Happy New Year Toast

Wow, what a year and what a time for reflection!

Right now has to be one of the most significant times in our country's and our own history.

As we all watch, wonder, wish and work toward better times amid the craziness on Wall Street, in Detroit and within our own investment portfolios, there is certainly a feeling of brighter times ahead with the Obama team heading toward the White House.

I for one certainly be working toward polishing my own personal brand and try to be all I can be to my clients, family, friends and to myself.

And it is with that promise of a brighter future for all of us, I offer you the following old Irish toast, "May all that you wish for be the least you get and may the best times you've ever had be the worst you'll ever see!"

I wish you have a very blessed 2009.



Apple Geniuses Build Brand Loyalty

Selling-at-the-genius-bar About 10 years ago, I worked in the wireless field. While the phones we sold in those days were not as complex as they are today, they were still complicated for the times.

Stores that took the time to help customers understand how to set up voice mail, speed dial, voice dial etc., and fix issues certainly had more customer loyalty and sales than those that did not.

And, I was always amazed that there wasn't more focus placed on workshops and one on one training because it worked by building trust and customer satisfaction because you could enjoy everything your phone offered.

Today, I'm amazed by how many retailers simply don't get it right. One that does is Apple.

I finally became a happy Apple man two years ago with my first purchase of my amazing 17" Mac Book Pro (I am typing this post on a brand spanking new 15" MacBook Pro) and I cannot see me buying any other computer brand because of the Apple's service and their amazing geniuses. Apple's user experience is simply superior than any other I've experienced in the computer industry and ranks pretty darn high for any other retail experience of mine too! 

Apple continues to differentiate itself by providing
innovative products, evolving and improving and not following the crowd. However, walk into any Apple Store, prop yourself on a stool at the Genius Bar, meet a true Apple Genius and you'll never go back to another computer brand either – I'd bet on it.

Apple's brand story is all about value to me.  Sure it cost me more immediately out of pocket to buy my MacBook Pro, but the service, product value and more sets it so far apart from my near death experiences with Dell that I can't see me ever going back.

Apple has now been in the retail store sector for a little over seven years has totally left its naysayers in the dust (see BusinessWeek story, "Sorry, Steve, Here's Why Apple Stores Won't Work."). Currently, Apple has over 200 stores in the US, UK, Japan and Canada with plans for many more.

Apple's retail stores generate sales at the U.S.-leading rate of $4,032 per square foot a
year (for comparison, Saks generates sales of $362 per square foot per
year; Neiman Marcus, $611; Best Buy, $930; Tiffany & Co, $2,666),
according to a report in 2007 by Sanford C. Bernstein analysts (based
on an average of Apple's then 174-store retail network). In 2004, Apple
reached $1 billion in annual sales faster than any retailer in history; in 2007, sales reached $1 billion a quarter!

I'm no genius, but It doesn't take one to figure out that this is a textbook
example of how to do things right. Apple's retail success spoke for
itself when its stores reached $1 billion in annual sales faster than
any retailer in history. That was in 2004. In 2006? Sales reached $1 billion a quarter. Wow!

Service during and after the sale never goes out of style and reaps mutual dividends fro both the brand and the customer long after the cash regsiter rings.


Newspaper Ad Revenue Loses Nearly $2B

Newspaper ad revenue fell almost $2 billion in the third quarter for a record 18.1% decline, according to new statistics from the Newspaper Association of America.

As you prepare your marketing plan for 2009, you may want to adjust your newspaper ad spend and test their online offering.


True Christmas Gifting

We've been working with a great client – The Priory Hospitality Group and owner/operators the Graf family – and we were honored to be at special Winter White Wedding reception gathering in mid December to give away one free WWW to a local Pittsburgh area veteran of the Iraqi/Afghanistan wars (see Winter White Wedding details here – note: here is a brief video of the Graf's on KDKA-TV talking about the event).

