Friday Sep 05, 2014

Real Time Marketing: Is It Worth the Rush?

The marketing world was awakened to real time marketing during Super Bowl XLVII when Oreo seized on the lights going out and tweeted “you can still dunk in the dark.” Was it brilliant creative? Did it sell a lot of cookies? I don’t know. What got the industry’s attention wasn’t what was done, but that it was done at all.


Predictably, the following year for Super Bowl XLVIII, marketers were armed and ready to flap their lemming wings and do “me too” real time marketing. It fell as flat as the Bronco’s defense. Oddly, brands mostly engaged with and reacted to other brands, flooding streams and feeds with attention-soliciting marketing, the kind of thing that can get a brand unfollowed.


So…is real time social marketing good or bad? Effective or non-effective?


It depends on your definition of real time marketing, and there are many. A Realtime Report study found 68% of marketers think it’s responding to trends and current events, like our Super Bowl examples. But more, at 76% and 74% respectively, think it’s personalizing content depending on customer interactions with the brand, and responding based on a consumer’s web interactions.


So real time marketing as a stunt is iffy. It’s very difficult to do well, in meaningful ways, and if you do it poorly it’s fraught with backfire potential. That doesn’t mean end all talk of brand newsrooms; just consider that the news you report should perhaps be about the brand or industry as opposed to hijacking unrelated trends or events.


But real time marketing as a result of intimately knowing your audience and delivering relevant content to them at the most opportune moments, based on indicators they’re sending at the time…that’s smart real time marketing. It’s enabled, of course, by real-time listening that lets you tap into how customers are currently feeling and what they’re currently thinking about.


The rewards? The Realtime Report showed 81% of marketers surveyed see increases in engagement as a key benefit of real time marketing. Better customer experiences (73%), increased conversion rates (59%), and improved brand perception (52%) were also cited. A separate study from Golin Harris showed real time marketers can expect a 21% bump in positive brand perception and an 18% increase in likelihood to buy.


So while real time marketing certainly has its critics, if your brand’s approach to it is to tap into the genuine needs individual customers have of you and provide solutions in time to make a difference (as opposed to inserting your brand irrelevantly into whatever’s hot), then you’ll be providing real value and will be welcome any day, any time.



@mikestiles @oraclesocial
Photo: freeimages.com

Tuesday Aug 26, 2014

An Engaging Experience at CRM Evolution 2014

Our guest post today is from Oracle Social Cloud Group VP Meg Bear, fresh off presenting at the CRM Evolution event. With seismic technology shifts taking place in CRM, we wanted to get her take on what she heard and saw.


What a fun week! CRM Evolution wasn’t just a great experience; it was a truly engaging event. The reason I say that is many of the conversations at the event were around best practices for customer experience and customer engagement. Thanks to the amazing Ray Wang for summarizing the discussion so concisely!


Buzzwords aside, I was happy to see the focus on engagement and I believe there are two key distinctions between the concepts. Firstly, engagement suggests an ongoing relationship, versus a one-time experience. Importantly, engagement makes it clear that the customer is in control and the actions taken by an organization, only impact the outcome.


CRM EvolutionWhat made CRM Evolution 2014 such a great experience and so engaging, you may ask? Well, it wasn’t the view from the windowless press/analyst room I spent most of my day in that’s for sure. The amazing conversations I was lucky enough to join (and of course the hugs!) make this “THE” event for those who care deeply about this industry.


I shared fascinating discussions with the delightful Paul Greenberg. Paul has an amazing ability to bring people together (as he clearly showed in his role as CRM Evolution Conference chair) and hosted a panel on the growing importance of customer engagement that I joined. Not content with lifting the curtain on the increasingly small distinction between “social CRM” and traditional CRM systems, Paul asked complex and insightful questions about business, social and customer engagement. I was honored to participate.


And it wasn’t just Paul. My visit was enriched by a large number of industry veterans sharing their experiences. Denis Pombriant kindly took the time to share his presentation with me even though I was double booked during his session; Brian Vellmure and I talked for so long that I made him late for a Yankees game (sorry, Brian!); and I waited for but did not get coffee (to say the “experience” at the hotel Café could have used a little investment would be an understatement) with the one and only Brent Leary. Any minute spent getting Michael Krigsman’s take on the state of things is always a minute well spent. And that’s not to mention the countless other conversations I had with some of the best people in the industry including Marshall Lager.


