Book Takeaways: The Referral Engine

For service-based businesses, word-of-mouth referrals are perhaps the most important aspect of marketing. But how does a business go about acquiring more word-of-mouth referrals? After reading The Referral Engine by John Jantsch, I have a better understanding of why we refer. The book also offers numerous strategies and tactics for making a business more referral driven, and I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in marketing, especially marketing for small or medium sized businesses.referralenginebook

For me personally, two main concepts of the book stand out in my mind. The first is the idea that we all as human beings have a natural need to refer friends and family to businesses we like. Therefore, gaining more referrals is more about making yourself more likable and less about gimmicks and “traditional” marketing tactics.

On the flip side of that argument, monetizing referrals can actually do more harm than good, as it takes that natural desire to refer and attempts to turn it in to something people do only to get money or something additional. Businesses that provide unexpected thanks after a referral has been made will likely be more successful because that model follows more closely with human nature.

The second biggest takeaway I got from the book was the idea of just asking for a referral as well as the best time to ask. If someone tells you they are extremely satisfied with the service they just received, why not take that as an opportunity to ask them to tell their friends? Rather than hoping they think of someone later on, have cards available where clients can write someone’s name down then and there, before the chaos of life gets in the way.

The book offers numerous ideas like these that can be applied to many industries. I would again highly suggest anyone who performs marketing duties for a small or medium business to check it out. In addition, the author has a wonderful accompanying website at referralenginebook.com.

If you’ve read the book, what did you think? What ideas have you put in place to help your marketing efforts?

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My Opinions on “The 36 Rules of Social Media” (Two Months Later…)

This post has been a long time coming. Back in November, I came across this intriguing graphic from PRDaily: The 36 Rules of Social Media. If you haven’t seen it, take a look. While the graphic is a couple months old now, it is worth considering the points it makes. Here are five I thought deserved further discussion. (Although I would love to chat about any of them!)

#2. Stop and ask: Would an actual person talk that way?

For my own work, this is a big one. It is especially difficult because, as an organization, you need to be your brand while also speaking the way an actual person speaks; you must get rid of the “marketing speak” as one of my professors used to say often. The content I work with at my job is often centered around health topics, which can get very confusing very quickly. It is always important to put yourself in the place of your audience!

#3 Everyone says they don’t want to be marketed to. Really, they just don’t want to be talked down to.

This is a big one, not only for social media, but for marketing in general. It is the cornerstone of what modern, strategic marketing is about: Blindly blanketing everyone you can with your message is not likely to get you too far. Drilling down your services and offering them up to people who need them now or will soon in the future is likely to offer more success.

#11 Solve problems for people who talk about you, even if they don’t address you.

I agree with this one, although it often makes me feel like I am “creeping on people. For example, I currently use HootSuite to monitor Twitter mentions of a few important keywords in my geographic area. This means any time someone located within 15 miles of my business’s particular city, their tweet comes up in my feed, and I can view it there. This not only helps me to see when something related to my company’s industry occurs in the local area, but it also helps me to reach out to people who mention my company or have a need. I try not to be too obtrusive for fear of, as I mentioned, “creeping” people out. But because of this feed, I have offered sympathies, compliments or additional advice for a problem. Often there recipient does not respond, but occasionally the person reaches back with a thank you. Finding and engaging in two-way conversation is what social media is all about, and doing that openly is easy with Twitter, which I feel is often considered much less private than Facebook.

#25 The only way to scale word of mouth: Paid advertising.

For the most part, I agree with this statement. Paid advertising can boost engagement and awareness significantly. However, I don’t think it is the ONLY way. I think sometimes there are stories, businesses, people, etc., that are so amazing or so outrageous that they grow by themselves. They grow because of what they are. However, this growth is not the norm and there is no shame in receiving a push. If you aren’t able to get that crowd organically, paid advertising is a technique.

#33 Fans own your brand.

This is another fact that, in my opinion, goes much farther than social media. Branding 101 says that your brand is not defined simply by taglines and logos, although they help to build it. A brand is contained in the minds of those of a community. It’s what an employee thinks in the morning before entering work, and how he or she treats the client that greets him first thing. While we all say that companies own brands and a brand belongs to a company, a brand is actually something that is developed in the minds of the people it affects through the experiences or knowledge they have.

Do you agree with these rules of social media? Do you have something you would add to the list?

