Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tips For Twitter Use, Don't Get Hung Up On Follow Backs

Jacky Tan's Dec 19th blog 9 Tips To Grow Twitter Followers The Right Way has some great tips for growing your or your brand's presence and engagement on twitter.  I agree with all of his points except for the importance he places on Follow Backs.  Some people follow different 'channels', some for business, some for research, some are even just casual follows. If someone doesn't follow you back, so what? It does not mean they won't engage and perhaps they will follow you at a later time.  Some people use lists instead of following back, some track even those that don't follow via 'Did Not Follow Me' lists.
Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

There is no specific rule on following, we all work the way we work and no one should be offended by someone's engagement style.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Finally the rest of the world figures out what Pharma already knew...

Last week's WSJ article Proctor and Gamble Clears Plan for Mobile Coupons is great news for consumers.  Continuing a trend started with retailer programs like that of Starbucks and BestBuy, the mobile coupon programs have huge upside potential for both consumers and the manufacturers issuing them.  If they implement this correctly, while the consumer saves, the manufacturers get information about those taking advantage of the coupons (with opt-in, ie: permission) as well as what message(s) drove uptake, where and when.  Even without opt-in, de-identified information provides a trove of information compared to that of the the aggregated redemption model used with paper.  This is a message that Pharmaceutical companies learned years ago.  Adjudicated (electronically processed) vouchers provided actionable insights into sampling of their products not available to them with the same level of clarity even with all the paper involved in the process.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, December 26, 2011

Habits For Creativity, Failure to... Success

I just read Dean Rieck's 8 Bad Habits that Crush Your Creativity And Stifle Your Success. I thought it was a great article (found here) and just wanted share a few comments that came to mind when I read it.  Given the following definitions:

  • Creating:     generating new ideas, visualizing, looking ahead, considering the possibilities.
  • Evaluating:  analyzing and judging, picking apart ideas and sorting them into piles of good and bad, useful and useless.
It's easy to see how completely anti-creative evaluating is while creating.  Don't pick it apart before you figure out what it is, you may never get it out.  So this immediately brought to mind a practice (aka habit) I circle in and out of from time to time, including when writing my blogs.  It's a process called freewriting.
  • Freewriting is an exercise designed to clear mental and/or emotional space and to allow ideas to come to the surface before you think, edit, sort, etc. In a freewriting exercise, you don't take your pen off the paper (finger off the keys). You keep writing even if you draw a blank "I don't know what to write", "I don't know what to write"...  The results are for your eyes only, so you don't stop to tidy up sentences, grammar, spelling. You may diverge from the topic, but that's ok and part of the exercise.  You keep writing for about 10 minutes.  Then you go back and review what you wrote and within you'll find ideas to work with for your topic.  You may also find some ideas that are otherwise blocking you and need to be addressed separately - later.
Bottom line as Dean said: "Most people evaluate too soon and too often, and therefore create less. In order to create more and better ideas, you must separate creation from evaluation, coming up with lots of ideas first, then judging their worth later."  Use freewriting to get it all out there and then work from too much info towards more finely crafted ideas.  Then it's much easier format as appropriate for the medium and audience you are targeting.

Failure - To Fear or Embrace.
Babe Ruth, full-length portrait, standing, fac...
Image via Wikipedia

Dean uses Babe Ruth as an example of not fearing failure.  With 714 home runs, he was truly one of baseball's greatest hitters. He was also a master of striking out. But that’s because he always swung for the fences, all-in, home run or strike out, nothing in between. The Babe either succeeded big or failed big.  Babe didn't necessarily learn from his failures, they were just an accepted cost for his success.

Sir James Dyson is an example I like to use.  He said that an inventor's life is one of failure.  He made 5,127 prototypes of his vacuum before he got it right. That means there were 5,126 failures en route. By learning from each failure, he came up with the ultimate vacuum. Seeing why something fails can suggest another path, which may lead to success.  "No one wants to make mistakes or fail. But if you try too hard to avoid failure, you’ll also avoid success."


addtl info: Failure Doesn't Suck

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Private Exchanges will boost Healthcare Reform - Perhaps, If ...

