I will be attending the Forrester Forum for Marketing Leaders “Create a Brand Advantage with Perpetually Connected Customers” in Los Angeles, California on April 18 and 19th. If you’re attending the conference and want to connect, DM me at @50champ. There is also a conference Twitter thread at #ForrForum.

I’ll be attending all of the standard sessions. Here are the “tracks” I’ll be attending:

Thursday:

  • 01:45 PM – 02:30 PM / Track A / Mobile And Devices / Marketer Spotlight: Deep Dive On The Mobile Mind Shift

or

  • 01:45 PM – 02:30 PM / Track C / Branding / Brands Need Connected Content

Friday:

  • 10:40 AM – 11:25 AM / Track B / Customer Data / Calculating True Impact Across Devices

or

  • 10:40 AM – 11:25 AM / Track D / Organization / Marketer Spotlight: Driving B2B Marketing With An Adaptive Approach

Plus:

  • 11:30 AM – 12:00 PM / Guest Executive Forum With HP Autonomy: Reading Between The Lines: Discovering The Hidden Consumer
  • 12:05 PM – 12:50 PM / Track B / Customer Data / Targeting Your Audience Across Channels And Devices

Most Fortune 500 company websites do a great job telling you what the firm is selling. But guess what? Customers don’t care. They’re looking for outcomes, to fill a need or get smart, and to then either request more information or get on with their day.

Instead of simply listing what you sell, extrapolate through to “the why.” In example, you sell software. For whom? Medical practices. Why? To better manage patient information. Why? To reduce administrative costs. Why? Because administrative costs represent the largest share of OPEX investment, which can’t be written off as easily at tax time. Aha! Now you’re not simply selling medical practice software, you’re selling the kind of efficiency that equates to savings. And that single message can be delivered in a sentence as opposed to a laundry list of features.

Instead of being “Medusoft medical practice software”, you’re now “Medusoft, making medical practices more profitable” (through software). And we’ll all buy that type of return.

An investor I recently spoke with stated, “I look at a company’s website and ask, would anyone care if this company went away? If the answer is no, I go on to the next thing.”

As a strategist I ask, “Has your company uniquely positioned itself in the market, and does that positioning align to your company’s mission, vision, and values?”

If the answer is “yes” to both questions above, then find ways – beyond sales – to validate that your customers feel the same way. If your customers aren’t reflecting your messaging (based on your insights about them), you’d better quickly change the conversation.

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Our most progressive clients understand the role strategy can play in the genesis and evolution of their products, projects, people, and their company overall. They recognize that great strategy can inform a product’s functionality, marketability, lifecycle, and on and on.

As strategists, we connect enough dots to understand the customer, to see ahead of where markets are going, and to uncover new opportunities and positioning that sets a prosperous pathway for our clients. We are responsible for pushing the boundaries of our own company’s thinking, our clients’ thinking, and of the industries and businesses we serve. If we are not breaking down walls (with tact and elegance), then we’re not pushing hard enough.

We’re not always going to transform a business, create a moment of magic, or get our client a promotion, but that should be the goal. It’s what should excite us. It’s what is exasperating, wonderful, and terrifying about what we do. We have a responsibility to make great change happen. We have an obligation to lead.

This is why I’m a strategist.

Many people have asked me why I own and work on Studebakers. The Studebaker Corporation no longer produces cars, but there are tens of thousands of Studebaker automobiles on roads, in garages and barns, and on display around the world. And unbeknownst to most, there is an entire community of Studebaker drivers and fans around the globe preserving the brand. The entire subculture fascinates me and is a study in niche communities, the wisdom of crowds, and digital (and offline) touch-points.

I came to Studebakering wanting to work on ‘something big’ with my father. What I found was a gathering of enthusiasts much larger than I could have imagined. For many in the club, their nostalgia for Studebaker revolves around their childhoods and early family life. For me, those memories are being created right now.

“Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.” I hope these cars always transport me back to working side-by-side with my father.