JC Penney announces signficant marketing changes to price, promotion

For years, JC Penney has been one of my favorite — if not my most favorite — places to shop for clothing, primarily because they tend to have clothes that fit me and because they are relatively inexpensive. However, with exception of a couple of random items that were desperately needed (primarily from the A.N.A. brand they carry), I never, ever buy unless it’s on sale or on the clearance rack. While I want to look good, I don’t consider myself any sort of “trend setter”and I don’t have the money to spend $20 on a T-shirt. Especially when I know it will be on sale in a few weeks anyway.

It looks like many people are in my same shoes, and luckily the 100-plus-year-old brand has taken note by announcing some fairly signficant changes that focus on  playing up pricing an downplaying promotions. A recent AdAge article explained some of the pricing changes here.

The first significant change will be embracing a new pricing strategy, consisting of “fair and square” pricing. It includes three types: everyday, regular prices; monthlong values; and best prices, on the first and third Fridays of every month. To determine new prices across its product range, Mr. Johnson said that the retailer looked at what it was charging and what customers most often paid after numerous discounts. He found that only one in 500 items sold at full price, while 72% of revenue was derived from selling products at 50% off or more.

For example, a T-shirt that had retailed for $14 but typically sold for closer to $6 will now be priced at $7. In a month when it’s a featured product, it will cost $6. When it’s time to clear it out and change colors, it will cost $4. The retailer is also embracing flat prices, no more 50- or 99-cent add-ons.

This sounds great, and I am excited to see how much prices will really drop in the next month or so. However, I hope they will monitor this carefully to make sure they aren’t hurting themselves by getting rid of the “thrill of the sale.” While I advocate for pricing items as low as possible while still being able to make money, there is some excitement in a limited-time sale, and JC Penney should keep that in mind. I think they have by making certain items on sale when it’s time for them to get a move-on.

Also, I am interested to learn they will do away with the .50 and .99 pricing endings. Many marketing texts have said these price endings puts the perception in people’s heads that what they are getting is a good value. But why? If I have the option of paying $5.99 or $6.00 for something, it really isn’t that big of a deal. What’s a penny worth in today’s world? I think JC Penney is recognizing people have become smarter than this old notion.

Besides dropping regular prices, another change  to JC Penney is decreasing the amount spent on promotional efforts. According to the AdAge article, JC Penney has spent $2 million per promotion in the past. So, if they have had 590 promotional events per year, as the article states, that is about $1.18 billion or $98 million per month.

Under the new plan, rather than spending so much per promotion, they will spend only (yes, not the best use of the world only) $80 million per month, allowing them to either save $18 million monthly ($216 million annually) or put those extra million toward cutting prices year-round.

In today’s world, where saving money is essential and hokey, redundant advertising is shunned, this plan sounds like a great one; a trailblazing one, perhaps.

In addition to making price points more available, the current advertising  JC Penney has done seems to not only mention the craziness associated with sales. I mean, what American hasn’t purchased something only to find out it was significantly cheaper a couple days later? It’s one of the most frustrating feelings in the world, and they captured it in their new commercial.

In the end, I think these changes are exciting and I’m very interested to follow their success. They are certainly getting the company plenty of press and helping change the company into one that is focused on what consumers want. In fact, when JC Penney released this info, its stock rose significantly, even though it had been fairly low for a while.

From a customer’s perspective (assuming you have shopped there before in your life), what do you think of the changes they’re making?

Everybody needs a little (reusable) KFC (packaging)!

Whenever possible, I do what I can to help the world, including the environment and the people who live here. I don’t take as extreme measures as I probably should, but I do as many little things as possible. I recycle as much as possible. I try to take shorter showers. I refuse bags at the check-out counter unless I really need it. I avoid using styrofoam whenever possible.

So, I love it when companies make it easier for me to feel like I’m helping the earth, even if it’s in some small way. For example, most recently, my local KFC began using earth-friendly, reusable plastic containers for its side dishes.

Source: http://www.kfc.com/packaging/news/9_2010.asp

When I ordered my mac and cheese and received this new packaging, I was stoked. KFC, I believe, has hit the money on this one for a couple reasons.

