Monday, May 31, 2010

Should You Be Social?

I don’t have a ‘real’ website. Initially it was because I was too busy delivering for clients to focus on building one, and then it became an interesting experiment. Do you really need a website to do business?
I do own www.paulwriter.com but the URL redirects to my blog which has one post on my business. On the other hand I have 1000+ connections on LinkedIn, 250+ senior marketers are members of a by-invitation-only Roundtable I host on LinkedIn, hundreds of friends are connected to me on Facebook, 2190 followers on Twitter and a regularly updated blog. I also speak and write at relevant forums. This seems to make me sufficiently accessible by those who wish to do business with me, and provide sufficient channels to talk about my firm’s offerings.
Clearly, social media is effective in building a personal brand and in communicating a business’ value. This is probably why marketers around the world drove their CEOs on to various social media channels – most prominently Twitter – last year. Here’s a quick look at how successful they have been in attracting followers, that is, those interested in receiving their updates:
Michael Dell (www.twitter.com/michaeldell) - 2800+ followers
Bill Gates (www.twitter.com/billgates) - 899,499 followers
Vijay Mallya (www.twitter.com/thevijaymallya) - 75,000+ followers
Anand Mahindra (www.twitter.com/anandmahindra)- 55,000+ followers
S. Sivakumar (www.twitter.com/s_sivakumar), CEO or ITC’s Agri Division - 930 followers
Suresh Vaswani (www.twitter.com/sureshvaswani), Wipro Jt CEO - 673 followers
S. Gopalakrishnan (www.twitter.com/kris_sg) of Infosys - 469 followers
Vineet Nayar (www.twitter.com/vineetnayar) of HCL - 868 followers
With the exception of Michael Dell, none of the other CEOs are equally active across LinkedIn, Blogs, Facebook. President Obama, the master of harnessing social media for branding was present not just on all of the above sites but also YouTube and MySpace.
I think that in order to benefit from social media, you need to be present in all the places that matter, and ensure that your digital presence is neatly connected both to itself and your offline presence.

Read the rest of the post at businessworld.in

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Separating the Stuff from the Fluff (via BusinessWorld.in)


Assuming that social media is right for you, you probably want to know how to measure its effectiveness. Marketing metrics are always a contentious issue, but in the case of social media it is further complicated by the newness of the media, absence of standards, and plain ignorance. For example, 41 per cent of those surveyed in a 2009 study conducted by US-based firm Mzinga-Babson Executive Education were not even sure if the social media they use can support measuring ROI.
At this point I think I should make a clear distinction between ROI and metrics. Social media makes it very easy to track data. The challenge – as always – is how to make sense of that data and connect it to impact. Measurement and impact are also tightly coupled with the expectation of the media, so it makes sense to structure this discussion along that dimension.
Observers: Hello, World
This is usually at the early phase of adoption where the company is first trying to understand what is the external perception and who is interested in them. As Ankur Anil of Serena Software which dipped its toes into social media marketing two months ago says, “We measure headlines and summaries of social media hits, number of search results per day by region and time, search term, search category, popularity, network analysis (Wikipedia, Linkedin, Twitter).”
Metrics here are similar to those used in old-school PR - number of mentions, reach, sentiment, share of voice. Free tools such as Samepoint, Socialmention can help you listen in on conversations.
This can be a powerful way to learn what customers want from you. Since this is primarily a listening post functionality, ROI should be evaluated in the same way that you would a customer service hotline or satisfaction survey.
Digital Salesperson: Leads, leads, leads
Here social media is being used almost exclusively as a lead generation tool. This is typically the entry point into the social media landscape. It allows the company to gain comfort with the media, while providing quick data to justify ROI and further investments. This includes both outbound (push) and inbound (pull). Social media is more effective at pull with a Hubspot survey finding that companies that spend 50 per cent of their budget on inbound marketing experienced a 61 per cent lower cost per lead than outbound oriented organisations.

