Monday, 24 February 2014

Time to take action against #cyberbullying - 4 things social media owners should do

A joint post with +Fabian Marrone

Cyber bullies are cowards.  They hide behind their screens to cause untold distress and heartache to the most vulnerable in our society.  In extreme cases their actions have led young people to take their own lives.

As a society and a marketing community are we prepared to allow this to continue?  Isn’t it time that those working in the marketing and digital professions and the managers of social networks worked together to begin the process of stamping out cyber bullying?

Here are four things that should be considered as a starting point:
  1. Amend all terms and conditions to make it crystal clear that any form of online bullying will not be tolerated and be explicit about the penalties. Get all users to explicitly agree to these new conditions.  Those who are reported or suspected of cyber bullying should have their accounts frozen and, if there is sufficient evidence, blocked from using the vehicle of their venom.
  2. Subject to local laws, details of those blocked should be shared amongst the main social media sites to ensure all outlets are restricted.
  3. Social media owners should establish a form of neighbourhood watch, encouraging the online community to identify and report incidents of cyber bullying quickly.
  4. Provide support and assistance to those who are victims of bullies online.

This is merely a starting point but it is clear that action needs to be taken by the digital community now.  

What other ideas do you have for tackling this important issue in our society?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Will the Co-op's #HaveYourSay campaign provide the clarity it so sorely needs?

Ok, I’ll admit it.  I have a soft spot for the Co-op, or The Co-operative Group as it is now known.  Both my parents worked there. In fact my father spent 40 years with the organisation, rising through the ranks from the shop floor to a senior management position.

In recent years the Co-op’s reputation has taken a battering, primarily driven by the poor performance of its banking business and a distinct confusion as to what its purpose and business really is.  Bank? Supermarket? Convenience store? Funeral director? Travel agent? Ethical business?

In a move to re-vitalise the brand, the Co-op is now taking the bold step of finding out from the public what it should stand for through its mammoth Have Your Say campaign (#HaveYourSay).  A key part of the campaign is an online questionnaire seeking views of members, customers and potential customers on a variety of areas such as fairtrade, pricing and community involvement.

This is a bold move.  While it certainly reinforces the mutual’s historic roots of being owned and directed by its local customers, I can’t help think that it also smacks of desperation.  It sings: “we’ve given this a lot of thought but we couldn’t come up with any real ideas.  So we thought we’d ask you”.

The reality is that the Co-op has lost its way.  While its origins are in local mutual societies, a succession of mergers and acquisitions has created a behemoth that has become divorced from its membership and lost its original purpose.  And a successful ethical positioning in recent years has been eroded by its banking fiasco.

I’m all for asking customers what they think, but the Co-op’s survey looks too much like a clumsy exercise in reputation management.  I’m not sure what testing has been undertaken or whether focus groups were engaged to react to a series of propositions, but I have to say the questionnaire itself doesn’t imply there has been much preparatory work done.  It’s fairly long – about 20 minutes online – and a seemingly disjointed series of questions.  There’s no real attempt to explain the Co-op’s history or founding philosophy and there’s an assumption that everyone will understand it’s a mutual and what that really means. And there are no draft proposition areas to unpick or react to.

I really hope the Co-op finds its way soon but I’m not convinced that running this campaign will help it find the clarity it needs.  It would have been far better for its management to consult on a series of recommendations on what it believes its customer and community obligations should be and to be seen to listen to the feedback.

Why not take the survey and see for yourself:

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Does free coffee in the supermarket foster loyalty?

Supermarket chain Waitrose has described the traditional points-based loyalty schemes of rivals such as Tesco as ‘meaningless’.  Customers, they say, derive little value from collecting points over time.

Instead, Waitrose claim they’re all about affinity and creating a social hub for the local community.  Under their My Waitrose scheme customers are eligible to collect a free cup of tea or coffee every day and, if they spend more than £5, a free newspaper.  The result is that Waitrose now brews around one million cups of free coffee a week.

According to Mark Price, Waitrose MD, speaking to Marketing Week : “We want to say to our customers ‘welcome to our shop, have a cup of coffee, read a newspaper, we’ll look after you’”.

If my local Waitrose is anything to go by, the offer is mostly taken up by individuals who pop in to claim their free coffee, buy some ciggies and pick up a free newspaper before decamping to their local Aldi.  Whereas the target yummy mummies seem to be too preoccupied dealing with little Hugo and Jemima, wrestling with a trolley and/or buggy to want to hold a Styrofoam cup of hot coffee as well.