With about 60 people in attendance, The Priory's contest generated 11 contestant couples, 7 of whom were able to be present and one who was represented by family and friends.

The winners of the wedding drawing were Nicholas Lee Lowery and Jennifer Lynn Redman. Nicholas is a corporal in the Marine Corps who had been deployed to Al Anbar Province in Iraq in 2006.

There, he had provided protection to convoys as a .50 caliber machine gunner. He is still on active duty and plans to be a career Marine. Jennifer is a student at Robert Morris University and lives in the North Hills.
They could not attend the event because they were traveling to South Carolina to watch Jennifer’s brother graduate from Marine Basic Training on Parris Island.
It was a very emotional and proud event.

Driving home, I thought I'd offer a small Christmas Gifting idea to all of you.
Since most of all of us have so much, I thought you might be interested to spread a little holiday cheer to a few charities that support our troops too.

Instead of the normal gifts you might give friends, consider a donation in the name of your friends to the following charities. Even though it's close to Christmas and several of these organizations are wrapping up their efforts for the holiday, they all can use donations anytime – some will take online donations.

Here are just a few:

Pittsburgh based – http://www.operationtroopappreciation.org/index.php







How to Improve Call Center Service

If your brand runs a call center (and even if you don't), don't think for a second that you can't make it  a tremendous competitive advantage due to how poorly so many are call centers are operated and how poorly phone calls are handled.

Dimension Data surveyed 300 call centers in 36 countries across five
continents from 1997 – 2007 and here are a few key disappointments:

  • Call abandon rates, due to long hold times, increased during the 10-year period
    by nearly 127 percent, while the average time to answer a call rose by some 70%, from 23 to 39 seconds.
  • The percentage of calls that were answered in less than 10
    seconds decreased by nearly 12% from 72% of all calls to 64%, while callers on average abandoned a call after waiting for 45 seconds
    in 2007, compared to 53 seconds in 1997.

The report also states that contact centers are finding it increasingly
difficult to retain employees. During the 10- year period, annual agent
attrition rate rose by nearly 93%, increasing from 14% to 27%.

Some of the difficulty in retaining employees could be related
to the increased outsourcing of agent seats. The survey found a 220% increase in outsourcing, with 16% of agent seats outsourced in 2007
compared to 5% in 1997.

So what's the deal?

Here are a couple of reasons for poor call center performance:

  • Hiring the wrong people
  • Not doing the right things to hold onto the good people (it's even happening overseas)
  • Look at call centers as cost centers vs. profit centers

done right, you see increases in customer loyalty, employee
retention, and shareholder values. Just ask or try Costco, Zappos and L.L.Bean!

An excellent book on this subject is, "The Best Service is No Service." And, here is a brief interview by Guy Kawasaki and the book's author.

In short, here's The Best Service Is No Service seven principles to deliver the best service that ultimately leads to “no service”:

  • Eliminate dumb contacts

  • Create engaging self-service

  • Be proactive

  • Make it easy to contact your company

  • Own the actions across the company

  • Listen and act

  • Deliver great service experiences

To the list I'd add – make a great product or deliver a great service in the first place!

Source: The 10th annual "Call Center Benchmarking Report" from Dimension Data.


Autos Driving Online Advertising


2008 is expected to be
the worst for auto sales in a decade. Automakers are slashing their ad budgets,
but online they are spending more. After consistently leading the U.S. in
advertising spending, the automotive sector has dropped into the No. 2 spot
behind retail. Even as new vehicle sales decline, automotive marketers will
spend nearly $3 billion online this year, up 21.6%. By 2012, automotive online
ad spending will top $5.6 billion. Research shows that eight out of 10 consumers
now consult the Internet at least once during the car-buying process. It's taking them some time to wak-up, but thoughts of bankruptcy have a sobering effect on one's marketing planning.


