Etiquette: Why It’s Vital for Communicating with Customers

I have now listened to the podcast interview that Jeff Julian conducted with Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager for Textron Aviaton twice and watched it once (incidentally, I want the t-shirt that Jeff wore for the interview: “I Plan Therefore I Am” because it’s brilliant) and each time I have a new takeaway.  But if I had to summarize the gist of their conversation, it’s about etiquette.

I have often told clients I work with as well as colleagues that all forms of communication, from social media to emails (internal and customer-targeted) should be treated like face-to-face communication.  I have also noted that the people that I trust and like the most electronically, are invariably wonderful people in person as well.  While I have not personally met Mike Turner, I can tell he’s wonderful and here’s why…

Mike recommends considering the whole team when developing communication and working through the sales cycle.  He wisely points out that in the aviation industry, the mechanic also has a “dog in the fight” so to speak because they will be the people working on the plane long term.  Makes sense, right?  I feel the same applies to being considerate of front line staff in retail settings.  One cannot fully understand how (or more importantly if) a product is the right fit for a retailer without communicating with the front line staff who actually do the selling.  Those mechanics or front line staff will likely be able to provide great insight into the challenges they face as well as what kind of feedback they get from customers on a day to day basis.  As Mike says, “content marketing cannot be one-dimensional,” meaning that strong content marketing should reflect that the author has taken the whole of the business into account and truly understands the whole of it, not just the sale.

Purchases are mission related.  Especially major purchases.

-Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager. Textron Aviation

And consumers are getting smarter!  That is a very good thing.  One of the primary goals of content marketing is to provide valuable information and knowledge and as a result, consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before.  We ought to be respectful of them and communicate with consumers in a way that engages them and enhances their knowledge.  We have all opened a targeted email or post, read the opening paragraph and quickly determined that it is too low level so we quickly delete the email, close the link and move on to content that is valuable to us.  I love that Mike Turner mentions mission–the emails and links I am most likely to open and read are those that, in their headline, entice me with a mission or value related statement that aligns with my own mission and values.

Most, if not all of us, do not like to receive unsolicited emails simply because the sender was lucky enough to happen upon our contact information but did not take the time to consider whether we wanted to hear from them.  Further, when we do hear from them, it’s awfully nice when the content is not only relevant but offers value in the form of knowledge or connection.  I liken receiving these unsolicited emails to being at a party, having a great conversation with a group of people that is easy, natural and comfortable, only to have the conversation interrupted by someone who butts in with off-topic comments and then asks you to pay him for the drink he’s peddling.  That is usually when I am heard to say, “pardon me, I need to excuse myself” and then I beat feet to the bathroom or the door to leave.  Of course, I also avoid that guy like the plague the next time I see him.  Point being: don’t spam them just because you can.

How well we communicate with customers and what value we offer them affects customer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.

However, the folks in the C-Suite do not always see things as we content marketers see them.  Often focused on quarterly sales numbers first and foremost, it is a challenge to educate executive leaders on the value of long term, well-handled, relationship development with clients.  How we communicate affects consumer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.  What cracks me up about this is that there are now so many ways to analyze customer opinion (including analyzing social media data) and doing so can provide incredible insight into what a content marketer can do to improve that opinion.

For example, Dominoes Pizza recently started running a television ad that cops to the fact that they had been misleading customers with a “pizza deal” by only offering it on weekdays.  Clearly, they had heard from many a customer who ordered a pizza on a Friday night and felt duped by a misleading ad.  What was cool was that they copped to it!  And apologized! This is a clear example of the importance of customer experience and how it can translate to customer loyalty or customer loss.

Perhaps the best way to reach C-Suite on the importance of well-constructed, well-timed, relevant content and it’s role in the purchase cycle is to call upon them to examine their own purchase practices–i.e. empathize with the customer.  In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Charlie Brown advocates “assigning metrics that measure relationship activity.”  What he means by this is that for many of us, the purchase cycle is longer than it used to be (especially for major purchases, like a jet, right Mike Turner?). Measuring than relationship activity over time can provide incredibly valuable insight into where and when the customer may “fall away” and then making the necessary adjustments to fix it.

And a good rule of thumb is to remember that spam is the electronic equivalent to interrupting someone in the midst of a conversation with totally off-topic remarks.  It’s just poor etiquette.