One of the things I was talking about was how the right user experience can increase customer engagement. As with the introduction of Social Station, a cool new workstation within Oracle Social Cloud, we now provide a next-gen user experience that drives productivity and social business results. It was great to see some of the initial reaction and read what Maria Minsker (CRM Magazine), Natalie Gagliordi (ZDNet), Tom Murphy (CMSWire), Omar Akhtar (The Hub) and others had to say about the latest enhancements.


By making it easier than ever to understand, report and share social insights across the enterprise, Social Station helps our customers move at the speed of social. And that’s not just a nice to have. That type of agility is a must-have if organizations are to engage customers in a way that has a positive and tangible impact on business results.


So thanks to Paul, the rest of CRM Evolution team and everyone that took the time to meet and speak with me. I hope to see many of you at Oracle OpenWorld next month and perhaps while I am there, I will get my very own selfie with Ray Wang.



@oraclesocial

Friday Aug 15, 2014

Alert: It is No Longer 1982, So Why is CRM Still There?

Hot off the heels of Oracle’s recent LinkedIn integration announcement and Oracle Marketing Cloud Interact 2014, the Oracle Social Cloud is preparing for another big event, the CRM Evolution conference and exhibition in NYC. The role of social channels in customer engagement continues to grow, and social customer engagement will be a significant theme at the conference.


According to Paul Greenberg, CRM Evolution Conference Chair, author, and Managing Principal at The 56 Group, social channels have become so pervasive that there is no longer a clear reason to make a distinction between “social CRM” and traditional CRM systems.


Why not? Because social is a communication hub every bit as vital and used as the phone or email. What makes social different is that if you think of it as a phone, it’s a party line. That means customer interactions are far from secret, and social connections are listening in by the hundreds, hearing whether their friend is having a positive or negative experience with your brand.


According to a Mention.com study, 76% of brand mentions are neutral, neither positive nor negative. These mentions fail to get much notice. So think what that means about the remaining 24% of mentions. They’re standing out, because a verdict, about you, is being rendered in them, usually with emotion. Suddenly, where the R of CRM has been lip service and somewhat expendable in the past, “relationship” takes on new meaning, seriousness, and urgency.


Remarkably, legions of brands still approach CRM as if it were 1982. Today, brands must provide customer experiences the customer actually likes (how dare they expect such things). They must intimately know not only their customers, but each customer, because technology now makes personalized experiences possible.


That’s why the Oracle Social Cloud has been so mission-oriented about seamlessly integrating social with sales, marketing and customer service interactions so the enterprise can have an actionable 360-degree view of the customer. It’s the key to that customer-centricity we hear so much about these days.


If you’re attending CRM Evolution, Chris Moody, Director of Product Marketing for the Oracle Marketing Cloud, will show you how unified customer experiences and enhanced customer centricity will help you attract and keep ideal customers and brand advocates (“The Pursuit of Customer-Centricity” Aug 19 at 2:45p ET)


And Meg Bear, Group Vice President for the Oracle Social Cloud, will sit on a panel talking about “terms of engagement” and the ways tech can now enhance your interactions with customers (Aug 20 at 10a ET).


If you can’t be there, we’ll be doing our live-tweeting thing from the @oraclesocial handle, so make sure you’re a faithful follower. You’ll notice NOBODY is writing about the wisdom of “company-centricity.” Now is the time to bring your customer relationship management into the socially connected age.


@mikestiles
Photo: Sue Pizarro, freeimages.com

Friday Jun 06, 2014

6 Ways to Modernize Your Customer Experience

If customers have changed, if the way they research and shop have changed, if their expectations have changed, if their ability to act on dissatisfaction has changed, but your customer experience has NOT changed, what was once “good enough” may now be crippling.


Well, the customer has changed, and why wouldn’t they? You’ve probably changed too in your role as consumer. There’s more info available, it’s easier to get, there’s more choice, you’re more mobile, you’re more connected, it’s easier to buy, and yes, it’s easier to switch brands if experiences don’t meet your now higher expectations.


