Zero Moment of Trust Drives Brand Loyalty

Zero Moment of Trust is a critical factor in earning consumer respect and loyalty via your digital brand presence. Zero Moment of Trust is akin to Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), which is Google’s concept related to how consumers retrieve and process information via a digital device and make a purchasing decision therefrom. What trust indicators can you leverage across your Web and mobile brand presence to imbue a sense of trust when consumers interact with your brand? This presentation discusses the key trust indicators that you need to pay attention to when considering how your brand appears to consumers.

Consumer experiences with retail set consumer expectations in real estate

Before a consumer decides to purchase a home (whether first time buyer, move up buyer, etc) how many times has he or she purchased products via Amazon, Zappos, iTunes, or visited Target or an Apple Store? Hundreds of times. Thousands of times. And in some cases likely tens of thousands of times. Think of the experience these entities deliver, the baseline expectations their consumers bring to the door when they begin their real estate experience.

What are these core baseline expectations? First, consumers expect integration between mobile, web, and social channels. Second, consumers expect stellar and insightful customer service. Third, consumers expect seamless integration between one and two above.

The ability to manage one’s own experience with the brands mentioned above–whether searching for products, skimming product reviews, downloading products, using an immersive mobile shopping experience within a store environment–is a key driver of their ability to consistently delight their customers. Additionally, if a customer service issue arises, these brands’ customers expect insight and knowledge about their interactions with these brands. For example, if I as a consumer reach out to the customer service department of one of these brands I understand I will have to provide some baseline validation as to my identity and explain my customer service issue, but I also do not want to explain my entire history with these brands. The customer service representative has my history at his or her fingertips which gives that representative an opportunity to engage me at a higher level, more efficient level, and more satisfying level. The brands mentioned above consistently deliver on these expectations, which is seen in their stock prices, their loyal customer bases, and general goodwill.

Real estate brands should study how these brands deliver on customer expectations. Additionally, real estate brands should strive to create support structures, systems, and training programs that give their sales associates the best opportunities to delight their clients, the best opportunities to deliver an exceedingly excellent experience. In essence, deliver an Amazon-like, Zappos-like, Target-like, and Apple-like experience. It’s this service delivery differential that drives personal referrals, client loyalty, and goodwill.

Photo credit: Patricia Turo

Responsive web design or native mobile app?

Responsive web design or native app? With limited development budgets, the vagaries and proclivities and peculiarities of iOS and Android development platforms, it’s a valid question. I believe you need both.

Responsive web is your catch-all, your mobile safety net. You can absolutely create a responsive web mobile experience that’s elegant and delivers a great user experience that helps drive consumer engagement. But if you’re concerned about developing loyalty with your customers, you need to consider developing a native mobile app that works synchronously with your responsive web mobile platform.

If a consumer takes the time to download and install a brand’s app, when they can otherwise get a similar experience via that brand’s responsive web environment, that behavior is an early indication that they’re inclined to be a more loyal customer over time. The key in this scenario is to reward these types of customers with a better experience than they would otherwise get via your responsive web platform.

For example, I recently received this GoPro message inviting me to download an app that allows me to wirelessly control my GoPro HD HERO2 (something I cannot do via GoPro.com):

This app gives me a better experience with my HERO2, but also gives GoPro potential opportunities to interact with me at higher levels such as messaging me directly (if I accept to interact in this manner), sending me more targeted offers, inviting me to special events, etc; essentially incenting me to engage with them as a brand. It also gives GoPro a base of loyal consumers that GoPro can leverage to form strategic alliances. For example, GoPro could form an alliance with EpicMix so when I ski at Vail Resorts I receive special co-branded offers from both brands, GoPro sponsored VIP parties at Vail Resorts, etc, thereby increasing my trust and love of both brands. Finally, the GoPro app could keep track of my usage history and send a record of such to GoPro.com so when I login there I feel I am further tied to and invested in the overall GoPro experience.

Photo credit: Howard Dickins

 

Personalized agent recommender systems in real estate

Personalization in product recommender systems in industries outside of real estate will soon impact how consumers choose—or will want to choose—real estate professionals on brokerage sites. The basic concept: How would Amazon.com recommend a real estate professional? To answer this there are two basic sides to consider: customer behavior within a system (and increasingly outside of the system; see what RETargeter is doing) and attributes and behavior of the real estate professional.

