RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the social media & marketing agency that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service."

How to Bring CSR and Social Media Together for Good

12/8/11

I had the pleasure of meeting Elisabeth Charles at The CMO Club Summit in LA this October.  As CMO of Petco she has orchestrated a number of innovative marketing programs to actively engage pet owners.  Learning that Elisabeth was on the board of HABRI, the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative, I thought she would be a great person to discuss how companies can do well be doing good and extended these activities through social media.  Turns out, this time, I was barking up the right tree.

DN: Do you think being recognized as a good corporate citizen is increasingly important to a brand like yours? Why?
Good corporate citizenship is very important to Petco – it’s built into the fabric of our entire business. Everything we do is guided by our vision for Healthier Pets.  Happier People.  Better World.

We established our non-profit organization, the Petco Foundation, in 1999 and have since raised more than $80 million in support of some 7,500 local animal welfare partners across the country. Each year, we also help save the lives of more than 250,000 animals through adoption events in our stores.  Through the Petco Foundation, we also support spay and neuter efforts, animal-assisted therapy programs and humane education. Working hand-in-hand with the Foundation, our Petco and Unleashed by Petco stores serve as the first and largest national pet food bank in the country. Designated collection bins located in each of our stores allow customers to donate pet food that directly benefits pet parents in need in their local community.

As a company, we’re also increasingly adopting more sustainable business practices. We strongly believe that if it’s good for the planet, it’s good for pets and people, too.  Earlier this year, Petco became one of the only non-grocery store retailers to be recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an Energy Star Leader for reducing our energy consumption by more than 10 percent across our entire business. Additionally, our Planet Petco line of products offers pet parents the ability to choose high-quality, more sustainable products that utilize recycled and reclaimed materials and renewable resources. These are just a few examples of what we do as a company today. It’s an ongoing process and we’re always striving to do more in this important area of corporate social responsibility.

DN: Is there a fine line between “doing good” as a company and talking about it so much that is seems insincere?
You absolutely have to be sincere and authentic in what you are doing and saying, and you must also be fully committed, rather than doing something only half way. A company’s goodwill efforts should be far more than just a marketing campaign. For Petco, all of our “do-gooding” is centered around what we believe is the right thing to do. The programs we create and support reflect our company’s values and the passion our associates have for people and pets.

DN: Is there a particular Petco goodwill/charitable program that you are particularly proud of?
There are many charitable programs that we get involved in, so it is hard to name just one.  A newer program that really took off this year was our National Pet Food Bank program and our National Pet Food Drive. Just in the program’s second year, this year’s drive ran for two weeks (late October-mid November) in all of our Petco and Unleashed by Petco stores. During the national drive, we encourage customers to pick up an extra bag or can of pet food during their shopping trip, or bring unopened food from home, and donate it via the collection bins in our stores. Also for the second year, Hill’s Science Diet supported our efforts by matching 100,000 pounds of donated food during the drive. In just two weeks, we collected nearly 350,000 pounds of pet food – a more than 60 percent increase over last year – to help financially strapped pet parents feed their pets during the holiday season. The Petco Foundation Pet Food Bank is a year-round program, but it’s very exciting to see how generous our customers are during the national drive leading into the holiday season.

DN: I noticed you personally are working with an organization called HABRI.  Can you talk what and why you are doing this?
Petco is excited and proud to be a founding sponsor of HABRI, the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative. Other founding sponsors are the American Pet Products Association and Pfizer Animal Health.  We got involved because we passionately believe that pets enrich our lives and we want to help generate formal, widespread scientific recognition of the positive role pets play in our lives.  HABRI’s mission is to support research, education and other charitable activities that validate the positive impact the human-animal bond can have on the integrated health of families and communities, by consolidating, organizing and sharing existing scientific research into the human-animal bond in partnership with Purdue University.

DN: Goodwill activities seem to translate well into social media.  Have you found this to be case and/or how do you see good will programs evolving next year?
Absolutely.  We actively use social media (especially Facebook) to engage our fan base, which is now nearing 600,000 likes, to support our charitable causes.  In general, we find that goodwill posts and campaigns featuring authentic stories perform very well in social media.  Positive campaigns with an altruistic call to action perform remarkably better (up to 100 percent more feedback) in user interaction on social properties than promotional campaigns or transactional posts. Human interest stories and, of course, anything to do with pets, are the second most shared and clicked upon posts/tweets/videos.