Thanks to technological advances, we as marketers can increasingly work borderline miracles. But if we’re still not adamantly adopting customer centricity, and if we aren’t making the customer experience paramount amongst business goals, the tech is wasted. A far more modern customer experience is called for. Here are 6 ways to get there:


1. Modern Marketing:

Marketing data is aggregated and targeted to the right customers, who are getting personal, relevant communications. In return, you’re getting insight that finally properly attributes revenue to your marketing efforts.


2. Modern Selling:

Demand is being driven across all channels with modern selling tools. Productivity is up thanks to coordinated communication and selling, and performance is ever optimized using powerful analytics.

3. Modern CPQ:

You’re cross-selling and upselling more effectively since reps and channel partners have been empowered with the ability to quickly, automatically generate 100% accurate, customer-friendly quotes complete with price controls and automated approvals.

4. Modern Commerce:

You’re leveraging data and delivering personalized, targeted digital experiences to everyone. You’re attracting more visitors, and you’re able to scale and keep up with the market and control the experience.

5. Modern Service:

You’re better serving your customers by making it easier for them to engage with your brand, plus you’re lowering your costs by increasing agent and tech support efficiencies.

6. Modern Social:

You’re getting faster, deeper, more accurate insights from social and turning content around faster, which then goes out to the right people at the right time in the right place. You’ve also gotten proactive in your service, and customers love that.


For far too many brands, the buying journey of Need, Research, Select, Buy, Use, Recommend across the multiple connect points of Social, Mobile, Store, Call Center, Site, Ecommerce is a disconnected mess. Oracle’s approach to CX is to connect every interaction your customer has with your brand, avoiding the revenue losses lousy customer experiences bring.


How important is the experience to customers? 94% are willing to pay more of their hard-earned money to have better ones, while a meager 1% say they get the good, consistent experiences they expect.


Brands, your words aren’t as loud anymore, so your actions as they relate to customer experience are going to have to do the talking.


@mikestiles @oraclesocial
Photo: Julien Tromeur, freeimages.com

Tuesday Nov 12, 2013

A Letter for Your CEO About Social Marketing’s Future

We’ll leave it to you to decide if or how to sneak this in front of them.


mailbox boyDear Chief:


This social marketing thing looks serious. It’s gone beyond having a Facebook page and putting our info and a few promotions on it. It’s seriously disrupting how we’ve always done marketing. And its implications reach well beyond marketing.


My concern is that we stay positioned ahead of these changes and are prepared to embrace, adapt and capitalize on these new capabilities as opposed to spending valuable time and money trying to shoehorn social into “the way we’ve always done things.” I’m also concerned about what happens if our competition executes on this before we do.


The days of being able to impose our ad messaging on the masses to great effect are numbered. The public now has the tech tools and ability to filter out things that are irrelevant to them. And frankly, spending ad dollars to reach unlikely prospects isn’t the most efficient path for us either.


Today, our customers have to genuinely love what we do. That starts with a renewed, customer-centric focus on the quality and usability of our product. If their experience with it is bad, they now have very connected, loud voices that will testify against us. We can’t afford that.


Next, their customer service experience, before and after the sale, has to be a pleasant surprise. That requires truly knowing our customers and listening to them. Lip service won’t cut it. We have to get and use as much data on the customer as possible, interact with them wherever they want to interact with us, and commit to impressing them. If we do, they’ll get out there and advertise for us. Since peer-to-peer recommendation is the most effective marketing, that’s money in the bank.


Social marketing is about forming relationships, same as how individuals use social. We want them to know us, trust us, and get real value from knowing us. That requires honesty and transparency that before now might have been uncomfortable. I propose that if we clearly make everything we do about our customers’ wants and needs, we’ll have nothing to hide. It will solidify customer loyalty, retention, and thus, revenue.


These things can’t happen without certain tools and structural changes in the organization. There are social cloud platforms that integrate social management into all of the necessary areas: CRM, customer service, sales, marketing automation, content marketing, ecommerce, etc. This is will give us a real-time, complete view of the customer so their every interaction with us is attentive, personalized, accurate, relevant, and satisfying.