A recent post by hCentive in their Healthcare Reforms blog: "Private Exchanges will boost Healthcare Reform" was an interesting read. Yet, as potentially promising as this sounds, NY rates for small business continue to go up by huge percentages as players continue to pull out. By example, despite the 9% numbers otherwise suggested in surveys and polls, my small company's renewal rates went up 40% this year after a similar increase last year. Even with the soaring rates, shortly after the increased renewal was offered, our insurer sent another letter telling us that policies would no longer be available in NY after April 2012.

You may be wondering what this has to do with the Private Exchanges. It's simple, if we don't solve at least some of the underlying issues related to the cost to provide healthcare (a few examples):

1) an overwhelming administrative burden (some estimates say 30%+)
2) a lack of available providers
3) overwhelming malpractice burdens on providers
4) defensive medicine or unnecessary testing, treatment (Why Doctors Order So Many Tests)
5) reimbursements to providers that barely help them keep the lights on
5) fraud and abuse
6) games insurers, PBM's (prescription benefit managers) play to restrict treatment and/or reimbursement
7) PBM's making huge profits, instead of those dollars being spread across today's actual healthcare value chain: ie: providers, patients/employees and employers paying for the plans. I believe this only gets worse if the Express Scripts acquisition of Medco Health Solutions is approved.

There are so many more examples, any combination of which solved would improve outcomes and lower costs throughout the system.

As I was saying, if we don't solve at least some of the underlying issues related to the cost of delivering healthcare, how will exchanges work, let alone fix anything? Implementation of the exchanges at the state level was the right start, but we must address some of the above issues to resolve the NY example of insurer's abandoning their provision of coverage here. We need insurers offering geographically localized versions of their coverage, so that people can select their providers based on their needs and the differing local variables of where they choose to live.  At the same time, the last thing we want to see is insurer's doing so by selectively domiciling in a state where they have rights to exploit patients and/or providers who don't understand the rules; the result being denied coverage or reimbursement in the time of need, without protection from established government agencies.

If you are not sure what I am suggesting, take out one of your credit cards and look at the back to see where your bank is located. They selected the particular state becuase that is where the rules give them the most rights, leverage, etc. vs their customers (yes, I said customers). Currently, the protections for patients and their rights falls within the states. We don't want to build out new, redundant agencies or infrastructure at the federal level for the sake of expanding government. It would only further add cost, confusion and levels of bureaucracy who's cost and negative effects would be masked within unnecessary growth of the Federal Government.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Targeting Ad's Ok. For News, I Need To Be The One To Decide What Gets In And Whether Other Content Is Filtered Out...

Re Katherine Boehret's December 6th, 2011 column: In Your Hands, Just What You Want to Read

These tools are all great, I currently use a few of them and I love the ability to curate, self select and/or 'produce' my own news. My hope is that this will remain up to me and not become a practice of the media outlets themselves, selectively targeting stories to me based on who I am, what I browse, etc. ie: the profile they have or can access about me online. I can live with better targeted ad's on websites, in print magazines or cable tv based on information about me becuase it reduces the noise.

But for news and editorial, etc. I must remain the one to decide what gets in. I must be the one who sets the filter of what gets edited out.

We don't need or want big brother controlling the news...


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Re: Is Print Marketing Still Viable?

Great article from Inside Scooper, Is Print Marketing Still Viable? But while I love the feel of books, especially the older ones, evoking history through olfactory response and visions of the stacks back in college, for most reading, I have made the transition to the Kindle, especially when traveling. It is so much easier to carry then the typical 3 books on any given trip. That said, newspapers in electronic format has been a tougher transition. While I can read Business Week, the WSJ and NY Times on my iPad, I rarely do; I prefer paging through to home in on particular articles that the print format provides and find that I use the electronic versions more for link sources on articles, tweets or blogs. On marketing electronically vs print, I believe as does the author that it has it's place, partially because it is a channel in a multi-channel strategy and partially because today at least, I still believe print is a more sticky medium. Additionally, other than with tools like Evernote (which is good but not perfect due to issues capturing various content formats), we do not have the tools or methods to manage or hold on to our selected content for later review, like we do when we file and/or manage print.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is stickiness important for engagement?

Earlier today I was asked a question on twitter about whether or not @SmallRivers paper.li works for me.  So I started to answer, realized there was no way to do so via a tweet, tried to do it via twitlonger and realized I was trying to squeeze and fit the answer to the media format instead of worrying about providing the answer to what I beleive is a relevent question.

