Thursday, February 27, 2014

Entrepreneurs: Learn Best-in-Class Customer Acquisition Tactics for Start-Ups

For entrepreneurs, a solid customer acquisition strategy is critical for growth. As a graduate student in Northwestern University Medill's Integrated Marketing Communications Masters program, with a focus on technology start-ups, I have discovered 2 articles on customer acquisition tactics that are informative and relevant for entrepreneurs.

One of the first steps in formulating an acquisition strategy is to calculate your Cost of Customer Acquisition (CAC). According to an article by Renee Warren, co-founder of Onboardly, on the Kissmetrics blog, “your CAC is loosely defined as the cost of all of your sales and marketing expenses over a given period of time, divided by the number of customers acquired in that window. While you won’t have a firm sense of your CAC until you begin acquiring customers, having an estimate will help you be prepared.” Estimating your CAC will help determine your optimal level of spending for such marketing expenses as search ads, re-targeting, sponsorships and other paid tactics.  When it comes to analytics, Renee emphasizes the importance of measuring the right metrics; while vanity metrics like Facebook fans and Twitter followers might make you feel good, you should focus on the three most important metrics at each stage of your customer acquisition funnel to align your goals with actual results.

Source: The YouMoz Blog
Content marketing enables your company to establish itself as a thought leader by providing meaningful solutions to consumer problems. On an article on the HubSpot blog, Brianne Carlon Rush, the Content Director at Kuno Creative, suggests finding a balance between quality and quantity as she notes, “to be considered valuable, content should be consistent, relevant to its target audience and offer information that informs consumers without blatant promotion of a product.” In addition, Brianne recommends making your content shareable across social channels and to personalize content so that it can be “accessed from any device, is tailored to where prospects are in the buying cycle and changes based on characteristics of visitors.”

After reviewing these articles, there are three action items you should immediately consider for your start-up:

1. Determine your Cost of Customer Acquisition: By estimating this cost, you can better forecast your customer acquisition expenses and justify your paid tactics.

2. Practice Content Marketing: The more value you create for your target customers, the more essential your brand becomes in their lives.

3. Test and Analyze Metrics: Only by quantifying and analyzing your successes and failures can you evolve and scale your business successfully.

While every business and product is unique to its market, there are some commonalities when it comes to understanding, engaging and growing your customer base. Whether your goal is to increase sales, free trials or newsletter sign-ups, these three proven tactics will help you strategize in the right direction.

Sangram Pradhan manages marketing strategy and product development for Ntensify, a mobile in-app merchandise business. He previously worked as a Creative Executive in the film industry, with positions at Sony Pictures Entertainment, The Film Department and United Talent Agency, specializing in acquiring and licensing IP. Sangram studies integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University and completed his Bachelors of Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Follow him on Twitter @srpradhan81

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Strategists, and Creative Directors Take Note: This Is How Your Organizations Can Have Nice Things

Strategists and creative directors spend exorbitant amounts of time developing intricately planned strategies meant to communicate with a specific market, however, according to Roger L. Martin, thorough planning does not equal an effective marketing strategy. Throughout my time in Northwestern University's Medill Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program, equal emphasis has been placed on both quantitative and qualitative tactics for specifying target markets, and how to assess the myriad approaches available to effectively communicate a brand’s message to said market.

In his article The Big Lie of Strategic Planning, Roger L. Martin discusses three common mistakes or “traps”, as he refers to them, that organizations fall victim to when developing a marketing strategy. “First is Strategic Planning, second is Cost-Based Thinking, the third is Self-Referential Strategy Frameworks” (Martin, The Big Lie of Strategic Planning). Inherent to these three “traps” is a failure to break from one’s comfort zone, and approaching the strategic thought process through the lens of a budget planning committee. Instead of developing dynamic strategic approaches to communicate with target markets, they develop templates based on past successes that involve little to no risk. Martin prescribes three ways to avoid the “traps.” First “keep the strategy simple, second recognize that strategy is not about perfection, and third make the logic explicit” (The Big Lie of Strategic Planning). Martin believes these three suggestions are important steps to developing effective strategies, and making bold moves in a competitive marketplace.

