The Mad Ave Blog
The Mad Ave Blog (280)
Many years ago, my wife Amy began her own tradition: she started sending cards to her friends and relatives just before Thanksgiving.
These are not early Christmas cards. In fact, the cards she buys never depict any type of holiday image or include a pre-written message.
Instead, she uses blank cards and writes a personal note to each of her loved ones, reinforcing how much they mean to her and how thankful she is to have them in her life.
A few days after the cards are sent, the phone starts ringing. Friends and family from around the country call to thank her for her thoughts and kind words.
These are people with kids and jobs and big holiday dinners to prepare, and yet, they stop what they’re doing to reply to a simple card with a 30-minute phone call.
Neither Amy nor I can recall a single response to the hundreds of Christmas cards we’ve sent over the years, so why do so many people respond to her “Thanksgiving” cards?
First, the timing. The cards are unexpected. They’re sent a good couple of weeks before the Christmas season really kicks in, so the recipients aren’t actively looking for a card the way they might on December 20th. In other words, her card is a nice surprise.
Secondly, everyone sends cards for Christmas, but because hers arrive so much earlier, they’re not “competing” for the recipient’s attention; their timing helps them stand out and contributes to their special quality.
Finally, it’s the nature of her cards. They’re not stamped with her signature. They’re not mass produced. Each one is hand-written. Personal. Genuine. They’re the kind of cards people save. And in sending them, she’s not looking for something in return. She’s simply reaching out to strengthen her relationships with the people who are important to her. Not hundreds of people. Just a few dozen.
So, are your 25 or 50 best clients worth a little more personal attention?
Is their long-term loyalty to you worth the time it takes to dream up new and valuable ways you can impact their lives and jobs? And not for what that may mean to you, but what it can do for them?
Do they deserve more face-to-face visits?
How are you letting them know that you're thinking about them and their needs throughout the year?
Are your sales and marketing efforts born of a genuine interest in helping your clients?
Just a few questions to ponder as you consider your company’s marketing efforts.
Usually, advertising takes.
Pre-roll videos, radio and TV spots, print ads: they all interrupt or delay what people want to see or hear. So, by their very nature, those types of advertising take.
They take the audience's time. They take their attention. They can even take the momentum and enjoyment out of the entertainment experience.
But what if advertising were used to give?
Here’s an example.
About 97% of people are not in the market for a new vehicle at any given time. And because Americans own their cars for an average of 6.5 years, most drivers won't be looking for new wheels anytime soon.
Yet, radio and TV commercial breaks are filled with car dealer spots, sometimes back-to-back. And so often, the “take-oriented” message in those commercials is about price or specific vehicles - information that will no longer apply when the majority of the audience is actively shopping for a new car.
So, what if a car dealer were to use his advertising to provide unbiased advice on purchasing a new vehicle?
Or tips on how to keep your current vehicle running its best?
Or the six steps to maintaining your car’s paint job?
Or a few facts that would help you choose the right engine oil?
Or suggestions for cool weekend road trips?
Or specific examples of how buying an American-made model benefits you and your community?
Or stories of how the dealership has gone above and beyond to care for their customers over the years?
Oh, and, by the way, “please think of us when you need a new car.”
What if that car dealer used his air time and ad space to focus on you, rather than himself and his products? To give you valuable information? To prove to you over and over again that his company is worthy of your trust? To build - in a way - a relationship with you?
Not only would you come away from that advertising a smarter consumer, you might develop a fondness for the company responsible for it.
As a marketer, you can't change the interruptive nature of certain channels, but you can change your content - from self-focused to audience-focused; from taking to giving, with the goal of creating a valuable, long-term role in the lives of your audience.
On April 9th, 2017, security officers representing United Airlines dragged a screaming 69-year-old passenger out of his seat and off a United plane, creating an indelible image of customer abuse and a public relations nightmare that could haunt the brand for years.
But four United employees needed those seats more than a few paying customers.
But the screaming passenger is a convicted felon.
But the fine print on the ticket gives the airline the right to remove anyone from the plane.
We live in a time in which everyone has instant access to a video camera and potentially a worldwide audience. Regardless of how those involved try to rationalize their actions, manhandling a customer should have never even been close to a solution.