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Why Your Public Library is Your Best Friend

Hey Marketers–your public library is the best free resource you have.  First and foremost, if you are a taxpaying citizen in any community, you have already paid for this fantastic resource through your tax dollars.  And thank you!  Your tax dollars not only assist people like you and I trying to create their own gig and keep learning, your tax dollars also pay for kids to access technology.  Libraries are one of few entities actively working to bridge the digital divide.  For that alone, libraries and all the amazing folk who work there should get a thank you note.

After 9 years as a public library professional, if I had a nickel for every time someone said, “You have that at the library?” I’d be a very wealthy woman.  This is true not only in Kansas City but the entire metro area and frankly, the world.

When I was living in Copenhagen last summer, I desperately needed to brush up on my Danish language skills and sure, I had downloaded DuoLingo and was using the app every single day but that was not enough to keep up with the pace of conversation with family and friends.  First stop: local library where I found a treasure trove of language resources including workbooks that enabled me to “up the ante” on my language skills by progressing to a new level when I was ready and not when that annoying little owl on
DuoLingo determined I was ready.

“Yeah, libraries have that.” And so much more.  Sure, public libraries may seem to some like a relic from the past filled with dusty old books and dirty looks from cranky librarians. But let’s not sell librarians short—they work diligently to make sure the public has access to everything from free wifi (yes, even from the parking lot) to the best databases your tax dollars can buy.

Here is a short list of the resources marketers can access from anywhere (including the library itself of course) and all you need to do is get a dang library card:

Library card required from home

Produce comprehensive business and residential lists as well as detailed demographic reports. Assess business viability, perform market and site location analysis, create sales leads and/or marketing mailing lists, find potential sponsors and donors to grow a non-profit, prepare a small business plan and much more.

Library card required from home

Get online access to the most recent issues of the Kansas City Business Journal, special publications, and the Book of Lists.

Library card required from home

Read articles from newspapers, magazines, journals and trade publications.

Library card required from home

Lynda.com is a leading online learning company that helps anyone learn business, software, technology, and creative skills to achieve personal and professional goals. Access their library of high-quality, current, and engaging video tutorials taught by recognized industry experts, thousands of courses you can take at your own pace on any device.

Library card required from home

Project MUSE – a development of Johns-Hopkins and other major U.S. Universities.

E-books in the classics, history and literature, now totaling more than 10,000 titles.

Available only at Central and Plaza

This database is geared toward individuals and small organizations seeking grant money. You can read about specific grants, and learn how to increase your chances of success.

Kansas City Public Library has partnered with local tax giant H&R Block to develop and make public the H&R Block Business Center. My husband, a budding entrepreneur (he’s in plants so that’s funny-get it, budding?) is a proud graduate of the Kauffman FastTrac and I think it was during the third day of class that he was taken to the Kansas City Public Library and introduced to the wealth of resources the library offers.  He used the resources to complete his course work as well as to start his business and we both access online databases from our home PC on a weekly basis (at least).

Kansas City Public Library is most certainly not the only place to go in the metro area either.  Johnson County Library has thirteen locations throughout Johnson County and Mid-Continent Public Library has programs dedicated to assisting small business owners, even for us marketing folk.

Yes, all of the links above require a library card and if you clicked on any of the links, you saw that I took you to the source, save the last link which takes you to the login with your library card.  Maybe you even cursed me because you couldn’t get any further in your search but do not despair.  All you need to do is get on down to your public library and get a darn library card.  Don’t winge and say that’s too complicated, you’ve already paid for it and I know you will be pleasantly surprised.

And in case you need to be reminded, these resources are free.  Enjoy.

Why I Stopped Looking for a Marketing Job

IMG_2545Today I cancelled all of my job alerts for marketing, communications, public relations and digital marketing jobs.  I did so not because I am discouraged and giving up on a job search but because I have been fortunate enough to have had some really important conversations with some really smart people over the past couple of months.  Those conversations have helped me to understand not only where my greatest strengths lie as as communicator, but also, how I want to operate as a communicator—I want to teach and I want to learn.

