Brand Y-O-U

In the race to find customers, sales and success for our companies’ (or clients’) brands, marketers sometimes forget about the leading brand in any industry — Brand YOU.

It’s important not to forget about Brand YOU. Or about investing time in building your brand and making it better. And of course not doing anything to tarnish your brand — it’s too easy to find nowadays.

Brand YOU is critical for marketers for several reasons. So much of what we do involves selling ideas we believe in — whether it’s a launch strategy for a client’s product, spending on a new tactic, changing a marketing plan or creative that’s been the same for a while, or going after a new market. Just like in the store aisle, a strong brand and strong recall means something. It lends equity to those ideas we sell.

A strong Brand YOU is also critical in tough job markets like now (really, in any job market it’s important). A rich job history and track record of proven results are great thinga for any marketer — yet if nobody knows it, if there are no Brand YOU evangelists spreading the word, if there is no viral marketing about Brand YOU, are you getting the most out of all the hard work you put in? You have to make the effort to market yourself. Meet people, comment on blogs, attend networking events, reach out to people you don’t know and get to know them, start a blog. Of course, you can sit back and just prove what you know to anyone who asks — yet it’s alot easier when you don’t have to prove it, because someone else who knows it has already made your case.

This is important whether you’re happy in your job, not on the job market, not looking, and perfectly content. Because things can change very fast (just like in our markets) and you need to be ready.

It’s not always easy to do all you have to do in a given day. Yet don’t let too many days pass without investing time in Brand YOU. Marketers work too hard to let our own brands wither from lack of effort.

The Demands of Social Media

There is a drove of companies flocking to social media right now, especially in B2B media, healthcare, and of course consumer products. There’s no doubting the magic that happens when brands build meaningful relationships with customers via social media.

If you’re among the people taking a good, long look at making the dive into social media, make sure it’s an effort that’s set up to succeed.

I’m proud to say that right now, my ABM Media Marketing committee is putting the final touches on a Web 2.0 best practices whitepaper. It focuses on educating B2B media companies about various social media and Web 2.0 tactics and technologies. In the process of putting this project together, I talked to several leaders in the industry about what’s needed in order to make social media efforts successful. Joe Pulizzi, founder of customer publishing dynamo Junta42, made this all-to-true statement:

B2B media companies now need people who live in social media all day, every day. They need a Chief Conversation Officer who follows online conversations about their brands, monitors Twitter and Google Alerts, and comments on key blogs.

Many don’t realize the effort required to make social media successful — it’s not as simple as creating a Facebook group or creating a blog and seeing the interaction blossom. It’s about living and breathing your industry, through the lens of social media, for hours every day. It’s about becoming part of conversations about your business wherever they happen — on other websites, other blogs, LinkedIn groups, Facebook discussion boards, Google Knol, Twitter, and anywhere else. It’s about being a proactive force all over, not being a passive voice on your own website and expecting people to come to you. It’s about making the interaction with your brands feel personal and real — without marketing copy or the corporate platform. It’s about honest conversation and knowing (and playing by) the established rules and expectations and dealing with opinions that differ from yours. It’s about making a commitment to spend the time required to make it work, and be patient for the amount of time it takes for genuine trust and interaction to build.

Make sure you know the effort required before you charge ahead. Your customers will hold you accountable if you don’t.

What Matters Right Now? (and Other Key Questions)

Have you taken a good, long look lately at your mix of tactics? At your communication frequency? Your investment (time and money) in social media? Do you know what tactics matter most right now to your customers?

Everything in your strategy has to be up for re-election in this economy. If it’s not making the grade, or more importantly, if you can find better ROI elsewhere…throw that tactic out of office!

Social media is becoming more important than ever according to several sources. That has to change things. You have to find your way into more places where customers are sharing and experiencing and passionate. What’s your plan to do that? Is it Facebook, LinkedIn, or somewhere more niche? Is social media an acquisition tactic for you, or an experiment? Is it authentic and customer-driven, or are you turning users off with brand messages?

There’s also word that email marketing will increase. Really? How is that a good thing? Isn’t it enough right now? I’m not sure how more email could be good in any way — despite its offer of lower costs for tighter budgets. I know I’m not increasing my email no matter what, but I will be increasing the relevance of my messaging, that’s for sure. I’m going to let my competition email more, annoy people, and get opted out. And my less frequent, more relevant emails will be the last man standing, showing up at the right time in a pristine inbox (sounds like a fairy tale, no?). Same for my keywords — I’m gonna drill down, find those long tail keywords that provide return, and fine-tune my strategy on Google and other search engines.

Working on a great whitepaper on Web 2.0 for B2B media companies. Stay tuned for that next week.