At a very basic level, recommender systems track and log consumer behavior and then match appropriate products and services based on this behavior. The key is that these products and services have particular attributes that “match” the behavior of the consumer. For example, assume Consumer A purchased five historical novels over the past five months, a recommender system likely would recommend another historical novel as a next purchase. So how could this impact real estate professionals?

First, assume a brokerage has a system that logs consumer behavior (login times, locations searched, favorite properties, map searches generated, etc). Second, assume a brokerage has segmented its agent base by basic factors (such as top neighborhoods serviced by the agents, top 10 zip codes serviced by the agents, lifestyle attributes, designation, luxury expert, waterfront expert, client service satisfaction ratings, MLS performance, etc). Next, the real estate professional recommender system could work similarly as to how a book recommender system works. And I know that some listing aggregators already offer this type of service, but these services on generally pay-to-play. What I am suggesting is that brokerages need to do something similar with their system and offer it free-of-charge to their agents.

For example, lets assume Consumer B registers and saves a luxury property overlooking a lake, the system could automatically “recommend” agents who work the zip code of luxury property AND are luxury agents AND are waterfront specialists. Next, let’s assume Consumer B clicks the profiles of each of the recommended agents, he or she will then see overall performance ratings, specific testimonials, and specific customer satisfaction ratings. The benefit to the consumer is that they’re presented with the “best” professional based on their interest, which supports customers-for-life marketing best practices. The benefit to the real estate professional is that they’re in front of the consumer faster and in context to the search process. This type of a process promotes a personalized experience which is key factor in capturing consumer mindshare. And, indeed, there is research that supports this proposition.

Creating and sustaining a culture of creativity within web-based services

This article from the International Journal of Design, gives a great overview of factors systems designers ought to account for when developing web-based services consumers use to create or co-develop products. As more services migrate to the “cloud”, user experience design is paramount to ensure customer satisfaction and loyalty.

As examples of creative-driven web services using “online configurator software”, the authors point to Timbuk2 and Chocri. It’s not an unreasonable premise that more and more of these types of web-service based companies will continue to proliferate, especially considering the future promise of social and mobile commerce. Thus, designing a user experience that’s satisfying is a key growth and loyalty building strategy for these types of brands. The authors point out nine factors that promote creativity (see Table 1 in the article):

  • Challenging work: Step-by-step instructions with increasing challenge
  • Autonomy: Tools that promote exploration
  • Community support: Chat rooms or galleries of recent work
  • Permission to take risks: Incorporating slogans that promote risk taking and having real-time help
  • Goal setting: Incorporating a progress bar
  • Positive effect: Use of positive images and colors
  • Mastery experience: Allow direct manipulation of tools
  • Sufficient resources: How-to sections and tutorials
  • Encouragement: Consistently reinforce that users are capable of completing the task; use images and verbiage

In each of the nine sections outlined above, the authors provide further research and practical examples. And the researchers make one final, valid point: be transparent. Clearly indicate copyright and other intellectual property policies and explain these policies in plain language that the average consumer will understand. Transparency promotes trust and loyalty.

Photo credit: Bitterjug

Mobile app ecosystem allows real estate brokerages to deliver excellent consumer experiences

Over the last year or so there’s been an ongoing and well-publicized debate between proponents and opponents of real estate property listing aggregators and whether brokerages have ceded too much “control” over the consumer relationship to these entities. In my mind this is a debate with no clear winner and no clear loser, as both sides make excellent and valid arguments. This wonkish debate can continue, but it’s time for brokerages to take action within the mobile environment.

It’s clear that some real estate property listing aggregators have done an excellent job with presenting real estate related information in a novel manner. Many of these aggregators are well-capitalized, have taken SCRUM software and product development to new levels, and continually evolve. These companies have done a really great job monetizing the consumer and agent experience within their brand environment. As such, these entities have seemingly taken ownership over brokerages’ property listings, the consumer experience, quick response times, and engaged and informative customer service. They are a seeming Juggernaut of continued market dominance.

Yes, these entities have garnered a significant piece of consumer mindshare since 2005. But this continued quasi-dominance will not continue forever. And to this point, brokerages need to stop focusing on and obsessing over what the property listing aggregators are doing. Brokerages need to look inward. Brokerages need to look to their core values and creativity as a brand and build on those values and that creativity. Last time I looked real estate brokerages still have the same opportunity as aggreagators to delight consumers with an exceedingly excellent experience, and continue to deliver on this experience, thus gaining customers for life. When brokerages consistently deliver on this value proposition, consumers “reward” them with their business and referrals. Real estate is a still a local, relationship-driven business.

