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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Learn from your losses

I've been spending a bit of time unsubscribing lately. I love to read, I'm a news junkie, and I love to see what others have to say about the state of the marketing industry. But there can be too much information, especially when so much of it seems like exactly the same message. Not to pick on this group, but can you really have a daily column about marketing to mom's? Do you need to tell people about your packaging conference every day?

But the interesting thing is that of all the email subscriptions I cancelled, only one asked me why I was done with their newsletter. This is an opportunity to understand how you can make your product better, but instead of putting in a simple question on the unsubscribe form, they just lose a customer and never know why.

Most businesses don't get the opportunity to hear a final word from a lost customer. They just go away. If you are sending an email newsletter, don't annoy an already annoyed customer by trying to mine them for a long survey, but ask one simple question:

We'd like to know why you're unsubscribing is it because:
a) I have too many emails
b) I don't find value in your content
c) I've changed jobs, & this is no longer relevant to me
d) It's not you, it's me

Craft an easy question, offer simple solutions to gain information, and if you see a trend that there's something wrong with your content, change it. Whatever you do, don't forget to learn from your losses.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What's that noise?

Several years ago, while living in Las Vegas, I was standing outside and having a chat with my neighbor. Suddenly, something didn't sound right. We both stopped talking, and looked at each other with a concerned look. We both knew something was wrong, but couldn't put a finger on it. It was unsettling, unfamiliar, and mysterious.

Moments later, his wife came outside and announced that the power was out inside, and that answered the question we both couldn't answer. You see, it was July, which means the outdoor temperature is somewhere between 110-120 degrees. To make life possible, every house is equipped with an air conditioner, and from May-October these are running almost 24 hours a day. When you have hundreds of air conditioners running in a very close proximity, there is a constant hum in the air from the motors. The mysterious sound that we couldn't figure out was silence.

Noise doesn't just come from motors, and regardless of the source, if it is consistent we learn to ignore it, especially when there is nothing we need to hear. Think about the programming on many TV stations, the commercials, your marketing messages, even your blog. Does your message sound like something everyone has heard many times before? Are you saying something new, or communicating simply for the sake of putting your noise out there?

When we hear the same commercial repeatedly, we learn to ignore it. Billboards along our commute just become part of the backdrop. The bank talking about free checking? It's just noise to us. When I see someone blog, tweet, or otherwise talk about the top 10 SEO tips/tricks/mistakes, I shut down. It's been said, it's been repeated, and now it's just noise.

Think about your message, is it really a unique thought, or a break-through message? Are you finding a new way to tell a story? Or are you blogging, advertising, writing, or broadcasting simply because it's time to do so? Remember what happens when we can count on the noise. It just gets lost as part of the background.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A CLOSED sign is the same as being out of stock

Marketers, we need to have a talk. Product management is the center of your job. First, and foremost, you need to have a product that people want, and that they can use. No amount of promotion, communication, and brand recognition will make you successful if you don't have these two things:

1. People want, & even need your product.
2. You make it easy for them to buy from you.

I walked a couple of miles around downtown Salt Lake last Sunday, hoping to find an open espresso bar. (Yes, there is coffee in Salt Lake.) We were going to the theatre, and wanted a place to enjoy some hot coffee before the show started. Sure enough, not a spot open in the proximity. Ask a business owner, and they will tell you there's a lack of traffic in the area, thus they would lose money being open. However, these same businesses are frequently spending much of their profits on advertising to get people into their spots.

It's possible that there are days when necessary foot-traffic is low. But this show had a nearly sold-out, 1800 seat matinee followed by an evening presentation. That's 3600 possible customers you could have attracted by simply being open.

This isn't a unique problem to one city. I walked past several closed restaurants in San Francisco one Sunday. Meanwhile, an outdoor farmer's market, and live music had attracted thousands of pedestrians to the area.