In October, we hosted our first ever National Adoption Reunion Weekend. Fans online were asked to submit stories about how their adopted pets had changed their lives and were given the opportunity to raise funds for the Petco Foundation through Foursquare check-ins. The social portion of the campaign performed very well, driving the most organic Twitter growth and retweets for a campaign we  have seen to date, the most views on a non-commercial video on YouTube, more than 57,000 photos uploaded on Flickr and more than 3,000 likes across three blog posts. Needless to say, we were very pleased with the results.

DN: I’m a big fan of Pedigree’s “dogs rule” campaign and their pet adoption program.  Have you partnered on “good will” programs with any of the brands that you carry and if so, what are the advantages of this approach?
Every month, we host a National Adoption Weekend when adoption events are held in all of our stores across the country. Each monthly weekend event is sponsored by one of our vendor partners.  We’ve also joined forces with several of our vendor partners for in-store fundraisers to support mutual charitable interests, including Blue Buffalo for Pet Cancer Awareness and Natural Balance for National Guide Dog Month.   I think programs like this are a huge win-win when we are able to work together to help improve the lives of pets and pet parents, and when we all know the funds raised are going to important work that we mutually care about.

‘Tis the Season to Do Well by Doing Good

12/2/11

‘Tis the season that people and brands start to think about doing a little good for others.  Lynley Sides, CEO of a philanthropically-oriented start-up called The Glue Network, has a plan to help brands do well by doing good all year round. She makes a compelling case for CSR programs noting that, “People are nearly twice as likely to buy or recommend a product if it’s affiliated with a cause they care about.” Here’s my interview with Lynley.  I think she is on to something really good!

DN: What are your goals for The Glue Network?
The Glue Network is the first to elegantly combine giving with digital media to deliver bottom line results for companies (greater return on marketing spend or greater return on company giving) and to be a catalyst for good in the world. Our two primary goals are:

  • Deliver business results for companies. Today, corporate giving groups are under tremendous pressure to deliver business results beyond goodwill — we deliver that.  Marketing groups are seeking authentic (non-gimmicky) ways of engaging with their consumers and stakeholders that not only deliver more clicks but deeper relationships and a positive image — we deliver that.  Small companies are especially challenged to accomplish these things due to limited resources — the Glue automated platform delivers the same results for a company / program of any size.
  • Be a catalyst for good:  Success with #1 means companies will spend more this way — more results for them + more good for the world.  Also, as individuals are engaged in giving at younger ages, they give more over the course of their lives and influence more giving from others.  Through the individuals a company engages with their Glue program, we encourage future good (giving, volunteering, social entrepreneurship).

DN: Do you think a lot of brands are looking to do well by doing good right now given the challenging economy?
Yes, this is absolutely a hot topic for business right now because there are 2 competing factors at work.  Despite the challenging economy, companies (not just big ones) face higher expectations from consumers/stakeholders for social responsibility and the lowest levels of satisfaction in history.  But also (as supported by a recent study by The Conference Board), as these economic pressures persist, what doesn’t improve the bottom line is in the end not sustainable.  So, if companies don’t figure out how to give back and have that giving drive value beyond goodwill or a golden halo, it will cease to be justifiable — which would be a missed opportunity for business and a massive loss for the world.

Companies that aren’t feeling the pain of this challenge are either the few that are far ahead of the curve, with social responsibility deeply engrained in their businesses in ways that create value, or have not yet faced this reality because they continue to look at marketing and giving separately.

DN: There are so many ways for brands to “do good,” why should they align with The Glue Network?
Glue does more than they can do otherwise and we make it far easier for them.  People are nearly twice as likely to buy or recommend a product if it’s affiliated with a cause they care about.  However, when a company makes a charitable gift, the nonprofit may fit with their brand and help a good cause — but necessarily, it’s not the one most of that brand’s customers would have chosen.  To drive greater business value, companies need to create cause-based experiences that allow consumer choice and provide rich, social experiences.  Voting campaigns by brands like Pepsi, Chase, Gap, Target and more take a step toward this but could do more to deliver engaging experiences and tie the experience back to direct direct business results.  And they aren’t feasible for smaller companies to pull off.

Glue’s automated, closed loop platform enables cause-based social marketing programs of any size that create deep engagement, multi-point brand/cause associations, high sharing rates and a closed loop brands can use to drive new customers and rich data.  This is a unique and powerful combination.