In this case, the data measured is cost per lead and/or cost of revenue generated through this medium. Typically the cost is only that of cash spent, and does not factor in effort – that should be done as labour costs are pretty high in social media.
Connectors: Let’s Get Engaged
The program is intended to create a touchpoint, or engagement with the customer as opposed to generating a sale. For example, Dell, which is one of the few companies to publicly state its revenue generated through social media ($6.5 million) is using that media to highlight its green philosophy with its Dell Go Green campaign Competitions, events are being used to create awareness and excitement around the concept. When asked about metrics, the team says, “Since we are an ideas contest our baseline metrics include: Number of ideas submitted, number of registrations, number of votes, and number of comments. We also track all the metrics provided by Google Analytics. For our presence on Facebook we track: Number of fans, number of interactions (likes, comments and wall posts by fans). For Twitter, we are only tracking number of followers and mentions.”
Integrators: Social Is Just Another Media
Companies that view ‘social media’ as a new category and look for ways to explore it are likely to be in one of the above slots. They will measure the metrics, but it is very hard to show true business impact, and it is shame to be locked into these boxes by the pursuit of numbers.
A more evolved approach is to take the company’s business strategy and see where social media can be applied. Social media then becomes a tool to execute the company’s vision and is tightly aligned with business goals, and hence more impactful. While Dell is well known for having embraced this approach, closer home Ching’s Secret has integrated Facebook into its marketing strategy, and Tata Tea’s Jaago Re used digital media effectively in conjunction with traditional media.
Rob Leavitt of Solutions Insights, a consulting firm, says, “Some of the more advanced companies are trying to get more strategic with social media metrics, and are looking at things like: Competitive insight, New opportunities, Cost avoidance (for example if using social media for customer service and support), Employee satisfaction.”
I would also factor in the cost of not being available on a channel that customers frequent, or worse allowing negative conversations to take place without any intervention. The tools for this are evolving too – LinkedIn recently launched a feature which allows you to “follow” a company – so you can find out who is joining (or leaving) your competitors, news articles, etc.
Conclusion
The metrics for social media ROI are similar to that for traditional media. The bigger driver for ROI is whether the social media strategy is aligned with the business strategy.

This blog post was written for and first appeared at BusinessWorld.in



http://www.businessworld.in/bw/2010_05_08_Separating_The_Stuff_From_The_Fluff.html

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who Cares Whom You Sell To?


Your customers, prospects, and everyone else who studies your brand. That’s who.


When you are running a business, particularly an upstart brand, you are eager/keen/desperate to find customers. Most entrepreneurs feel that the colour of money is the same across all customers. From a cash flow, and quality of business perspective, that is true. But not if you view it through a brand lens. Who is seen using your product impacts its long term desirability.


Burberry, the much respected British luxury clothing brand, ran into trouble because it got associated first with British sports hooligans who targeted their shops for looting and then with the mob or chav culture in general. It got banned in certain pubs in UK because of this association. Eventually Burberry withdrew the baseball cap most favoured by these customers. Burberry has survived this “bad customer” onslaught and seems to be now rising again, but its desirability in its home market may still be suspect. ( http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/trends/chequered-times-for-burberry/2054638.article)


Ralph Lauren shirts and Arrow have become no-brainer executive uniforms. Their high price functions as an entry barrier. Junior executives and BYMBAs invest in these shirts as it is “safer” for interviews and at important points in the corporate ladder. On the other hand, Charagh Din - a well-known Indian shirt brand - has become associated with colourful party-wear shirts. They undoubtedly sell all kinds of shirts, but they are now defined by usage occasion and the average exec might consider them great for a date but risky for an interview. (http://marketingpractice.blogspot.com/2006/09/charagh-din-cd-rocks.html)


Your customers matter, particularly if you are relying on word of mouth and references, because they control diffusion. If you see someone you admire using something, chances are you want one too. The converse is true, too. You associate certain products, locations, outlets with a certain “type” of person and avoid them. Most people have an instinctive understanding of what consitutes a PLU (people-like-us) vs a PLT (people-like-them).


