How Social Media Changes Everything in Terms of Customer Engagement

Customer engagement has always been one of the primary contributing factors when it comes to strengthening a brand or growing a business, but this is especially true in an era where social media rules the day. The conversation between a business and its customers is more important than ever, but the actual mechanism through which that conversation is unfolding has changed dramatically in a short period of time. When it comes to customer engagement and social media, there are a number of important things to keep in mind.

All Eyes Are On You

Perhaps the biggest factor to understand when it comes to social media and customer engagement is the idea that a conversation between a business and its customers is both more intimate and more public than it has ever been. If a customer has a positive experience with a representative of your brand on their Twitter page, they’re never more than a mouse-click away from telling all of their friends about it. The reverse is also true – a negative experience on a site like Facebook can have huge potential ramifications due to the public nature of that conversation in the first place.

If you search for your brand’s name on Twitter and see users talking about an issue they’re having, you can easily interject with some troubleshooting tips to help them get the most from their product or service. Not only did you solve their problem, but they also didn’t have to ask for help – this is a “win-win” scenario as far as customer engagement is concerned.

There Are No More Small Problems

Consider the public relations nightmare that Entenmann’s created for itself, for example. One day, a social media marketer at Entenmann’s hopped on Twitter, looked at the current worldwide trending topics and noticed that one happened to be #notguilty. Sensing an opportunity to both interject into a popular conversation and craft a pretty solid pun at the same time, the brand sent out a tweet asking who was “#notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want.”

The issue with this is that, as it turns out, the #notguilty hashtag was created as a result of the highly controversial Casey Anthony trial –
the verdict of which had just come down earlier that day. Suddenly a seemingly innocuous tweet about snack cakes turned into a national nightmare for the brand as they were seen as obtuse at best and highly insensitive at worst – all of which could have been avoided had the marketer just clicked on the hashtag to see what it was actually referring to. This is the type of major issue that simply didn’t exist five years ago before social media became such a permanent fixture in our lives.

These are just a few of the many ways that social media has changed just about everything in terms of customer engagement in the digital age. We believe that success in this field requires a deeper understanding of the game that you’re now playing as a business owner, so to speak. It’s now easier than ever to pay attention to the conversations that your customers are having with one another and interject in positive and meaningful ways. This is a two-way street, however – one wrong move and you’re potentially looking at a PR nightmare on a massive scale, so making sure that you’re always putting your best foot forward is more important than ever.

The Power of You: Keeping Things Personal in Business

In the world of business, one of the most powerful assets that you have is the deep, emotional, and very real connection that you’re capable of making with the people around you. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a prospect or a client or a superior or someone in between, and it certainly makes no difference what industry you’re operating in – this connection is everything. The key word here, however, is “real.” If you talk to someone and see them as little more than a line item on a balance sheet, they’re going to be able to tell and your relationship with that person is going to suffer. This is where the power of “you” comes in handy.

Putting the “Relations” Back in “Relationship”

To boil this concept down to its essentials, think for a moment about how irritating it is to write an impassioned letter to a business expressing some important concern or criticism that you have only to receive a standard form letter in return. You poured your heart and soul into this issue, making sure to detail every last grievance you had and that every word got the importance of your message across loud and clear. In exchange, you got a letter that has been sent out 1,000 times before that was probably sitting on a server somewhere, just waiting for an intern to swap out [INSERT NAME HERE] with your actual name.

It doesn’t make you feel good and it certainly doesn’t make you feel appreciated. It might even make you think twice about doing business with that particular company again. Though this is a simplification of the issue you face when you keep everyone at arm’s length, it is actually quite an apt example and is something that you absolutely need to keep in mind moving forward.

“You” and the Customer

There are a number of different things that you can do to help deepen this emotional connection, even if you aren’t actually speaking directly to someone. It’s all about the language that you use and how you’re using it. Consider a promotional poster outlining all of the great features that a particular product brings with it into the marketplace. You could have the best product in the world, but if you’re just listing features in a series of bullet points it will still come across as a bit cold and distant. That emotional connection just won’t be there.

Now, consider what happens when you re-frame the exact same message to directly address the reader. “X feature helps YOU solve Y problem in your life.” Suddenly, you’re sending forward the exact same message, but in a way that doesn’t seem like he’s being recited by a faceless corporation. It sounds like it’s coming from a friend. Ultimately, if you want to instill loyalty in your customers, that’s exactly what they need to think of you as – a trusted friend that they know they can depend on and turn to in their time of need.

We believe that this is one of the many ways that “you” will come in handy. Remember that everyone you deal with, from the customers who buy your products or services, to the vendors and suppliers that you depend on, to your own employees and more, you’re dealing with unique individuals who always deserve to be treated as such. It doesn’t require a lot of work to keep things personal in the world of business, and the benefits will pay dividends for a lifetime.

