It’s for Me! EMail that Matters

At this time of year, almost everyone is giving and receiving gifts. Some approach this as an obligation or a chore, while others take great joy from carefully selecting gifts that seem “just right” for each person on their list. Research shows that the giver actually gets more satisfaction from a gift exchange than the recipient – which probably explains the common practise of “re-gifting”. But many of us may still have a (somewhat useless) gift that was made by a child years ago – it means something special because someone made it just for us. In my case, I have a necklace that was made for me long ago by a 3-year-old in a class I taught: I’m sure he no longer remembers me, but I remember him.

presentAnd then there are the holiday cards. Some show almost no sign of human intervention: names and addresses are all printed ahead of time. Those are my least favorite. Some include a long letter about the families adventures during the year. (Some people hate those, but I personally love to get them, especially from folks that I don’t see often.) Others have a short, but hand written note. I tend to remember the ones that include some sort of message that makes me feel that the writer was thinking specifically of me.

It was in this frame of mind that I started to notice the emails that I have been receiving from brands during the holiday season. I always do a lot of my shopping online, so there have been the usual transactional emails. And I’ve also been getting all sorts of “Happy Holidays” greetings from brands to which I subscribe. Some of them are like the pre-printed christmas cards, or the generic gift – I appreciate the thought, but it doesn’t really make a strong impact in my mind. The best of the messages I have received demonstrate that they know me, and are paying attention to the sorts of things I respond to, and when. The tone of voice sounds like a real person wrote the message. And these are the ones that I remember – because they make me feel special.

So, what are some of the best practices for making your brand emails feel special to their recipients – so that they will keep your brand at the top of their mind when making purchases?

1. Personalize the email. Sure, it seems obvious, but I am amazed by how fe emails I receive actually put my first name in a salutation line. Of course I know that my name is there because it is stored in a database somewhere, and another 200,000 folks may be getting the same email. But studies have shown that including the recipient’s name in the email subject line increases open rates, and including it in a salutation increases recall. As Dale Carnegie said way back in 1936: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

2. Keep it simple. Remove the clutter and make the message really clear. Don’t try to communicate a lot of different ideas; keep it to two or three. And use pictures!

3. Create different messages for different people. The people who open your email messages regularly deserve a reward for their loyalty. Over time, you should be making it more and more easy for them to do business with you, as you observe their behavior over time. You don’t want to be creepy about it and say something like “thanks for reading all 14 of our last emails”. Pay attention to the sorts of things that people are clicking on, and begin to develop more of the content that people are spending time with. Develop different streams of content that can be mixed and matched. Develop automated messages that are triggered by a given behavior. Put yourself in their place and think about what you would expect to receive next – and then deliver that and more.

4. Create groups of different people and send them appropriate messages. Just as you need different content for different people, divide your email audience into groups of like-behaving people. Even a simple segmentation between people who always open and people who do so rarely will allow you to tailor your content appropriately. You may not be able to change everything, but something as simple as a different subject line can make a huge difference in the results.

I Recognize that Voice

Over Thanksgiving weekend, by husband and I watched lots of movies – it’s part of our tradition, since we aren’t football fans. As we were watching Wag the Dog, I started noticing the soundtrack, and thought “that sounds familiar – who is it?”. Of course, the internet makes it easy for these kinds of questions to be answered, so I quickly learned it was one of my favorite guitarists, Mark Knopfler. The music was created for the movie, so I wasn’t hearing immediately recognizable songs, but I recognized that the “voice” sounded familiar.

This got me thinking about how important it is for a brand to have a recognizable voice when it communicates, particularly in social channels. After all, we are hard-wired to recognize voices: a baby recognizes family voices almost immediately after birth. And research shows that familiarity helps to establish a better connection: people are more likely to listen to a voice they recognize.

I’m sure the same thing has happened to you; if not with music, then perhaps with a commercial that is being voiced by an actor often you’ve seen – and heard . You may have been watching an animated movie with your children and thought “well, of course, that’s Tom Hanks I’m hearing.”. That spark of recognition immediately creates a reaction, and adds context and understanding to the movie or commercial. There’s a reason that Tom Hanks is the voice of Toy Story’s Woody and not Sid, the mean kid next door.