I will concede the point that some property listing aggregators have brilliantly leveraged brokerages’ property listing assets and created compelling social+web+mobile presences. But brokerages have always had an opportunity to similarly deliver something unique, compelling, and useful to consumers. The Internet is the Great Leveler of the Playing Field. Given this, what should brokerages focus on now in their drive to deliver an excellent experience? Build another listings portal? Embrace Facebook as a primary advertising venue? Build a kick-a$$ mobile app? Here’s a proposed answer: brokerages should consider all of these tactics, but should focus on creating a series of mobile apps that leverage a rich database of property, demographic, lifestyle, neighborhood, and predictive information.

According to this Mashable article, mobile is the ascendant platform of choice for consumers. Thus, brokerages should focus now on leveraging this platform. Brokerages should define what is “broken” (with the consumer experience value chain) with mobile apps released by the various real estate listings aggregators. Similarly, brokerages should define what’s “right” with these apps. Disregard or “fix” what’s wrong, and make better what is right. In other words, “build a better mouse app.” ;-D Next, brokerages should analyze what Sawbuck Realty has done with its HomeSnap app, as this informs brokerages as to what makes a successful app. According to this Scobleizer interview, the HomeSnap app was the top real estate app on iTunes for a period of time. What makes the HomeSnap app so successful with consumers? Simplicity + Motivation. This is a concept proposed by Stanford University Professor BJ Fogg. The HomeSnap app is simple to use (take a photo and retrieve information about the home) combined with satiating a consumer’s curiosity—motivation—to “know” the details about a home (what was paid, what’s the history, etc), delivered in a manner that costs the consumer as little time as possible.

Simultaneously, brokerages should focus on building the richest database of home-related data thus created. This database would focus on compiling core up-to-date and ACCURATE property-related data, neighborhood-related data mashed up from several different data sources (like EveryBlock, NabeWise, StreetAdvisor, Walkscore, etc) and then normalized, combined with socialgraphics and demographics and psychographics (supplied by companies like Facebook, Acxiom, or Experian), and further enhanced by behavioral and predictive analytics. This database will power the mobile app ecosystem. This database could also power a website that’s very SEO-friendly and optimized for mobile, but the website is secondary to the mobile app. Sounds weird? Yes, to me too. But consumers are telling us with their purchase patterns and platform utilization patterns that mobile is precedent. Thus, brokerages need to play to this whim.

Finally, an integrated CRM would underlie this mobile app ecosystem for brokerages and agents to use. The key is for the mobile apps to tie directly to a CRM module so brokerages and agents have an opportunity to immediately respond to consumer inquiries. The mobile app ecosystem would promote collaborative CRM and drive consumer brand loyalty. And it is this latter point where the mobile app ecosystem has the ability to transcend—jump the chasm if you will—traditional modes of service delivery in the real estate industry. Brokerages are better able to control the overall experience via a mobile app. By allowing consumers to control their experience via personal settings (e.g., notification via text but not email, or notification via message pop-up but not text, etc), brokerages are tapping into the consumer DIY meme (i.e., having “control” over their brand experience). More importantly these behaviors not only inform brokerages as to how to segment their database for true one-to-one marketing opportunities but deliver an excellent service experience to the consumer when he or she decides to engage the brand. Integrate a mortgage services component and a transaction management and notification layer, and the experience gets richer. The consumer wins. The brokerage and its agents win.

Finally, what happens when a deal closes? A brokerage can give the consumer an option to continue the relationship across a variety of complimentary, meaningful, and informative channels such as refinancing opportunities or co-marketed offers with entities like Home Depot, Target, etc. If a brokerage has delivered an exceedingly excellent experience for a consumer through the entire home buying or selling process, that consumer has an incentive for the brokerage brand experience to continue. All delivered through the mobile app ecosystem.

The opportunity for brokerages is here just like it was in 2005 when the “age of the aggregators” dawned. And like then, brokerages can grab an opportunity now to deliver on consumer expectations.

Photo credit: w00kie

Social CRM eLoyalty Context-Aware CRM

Below are three excellent research articles on social CRM and related topics.

This research paper (out of Australia) delves into the nexus between mobile consumerism and eLoyalty programs. A key finding is that companies can increase consumer loyalty by leveraging mobile devices (via apps, I posit) to highly personalize a consumer’s brand experience while facilitating a highly responsive and insightful customer service environment to answer questions, resolve complaints, etc.