Understanding What’s Really Going on at the Post Office

If you had a tough time during the Great Recession of the last few years, you are in the same boat with many, including the United States Postal Service. With computers, e-mail, and the rise of similar types of technology, total mail volume was already on the decline – and then, the most troubling economic times in decades hit. All types of mail volume dropped dramatically in a short period of time.

According to the official USPS website, total mail volume in 2006 was roughly 213.1 billion pieces of material. The total mail volume in 2015, on the other hand, was 154.2 billion. While that’s still a lot of mailers, flyers, and other items being delivered across the country on a daily basis, a drop of that magnitude is still pretty staggering.

What is an Exigent Rate?

Because of this situation, the USPS asked for something called an Exigent Rate Case. That meant that due to demanding circumstances, the Postal Service was allowed to “raise market-dominant prices above the CPI-U (consumer price index) price cap” for a limited time. After an approval process that required a submitted proposal and a hearing conducted on the record with an opportunity for public comment, that increase was granted – leading to the current rates that we’re experiencing.

So Why are Rates Dropping?

Exigent Rate Cases are not permanent – they have a limited lifespan as, theoretically, the special circumstances that required them in the first place will resolve themselves eventually. This is exactly what is happening. When the emergency rate expired on April 10, 2016, most of us experienced the first postal rate drop in our lifetime. With the price of a first-class stamp dropping to 47 cents, it represents the first decrease in nearly 100 years.

The good news is that mail volumes have actually recovered pretty significantly. This is especially true in terms of packages, as more people than ever before are choosing to buy their everyday items online at retailers like Amazon.com. The news may be great for consumers and marketers, but it is doing little to actually relieve the problems that the Post Office is still going through.

Megan J. Brennan, the current Postmaster General, said that multi-year revenue declines are still a very real concern and were in excess of $7 billion in 2009 alone. In a statement she would go on to say that “Removing the surcharge and reducing our prices is an irrational outcome considering the Postal Service’s precarious financial condition.”

Looking Ahead for the Post Office and Marketers

Not to worry, though. The United States Postal Service isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – however, exactly what these rate decreases will do to their bottom line remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, as previously stated, there has never been a better opportunity to truly experiment with the benefits that direct mail has in terms of your overall marketing efforts. If you’ve moved more in a digital direction due to increased mailing and shipping rates over the last few years, this rate drop is the perfect incentive to dip your toe back in these proverbial waters.

Using Science to Make Business Decisions

Many small business owners base decisions on their gut feelings which are comprised of their intuition and experience. However, using gut feelings to make business decisions may not be the best decision-making technique. Many companies are now using analytics and science to make judgment calls. With modern electronics and online tracking, analytics are often available to gather metrics on a myriad of topics. However, you can take business decision-making a step further and design scientific experiments to discover answers to your questions. Here are some suggestions on how you can use the scientific method to learn what decision to make.

Why Use Trial and Error?

Even in our current modern age of computers and mobile technology, too many businesses use trial and error or other decision-making techniques without any evidence of potential results before they get started. Keeping in mind the adage of what happens to people who make assumptions, there are better ways to decide on business matters.

Using the Scientific Method

If you think back to your high school days, you may remember learning about the scientific method. Like many high school students, if you didn’t pursue a career in science, it is likely that you have not thought about the scientific method in recent years. However, business is more like science than you might expect. You can prove and disprove many theories with factual evidence before risking time and money on a new project or campaign. Why should you risk your company income and employees’ paychecks when you can test theories before you take the plunge? If you could predict behavior, you would be able to achieve much more reliable results.

Let’s see how much you remember about the scientific method. The basic method is to create a theory and then set up a scientific experiment to test your theory. You need a test group equally divided into control and experimental subjects.

Setting Up the Experiment

Google is a prime example of a company that tests its theories on a regular basis. They are constantly running tests to see how people react to various changes in their search engine. When they find a particular change that nets the results they want, they then implement the successful change over a larger group of search parameters.

Tests have been run by various companies to answer questions such as these:

Do lobster tanks increase lobster sales at Food Lion supermarkets?

Do eBay users bid higher in auctions when they can pay by credit card?

Do Subway promotions on low-fat sandwiches increase sandwich sales?

Does a Toronto-Dominion branch get significantly more deposits when open 60 hours a week compared with 40? (from https://hbr.org/2009/02/how-to-design-smart-business-experiments)

When Tests Do Not Work

Testing does not work in all situations. You have to have a large enough collection of data to learn anything significant. However, when you do have enough data to create a test, testing will give you measurable and repeatable results. According to the Harvard Business Review,

“Whether in marketing, store or branch location analysis, or website design, the most reliable insights relate to the potential impact and value of tactical changes: a new store format, for example, or marketing promotion or service process.”

