This is the first in a series of mini-podcasts of marketing strategy tips and information.
I was recently doing some internet research for a project I was working on that involves independent and freelance workers. One of the first websites I visited was the Freelancers Union (http://www.freelancersunion.org) site because it’s chock full of great information for and about independent workers. While navigating around that website, I discovered that the organization has what’s called a Client Scorecard where freelancers get a chance to rate the companies they’ve worked for according to whether they accomplished the following:
• Provided a written agreement to the vendor
• Paid the vendor in full and on time
• Gave the vendor a clear job description
• Paid the vendor at market rate or above
• Answered the vendor’s questions about the assignments in a timely manner
Freelancers rate the companies they’ve worked for by assigning a score of 1 star (horrible) to 5 stars (great) according to those specific areas listed above. Along with the numerical ratings, freelancers get to give a more in-depth review of their experiences with the company. I read through a number of the vendor reviews, both positive and negative and I noticed a couple themes that kept jumping out at me: professionalism and character.
After reading through a few more of the bad reviews the first thing I wondered was, if those companies created such bad relationships with their service providers how were their relationships with their customers? Okay so I thought, maybe, they have good relationships with their customers. But it also occurred to me that those vendors providing the ratings and reviews are real people, with friends and families and networks. And they probably talk and complain much more than they share their good experiences. All it takes is a Facebook post from a person with many “friends” and a few “shares” by those friends. Then the next thing you know, there’s a tweet with a clever hashtag warning “not to buy from that company because they’re unprofessional and they cheat people”. The most interesting thing is that the Freelancers Union boasts membership of more than 200,000 people. My sense is that it’s probably not great for a brand to have 200,000 people think that the company lacks integrity.
As a marketing strategist I always say to business owners, “Every contact your company has with your customers is important. You’re communicating something about your business with every encounter”. Every interaction has the potential to make a positive or negative impact on people who either buy or consider buying your products. But this doesn’t just apply to your dealings with customers. This applies to your dealings with the all the actors in the marketplace. At the end of the day every business owner is a marketer, whether they want to accept it or not. The world is a small place and thanks to social media, it’s becoming smaller by the day. Just as a bad customer experience can put a crimp in your business, having bad encounters with your vendors, and others in your marketing public can hurt you as well.
So how can you reduce the chances of having bad relationships with your service providers? By no means am I suggesting that you gleefully accept bad service and a poor product in an effort to not tick anybody off. What I am saying is this:
Get a Clear Understanding and Get It In Writing
Before you hire someone to provide a service, get in writing a clear outline of all the things the vendor is providing. For example, if you’re hiring a janitorial service, the proposal should outline in detail what comes in the package. If there’s something that you don’t see in the outline, you need to ask about that upfront. If it’s not included and costs extra, then the onus is on you to decide if you want to pay more to add that feature. It’s tedious but in the long run it reduces the chances of a misunderstanding.
Don’t Let a Simple Dispute Blow Up Into Something Major
Work with your vendor in earnest to resolve simple issues. Sitting down face to face or at least voice-to-voice is a big step in working out the problem. It’s easy to fire off a nasty email but it’s much more difficult to face someone and hash out the solution to a disagreement. But from a marketing standpoint it shows integrity and having that kind of company integrity only helps your brand.
Have Empathy for Your Fellow Business Owners
Empathy is characterized by being able to feel what other people feel because you have experienced it yourself. You want to get paid for what you do and so do other business owners. I’m sure you as a business owner you probably know what it feels like to not get paid in a timely manner or to have a customer not want to pay your full invoice. There may be legitimate issues that have to be solved. But remember that your vendor is in business just as you are.
Marketing strategy does not end with your relationship with customers. You operate in a larger marketplace and there are many players that can impact your reputation and by extension your brand. You have the opportunity to build your brand with integrity. Developing respectful relationships with your vendors and service providers will carry you a long way.
Nothing thrills us
No one kills us
Life is such a chore
-"Boring" by the Pierces
It's good to see entrepreneurs stepping up and taking their place in the world. All over the world, startups are pitching to VCs, being touched by angels, taking out loans and bootstrapping with confidence to fulfill their dreams. This fervor is extremely admirable. Startups are like fresh air breezing through a stuffy, stale room. But sometimes it seems that the breezes keep blowing air in the same room. I wonder if the idea of creating more bells and whistles for over saturated consumers will become, you know, boring over time. We have more social networking apps and more online clothing retailers and more electronic doohickeys than we know what to do with. While most sane people love a great electronic doohickey (present company included), getting them excited about purchasing the next greatest thing seems to be harder and harder. There are brilliant entrepreneurs that are already burning up the charts in this space. And of course, every now and again someone comes along and truly changes the game, disrupting everything. But how often does that really happen? Mostly disruption is dulled down to incremental advancements. The potential to make a lot of money is certainly there. But is there an equal amount of satisfaction in the journey?
So what's left to create? I'm glad you asked. There are so many interesting problems yet to be solved or solved more efficiently; big problems that fall into categories like clean water, clean energy, food production, collaborative education, food deserts, poverty reduction, ad infinitum. Yes these really are big humongous problems and the solutions aren't necessarily glamorous. But tackling these problems certainly seems interesting. Getting a handle on these issues requires big thinking and big problem solving and loads of time and a plethora of approaches.