Without it, we’re just a collage of disjointed systems, each gathering data that informs only its own departmental silo. The customer is voluntarily giving us everything we need to know about them to win them over, but we have to start listening and putting the pieces together.


There’s still time. Brands are coming to terms with this transition to the socially enabled enterprise, but so far they aren’t moving very fast. Like us, they’re dealing with long-entrenched technologies and processes. CMO’s and CIO’s have to form new partnerships. Content operations have to be initiated and properly staffed and funded. Various departments must be able to utilize interconnected big data.


What will separate the winners from the losers? Well chief, that’s why I’m writing you. It’s in your hands. These initiatives won’t get the kind of priority and seriousness that inspire actual deadlines & action unless they come from your desk. You have to be the champion of customer centricity. You have to be our change agent. You have to be our innovator. Otherwise, it’s going to be business as usual, and that puts us in a very vulnerable place.


Sincerely,

Your Team


@mikestiles
Photo: Gary Scott, stock.xchng


Tuesday Nov 05, 2013

In Social Relationship Management, the Spirit is Willing, but Execution is Weak

In our final talk in this series with Aberdeen’s Trip Kucera, we wanted to find out if enterprise organizations are actually doing anything about what they’re learning around the importance of communicating via social and using social listening for a deeper understanding of customers and prospects. We found out that if your brand is lagging behind, you’re not alone.


failure signSpotlight: How was Aberdeen able to find out if companies are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to implementing social across the enterprise?

Trip: One way to think about the relative challenges a business has in a given area is to look at the gap between “say” and “do.” The first of those words reveals the brand’s priorities, while the second reveals their ability to execute on those priorities. In Aberdeen’s research, we capture this by asking firms to rank the value of a set of activities from one on the low end to five on the high end. We then ask them to rank their ability to execute those same activities, again on a one to five, not effective to highly effective scale.


Spotlight: And once you get their self-assessments, what is it you’re looking for?

Trip: There are two things we’re looking for in this analysis. The first is we want to be able to identify the widest gaps between perception of value and execution. This suggests impediments to adoption or simply a high level of challenge, be it technical or otherwise. It may also suggest areas where we can expect future investment and innovation.


Spotlight: So the biggest potential pain points surface, places where they know something is critical but also know they aren’t doing much about it. What’s the second thing you look for?

Trip: The second thing we want to do is look at specific areas in which high-performing companies, the Leaders, are out-executing the Followers. This points to the business impact of these activities since Leaders are defined by a set of business performance metrics. Put another way, we’re correlating adoption of specific business competencies with performance, looking for what high-performers do differently.


Spotlight: Ah ha, that tells us what steps the winners are taking that are making them winners. So what did you find out?

Trip: Generally speaking, we see something of a glass curtain when it comes to the social relationship management execution gap. There isn’t a single social media activity in which more than 50% of respondents indicated effectiveness, which would be a 4 or 5 on that 1-5 scale. This despite the fact that 70% of firms indicate that generating positive social media mentions is valuable or very valuable, a 4 or 5 on our 1-5 scale.


Spotlight: Well at least they get points for being honest. The verdict they’re giving themselves is that they just aren’t cutting it in these highly critical social development areas.

Trip: And the widest gap is around directly engaging with customers and/or prospects on social networks, which 69% of firms rated as valuable but only 34% of companies say they are executing well. Perhaps even more interesting is that these two are interdependent since you’re most likely to generate goodwill on social through happy, engaged customers. This data also suggests that social is largely being used as a broadcast channel rather than for one-to-one engagement. As we’ve discussed previously, social is an inherently personal media.


Fig1


Spotlight: And if they’re still using it as a broadcast channel, that shows they still fail to understand the root of social and see it as just another outlet for their ads and push-messaging. That’s depressing.

Trip: A second way to evaluate this data is by using Aberdeen’s performance benchmarking. The story is both a bit different, but consistent in its own way. The first thing we notice is that Leaders are more effective in their execution of several key social relationship management capabilities, namely generating positive mentions and engaging with “influencers” and customers. Based on the fact that Aberdeen uses a broad set of performance metrics to rank the respondents as either “Leaders” (top 35% in weighted performance) or “Followers” (bottom 65% in weighted performance), from website conversion to annual revenue growth, we can then correlated high social effectiveness with company performance. We can also connect the specific social capabilities used by Leaders with effectiveness. We spoke about a few of those key capabilities last time and also discuss them in a new report: Social Powers Activate: Engineering Social Engagement to Win the Hidden Sales Cycle.