Image Source: Richard Sheffield
One of the boldest, and often most criticized mobile strategies is that of Facebook. Josh Constine outlines the mobile strategy Facebook has adopted for remaining relevant among competitors who’s apps focus on a specific social functionality that users seem to prefer to Facebook’s original all-in-one mobile approach. In an earnings call with CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Constine points out that it was clear Zuckerberg was aware of the growing number of competitors chipping away at Facebook’s dominance on the mobile platform. In fact, Zuckerberg is actually following Facebook’s philosophy of “move fast and break things,” saying “One theme that should be clear from our work on products like Messenger, Groups and Instagram is that our vision for Facebook is to create a set of products that help you share any kind of content you want with any audience you want” (Facebook’s Plot To Conquer Mobile: Shatter Itself Into Pieces). Constine quotes Zuckerberg again later in his article when Zuckerberg refers to features within the main Facebook app as “second-class” and specifically states the need for Facebook to deliver “a suite of apps focused on executing specific functions that consumers need.” References are made to Facebook’s successes and failures in delivering these focused consumer experiences with the release of the Messenger app, the acquisitions of Instagram and Whatsapp, and the releases of the Poke, Camera, and Paper apps. It remains to be seen how effective this strategy will be but it is clear that Facebook is ready to “break things” in a bold effort to remain relevant.

In reading the articles mentioned above I began to consider how they would fit in a real-world scenario. Realizing there is no "breaking things" without building trust and support in your reasoning I thought of three action items anyone can apply at the office.
  1. Define Key Stakeholders - At the outset of the strategic thought process there will always be a number of variables to consider. One variable that can easily get out of hand is the approval process. Be sure to define relevant individuals who will be affected by the strategy being developed and get them onboard immediately in order to gain their trust and ambassadorship. Establish that they will be the liaison between their respective departments and yourself in order to streamline the approval process.
  2. Establish Pragmatic Parameters - As stated earlier in Roger L. Martin’s article, the end result of a strategy should never resemble a budget plan. However, you do need to have pragmatic and quantifiable financial parameters in place before allowing yourself the freedom to break things. Get the CFO, or their direct report, onboard from the get go to assist in researching target markets and solidifying your reasoning for pursuing the high value target market. This will help you develop a 360-degree view of your target market and allow for creative strategic thinking within well-defined parameters.
  3. Let Your Organization Have Nice Things - Now to "break things," after establishing relationships and building trust rooted in quantifiable reasoning it is time to break from the tried-and-true and reinvigorate your brand’s message in order to empower you highest value consumers. Allow for brainstorming the rejects no ideas at the outset and pair down the results. Then refine, refine, refine until you have something spectacular.
While it is true that many companies are quite successful at retaining consumers through tried-and-true tactics, every once in a while a break in communications pattern is necessary in order to reinvigorate an existing consumer-base or expand to a new consumer-base. Strategizing, not planning, and having the courage to break from the familiar can produce great results for your organization.

Raul Torres is a freelance graphic designer and strategic thinker who has worked with non-profits, start-ups, and agencies around Chicago. He is a Master of Science candidate in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University. You can follow him on twitter at @tar050.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Social Sector CEO: Your GPS Knows the Secret for Accomplishing Greater Good

Every CEO knows a well-defined plan is a must; the ones most likely to achieve sustainable success actually test their plans rigorously, objectively, and continuously, carefully analyzing real-time data and  “recalculating” as needed. While this cycle is most often associated with the for-profit sector (particularly high-tech startups), my graduate work in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) at Northwestern’s Medill School is showing me its value for the social sector. Two studies may be of interest to those who wish non-profits could emulate the best practices of successful for-profits -- to achieve greater good.

