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Friday, 26 June 2009

Business Ethics & PR

Inspired by an article in last year's Harvard Business Review that said: "True professions have codes of conduct," written by Harvard Business School professors Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, the students researched and created their own code.

Around half of the 886 graduating Harvard Business School students signed up, pledging to "manage the companies they work for in a way that safeguards not just the interests of stakeholders, but of fellow employees, customers, and the larger society in which they function".

Part of me wonders what the other half will do with their business lives.

But if you are looking to add inspiring moral vision to your enterprise, you could do worse than to base your business ethics on a version of their code of conduct here: http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2009/06.11/hbsoath.html.

But if you do establish a code, you need to ensure you adhere to it, from top to bottom within the company with regular examples of walking the talk. If you don't it will backfire badly as an obvious load of claptrap, damaging your reputation.

There's only so much that PR can sort out, even with the best PR team on the case.

There's no getting round the fact that it takes time to heal a damaged reputation.

The best PR practice of all is to walk whatever talk you choose, and to operate fairly.

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Google's forthcoming Wave

Google's forthcoming Wave looks like email meets instant messaging, only better (imo). I think it will be rather handy for working on collaborative projects - and in PR, what project isn't collaborative these days? Good for fine-tuning press releases, articles, online PR materials, web copy and other marcoms text.

Wave is due to be launched later this year.

As MicroSoft tries to move into Google territory with Bing and Google is attempting to venture into MicroSoft territory with Wave, the first video below provides an overview of both Bing and Wave. It also demonstrates the added value that good media analysis brings to a subject, if you compare it to the second video below, but that was a preview for developers, and it does contain a useful demo of Wave.









(you can skip the long preamble - the actual Wave demo starts c6 mins 30 secs into the video).


I've already blogged on Bing. With Wave I like the almost instant transmission of characters as people type in replies, so you can be formulating your response and not staring at a "X is typing" message. I don't think speaking through a keyboard can ever be truly like a conversation, as Google claims, but I think it does look more conversational than instant messaging.

There's a very neat trick where you can take some bits of the online conversation to selected recipients and the ones missed out don't know. And easily add others in later - there's a neat playback facility the newcomers can use to replay the wave construction sequence to make sense of it unfolding.

Nice one Google.

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Using WordTracker to boost your online sales

It's great when you get your hands on something that is genuinely useful, so I'm grateful to Ian Burgess at http://www.linked-it.co.uk/ for pointing me towards http://www.WordTracker.com.

He explained keyword research in Google Analytics is based on past performance, whereas WordTracker is predictive and they are an excellent way to find extra profit avenues from your search terms.

A new version of WordTracker is coming down the line that looks very useful if this beta video is anything to go by:

Wordtracker New Tool Tutorial from Wordtracker on Vimeo.



If most of your online business comes from searches involving just 20 keywords, finding another 20 good keywords would give you a decent hike in new business. WordTracker provides initial free tools and tutorials to turbo-charge your keywords research, with enhanced paid-for offerings.

As WordTracker's free tutorial says: "you can't get enough good keywords", and they open up avenues to unexplored profits, and provide useful information. The words I've looked at to date have shown unexpected differences in popularity. I'll be reviewing my content. Can I encourage you to take a look if you're not using WordTracker already?

And there's good marketing and management advice to be had at http://www.linked-it.co.uk.

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Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Touches that sell online


The PR, sales and marketing touches that nudge a prospective customer into making a buy decision go something like this, although at any stage, a particularly strong recommendation from a trusted person or a respected media source (on or offline) can accelerate the process dramatically. As can 'clicking' with someone who has already got a well-developed need for your product or services and has already done a fair amount of research.

A potential customer stumbles across your website in an unrelated search (touch 1) and think 'that's interesting'. They may even save your URL in their favourites. Then forget all about it until a blog they're following recommends you (touch 2), but the phone rings and they get side-tracked.

Then they notice a piece about you in a trade or consumer publication (on or offline). Or on Face-book, Twitter etc (touch 3). Since this is the third time your name has come up, they start to remember you (the memory likes to work in groups of three, which is why triads are so popular and memorable in prose and speeches).

So they note down the name and look up your website (touch 4).

If the page they land on takes them to something interesting (instead of a wait for flash content to download) and the interesting content contains a clear and easy call to action on the page, you may well accelerate them on to the next touch.

Activating the call to action does what it says on the tin. A call to action is an exhortation to take action accompanied by an easy way to initiate the next step in the sales dialogue: click on an email address for further info, or a Skype call button etc) (touch 5). If they respond to a call to action, they have seriously entered your sales pipeline and are now a qualified or 'hot' sales prospect and should be tagged as such in your database or CRM program (such as www.salesforce.com).