Fig2


Spotlight: What all that tells me is there are rewards for making the effort and getting it right. That’s how you become a Leader.

Trip: But there’s another part of the story, which is that overall effectiveness, even among Leaders, is muted. There’s just one activity in which more than a majority of Leaders cite high effectiveness, effectiveness being the generation of positive buzz. While 80% of Leaders indicate “directly engaging with customers” through social media channels is valuable, the highest rated activity among Leaders, only 42% say they’re effective. This gap even among Leaders shows the challenges still involved in effective social relationship management.


@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Friday Oct 04, 2013

The Leaves are Changing, and So Is Marketing

fall leavesDepending on where you live, you might be seeing the changes fall brings as nature begins to alter its color palette.  The leaves are changing, and so is marketing, driven by social marketing and social data.


It’s often said the only sure thing is change. So how do so many of us get caught flat-footed when it comes? Why have we put ourselves in a position where we can’t adapt? Just as the leaves change, so too will technology, the consumers who use it, and the marketing that must appeal to them.


Marketing Used to be About:

“Slickness.” Polished ads delivering deception with blinding speed and beauty so the consumer won’t know what hit ‘em.

Now It’s About:

Transparency. Have you gauged the jadedness of Millenials lately? They regard slick marketers as a parody. You don’t have to be perfect, just helpful.


Marketing Used to be About:

Desperately pounding your message, broadcast with intense repetition so the prospect will be worn down.

Now It’s About:

Giving prospects usable info, when it’s wanted, where it’s wanted. Google’s Zero Moment of Truth research found consumers, on average, needed 10.4 sources of info before making a buy in 2011. Raving fans that don’t regret doing business with you will do your repetition for you.


Marketing Used to be About:

Manipulating and leading. The mission is on pushing the prospect to do what you want.

Now It’s About:

Customers taking the lead. If the product is legitimate and the information about it is useful, customers will move willingly to the sale.


Marketing Used to be About:

Selling & hiding. All that matters is the sale. After that, walls and barriers are put up to shield the brand from the customer.

Now It’s About:

Gold-standard customer service, customer experience, and retention. Corporate marketing cultures are evolving around customer-centricity.


Marketing Used to be About:

Casting a huge net for a few fish.

Now It’s About:

Relevancy. Resources are targeted to qualified prospects based on listening to them, knowing them, and acting on that knowledge.


Marketing Used to be About:

Clumping humans into demographic blobs. You’re not a person, you’re a type.

Now It’s About:

Personalization. Customers give astonishing amounts of info about themselves and their behaviors, willingly. They expect that to be used to interact with them as individuals.


Marketing Used to be About:

Disregarding unhappy customers. “Bad experience? What are you going to do about it?”

Now It’s About:

Living in fear of unhappy good customers. “You got no response from us and started a movement that spread to 250,000 people and got covered in the media? Guess we should have been more attentive.”


Marketing Used to be About:

Ads.

Now It’s About:

Content. Of all the ads you see in a given day, how many can you actually use or bring any value to you?


Marketing Used to be About:

Silos. “That’s not my department.”

Now It’s About:

The socially enabled enterprise. A Forrester/BMA survey of B2B marketing execs had 54% saying their relationship with IT increased dramatically in the past 2 years. It’s about marketing connected to and sharing invaluable big data with every customer touch point for integrated, informed, seamless customer interactions.


@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Tuesday Sep 10, 2013

Are Your Customers Attacking or Helping You?

sour lookNow that we know consumers have been empowered thanks to social and mobile, we should probably consider how they’re going to use that power.  I believe it was Spider-Man’s uncle who taught us, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Will customers use it for good or to make trouble for you? The answer likely rests on how well you’re executing customer service and organizing around the customer experience.


On a September 19th free webinar, Oracle’s Erika Brookes sits down with “Attack of the Customers” author Paul Gillin for a chat about why critics assault brands online and how that can be avoided. It’s important. Because from Gillin’s perspective, most organizations are woefully behind both in shifting to customer-centric practices and in extending social across the enterprise to every customer touch point.