DN: What makes you confident that the “goodwill” generated by TGN will translate into ‘good’ revenue?
Companies don’t need Glue to create goodwill.  But when individuals are given rich options and the power to choose (not just vote but choose), they become personally attached to their choice and to the company that enabled them to make it — and more inspired to share the experience with their friends and support the company in the future.  That’s not just our opinion.  Our user data blows away industry average rates for sharing and clicks — meaning we’re inspiring the users (the company’s customers), giving the company access to those customers’ friends and colleagues (highly attractive targets), and enabling them to directly drive new customers and revenue from that base PLUS develop new customer data which all companies know to have value.

The Glue platform is flexible enough to fulfill numerous business objectives spanning customers, partners, and employees.  But for any audience, a Glue program delivers significantly higher business value for the cost than comparable traditional digital media, loyalty, or giving programs.

DN: What kind of commitment are you looking for from brands?
Very little.  We’re committed to making robust Social Cause Marketing feasible and justifiable (through business results) for every company.  We’re like a Salesforce.com <http://Salesforce.com>  (sophisticated CRM for all) or Eventbrite (anyone can be an event organizer) — this December, businesses from small local startups to one of the largest tech companies are creating greater value from the same holiday gift spending through Glue.  For brands that want to create larger programs with a more integrated, branded experience, we can do that too.

This ease and flexibility is made possible by the robust platform we’ve developed with an extensive back-end that enables campaign and non-profit project management.

DN: What can companies do quickly to harness the spirit of the holidays to increase customer loyalty and attract new customers while doing good?
Companies of all sizes spend on gifts and branded merchandise (a $17 billion industry), many of which wind up in landfills and few of which the recipient finds meaningful or worthy of telling people about.  Instead of mugs or gift baskets, give a Glue gift which has meaning for the recipient, does good in the world, and generates free PR for the business in the form of social media recommendations — for the same cost and minimal effort. Contact info@thegluenetwork.com

Final note:  Lynley Sides is CEO of The Glue Network and has spent her career bringing groundbreaking new products to market. She’s passionate about digital media, social ventures, running, skiing and the fight for global human freedom. You can follow her @LynleySides.

Why Timberland Planted 1 Million Trees in Inner Mongolia

08/2/10

This is not a story about a bunch of granola-loving, tree-hugging, goody two-shoes. Timberland, the company, is in business to sell shoes and other outdoor apparel. As Chief Brand Officer Mike Harrison put it in my interview with him last week, “We’re not advocating for good causes just for the sake of it, there is an element of enlightened self-interest in this,” adding, “we’re an outdoors brand, if winter goes away its not a good thing for us financially either.”

That said, Timberland’s approach to corporate social responsibility could be a model for any likeminded company around the world. Timberland is considered one of the most socially responsible brands in the US and was recently recognized by Ceres-ACCA as having the best sustainability reports. Timberland’s commitment to fighting climate change permeates the global organization, from the CEO to the sales staff in Japan, and serves as the starting point for this 7-point guide on how to do well by doing good.

1. Create a Culture of Doers

Timberland has long believed in empowering its employees to give back. Harrison reported that, “back in the early 1990’s, we started giving employees paid time off to volunteer in the community.” So when a bunch of employees in Japan linked their concern about air quality with deforestation in Northeast China, the next thing you knew Timberland was planting trees in Inner Mongolia. Noted Harrison, “It started out as a pretty low-key community service project in 2000,” and culminated in April 2010 with the planting of the millionth tree!

2. Walk the Walk First Especially in China

One of the more remarkable aspects of Timberland’s tree planting program in China is that they didn’t even sell boots there until 2006 (6 years after the first tree was planted). According to Harrison, “We were planting trees but we hadn’t gotten around to figuring out how to do business there.” Not famous for welcoming foreign brands, Timberland benefited from six years of good will generation. Describing the launch in China, Harrison noted that, “we told them about the Timberland brand and what we stood for and why we’d been planting trees and that definitely got a lot of interest.” Four years later, China is one of Timberland’s fastest growing markets.

