Archive for August, 2012


DATE: August 27th, 2012

I’m getting a kick out of the focus of today’s marketing professionals on “relationship marketing.” The word “conversation” is popping up in all sorts of tweets, blogs, emails…. all associated with social media. The sage advise of professionals is: “Have something to say.” “Be funny” “Be unique” “Use content that is rich and meaningful.” “Give free help.”

All of which, frankly, I find ironically funny.

According to Wikepedia “Relationship marketing was first defined as a form of marketing developed from direct response marketing campaigns which emphasizes customer retention and satisfaction, rather than a dominant focus on sales transactions.”

Again, a moment of irony.

Mass marketing depends on data driven results and trends in performance. As soon as the mass marketing professional looks at the data on the basis of individuals, they will make significant mistakes. The biggest mistake is trending towards input that is most closely matched to your own opinion.

So let’s back up.

Social media strategies (and I use that term loosely), follow the same foundations as good marketing: tell the truth to your friends in a way that engages them.

I think the piece that most companies miss when they begin to use social media is understanding how they are going to use it. One of the most frequently used strategy is to use social media to become experts in your field. That fascinates me. First of all, the social media presence must be managed by someone who is an expert or who, at the very least, has access to experts so they can, in fact, express an expert position. Secondly, the expertise must be written in a way that people want to follow you.

Other companies use social media to broadcast information. To do this well, the brand must be established. Look carefully at the  social media involvement of your target audience. Your audience may or may not be engaged on social media platforms. Resist the need to be cool and innovative on social media if no one is listening. You’re wasting time and budget dollars.

I think a third valid reason to engage in social media is to think through your own knowledge base. While our blog draws new clients and engages in conversations, I like the possibilities of defining my own random thoughts. A blog takes time to develop, research and write — that time is well worth it, because it takes a germ of an idea that is bing-banging around in my head and develops it. Twitter lets me shout of one-off comments that interest me… and may interest our clients and followers. The blog lets me dig a little deeper and think through some of the changing dynamics of marketing.

But back to conversations.

All marketing is about building a relationship. In today’s data rich environment, marketers can glean incredible information about their customers. New digital environments offer unique opportunities to speak directly to your customers or donors. New print technology makes customized messaging accessible even in traditional environments.

But there are challenges.

First of all, marketers must see revenue gains in high levels of personalization. While the ability to personalize is a strong advantage in some industries, in others it falls flat. You need to test to understand your own market.

Secondly, there is so much data. Sorting through the data and understanding the relevance continues to require some level of interpretation.  Continuous testing helps to understand the audience better. Digital environments are great for quick insights into customer performance. Unfortunately, we find too many of our clients do not track their analytics. It’s too bad, because there are quick wins in digital.

Thirdly, while digital environments enable agile response, few organizations enable their team to make quick decisions. Collaborative environments slow the process significantly. Legal teams put up gigantic barriers. And organizational structures often make is exceedingly difficult to respond to customers or donors quickly.

Conversations are core to developing long term relationships with customers… but like any conversation, you need to know when you’re boring the audience, overwhelming the audience, speaking over the top of the audience’s head and talking to yourself. You all know the gut at the party who  has a lot of nothing to say — it’s a conversation stopper. And it’s the first rule of social media… only speak when you have something to say.

Christmas Shopping

DATE: August 24th, 2012

While it seems odd to talk about Christmas shopping when the temperature is surpassing 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity reminds me of the sultry days of July… but your online shopping site should be ready.

The people in the know predict that online shopping is going to go up by 15% surpassing $42 billion. Overall, Canadian retail is holding its own. Increases are moderate and shoes, home improvement and electronics have taken a hit. But online shopping is growing by double digits. According to Stats Canada, the people on the west coast are most active in online stores.

Today, I can buy anything online. It’s as if I have an amazing, unlimited catalog at my finger tips 24/7. One of my favourite sites is The Fancy… seriously, who would wouldn’t want headphones for their cat? While I’m probably not going to cough up $35 for 6 bottles of lime Perrier… dressing it up by pouring it over cotton candy is a seriously cool idea.

If you want quirky, Storenvy is a really interesting site that has set itself up to be a market place of thousands of stores. You can buy your own custom suit on line. You can buy dolls that look like your best friend (or enemy, depending on your perspective). You can buy clothes  some one else wore. The site will even photograph, price and post the clothing for you if you ship it directly to them in a lovely white box.

Let me remind you… $42 billion dollars are flying through online stores (That’s a fine chunk of change for the credit card companies.)

There are a few basic tips for online shopping success:

1. You have to get people to your site. Storenvy is a perfect solution for small retailers with unique products. You set up a mini-store (like a booth at a market). There is no cost to you. The popularity of the site is a major advantage to small retailers or cottage industry. It seems too good to be true, but the FAQ’s suggest the site hasn’t exactly figured out its revenue model yet. We have a client launching  brand new site in about five weeks (I’ll give you a heads up when it launches). While the new site is amazing, the UI much easier to use and the brand messaging more in line with their overall store, they still have to get people to their site. Our stats show that over 60% of their current visitors are in-house (store owners, staff, suppliers). In order to show increased sales, we need to get people to the site.