Why should these things be priorities? Survival is one good reason. Consider Gillin’s example of lean, finely textured beef, or as it became publicly branded, pink slime. The movement against it began on social. Because the industry took its cues from what was covered in the traditional media, they never saw it coming. Gillin says the largest maker almost went bankrupt, and the 2nd largest did go bankrupt within months.


Businesses can no longer afford not to listen to customers, wherever they may be congregating and talking about you. Jeff Bezos has called what’s going on “word of mouth on steroids.” And brands are not in control of these conversations, social users are. Bloggers are. Customers are. The best a brand can do is be where the conversations are happening and participate in them. Unhappy customers, who have experienced a bad product or abuse/neglect can and will find each other very quickly. Consequently, customer neglect as standard practice is becoming terminal.


And yet…58% of consumers have tweeted about a bad brand experience and never received a response of any kind. Mind you this is happening at a time when especially Millennials fully expect customer service on social. If they hold you accountable for it, thank them. People criticize because they want you to be better. It’s a positive. If you listen and co-create with those who care enough to “attack,” you’ll survive…and win.


Attack coverThese vocal, social consumers are forcing evolution inside organizations. Marketing is becoming analytics-driven, making it IT’s responsibility to align and facilitate. But here too, Gillin believes only about 2% of enterprises are appropriately socially enabled across departments. He feels most CIO’s still view social as a problem, a security threat, and a time waste.


For those who are forward thinking and who are willing to change and adapt as quickly as the consumer, integrated social insights from a social relationship management platform will lead to powerful, targeted engagements and actions, and thus, superior consumer experiences.


So, do you regard consumer criticism as an attack or an assist? Are your brand’s policies truly customer focused, or are they coming from a purely defensive posture? Tune in to the webinar to get Gillin’s four types of customer aggressors and how to deal with them, as well as three immediate customer experience action items for businesses both large and small.


@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Friday Aug 16, 2013

Can Robots Do My Marketing For Me?

robotDoes the boom in marketing automation enterprise software mean we can put some sort of marketing Skynet into place and let the machines completely take over?

Yes.

Okay well, maybe not 100% yes. But boy we’re getting closer.

In days of yore, marketing automation was a way to add to your email list and send batch emails out to said list, loosely categorized. Today, marketing automation is an increasingly essential part of any CRM platform, allowing marketers to gather reams of data pulled from a variety of sources (including social), crunch the numbers, intimately know who the prospect is, know where they are in the buying cycle, know what kind of content they respond to, and distribute messaging to them in precisely the right place at the right time and in the right way.

If you thought little saucers that vacuum your floor while you’re away were cool, marketing automation should blow your socks off.

But if sales is about relationships and the best relationships are one-on-one, how do the robots scale that into a marketing engine? The answer is, they’re actually getting better at it all the time. And corporations are believers. BtoB tells us 46% of B2B marketers use marketing technologies right now. 62% are “strong” or “full” adopters of marketing automation, compared to 40% in 2012. In 2014, it’s expected to be 81%. Focus Research says it has the fastest growth of any CRM-related segment in the last 5 years. The biggest issue with adoption, at 32%, is budget limitations and poor integration with sales. Which is sad, because the crumbling silos being brought on by the socially-enabled enterprise are pulling Sales and Marketing closer than ever before.

Still, we’ve come to know most of the research and decision process is over by the time a prospect talks with Sales. So being the source of the info they get, and leaving a trail of happy customers behind who will recommend us on social is critical. iMedia shows 93% of B2B buyers use search to start the buying process, 37% post questions on social.

The opposite of effective marketing automation is irrelevancy. Gathering data but not using it leads to irrelevant content being served, proving you don’t know the prospect and apparently don’t care. If I’ve shown interest in a product, why are you talking to me about a different one? Why are you desperately trying to close me when I just started info gathering? I’m an existing customer, why are you talking to me like I’m a new prospect? Gartner projects that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship without talking to a human. Try living in that world with no marketing automation.