You respond to their enquiry with further marketing information (touch 6). Plus an invitation to another call to action (touch 7) - maybe a special offer, a white paper to download, a newsletter to subscribe to (collecting their info into a permission-based database if you didn't capture it at touch 6).

Now you have their permission (always with an easy unsubscribe route and backed by a good data privacy management system following good data protection practices - see http://www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk) you can embark on a relationship-building series of exchanges (touches 8 onwards).

Depending on the nature of your product or service and your communications strategy and company ethos, your company's marketing and sales materials will flow alongside these relationship building exchanges, via automated responses, information provision and further calls to action and website interactions into negotiated sales. Larger sales and service contracts may have to be reeled in via a tendering system or individual sales exchanges on the telephone, presentations at meetings, or via mail or email.

Looking backwards through this process, are there any points where your PR, sales and marketing could be strengthened? Are there any points where the sales process ceases to flow? Points where you lose them?

See the next post to make the most of your sales enquiries.

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Touches for Sales

Sales people talk about the number of 'touches' it takes to make a sale: 'touches' being the number of nudges towards a sale that a prospective customer needs before they finally choose to buy from you. Obviously there are less touches on the way to picking up a chocolate bar with the milk, although branding and advertising touches may well influence the 'impulse' decision.

Even with seemingly simple online purchases, it can take 9 or more touches to make a successful sale. The Internet makes it much easier to deliver touches at the point the customer is making the buying decision.

But the multiplicity of touches can be very confusing if you are seeking to nail just one magic sales bullet that lands customers. Especially if you have been diligently asking new clients how they heard about you, as recommended in most business marketing guides. At best, a new customer will remember the last touch towards their purchase decision. That last touch is often just the tip of the whole publicity chain.

So what touches work? It will vary from business to business (and individual buyers) across the mix of sales, marketing and PR touches that collectively topple the decision over the sales edge into a purchase. Usually personal recommendations, enough media coverage to create buzz on and offline, good information on and offline, high visibility and plenty of new things happening, plus good connections will boost a business. The business will also need to offer an effective and available product or service at a reasonable price.

To find out more about why people buy from you, you will need to develop a relationship with customers to discover more of the marketing mix that actually drove them to you. And even then, they won't remember some of the process!

It makes sense therefore to cover plenty of ways to 'touch' your potential customers in your marketing strategy. Track what seems to be making a difference by asking new clients and by looking at the sales figures. There are hundreds of marketing, PR and sales tactics that can be deployed. Generally a mix of PR, sales and marketing tactics together deliver up to 50% more sales than concentrating individually on just PR, or on sales, or marketing on its own.

The choice of individual publicity tactics is usually a trade-off: budget v time, proven tactics v new opportunities (but if your competitors are not using a tactic, there's often a good reason for that).

Most powerful for most businesses is trusted word of mouth recommendations (on or offline) and you can enhance that with referrals incentives. But you usually need to add good marketing materials (including a good website that performs well in searches) plus social media interaction and good sales processes to reel new customers in.

Media recommendation is also very powerful as it carries the editorial endorsement factor ('as seen on TV', or 'marvellous' says The Times) and the media reach many thousands of people. Referring to that media coverage on your on and offline sales and marketing materials is important to monetise that editorial endorsement and ensure it carries on working for you.

We advise clients to run 10 on and offline sales, marketing and PR techniques at any one time, testing every 3-6 months the effects of dropping one and trying another.

See how it all works together in my next blog.

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Barriers to online sales

No point in creating hurdles customers have to leap before they can buy from you online.

I stumbled across a surprising hurdle when I was writing case studies for an online payment processor. One interviewee mentioned they had a 24% hike in sales on the day they switched from one payment service provider to another, due to the decrease in 'failed carts': in this case, abandoned transactions during the payment part of the sale.

I asked the other 3 interviewees if they had seen a similar difference. None of them had been tracking failed carts during the change over, but they took a look. Sure enough, they all reported over 20% growth in sales on the day they switched online payment service provider, but had attributed the growth to other factors. The increase in sales persisted thereafter.

I was writing these case studies a while ago, so individual payment services providers may have changed the way they work now. My interviewees reckoned the uplift was due to the new payment service provider making it much easier for the customer to pay online. They didn't have to go through a cumbersome registration process. One less barrier to the sale. And a 20% hike in sales without any additional sales, marketing or PR? Now that's a potential added bonus that's well worth checking out!

Looks like the cost of services is not necessarily the only factor when choosing an online payment service provider. In this case, it was one of the most expensive providers that created the biggest barrier to sales, making it an even less attractive proposition.

But it's not just the payment process on your site, it's the site as a whole. Are there any online barriers you could remove for your customers to make your website more sales effective?