We know twitter is a stream and flow medium and both you and those that follow and engage with you can't be there 24/7.  There is some dialog out there about timing of posts and whether they can be in middle of the night, etc. (see Social Timing Insights infographic from Argyle ow.ly/7b43A) but even on this issue, with those engaging all over the world, while there may be prime times for immediate exposure, there won't necessarily be someone watching when your post flows by and unless caught via a list or direct reference; the post effectively becomes once and done.

So I believe it's about stickiness. paper.li is sticky content, @twylah is sticky dialog. Here's how I put it in my email signatures:

See what I'm discussing twylah/hbrofman, see what I'm reading 94bits Daily
Follow me on Twitter: @hbrofman Check out my blogs: hbrf.blogspot.com, iosvandrod.blogspot.com

There other tools our there as well to help solve the stickness problem (although some don't even realize that is the problem they are trying to solve).  Regardless, various solutions will improve engagement, especially in a global communication model where customers and peers are anywhere and everywhere.


Friday, September 30, 2011

Selling, Especially For A Complex Sale, IS About Relationships

In a recent HBR Blog post, Selling Is Not About Relationships, they talk about the how Every sales professional falls into one of five distinct profiles. I just don't see it that way. In fact, for the "Challenger" profile, I don't think taking control and pushing the customer is the right description for the profile they say is the best performing of sales people. I think that makes the relationship with the customer too adversarial. Ultimately this leads to buyers remorse and resentment, a real relationship killer. I think that the best sales people are a combination of relationship builder and the challenger role.

One of my favorite salesmen ever was in a twilight zone episode "What You Need". In it, a peddler has the curious ability to give people exactly what they need before they need it. While some of his ability was let's say - magic, more of his ability was about listening, hearing and offering a solution. While, we can't see the future, I believe the best sales people develop an understanding of the needs of their customers (aka not just listening, but hearing) and 'right fit' a solution into those needs. Sometimes this is accomplished by redefining (aka challenging) the understanding the customer has of the problem they need to solve, sometimes the challenge is not necessary. Regardless, without building trust through this process, it's very likely a once and done sale - not my model of successful selling. It's far easier to sell into an existing customer then to go out time and again to build new relationships with new customers. Both are critical to sales success, but happy customers breed more and more happy customers new and existing.


Monday, September 19, 2011

The Presidents Tax Plan - He Just Doesn't Get That The 250,000 Number Does More Harm Than Good.

I guess a number is just that, a number.  But the president has to get over the $250,000 number that he says represents wealthy Americans.

On the one hand, with the cost of living in NY, $250,000 does not a wealthy American make.

On the other hand, and even more important from a Jobs Creation point of view, if you have a small business owner that's making $250,000 - would that money be better off taxed at a higher rate and spent by big government or invested back into the business for growth? Hint, it is an either or kind of question and there is only one correct answer.  A small business in NY, lets say a sub chapter S corp netting through as income of $250,000 on a federal return does not a wealthy American make.

I have said repeatedly that tax certainty is what I want to see, even if it means that some or all of the Bush Tax Cuts are to be repealed.  I just want to know now so that I can move forward, plan and make decisions based on what money I will have to work with when investing in a business.  There is enough risk running a business, no one wants the government to be the reason their business is put at financial risk.  Washington behavior and indecision is exactly what worries many with both policy and financial uncertainty.  I am sure many others are of the same mind.

Let's find an income number (or index one) that perhaps makes sense without preventing the people that provide the majority of job growth from investing in themselves, from investing in America.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Facebook's new Subscribe button - implications for me, similar concerns for you too?

From early reading, the new Subscribe option makes public Facebook posts more useful, especially if you start gaining an audience. Herein lies one of the issues for me. I and I believe many other FB users are not looking for an expanding audience. On FB, I am looking to interact and discuss and share with my friends. I realize that over time FB has evolved to support company pages and fan pages and pharma pages, and like pages, etc. all in my opinion trying to evolve FB into a platform for more than that which it was originally envisioned.  Evolution is ok, but we have already seen that the complexity of FB permissions is not only confusing to people, it is confusing to the apps and perhaps not always working the way the user posting may expect. I have over time seen differences in the interpretations of information flows (let's call it that for the sake of it) in my iPhone FB app vs what shows on my page. It's tough enough to set a default security on FB for all of the various things there, it is tougher still to set different ones based on your intended (note, I did not say targeted) audience.  Which brings me to how I use FB and the other social networks and my expectation of the levels of privacy I expect in that use. 