If you have a situation with specific, measurable results, instead of guessing the outcome and taking the risk, create a test that will give you a valid answer and confidence in your investment.

Super-Charge Your Sales Force With Highly Effective Print Sales Collateral

Converting prospects into clients is often a difficult and expensive process. Sales reps can spend weeks, months, even years trying to get a prospective client converted into a buyer. A large part of that process involves face time between the sales rep and the prospect in an attempt to forge a relationship built on trust. Seldom does that face-to-face meeting end in a solid sale.

Sales reps hate leaving a prospect without a signed contract, and the days of hardline sales techniques are long gone. So, how do your reps keep the conversation going and the interest building when they’re away? The answer is simple: put high-quality, effective print sales collateral in their hot, little hands.

Armed with the right mix of marketing materials, your sales reps can leave their prospects with some subliminal messaging that subtly invades the prospects’ subconscious after the sales rep leaves. Think of it as a little beacon whispering “buy me…buy me.”

Highly effective print sales collateral doesn’t just mean you leave a brochure and a business card and hope for the best. To super-charge your sales force, you need well thought-out, quality-designed materials that will continue to grab the prospect’s attention and not end up as a coaster or at the bottom of a hamster cage. Top sales experts have weighed in with the following best practices.

Case Studies

The single, most effective piece of sales collateral that you can leave with your prospects is the case study. Including one or two case studies targeted to the prospect’s needs can do more for your sales than a holiday gift basket. Your case studies should concisely discuss:

What the client’s greatest challenge was prior to purchasing your product or service

How the client implemented your product or service

How the client’s challenge went away or was reduced by implementing your product or service

These three things will communicate more to the prospect about how your product or service works and the value that it can provide to them, than merely listing the things your company does. Be sure to include solid numbers about money and time-savings, as these are the top two complaints companies have.

Testimonials

Finding three or four clients to rave about you is also a fantastic way to show your prospects that (1) you have clients, (2) your product/service is LOVED and (3) why your clients love it. Just like the case studies, if you can guide your clients in crafting a testimonial that discusses how your company changed their life for the better, the more effective the testimonial will be. Including their name, business name, and even a picture can go a long way in building credibility. Nothing says, “Trust us” like someone else saying, “Trust them!”

The Sales Page

Sales and Marketing Strategist Walter Wise notes that successful marketing messages use the “Marketing Equation of Interrupt, Engage, Educate, and Offer.” Let’s break down that equation (don’t worry, it’s even less to remember than the FOIL method from back in middle school):

Interrupt: your main headline, designed to interrupt your prospect’s attention
Engage: your sub-headline, crafted to keep the prospect’s interest and get them to keep reading
Educate: this is where you add some valuable information on solving your clients’ problems
Offer: this should be a low-risk, free report, checklist, white paper, or e-book that will position your company as a thought leader in the field.

Take the time to provide your “offer” in your sales package. The longer you can keep that prospect engaging in your company’s materials, the more likely they will be to buy.

Putting It All Together

It goes without saying that all of your materials should be printed on high-quality paper stock and designed by a professional graphic artist so that the materials are aesthetically pleasing. Too much text and low-quality graphics can be an instant turn-off regardless of the quality of your product.

Have your sales reps present the documents to the prospect in a snazzy, branded folder that will catch your prospect’s attention when the rep leaves, and one that will beg them to open it up and read what’s inside.

Inspiring Company Cultures: A Great Place to Work

How often do you dread coming to work in the morning? Even for business owners who love what they do, sometimes getting out of bed and coming to work can be a chore. Putting a priority on developing a company culture that inspires your employees to have fun at work can help take the dreariness out of the everyday mundane. While not all businesses have a budget to implement all of these ideas, you can find some creative juice from what these companies have put in place to make their workers enjoy the workplace.

What Makes a Great Place to Work?

Sparks, a marketing company, creates activities that make work fun for their employees. Some of the activities they have implemented include:

*Mix & Mingle – A program that coordinates employees from different departments having lunch together.
*Food4Thought – Focuses on lunchtime presentations from various departments and what they are doing. *Events – Creating parties for holidays and other occasions.

Encourage Staff to Get Up Out of Their Chairs

Limeade, an employee engagement platform, tries to get their workers out of their chairs by using standing desks, walking meetings, puzzle stations, coloring stations, fitness challenges, and even Nerf wars.

