The Experiment…WORKS?!?!

Hearing about an experiment designed to generate new ideas sends chills through the ranks of middle management.  They rarely know why they’re anxious because they’re not really paying attention.  They’re too focused on getting immediate results, which, in turn, saves their own ass…for now.

Ready, Set, Disrupt!

Many traditional organizations began investing in self-disruption a few years ago.  Recruitment of credible, driven outsiders with fresh ideas and proven track records ignited the process. Next, an independent hierarchy was created, usually with an abbreviated food chain.  Reporting structures are often less than 4 layers thick, half to one-third that of a normal bureaucracy, to allow for greater agility.

 The brilliant minds on these agile teams are charged with generating game-changing ideas.  The goal is to enable the organization to maintain its market position or extend its market dominance—-At least that’s the inscription on the facade.  As time passes and the discard pile of quality ideas “shot down” by the bureaucracy grows, a more obscure mission is being revealed:  Have the teams been assembled to DISPROVE disruption by generating outcomes that VALIDATE the legacy structure?  In other words, to show that the disruptive processes don’t really work?  If so, it’s not a well thought-out idea.

Ignoring the First Concern

Customers’ impact has been left out of the equation because it’s never mattered before.  (ANY organization can SAY the customer is their first concern, but they also have to FOLLOW THROUGH).  Most of the ideas those “mad scientists” initiated a decade ago were likely before their time.  Custom-branded website domains, interactive CD’s, personalized video website overlays, and even highly-touted, complex, and expensive platforms all represent outside-of-the-box ideas that never gained momentum, but for less-than-obvious, not dictated, reasons. Simply put: CUSTOMERS  WEREN’T READY.  To assume that they never will be is a serious misinterpretation.

Changing Tide

For a majority of industries today, their products and services have become little more than commodities.  That means successful innovation demands a laser-sharp focus on the customer experience.  Building solutions where the primary currency exchanged is emotional rather than physical in ways that make people excited to do business with your brand.

About three years ago, I learned that a team of people with an idea to build a new business model was issued a title with a name that couldn’t be searched in the public domain.  I know because I tried, which meant it was the subsidiary of a larger entity.  After the initial facility was created, more capacity was added to accelerate the self-disruption.  Even though the expansion required a significant investment in resources, the cost, again, was a small fraction of the alternative.

 “Houston, we have a problem”

“Problem” doesn’t do it justice.  It’s more of a quagmire—-a gargantuan cluster-f*#%.   Why is it a problem when anyone can have ideas and dreams?  Most organizations today encourage people to be innovative. While top-level leadership encourages the creativity of “Renegade Intrapreneurs” (at least when in the spotlight), middle managers see them as threats, often extinguishing the passion behind their ideas.  What those managers fail to comprehend is that creative thinkers aren’t their biggest challenge:  Tunnel vision is.  In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know and don’t believe what they refuse to see.

A handful of creative business visions are being executed relentlessly and producing results.  A few early adopters, for reasons inconceivable to middle managers, have actually begun EMBRACING some of the experiments.  In fact, a small nucleus of customers is building word-of-mouth momentum from the inside-OUT, with “community chemistry” one “molecule” at a time in an ongoing retention/education/transaction cycle.  Unlike traditional models, this one grows EXPONENTIALLY once the second iteration of trust-centered connections is established.

It’s the inverse of traditional thinking, which is why it’s not only ignored, but also the biggest threat to their future.  The self-disruptor is proving that the obstacle truly IS the way.

 History Repeating Itself?

An article was written by Greg Satell in 2010 about the demise of Blockbuster at the hands of Netflix.  Contained in that article was this link to another, equally intriguing, one:  

https://www.digitaltonto.com/2010/the-story-of-networks/ 

The reason the current scenario is different for the self-disruptive organization than scenarios a decade ago is that customers’ “silent networks” were not nearly as developed (or curated).  Back then, people didn’t connect based on worldview compatibility and actually engage in conversations, they connected to improve their vanity metrics. That meant ideas were crippled from spreading and becoming visions worthy of detailed business plans.

Today is different.  People have pared down their online contacts. They’re having more frequent and meaningful exchanges with others in their networks.  With each exchange, trust grows.  As trust grows, new connections are introduced and the communities, in turn, grow.  But the quagmire for legacy leadership isn’t even that the power of the “silent networks” is magnified EXPONENTIALLY, it’s that it happens outside their field of tunnel vision.

 
If a monster is chasing you through a dark forest, it’s difficult (and painful) to maneuver through trees you can’t see. 

Collaborative Synergy

The days of customers accepting brands’ “my way or the highway” systems are nearing an end.  No longer can self-proclaimed “customer-centered” or “customer-focused” organizations survive with lip-service and no actions to back it up.  While customer segmentation and predictive analytics have increased the speed of compatibility assessment and worldview-matching, optimal results cannot be achieved without inclusion of the HUMAN ELEMENT.  

