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A few weeks ago, Advertising Age columnist Tim Williams wrote an excellent article about 15 risks that agencies can’t afford not to take. (The link is to a pdf file, as the Ad Age column is now behind a subscription wall.) We’ve been discussing this article here at VantagePoint recently, and it occurred to me that there are a few of these risks that, in Mr. Williams’ double-negative-speak, marketers can’t afford not to take either.  What follows, with great thanks to Mr. Williams’ inspiration, are 4 ways for your marketing to fail in 2010.
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Each month the Business Marketing Association (BMA) luncheon is held at Jillian’s restaurant in Charlotte, and typically there’s a guest speaker/presenter. In December they changed it up and put a panel together to discuss social media. Social media is a hot topic, but the line out the door surprised me.

The room fits about 50 people and is typically half-full; people are busy. On this day it was packed. The audience was a mixture of BMA members – marketing types – and folks from the client side. The panel consisted of two social networking experts, Corey Creed and Brandon Uttley, as well as Lisa Hoffmann, who is Social Media Specialist for Duke Energy. I really wanted to meet Lisa and hear what she had to say.

The corporate world I understand, as I do social media; however, where the two intersect is largely uncharted territory. So I want to meet anyone with “Social Media” in his or her job title. I consider Lisa a pioneer, an explorer, and believe there is much she can teach us. She is not just applying what many of us think is the next big thing, she, through her everyday job and actions, is one of the few people who are defining it.

As Scott Hepburn rose to start the discussion the entire room fell silent. As if choreographed, every back straightened, 100 elbows hit the tables with a thud and an equal number of hands clasped, as if praying for wisdom. We were not disappointed.

I apologize for not giving proper attribution to each comment, but, in summary, here’s what I learned, as well as some of my own insights (no reason to make you read two blog entries):

  • Social media and social networking are not about building superficial relationships.
  • Online relationships are quite similar to offline relationships – or at least they should be.
  • The value in social platforms comes from two-way beneficial relationships, be they person-to-person or company-to-customer. And, if you’re a company, you need both.
  • Empathy and listening skills may be more important than selling and writing skills.
  • Social networking is not broadcasting to an unthinking audience.
  • In-your-face selling is spamming and no one likes getting spammed. Do you?
  • Engage. You can’t stay silent at a party and expect to walk away with lots of new friends.
  • Your posts are not formal monologues or the final wordFacilitate the conversation and comments.
  • Don’t respond to minor criticism and perceived slight. Doing so makes you look petty.
  • Companies like Best Buy and Ford are successful because they use social media to humanize their corporations through the individuals who work there and are genuinely part of the online community.
  • Companies should have social networking policies, but need to realize they can’t control every conversation.
  • Tell the truth. If falsehoods are promoted you’ll be caught, publicly chastised and thrown out of the community.
  • Twitter (etc.) is easier to navigate than a phone tree.
  • Formal emails often include the wrong audience, have too many cc’s and bury calls-to-action; while micro-blogs, such as Twitter, are conversational and more productive.
  • The C-Suite needs to be involved since social media is rich in customer feedback, competitive intelligence, public relations, product suggestions, sales support, and brand reputation.
  • To secure C-Level buy-in, link your social media activities and measurements to specific business goals.
  • Internal and external stakeholders (customers, employees, and the press) need to hear from senior management.
  • Start small with modest goals, measure results and expand slowly.
  • Let those with a passion for social media (for being social and smart) represent your company.
  • The IT Department should not be responsible for social networking. It’s not about computers; it’s about people and conversation.
  • Relationships built today may pay dividends tomorrow. Relationships shunned today may have consequences tomorrow.

All-in-all the panel did a fantastic job, and it was clear it was the right message, to the right audience, at the right time.

What are you doing right with social media?

Christmas is almost a week away, which means holiday greetings are coming in at a steady pace. While I’ve been receiving traditional Christmas cards in the mail, I’ve also been getting digital messages from friends, colleagues and business associates.  One email I received contained an image of the entire company, another had the look of a traditional Christmas card, and another included a video message from a top executive.

Christmas has officially been digitalized, but I guess that’s ok, because it seems that everything else has too. But is a digital video as effective as a hand-written Christmas card? Or, if you think of it in BtoB terms, is an email campaign more effective than a direct mailer? It may or may not be as personal, but it can definitely offer you different benefits than a traditional card sent via the USPS.

In addition to being quick and inexpensive, sending a digital message through an email service can give you deep insight into your audience. You can immediately track who opened the email, and of those people, you can see the ones that clicked on various links. This shows you what your audience is or is not interested in. It also gives you insight on what you can bring up the next time you are meeting or speaking with that customer or prospect. With electronic mail, you can also include digital elements, such as video and downloadable images, not to mention the viral quality.

When it comes to direct mail, however, it’s much more difficult to track impact. The best thing to do when sending a promotional mailer is to include a customized link to a specific landing page. Doing so will allow you to track how many people went to that site based on the direct mail that was sent.

When it comes down to it, I wouldn’t count out direct mail, but I would consider weighing the benefits of digital mail. The most important thing to remember is that you must stay in front of your audience while staying relevant. If your goal is to communicate with your audience about a specific message, then mail—whether it is digital or traditional—is just a means to that end.

Merry Christmas!

Google Alerts is one of the many tools provided by the mega search engine to help users maximize their web experience. A free service, Google Alerts allows you to set up and schedule web searches based on specific search terms. After a search is established, which only takes about 60 seconds, Google will notify the user by email about the latest web pages of their interest. Currently, there are six types of alerts: news, web, blogs, comprehensive (a mixture of all), video, and groups. You can receive these alerts once a day, once a week or as-it-happens.

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Effectively grabbing the attention of their target market, American Eagle executed a well-thought marketing plan to help launch their new flagship store in Times Square: give customers 15 seconds of fame. Read the rest of this entry »

Every week we complete a number of projects for our clients, but it’s rare that we talk much about them. (And rarer still that one uses a photo of a guy in his boxers.) We’d like to give you a quick snapshot now and then of a recent project we’ve completed.
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