Waitrose say they have no problem with this.  I’m not so sure.  I admire their distinctive approach in stepping aside from the competition and their desire to create a better shopping experience (I’ve argued for this recently in my piece on short-term sales growth v loyalty).  But I do wonder whether they have missed something in the execution.

Would it not have been wise to set a spend threshold for membership of the scheme? Membership is currently unrelated to spend, hence the free coffee brigade. Setting a qualifying £5 or £10 initial spend for membership would seem to be a more commercial approach to rewarding genuine customers and creating affinity. Rather than attracting visitors who have no intention of grabbing a basket and conducting a weekly shop.

Footfall in Waitrose may be on the up and its traditional ‘posh’, and possibly inaccessible, reputation may be under question, but I wonder whether Waitrose can reasonably argue that they are fostering greater levels of affinity and brand loyalty with their target audience?

But then Waitrose might be happy being the UK’s largest purveyor of coffee. At their own expense. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Word of mouth is not dead - it's digital

Word of mouth has long been the cornerstone of many marketing strategies, based upon the understanding that anything between 20 and 50 percent of purchasing decisions are influenced by recommendations of other customers.

But with the rise of internet usage generally, and social media in particular, the challenge now has to be how do we make word of mouth digital?

The challenge is a real one: having a great website and a social media presence is simply not enough:
  • There are currently around 1 billion websites globally and this is expected to double in the next two years.
  • Research would indicate that around 80% of website visits are a result of searches, not recommendation or advertising.
  • Social media is generally seen as a trusted source of sharing and accessing product and service recommendations, with Facebook popular with consumers and LinkedIn with commercial decision makers.

It’s no surprise therefore that marketers are increasing diverting spend into SEO and social media. However, there are three things that marketers need to understand in order to achieve high levels of digital word of mouth:
  1. It’s quality, not quantity when it comes to content. If we understand that most websites are visited as a result of a search and that increasingly searches are being done in the form of a question - how do I?  where can I? what is? - then it makes sense that your content strategy must reflect this. Helpful, instructional/educational and unbiased content that answers the questions asked by target customers is essential.
  2. Customers inhabit ‘networks’ online. It’s simple really: there are so many sources of information online that customers are increasingly seeking out like-minded others and sharing news, views and opinions within a series of networks or groups. The key for marketers is to understand the networks inhabited by their target audiences and to join them there. Or, even better, build networks that audiences want to join.
  3. Build engagement and promote sharing.  Focus on recruiting online brand advocates and understand what motivates your target audience to share content/make recommendations.  Consider incentives for sharing in the short term, but ensure that your content remains aligned to your customers’ interests and is worth sharing - not just by the reader but for your brand. Pictures of cats are highly shareable but not necessarily the right association for your brand. Look into crowd-sourcing and online customer panels/testing as a way of showing that you listen as well as preach.
The message is simple: marketers have traditionally prided themselves on understanding their customers; creating digital word of mouth is no different.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The marketer’s dilemma: short term sales growth or loyalty?

It probably won’t come as a surprise to most switched-on marketers that the modern customer is highly promiscuous.  Shopping around has become a national pastime, particularly as easy access to the internet has allowed many customers to explore the range of offers available in the comfort of their homes without resorting to wearing out shoe leather on the High Street.

This promiscuity is perhaps no more marked than in the highly competitive world of supermarket shopping.  The modern British shopper has, it seems, become adept at taking advantage of price promotions to divide their share of food spend between rival operators as opposed to remaining loyal to one supermarket brand.  Chasing savings has become more important than the convenience of making one trip to one supermarket chain.

This creates a dilemma for marketers:  do you enter the fray and compete almost entirely on price to drive short term sales growth; or do you focus on building a loyal customer base and reap the benefits of lifetime value?  Immediate commercial concerns may well dictate the former.

The answer lies somewhere between the two in my opinion. 

Yes, price promotion may well be necessary in order to drive customers to your business.  But this has to be seen as a short term measure or you may find yourself in the position of continuingly competing on price.

The challenge is to create a shopping experience that is distinctive and gives customers what they want, over and above the attraction of a good deal.  This means making the purchasing process as simple and quick as possible – we know, for example, that a proportion of shoppers abandon their baskets because of queues at the checkout.  It could mean better trained staff with greater product knowledge.  And it could mean additional services and product ranges that make the attraction of shopping in one outlet greater than another.

Marketers outside the food sector would do well to take on board the lessons being learned by the large supermarket chains:  differentiation by price alone will not generate loyal customers.