The Human Touch

I recently, I read a Forbes article about Publix.  The article discussed the Publix business model and, to put it in layman’s terms, why it is such an awesome company. The key point the article makes is that Publix’s success can be attributed to it’s culture of putting “people-first”. By “people” I don’t just mean customers. They also have put their employees first, which makes them happy, and ultimately makes for happy customers.

You may recall from one of my earlier posts that I briefly mentioned missing Publix. Well, I meant it. So when I saw this article, I couldn’t help but share it with the world and let others know how much I love and miss Publix. One of the first places I shared it was as a status update on Facebook. This led me to the Publix Facebook page (because I wanted to see their latest posts) where I shared the link.  Almost immediately, Publix commented on the shared link. What I loved most about the comment is that it was personalized. It read: Thanks, Alejandra! We miss you. 🙂 Hope you can come back and visit soon. ~ Abby

From here.

From here.

They ACTUALLY read what I posted, and cared enough to comment on it. And just like that, I love Publix even more. How is that possible?

Social media is such a large component of marketing these days, and it’s nice to see that some companies are using it correctly. Many companies use automatic replies or autobots, as I call them, to respond to their online followers. They forget that social media is a way of directly communicating with customers. Using robots can really fray relationships you may be trying to build or maintain.  One company recently made headlines for its insensitive automatic responses to its twitter followers. By automating its tweets, the company validated exactly what it has been trying to negate: the perception that it is “too big” and doesn’t care about its customers. Even without automated responses, companies tend to fall into the trap of assigning one person to reply with generic messages rather than with ones that will make the customer feel unique or cared for.

In today’s digital world of dog eat dog, it’s important for companies to keep strong ties to their customers and potential customers. What easier and cheaper way to do this than through social media?

Simple is Better

When I like something, I tend to stick to it for a while. Sometimes it’s a color, sometimes it’s a song, and sometimes it’s a brand.

I recently read an article about the demise of HMV. After 92 years in the music business, the brick and mortar store went out of business. It kept assuming that its customers would stay loyal forever because they had always bought CDs. Instead, online music streaming came into the picture. HMV failed to keep an open dialogue with its customers to learn what they really wanted/needed. One thing that stuck out to me in the article was about the big marketing mistake companies fall trap to: “they stick to tried and tested marketing methods and add a digital marketing strategy as an extra.” Like it or not, digital marketing is not just an “add-on” these days. It is marketing plain and simple. And in the case of HMV, it was the difference between staying relevant and crashing and burning.

Found here

However, going digital does not guarantee success. So many brands today assume that digital marketing is the key to success. It isn’t. The key to success is about understanding your customers and their needs, and then applying marketing strategies that address their needs and provide them with useful information. In today’s world, that means including digital as part of the bigger picture, not just an add-on. But it means including it correctly – not just pushing out irrelevant messages that annoy people.

I get tons and tons of daily emails from retailers who are trying to push me into buying their clothes. Sometimes there’s a discount. Sometimes there’s some kind of perk like free shipping.  But none of these really matter to me. I mostly get annoyed that I am getting so many emails. Very rarely do any of these emails catch my eye. Instead, almost 100% of the time, these emails get deleted. The same goes for brands I follow on Facebook. Some of them post every few minutes and don’t actually provide me anything useful. Sure, they include an image with their post, but I don’t feel like they are making an impact on my shopping habits. It’s annoying to get bombarded with so many messages all the time. I often end up “unliking” a brand when they start to get annoying.

Companies should really learn to talk to their customers and provide them with information that is useful and makes their shopping experience easy. If this were an in-person scenario, you wouldn’t want to be that annoying friend who doesn’t understand personal space. Or that used-car salesman who is desperate to get you to buy a car. As this appropriately titled Harvard Business Review article puts it: To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple. Companies need to really figure out what is driving their customers to search certain keywords. They need to become stewards for information so that consumers can stay informed about products so that when they are ready to purchase something they will remember what they learned and very likely purchase a product from that company. Its okay to send emails alerting customers about sales or offering perks, but just keep it simple.

What are some companies you like that you feel keep it simple?