If you are anti-robot and Skynet and the machines taking over, there’s still good news for you. Marketing automation is a means of learning about your audience; figuring out what kind of communication they should receive, and when, and where, and how. But the communication must still be crafted. Content is still the 800 lb. gorilla. Marketing is still as much of an art as it ever was. Your content must win applause and smiles and satisfaction. If it doesn’t, it’s perceived as expertly timed, precisely targeted…spam.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Friday Jul 05, 2013

Customers Are Celebrating Their Independence

fireworksHere in America, we recently once again celebrated Independence Day. Amidst all the barbecue and fireworks, some took a moment to contemplate freedom, what it means, how precious it is, and how grateful we are for it. These days, your customers and prospects can do the same.

There was a time not so long ago consumers were not liberated. They had perceived choices, but not real choices. Brands often operated with outright contempt for them. Corporations granted themselves near-parental authority over them, punishing with fees or other penalties for “bad” behavior.

It didn’t matter if the product or service was lousy. Companies didn’t have to listen to complaints, much less do anything about them. No need to value the customer, their time or their patronage. If a brand lost some of them, who cared? It was “give us your money, and we’ll give you the least and worst we can get away with yet still stay in business.”

Not a pretty picture for the consumer; no power, no voice, no recourse. It’s jarring how many companies still try to operate the way they did before…the revolution. But there was indeed a revolution, one that gave the public their freedom from arrogance, hubris, and neglect. It empowered and connected them so that together, their voices and the force of their collective will could no longer be ignored.

Overdramatic? Maybe. But now that we’ve been living in the post-social era awhile, we tend to forget or take for granted that social media literally facilitated the fall of dictators and altered the course of world history. It’s still doing that today. So maybe it’s not overly dramatic at all to point out just how different the world is for consumers and brands now vs. before Facebook and Twitter.

Today, horrible products, horrible service, bad experiences, etc. get called out quite publicly. This happens almost instantaneously, while the consumer is enduring the bad experience (that’s when they’re most motivated to talk about it). This anti-PR is distributed in the blink of an eyelash to a vast, pre-built network of friends, and friends of friends. If you’re lucky, it’s only on one social platform, but it could just as easily go out on several.

Mobile, snowballing rapidly when it comes to digital and social usage, facilitates this even more. We spend 130 minutes a day with smartphones and tablets, and 84% of us can’t go one day without using our mobile. The customer is always on, always connected, always communicating, no matter where they go. You will not dodge a bad recommendation bullet if you deserve one.

The consumer is also now free from lack of information. 70% of consumers research online before buying in-store, after using about 10.4 sources of info to decide. Anytime, anywhere, from a variety of trusted sources, they can learn about you, a product you sell or the service you give. 82% of the 18-34 demo says friends’ posts directly influenced their purchase, and 53% recommend products with tweets. Your reputation is now everything. Everything.

Ironically, now that consumers are free, they’re willing to give you private data about themselves! But they no longer have to give something for nothing. In return, they expect better, more personalized user experiences and service. Tech listening tools give companies anticipation engines with which to know (and care) who the customer is and what they like. If you can use that data to teach the customer better personalized solutions, even better.

Social having turned the world on its head, now customers are the ones making sure you behave. They not only care that you’re conducting business the way they think you should, they even care about your corporate values. Companies with a culture and philosophy that resonates best with their target audience will win. Your customers are looking for honesty, transparency, and humanlike qualities.

But in this revolution, there are no losers. There’s plenty of reason for customer and brand to celebrate the public’s newfound power and independence. Corporations are being “encouraged” to be better at everything they do. Success now rests in the quality of the products, the attentiveness and care of the customer service at every touch point, and the well-earned trust of the customer…all things that, done right, result in additional longevity and prosperity that wouldn’t be there were it not for the empowered consumer.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Tuesday Jan 15, 2013

Socially Enable Your Enterprise

no silosWith social displaying its importance for every consumer-facing department and application across the enterprise, silos are crumbling and the reality is setting in that a comprehensive, integrated social tech solution isn’t a luxury…at least if you want to stay competitive.

Oracle Sr. Director of Product Management Chad Estes is giving a presentation today at CloudWorld, Dubai. In case your private jet isn’t warmed up and ready on the runway to get you there, I thought I would pass along some of his takeaways on socially enabling the enterprise.

