Hard to believe, but I’ve now written over 100 columns for ClickZ. Whew! I owe a deep dept of gratitude to accomplished outgoing ClickZ editor-in-chief Rebecca Lieb for recruiting me, encouraging me, and keeping me focused on the issues and themes that matter. She’s just exceptional, and I hope to work with her again.
Writing a marketing column every other week has been an incredible experience. It’s allowed me step outside of my shell to reflect on this incredibly dynamic marketing environment. Yes, blogging also nurtures such reflection, but the 800-word column, due every other Friday at exactly noon (lest associate editor Erin Brenner ping me) brings a certain discipline in timeliness, synthesis, and simplicity. As they say, you’re either in or you out, and the feedback loop can be quite unnerving at times.
The column has helped me find my voice and hover around themes that now shape my own brand identity. Starting with my very first column, “Practice What You Search,” I’ve focused on issues I believe are absolutely essential for the CMO and other marketing stakeholders to internalize: the untapped power of listening, building brands in the era of consumer control, keeping our digital march credible and trusted by consumers. Ultimately, the disciple around those themes boosted my confidence to write a book, “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World,” to take the conversation (I hope) to the next level.
With the power of personal play lists in mind, I decided to highlight the 10 columns I’ve written in the last year or so that best deserve a second read, perhaps even a pass-along. You be the judge.
“Sometimes the most meaningful insights come from the most unexpected or painful circumstances,” I write, reflecting on the still emotionally-draining death of my father. In putting together a blog to dedicated to remember my father, William Blackshaw, I came to appreciate — at an entirely new and promising level — the power of potential of social networks at an entirely new and promising level. My father’s memory and contributions were woven into the “conversational” fabric. My father was a great listener, and his friends and loved ones rewarded him abundantly with “conversation” in his memory. I even came up with a term to describe this: Obitupedia.
In this column, I argue that “Search and brand reputation share an inseparable, symbiotic relationship, and CGM [consumer-generated media] is the dominant, if not final, arbiter of that marriage.” Further: “That puts the exercise of managing brand equity on the thin, precarious line between control and capitulation.” What’s happening today is that brands are being affirmed (or not affirmed) in search results, and marketers need to start applying basic shelf-space principles to how they think about search results. They also must spend more time understanding the root drivers — customer service, product quality, employee behavior — behind why their brand has high or low shelf standing.
There’s much for us to learn by studying and internalizing the Zappos.com business model. For Zappos, customer service is the new marketing, and it shows — everywhere. In fact, Zappos’s tagline is “Powered by Service.” This means providing the best service and online shopping experience possible: free shipping both ways, a 365-day return policy, fast fulfillment, and expedited delivery. Also the story here is as much about employee advocacy as customer advocacy, and this is critically important to understand.
P&G CEO A.G. Lafley often talks about the “two moments of truth,” including in his excellent new book, “The Game Changer“. The first moment of truth is what consumers see and experience on the shelf while the second moment is about what happens when they try and experience the actual product. Here, I introduce a third moment of truth: that “powerful inflection point where the product experience catalyzes an emotion, curiosity, passion, or even anger to talk about the brand. By opening up that pipeline, we not only absorb insight and deeper consumer understanding but also nurture empowerment and advocacy.” A subsequent column, “The Three Moments of Truth Web Site Checklist” put all this in the context of Web site strategy.
This column generated an extraordinary amount of conversation, even phone calls to me to discuss and debate. Who owns the influencer, I ask. “Is there a single department, group, or entity charged with influencer management? Should there be? Equally important, what are the risks of too many folks going after the same constituency?” I outline a host of key stakeholder groups vying for leadership on the influence front — external relations, the digital agency, marketing, the PR firm, the traditional agency, the market researchers, and more — and highlight the organizational complexity (and opportunity) this presents.
Here I muse of the proliferation of friends’ lists. How many friends can we realistically manage? “Turns out these ostensibly intimate social networks that have been thrust upon us have chinks in the armor, or at least a few critical nuances we need to work through. As we all seek to make our sites more Web 2.0, we may want to think about how we anchor our social networks to real intimacy, not loose phony connections. We certainly don’t want to move to an elitist world, but we also don’t want to overstate the value of a loose assemblage of quasi-familiars.” I frankly think we need to keep having this discussion.
This column discusses the use of video as a public relations “defensive branding” tool, and provides examples of how companies like Mattel and JetBlue tapped the power of sight, sound, and motion video to better connect with consumers. Brands, I argue, “should aggressively think about how to leverage interactive capabilities and platforms, especially video, to drive deeper emotional connections and trust with consumers. Tough situations are a good place to start.”
My question here is very simple: Does search magnify the impact of customer service? The answer is an unmistakable yes. Inevitably, I argue, “customer service is about far more than just satisfying consumers. It’s equally about priming, positioning, and ultimately painting the brand’s public billboard.” To win at search, brands must understand key “talk drivers.” They must also rethink their Web site strategies to focus on what I call the “three I’s of customer service: the invitation, the interface, and the interaction.
It’s almost become fashionable sport to look at “Snakes on a Plane” as a classic example of an over-hyped movie that, in the end, ultimately mocked word-of-mouth theory. How many times have we heard a WOM (define) skeptic say, “But ‘Snakes on a Plane’ didn’t drive box office.” Still, there are a lot of ways to skin a snake. “Great buzz analysis is all about looking at marketing events in context, from many angles and vantage points. Who’s talking? Where? How much? In what context? Was the buzz positive, negative, or persuasive, and for what particular reason? Did it spread and find reach, or was it self-contained?” This column attempts to put this much celebrated case study in perspective.
There’s an enormous amount of innovation underway in the political campaigns and marketer should stay close to these developments. The campaigns are inviting consumer to participate — in every possible way — and they are staying relevant to their needs. The difference between the 2004 election cycle and today is night and day, and it’s worth a deeper dive.
Keep listening. Stay connected. Market smart!
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