Benchmarking Evaluation in Foundations, a study published in The Foundation Review and conducted by the Center for Evaluation Innovation for the Evaluation Roundtable, reports foundations increased resources devoted to program evaluation between 2009 and 2012 – despite economic turbulence. Not only did half increase the relative amount of funding devoted to evaluation (compared to only 17% who decreased it), but the average number of foundation employees devoted to evaluation rose from 3.0 to 4.2. The authors suggest commitment to evaluation has become deeply rooted in the philanthropic sector, and is no passing fad. Their study offers hope that best practices of data-driven, for-profit entrepreneurship have the potential to take root in the non-profit sector -- since data-driven recalculating is only possible when there are data (and the resources to collect them). However, enthusiasm for collecting volumes of data is overwhelming the social sector's ability to use those collected data effectively, the study suggests, raising serious questions about the potential for evaluation to advance social change.
Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), in a separate and larger study, finds foundations are not yet getting the most out of these evaluation dollars because they still tend to use the data the same old way. GEO’s  Four Essentials for Evaluation reports most grantmakers continue to view evaluation as merely an accountability exercise rather than as a tool for learning – learning that allows well timed “recalculation” to maximize the social good achieved by each philanthropic dollar and that shares findings so others can avoid making the same mistakes (and replicate successes). GEO suggests effectiveness requires understanding what stakeholders need to do a better job, collection of data that speaks to stakeholder needs, and strategies to process data and share learnings continuously and in real time.

From these two articles, I believe social sector leaders must do 3 things today to realize the full potential of evaluation dollars:
  • Leverage technology – Evaluators, foundations, and grantees today can collaborate more easily than ever to collect data, analyze it, and recalculate in real-time. We must do it to ensure relevance and success.
  • Embrace mistakes and learn – Create a culture that actually practices open, honest dialogue, rewarding learning rather than silencing data-driven warnings to “recalculate.”
  • Be pragmatic – Methodological perfection is laudable, as is collecting comprehensive data. However, small scale, doable, pragmatic evaluations often provide the timely, critical, relevant insights that make the difference between success and failure. 
With charitable giving stuck at 2% of GDP for 4 decades despite mounting need, Eric Kessler of Arabella Advisors reminds us of the urgent need to “get the most out of every penny.” Evaluators have unique opportunities to be our social sector’s GPS – guiding the sector toward its intended, desired destinations with timely recalculations to maximize the impact of precious resources. That will truly advance greater good.

Debra L. Dodson, Ph.D., is former Director of Program Evaluation and Outcomes Measurement for the Girl Scouts of the USA. Previously she was a research faculty member at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University, where she conducted research on the pressing political issues of the day. Her publications include The Impact of Women in Congress (Oxford University Press, 2006). Currently she is taking a sabbatical to learn how Integrated Marketing Communications (Medill, Northwestern University) can improve program evaluation/ research/ and communication in a digital world. Contact her on Twitter @Debra_L_Dodson.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Warning Airline CMOs: A little blue bird is about to clip your wings!

Airline CMOs and their marketing teams are using different types of social media to engage their customers, but new technology and mobile gadgets are about to revolutionize social marketing in the airline industry yet again. As a graduate student in the Northwestern Medill IMC marketing program, I have been researching how to best leverage social media for marketing an airline.  I have identified a few articles that best explain the power of the “connected traveler,” i.e. the 65% who travel with a gadget, according to Gogo. I believe these articles highlight key points that airline marketers need to know in order to better engage with their consumers.

Shashank Nigam, CEO of the global aviation consulting firm SimpliFlying and one of the top thought leaders of social media in the airline industry provides five reasons why airlines need to move beyond normal marketing tactics to engage with the Connected Traveler. He argues that with 200 airlines now on twitter and more and more airlines increasing their social media budgets, the space is too cluttered. If you want to get ahead of the competition, you have to tap into the power of the “connected traveler”and be innovative in the ways you leverage social.  

