September 09, 2012

3 Imperatives for Creating Your Own Online Community The intense growth of social networking is driving interest in gated private and online communities. This is especially compelling in highly regulated sectors like pharmaceuticals and financial services, where brands have been mostly sitting on the sidelines watching as communities grow and converse without them. And while it’s easy to imagine how great it might be to focus your customer's attention on your vertical, to connect your brand advocates and to observe and mine the rich dialog among the faithful, it’s much harder to pull off than it seems. Marketers should think carefully about what kind of unique customer experience an online community can offer and what kind of business result is likely to come about as a direct consequence of an investment of time, technology and resources necessary to bring a community to life. The availability of software tools plus the desire to integrate a community into an existing website doesn’t necessarily make the prima facia business case. With all the existing communities and social network options, it’s unlikely that even your best customers are desperately waiting for you to create a platform for them to interact with. And don't forget, even if you build it; they might not come. But if you are dead set on creating a community and you can convince management to invest, bear in mind three critical factors for success: 1. Have a Solid Business Plan. A gated community has to drive brand loyalty, stimulate purchases and re-purchases and develop referrals. If it doesn't, it’s not worth the effort or the cost. And even though it’s hard to accurately forecast revenues produced by online communities, plan to make money and set up metrics to gauge the fiscal impact on your business. 2. Focus on Content. Run it like a Cable TV Channel. An online community lives or dies on programming, usually narrow, niche, unique programming that speaks directly to specialists and helps them connect the dots. Picture your users and super-serve them. Everything you do and every feature you add has to provoke tune-in and time spent with you. If the content isn’t plentiful enough and compelling enough to drive this level of engagement; don't do it. Assume your community members have a small amount of precious time to spend. And assume they are mercenary in allocating it. If they don't get value every time they tune-in, they stop viewing. Give them what they want. Reward them for taking the actions you want them to take. Keep a tight focus on content. Police the comments. Provide expert advice and interventions. Expose the brand's insights, expertise and point of view. Share with the community the kind information you'd share with a trusted client during a quarterly business review or with a high value prospect on the third sales call. Give them a sneak peak at future products or services and/or an offer member’s early access or better pricing. 3. Have One Person Run it. Nothing says its real than the allocation of one fully loaded full-time employee. Find the programmer on your team and make customer engagement and business results their reason for being. Make their raise or bonus dependent on KPIs like repeat visits or time spent per session. When authority and responsibility are shared, there's no one to blame and too many shoulders get shrugged. And unless you are a very small shop, coordinating all the moving parts that go into an effective online community and keeping the lawyers at bay is easily a full time gig for an up-and-coming marketer. Marketers across verticals have a persistent fantasy about mobilizing customers and prospects online in carefully curated communities. It’s a terrific fantasy. But it’s much harder to pull off credibility and with positive ROI in the face of established and growing social networks. You need a compelling reason for being and the willingness to invest in software, content and at least one dedicated FTE to make a serious stab at it.
10 E-Mail Optimization Tactics E-mail is the Rodney Dangerfield of digital media. The day-to-day workhorse doesn’t get the respect it deserves. But new innovations and technology changes could soon change all that according to a new report from Lyris. Ubiquitous, fast, intensely measurable and cheap, e-mail is the go-to medium for almost every marketer. US marketers, according to eMarketer and longtime DM guru Arthur Middleton Hughes will spend $1.5 billion on it this year. Surveys of email Q2 2012 performance data from Experian’s Cheetahmail and from Epsilon show total open rates north of 20% with unique opens approximately 15% and click-to-open rates of 15%. More than half of brands reporting e-mail performance saw a statistically significant lift in year-over-year open rates. Consumers embrace email because it works for them. Getting the subject line and personalization right dramatically increases engagement and yield. Consider these 10 technologies and tactics that will continue to enhance e-mail performance. List Integrity & Growth. Your list is your WMD. But at any given moment 15-20 percent of your names have either gone dormant or are dead men walking; customers who are done with you but haven’t bothered to unsubscribe. Monitor responses and opens and build business rules to gauge and preserve the health of your list. Segment the lists by the frequency of opens or clicks or the absence of the same. Start winning back lapsed customers sooner rather than later. E-mail marketers need to be vigilant in scrubbing lists and in continuous data gathering to insure messaging is personal and relevant. Many e-mail marketers run dedicated Google Adgroups using key words like offers, deals or weekly specials as an always-on low cost name acquisition tactic which generally works. Transactional Messaging. These mundane messages that serve as receipts and facilitate the mechanics of transactions can be powerful follow-up vehicles. Use them to cross-sell and to grease the pipeline for the next best offer. Triggered Abandoned Cart Messages. A healthy numbers of shoppers abandon their carts for a variety of reasons. E-mail has a two-fold value in this situation. E-mail reminds shoppers about the abandoned merchandise and makes an offer that can save as many as 29% of these otherwise lost sales. Follow-up research has shown that the same type of e-mail can stimulate on-premise sales as well. Off-line E-mail Multiplier. Combining postal and email into a concerted campaign against an existing customer base can yield a double whammy in terms of results A retailer, mentioned in the Harvard Business Review Blog, experimented on105, 000 loyalty card customers and found that those who received both postal and email had the highest response rates and highest average orders yielding the most dollars per name mailed. For every email sale, this retailer also got 3 in-store sales. Beyond the immediate purchase stimulus, e-mail plays an offline branding and traffic-building role. Mobile E-Mail Use. More e-mail is read on mobile devices than on PCs or laptops. In a typical day, 84% of mobile users check their accounts at home. 80% check at miscellaneous times including standing on lines, at work, in transit and even in the bathroom. Understand where and why customers and prospects check e-mail to create new persuasion and entertainment opportunities corresponding to predictable need and purchase patterns. Improved Targeting & Segmentation. Doing less better is a mantra for continuously improving e-mail performance. The better you know who you are mailing to and the tighter the offer, tone and manner; the better the result. Savvy marketers have abandoned e-mail carpet-bombing in favor of mailing smaller, discrete data-driven segments. Priority Inbox and Filtering. Gmail’s “Priority Inbox” filters inbound e-mail and creates a hierarchy of importance for users. Toutapp, Asana, Zigmail and others are refining this process. Effective e-mail communications will have to become more immediately relevant and personal to get opened. Given the high volume of e-mail, not to mention Spam, that the average person gets daily, anticipate filters and use every data point to insure that your messages are sorted IN rather than OUT. Social Inbox. Social media is impacting e-mail in three ways. First, the social impetus is to immediately share interesting content or offers with your network of friends. Prepare for this opportunity. Create content and embed links, videos or images to make this easy and to prompt users to share. Second, drive e-mail sign ups and simultaneous data capture by using social sign-on as your engagement gateway. Encourage consumers to sign-on and sign-up using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest or other relevant social credentials. Third, groups of friends and...

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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