My assertion is that we have reached a critical point in our futures as brands, representatives, AND customers. The actions we choose in the next two years will determine our success or failure for the next century across multiple industries.  And yet, so many of these industries are choosing to hunker own in their storm shelters when they SHOULD be harnessing the storm’s energy. Doing so would fuel changes that would provide them a competitive advantage difficult, if not impossible, for an organization clinging to bureaucracy to overcome.  Making this happen can be best demonstrated using the example of the most powerful force in nature: The tornado.

Harness The Power

Tornadoes aren’t a force because two opposing air masses necessarily COLLIDE.  Instead, they are a force because two opposing air masses collaborate in a way that intensifies the rates of circulation and rotation.  (Admittedly, this is a simplified way of describing how tornadoes develop, but being from the Midwest, let’s just say I’ve been up-close and personal with them more than a few times.)   In fact, an EF-5 tornado is one of the greatest examples of synergy ever witnessed in nature, far more powerful than the individual winds and air masses that combine to generate its destructive capability.  

Any area impacted by such a catastrophe is admittedly heartbreaking, yet one cannot help being awestruck by a force powerful enough to drive a 2” x 4” piece of lumber through a chimney. Then two blocks away removing an entire dining room wall while two glasses of red wine remained undisturbed on the table.  My family and I witnessed both in our own community when a tornado struck in 2006, literally 100 yards from where we were huddled under the stairs in our basement. While thoughts and memories of such events evoke fear, I ask that we set them aside for the remainder of this post and, instead, focus on the potential to recreate the same degree of power, except for the attainment of a POSITIVE outcome—SUPERIOR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES.  

Synergistic Collaboration

I’ve brainstormed hundreds of ideas for acquiring and building momentum in my business model, but nothing ever connected the solution to the problem.  Then I began focusing on what WASN’T being discussed—what was missing from a large percentage of the proposed solutions. That’s when I searched the term “Synergistic Collaboration”.  Perhaps cultures don’t necessarily be changed, per se, but rather culture, brand representatives, and customers all need to work together to achieve synergy in ways that harness the power of the tornado.  This all starts with a laser-focus on the customer experience: It’s at the center and everything else “rotates” around it. Unfortunately, momentum isn’t picking up because of breakdowns in trust and communication of responsibilities between all three components of the “storm”.     

Like the tornado, the higher the speed of rotation the greater the potential strength.  Air masses (in this case brands, reps and customers) should not collide, but collaborate synergistically for maximum outputs as deemed valuable by each component.  This collaboration and rotational force is exhibited by the directional arrows.

Enterprise forces coming from one side apply the high-level influences by protecting brand image, keeping promises, developing and updating systems for operational and transactional efficiencies, etc.  Representative forces from the other side provide grassroots influences by creating and promoting a differentiated and transparent personal brand, building network connections, sharing and engaging with customers in an educational manner, etc.

In the center of it all is the customer, which, in line with the tornado analogy, is also the CALMEST part of the storm.  The customer should never feel the impacts of what is rotating around them. The more consistently “calm” their experience is, the more likely they are to advocate for the brand and provide direct introductions to the representative who serves them.

Make An Impact

Or as Chris Brogan and Julien Smith say in their book, “Impact Equation”: CREATE an impact:

Impact = C(Contrast) x (R(Reach) + E(Exposure) + A(Articulation) + T(Trust) + E(Echo))

To fully understand how to apply the Impact Equation requires effort and reflection.  The important thing is that the CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE must always be the focus. Referring to the diagram above, note that two elements of the IMPACT equation have been assigned to each of the three parties involved. Doing so makes it easier to identify activities that can be combined in a manner that creates synergy. Like a tornado, circulation of ideas (versus air masses) is what generates the greatest amount of energy.

Combining the Theories

This is what my personal branding impact graph looks like today.  All metrics are based on the only thing that truly matters: CUSTOMER PERCEPTION (preferably acquired from direct feedback.)  For example, contrast asks if an idea stands out. You and your organization may think it does, but to a customer your idea may be nothing more than a commodity. On the other end of the spectrum, you and your organization may think your idea connects to the intended audience, but marketing reports say otherwise.

Here’s a breakdown of the 6 factors of the Impact equation and the primary drivers of each:

  • Contrast—Primary metric driver:  Customer feedback
  • Reach—Primary metric driver:  Office systems
  • Exposure—Primary metric driver:  Parent brand
  • Articulation—Primary metric driver:  Enterprise systems (Namely precision and efficiency of systems
  • Trust—Primary metric driver:  Personally-branded representatives
  • Echo—Primary metric driver:  Customer feedback

In summary, the graph reflects weakness in two areas:  Reach and Echo. In my situation, the two are directly correlated and have been kept low intentionally until the next phase of a larger vision is initiated.  At that time, an increased focus on community engagement and education should improve potential personal AND parent brand advocacy if done correctly—with the best interests of the customer in mind.  One more reason reach was kept low intentionally?  To monitor disruptive trends and industry responses to them in order to create effective, agile personal branding strategies.

Perhaps a similar analysis would benefit you as well.

Thank you for your time and attention. Also, many thanks to Chris Brogan and Mark Schaefer for being the inspirations behind this post. If anyone cares to discuss Synergistic Collaboration in more detail, Google me (Gary, Iowa City).