Let Employees Play Games

TinyPULSE, a performance review company, has office games that the staff play together to relax and de-stress throughout the day. Two of their favorite games are Werewolf and Eat Poop, You Cat. These games can be played by the entire staff at short intervals one at a time. Team members can take a few moments away from their job to have a bit of fun. You can find instructions for the two games at the links below:

*Werewolf – Who is the werewolf that has been killing off the sheep? https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/sk-3-team-building-games-organizational-culture
*Eat Poop, You Cat – Similar to Pictionary, people make drawings and try to figure out what they are. https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/sk-work-icebreaker-games

Create Activities that Employees Can Enjoy After Work

SnackNation, a healthy snack company, designs activities for employees that they can do after work or on weekends. Most of those activities involve fitness at some level. Activities include going offsite to nearby parks such as Big Bear, scooter races in the parking lot, yoga in the office, boot camps, and Friday Happy Hours.

How Can You Develop Your Company Culture?

Even small companies can develop their business culture to bring employees together and make work more enjoyable. It doesn’t take a large budget to implement some of these ideas. While you may not be able to sponsor a weekend trip, you can certainly add some games into your day that only take a few moments away from the stress of work. You can find a lot of unique team-building games on the internet with a quick Google search, many of which take minimal money to run. Some take only a piece of paper and a pen. These types of games help your staff solidify by laughing together, and they will feel more comfortable working together later on. Additionally, work can be stressful. Taking the stress away will help staff become happier at work which will give them the incentive to stay with your company longer.

You can implement team lunches to share employee recognition or talk about what is going on in the company. You can also help employees build camaraderie with lunch-time sports. Think about how you can make small changes to create a positive, fun atmosphere in your workplace. If your staff is having fun, that attitude will translate to your customers who will enjoy coming into your office.

Realize the Amazing Power of Your Blog: Blogging and Social Media

Digital marketing, it’s pretty simple, right? Draft up 500+ words of amazingly educational and entertaining content, upload it onto your blog, maybe sprinkle on a little SEO magic and you’re good…right? Well, let’s just put it this way: if you have teenagers, they’re rolling their eyes at you. If you have dogs, they’re staring at you with that head-cocked-to-the-side look they give you when you’re missing the obvious.

Ok, maybe it’s not as obvious as pick up ball…throw ball, but if you spend any time reading about online marketing, you’ve got to know how important of a role your blog can play in growing your client base. Don’t worry, though, you’re not alone. It’s surprising how many established and emerging businesses underestimate the power of their blog. With a few added steps, you too can realize the amazing power of your blog.

Active Content Distribution

When you were planning your wedding or “Sweet 16” party, you didn’t spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on gorgeous invitations just to leave them in the box, did you? Of course not! You sent them out into the world so they could tell the world the exciting news.

The same concept rings true for your blog content. They key is to actively push your content out into the world so people can line up to dance with you, money in hand. You want to get your content out on as many channels as you can. So this means:

o Tweet out your headlines and grabbers with a link to your content o Post a summary of your content to Facebook
o Add your blog to your Google+ and LinkedIn Feeds
o Upload the cool images you post with your blog article to Pinterest and Instagram o Turn your blog into a podcast or video and upload to YouTube o Find out where your clients are hanging out and get your content out there!

It may sound a little daunting, but most of that can be done in one step using online tools that will help you to schedule your releases to touch your prospects and clients on a daily basis. Aim for 2-3 releases per day.

Sales Funnels

Depending on your business, your sales funnel can look much different than the business next door. So, without getting into too much detail, let’s take a high-level look at what a sales funnel is and how your blog and other web content plays a role.

Typically, your blog articles will have one or more links to other pages of your website. You can be strategic about this and push (“funnel”) them to where you want them to go. The page(s) that you’re pushing your readers to may have a certain call to action that encourages them to give you their email address in exchange for something they find valuable. This could be a free white paper, free trial, webinar or other free consideration to obtain that valuable email address.

Once you have the prospect’s email address, you can now trickle out relevant content (likely from your blog) into their brains via email. You’ll have additional links to free content or additional sales pages that your prospects can click to when they’re ready to make their purchase.

The sales funnel is all about grabbing that email address and using it to establish yourself as an expert in the field so that people will trust you enough or like you enough to buy what you’re selling.

Strategic Alliances

Too many business owners think they have to do everything alone. This is not only sad, but also a dangerous fallacy that may be choking off your business revenues. One of the big keys to building your business is teaming up with other complementary (not competing) businesses to expand your reach.

According to Andrew Davis, author of “Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnership” businesses that partner usually experience rapid success with their content. The key is to make your content noteworthy, so when you reach out to potential partners, they’ll be impressed and want to work with you.

There are a host of ways to initiate strategic alliances. They all start with recognizing those businesses that complement your product or service and share your audience. From there, consider reading their blogs to see what they’re writing about. Send them an email proposing a guest blog article that would be of interest to their audience and a link to your site. That opens a dialogue that can lead to tremendous collective success.