I use Twitter to speak with a public audience. This is where I am 'working my brand', I'd like to see it expand as far as it's legs will take it based on common expertise, interests, tasks, topics, etc. with others as a public as well as more localized (ie followers) expect it to go. Here, the conversations by the nature of the micro-shouts vary and are not specific to my expertise, my work, etc.  They are what they are and it is a fantastic place to interact with others of similar mind or interest on any topic.  If outside of your typical brand conversation, you just hashtag a particular conversation so as not to bore others that follow you. But for this freedom, my expectation of privacy here is absolutely zero with only a direct message being a message just between myself the the person I have sent it to.

I use LinkedIn to communicate with more specific peers, both as connections as well as via the groups I am part of.  Here, I expect that my posts are considered public except when I message someone with InMail of which I expect the same level of privacy as regular email. I am not saying that is necessarily how it is, just my expectation of it's use. I also use it to keep connected with my contacts on the professional side as they move around, move on, retire, etc.  LinkedIn is far better at this then a private system could ever be unless I were to frequently communicate with everyone with who I am connected; something I and I expect others am not prepared to do.  Some of the complexity of the expectations for privacy here is that this platform too continues to evolve into more then it was intended and as such layers of complexity lay waste to layers of expectation for what I am posting to only be viewable by the specific audience (ie: my connections) I may have intended.  So by practice, I only post what I can accept anyone seeing. I also tend to limit my connections to people with who I have an expectation of professionalism and trust, limiting my network to those I know,  have experience with a or common trusted thread rather than anyone who wants to connect.

Note that for the purposes of this post, I have left Google+ out as I do not yet have much experience with it.

So in summary, Public = Twitter, Business / Public = LinkedIn, Private (expected by my settings) and more personal = Facebook.  This is the way I view them.  The problem is that Facebook wants to be all of these.  This is how we got to the current layers of security and complexity within the platform.  In my Facebook use, my security is set to Friends Only, not Friends of Friends or mixed levels of posting.  This is why I believe that my posting is limited to my expected audience, expanded only by inadvertent view by a friend of a friend sitting in front of the same computer when sharing.

The new FB Subscribe option would seem to provide yet another layer of complexity on top of an already complex product. While it could spur more public sharing a la Twitter,  if others use these tools with similar expectations or assumptions as I do, it could raise more privacy concerns for a social network that has already had its share of privacy controversies.

What do you think?


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Additional thoughts on KevinMD's 6 Reasons Why Doctors Won't Call Patients Back post