Learning To Swim

When learning to swim, do you begin when it’s sunny or when the flood waters are approaching your second-story windows?  Why, then, have you waited for the proverbial storm clouds to fill the skies? Probably because, like many others, you never thought it would be THAT bad.

The Industrial Age is Gone

There are times when being an optimist is perfectly reasonable, but this isn’t one of them.  Now it’s all about realism. It’s time to open the blinds and take a long, hard look outside.  The Industrial Age is gone. So are land lines, televisions with 13-channel dials, and 8-track tapes.  We are now in the Internet Age, where consumers are armed with more information about brands AND individual  representatives than can be printed on a direct-mail piece. Where does all of this information come from? Transparent sharing by real human beings in and between an infinite number of online communities.  If you think your “dirty little secrets” can stay secure forever, prepare for a big surprise. You may be able to secure most inside information that is protected legally, but common-knowledge across-the-board “perks”  in any industry will likely not fall in that category.

It’s NOT About You

What happens when full disclosure really means full disclosure?  How do you explain to customers that the true reason for your 40 calls to their cell per week is less about them and more about you.  The legacy generation of customers that has provided your income stream for the last three decades already knows, but they no longer care. They are nearing the end of their buying cycle for your products and services.  Unless they are independently wealthy, the likelihood of them needing more from you than they already have is slim to none. What you’re failing to realize is that every generation of consumer that follows is going to have access to exponentially more information shared transparently across infinitely more platforms than their Industrial Age elders. No longer are they going to lie down in a sales appointment.  In fact, there won’t be a “sales appointment”. It will be a “validation meeting”. They will meet to validate that you are a real human being, confirm that you are as represented by your online avatar, and that your brand’s solution has identical features and pricing when you submit the application as when they quoted it on their mobile device.

How are you preparing for that reality?

Hell’s Kitchen

Fifteen years in the food and beverage industry provides a multitude of life lessons:  How to think on your feet, how to make a killer Bloody Mary, how to properly use a mop, how to carry trays of dishes with both hands, and a walk-in cooler is the best place to go scream when a difficult customer or manager has pushed you over the edge.  Being an executive-level manager of a few places established some guideposts I’ve used in my own business for the last 16 years. If you’ve never worked in the industry before, you’ll be tempted to dismiss a couple of these insights. If you sense that starting to happen, I’d encourage you to stop reading and think about the point from an opposite perspective—-with empathy.  

Control What You Can Control

It doesn’t matter how great a restaurant manager is, I’ve never met one that could predict exactly how many people would choose to dine in their establishment during a given shift.  No one can possibly know what time each guest will come in, what they will eat, or how long they will stay so the table could be “turned” and reset for the next guests.  Predicting cover counts with 100% accuracy is impossible for many reasons (and these are NOT excuses):

  • One never knows everything happening in the area—-if there’s a concert at 7, the restaurant could experience an earlier than normal “rush”, then be slow for the rest of the night.  
  • There could be a weather situation:  A snowstorm once struck during a shift and none of my employees could get out (which also meant no customers could get IN.)
  • People have both time and money budgets.  Going out to dinner takes time and costs money. Our three children are now adults. No more KIDS MENU for us!  Taking our family of five to Five Guys costs $60 and 35 minutes. If we go to our neighborhood place with microbrews, burgers, cloth napkins and food servers, we’ll spend $100 and at least ninety minutes.   

If none of this makes sense, I challenge you to try this next time you go to Starbuck’s for a latte’:  Have a seat and take out your smartphone. Ask Google to tell you when the next customer is going to walk in.  Then ask Google what they are going to order. Document how many times Google accurately predicted either. (If you REALLY want to raise the bar, approach the customer who orders something other than what Google predicted and try to change their mind.  You may want to note which arm their smart watch is on as that’s most likely the direction the punch will be coming from.)

Customer Experience Isn’t the Best Marketing Strategy…It’s the ONLY Marketing Strategy

Most people refer to this as “word of mouth”.  What many people don’t understand is the breadth of the concept of customer experience.  Unless you’ve had mentors who were diligent about perfecting EVERY minute detail from the time a potential customer saw the sign on an interstate off-ramp indicating “Food this exit”, to the way a menu felt to the customer’s touch, to the elimination of water spots on the bathroom counter, to someone ALWAYS being at the host stand to say “Thank you” to guests heading home, it’s unlikely that you can relate.   

Perhaps you’re thinking:  “If a restaurant has a great chef that produces great food, that’s all that’s necessary”.  If so, here’s a little “rebuttal” joke: You know that fastest way to end up with a million dollars in the restaurant business?  Start with TWO million.  While it may be a myth that 80-90% of new restaurants fail within the first three years, I can tell you from experience that building a successful one requires great vision, hard work, and a total team effort. Such a formula is pretty clear-cut, right?  It is until someone begins using two very different terms interchangeably: GOAL and FUNCTION.

The GOAL of every business is to make money.  

The FUNCTION of every business is the acquisition, maintenance, and retention of customers.    

These words do NOT mean the same thing.  Get them mixed up and before long there will be no more customers.     

