Archive for August, 2011

Case Study: Social Media Drives Message Development

93198062There are savvy consultants Out There who rake in lots of money helping brand marketers develop their message.  A lot of the primary research that goes into such activities is warranted and valuable.  But that doesn’t make it science.  That doesn’t mean it works.  It can be hit or miss.

Not so very long ago, we served a client in the mobile phone market who had a very definite image problem.  The master brand was known for being cutting-edge, cool, and fun.  But the company we served specialized in pre-paid cellphones … which were decidedly not cool.  In Europe, pre-paid mobiles were common, but here in the U.S., they were the province of drug dealers and cheatin’ hubbies.

Most brands in this position will spend gobs of money on research, messaging, etc. and come to market with a carefully-tuned, top-down message exquisitely designed for mass appeal.  Focus groups are often called in.  Logos are re-designed.  And all that can work.  But in the era of Social Media, in which your customers are talking constantly, publicly, about the issues and trends that affect them, why not just listen really, really closely, and develop a messaging strategy based on what’s already stirring in the grassroots?

That was the tack we took while working with this mobile carrier.  Rather than try to combat the negatives, we listened to what people were talking about, across a range of social outposts.

Beyond the customary chatter about the latest-and-greatest smartphones, consumers were talking about losing their jobs in the Recession and sweating about onerous cellphone contracts.  They were talking about the pros/cons of buying cellphones for their ‘tweenage children.  They were talking about weird phone-stalking exploits by ex-boyfriend/girlfriends.

Examine the marketing messages of the major mobile companies.  What do they talk about?  Network speed.  Cool phones.  Pricing plans.  That’s about it.  Now compare it to what we discovered people were actually talking about, in the context of their cellphones.  They were talking about human issues, not technology issues.  Given that we needed to be scrappy to make a dent in this noisy market, we eschewed the proactive “cool phone at a great price” messages (and the defensive “not just for drug dealers” line) and favored funkier, more humanistic messages…

108815266We gained mainstream feature coverage in journals like Family Circle, discussing the countervailing issues of safety and “spoiling” when considering a cellphone purchase for a 12–year old.  The tween wants an iPhone — but you think it’s too expensive, and, you don’t want to spoil them — then again, you also see the benefits of being able to reach them anytime, especially in an emergency.  How about a cool but low-cost pre-paid mobile, so you can control costs but reap the benefits of hipness and safety?

On the other side of the spectrum, we partnered with the authors of a new book on Flirtexting to discuss how tech usage impacts your love life … and how it would be safer to “flirtext” with a low-cost, pre-paid mobile phone to protect 113567854yourself against someone who takes things too seriously.  Why not have a phone # just for dating, when the cost is low and the risks are high?  Result: major morning-show broadcast coverage.

Such messages were built from the ground-up.  There was no need to address the “pimps and cheaters” theme that we thought surrounded the pre-paid cellphone market, once we figured out that the most likely buyers of these products were likely to be 20– and 40–something women with legitimate reasons to make such a purchase.  Both of these “buyer personas” had great reasons for wanting a low-cost, no-strings, cool-looking phone.  But network speeds, bustling app stores, 3–year plans?  Not relevant to their lives.

As a result of this approach, within a year the client received 65 million impressions in print media, 450 million online media impressions, and 14 million broadcast media impressions.  On the social side, we saw a 2,100% increase in Facebook Fans and a 1,200% increase in Twitter followers.  Ultimately they were acquired for ungodly sums.

Hard to believe this company came to us complaining of an “image problem.”  All they really had was a listening problem.  Honestly, it’s simple stuff, this “listening,” yet too often its effectiveness is lost in the rush to spend money on focus groups and pretty charts.

What Clients Hate Most?

IStock_000006135721XSmallYou know what clients hate the most?  Getting fired.

They can handle a couple of months’ worth of spotty PR results; they can live with misplaced call-in #s; they even learn to tolerate the crazy amount of staff churn typical at most agencies.  When such issues do bubble up to problematic levels, however, they rarely hesitate to fire the agency; and they fully expect the principals to handle it with grace.

But fire them? In my experience it’s met with unholy levels of anger and confusion.

Invariably the client CEO — who oftentimes has been absent from the program for long stretches — feels compelled to get involved, to express a sordid mix of bafflement and rage at my transgression.

I’ve written about firing clients before but it’s a topic worth revisiting.  We recently fired two clients, and after I informed one of the affected teams, the email reply I received from the account manager was:

“You are my hero.  I’m excited enough to run in circles around the 100+ degree parking lot I’m currently standing in…”

Think about that response for a minute.

For all we Boomers and Gen-Xers complain of Gen-Y’s whininess, trust me when I say there are legions of mature, hard-working, professional young PR execs honestly gutting out their best work for their clients.  The account manager who practically burst into song on hearing this break-up news is certainly no malcontent.  They were feeling genuinely abused by the client.  I am this account manager’s boss’s boss’s boss — which you might expect would lead to a slightly more politic note — yet the spontaneous, unguarded levels of candor and glee ringing through their email told me everything I needed to know about whether I’d made the right call in cutting ties with their client.

I am trying to learn from my mistakes.

Exploring Social Media Business Summit – Boston

Whatcha doing on Monday, October 17 from 8am to 4:30pm?  Wanna hang out?  You can join me, Jason Falls, Jeremiah Owyang, C.C. Chapman, Ann Handley, Laura Fitton and many more cool cats at the Awareness-sponsored Exploring Social Media Business Summit.


I’m pretty excited about this one cuz these are the folks I tend to hang out with most often; they’re the people I respect not only for their acumen but for their friendliness and approachability.  They’re just really nice, really smart, low-B.S. brainiacs.  You should absolutely consider dropping a couple hundies to hang with them — not just for the speeches but for the networking opportunity.