On the United website, the company's Customer Commitment states that their goal “is to make every flight a positive experience” for their customers, that they provide “a high level of performance,” and that they're dedicated to delivering the type of service that makes them “a leader in the airline industry.”
United employs nearly 88,000 people around the world, so maybe it's unfair to expect that every one of their employees would live up to that portion of their brand promise. But how many people work for your company? Do they all know what you promise your customers, whether it's online or implied?
Are they empowered to make decisions that serve your customers and protect your brand image?
Do you remind them that the world is watching, even if your “world” is just a few hundred customers?
Make sure your employees know what your brand stands for, what's expected of them, and what will never be tolerated.
Probably 20 years ago, I was at our town’s art museum watching a friend play music in one of the galleries. About half way through the set, my friend’s four-year-old son emerged from the crowd and walked up to him on the improvised stage.
What happened next has stuck with me all the years since.
My friend - interrupted while doing his job, in front of an audience - stopped what he was doing and gave his full, genuine attention to his young son.
No anger. No frustration or embarrassment. No hurriedly rushing the little boy back to his seat. Just pure love on display.
My friend knew what was important. And still does.
Contrast that warm memory with what we saw from Professor Robert Kelly and his wife after their children innocently walked in on their father’s live BBC interview in March of 2017. (Watch the video here.)
The embarrassment. The apologies. His attempts to blindly push away his daughter. The mother’s frantic floor crawling.
Sure, an episode like that might throw anyone off his game a bit, especially if being interviewed on live TV. But because of the way both parents reacted, they kinda’ came off as jerks. And, purely from a marketing standpoint, how may that have affected Kelly’s personal brand and likability?
Goofy, unpredictable stuff like that happens now and then. About the only way you can prepare for it is by reminding yourself to be a human being, to roll with it, and to always look for the humor in unexpected situations. You should have heard the heartfelt “awwww” coming from the crowd when my friend reacted the way he did to his little boy.
For both you personally and your company, letting your human side show and embracing life’s wackier moments is likely only to endear you to your audience.
The most effective type of advertising is word-of-mouth advertising.
A friend tells you about the great experience she had at a new restaurant. A family member raves about how well he was treated at a local car dealer.
Why are you likely to put more stock in what they say than what you hear in TV or radio commercials for the same businesses?
Simple: your friends and relatives have nothing to gain by promoting a product or company. They’re impartial, and they only want to share some good news with you.
When you and other members of your team actively encourage testimonials and then incorporate them into your marketing content, you’ll tap into the persuasive power of happy customers.
Their words will resonate more with other customers and prospects because their words aren't self-serving. Their words often come in the form of unsolicited thank you notes or appreciative email messages, so, just like a recommendation from a friend, their sincerity is above reproach.
We can use testimonials on your website, as social media posts, in your On Hold Marketing and other channels as social proof of the claims we make on your behalf. The consistent truths we see in your testimonials may even help us decide which claims to make.
I urge you to make collecting testimonials part of your company culture. A few ideas:
1) When customers tell you how much they enjoy working with you, ask them if they'd be willing to express their thoughts in an email. Or if a customer compliments you while on the phone, jot down her quote and ask for permission to use it as a testimonial.
2) Whenever possible, include the customer's full name, title and company when displaying the testimonial.
3) Save each testimonial as a Word doc with a file name that includes a keyword or phrase that the customer references. That makes it easier to find testimonials about specific topics when you want to show them to prospects.
4) Consider keeping testimonial letters, cards and emails in a binder that visiting prospects can read.
5) To encourage staff members to collect testimonials, harness their competitive spirit: read the best examples during your company meetings or share them with your staff via email, making sure to credit the employee who received the praise.
6) You might also give a gift card or other reward to the team member who receives the “most valuable” or "most unlikely" testimonial each month.
Many years ago when I lived in another town, I used to visit a farm stand during the summer months.
The lady who ran the stand didn't have nearly the selection of the local grocery store, and her produce was even a bit more expensive than the store's.
But she knew my name. And she used it every time she saw me.
She was friendly. She put an extra apple in my bag now and then. And every time I left the stand, she sent me off with a warm "thank you" and an invitation to come back soon.
I didn’t get any of that from the grocery store.