I once worked with a chef who had a “supersized” ego, but not in a value-added way. He didn’t make “gravy”, he created sauce.  For 6-course, $150 per plate dinners, he refused to allow salt and pepper to be placed on the tables because his food was always perfectly seasoned.  If a customer ordered a medium rare steak and sent it back saying it was undercooked, he took it off one plate and put it on another, added fresh sides and sent it back out.  Perhaps this chef should have read Ryan Holiday’s book: “Ego is the Enemy”.

Retention Drives Acquisition, NOT the Other Way Around

If you even SLIGHTLY agree that it’s nearly impossible to predict the exact number of people who will enter a restaurant on any given day or time, then how is using predictive analytics to “drive” acquisition a smart use of mental energy and attention?  Why are analytics not used instead to sharpen the very customer experience that creates advocacy and retention in ways that have the potential to exponentially increase acquisition? The answer is simple, but no one wants to admit it: SOMEBODY wants control activity that they believe drives revenue.  News flash: Those activities aren’t generating positive customer experiences.  They are, in fact, breaking down trust one customer at a time.

Retention is the most consistent, time-tested business-creating activity that is totally dependent upon HUMAN to HUMAN (H2H) connection.   (“H2H” was coined by Bryan Kramer, author of Shareology). Where purchase transactions typically involve a systematic exchange of products or services for an agreed-upon price, retention involves the empathetic exchange of emotions that create remarkable and mutually-beneficial value.

Blending of Old and New

There’s a misconception that traditional (human) values cannot be incorporated into New Age processes that are more aligned with today’s demanding customer experience metrics.  The reality is that this is not only inaccurate, it’s a paradigm wrought with frustration and, quite possibly, failure for many who refuse to adapt. Ten years ago, it was as difficult to visualize the future as it is to predict the number of guests a restaurant would serve on a given night.  

Today the future is becoming as clear as an HD image taken by an iPhone.

A Dog and a Doorbell

What do a fire alarm, tornado siren, telephone and doorbell have in common?  They’re all designed to make people take unanticipated and immediate action. When school children hear a fire alarm, they are to begin executing emergency evacuation procedures.  When a tornado siren sounds, families are to seek shelter in the lowest level of their homes.

While fires and weather-related events are literally matters of life or death, what’s the rationale for lumping telephones and doorbells into the same category?  Twenty years ago, there wasn’t one. Like everything else, however, times have changed. Allow me to explain using one of Pavlov’s theories, a time management course, and a couple of real-life examples.

Sit, Ubu, Sit…Good Dog. “Woof”

Pavlov has been credited with the discovery of classical conditioning:  The relationship or association between the occurrence of one action in anticipation of another unrelated action.  If you’ve studied psychology at any level, you probably remember Pavlov’s experiment where he rang a bell and immediately fed a dog.  After repeating the same action multiple times (ringing the bell) and consistently rewarding it with food, the dog eventually began anticipating being fed, as noted by salivation each time the bell was rung.  Although stimulus and response are relevant, this post is about the EMOTIONAL STATE EXHIBITED when responding to a stimulus, which leads to the next point…

Who the Phone Serves

One segment of a time management course taken several years ago made a rather startling assertion:  The telephone was primarily designed for the benefit of the person DIALING IT, not for the person ANSWERING IT.  Since its invention, the phone has been used to ask a neighbor for a favor or a place of business a question about a product or service.  It made perfect sense to call instead of driving a car or sending snail-mail, then waiting for a reply two weeks later. The exception to the “benefit to the user” assertion was when a call from another person was ANTICIPATED AND EXPECTED—usually someone important in their lives.  

When I was a kid, I remember sitting by the phone in our upstairs hallway WAITING for the phone to ring. My school friends would tell me that they were going to call, but not always when. Needless to say, I was looking forward to it. In that sense, the phone brought me, the person receiving the call, pleasure.  To complete this puzzle, let’s combine the two examples of Pavlovian dogs and phone calls into one final example: The doorbell.

This Had Better Be Important  

Our family dog loves HIS people (our family).  He knows when we’re all home and somehow anticipates when someone who’s not home WILL BE. And unless we’re playing, he rarely makes a sound, even when a family member comes home late at night.  

HOWEVER….

All bets are off when the doorbell rings.  Like most dogs, this one also  LOSES HIS MIND.  He goes into a fit of barking that neighbors can hear even with their WINDOWS CLOSED.  Preventing this from happening has been relatively simple: We tell him in advance when we’re expecting visitors.  It sounds weird, but he can sense what we’re telling him and he often greets our guests with a few small barks and whimpers.  Strange how talking to a dog can reduce a human’s blood pressure.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Still questioning the inclusion of telephones and doorbells in the category of “things designed to make people take unanticipated action”?   Take a few deep breaths and visualize the following scenarios:

You’re sitting at your desk working on a project with a strict deadline.  The phone is on “do-not-disturb” and your assistant has been instructed to hold all calls.  Suddenly your phone rings—someone has broken through the “gate” and IT’S NO ONE YOU KNOW!!!

What was your immediate response?  (Was it at all associated with an employment ad?)