  • First, as an article in Packaging World Magazine states, these new containers are better for the environment. Not only do they reduce waste, but they use less energy when produced. The article lists many other ways the new packaging reduces KFC’s footprint.
  • Second, this type of packaging will likely keep KFC in consumers’ minds long after they’ve finished their meal. The article says consumers tend to keep reusable containers for at least six weeks. Every time a consumer reuses the container, he or she will think back to the KFC brand experience.

This is the packaging of the future. Fast food companies who get on board with this or a similar packaging program will improve their brand’s image in the long run.

Do you think reusable packaging is a trend that will catch on?

Super Bowl Ads Top Four Favs & Fails

With the advent of Twitter, watching the Super Bowl’s commercial has become something of a sport for me. Instead of watching commercials and forgetting about 99% of them by the time I go to bed, I can blog and tweet about them as I see them, making it easier for me to remember and share my opinions on them with the world.

In honor of this  “national holiday,” here are my top four favorite and least favorite Super Bowl commercials:

Least favorite

4. GoDaddy.com with Joan Rivers. Godaddy has pretty much become a least-favorite tradition for me, though.

3. Motorola Xoom with the white-hooded workers. Just weird. I didn’t understand why they’re all wearing white. Maybe some kind of wannabe Apple 1984 commercial?

2. Doritos roommate with the ashes and then the grandfather. I didn’t get it and thought it was kind of weird.

1. Groupon on Tibet. It drew me in with talk about depressing political turmoil in Tibet and then they were just trying to sell me something. The guy talked so fast in the end and the switch up had me so flabergasted that I have no idea what he even said at the end.

Most favorite

4. NFL with the TV shows. Made me feel nostalgic about my favorite shows and even football. I’m not even a football fan!

3. Brisk with Eminem. Not particular funny or anything, but I liked the fact that:

  • It recognized how much people tend to hate ads (except on the Super Bowl)
  • It worked because he’s so angst-y
  • It fit with the brand (i.e., past claymation commercials)

2. Best Buy with Ozzie Osbourne and Justin Beiber. I didn’t think it was extremely effective, but it made me laugh by uniting old school Ozzie with new school Beiber.

1. Chrysler 200 commercial with Eminem. It might be because I’m a big Eminem fan, but I loved this. Even before it showed him, though, this commercial had me feeling inspired, pumped and proud of America not because of our most prosperous cities but because of our least prosperous cities and areas.

What were your favorites or least favorites? Which ones made you want to patronize the products/services?

Using measurement to increase social media’s effectiveness

You’ve heard it in the past: Before you use social media, you should have a purpose.

For businesses, the purpose is probably to build your brand, which will help your profits down the road. For individuals, the purpose might be to network professionally with others or to keep up with lives of distant friends and family members.

No matter why you use social media, you might wonder if you’re using it correctly or effectively. According to a MediaPost article, the vast majority of companies feel they aren’t using social media tools effectively.

The most remarkable finding: just 12% of the companies surveyed believed they were currently effective users of social media, meaning almost nine out of ten respondents relegated themselves to the “ineffective” pile.

In addition, research found 75 percent of respondents didn’t know where customers talked about their companies only and 31 percent said they don’t measure their social media tactics effectiveness. Only 23 percent said they use analytics tools.

Why might this be happening? Part of it could be time issues combined with people not understanding. Many businesses and individuals think just throwing content out on social media will help them achieve their goals.When they do that at nothing big happens, they think their work was ineffective, and probably was. If they don’t change, they’ll continue to be ineffective.

To succeed at social media, you have to bring something useful to your targeted audience. Then, you have to measure that something to see if it ended up being effective. You can then use the results from that measurement to improve future participation.

Here are a few sites I have used to measure my own personal brand and corporate brands:

What social media measurement tools and sites do you use?

Is being certified really worth it?

When filling out professional profiles, like my oDesk profile, I always have trouble when it comes to the certifications part. I don’t have any “official” certifications and know little about getting them. Then today I came across a press release from the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association that said they are offering an online certificate program.

The part that caught my eye: Students have the option to take the program at a significantly reduced price.

The release says the program costs WOMMA members $395 and non-members $550. But students can participate for only $125.

That’s such a price difference, and I’m wondering what others think about the value of certificate programs like WOMMA’s. If it’s really something employers and others like to see, I might consider doing this or something similar within the next couple of months (before I graduate) so I can get the student discount.

So, what do you think? Is being certified in something worth the cost, especially for students?