3. Make it Green But Don’t Lead with Green

In 2007, Timberland launched the Earthkeepers boot, which, Harrison noted, “was the greenest boot that we knew how to make.” Since that boot was well received, they turned Earthkeepers into a “collection of environmentally responsible footwear and apparel,” that has become Timberland’s fastest growing collection. But Harrison recognized that, “consumers are not going out shopping for brands in our space wondering about how they can save the planet, so you need to look at environmental values as the gift with purchase.” Harrison considers this one of the biggest lessons, noting that his consumer won’t buy it if it doesn’t look good and perform like its less green counterparts.

4. Don’t Underestimate Online Engagement Among the Green Inclined

No good marketing story would be complete without a few bumps in the road. Timberland’s bump came after launching a virtual tree planting application on Facebook in late 2008. “We had all these grandiose plans to engage consumers and create a movement online,” noted Harrison, whose group was taken by surprise when the demand for virtual tree planting exceeded the speed at which they could plant corresponding real trees. When Timberland then took down the application there was a huge backlash and Harrison discovered, “Just how engaged our consumers were.” How Timberland responded to this crisis is as instructive as the rest of their actions.

5. Fess Up To Your Mistakes

After the Facebook application was shut down, Timberland’s “engaged consumers” created online petitions to bring back the application and then started to question the veracity of Timberland’s tree planting programs. This was potential PR disaster requiring an immediate and honest response. Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz held a chat session with the petition’s organizers and posted the conversation for all to see. This approach helped to diffuse the protestors and offered Timberland a valuable dose of humility. Offered Harrison, “it’s much better to openly engage with critics, be transparent, be open about your failings—we never say we’re perfect and we never will be.”

6. Don’t Be Too Earnest

Understandably proud of their green track record, Harrison noted that one of the biggest marketing mistakes they’ve made is “to come across as preachy” when advertising their Earthkeepers products. “We’re trying to be more humorous in our ads now—it’s a serious issue but we shouldn’t claim we’re curing cancer—we’re just planting trees and doing the best we can.” “We seem to engage better if we’re reasonably light,” offered Harrison while lamenting consumer’s general disinterest in reading longer and more serious eco-stories. Advised Harrison, “pick your message, be positive, upbeat, reasonably light hearted about it and don’t come across as overly earnest.”

7. Think Global, Act Social

Offering a glimpse into their future marketing plans, Harrison noted that “half of our business and half our consumers are outside the US, so the next big step is moving to a more global Timberland.com and moving to a more global social networking strategy.” This coincides with new tree planting initiatives in Haiti and Nepal along with continuing efforts in China. In fact, CEO Jeff Swartz has set the audacious goal of planting 5 million trees in the next five years. Timberland is also updating its virtual tree planting initiative with the introduction of a new Facebook application, which will be integrated with its soon to be launched “Nature Needs Heroes” marketing campaign.

Final Note: In its Q1 2010 earnings report, Timberland’s revenue was up 7% overall and 17% in Asia. Seems like Timberland is doing pretty darn well by doing good.  (This article first appeared on FastCompany.com)

Pepsi Refresh Serves All

03/18/10

What I love about the concept of Marketing as Service is that when done correctly it is a win win all the way around.  The consumer wins because they get something of real value and the marketer wins because they get something of real value too, not the least of which is a meaningful consumer interaction.  Done correctly, marketing as service can increase loyalty, attract new customers, generate favorable PR and even increase your fanbase on Facebook.

Which brings me to Pepsi’s Refresh Project.  If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading this and click here.  In their words, “Pepsi is giving away millions of dollars  to fund great ideas.” Here’s a quick recap from MediaPost:

PepsiCo introduced the Pepsi Refresh Project to a large audience during the Super Bowl. The yearlong project, whose mission is to fund entrepreneurial projects with “a positive impact,” encourages fans to submit ideas — as well as vote online to decide who will be monthly winners of multiple grants ranging from $5K to $250K apiece.

At first you might ask what does saving the world have to do with Pepsi but the simple answer is in the program tagline, “every Pepsi refreshes the world.”  The reality is that Pepsi is finding a deeper way to connect with its youthful target, a target that is indeed keen on saving the world or at least making sure that young artists find an audience or that an eco-friendly play gets produced in NYC. If the target believes Pepsi actually cares, Pepsi moves from soda to soul mate.  The project has been gaining momentum over the last several months according to MediaPost:

Using no broadcast media to publicize the contest in December, Pepsi closed the submission period for ideas in 72 hours. Then the company added a little media to the mix in February and closed submissions within 24 hours. By March, as the project became more well-known, Pepsi closed submissions in less than 12 hours. There have been millions of votes, more than a billion media impressions and hundreds of thousands of new Facebook Fans.