You might argue that diffusion is more relevant for a consumer brand, like say an Apple iPOD that relied on people aspiring to have that little white earpiece. But then enterprise sales relies heavily on references, right? If you were the seller of an HR product and were able to claim TCS, Wipro, IBM or Infosys - which have 100,000 employees - as your reference customer, chances are that the potential customer with 10,000 or 1000 employees would have no doubts about its robustness. Or if Pantaloons were the first customer for a retail product, it would be an easier sale to other retail chains.


In an ideal world - that is if you had sufficient funding to be patient - you would launch your product by deliberately targeting the ideal audience. If that isn’t possible, you should in public - ie your website, social media, speeches etc target the ideal audience, but below the radar sell to other customers. That is, your marketing would target a certain type of customer, though your salesforce might be less discerning. There is always the chance of scaring away some of those who don’t fit in with your ideal profile, but that is a risk you will have to take.


I do want to clarify that this is not the same as customer segmentation. This post is only about deciding whom you want to sell to based on what you think will enhance your brand image. It is a superset of customer segmentation.


Photo: Courtesy Ivan Walsh via Flick'r Creative Commons

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Exec Branding - It's different for Women ( I think)

This Women’s Day was all the more memorable in India because the Women’s Reservation Bill which tried to hold 33% of seats in parliament for women didn’t go through. A lot of people hate reservation. Gender-neutrality would of course be the ideal thing, but unfortunately that is harder to enforce than affirmative action.


In my corporate life I took a keen interest in Diversity issues, and gender-neutral hiring is always something that comes up. Unlike, say, the US, in India it is perfectly ok and legal to ask if a candidate is married, has kids, lives in a joint family etc While the questions can be addressed to both genders, the answers tend to be viewed differently. It is assumed that if the family has small children the mother will be the primary caregiver and therefore less flexible in her work timings. If the husband has a transferrable job, it is assumed that the wife will quit to follow him. And so on. Until Corporate India is mandated to observe gender-neutral hiring practices, this subtle positioning of women will continue.


But even after the hiring stage, in my opinion - and don’t eat me - women tend to make life more difficult for themselves than it need be. They project an image that is not designed to minimize gender bias. Or worse, they don't work on their image and allow it to be defined by others. So here are some steps that working women can take to control their brand and project a better image.


  1. Do not drag your family to work. No family photos, no screensavers, no drawings. Yes, yes, I know men have all of these, but who said life is fair. The same boss who praises the picture of your cute toddler will make a mental note that you are unlikely to be able to travel on work.
  2. Do not volunteer information about your personal life or plans. Women tend to think they should let their employers know as early as possible about things like pregnancy or marriage. Nope. Maternity leave is a right in India and you don’t have to pipe up about your progress at the interview stage or when being considered for promotion. Give sufficient notice, but not undue visibility.
  3. No discussion on “feminine” problems. If you’re ill, just say you’re ill - do not elaborate. It will just position you as a weakling and make your supervisor - of either gender - uncomfortable.
  4. Do not make your family’s problems or commitments a reason for taking time off. As long as you are entitled to the vacation time cite “personal reasons”. Saying that you have to take care of a sick child or go to a PTA meeting just reinforces the stereotype that women aren’t committed to their jobs.
  5. Make the effort to network. Become a member of a professional body or a company club. Attend the occasional meeting and make your presence visible. Women tend to be invisible at these forums, even when they attend.
  6. Build your presence online. Even if you have logistical constraints that limit your ability to network physically after office hours, you should be able to find the time to manage your LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter presence. An hour a day is all it takes for a bright professional woman to keep this going.
  7. If there is a successful woman in the company, see if she is willing to mentor you. Be careful in your approach - not all women take easily to the “sisterhood’ concept. But a little flattery is never misplaced :)
  8. Take care of your appearance and grooming. Yes, it does seem to matter more for women than for men. Create a “look” for yourself. It doesn’t have to be expensive - even jeans+kurtas+chappals can be a great trademark look if done stylishly.


And I am sorry if this post seems unpalatable to some. But I think if more of us followed these guidelines, our daughters might have a more level playing field. Of course there is lots of stuff that both genders must do for their brands beyond this - but that's the subject of another post!