Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Card's Story

Recently, I discovered a wonderful card in my Mom’s things when moving her from her Beaumont Apartment into their Health Services division.  The card quoted a passage from the Lexington Herald Leader, dated December 25, 1920.  The cards were hidden among her files and memorabilia, a collection of her life time as a public relations practitioner.  Mom told me that she designed them and had them printed while we were living in England.  Dad was an Army doctor early in his career, you see, and we were stationed in Europe in the 1950’s.

The author of the story in the card was Enoch Grehan.  He was not only a reporter at the Lexington Herald but was also a professor of journalism at the University  of Kentucky where Mom graduated in 1940.  Yes, he was Mom’s teacher. She showed me the journal that she kept during that time, filled with newspaper clippings, self-authored poems and the personal insights of a young educated woman.  College educated to boot, a rarity then.

Her first job out of school was as a journalist at The Leader and I naturally thought that Enoch had recommended her but was surprised when she said, “No.”   She told me that actually it was Uncle Bud, my grandfather’s cousin, who was also a reporter there and had networked that opportunity for her.

Uncle Bud was a writer, and a good one.  You may have even read one of his books; The Way West or The Big Sky.  I think it was the former that won him a Pulitzer.  Mom met Bud Guthrie when she and Dad were dating.  I think Bud found her enchanting.  Mom said, “No, he thought I was smart.”  She told me that they had had some fun times while he visited Dad’s family in Lexington.  She didn't share the details but she has a little book Bud gave her, where he jotted funny observations in the margins on almost every one of the 20 or so odd pages. The book is about the architecture of outhouses.  She keeps it in her jewelry box.

Mom and I have always been friends and lucky circumstances made us partners in raising my girls.  But because of her aging and move into health care, this past year has been marked, for me, by this growing intimacy between us.  I love her stories like this one.  Of course, she doesn't volunteer them, I ask for them and her telling, often prompted by questions, is for me like swimming in chocolate.  So my wish for you is to take the plunge yourself this holiday and ask a loved one for a story. Enjoy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

First Steps to Going Social

You know, corporate America is by nature, not social. Most corporations are still wedded to a traditional marketing approach, based on TV, radio and print ads, and aren't sure how to integrate social media channels or where to start. There is also this sense of panic that comes from ignoring the profit potential of millions customers who are consuming media in new ways. Except for executives with their heads in the sand (like the folks that print checks for example), many fear that the new marketing train is leaving without them and that their missing out on revenues.

The solution? I start with the customer experience because it is, after all where the technology is taking us.  Social media enables marketers to engage the customer through helpful and ethical dialog (not shouting out and hoping they'll hear you). And it goes without saying, but I'm saying it anyway, customers are how you make your money. Your customers are the ticket.

First steps should include discovering best practices in your industry. Remember that social media hasn’t been around that long, 3-5 years at best. So keep in mind that your competitors’ efforts are still in “beta”. And when you’re compiling your list of new marketing tactics, focus on non-industry success stories too. Ask if those best practices fit with your customer segments.

To understand your own customers' perceptions and proclivities, next on my to-do list is listening. What are they saying about you? Conduct that customer survey. Equally important is to team up with your customer service reps. Frankly these two items should be part of your marketing plan anyway. When you monitor calls don’t focus on the rep’s response time, focus on what your customers are saying.

Also on my list is finding out about customers’ attitudes in online chatter. Online discussions (groups, forums and complaints) will also help you form an understanding of what social channels your customers use. Not everyone has a home computer but what percentage of your customers use cell phones? Maybe your product isn’t a good fit on Facebook but it’s a great fit for a mobile strategy. Find out so you can “be” where your customers are.

With customer experience improvement as the goal, your marketing strategy will include your tried and true sales methods and now will be improved by offering up social media venues. My suggestion is to start small, in the form of an A/B test. Not only is it less daunting but can lead to some wonderful rollouts and subsequent long term success.

Business needs to understand, that social media is a tool and that waiting to employ it is not an option.  However, this confusion over where to start isn’t surprising. The inherent benefits of social media and networks are so revolutionary that it will take time for the technology, the methods and the key players to solidify. But don't make the mistake of waiting for that to happen. Today, market share belongs to early adopters.