The socially enabled enterprise has powerful connotations when it comes to the increasingly all-important consumer experience. Why is it important your customers are happy?

*Almost 40% of consumers have Tweeted about a brand.
*58% have Liked a brand; 41% have shared content about a brand.
*A comScore study shows over half the US smartphone population used their phone to do retail research while inside a store.
*75% of social users have posted a negative comment after a bad customer experience.
*A typical user will tell an average 53 people about a poor customer experience.
*86% of customers will start doing business with a competitor after a bad customer experience.

I didn’t really have to tell you that happy customers are important. You’ve heard it before. They’re increasingly interacting with you and each other, they’re being influenced, they’re vocal, and empowered. Oh, and they expect a real-time response. How to keep them happy using the social networks on which they’re engaging us is a bigger issue for the enterprise. Workflows are getting turned on their heads.

Altimeter Group says companies now average about 178 corporate-owned social media accounts. And there are numerous niche technologies available to execute social strategy, from marketing to publishing content, to gamification, analysis, online advertising, SEO, etc. Once you put all that together, you have to put on your conductor coat and tails and orchestrate every instrument so you positively affect the customer experience. Whew.

Multiple devices, multiple social networks, multiple departments, overwhelming data, it all can be managed, shared and acted upon if your technology partner brings an integrated, seamless enterprise platform to the table.

Look for a cloud-based mission-critical enterprise infrastructure, platform and applications suite that includes social relationship management tools that can extend social’s power across every consumer-facing touch point (marketing, sales, customer service, and HR). The result you’re looking for is extensive social insight and data that’s married to other enterprise data, providing the actionable, real-time view of the consumer I’m talking about.

In the end, your socially enabled enterprise will be the textbook picture of a customer-centric organization, delivering the kind of enhanced, seamless experiences that will make your brand irresistible.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

Friday Jan 11, 2013

Social and CRM: Why They Belong Under One Roof

Discussions around social being extended across all facets of the enterprise are especially putting a “social spotlight” (shilling my own blog there) on the symbiotic relationship between social and CRM.

Today’s public is gravitating toward social as the desired means of communicating and interacting with brands. So social becomes the potential touchpoint for every aspect of the CRM daisy chain, from attraction to lead to sale to upsell to customer service.

Which might leave you wondering, “How do we best connect our CRM system to a social management system so that data from each can inform the other in a beautiful technology dance rivaling the Paso Doble?”

I’d like to submit a word for possible consideration as having purely negative connotations: piecemeal. Many brands are entrenched in disparate legacy systems handling the various arms of the enterprise, even though total data integration is the obvious future. They’ve set about connecting these various systems from various vendors so data can flow from one to the other.

It’s not seamless, nor is it truly integrated. It’s piecemeal, with all the dangers and inefficiencies that come with it.

VP of Product Development for the Oracle Social Cloud Jim Anderson is helping enterprise organizations see the promise of one partner spanning both CRM and SRM (Social Relationship Management). If you were a fly on the wall in those meetings, here’s what you would hear Jim say:

Tech surrounding enterprise data, including social, is evolving quickly. With multiple vendors and platforms, what are the odds all will innovate and upgrade evenly? What happens when one upgrades, causing breakages or lapses in the others? These systems were not designed to work together, so you spend your time and resources fixing what breaks instead of innovating and advancing on a unified front.

Multiple systems exchanging data and playing nice with each other sounds do-able and cost-efficient. But with differing rate-limiting issues causing possible silent failures that lead to incomplete data and inaccurate conclusions, transaction interruptions, unexpected data types, unavailable systems, and differing language and international character sets (just tossing out a few examples here), your enterprise is essentially relegated to the “least common denominator” of what all the pieces of your piecemeal are capable of. That keeps you as far away from the leading edge as possible.

Now picture hardware and software from one qualified vendor engineered to work together, pulling SRM, CRM, HCM, and other functions of the enterprise under one roof in the cloud. True integration. A single point of contact, incentivized to align and resolve any disconnects. Such holistic approaches and long-term partnerships are the real path to capitalizing on innovations in data and confidently making enterprise-wide, data-driven decisions.

@mikestiles
Photo: stock.xchng

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