Blogs Are Mainstream


EMarketer says that
advertising spending on U.S. blogs will increase to $746 million in 2012, from
$283 million in 2007. The U.S. blogosphere continues to morph into the
mainstream and more advertisers, agencies and ad networks are viewing blogs as a
viable medium to reach coveted demographic groups. Still, blog advertising is a small fraction of total online
spending. In 2007, blog advertising made up 1.3% of the online advertising pie,
and should peak at 1.8% in 2009 before declining to 1.5%
by 2012.


Make Analytics Work

In this new era of accountability, meaningful analytics are vitally important to every brand's success. Some brands today
spend hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year on marketing analytics
programs but even with the best of intentions most do not get an appropriate payback.

Either the analytics do not address the business challenges at hand and/or the company is not capable of interpreting the data – ugh!

Hope these simple tips help you.

  1. Agree on objectives and analytics

  2. Set and manage expectations

  3. Define roles, responsibilities and communication points
  4. Keep math and analytics simple

  5. Create guidleines for interpreting and translating results into actions

  6. Establish a decision process


Relevancy – Golden Rule of Email Marketing

When I analyze successful marketing campaigns, relevance is major reason for success or failure.

The Golden Rule in Life as in Marketing is, "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you."

Delivering your brand promise to the right person, with the right
message, at the right time is critical in ensuring overall marketing

According to JupiterResearch, relevance and timing are as effective at driving conversions as discounting.

Most people complain about email marketing because they get too many emails that are simply irrelevant to satisfying their needs -  common sense indeed.

Here are a few things to consider before you deploy your next email campaign.

  1. Establish targeted messaging using dynamic content and segmentation
  2. When you're collecting data, ask for a little at a time so your customers can build trust with you

Here's how you can start to build some trust:

  1. First ask for permission to send emails to your customers
  2. When requesting the customer’s opt-in, give them specifics of the email campaign they are subscribing to such as content, frequency and services

Providing complete transparency to a customer leverages your credibility and builds trust.

Once you've established their opt-in preference, begin trending a customer’s specific interests. By collecting your customers purchase history, demographics, email or web site behavior, you can create a more relevant experience.

According to MarketingSherpa’s 2006 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide, marketers are personalizing their emails through the following:

  • Abandoned Shopping Carts
  • Behavioral
  • Demographic Data
  • Dynamic and Segmented Content
  • Lead Source
  • Product Profiling
  • User Details

So start with the basics, such as name, email and opt-in and start to build a database of content that enables you to create a message that your customer wants to receive and respond to.

Segmenting your audience will enable you to deliver a highly relevant message more effectively. This is an easy way that enables marketers to learn more about each specific group or audience they interact with, allowing them to better tailor their content and send more targeted messages.

According to MarketingSherpa, a non-segmented promotional campaign receives a .48% click through rate, versus a 6.68% click through rate on a segmented promotional campaign.

Most email marketing service providers lend you the flexibility to seamlessly segment your audience within the application, allowing for more time to work on messaging than creating segments.

A few easy and simple ideas for campaign segmentation can include action-based, gender, birthday.

Good luck!


Marketing Black Friday Stupidity

As a marketer, I've never quite been able to get my head around Black Friday.

This is supposedly the day that most retailers finally make it into the "black" or profitability.

First of all, if you have a Brand – any Brand – that traditionally doesn't make a profit until 11 months into a calendar year, then there is something seriously wrong with your market offering, value proposition and more.

Why anyone would invest in that business model makes no sense to me.

Secondly, to totally prostitute your Brand for a few hours of one morning for one day offering ridiculous loss leaders which bastardizes your Brand, taxes your employees and has now turned deadly as it did for a Walmart in Long Island, should send you a clear message that you need to step back and re-evaluate things.

On a personal level, it saddens me to think about the state of people's greed and reckless consumption habits during a special time we should be giving thanks. In fact, the only thing we should be spending is our time with family, friends and those less fortunate than ourselves.