So hopefully a substantial percentage of the next wave of entrepreneurs will dare to think big and solve huge, crippling problems. They won't do this for free and we shouldn't expect them to. But they will lead with their hearts and be tempered by their pragmatism and good business sense. You've heard them called social entrepreneurs, mission-driven entrepreneurs or just plain old business do-gooders that are trying to conquer mountain-size problems. But climbing a mountain seems anything but boring; treacherous and harrowing maybe, but never boring. These people can take their creativity and innovation and craft solutions and make some nice dollars along the way; Perhaps they won't make as many dollars as the strictly for profit guys, but some.
So where is the next hotbed of interesting? Just look for the mountain-sized problem up ahead to your right (or left).
Business has only two functions - marketing and innovation.
We have heard a whole lot lately about the innovation crisis. Article after article, business talk show after business talk show has addressed the issue. So what happened to innovation? Of course after the economic downturn companies were a reluctant to invest heavily in new technology. But fast forward four years and where are we today? Well, according to a recent article in Nature,
"China, South Korea and other emerging Asian economies are out-innovating the Western world."
So it seems that one can find innovation if one looks in the right place. Okay then, what does all this mean for the long-term growth of American and other Western companies?
Indeed many of the forecasting reports for R&D spending show increases. Apple, a company considered by mainstream consumers as majorly innovative has increased it's R&D spending by 40%. But their budget remains well below their main competitors. Of course Apple is very profitable, but sometimes when companies become uber-successful they lose that innovation zeal. It becomes all about staying number one and risk becomes a less attractive proposition.
When we ask, "Where's the real innovation, the disruptive technology that changes the way we view the world? Maybe we should just stop looking in the usual places. Maybe real innovation ends when companies get too big.
Perhaps the real R&D funding should be invested in young people in middle school, high school and college who have wild and wacky ideas. Individuals who are not yet bogged down by concerns of market share and ROI; just people that want to change the world (hopefully for the better).
So where can innovation be found? It might be mapping out a beast of a science fair project right this instance. Our job is to continue seeking it.
With the recent release of the IPhone5, we are once again reminded of just how cool a product can be. Cool phones, cool clothes, cool cars, and cool as a cucumber customers waiting with baited breath to buy them. But is there a point when figuring out what’s cool, keeping up with what’s cool, figuring out what’s new on the cool horizon can seem tiring? So maybe it’s time to take a cool break, a vacation from all things cool. Where oh where to begin? Perhaps we can rediscover some simple pleasures that are not deemed cool. So here is a list:
Foregoing the trendiest, hippest new restaurant and grabbing a bite at the tried and true diner, complete with greasy menus and salty waitresses.
Skipping Zumba, P90X, Insanity and whatever other workout program touted by top stars and playing a game of full-court basketball or touch football, or doing good old-fashioned calisthenics. Yes calisthenics like jumping jacks, toe touches and running in place just like 1950s gym class.
Putting aside video games and game apps on cell phones and gathering with friends to play cards and board games. Not poker, although poker may not be as cool as it was 5 years ago. Card games like hearts or crazy 8′s, and yes UNO.
Now this may sound a lot like unplugging or simplifying or whatever but here’s to not having to be cool, or do cool stuff, or sport cool gear. So maybe we can take a cool break. After all, it was Huey Lewis that once sang, “It’s hip to be square”. Oh wait, 80s music is cool right now…..
…and what we are collectively trying to create is “increasingly data-informed and data-aware businesses and business people”
- Eric T. Petersen from the “The Myth of the Data-Driven Business”, published September 6, 2011 in Web Analyatics Demystified
Strategists are always touting the importance of data to businesses. The conventional thinking is to measure everything, from the most sublime to the very obscure; the more data the better. Well here’s the rub - data can be expensive: collecting it, analyzing it and figuring out what it really means.
One exception to this notion of data collection being an expensive undertaking, is data that is generated and collected through more passive means.
This kind of data is available just by virtue of the fact that you have a web page, an e-newsletter, a Facebook page, or a Twitter account. It’s data that comes to businesses in the form of ‘likes’, comments, product or service reviews, retweets, webpage visits, or any other digital feedback. Of course, just because the data is collected passively, the analysis is not passive.
Tips to Analyze Your Passive Data
As a matter-of-fact, it’s probably a bit more challenging translating likes and retweets into hard analytics. Here are just a few questions you can use to explore your data during analysis to provide you some interesting insights:
What is the relationship between ‘likes’ and sales?
What is the relationship between negative online ratings and reviews and sales?
How much do negative ratings and reviews correlate with your overall brand ratings?
How many bad reviews does it take for your brand image to be negatively impacted?
Do customers ‘like’ before they buy or because the buy (In all fairness, this is a question that might be best-suited for good old-fashioned survey research)?
One point of caution: Remember to take a motion picture rather than a snapshot approach when analyzing any kind of data whether passively or actively generated. It’s easy to make wrong conclusions based on a few data points. The more data points you have typically, the more confident that you can be in your conclusions.
A pretty good practical example of using this passively collected data is a paper titled “Social Media Analytics: Data Mining Applied to Insurance Twitter Posts” by Roosevelt C. Mosley Jr. Mosley's paper provides examples and ideas about the potential of using this type of data that will help your organization get started collecting and effectively analyzing your online data from social networks, your website, and your private online community.
The good news is that the data is relatively cheap, if not free. So don’t be afraid to wade into your data!