You and your family are seated at the dinner table after a long, hectic day. You’re ready for a nice glass of wine and a wonderful home-cooked meal. The family dog is under the table, poised to pounce on whatever falls his way.  You take a sip of wine and just as you’re raising the fork loaded with succulent flavors, the doorbell rings. In a nanosecond, your dog goes from peaceful to BALLISTIC.  He sprints toward the door to either greet a visitor or annihilate an intruder.   (Determining which really isn’t clear although you’re secretly hoping for the latter.)

What’s going through your mind in that instant?  

Psychology Behind the Statistics

Social media “gurus” have been throwing out statistics for years saying that cold-calling is “dead”.  This post wasn’t written to disprove or argue their points. To the contrary, it was written to reinforce them.  It lends insight as to “why” their observations are not only accurate, but also how consumer psychology may indicate their facts are understated.  (Unless, of course, those consumers continue to embrace or instill compliance to the activities in the scenarios.)  For everyone else, phones and doorbells have been negatively conditioned since the dawn of the Internet Age. In my case, the primary reasons those things should ring today is similar to a fire alarm or tornado siren: A life or death situation.    

Otherwise, allow me to introduce you to my dog.

Make a Party of It

Photo by miamism

People talk about Twitter being a cocktail party. Little groups gather to talk about various topics of interest, much like the physical groups at a real party. One group talks about sports, one about children’s activities, one about work, one about cars, one about movies, one about politics, and so on. As one new to the party walks around, they listen to see where they may fit in (or at least that’s what I do). When something strikes their fancy, they join the conversation. If they feel they have nothing to add or aren’t interested in a specific topic, they move on to the next group.

To Segment or Not to Segment..THAT is the Question

The argument going on in the marketing world right now is that customers must be segmented. I agree. What I don’t agree with us HOW and based on WHAT criteria. People wouldn’t likely stay at a cocktail party if the only thing they had in common with others was that they did a lot of research before they bought something (self-sufficient). I do a lot of research before I buy stuff, but there are also a lot of people in that customer segment I can’t stand to be around because we don’t share complementary worldviews on a plethora of other things. This is why marketers and sales must be aligned in worldview.  It’s a mindshift in how and why content gets created and distributed.

You know what’s really crazy? I’m not the only one who is shifting to this way of thinking. There are numerous posts remarkably consistent with the cocktail party/personal branding theory. Here are a couple of posts from LinkedIn:

This one by Townsend Wardlaw talks about how people are the average of the five people they spend the most time with.

Here’s another one by Julia Manoukian that highlights how branding all the way down to the personality of the representatives enables deeper relationships with customers. Humanity is something buildings or websites can’t add to the customer experience.

It’s time to KISS all the fluff goodbye, folks: Keep It Simple, Stupid…

My head’s so full of acronyms, abbreviations, “buzzwords”, and newly made-up terminology that I want to puke. What about you? Why is it necessary to add “content” in front of “marketing”? What IS the difference between Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Social Selling? Do we really NEED to refer to selling as “social”, as there’s a social element involved in pretty much every customer experience?  Isn’t it time to cut through the frosting and get right to the cake?  The ONLY thing customers care about is getting what they want, when they want it, as efficiently as possible.

20-20 Foresight

How about we fast-forward to 2020 for a moment… What will our world look like as a consumer? Whose cocktail parties will WE be attending? Chances are good that we’ll be hanging out with people like us. Anyone who doesn’t like us will be at a different party. Those of us at the same party will be talking about things we ALL want to talk about. And anyone who thinks someone would benefit from coming to the next party will send the invitations themselves.

If this is true, how can we acquire the attention at such parties with MARKETING?

Bounce Rate Revisited: How It Applies To The New Buyer Journey

bounce-rate-marketing-living-edge-road-traveledThere are a lot of differing opinions about bounce rate:  The factor assigned to the duration of an individual’s visit to a particular website. The general consensus is that VERY low or VERY high bounce rates are bad and that optimally, bounce rate targets should be set, based on industry, between 40%-60%. I’m not disputing whether organizations like 21Handshake are right or wrong. I’m simply asking if it’s not time to revisit bounce rate guidelines now that so many functions of business and industry can be segmented into molecule-sized units.    

BOUNCE RATE ASSESSMENT IN A RETAIL SALES ENVIRONMENT

I’m not a fan of shopping.  In fact, I prefer to spend as little time doing it as possible.  When I need something, the first place I look is online—either at branded websites or on Amazon.  If I MUST go to a store to touch or try on something, I know EXACTLY what I’m looking for and make a beeline to that department.  I’ve gone through the selection process before ever leaving home.  All that’s left is FINDING AND PURCHASING THE ITEM  THAT’S IN MY HEAD.

If a bounce rate could be assigned to that shopping experience, what would it be?  70%?  80%? 90?  Based on what you learned about me as a CONSUMER, where would the bounce rate fall on a scale from low to high? How many consumers do you think likely share the same attitude?

A good friend, Nick Westergaard, wrote a BRILLIANT post a few years ago called “The Age of Interruption Is Over“.  It describes the opposite scenario—where a high bounce rate is bad.  More importantly:  What causes it to be bad. How convenient, as holiday shopping season is right around the corner!  In Nick’s post, the only bounce rate is the one in which those mall doors are BOUNCING OFF THE HINGES!  