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From the ages of 9 till 13, skateboarding was my primary mode of transportation. I loved it. Then the bottom fell out of the skateboarding business I fell out of love with the sport.

At age 35, I purchased a reissue of my first board, a Powell & Peralta Ripper. At age 40, I purchased a reissue of my favorite board, a Christian Hosoi Hammerhead. In fact, I bought two Hammerhead boards; one to ride and an autographed copy to hand down to my son.

Riding a board brings back memories of endless summer nights in Los Gatos, California. It prompts me to share time and life lessons with my nine year-old and five year-old. And it brings me joy.

At my age, some would say that I have no right to skateboard, yet I feel that I have every right to skateboard. The paste up below (click to enlarge) is for my friends at Nike. I know that I have every right to skateboard, but there’s a legion of X-ers out there that need a little push.

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Originally posted on wirestone.com.

In 1999, I championed one of the first personalized newsletter initiatives online. Our growing interactive entertainment hub had nearly four million unique visitors, and we wanted to increase customer visits, engagement, and page views. We also had formidable competition and wanted to create a vehicle that would drive reader affinity. A newsletter that delivered targeted compelling content was the solution. (Remember that there were no smart phones or social sign-on tools in 1999.)

It took months of engineering and a genius engineer to create a newsletter that allowed each reader to choose both the content and frequency for their newsletter. Servers ran at full speed all night to deliver these complex newsletters; a task that today’s IT infrastructure can do in minutes or hours. As a result, customer registrations increased, as did clicks, page views, advertising impressions, and most importantly, revenue.

Today, this type of personalization – and the monetization of personalization – is an ongoing challenge for marketers.  Many marketers have the email engine, but not the comprehensive repository of customer data required to deliver compelling, personalized marketing.  Some marketers have both the engine and the customer data, but are lacking the social graph data and analytics that would take their outgoing marketing to the next level.

Ecommerce leaders such as Amazon, Nike, and Target have invested in the people, technology, and analytics to serve up The Four P’s to customers wherever they are – at retail, on the web, in apps, by mail, etc. At the same time, smaller retailers with shallower pockets but just as much pluck (Modcloth, Fab, HomeMint) are using the social graph to deliver personalized customer experiences to great results.

So, how does your organization balance which marketing initiatives to personalize? We often use these five elements, as defined by Forrester.1

  1. Prioritize what to personalize. Architect personalization tools based on desired outcomes.
  2. Estimate the customer’s expectation of personalization. Use surveys and customer feedback to determine what’s really wanted by the end customer.
  3. Distinguish between known and unknown attributes. Weigh demographic, geographic, and purchasing behavior to inform your marketing.
  4. Understand the level of analytical complexity.  Be honest about what data your firm has in hand and the degree of personalization it can drive.
  5. Choose the interaction context. Make the highest use of the channel, e.g., retail salespeople, kiosks, point-of-purchase, mobile, web, etc. and consider the best medium for your message, e.g., email, video, game …

The expectation is that businesses will stop making the shopper work so hard. “Lean back” technologies such as tablets and look books (Pinterest, Houzz) have demonstrated (time and again) that a great majority of us are voyeurs. So, as retailers, it’s on us to deliver what the customer wants, where and when they want it. Those of us that do not won’t be around to answer customer service calls in the future.

Forrester Research, Inc. “Use Customer Analytics To Get Personal. Analytically Driven Personalization Increases Retention And Return.”

Originally posted on wirestone.com.

This past November, Jawbone – known best for stylish Bluetooth headsets – announced the UP wristband. The UP is a smart device that tracks the wearer’s motion, sleep, and diet patterns, empowering its owner with personal analytics that can help reshape fitness and diet habits. The press welcomed UP’s potential with high praise and anticipation.

