Monday, March 26, 2012

“Wow” is not the “how” of brand building

Last week I read a post on the HBR blog that described two “wow” customer experiences. They really were amazing. One involved a tech company customer service rep who was on a very long troubleshooting call and upon hearing the client say that he was hungry, had a pizza delivered to the client’s office. The other involved an employee at a restaurant chain who delighted a three year old with a “ride” on his mop.

So your first instinct might be to think about all the ways you can create those kind of “wow’” experiences for your customers (or donors or parents). But here’s the thing. If you’re relying on those kind of out of the ordinary experiences to distinguish your brand, you’re making a big mistake.

The reality is that you can have an amazingly successful organization without ever having created one of “those” moments. Let me illustrate by looking at things in reverse. Let’s say you have a company that delivers a sub-standard product with salespeople who are generally less than attentive and one day one of your reps does something truly heroic. Guess what? You’re still going to have a lackluster brand that doesn’t get much attention.

The latest installment in John Moore’s Talkable Brand video series makes the point. The video tells us if you want people to talk about your brand, it has to be loveable.  And what makes a brand loveable? Things like always doing the right thing by customers, consistently delivering more than promised and keeping promises even it means losing money. These are all exercises in consistency. Great brands are defined by what they do every day – not just on a good day.

So what is the “how” of delivering a great brand experience? Whether it's for a business, a nonprofit or an independent school, I believe it revolves around three things:

1. Quality – you have to have the best possible people delivering the best possible product or service. Period. Good marketing can’t compensate for mediocrity.

2. Know your brand and make sure that everyone in the organization does as well. Seth Godin defines a brand as “[a] set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships…” Make sure you know the expectations you’re meeting, the memories you’re creating, the stories you want told and the relationships that you want developed.

3. Be consistent. Develop the systems that make it possible for your organization to distinguish itself in every interaction every day.  This involves things like quality control, research, staff training, professional development and incentive programs.

Counting on exceptional experiences to distinguish you brand is like developing online content designed to go to viral. They’re both not going to happen. Being strategic by knowing your target market and how to meet their needs – every day – is a much better approach.

What do you think? Is it really the “wow” experience that makes a difference? And if not, what are your “hows” of brand-building?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pinterest? Five reasons why it’s not worth your time.

For most normal sized nonprofits and fundraising organizations – and many businesses for that matter – it’s not worth spending marketing resources on Pinterest.

What is Pinterest, you ask? (by the way, if you’re asking that question, you may have already proved my point.) It’s the social media phenomenon of the 2010’s. Imagine a virtual bulletin board on which you can pin your favourite images. But because this is an online board, you can also pin links to your favourite videos and other media. Most importantly, other people can pin stuff to your board and if you see something you like on someone else’s board, you can share it on yours. To top it all off, you can curate multiple boards. It’s very visual and very engaging and very powerful.

It’s also very popular. Pinterest is the fastest growing website in history, going from 400,000 users in June 2011 to 12 million today.

Based on all that, you probably think that my opening assertion to stay away from Pinterest is a symptom of insanity or a Luddite-like aversion to technology. Nope, it’s just being realistic.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve read a ton about Pinterest and my conclusion is that using Pinterest effectively, requires  a ton of thought, attention and time. That’s also true of other social media channels, like Facebook, but Pinterest has some unique qualities make it particularly demanding. Here’s why I think Pinterest isn’t worth spending a lot of time on:

1. The numbers aren’t there yet. Yes the growth over the past six months is impressive but consider that as of December 2011, Facebook boasts 845 million users. That’s 70 times the number of Pinterest users. In addition, Pinterest faces some upcoming copyright issues (the result of so many images being shared) that could stymie its growth.

2. Pinterest needs to be monitored. You can’t just pin stuff up and forget about it. Remember other users are pinning stuff to your board so just like a Facebook page you need to know what they’re saying – or in this case pinning.