BUSINESS TRANSACTIONS VERSUS COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

If money were not a concern, how many people prefer to spend time engaging with community members instead of transacting business? In other words, would most people prefer the recreational weekend activities or working in their offices?

The answer is obvious unless you have a career that allows you to work like you’re on vacation.  Here’s the quandary:  The purpose of marketing has always been to distract consumers and keep them in the buying environment/mindset.  Why are so many displays set up in retail environments?  Why are people staffed at mall kiosks handing out “free samples” to anyone who passes by, whether they want them or not?  To DISRUPT consumers.  This contradicts the objective of people like me who know what they need and want before they even leave the house—to get in and out as quickly as possible.  Why?  So I can spend MORE time engaging with members of my community that I want to be around.  For many people, this community is our family.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to set bounce rate targets for transactions as high as possible (85% or above) and bounce rates for community engagement targets as LOW as possible (15% or below), with anything in the middle considered NOISE?

LIVING ON THE EDGE

We’re experiencing great change across a multitude of industries. Consumers are making purchase decisions before they ever leave the house, if they ever need to.  Most people say that others they know, like and trust influence their decisions more than branded store personnel. Yet businesses continue to try to influence purchase decisions using distractions to entice and convince consumers to consume.  I get it…that’s how a consumption-driven economy survives and thrives.  On the other hand, streamlining transaction processes (especially automated ones) would accomplish the same outcome.   HIGH bounce rates will reflect the efficiency of those processes.  Conversely, LOW bounce rates would reflect the effectiveness of relevant content stimulating deeper community engagement.  Wouldn’t the integration of these two strategies benefit all parties involved?

A great mentor once said to me:  “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”  His wisdom is quite relevant to this post. Many activities in the middle are generating a lot of noise. Breaking through has become extremely challenging, yet many insist on staying the course.

Perhaps it’s time to check the date on that map…

Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Jobs

jobs-marketing-future-change

Before we start yelling “the sky is falling!”, let’s ask ourselves what functions artificial intelligence will realistically be performing: Repetitive, mathematical, formatted jobs.  Jobs that make an 8-hour workday feel like a decade.  Instead of worrying about that robot taking your job, how about focusing on what technology CAN’T DO (yet)? Things like showing emotion or displaying empathy and sympathy are great places to start.  In fact, I’d make this your PERMANENT job description, no matter where you end up: 

TO PROVIDE EXCEPTIONAL HUMAN VALUE TO EVERY PAST, CURRENT, OR FUTURE CUSTOMER THAT COMES IN CONTACT WITH ANY BRAND I REPRESENT.  

If you don’t like your brand or the role you play within that brand’s organizational structure, AI is irrelevant.  It’s probably time to find a new place to land.  

Selective Integration

Nobody ever said change was easy, and it’s certainly not slowing down. What many fail to see is the forest through the trees.  In the paranoia surrounding AI, IoT, VR, AR, and robots,  one very important fact remains: People NEED each other.  People CRAVE human contact.  There are some interactions when machines could effectively replace humans, but a solid argument can be made that most people would still prefer a living, breathing soul to interact with, especially in times of stress or crisis.

Something AI and IoT bring to the table that actually empowers human interaction is intuitive segmentation.  This process, executed in milliseconds, will give people more time to build deeper human-to-human relationships. While individual reps may be serving fewer people, their compatibility with them will be much higher. It’s the perfect breeding ground for both employee AND customer advocacy. Think about classroom size in schools: Smaller classes usually mean more personal attention for each student. In a marketing scenario, smaller brand tribes will equate to greater retention and ultimately increased revenue. As trust expands, more permission is granted. A tangent to this trust is stress level related to work: When smaller, more tight-knit communities form, stress levels diminish because more open communication is taking place.

Where integration needs to be selective is dependent upon CUSTOMER, not ORGANIZATIONAL, perception. Integrating technology where the CUSTOMER’S PERCEPTION of value is the least volatile frees humans to engage in situations where emotional connection is non-negotiable.

Jobs in the NEW WORLD of Work

 

A few months ago, I wrote this blog post about organic SEO growth that mirrors the advocacy model. It introduces the idea of individuals having very specific communities across networks rather than trying to be “all things to all people”.  No one advocates for anything or anyone they dislike or distrust. They only advocate for people, groups, organizations, or brands they are passionate about. The key to organic growth and reach is the intensity exhibited by both the community organizer (seller) and each community member (potential buyers and/or customers). Committed advocates then channel their passion into building deeper relationships that encourage individual community growth through INTRODUCTIONS from other passionate members, netting a far greater level of loyalty than the referral process.  As community membership grows, the advocates’ value to the organization increases.      

Introductions are Referrals That Don’t Need To Be Requested

The key to the advocacy concept working is pride in the association with brand communities and other members. Pride drives engagement activity and results in a higher propensity for personal introductions than the traditional referral process.  How do most referral processes begin again?