This program is worth studying in further detail for its state-of-the-are use of social media, crowd sourcing and good old CSR (corporate social responsibility.)  But alas, I can’t do that for you right this second as I need to take a Pepsi break.

Marketing as Service isn’t CSR

06/23/08

In Jonah Bloom’s editorial on Marketing as Service (MAS), he challenged a couple of marketers including AT&T and Citi to “make their marketing useful” and offered up a couple of examples which he thought would provide utility for New Yorkers. To some readers, both examples sounded like acts of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) thus muddying the waters a bit between CSR and MAS. Without getting too academic, let me try to clarify the similarities and differences between these two important marketing constructs.

CSR is generally sponsored by a corporate entity (P&G sustainability goals ) while MAS is typically developed for a specific product or service (Charmin’s portable potties). While both CSR and MAS are meant to generate good will, CSR typically focuses on servicing society (Nike’s Live Strong donations) while MAS serves a particular target segment (Nike+ microsite & events to support runners). CSR is often trumpeted via traditional advertising; MAS is a substitute for traditional advertising. CSR strategy briefs rarely talk in terms of driving sales; MAS strategy briefs are almost always about driving sales.All that said, there are times when CSR is delivered via MAS and MAS has elements of CSR which is why the two are easily confused. A recent TAAN blog post by Peter Gerritsen provides further clarification:

Most all of us know about Cause Marketing. Doing good, and connecting the client with the beneficial efforts on behalf of the well-meaning cause. Admirable, and worthwhile. Often delivering results for both the cause and the client.A new term (at least to me) is “Marketing as Service” or “Marketing with Meaning” — providing a useful service to the public/prospect/customer as a element of the marketing effort. There have always been some fabulous “promotions” that are directly tied to the marketers product. This is going a step further — Actually being USEFUL to the audience. Instead of promoting a product, buying media time and space to advertise, holding a special event with sponsorships, this is about giving directly to the audience something of value to them and adhering the marketer’s brand to this value. There are a number of great examples that should give you a starting point in considering this opportunity for your clients. This could be a great leveraging vehicle in drawing you closer to your client, beyond the commodity ad work we all perform. (Now, I know you don’t look as your work as a commodity. So, don’t go crazy over my lumping you in with the rest of the ad agencies. But ….)

Bottom line: Marketing as Service is all about the how — how a marketer communicates with its target. Instead of talking about a particular product or service, MAS provides something the target can actually use and, in a sense, its medium becomes the message. Corporate Social Responsibility is all about the why — why a marketer is doing something for a particular cause or social issue. Instead of talking about a particular product or service, CSR hopes to generate a halo of good will over a company via pro-social messaging. Any questions?

Marketing in a Recession: Be Brave or Be Gone

01/25/08

A memorable moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is when a galloping minstrel sings of Brave Sir Robin and how “he ran away, he ran away” when faced with adversity. With a downturn (dare I say recession) looming, my advice is simple: don’t be Brave Sir. Robin. As the old saying goes, with each challenge comes opportunity and opportunities abound even in downturns.

1. Don’t Kill Your Budget (Yet)

The first thing we marketers must do is save the budget. I have no doubt your CFO is already calling for reductions in head count and spending. Now is the time to be brave. Since all your competitors won’t have the chutzpah to say no to their CFO, you must make the case that this is your chance to gain true competitive advantage with a share of voice you’ve been dreaming about all these years. Remind your CFO that top-of-mind awareness is an asset of the company that will devalue faster than he/she can say ROI. In truth, awareness can decline as fast as 50% a month when you go silent and the cost of buying back that awareness will be horrendous.

2. Cut Wisely
Given that my first point is probably a pipedream and that you will no more be able to avoid cuts than a deer can turn away from oncoming headlights, let’s consider where to cut. Traditional advertising has always been the first to go and depending on your media mix, that may make sense now. The one advertising channel that will be harder to cut is online since a steady stream of metrics provide the ROI data that is so often missing in other areas. Promotional dollars are harder to cut because your channel partners may very well depend (like the addicts they are) on the sales boosts coupons and other discounts provide. Events and trade shows should be reviewed on case-by-case basis, saving those that can demonstrate ROI and tossing the ones that have been of questionable worth all along.