 In a whitepaper published by Amadeus IT Group a few years ago, Norm Rose of Travel Tech highlights how mobile will transform the future of air travel. He does predict however that by the end of 2016, advanced mobile functionalities will no longer be a differentiator but simply a price to pay to be in the game.  In other words a mobile strategy on its own is not sufficient. At the core of true airline mobile differentiation is service delivery and customer support. 

Infographic from Eezer Data Lab

Based on my analysis of these two articles and other travel-related research that I have completed, here are the three steps that you need to consider in order to take your airline's social strategy to the next level.

Act upon virtual complaints and suggestions in real-world and real-time- Having a mobile device translates into your market's expectation of reaching things instantaneously.  Your airline now needs to be responsive in real-time and real-world.  So when your high value customer tweets from the first class lounge “missing  [her] usual favourite breakfast,” then surprise her with it in real-time, in the lounge.  

Create a hybrid of your loyalty program- Programs such as passengers' earning miles for liking, tweeting, sharing and checking in is an easy way to tap into the power of your passengers’ mobile devices.  Simpliflying helped Estonian Air and BalticMiles pioneer a similar program recently.  

Cover the complete travel cycle- When it comes to travel and destinations, consumers are always looking for inspiration and answers. Nowadays, from the moment they dream about travel to when they complain about it and later when they reminisce about it,  they can be reached. This means that there is a unique opportunity to work with passengers at every step of their journey. You are the expert, so be there to empower them throughout their dreams, concerns and memories.

And here is one last point, just in case... 

Mobile Marketing is a must for an airline - According to Christina CK Kerley, speaker, trainer and strategist in mobile marketing, as of 2012 only 16% of all brands had a formal mobile strategy. If you are an airline, you cannot afford to be among those 16%. That is because travelers are much more likely than the average person to be active participants on social media- based on Forrester's Technographic Profile of Airline Passengers. So roll out a mobile strategy today or else you will find your wings clipped. 

Bahareh Evans is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Integrated Marketing at Medill, Northwestern University.  She is a culturally dexterous marketer who is interested in Consumer Insights and Social Media Marketing. Her experiences have granted her insights and work experience in several industries but her deep global understanding leads to a passion for working with travel and airline markets.
Follow her on twitter @baharehevans

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CMOs - Maximize your Brand Impact with Awesome Content

As a marketing executive, you know success today depends on your company's ability to create or find content which is highly engaging to your high value markets. As a graduate student in Northwestern's Medill IMC program, I have been studying effective content strategies and have found two articles which effectively present interesting options for you.

In the article5 Tech Companies That Get Content Marketing Right”, Sivan Cohen from Conduit cited a few examples of successful content marketing implemented by some of the best and most recognized tech companies, namely KISSmetrics, Instagram, Eventbrite, Buffer, and WIX.  These brands implemented effective content marketing strategies by not just knowing what their target audience wanted but by empowering them through providing meaningful tips and tricks; connecting them to relevant people, events and organizers; offering unique insights (e.g. behavioral science); and focusing on fun and creative aspects of interest to the customer.

A second article on content strategies is called So You Think Your Marketing Content Drives Sales?"  David Rogelberg from Studio B discussed “brain-friendliness” content as a key driver of audience engagement.  The back-end success of this focuses on the fact that most people only spend seconds reading your content.  This means that the key to captivating your audience is to make the content and layout in a brain-friendly way.  It is important to note that 9 out of 10 readers prefer brain-friendly content because it is more interesting and easier to read. People generally end up spending twice as much time reading it compared to traditional papers.

In reviewing these two articles, I find there are three actions important for you to consider as a marketing executive.  They are:
1.    Meet the needs with practical advice.  In this day and age of fierce technology competitions, being able to differentiate your product and service is key to success. Tech marketers need to convey a clear message that your brand is the expert that your audience can trust. You need to provide your audience with the practical “how-to” content.  Covers factors and circumstances that bring the best outcomes; tell how people can work with your company to achieve those desired outcomes; suggest the possible obstacles that can get in the way. Of course, provide recommendations on how to deal with those obstacles.   