2. Your site has to be easy to navigate. This is a little subjective. I’m not a fan of clicking through pictures one at a time. Most of the time the upload is tedious. But you may like it. Large numbers of products are still problematic, as shoppers get tired of looking for stuff. The user interface is key in increasing the number of sales. The strategy is no different than in a bricks and mortar store. We have to pop up specials, tempt with sales and draw new products to our shopper’s attention.

3. The sales process needs to be really, really easy. Making sure that the information the consumer gives is remembered is critical. I will not shop at sites that force me to fill in my information again and again. For the most part, this is an old issue. Today’s online stores have solved that problem. Shopping carts are more sophisticated and serious online stores customize for greater impact.

4. Costly shipping is a show stopper. You need to figure it out. More than 60% of shoppers duck out when the cost of shipping pops into the shopping cart. I played around with a few sites and, on the whole, shipping was reasonable. I was willing to pay $25 to ship a unique $100 watch (I didn’t, but I was willing to). I wasn’t willing to pay $70 to ship a $25 kitsch cake topper. But free fudge was tempting.  It took me hours of nagging one of our clients to get them to reduce their shipping cost. The actual prices for their product were well below comparable products online. They had lots of room to incorporate a slight cost increase for shipping. The hitch was the accountant who was reticent to the change the system because he would have to adjust the process. But, to the whole team’s credit, they forged ahead…. and sold significantly more product.

Finally…. I wish you a Merry Christmas!


DATE: August 15th, 2012

Really, how serious are we about integrating our fundraising efforts?

Fifteen years ago, as I began my career in the non-profit sector, I entered a community well-situated in direct response fundraising, each package tracking its own metrics. Then our organization took up the brand challenge. As an international organization, we hired a “neutral” agency from the UK. Up to this point, brand was really not top of mind. We used traditional direct marketing strategies that depended on the package and offer. Most of my direct marketing colleagues scoffed at the idea of brand. The brand agency, who knew little about direct marketing, designed the brand identity to anchor the logo in the right hand top corner, challenging those of us spinning direct mail, as it collided with the stamp. While we applied the logo as directed, we did not make serious inroads into integration.红太狼城堡

This was more than 15 years ago. Fast forward to today.

The web collapsed many traditional silos. For the first time, in real time, donors can see who we are. Many organizations met with frustration as they built their first web site. This one, central communication tool, displayed the entire organization. Who owned it? PR? Fundraising? Communications? Program? Education?

The inception of the web and subsequent digital communications demand integration. This is a game changer. We are no longer pitching a program, but inspiring the donor to participate in a dialogue resulting in action. Our offer is no longer randomly generated support, but specific to cause, project and effect. Core to inspiring donors to give is convenient ways to engage. As we integrate, we build stronger and more loyal relationships.

But it’s not an easy road.

Non-profit organizations face major barricades to effectively integrate:

  1. Organizational structure impedes integrations. Conventions that silo the organization into divisions make it very difficult to build integrated messages. Individual managers, budgets and goals muddle the conversation. Core to building an integrated platform is changing the way we think. This is not just a communication challenge, but an organizational challenge. We need to stand in the shoes of our donors and begin to think outside-in.
  2. Merging tactics and using multiple channels requires a firm handle on organizational brand and positioning. In conversation with a non-profit client recently, the sales team was frustrated with the marketing team. The sales team was intent on promoting product, the marketing team intent on building campaign. Because the organization suffers from weak brand intelligence, they continuously collide. Brand builds the language used in the dialogue, eliminating conflict between silos.
  3. Some fundraisers find integration stifling. Integration requires a firm handle on consistency. The overall goal is to build relationships, engage dialogue and inspire participation. To do this effectively, the look and feel has to carry the load. Wacky campaigns with unique pitches are pathways way from integration. The Coca-Cola advertising team many never want to see a polar bear again. But the integration of the campaign is amazing. From web to apps to media to print…

In a time of economic restraint, skepticism and growing channels, integration is a critical discussion for fundraisers.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2012, the CMA invites you to a special round table discussion on integration… I’m going to be there. Join me.


DATE: August 3rd, 2012

Elections Ontario is in hot water. As it turns out, two USB keys with unencrypted personal data went missing.

While governments and corporations go to all lengths to add privacy statements to web sites and apps, this one moment of carelessness tossed hundreds of thousands personal names, addresses, birthdays, and related data into the wind — or in someone’s greedy hand.

Data is a valuable resource.

Plugging in a privacy statement is not enough. Building procedures and protocols around your customer, client and donor data is critical. As you share data with mail houses and other suppliers, how are you protecting the security of that data.

Your organization has an amazing warehouse of data: sales, revenue, product information… That data is an often undervalued asset.

Our society is moving into a new era. We have lived through the industrial revolution, are coming to the end of the technological revolution and, today, data is becoming a powerful game changer. We need to protect it.