3. Stay Focused
Now that you have less money to work with, it is all the more important that you concentrate your spending where it can have the greatest impact. This is not the time to consider new targets or new channels if that means losing focus on your core constituents. But staying focused doesn’t mean doing the same old same old. Get out there and talk to your customers and find out how the downturn is affecting their lives and their product choices. Just the mere process of talking to your customers will make them feel special and cement the bond you’ll really need to weather the economic storm.

4. New Stuff for the Old Gang
What you hear from your current customers may really surprise you and push your product or service offerings in new directions. With austerity looming like a black cloud on the horizon, some consumers may turn to affordable luxuries even more than usual. While more “value packs” seems like an obvious direction, it is also possible consumers will turn to smaller sizes just to keep their monthly spend down. On the other end, luxury customers may temporarily discard their “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” attitude choosing to spend their dollars more discretely. For example, furriers might want to think about putting the fur on the inside of the coat, offering the same warmth without the showy statement (animal rights activists would encourage you to put fake fur on the inside!) On the services side, tighter economic times could create all sorts of new opportunities. Those with two jobs might need more help at home, keeping things organized, walking the dogs and/or shopping for groceries (online services like Fresh Direct could indeed thrive in a downturn.)

5. Keep it Light
Just because the economy is sadly wanting doesn’t mean consumers want to be reminded of their uneasiness in every communication. A little humor, particularly of the self-deprecating variety, will be most appreciated by your otherwise stressed-out target. If there is humor to be found in your DNA, now is the time to unleash the smiles. Entertainment companies will be wise to breakout the comedies after finding a happy ending to the writer’s strike. I’m reminded of the depression era-based movie Sullivan’s Travels in which the protagonist (a movie director played by Joel McCrae) searches for a serious theme for his next feature. What he learns is that laughter is the ultimate tonic during tough times.

6. Avoid the Middle
A waning tide may lower all boats but some will surely ride this out better than others. My money is on strong brands with high net promoter scores who are consistently delivering genuine and perceived value. Weaker brands with little customer loyalty will find themselves stuck in the middle, neither cheap enough to overcome their shortcomings or expensive enough to attract the ever-spending affluent crowd. This is a bad time to be Sears and a better time to be Best Buy or Bergdorf’s. Sears is stuck in the middle without competitive advantage on price, value or service. Best Buy offers both value and service (via Geek Squad) and Bergdorf’s regulars are unlikely to cut back drastically. Mass consumer brands with a wide range of products would be smart to emphasize their high-end and entry-level models again with the goal of avoiding the middle.

7. Partner with Non-Profits
Non-profits will undoubtedly feel the pinch as their supports cut back on donations. This happens in every downturn and is really painful for the non-profits who continue to perform an incredible range of socially beneficial services. Mobilize your employees and your customers behind the non-profits you truly believe in and you will be amazed at the good will and good business you will do as a result. The non-profits will be so grateful for your support that they will bend over backwards to ensure you achieve your business goals not just now but for many years to come. It may seem counterintuitive to increase your CSR (corporate social responsibility) now BUT that is exactly why it is worth considering. Your employees will undoubtedly respond with increased loyalty that will also translate into higher productivity.

8. Hedge your Bets
Market volatility is not a new concept yet many companies are remarkably vulnerable to changes in the weather not to mention the economy. Savvy marketers are turning to sophisticated forecasters who can not only anticipate changes but also offer hedging solutions. With some progressive thinking, marketers can find some means of hedging against the key variables that impact their particular industry. In the field of weather, a new company called Storm (www.stormexchange.com) is helping a variety of companies from makers of outerwear to power companies determine the business cost of variable weather conditions and then helping them hedge against abnormal conditions.

9. Keep your Ear to the Ground
If you don’t have a full-time “social media director” on staff, get one quick. This individual needs to be on the internet every day, monitoring the chatter about your brand. Since bad news spreads faster than a blaze in the Malibu hills, active blog monitoring is the first line of defense, offering a firewall between your brand and an image-burning disaster. Your clearly identified (no pseudonyms please Mr. Mackey ) representative can set the record straight, respond to performance complaints and keep you informed when problems aren’t being addressed in the field. He/she may even turn a customer into an advocate simply by acknowledging their comments. Given how few companies bother to engage their customers, those that do are frequently met with “wow, I didn’t know you cared that much” and vows of eternal loyalty—loyalty that will float your boat long after your competitors succumb to the economic down currents.

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