In a recent post on KevinMD, 6 reasons why doctors won’t call patients back, Mary Pat Whaley gave a few reasons seemingly excusing these lapses in what should be a patient focused organization.  She also provided a few solutions. 
I have some first hand experience with this and in discussions with some of my colleagues, find that it is not an uncommon problem. I'd like to add a few more reasons and perhaps a few solutions:
1) Lack of professionalism among organization staffers.  There are many administrative people working within a practice today.  These people are hired for non-medical tasks and often have no formal training and limited medical office experience.  My guess is that few of them even go through the necessary HIPAA or medical office best practice training once, let alone attend yearly updates or refreshers.
2) Lack of adequate formal policies or procedures for dealing with the various types of calls that come in.  Even a simple checklist would make a significant difference here.  My guess is that there are probably organizations that provide this as part of a service.  Modules as part of the practice management systems would help here too.  One problem is that many offices are still working with billing rather than practice management systems.  This will change based on the new health care law.
3) Central offices for billing and administration - sometimes outside the practice itself.  We are seeing more and more group practices that are part of larger cooperatives for the purposes of holding the line on reimbursement, network management, managing administrative tasks (and associated costs).  While perhaps specially trained to deal with the nuances of the various rules of the insurers ie: how to code and how to bill, how to follow up to get paid, this is not part of the practice of medicine.  To these people, patients are just another number.  In other words, more managed cost, less managed care further exacerbating a problem that began with HMOs.
4) Appointment and/or referral desks are call back only.  This results in unnecessary wasted time to provide this function for the organization as well as the patient.  Why not task an entry-level staffer to take calls real-time while otherwise doing busy-work.
5) Overscheduling, understaffing, poor workflow.  To me, this one screams of a total disrespect for the patient.  How does a physician sleep at night, knowing he is keeping patients sitting in the waiting room 30 minutes and then a treatment room for another 20 minutes or more before walking in to see the patient?
Some recent examples from my own experience:
1) I had scheduled an appointment with a urologist about 10 days in advance.  An office admin called and left a message on my home machine to have appropriate labs with me when I came in.  I called them back and left a message to fax me a script for the labs so I could comply. This means they never checked if I had a script and then never called me back or faxed me the script so I could go to the lab before the appointment.  Why not have someone consult all patient files prior to or immediately after a visit is scheduled to prepare for an optimal visit.  I realize this can not be the case every time, same day sick appointments might be one example, but most of this time this could be a work flow game changer for all involved.  I have seen some practice management systems that attempt to facilitate this with some process the day before an appointment.  But it may need something a little more advanced for optimal effect on workflow. During the appointment, I was given a script for the labs and had to schedule another appointment to follow up on the results.  In this case it was not too bad since I had to come back to review the results of another test, but how many times does this happen to cause an additional cost (time and money) for the patient as well as the system for the follow up visit.
2) I needed a renewal for a medicine I have been on for years.  My current insurance requires prior approval in order to get this medicine. This means that the doctor has to call the insurer, a time consuming process.  Because the med was an as needed med, I had not had to fill it since changing insurance company’s last year.  Knowing the process, it was easier for the physician’s group to put off the pain involved by giving me a 6 months supply in samples.  “The next time I come into the office” for a billable event, they could take care of it.  Unfortunately this is becoming more common as plans try to push patients into generic (or rebate subsidized) alternatives.  The problem with this is that even if instead of prior approval, there was a step therapy requirement, it is a breakdown in the system.  More and more often, as patients have to move from plan to plan because of uncontrolled rate increases and higher deductibles, the history or experience of the patient does not come with them.  If a patient has been through step therapy or the other meds already under a previous insurer, why should they have to do it again if the medicine they are on works for them? Isn’t there a cost to this?  Unless there are new therapy alternatives, why force the patient through the process again? Why should a physician’s office have to spend the time on this without reimbursement?
Within her list of solutions Ms. Whaley suggests “The only answer to understaffing is technology.” includes a few ideas that make sense, but technology is not the real solution.  Technology is a tool or suite of tools; which must be used as part of a process and don’t necessarily define the process itself.  This said, ePrescribing would be a great step in the right direction.  This would include writing a new script, servicing renewal requests and even addressing changes for formulary issues that could otherwise be addressed prior to the script appearing at the pharmacy.  All of which takes time, in fact I seem to remember some statistic that physicians and pharmacies waste 30% of the day on the phone with each other to manage all of this.   Today, while ePrescribing can help for some scripts, it cannot be used for controlled substances - and there are still kinks in the evolution of this technology resulting in errors at the pharmacy. These issues will work themselves out over time but will have a real, though diminishing, time cost until they do. 

She also points out that “some patients will game the system to get their needs met ahead of others.” and suggests, “ask them to adhere to the practice guidelines.”  As per my point above, a physician’s staff needs to follow a set of practice guidelines, policies and procedures to provide an appropriate level of care and experience for their patients.

In summary, I think that some of this is based on a general malaise towards patients.  While this may not be intended by or on the part of the practices themselves, it comes across that way by the actions of their staff.  In the case of the insurer’s it is absolutely about money and shows little respect for the patients or the physician practices; it is all about numbers. This needs to change.  In the mean time how about patient needs being placed a little higher up the ladder?
 Thanks Greg B for the additional input.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Is Twitter writing or is it speech, regardless - welcome to The Art of the Short.

A great tweet yesterday from "Is Twitter writing or is it speech? Why it's time to change the way we think about social media " drew my interest and after reading Megan Garber's thoughts on the subject and that of the ensuing links provided, it got me thinking.

While some tweets may be nothing more than a quick shout, more often then not, I find there is more to it than that.  The posting limits of Twitter and Facebook by their very short nature force us to consider what we say and how to say it within the few bytes we get to do so.  More so when the complete thought is within the tweet or post, but even when it is just a blurb to tease others into the treatise further explored in a blog, it forces us to think of how to say it within the boundary's defined by the limits themselves.