Fill the Whole Cup

Bedford-Farms1Anyone who knows me knows that I left my heart in San Francisco … but I have to admit one benefit to being back in Boston is our family’s frequent visits to Bedford Farms Ice Cream in Concord, MA.

The ice cream is great (it’s been featured in Oprah’s “O Magazine”), but more importantly, the servings are HUGE.  We only ever order “kid’s cup” servings because we often have a hard time finishing even that portion.

When I first started visiting Bedford Farms, I was struck by the wastefulness of this approach. They were scooping away their profits!  Since no one but a glutton would order anything bigger than a kid’s scoop, they were giving too much for too little!

Then, about 500 visits later, it struck me that the Bedford Farms’ scoopers’ unspoken mantra to “fill the whole cup” had created a metro region full of die-hard loyalists.  The thousands of customers who frequented this modest mecca of dairy delights never, ever felt short-changed.  So (like us) they kept coming back for more.

It’s a classic “underpromise –  overdeliver” approach.  It’s “surprise + delight.”  It’s a simple, brilliant strategy.  Create something great, offer it at a fair price, and then (this is where most businesses fail), figure out what else you can offer, to assure the customer’s loyalty and positive word-of-mouth reviews.


Using Bedford Farms as your inspiration, can you think of something else you could be offering to your own customers, online or off?

Marketing to Early Adopters

I recently attended a wonderful session with over 60 high energy entrepreneurs at Goa.  About 20-30 of them had recently launched their product or web service and were actively seeking early adopters. The discussions were about how to identify, interact with, engage and nurture early adopters. 

87631818A big part of the challenge is that most entrepreneurs are not clear and specific in their plan to target early adopters. They simply believe a blog post on TechCrunch, a launch at a startup event or a press article will get them all the initial customers they need.

Instead what’s needed is a disciplined 3-step approach.

1)      Profiling and Identification: If you are a B2B startup, there are 4 important characteristics to profile and identify your early adopters. This step is usually termed as “persona” creation.

a.       Location (Early adopters in India tend to be from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, or from the West coast (Northern California) and East coast (New York) in the USA.

b.      Title of buyer: Revenue producing and customer facing titles at companies tend to be early adopters since they would like any edge over the competition to help them gain / retain customers. So, target a VP of Sales, Marketing, etc. instead of VP of HR or Admin / Facilities who are typically cost centers.

c.       Vertical industry: Technology, telecom and finance tend to be early adopters, whereas Government and Utilities tend to be laggards.

d.      Size of company: Mid-sized companies and a few large companies (in the above stated verticals) tend adopt new innovations faster compared to smaller companies.

For BuzzGain, we had put together a list of over 1,023 people who fit that profile. We targeted mid-sized Public Relations firms in New York, Silicon Valley and focused on account executives who needed to spend more time with clients instead of building custom reports. We got a PR companies list from O’Dwyers to kick things off and spent about 12 work days researching the company’s websites, their customer list, their twitter handles and any information we could get about them.

If you are however running a B2C startup, there are 7 different characteristics to consider including age (younger people generally tend to be early adopters), location, gender, their monthly income among others.

2)      Interaction and Introduction:  The goal of this step is to make an initial connect with your early adopter so they are made “aware of your presence.”  Usually one of three mechanisms work to get their attention:

a.       Engagement online: Following them and posting thoughtful (real human) comments (not spam or robot messages) on twitter or their blog.

b.      Events: Instead of presenting at a booth when your startup is not ready, demo your mockup or early version to them at events (as an attendee) to get feedback.

c.       Introductions from other early adopters. Early adopters know each other well and tend to be connected to each other well. They are usually open to sharing new, innovative ideas with other early adopters.

87495338At BuzzGain, based on the identified list of people, it was relatively easy to find events that they would attend. Most of the interaction I did initially was via twitter, where I would follow them, read their background tweets and comment on their blogs. This process was done manually and not outsourced, so I could understand them better.

It usually took about 2-3 weeks to build a reasonable rapport so we could then offer to show them a 15 min demo to get their feedback. Our response rate was about 37%. For every successful connection with an early adopter, we would request them to connect us to 2 others whose input we would benefit from.

3)      Nurturing and Engagement: A big part of what drives early adopters is the ability to offer feedback and influence product direction. They also want to be the “coolest and hippest” among their peers. The goal of this step is to segment early adopters into 3 categories and focus on making your champions successful with your product.

a.       Champions: They like your product, think it solves a problem and are willing to provide feedback on what they would like, to make it better. Your goal should be to make these users the most happy with your service, be very responsive and introduce features they desire quickly. You can find them by looking at the # of times they return to use your service after the launch day.

b.      Bandwaggoners: They typically join since some other early adopter has joined who mentioned the product. They will come if the product is free, test it for an initial period, then will usually never show up until it is “more mainstream” or “many bugs have been worked out”.

c.       Naysayers: They have something negative to say about every new product, so while its best to ignore them, be thoughtful and respond to their feedback, but don’t focus on them a lot. They will highlight many features that you currently don’t have or plan to have. They are most likely to compare it to other solutions and in a negative light.

At BuzzGain, we had the 11% of customers who were “champions” and they converted to being paying customers in 2 months, and about 7% Naysayers. The rest we tackled after the beta period, which lasted 3 months. We also provided extra features for the champions and profiled them on our website.

I believe this systematic approach can work for almost any company.  As for my company, BuzzGain?  This focus on early adopter marketing led to us to serve over 275 customers, boosted revenue by 415% year over year, and led to an eventual sale of the company to Meltwater in January 2010. 

Guest post by Mukund Mohan, the former founder/CEO of BuzzGain.  Mohan is currently the CEO of social commerce and brand merchandising company, Jivity.

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