2.    Go brain-friendly. Your topic should be able to provoke curiosity, which naturally lead to real learning. You should make sure the content delivered contain a few items to teach the audience. Being able to teach is a way to pave for future reader engagement. In terms of style, brain-friendly content is more conversational, visual and emotional. These tactics are proven to help readers remember more of the information they came across.  

3.    Include effective case studies.  Avoid the pitfall of slapping boring and lengthy materials into your content. Effective case studies are always relevant, result-oriented and well outlined.  Describe the original situation faced by your clients or consumers, list the steps and how problems can be resolved along the way. Depict the outcome that your clients will receive and how they can benefit from the lesson in a precise and concise way.

By implementing these three action items, tech marketers do not only develop the right content for the right audience but be insightful and meaningful enough that the audience will actually be interested.  In this case, the tree not only made noise but you now have an attentive audience that wants to see the next tree fall.

Angel Hau is an MS candidate in Integrated Marketing & Communications at Northwestern University. She has previously worked for a marketing consulting startup for healthcare companies and is interested in joining the tech industry. Follow Angel @ Angel_CK_Hau.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hospitality Operators: Listen in on Social Media to learn who your guests think you are

As a CEO of a hospitality company, you have access to a powerful collection of guest feedback, you just to have to listen in on the conversation. As graduate student at Northwestern University and as a concept and branding consultant for a hospitality consulting firm, I’ve been studying how brands have been using powerful social media tools to better understand their customer’s opinions and feelings.

Social Media is more than a way to engage with your customers.  It is an effective and low-cost way to conduct market research.  Social Media Today offers some great strategic advice in the post: How to use Social Media for Market Research.The real-time nature of social media can cut months off of the process of conducting traditional market research.  Hidden in the chatter are often key learnings about the words your guests are using to describe your brand.  By listening in rather than surveying or leading focus groups, unnoticed trends and patterns can emerge. Most social media sites offer free monitoring tools, but for those companies who want to delve deeper, here is a great round-up also from Social Media Today of 25 Awesome Social Media Tools, some are even free.

Once you know what guests are saying, it’s time for some soul-searching.  Are they saying what you want them to say? Perhaps an even more difficult question is – what is your brand, really?  Branding Strategy Insider has some great insights in the post Measuring the Strength of Brand Identity.  In every industry, but especially in hospitality where trendy offerings come and go seemingly every week, it's important that leaders to go to a deeper level and outline with and for their teams the the unique characteristics that define how they create value in the world. As the author states, "Identity provides the seeds of differentiation."

Based on these two articles, here are the action items I would recommend you consider:

  • Listen to the online conversation. Take note of both the problem areas and consistently positive comments.  Too often sites like Yelp are viewed by operators as a place to read about bad experiences, but the things people love about you are even more important to understand so you can give them more of what they want and amplify those positive sentiments  across marketing channels.
  • Conduct a brand audit or concept clarity review.  Discuss key differentiators, core values and each touch point to define what your promise to guests should be versus what it is today.
  • Join the online conversation  Develop a Cross-Channel Communications Road Map to further monitor your guests to ensure that you are effectively and consistently communicating your brand at each opportunity.
Often times day-to-day operational concerns can distract from this kind of high-level, strategic thinking and these kinds of conversations arise from desperation rather than inspiration.  This doesn’t have to be the case and regular monitoring cross–checked against an agreed upon concept offering can be just the preventative care the doctor ordered.

Candace MacDonald is a hospitality marketer and concept consultant, experienced at translating creative vision into marketing programs that build brands and generate revenue.  She has worked for hotels, restaurant operators, celebrity chefs, wineries, and a major food & wine festival.  She is a candidate for a Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University. Follow her @comacdonald.