Sometimes this requires txt shorthand itself, but more often then not we must think through what we say and be creative enough to fit it in the space provided to do so.  In this way, it differs from spoken dialog, typically unedited and in fact at times we wish we could pull it back even as the words come out of our mouths.  Herein lies the challenge: to say what we want, keeping it short and sweet, yet still compelling enough to achieve the goal set forth in our quest to post in the first place.  After all, are the character limits of the new medium really that different then the article word limits set by a publisher to the journalist or writer in print?  I am not saying we all become professionals or minimizing what the professionals do day in and out.  But doesn't it force all of us who have chosen to participate, to step up our games in this new Art of the Short?


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No Card, No Benefit, No Data. In Retail Loyalty Programs, Who Is Served By This Policy?

A puzzling practice has come up a few times in recent conversations with consumers about retailer loyalty programs.  We know that consumers join loyalty programs for the presumed upside of discounts, sales, rebates, etc., all from their membership in a particular program.  From the marketer’s perspective, what’s the purpose of a loyalty program?  In the old days it may have been as simple as the increased spending by a consumer due to the presumed upside of collector promotions, discounts, sales, etc.  But, in today’s data driven world, getting the consumer to enroll in the program is first and foremost about segmentation and targeting; demographics, how often a consumer shops, how they shop, how much they spend, what they buy and when, shopping frequency, etc. With this information, the marketer can tailor it’s messaging to the consumer either at a kiosk, the point of sale (i.e. receipt/checkout coupons) or via email, txt messaging, a website, an app, or the old reliable direct mail piece and of course some combination of the above. 

Regardless of the method of communication, the engagement or campaign is targeted based on the demographic and behavioral data collected during shopping.  Both parties win because of the presumed value of their participation.

This is why I am so puzzled by retailers that have programs where they go out of their way to get in their own way of collecting the very data they can otherwise be so adept at leveraging with their customers.  Two examples are retailers that insist you carry your loyalty card with you at all times or they won’t let you participate for the visit and retailers where they will put in the default customer code so you can take advantage of the specials, losing the ability to track you for the visit.  Neither approach makes much sense.

For the marketer, it’s not about the specials – that’s for the consumer; it’s about the data, the data, the data, oh and the data.  If a consumer doesn’t have their card, take their phone number and unlock the riches of their data.  Of course if a customer is not signed up in a program it’s a completely different story.  But if they are in the program and will provide an agreed upon identifier, just do it.  The marketer stands to lose far more in the above two examples than the consumer gains if they were to give a false id (ie: someone else’s number).   

Forget the card only attitude, and while the consumer appreciates the benefits of the default customer code, it is a lost opportunity not to get that link to the data.  Retailers (after the marketing starts), must keep your eye on the prize… 

In a future post I’ll talk about another consumer annoyance, that of message relevance – one of the expected yet squandered benefits for both parties in the loyalty program relationship.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Copywriting or Anything.., How about just focusing even for just a while on what you are doing

Thanks to @copyblogger for the article referenced below.

While the article is about writing copy, I think it's relevant for all of us today.  That said, in a world of generational interruption, the real message for our kids becuase is really about focus. No IM's,  txt's, tweets, facebook posts, email (yea like kids know what that is), selecting another song.  As yoga would say - diversions all these are, real productivity killers they will be when you are trying to get something done.

I used to complain at work about all of the interruptions.  Every time someone poked their head into my office unannounced, there followed a period of reset.  The time it took to get back into what it was you were doing before the interruption could be as much as 20 minutes - otherwise lost.  Even when you closed your door, set your phone to do not disturb, other people's expectation of email being instant response required prompted the next interruption.

I love the 33 minute timer and small set of rules in the Schwartz system.  Just set a time limit and focus on what you are doing while you are doing it.  Imagine putting that to work for you.  Imaging that working for your teenage. I can only imagine.


How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Communication is essential to a brand, it is the representation of a product and relationship formed with the consumer ...