“Hey, Fred, may I ask you a question?  Did you find value in our conversation today?  If so, I strive to bring value to others in the same way, so would you be willing to give me the names of 3 people you feel could benefit as well?”       

That script is in every referral textbook.  The problem with it is determining if pride in the relationship is actually DEEP enough for the customer to put their friends’ names on the sheet of paper. That’s a risk in this day and age that most people are simply not willing to take.  The alternative solution is to be EASILY ACCESSIBLE.  When people recognize the value in what you do, they tell others about you ON THEIR OWN.  This admittedly changes the focus of your marketing strategy, but it results in deeper levels of trust when the long-term focus is on retention.

Ease of Accessibility

The idea of being easily accessible was more labor intensive just 6 months ago.  It required diligent effort around SEO, organic and paid reach, consistent keyword activities, editorial calendars, etc.  It ultimately paid off for those who stuck to it, as I can attest.  Here’s a personal example you may have seen before:  When you enter “Gary, Iowa” into your Google search bar and enter, the first result anywhere in the world will be mine. No gimmicks, no paid or manipulated SEO, no ads, no nothing. A decade of persistence made that possible.

Although execution of those things is still very important, there’s something you must know:  If you haven’t been doing ANYTHING even remotely systematic on the Internet, YOU DO NOT EXIST.  Search will soon incorporate AI in ways unimaginable to most people.  Check out these links:

This post from Sam Hurley actually has a little surprise inside…He was kind enough to link to one of my pieces last month.  

In this one, Diana Adams of Adams Consulting in Atlanta offers similar insights.  

Getting Found

In the future, AI devices like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa will fulfill requests such as this:

Customer:  “Alexa, find me a professional services provider that aligns with my personal values and beliefs.”

Alexa’s AI scans the Internet for all inputs and insights created, shared, or commented on by anyone in the desired market area with a comparable professional services tag. Two years ago this assessment took 3 hours.  Alexa’s highly-intuitive search algorithm will take less than a minute.  And the technology will be here within 6 months.  

Alexa:  “I have three professional services providers for you.  They are _____, ______ and ________.”

Customer:  “Thank you, Alexa.  Please connect me to ____________.”

Alexa dials the phone via VoIP and connects the customer to the provider.

Question 1:  How does Alexa find a provider that hasn’t set up even ONE social profile?

Answer:  IT CAN’T.

Question 2:  How long will it take Alexa to find someone like me?

Answer:  Because of the activities and content created over the last decade, it’s done before you finished reading this.

No Time Like the Present

There is no better time to be in marketing, sales, advertising…business, PERIOD, than right now.  When speaking with students in the local high school and college classrooms, I can’t help but be incredibly enthusiastic about their opportunities.  The best piece of advice, therefore, is:

“Go forth and MAKE IT HAPPEN!”

Consumer Goods Vs. Professional Services

professional-services-consumer-goods-different-unique-marketing-strategy-contentMany marketers and business managers insist on lumping professional services into the same category as consumer goods when it comes to “selling”.  Maybe simplifying it in that way makes it easier for the next “GURU” to sell their magic bullets.  Ever heard this:  “If you do this (their idea) in ANY industry, you will be successful!”?   Sorry to deflate anyone’s balloon, but it’s simply not true.  There’s a HUGE difference between marketing and sales of consumer goods (often categorized as wants) and professional services (often recognized as needs).    Here are couple of scenarios that may help explain the difference:

Scenario #1:  Consumer Goods—The Auto Dealership

Would you agree that most people need a car to get back and forth to work?  Is that the only criteria people consider when buying a car?  If it were, everyone would be driving the same kind of car—one with an engine, 4 wheels, seat belts and airbags, etc…Just the basics and no more. We know that’s not how it really works, right?  People usually have their heart set on a SPECIFIC car:  A car that differentiates them from everyone else.  And they tend to buy from whatever dealer will give them the best price on that car they want.  A close friend may even be a sales rep, but if the dealership insists on a price that is perceived to be out of line, the customer has no problem going elsewhere to get the car they WANT.  Even if it means their friend doesn’t get the sale.

Scenario #2:  Professional Services—The Dentist’s Office

A patient visits their dentist’s office for a cleaning, but this isn’t a routine appointment:  The X-ray identified an infected root that would soon reach a nerve ending.  They are going to NEED a root canal.    Does this patient WANT a root canal?  Absolutely not,  but NOT having one results in more pain than the procedure itself.  Two key items of note:  They aren’t likely to price-shop the procedure.  They aren’t likely to seek help on their own. Instead, they’ll most likely get it done by the professional their dentist trusts enough to refer them (and they know is quite liberal with the use of anesthesia!)

Wants Versus Needs and Incentive Plans

Most sales representatives work on commission.  This is certainly true for the auto industry.  It’s no secret that the goal of every business is to make money.  Where the chasm seems to be widening is in the actual FUNCTION of every business:  The acquisition and maintenance of customers.  Where the problem lies is in the priority of these two facets of business.  In some cases, they seem to be reversed.  It’s certainly why some professional service providers are getting so much attention these days.  Let’s revisit the two stories again to explain why this  is significant.