Yes, the store was fancier and air conditioned, but I never walked out with the sense that I had just been cared for.
The lady at the farm stand quickly earned my loyalty by making me feel important, showing her appreciation for my business, and giving me added value.
Can you see how that approach could go a long way toward helping you win and keep customers?
It’s much easier, less expensive and more profitable to sell ten different products to one happy, loyal person than to sell one product to ten relatively disengaged people.
So, consider making account penetration a higher priority: increase your share of each customer, rather than increasing your share of the market.
Meeting that goal requires strengthening relationships with your most important customers; learning their wants, needs, pains and goals, and actively looking for opportunities to care for them.
When you take a legitimate interest in helping your customers succeed, when you serve more as a consultant and less as a vendor looking for a quick sale, when you truly work on behalf of your customers’ interests, you’ll earn the type of loyalty that's necessary for deeper relationships to prosper.
Partner with your best customers. Find ways to get more involved with their businesses, and let them into yours. Develop ways you can work together for the betterment of both companies. As a partner that delivers real value, you become much harder to shake when cheaper competitors move into the market.
Finally, the customer whose business consistently nets your company a million dollars per year is more valuable to you than the customer who spends a couple thousand dollars once in a while, so why treat those two customers equally?
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply the basics of good service to every customer, but committing the same resources to the smaller client can't possibly yield the same return.
And if your employees believe there is no difference between customers, they’ll have no incentive to provide preferential treatment to those who deserve it.
However you choose to measure their importance to you, your more valuable customers should receive an even higher degree of service. After all, they pay for it every day with their loyalty to you.
After spending a few hours with my car this morning, I was reminded of a marketing truth.
On my way home from running a few errands, I slid into a snowy, shallow ditch at the top of my road, and then struggled for twenty minutes to push my car out as dozens of drivers passed by me.
Finally, a nice guy in a pickup truck stopped to give me a hand.
When I got home I told my wife what happened, going on and on about all the people who had driven by without even slowing down.
But what I DIDN’T tell her was how, earlier that morning, the owner of a car care center here in town performed a diagnostic check on my car…free of charge.
I DIDN’T tell her how the very friendly technician at another shop flushed my radiator twice because it was so dirty…for no extra charge.
I DIDN’T tell her how the counter guy at the auto parts place cheerfully came out to replace my windshield wipers…free of charge.
Instead, I focused on the negative.
Driving into a ditch was nobody’s fault but mine, yet I came home and griped about all the people who DIDN’T stop to help, instead of focusing on the Good Samaritan who pulled me out.
The marketing truth is this: one bad experience can trump even many positive experiences in the mind of a customer.
As unfair as it may be, you can lose a hard-won revenue stream for life if you or someone on your team falls down on the job. And if that customer strings together two or three bad episodes with your company, your name might as well be Mud to everyone he knows – and anyone who reads his online review.
The good news for you is that every company makes mistakes. Companies are made up of people, after all, so mistakes are bound to happen, and most customers understand that.
What they don’t understand and what they won’t tolerate is your poorly handled response to their bad experience, whether it’s an insensitive CSR, your inflexible policies, or a perceived indifference toward them as a paying customer.
So, to promote more positive experiences and successfully address any bad experiences customers may bring to your attention, keep these three suggestions in mind.
1) Make sure your CSRs, operators, and other frontline employees are empowered to “make things right.” Don’t push away an angry customer by making her call another department for answers, or worse, not offering any solutions as a company.
2) Check to see if you have any service or return policies in place that are not customer-centric. If so, get rid of them, or at least re-work them as quickly as possible.
3) Finally - it’s an oldie but a goody - the customer is king (or queen). Make sure your team lives and breathes that one. Your customers keep you in business, and if you don’t treat them with the courtesy and respect they deserve, especially after they’ve had a poor experience with your company, your competitors will be happy to.
When preparing any type of marketing content, I'm constantly applying my “Who Cares?" rule, from the concept phase to the proofing of the finished piece. I think about my audience and ask the following:
• Will they care about what I've written?
• Does my content provide them with some type of value?
• Does it give them a reason to keep reading or listening?