A brand is the representation of a company's product(s) and the relationship formed between a consumer and everything exposed from the organization behind the brand.  In many cases, it is that which a loyal consumer has established a relationship with. It is amazing to me how many companies don’t seem to look at it this way.  Just like any personal relationship, there needs to be support for communication.  Even in today’s internet age, it is not uncommon to find a company website with just a mailing address or an email form on their contact page; no phone number if you want to speak to someone directly.   In effect, their message is clear, they want you to contact them on their terms instead of your own.  Perhaps they arent prepared for phone calls related to their products or this is a casualty of the global world we do business in today, but I wonder why it seemed different in the days before the web.  Product support, priced into the product on purchase or based on a contract thereafter, regardless of the type of good or service, is the product.  Support; this communication between a company and the customer, which may be anything from a question to a complaint is {correctly} percieved as part of the brand.

Today is the first of a series of examples of how this by design or not, can break down.  I am not looking to pick on the companies or the products.  In fact, in today’s case I love their products, but I will use our exchange as a learning about how communication is a critical part of the brand.

I recently bought a box of crackers.  It had been a couple of months since the last time I bought that kind of crackers and the taste and texture seemed a little different then I remembered; not bad, just different.  So I wanted to contact the company about the product.  I searched for them on Google and found their website to see if there was anything suggested about a change or ‘New’ taste, ‘New’ texture, etc.  I didn’t see anything like this on their site, so I figured I would contact them and ask if this was by design or a problem with the product.  I went to the ”Contact Us” page on their site, found no number and no address , just an email form.  I filled out the form providing my comments.  There was no feedback, no reply email, nothing at all telling me that they received my message.  Time passed, perhaps 4-6 weeks, still no reply from the company, not even an acknowledgement of my message to them.  A few days ago, I got this envelope in the mail with an unfamiliar logo in the return address area.  I had no idea what it was or where it was from.  I opened it up and there were two manufacturer’s coupons for the product I emailed about; no letter addressed to me, nothing relating to my inquiry, not even a standard form letter, nothing else.  That said, I still figured it must be related to my inquiry.  I Google the brand on the envelope.  Interestingly enough, their website is blocked by Malwarebytes Anti-Malware software which I run on my system.  I disabled this to see the site.  The company appears to own or distribute this brand of cracker in the US.  Their site links to the sub-branded sites.  The sub-branded sites make no mention of the parent company or any relationship to them.  I guess they sent me two coupons related to my inquiry.

There are all kinds of brand issues here.
1)    A customer has made the effort to communicate with a company about their product and there is no timely response.  This comes across as lofty or detached; a brand disconnect.  The customer feels they are not valued by the company or that the product they have purchased is more important to them than it is to the company.
2)    An envelope from a Corporate office with no reference to the product or brand of inquiry may be considered lucky to be opened; it’s junk mail.
a.       While perhaps a hand written envelope could be considered a more personalized touch in a day of mechanical, automated communications, I am not sure it is appropriate for a product inquiry such as this.  Different people fall on different sides of this argument.
b.      Just putting the coupons inside… Uggh.  Forgetting the lack of professionalism, again, no communication linking the company to the brand or product, no addressing of the issue of the original inquiry.  The person handling this knows nothing about customer  support.  Ties back to (1) above
3)    While the site being blocked by the Malware software is not something they could have foreseen unless of course they are doing something they shouldn’t on that site.  Companies should be be policing their own sites and perhaps either internally or externally have their sites checked to be sure there are no issues unforeseen from the outside.  It’s not worth not knowing.
a.       Also, why would a customer bother to communicate with them about this based on the {lack} of results of my first communication with them; there is a relationship breakdown between us at this point.

It is crowded out there.  There are so many similar products available and you can shop at so many places, Bricks and Mortar or Web based if and when you want.  Differentiation comes from the complete product; the brand, one vs another.  This is at every level:
a.      Where you choose to shop
                                                               i.      What is the experience at the location (ie: cleanliness. Organization, ease of checkout, return policies, customer support, etc.)   This goes for Bricks and Mortar as well as Web Sites.
b.       Product Packaging and documentation
c.      Other brand or cross brand relationships / promotions
d.      Product support - pre and post sales from your purchase point
e.        Product support - from the manufacturer

Without focus on the full brand experience, a consumer looking for more then a purchase based just on price, won't engage.  If the purchase is going to be all be about price, I am not sure every company wants to or should compete on this.  Consumers who buy based on brand have the expectation of much more.