The Royal Announcement

When the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis was finally announced, the world breathed a collective sigh and moved on with life while companies jumped at the opportunity to somehow tie their brand to the announcement. This brand association strategy is known as newsjacking. You may be familiar with Oreo’s clever newsjacking during this year’s Super Bowl blackout. But companies practice newsjacking more often than you think. For some companies, the process is deeply ingrained as part of the public relations strategy in addition to the marketing strategy. It’s a great way to be associated with a hot topic and can go very well if done right. But sometimes companies also miss the mark. They are late to the conversation so their efforts go unnoticed or seem desperate. Sometimes companies try to newsjack a subject that is irrelevant to its brand. Case in point: Epicurious and the Boston Marathon or Kenneth Cole and the Darfur crisis.

However, companies for the most part do a good job at it. Take for example, the Royal Baby newsjacking by Pampers.

Pampers sells baby products. So it made perfect sense for them to do something. And what they did was spectacular. They appealed to parents and future parents by saying that all babies are little princes or princesses. Who doesn’t want their child to be compared with the likes of the Royal Baby? And just like that, the company’s tweet and video were shared and viewed by over 200,000 people.

You may be thinking, gee only 200,000 views? I’ve seen other videos hit over one million views! Well, while it is important to think about hits, it’s just as important to think about who you are targeting and make sure that you get to them. Hence the newsjacking. People who were following the Royal Baby news likely also have young children or know someone with young children. So it was a perfect strategy on the part of Pampers. They are a relevant brand, their messaging was good, and they did it in a timely fashion.

The Mother of all Data

Do you remember those analog radios that required precise tuning to get the right station? You needed a certain finesse of the fingers – turning the dial one way and then another. The key piece to getting the right station was your ability to listen and weed out the noise from all the other sound waves coming through the speakers until you finally had the right station and you could dance to your favorite tunes.

I recently read two articles (here and here) on Big Data, which made me think of this radio analogy. The point these two articles drive home is that Big Data is just Big Data; it’s what you do with it that matters. In the world of marketing, this couldn’t be truer.

Now granted, the thought of endless spreadsheets filled with numbers may sound intimidating, but just like the analog radio, it requires “listening” to the numbers to find the information you are looking for while weeding out the unnecessary information.

I think Big Data is a very useful tool that can lead to great ROI for a company. But companies need to look at data as a tool to help drive decision-making and really learn to dig deeper.  As marketers, it is our job to ask the “why”,  the “how”, the “where” – the questions that help drive the analysis and result in key insights for companies. Without it, the data (big or not) would be useless.

Much like the radio, we need to know what we are looking for and where we want the dial to turn before we can get anywhere.

Shock Top and the User Experience

The summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I did a study abroad in Freiburg, Germany. I lived with a host family, attended language courses and learned all about the German culture. I particularly enjoyed the family dinners with my host parents and fellow housemates. In Germany, it is legal to drink beer and wine at age 16. So, many of our dinners included beer (we were in Germany after all!) and my host father taught us all about beer and the beer-making process.

And thus, my love for beer was born.

One brewery I came across about a year ago is Shock Top. I tried their Belgian White at a bar when I was out with some friends and really enjoyed the taste of it. And then a few months ago, I had some friends over and one of them brought over a Shock Top 12-pck with three of their beer flavors. So when we were assigned to research beers for my Digital Marketing class, I naturally zeroed in on Shock Top.

As with all beer and wine/liquor websites, the Shock Top website prompts you to verify that you are over 21. Once that is completed, you are taken to a very easy-to-navigate website. I am a very visual person and this website does a great job of using minimal words and lots of pictures to get their point across. As soon as I saw the website, I wanted to keep browsing through it. The sites provides information about all the Shock Top beer flavors, upcoming events, and locations where you can purchase/drink the beer. It also provides information about food pairings and recipes and does a good job of advertising the company’s Facebook page, their blog and newsletter, and the fact that they have a mobile app.

photo credit: Shock Top mobile app screenshot

photo credit: Shock Top mobile app screenshot

Of course I had to try the mobile app. The app was very user friendly and provided all the same information as the website. I also checked out the actual website on my phone. When I typed in the hyperlink, I was directed to a mobile phone landing page which offered the option of downloading the mobile app or going directly to the website.  Since I already have the app, I launched the full website and found that it was very responsive on my phone. I was able to navigate through it very easily and didn’t find myself scrolling through the site at all.