To develop a recognizable voice over time, a brand must do at least three things:

  1. Speak regularly and consistently. It’s easier to recognize someone’s voice when you hear it at a time and place where it is expected, and when you hear that voice frequently. You don’t want to speak so much that you become annoying, but tweeting or posting once a week won’t cut it.
  2. Clearly identify your brand’s personality. We recognize people’s voices because of the timber, the rhythms, the accents of their speech. Before you can speak in a consistent voice, you must be able to articulate the complete personality of your brand. One approach that I have seen be very successful is Social Symphony’s Social Archetypeing™ approach, which helps a brand develop a “fully formed personality”. However you get there, it is essential for you to be able to articulate your brand’s personality in a way that will allow brand teams and agency partners to express that personality in a consistent manner.
  3. Bring the personality to life in words and pictures. Brand communications don’t always have an audio “voice-over” component, and in those channels, you must find ways to create a tone – a “voice” – through words or pictures. Think about what your brand’s personality would answer questions like:

– should the grammar always be perfectly correct? Would it be OK to use a phrase that isn’t technically correct (like Apple’s “think different”)?

– does the brand have a sense of humor? If so, is it a “laugh out loud” sort of voice, or is the humor more subtle? Would the humor have a poisitive tone or be more ironic?

– would it make sense to use colloquial expressions? Does the brand have a regional or national “accent”?

– should our photos include people? If so, should be people be reflective of only our target market? Would we use employees in our photos?

– should our imagery look professionally produced? Would it make sense to have photos look more informal, like snapshots?

– does our brand have a reason to be part of the conversation about things that are happening in the world: holidays, political or cultural events,  sudden trends or events?

By clearly understanding the brand’s personality, the answers to these questions become easy, and you are on your way to having a distinctive voice that people will recognize.

Facebook’s Page Post Targeting: What it Means for Brands

Facebook recently added a powerful feature for brand page administrators and community managers: Page Post Targeting. Before this feature was introduced, the only message segmentation available to brands was based on location: posts could be geotargeted to a specific country or city. Now, commmunity managers have many more options at their disposal: posts can be targeted by age, gender, interests, and more. So, what does this mean for brands?

Messaging can become more relevant. By developing content for specific segments and subsets of the community, the brand can be more like a true friend, and talk about things they know will be of interest.
Costs for Content Development and Community Management will increase. Because a brand will be developing several different streams of content, the number of posts will increase, along with the variable costs associated with developing those posts. Community Management and monitoring costs will also go up, both because of the increase in the total number of posts being made, and because of increased rates of response and engagement with the more targeted posts.
Editorial Calendars may become more complex. If brands are already using segmentation strategies in their email communications, the same editorial calendars may be able to be adopted for Facebook. But for brands that are not already developing segmented messaging, the work will get more complex and the management tools will need to evolve. Community managers are already working with social Editorial Calendars that include multiple dimensions such as channel, georgraphy, time of day, and day of week, and will now need to add the additional dimensions chosen for segmented messages.
Interaction counts may go down, but rates may go up. It will be important that Social Dashboards emphasize interaction rates rather than sheer numbers, as each of the segmented folks will be targeted to a smaller number of individuals. However, if relevant content is being created and the segmentation strategy is working, engagement rates should increase, resulting in increased overall reach. Community managers will want to spend time with those who read the dashboards to help them anticipate and understand these changes.

With these new tools available to them, brands that are large enought to have multiple consumer targets should modify their content strategies to include a a mix of content. Some posts should continue to be developed to be appropriate for the entire audience of brand friends. Messages that reference brand values, features, and attributes experienced by all consumers should continue to be delivered to everyone. New categories of content should be developed that will be focused more on the consumer and the lifestyle connection points they are likely to have with the brand. A producer of premium meats may want to speak differently to a 25 year old single man compared to a 35 year old married one – because they will likely be using the product in different ways and have a different path to their purchase decision.

The incremental costs for adding segmented content may pose a challenge to brands and digital managers with already tight budgets. Demonstrating the ROI for community engagement will become even more essential as brands seek to gain additional funding for these efforts. The linkage between rates of engagement and a consumer’s increase in purchase intent or sales volume will becomoe even more critical to quantify.

This enhanced targeting capability gives community managers and Facebook content editors powerful new ways to increase the rate at which the brand’s friends interact with brand content. By working closely with market research and consumer insights collegues to identify the targetable characteristics of the most influential members of the community, community managers can augment their existing general content with relevant posts that will result in higher rates of engagement with the brand’s friends.

What’s the Point of Facebook?

Last month, the Australian Advertising Standards Board ruled that the comments of fans published on an brand’s Facebook page are actually advertisements and must comply with industry self-regulation and consumer protection laws. This ruling created a lot of discussion among social media managers and digital marketers. It felt like the common consensus was “how can they expect this of us? There is no way we have the resources to read every single post on our Facebook page!”