The Auto Dealership Revisited

When a customer WANTS a vehicle of a specific year, make, model, color, feature/accessory list, etc, they don’t care who they buy it from as long as that car makes it to their garage.  The car they want may be very unique, but in most cases it’s still categorized as a commodity.  They don’t necessarily need to trust the person or organization they are working with to buy that car…all that matters is that they get what they WANT.  They also don’t care how much the person that completes the purchase agreement with them earns in commission.  Again, they WANT that car. Anything else is irrelevant.

Back to the Dentist’s Office

Similar to the auto dealership experience, it’s likely that a patient isn’t going to care how much the root canal costs, especially if they have dental coverage.  However, let’s say the dentist and the oral surgeon are part of a larger organization, and at the head is a CEO.  One day, the CEO says: “We’re not doing enough root canals…You need to do more or else we’re going to have to cut out that part of the business.”  One way to solve the problem is for the dentist and the oral surgeon to get together and come up with a way to diagnose and refer more root canals. Another way is for the oral surgeon to just do an additional one while the customer is under anesthesia, then bill them for it.

Question:  IS EITHER SOLUTION ETHICAL?

(You really don’t NEED an answer to that, right?)   

 

The difference between wants and needs is huge, but the one constant across ALL industries is the same:  

FUNCTION PRECEDES GOALS EVERY TIME.  THE ACQUISITION, MAINTENANCE, AND RETENTION OF CUSTOMERS IS WHAT ENABLES BUSINESS GOALS TO BE ACHIEVED.   

 

What drives YOUR decisions?  

Tribe Defined: An American Songwriter

tribe-community-concert-venue-marketing-countryUnless you’re a member of his tribe, I’m not sure how many people even know who Todd Snider is.  I certainly didn’t until getting introduced to his music about 10 years ago.  I was a captive audience:  My friend was playing HIS music, in HIS car, on a 7-hour road trip to Memphis where HE was running a benefit marathon for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.  Let’s say there wasn’t a lot of room for negotiation.  

My friend literally had every one of Snider’s albums on his i-Pod.  Initially I was skeptical, but after about the third song, I was thoroughly entertained.  Why?  Because between many of his songs,  Todd Snider told a story that transitioned into the next track.  Not random, pointless stories, either.  These stories were HILARIOUS.  By the end of the weekend, I was a BIG fan.

A few months later, my friend called to say that Todd Snider was doing a concert in the area and asked if I’d like to go along.  Of course, I said: “Heck yeah!”  The concert was in Cedar Rapids, at a small venue in a place called Czech Village.  (Czech Village is the place that was severely damaged a couple of years later by the flood of 2008.)  The venue seated about 250. When we walked in, we were instructed to “grab a chair”—a metal folding chair—and take it into the auditorium.  Unique, right?  Audience members could sit wherever they wanted in front of the stage, but it wasn’t disorganized…all chairs ended up in straight rows, just like a normal theater.

When Todd Snider came onstage, the crowd roared.  The crazy thing was: They began engaging in conversation with him like he was in each of their living rooms.  I’d never experienced anything quite like it in my life.  He asked them:  “What do you want to hear tonight?”  The crowd responded with a variety of requests, but when he heard the one that correlated with his agenda, he started his performance.  After each song, he again engaged his audience with another story or random conversation.  When he was singing, the audience sang along, oftentimes as loud or louder (and in tune) with him.  $65 a ticket for a community concert, and it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had in my life.  Which is why I’ve seen Todd Snider two more times since then.

Many of you are likely thinking:  “What does this story about an obscure folk musician have to do with marketing?”  It has EVERYTHING to do with marketing, particularly the challenges CONTENT marketing is facing today.  Here are four big ways:

1. Of the concerts I’ve attended, most of the venues seated LESS THAN 500 people.  This means he prefers to play in more intimate settings. This enables him to know his community as well as they know him.

2. People travel for MILES to see him in concert.  By miles, I mean from MULTIPLE STATES AWAY, sometimes as many as 8-10 hour drives. This is a tribe of LOYAL followers.   

3.  People relate to him intimately through his music, which is totally transparent. When the audience participates in the experience, it becomes far more memorable for everyone.   

4.  Community members INTRODUCE outsiders to join the party. Since his music isn’t played on the radio, XM, or Sirius satellite, the only means of discovery is personal introduction. Serving/entertaining the TRIBE is more important, more rewarding, and less costly than trying to serve the masses.

How has all of this worked out for Mr. Snider?  Not being on the radio, not playing to sold-out 30,000+-seat venues, and not landing a “mainstream” record deal CAN’T be lucrative, right?

Wrong.
In Cedar Rapids, he pulled up in a customized Prevost tour bus.  According to Wikipedia, he has an estimated net worth of over $2.5 million.  Perhaps that doesn’t SOUND impressive, but there’s a hidden benefit to how he has gotten there and what he does every day:  Todd Snider serves a very SPECIFIC TRIBE OF FOLLOWERS.  He’s not focused on people that don’t like him or who have never been introduced to him through the tribe.

Like it or not, HE is WHO he is, and few performers I’ve ever seen have done it better.