  The basic loyalty membership level could be annual spend of $250 to $499 per year, the silver level could be $500 to $749 per year, the gold level could be $750 to $999 per year and the platinum level could be $1,00 or more per year.  Tiers encourage customers to strive to reach the next level.  Plus, it does not have to be expensive to add additional services for the higher tiers.  For example, you could e-mail platinum level customers in advance of sales or invite them to special in-store promotions.  However, customers must see the value of achieving a higher tier.  It is very easy to see the benefits of tiers when you see fliers with higher tier levels board the plane first or see the shorter check-in line for premier members.

    The value that customers see in your loyalty program is evidenced by how many of the customers redeem the certificate.  In addition, if customers do not redeem the certificate then you have lost the revenue that would have been generated by the incremental trip.  Certificate redemption should generate revenue and continued loyalty to your brand.  If not, the loyalty program needs to be re-evaluated.

    Finally, customers should be taking advantage of the program.  If not, you should be asking yourself why not.  Do customers not see the program as valuable?  Does my competitor have a better program?

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    As I mentioned in my prior post, loyalty programs are a valuable tool.  They can help retain customers and companies can win greater share of wallet as a result.  If a customer can buy the same goods or services from multiple sellers, a loyalty program encourages customers to consolidate their purchases.  It might also create additional demand.  For example, a reward certificate can spur an incremental trip or customers may splurge in order to meet a spending threshold.

    Another benefit of loyalty programs is the insight into customer behavior.  This has far reaching benefits.  Take the example of a retailer.  This customer insight can help both marketing and merchandising.  Using the data collected, a retailer can segment their customers based on past behavior so that they can tailor their messages and offers appropriately.  For example, marketers can use this information to personalize product promotions, cross-sell products and identify new customers that have the potential to become to best customers.

    Further, this data will provide insight into what products bring new customers into the store, what products drive repeat purchases and what products are typically purchased together. Merchandisers can use this information to plan promotions and make buying decisions.

    To be valuable, the data must drive actionable insights and be used to continually improve the loyalty program.  I will write about using data to evaluate the health of a loyalty program in my next post.

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