I beg to differ. Whether or not it is required by regulations, I firmly believe that if a brand is going to create and maintain a social presence on Facebook, the brand SHOULD be reading every post. That level of listening is the reason for having a social presence in the first place: Facebook allows a brand to humanize itself, to express its personality, and to be a “friend” to those who want a relationship with the brand. It allows us to hear what people care about – and the folks that have decided to “like” our brand on Facebook are possibly our most important customers. Why wouldn’t we want to listen to everything they have to say?

For Facebook to be effective with consumers, the brand’s comments need to feel “at home” in the news feed of those who have decided to “like” the brand. The brand’s posts should be like a lot of the other content that shows up in an individual news feed: things that make you smile, make you wonder, help you learn something, or give you a way to bear with a long line at the DMV. The comments posted by a brand’s friends on the page matter just as much as what the brand creates.

I often liken a brand’s Facebook presence to a cocktail party, and the brand is the host of that party. As a host, you don’t want to talk too much about yourself, and you want to help your guests to enjoy themselves. If you are hosting a party, and someone obnoxious is destroying the atmosphere for everyone, you would do something about it; inappropriate comments on your Facebook page can have the same effect as that obnoxious boor. They spoil the party for everyone. It’s the host’s responsibility to handle the situation.

I’m not saying that I agree with the Advertising Standards Board’s view that consumer comments on a brand’s page are “advertising”. But I am saying that the brand has responsibility for them, even if we didn’t write them. They are on our page – a page we created to build a community. We must treat our brand’s Facebook pages as a two-way street. It is not simply a vehicle for us to deliver our brand message to a flock of sheep. It is a place to get acquainted with real people, build friendships, have some fun together. We can’t allow ourselves the excuse of saying we don’t have the time to listen to our friends, or even those who are “posing” as friends: if that’s the case, then we should simply shut down the Facebook page. Unless we treat our friends as more important that the brand, we won’t be able to generate real consumer engagement anyway. We must find the time, the resources, the social management system – whatever it takes to allow our brand to be a real friend. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Woody Allen was talking about Your Brand

Woody Allen famously said: “80% of success is showing up”.  This is as true for brands as it is for people – the key to brand building in today’s environment is to be found by potential consumers when they are in a receptive situation. These days, each of us has an unprecendented level of control over the messages we receive. We can choose when and how to be entertained, get the news, or learn about what is happening with our friends. If we have a question, we can look up the answer. If we want to solve a problem, we can ask others who have faced the same challenge. As long as the source of the solution is credible, we usually don’t care much about where the solutions t comes from: it could be a person halfway around the world, or a brand that is in our kitchen pantry. Brand marketers need to find ways to “show up” in relevant places, with relevant content, to be successful in this evolving landscape.

We have all changed the way we consume media. Studies show that we actually consume more than ever, as the number of channels through which media is delivered has exploded in recent years. And because of this, brands are changing the way we market our products and services. Brand marketers can no longer choose the channels into which we place our messages and count on our messages being received. Brands must rely more on “being found”.  New phrases like “brands as publishers”, “content marketing”, “inbound” and “always on” are being added to our marketing lexicon to help us express these changing ways of marketing.

The premise behind these phrases is that marketers are moving away from an environment where the brand simply needed to create messages and deliver those messages to their consumers through a few mass market vehicles. Today the number of channels through which a message can be delivered has exploded to a size that makes it impossible for a brand to rely on placing its message in all the right places. We must make sure that the messages are compelling enough to be passed along to the channels we can’t afford to reach.

So how can brands be sure that they “show up”?

1. Understand your consumer’s decision journey and where they get information as they are considering and evaluating your brand and be sure that your content is in places s/he will be looking – at all stages along the decision journey, online and offline. Identify ways to “recognize” individual consumers as they interact with the brand at each stage and record each touch point.

2. Design content that will add value to the consumer’s life when they find it: make them smile, solve their problem, make their life easier. Provide consistent and relevant content at every stage in the journey, to increase the opportunity to be included in the consumer’s evaluation set and to reinforce a positive experience after purchase.

3. Identify the consumers that have entered the loyalty loop, and no longer go through the consideration and evaluation stages before they buy your brand. Develop strategies to help them advocate for your brand to others, in online and offline channels, and reward them in tangible and intangible ways for doing so. Seek to establish a relationship with them: listen to them, remember their birthday, let them get to know you – and I mean YOU, the real person(s) behind the brand, not some corporate entity. Help them to share their experience with and loyalty to your brand with others – in the thousands of channels a brand’s advertising dollars could never reach.