There was a reason I chose to feature a personal photo of myself on this blog (Am often loathe to publish personal photos but the photo above is of my sister in law Tine and I having a conversation about marketing.  She’s a marketing in Danish broadcasting and is a wealth of insight and knowledge).   I want to provide readers with a clear an authentic picture of who I am as a communicator, as a teacher, and most importantly, as a life-long learner.  The tool that I bring to this task is myself and my experience working for large, multi-national corporations as well as small, non-profits.

This post is inspired by the recent post from Jeff Julian about the role of marketing and marketers.  Jeff accurately points out that leaders of many organizations (large and small) may not consider marketing as an important strategic function.  Jeff says many times, marketers find themselves lacking “a seat at the table” meaning that marketing has not been integrated into the strategic function of the organization and as Carla Johnson  aptly points out in this great piece, marketers find themselves working to “bring their companies into the modern age.”

At present, the board of directors and leader of my organization are having lots of conversation about experiences.  So important is the experience to them, they have coined the term “Company Experience” to brand the customer experience that they want our customers to have.  They are forgetting that an important aspect of the customer experience is online (it’s where we make our introduction to many of our new customers) and while program development is important, ensuring that the experience with our existing programs is delightful can also be a priority.  That is where the cognitive dissonance lies.  Talking about the importance of the experience without the strategic and tactical means by which to make that experience a reality is just that-talk.  As the sole marketer within my organization, I feel I have a unique perspective on what is desired and what is (or is not) done on behalf of the customer because I study them.  I also have an up close and personal communication with our customers via social media and the telephone.  Yes, the telephone.  I know that some of our customers use the telephone because they may not be comfortable with technology but it also signifies an issue: the company Website is a challenge to navigate.  No es bueno.

The cause of the cognitive dissonance with regard to our owned assets is two-fold: our administration and leadership are not personally using the site so they do not understand the actual customer experience.  The second reason is that Web development is a less-than-well understood aspect of the work for my colleagues.  I liken this to the way many folks feel about going to a mechanic to have their car repaired.  The customer wants the car fixed in the least expensive and most efficient manner but are not interested in knowing exactly how it will be fixed–they just know they want it to work.  And that is valid.  I feel the same way about the mechanic but thanks to Google, I can now speak with my auto-mechanic with a degree of knowledge.

I have spent the past few weeks conducting my own personal usability studies of our mobile UX by asking my friends and family to go to the company site and buy something. This Moz post was a helpful guide though I would love to implement Inspectlet as I work with developers on the new site.  Five out of six users have simply given up on the purchase with the current site.  That made setting my priorities beautifully simple: get a new Website.

My goal for the Website is to provide a valuable experience for the customer and at the outset will focus on the following:

  1. the purchase process
  2. engaging content on current and upcoming artists
  3. easily accessible information of our events as well as the larger local and national music scenes (specifically Jazz)
  4. a rich and engaging visual and audio experience as it relates to our business
  5. database growth through charming buttons for newsletter sign up and donations

Rather than focus on the challenges I face as a single marketer in an organization that has not yet integrated marketing into the larger strategy,  I am focusing on possible solutions. Focusing on solutions requires that I look at the situation from an objective position first. Leaders who do not consider marketing an important and/or vital function of an organization do not do so out of malice.  Objectivity enables me to see that there is an internal education process required before the real work can begin.  But how does one educate their superiors and peers without sounding patronizing?  Repeating myself and forcing projects down the throats of my colleagues will not work, it never does.

The answer: Game it.

In the coming weeks I hope to launch a Web scavenger hunt.  I will send an email to my colleagues within the organization and ask them to find a specific piece of content or make a purchase on our site.  I will also ask them to track the amount of time it takes to complete each task and “reply to all” with their results in terms of completion as well as time spent.  I will also incentive the game with a reward.

The manner in which I communicate about the scavenger hunt is also crucial.  I plan to use words that are engaging and not accusatory.  I plan to focus on solutions and spur excitement about what is possible in a new Web environment and with updated CSS.  I plan to show each person how the new Website will work to their personal advantage (lucky for me it is a small organization).  I plan to share examples of other Websites and features that provide a superior customer experience and demonstrate how much opportunity we have as an organization to grow our existing customer base through online engagement.  I also know I will need to communicate these things more than once.

Again, in my new found role as a teaching and learning communicator, I want to teach and I want to learn.  Regardless of the outcome, creating a game to engage others and communicating to engage will be a learning experience.  I will let you know how it goes.

 

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