If all your competitors are closed on Sunday, or all close at 9pm, you can strike the winning punch by being the one to be open. Think about any consumer packaged goods company, they must operate their factories and produce more product to sell more product. There are reasons to be closed, but think carefully about when you should be closed. When you lock those doors, it's just like the cereal company being out of stock on a retail shelf. Don't let your customers walk up to your empty shelf by seeing a closed sign during a perfect opportunity to win them over.

Monday, February 8, 2010

User-review sites, when shills go wrong

Urbanspoon, the user review site and social network for foodies, has been running a contest to find the "most romantic restaurant" in cities across America. Great idea with Valentine's Day coming up, this could guide a lot of people to try new restaurants they may not be aware of. The problem is that many of the results across the nation are indeed not at all romantic.

I first noticed the problem in Salt Lake, where a bar was leading the vote for several weeks. Not a romantic one by any means. After discussing with many of Urbanspoon's prime members (users who make significant contributions in each city) it was discovered that the problem was very widespread, and frequently due to restaurants inflating the votes themselves by encouraging customers and employees to vote for them. Now I totally condone restaurants asking customers to make their vote, or write a review on these sites. But employees are definitely crossing an ethical line, and asking for a vote that is truly undeserved is not only unethical, but it will backfire on the restaurant, the site, and the credibility of the users.

Shill reviews are always a bad idea. A shill is a positive review for your own business, or posting a negative review for a competitor. People often take advantage of the anonymity of the web, thinking they can say whatever they like with no consequence. The problem is that it is really easy to spot a shill, and once discovered you will feel a worse fate than just a few bad reviews.

In regards to this Valentine's Day contest, if someone looked to this poll to make a decision on a date-spot, then found themselves at a very unromantic place, it's not going to sit well in their minds. There are few experiences in life that carry worse feelings than a failed date. When a restaurant is a factor in a bad date, the customer typically won't give that spot another chance because of how disappointed they were on their visit. The total experience matters when customers are trying a new business, and a bad first impression is a lasting feeling that is not easily cured.

You may think it's all out of fun, or believe that some good attention may get you new customers, but if you get customers under false-pretense the backfire can spread quickly and will turn that target audience against you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Twitter: value or wasteful?

You've heard the research, 40% of all tweets are useless babble, and social networks are being blamed for school-age kids' poor use of grammar. It is the constant joke in the media that all tweets must include "LOL" & "OMG." But is Twitter really useless?

Do you measure your television viewing because of the crap on TV, or never listen to the radio because there is a station you don't like? Writing off Twitter because of some people's updates makes as much sense as not using television advertising because of a program you don't like. I'm currently looking through the DirecTV guide, and out of the hundreds of channels to choose from, there may be 4-5 that I will ever select to watch. Meanwhile, I have run across hundreds of people on Twitter that are worth following. So which one is really the useless medium?

Just like any form of media, there are many different users, messages, and audiences. The key is to measure every media by the value it provides, not the irrelevant noise.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hype vs. truth: Mobile apps

If you follow the industry buzz, or talk to app developing agencies, it sounds as if everyone is madly buying apps for their smartphones. However, a recent study found that 45% of smartphone users have never bought an app. Also, more than 38% spoke of their frustrations regarding the cost of apps.

61% of app purchases are music, which narrows the market for app buyers down significantly. Of the customers who purchased apps, 87% spent less than $50 on apps total last year.

So what is the truth? Are apps hot, or not?

Yes, they are hot. But if someone tells you that you have to have one, and it is a guaranteed revenue channel, they're exaggerating. Actually, outright lying. This is how buzzwords are used to manipulate how we view the world. Apple, Motorola, and other device manufacturers are advertising about apps because they are a feature that many customers are looking for. More than a billion apps have been downloaded from Apple's iTunes App Store. The hype is used by the get-rich-quick types to push app development, and next thing we know, many businesses are creating mobile apps that no one wants.

Reality is, a great mobile app can help customers connect with brands, if it is the right fit. The key is to know your audience, and what they want. Follow your customers, not the industry buzzwords.