If Woody Allen is right, and 80% of success is just showing up, brands will be successful as they allocate their marketing resources to ensure that they “show up”.

Stop Targeting Your Consumers

Have you noticed how the language of marketing often sounds like we are in the military? In our marketing and media plans, we use words like “target” and “campaign” – it sounds like the brand is the aggressor and that the marketer’s job is to attack the consumer. I have a mental picture of a shooter in an arcade or a fair, firing at targets and knocking them down as quickly as they pop up.

As digital marketing allows brands to converse with their customers in increasingly direct ways, it is time to change our language – because words matter. What you call something influences your behavior towards it. As brand marketers, we have always sought to create an emotional relationship between the brand and the consume. Digital tools allow us to create content that is more personalized than ever before, and it is time to change our language to words that reflect a relationship.

In our personal lives, we meet strangers, who then may become interesting acquaintances, and some of those acquaintances become friends. Some folks say that strangers are just friends that they haven’t yet met. We often meet new friends through introductions by current friends. Brand marketers seeking to create relationships between the brand and the consumer should use the same kinds of language, recognizing that there are real people at both ends of the marketing communications – not “targets”, but potential friends of the brand.

A blog post by Jon Holden put it well: “Getting to truly know the people you are marketing for, and finding unique ways to tell their stories and connect on a personal level will go a long way to establishing trust and loyalty”.

So, how does thinking about our customers as friends and potential friends change our marketing plans? Here are a few ways:

  • Rather than defining messages the brand wants to send, we develop messages that our friends will want to receive: something that will be useful in their daily life, something that will make them smile or stimulate a new idea.
  • Rather than creating content for strict demographic or behavioral targets for our messages, we create content for the people who have told us they already have a relationship with the brand by signing up for email, subscribing to an RSS feed, and/or becoming a friend on Facebook or following us on Twitter.
  • Instead of creating a TV spot or video that is designed to be watched many times in one or two channels, we create a video that is designed to be talked about, passed along, changed, spoofed.
  • Our brand messages to our friends are designed with the understanding that they have a very brief shelf life, and we need many more messages. A relationship isn’t built by sending one present to a friend on a special occasion; it is built by small interactions every day, over time (and still remembering the special occasion with something special.)

Instead of “targeting our consumers”, brands need to “talk to our friends” and “invite our acquaintances” – and by creating valuable content for both our friends and acquaintances, we earn the right to be introduced to others. This allows the brand message to spread organically – to more channels, in a more credible way, than would be possible for a brand operating in the “targeting” model.

Don’t be shy. Go ahead, say “hello”.

Facebook Advertising: What Brand Managers Need to Know about the Latest Changes

Facebook recently announced additions to their advertising offerings, continuing their efforts to provide ways for brands to deliver brand stories to existing and potential brand fans. Because of the Facebook Edge Rank algorithm, most brand posts are seen by only a small percentage of their fan base, (an average of 16% according to Facebook). By purchasing advertising units, brands can target their own fans (and others) with advertising units to ensure the brand’s message is seen by the folks to whom it is directed. In addition to the ad formats discussed in earlier blog posts, Facebook has added some new advertising formats:

  • Mobile: advertisers may now deliver ads to Facebook’s mobile platform.
  • Newsfeed: along with the placement in the right rail, premium ads are “eligible” to be delivered to the newsfeed.
  • Social features: premium and marketplace ads will offer like, share and comment features,
  • Large format ads delivered on logout.
  • Reach Generator is a product that guarantees 75% monthly/50% weekly fan visibility for Page post activity.

Most premium ads are limited to 90 characters, and must originate as posts on the brand’s timeline.

Since ads originate as posts, brands have the opportunity to maximize ad effectiveness by using only those posts that have been most effective in generating fan likes, shares and comments.

These new units and the new Reach Generator product ensure that the content brands develop for Facebook is actually seen by their brand’s fans. Although these changes reinforce the fact that Facebook is NOT free, brands that make the investments in quality content and distribution mechanisms will be able to establish strong and ongoing relationships with the people that use their products, and expand their reach across their fans’ social graph.

For more thinking about the mix of investment for ads vs. apps, see this AdAge article: http://adage.com/article/special-report-audience-buying-guide/brands-market-facebook-spending-money-advertising/233929/