I have found that some websites haven’t caught on to the fact that many people rely heavily on their phone for information. And not providing a mobile app, or at least a responsive design to their website, may lead to more customer churn than they realize.

I think Shock Top has done a great job at integrating all its systems to provide a seamless user experience for its followers. They clearly get it.

So for all you beer companies out there (and any company for that matter), I suggest you follow Shock Top’s lead and get yourself into the 21st century if you haven’t yet done so.

The New News

This week in class we were assigned to read a case study about paywalls. Specifically, the article discussed a history of The New York Times paywall and the paywall trend in the newspaper industry. Paywalls are online payment systems that require online newspaper readers to pay for reading articles.

The New York Times has what is called a “soft” wall because it allows readers to read up to 10 articles for free per month, before having to pay for the content. It seems this paywall and previous iterations of it have been met with criticism because many people feel that they shouldn’t have to pay for their news. And while I am the first person to admit that all my news consumption comes from free articles online, I still have mixed feelings about the paywall.

Newspapers (the print versions) were and are not free.  However, news today is consumed very differently and the same business model that worked for newspapers does not work for their digital counterparts. People today don’t entirely rely on a newspaper to get their daily dose of news. And with so many free online news sources available, it is difficult to justify charging people to read content.

I think the soft wall is a happy compromise. For people who already subscribe to the paper version, this is not even an issue. And for people who read more than 10 articles per month, they can either pay, wait out the month, or read another newspaper. News, after all is (supposed to be) unbiased, so if you just want a high-level read on a subject, the internet has plenty of free and reputable news outlets available.

What are your thoughts on paywalls? Are you one of The New York Times loyalists? Do you pay for your content online?

BOOM Goes The Dynamite

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a rock star. I had genuinely convinced myself I was going to learn to play all the instruments in a band so that I could play on stage at different venues and be awesome. Eventually I got bored of that idea and decided to become a rock collector in search of the “perfect rock”. That lasted almost three months until my backpack got too heavy to carry around with all the rocks I collected.  So then I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist and dig for dinosaurs in my backyard. That lasted about a day until I realized digging for dinosaurs literally meant I would have to dig. So then I turned my focus to becoming a writer for the purpose of  making it on the cover of Time magazine as the “Writer of the Century.” Apparently just becoming a writer wasn’t good enough. I needed to become the writer of the century.

I clearly had a lot of big ideas and aspirations growing up. Even at present, I sometimes find myself planning some grandiose event or project, even when I have no business in the matter. Having these big dreams may be good sometimes, but sometimes knowing which ones should take precedence really helps with productivity.

Last week as part of a class assignment, we were asked to watch this video:

We were then asked to take The Fascination Test Sally Hogshead talks about in the video.

According to Sally, everyone has specific triggers that define their personality, or as she puts it, your brand. After taking the test, I found out that  my primary trigger is PASSION and my secondary trigger is PRESTIGE.  Together, these two triggers create what’s called “The Talent.” (See image below from the results)

So what does this all mean?

Well, according to the results, I have “vivid aspirations [and] fearlessly dream big”. Check.

I am also “an optimistic and ‘big picture’ thinker, intuitive, expressive, social, impulsive, ambitious, uncompromising, focused on adding value through better execution, conscientious of the smallest details and expect the highest quality deliverables from myself and others”….And on and on it goes…

What I really liked about the report is that, unlike so many other of these types of tests, it also suggested an action plan for the best use of my strengths (and yes, even my weaknesses) in my everyday personal and professional life.

So while there isn’t anything wrong with having a ton of big ideas and dreams, knowing about yourself really goes a long way in the process of achieving these dreams. What I find comforting is that I actually have been able to take my big dreams and make them amount to something. Let’s see how my next dream fares…