3. You need marketing insight to use Pinterest well. There's a great piece on Pinterest that has been put together by Engauge that asserts "Before hitting the road, a Pinterest strategy needs to roll up into an overarching digital and marketing strategy" and then goes on to present a one page matrix of decisions and action that will be necessary. On the other hand,  Elaine Fogel recently reported that less than a quarter of nonprofits have marketing plans. Sounds to me like Pinterest is beyond the grasp of most npo’s.

4. Using Pinterest requires creative ability. The article I quoted before also says, “Use Pinterest to get the word out. But make sure you do this tastefully.” This refers to both the aesthetic quality of content and some ingenuity in coming up with content that relates to your cause but isn’t seen as blatantly promoting your cause.

5. Pinterest is a time suck. This may be my summary point. The marketing resources of most nonprofits are already stretched to the max. Adding Pinterest to the mix will only add to the burden. If its not done well, it will reflect poorly. And even if it is done well, current research is light on any direct relationship between Pinterest and donations.

Pinterest is definitely worth keeping an eye on – particularly from a nonprofit point of view. Here’s a list of nonprofit Pinterest pages that will show you the difference between using the medium well and not.

Beyond that, I wouldn’t do any more. In my view, most nonprofits should work on getting their marketing house in order before putting even a drop of effort into Pinterest.

What do you think? Is your organization devoting time to Pinterest? Do you have any Pinterest success stories? Please comment and tell us.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The nightmare of classroom websites and what to do about them

Note to Readers: We could use everyone’s insight and wisdom on this issue. Even if you are not involved with the world of independent schools, please read on and comment with your best advice.

Classroom websites and e-newsletters represent an enormous challenge for marketers of independent schools and are a potential source of communications horror stories.

Often times I draw on my experience in the business world as a source of solutions for situations encountered in independent schools. But this is a communications phenomenon for which I can’t think of a business parallel.

Here’s the situation. Stronger home-classroom partnerships clearly lead to better learning outcomes. For that reason, teacher-parent communication is regarded as a pillar of educational success. That communication takes many forms including parent teacher conferences, individual meetings with parents, written communication and of late, classroom e-newsletters and websites.

The point is this. Teachers may not be fully aware of the school’s mission, vision and philosophy (MVP). They may not be able to articulate the brand. As a result, there is great potential for teachers communicating something that is at odds with the schools policy or persona. Misaligned messaging and broken branding lurk every time the publish button is pushed.

We know that web-based communication can be shared at lightning speed and passed on with germ-like ease. So, an e-communications misstep by a teacher is not likely going to be kept quiet and could cause embarrassment and confusion to an entire school community.

In the business world this is akin to a company allowing every customer service rep or salesperson to have their own website with which they communicate with their customers and for which they independently create the content. That’s a disaster waiting to happen and to my knowledge would not be tolerated in any corporate organization.

But the demand for classroom websites and e-newsletters increases daily. Parents love the communication. So solutions must be found. In that spirit I offer some practical advice.

Overall Measures
  1. Ensure that teachers are brand and MVP aware and can articulate what distinguishes the school
  2. Provide teachers with clear communications guidelines that include sample statements and nomenclature they should be using in describing the school.
  3. Because administrators are the front line supervisors, ensure they are fully fluent with the brand
  4. Create tight templates for websites and e-newsletters to ensure consistency in messaging and even aesthetics.
  5. Every classroom website or e-newsletter should have a link to the main school website
Specific guidelines for teachers
  1. Ensure that content has been proofread carefully and is grammatically correct. Nothing has the potential for more embarrassment.
  2. Address parents in a customer-centric manner that respects the realities of choice and tuition.
  3. Amplify the classroom-home partnership by clearly telling parents how they can help their children with specific projects
  4. Avoid pedagogical jargon (I call this edu-speak) and use simple language     
  5. Assume that students will be reading and don’t say anything you wouldn’t want them to know
  6. Find a balance in communication that conveys personal concern and involvement but on the other hand is not too informal or friendly
  7. Be positive. Criticism has tremendous potential to be misunderstood
This is an issue that’s not going away. So it would be great to share ideas and solutions. And I said in my introduction, it would be interesting to hear how those from the business world would approach this. Please comment.

Maybe together we can turn this potential nightmare into a communications dream.