Here's an example. Years ago, while I was gathering copy points for a client, she asked me to mention an award her company had just won. She emailed the following suggestion:
"We're pleased to announce that we've won the Silver Service Award for the third time in four years. We'd like to give our great staff a pat on the back."
Now, I certainly understand the client's pride in winning a major award and her eagerness to have people hear about it, but the copy she wrote would have offered no benefit to the listener.
Unless the news of the award could be turned into information that provided value to the company's audience, what would be the point of mentioning it?
So I asked the client a few questions.
• What does that award symbolize?
• Why would your customers or prospects be interested in it?
• Why is knowing about this award valuable to them?
Once I had my answers, I wrote this copy:
"The Silver Service Award is our industry's highest compliment. It's given annually to the company with the best year-to-date record of customer service in 24 measurable categories. If you're considering new vendors, you should know that The Smith Company has won the Silver Service Award three of the last four years. No other company has ever done that. The Silver Service Award: proof of our intense commitment to your satisfaction."
That copy acknowledges The Smith Company's win, but it also helps prospective clients make an informed buying decision. Rather than a self-congratulatory high-five, the copy delivers an important clue - substantiated by a major industry award - as to how the prospect will be treated if they do business with The Smith Company.
We're humans, so our first instinct is to talk about ourselves. That means developing content that's focused on your audience's needs can take a lot of thought. But if your marketing message is to stand out and ring true with prospects and customers, it needs to give them a reason to engage.
Applying the “Who Cares?" rule to all of your marketing content will help.
I saw the sign on the left while traveling last week. It was in the lobby of my hotel, affixed to the wall.
For all to see.
And, ya' know, laugh at.
I notice a lot of goofy mistakes like that. I've captured a few more in the pictures below. (Can you spot the problems?)
Ultimately, none of these flubs will bring about the end of civilization, but if you run a business, I’m sure you'd rather avoid these types of embarrassing errors on your website, signage and printed materials.
So, here are a few tips to help you steer clear of some common grammar mistakes.
Apostrophes don't make words plural. The word Employee's on the sign above doesn't need that cute little hanging comma. Apostrophes are used for two main reasons:
1) To show possession (Harold's cats, the crowds' cheers).
2) To take the place of one or more letters, as in a contraction (won't, can't, y'all), or when dropping letters to suggest a more casual approach to speech (singin' and dancin').
Speaking of contractions... Every now and then I hear a sentence such as this in radio or TV copy:
There's many models to choose from.
The problem is that there ARE many models to choose from. Because the word models is plural, a plural verb is required. As much as I prefer contractions, there's isn't correct in that sentence.
Can't we all just agree? The problem above is also an example of subject-verb disagreement. Again, when the subject (the main noun) is singular, the verb must be singular, too.
Disagreement is most common when there are many words between the subject and verb and/or when there's a prepositional phrase in play. A lot of people mistake the object of the preposition for the subject of the sentence, as in this example:
Our award-winning team of joint replacement specialists take care to find the right treatment.
In that sentence, the subject is team, not specialists. Of joint replacement specialists is a prepositional phrase - a phrase beginning with a preposition (of, on, in, under, etc.).
If you’re ever unsure which word is the subject, break down the sentence to its simplest form - Our team takes care - and then make sure your subject and verb agree.
Remembering all the rules of the English language can be tough. And, sure, everyone lets a typo slip by now and then. So, before you put your words in front of your audience, run them by a skilled proofreader and even a copy editor. The extra time and effort will keep customers from writing blog posts about your mistakes.
Okay, so maybe you're not a writer.
That's fine. That may be one of the reasons you rely on us to create marketing messages for your company.
Writer or not, though, you appreciate that words are key to communicating your ideas and who you are to your audience. Certainly they're too important to be left to chance, right? That's why those of us in marketing choose words carefully when crafting our clients' content. It’s one of the reasons you trust us.
And words don't need to be spoken to convey a tone or attitude. Silent words on a page can be just as inspiring and persuasive and guiding as those in the most loudly amplified speech.
And they can do just as much damage.
I’ve shared my philosophy with our agency’s writers many times: “Every word is an opportunity to change a business, affect a life, create something shareable, move people or make them laugh. You have great power.”
The words we choose reveal so much about our hearts.
Words can change the world. And have. Many times over.
Now and always, words matter.