Roughly five weeks later, UP is down.  Pre-launch praise has been replaced by well-founded disappointment by UP’s early adopters, The New York Times’ David Pogue being one of them. Some owners are experiencing a handful of technical issues with their device – stories that are destroying UP’s future sales potential. Truth be told, things didn’t look good earlier this week.

But Jawbone got smart. They realized that in order to protect their early adopter audience they had to make good. Yesterday, Jawbone’s CEO announced that UP owners could receive a full refund or a credit for their next purchase on Jawbone.com. And today, the press, Jawbone’s user forum, Twitter stream, and Facebook page are abuzz with positive comments as well as requests for UP’s international distribution. For their part, Jawbone has paused production until all product issues are resolved. Even Pogue took notice, citing the good will from Jawbone’s smart customer service-oriented action.

From a PR standpoint, Jawbone’s CEO could have taken the podium a bit faster, but from a social marketing standpoint they executed well. Jawbone listened to its core audience, responded to customers where they already dwell online, paused product production to preserve the brand, made the refund process seamless – and hopefully secured future consideration by their most valued prospects and customers; those that will buy Jawbone’s products and tell others about their positive experience.

I wasn’t a Jawbone customer before buying the UP wristband, but I am now. I chose the Jawbone gift certificate over the refund, because Jawbone’s actions made me believe that they’re the kind of company that wants my business.

Originally posted on wirestone.com.

If stakeholders within your organization still view customer loyalty programs as purely a promotional marketing expense, or worse, a margin killer, they’re sorely mistaken. In today’s omni-channel retail environment, strategy-infused loyalty programs can be amortized across the organization to: fuel sales; inform customer insights; amplify brand awareness; accelerate promotions; and most importantly, to maintain an ongoing dialogue with customers.

Why do many organizations still shudder at the thought of implementing a customer loyalty program? Well, because they don’t understand the new mechanics of customer loyalty. Who’s doing it right?

Nordstrom’s Fashion Rewards program not only benefits the customer with “points” that can be redeemed with or for purchases, but they unlock services that play into Nordstrom’s core strength and brand promise: customer service. High-touch and valued services such as complimentary alterations, concierge service, access to exclusive events, free shipping, and more.

In exchange, Nordstrom creates a virtuous cycle of repeat touch points and purchases that feed a well-tuned database of your personal details and purchasing habits – amortizing the cost of acquiring you as a customer and better informing Nordy’s understanding of its customer segments. As a bonus, the customer is telling everyone that will listen about Nordstrom’s stellar customer service while wearing the goods they purchased from the store, by way of the web, app, or Nordstrom’s other businesses, Haute Look and Bonobos.

What’s so smart about Fashion Rewards? It’s focused on customer retention and lifetime value and not short-term customer conversion and ROI – both very important, but let’s remember to ‘protect the core’ while expanding the base.

Who else is doing it right? Foursquare.

Let’s face it, many web services would be dead if they didn’t remind us that they still existed. Foursquare was looking superfluous for a while, but then it struck a partnership with American Express that revitalized its relevance for Millennials – its core user base.

Foursquare not only used game mechanics to encourage repeat use, but its discovery tools dented Yelp’s armor by showing us both which businesses we should patronize and why. The incremental nature of Foursquare’s loyalty mechanics propelled it from a novelty to a platform that is now home to even more partnerships and service integrations … so much so that Facebook retreated from the “check-in” deals space.

Both of these companies are focused on creating value for the customer first and foremost and at each stage of the customer life cycle. Loyalty services are core to their businesses, and both firms are realizing gains in sales, utilization, customer feedback, word of mouth and digital social sharing, etc.

Getting customer loyalty programs right isn’t easy. Today’s omni-channel businesses need to espouse the multipronged benefits of customer loyalty programs across the constellation of decision makers within their organizations – from frontline salespeople, to the CEO, to the CFO.

If stakeholders within your organization still see customer loyalty programs as simply key fobs, gift cards, and coupons, they’re missing where retail and socially enabled businesses are headed. And soon, they’ll be missing their customers too.