Customer Utopia

I’m writing this from the comfort of my iPhone on a plane again, and as I set out on my latest trip, I didn’t expect to find myself in Customer Utopia. Yet I guess that’s the unexpected beauty of a brand that takes a good, long look and listens to it’s customers.

Thank you, JetBlue.

When I set foot in Terminal 5, the feted new home of Jetblue at JFK, I knew I was in a different place (especially considering it’s an airport, which is home to some of the most unfriendliest businesses ever…see “ATA” and “US Airways”). It just has a tangible feel of satisfaction, even at the far flung point where you depart the AirTrain or get dropped off by car. You walk through a long, pristine tunnel to get to the actual terminal, and then you descend a hundred foot escalator (have you been there, am I exaggerating?) into Customer Utopia (CU).

CU has damn near everything you could want or need as a JetBlue customer.

The outskirts of CU have plentiful self-service check-in terminals, outnumbered only by service agents proactively helping and steering people. It also has just plenty of plain space, so as you move you’re not climbing or standing upon other people and it doesn’t feel crowded or unpleasant. It also has the standard food and other amenities for anyone in need. Yet only once you’re through security (understandably normal, even in CU, but that’s expected anywhere) are you in the inner sanctum of CU.

The inner sanctum greets you with the food court. Fast food? Sure, in a central area of order and grab buffets, bars and counters that has a central checkout area — so you only have to checkout one time instead of three if you want a latte, burger, and slice of pizza. Need a drink? Multiple bars. Like sports? Sports eatery with large flatscreens. Filet? Tom Collichio steakhouse. Snacks? Of course. It’s mind-numbing. The only other thing more mind-numbing is the fact that you can place an order to YOUR GATE. Yes. Touchscreen terminals let you bypass it all and go order at your gate.

So let’s say you spill ketchup on your shirt. Easy, stop at the LaCoste store or one of the other low-, mid- and high-end clothing retailers. Break your bracelet? Hit the sterling silver shop. Have a question? Go to the staffed customer information booths in the gate areas. Yes. Staffed with live people, so you don’t have to trap an unsuspecting agent at a random gate counter just to ask a question (did anyone ever get a helpful answer doing that anyway?). Power outlet? Use the sponsored charging stations at the gates. And there’d have to be alot of full flights to take up the zillion seats at the gates.

It’s crazy. Add in little touches like ultra-friendly employees, flatscreens with CNN and ESPN everywhere at the gates, and recorded gate announcements so attendants can focus entirely on customers, and you can see why it’s CU.

It made me stop and think more closely about the experience I’m going to offer my customers next time, that’s for sure. Better believe I’m going to take a good, long look at what they want and need and figure out how I can charge ahead with something that makes their experience with my brands better (build my own CU, I will). I arrived hoping to just have a good trip, and left thinking I’d spend more to fly JetBlue if I had to (even though, since my lovely sister works there, I don’t pay much anyway). I arrived prepared for the worst, and left feeling appreciated as a customer and motivated to make my own customers feel the same way.

It doesn’t get alot better than that.

Marketer to marketer, I suggest you also spend more time this year on building your own CU. Spend less time on something else. You won’t regret it.

The Mall — Revisited

A short time ago I wrote a post that talked about the evolution of event marketing venues and the impact that alternative venues have had on the mainstay event venue of the last several decades, the American mall.

Well, the New York Times has an insightful article that also takes a good, long look at the evolving way consumers frequent the mall. It’s part microscope into the consumer’s mind, part reality check for the status of the mall in the consumer shopping hierarchy, and part hope for marketers.

The hope lies in the opportunity that the challenging economy (recession, if you will) presents for marketers. As the article notes:

We are reliably informed that whatever part of the economic crisis can’t be pinned on Wall Street — or on mortgage-related financial insanity — can be pinned on consumers who overspent. But personal consumption amounts to some 70 percent of the American economy. So if we don’t spend, we don’t recover. Fiscal health isn’t possible until money is again sloshing into cash registers, including those at this mall and every other retailer.

In other words, shopping was part of the problem and now it’s part of the cure. And once we’re cured, economists report, we really need to learn how to save, which suggests that we will need to quit shopping again.

What that means is that old cliche — that true market leaders keep marketing through the downtimes so that they emerge stronger than ever when good times come back — is true. Times may be tough, but if you have customers — more importantly, if you want more customers in the future — you can’t go dark right now. Improve and fine-tune your brand and value proposition, ratchet up your customer service, look deeply at your ROI and spend on what works, get up-to-speed with SEO and Google and other channels you’re currently not in, focus your message on key benefits most important to your customers — just make sure you have a message out there. Be consistent, be seen, be reliable and flexible and accomodating to your customers.

Because good times will charge ahead again at some point, and if you stay strong now you’ll be even stronger then.