It's very hard to see your website the way a first-time user sees it. Can you test your site using people with no familiarity with your website? Friends and family? Or run a short test as part of a recruitment selection process? Record testers talking through their actions and feelings as they work their way through a series of tasks on your website to collect information and make a purchase. That could produce very useful information on both the potential recruits and your website.

Some usability experts reckon they get over 100% uplift in sales by streamlining pages and placing clear and appropriate calls to action on key landing web pages. They test variants again and again against the free Google analytics service. Are there any tweaks you can make to test, refine and fine-tune the sales results from your site?

As my favourite NLP master and trainer (Erick Rainey) says: "There is no failure, only feedback!"

Here's to your ecommerce success.

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Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Twitterati

Twitter is like Marmite. Clients and colleagues either love or loathe it. Those that hate it inevitably say something like: who cares what you had for breakfast?

And they’re right. Validating your lonely existence is not what Twitter is about. There’s plenty of rubbish on the internet, but we don’t dismiss it out of hand just because of that.

We are seeing more enquiries about how to use Twitter effectively. And no wonder clients are interested. ComScore shows Twitter has gone from under 10 million monthly unique visitors to its site world-wide in February, to 32 million in April, up from 19 million in March 2009. Even more impressively, that score only includes website visitors, not the millions who access it via phones.

But if it’s the early adopters of funky new social media you are after, or if you think Twitter is the cool place to be, think again! It’s months since I read in the ad magazine, Revolution that the super cool had already abandoned Twitter when the corporate suits moved in for a clutch of other social media platforms.

It keeps happening. Remember all the fuss about Friends Reunited and MySpace? A lot of money piled in and they’re not exactly flavour of the month now.

There are loads of new social media platforms all hoping to be the next big thing.
That doesn’t stop companies engaging with the Twitterati, as long as they do engage and don’t just sell: that goes down like a lead balloon in any social media format.
But it’s wise to stay flexible and avoid putting all the eggs in one social media basket.

There are plenty of next big things brewing.

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The Audacity of Hope

Barack Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope is a brilliant reminder of how important it is to put myself in others' shoes. If he can do that with George Bush, and use empathy to try and resolve wars and conflicts, surely it's worth a go if you find yourself in dispute?

No-one's suggested: be a pushover, but I do like to keep an eye on the big picture. Disputes can be very damaging if they escalate. They flood people with negativity which uses up energy that could be better employed in more positive directions. And hands up those who would rather make lawyers rich over themselves?

A few minutes in someone else's shoes can show they may not be right, but they do have a point. A point you can use to create a third solution that you can also live with?

And how much useful business energy is wasted worrying about competitors? They are often your greatest learning tool. Or collaborators? There may be times when smaller businesses can co-operate to deliver a better solution and take business from a larger company? Your competitors are in the same business so you may well have more in common with them than your clients?

Could it be that together we can all go further than we can as isolated little islands?

Could it be that focusing on long term collaborative opportunities would open up different avenues?

Could you be in danger of protecting your rights to the point of antagonising people that could be of real benefit in other circumstances?

In a world where empathy and co-operation get a look-in, only you know what it could be for your business........ !

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Friday, 5 June 2009

Social Media at Work


If you employ people, do you allow them access to Facebook at work? For many readers, the question will seem quite silly. Most sensible businesses have an online policy that indicates the acceptable limits of online behaviour, understanding that it's good for business if staff network with their peers.

But a survey of Australian employees found that 55% claimed their boss had banned social networking sites like Facebook and My Space. This compares with similar bans on 20 per cent of workers in Britain, 12 per cent in France, 11 per cent in Spain, 10 per cent in Germany and 6 per cent in Italy. That's a lot of people affected.

There is never a perfect answer to this in PR terms. PR is defined as the art of managing reputation. Reputation in PR terms is made up of the sum total of everything that you say and do, and everything that is said and done about you. Including social media activity.

Some might see blocking social media postings as a PR necessity, but I'm inclined to think that a sensible policy for social networking brings rewards. After all, the classic 6 degrees of separation that indicates we are all connected applies to staff too. They often have great contacts.

Before you reach for a blanket ban, or if want to know how to achieve a sensible policy, you could do worse than check out this posting at AcidLabs http://www.acidlabs.org/2009/02/20/blocking-never-works/

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Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Life changing lists

You could avoid a car crash - and make fundamental changes to your business and personal life, just by reading and applying the ideas in this illuminating Harvard Business post here:

http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/bregman/2009/05/two-lists-you-should-look-at-e.html

Not a bad way to finish off your week! Have a great weekend.

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Microsoft's Bing V Google

Here is a side-by-side comparison of Microsoft's new search engine and Google. You'll see there's life in the older dog yet - but I doubt it was coincidence that led to Google announcing their next generation Wave is on the way the other day!

Enjoy!

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