Here’s a great nuts-and-bolts presentation by Gartner on fundamental CRM concepts. The presentation includes a vendor analysis and recommendations on implementation. But the feature I liked the best is the discussion on context-aware CRM.

This report is an excellent analysis of social CRM concepts, including an informative discussion of the risks associated with undertaking a corporate-wide social CRM initiative.

 

 

Value based CRM aligning marketing IT and finance functions

This article discusses values-based CRM concepts in regards to aligning marketing, IT, and financial functions. An interesting point made by the authors

[F]ocusing just on the ability of IT to support strategy and processes bears the risk of not utilizing the full potential of innovative technologies[.]

It’s clear there is a critical interdependence between both marketing and IT departments. As marketing seeks to “engage,” “relate with,” and “delight” customers in the continuous battle for share-of-mind and share-of-heart, relegating IT to the sidelines as bench support is not a good strategy. Rather, incorporating IT vision is a critical component in setting strategy. The complexity of consumer interactions with a firm’s brand, demands increasingly sophisticated infrastructure and data management tools to ensure that a firm can meet the needs of these consumers.

Similarly, firms ought to align financial management goals within this marketing-IT milieu. Financial concerns, in this context, center around setting proper marketing metrics to measure ROI and lifetime value of a customer. The paper points out that

[A] number of financial concepts (e.g. capital asset pricing model, portfolio theory, and real option approaches) have recently been transferred to customer portfolios…Such “marketing metrics”, based on these approaches and thus taking a future-oriented, long-term, cashflow oriented, and risk adjusted perspective, allow for an identification and measurement of the economic value contribution and the ROI of marketing[.]

To enable such penetrative insights, firms need to leverage data mining tools to create timely (i.e., near real-time) metrics to be shared across business to ensure uniform adherence to meeting clients’ expectations.

eLoyalty and customer relationship management and customer care management principles

This e-loyalty research paper helps clarify the roll of online customer service in creating customer loyalty (“e-loyalty”). The paper focuses on the Austrian mobile industry but the findings are applicable to many industries, including real estate.

Two broad categories frame customer loyalty: customers who become your repeat purchasers and customers who become promoters of your brand. Superior customer service across the pre-purchase, acquisition, and post-purchase stages of a typical transaction is the differentiator for brands.

The Internet consumer, more and more, is demanding personalized and targeted customer service. Data acquisition strategies, such as registration forms, tying information to a user’s social graph, etc, enable companies to perform this customization and targeting while supporting broader electronic Customer Relationship Management (eCRM) and electronic Customer Care Management (eCCM) strategies.

The researchers conducted a variety of online surveys, crunched the numbers and found that timely and personalized responses to customer complaints was a key influencer on whether a customer would switch mobile carriers. Extrapolating this to other industries one can posit that brands which leverage unified technology solutions to enable quicker and more informed customer service will undoubtably have a competitive advantage.

Micro-targeting and organizational communication theories fueling word of mouth marketing

Below are two fascinating studies on communication theory and practice. The commonality between both is the nexus between effective use of social media and word-of-mouth marketing.

The first study Social Media Marketing vs. Prevalent Marketing Practices: A Study of Marketing Approaches for Micro firms in Sweden (.pdf download) focuses on micro firms leveraging social media to promote higher customer loyalty. The author sought to answer the following questions:

  1. Which of the two types of marketing is more effective in terms of targeted segment coverage and expenditures?
  2. Which marketing approach enables micro firms to maintain better relationships with customers?
  3. Whether or not it is the right time for micro firms in Sweden to adopt social media marketing practices?

The heart of the study is Section 4.2.3.

The second study, Structured Viral Communication: The Political Economy and Social Organization of Digital Disintermediation (.pdf), is the best analysis I’ve read of how Obama used structured communication plans to spread his message and increase loyalty.

Photo credit ssoosay

The importance of users versus consumers in building a community

The book Democratizing Innovation by MIT Professor Eric Von Hippel (available via free .pdf download) makes an interesting observation about the term “consumer”. Throughout his book, Von Hippel employs the term “user” as opposed to consumer:

Users, as the term will be used in this book, are firms or individual consumers that expect to benefit from using a product or a service. In contrast, manufacturers expect to benefit from selling a product or a service.

This is a powerful–albeit simple–point of distinction within the context of the social web, with implications for social commerce too (which I have recently written about here). Focus primarily on the benefits of the user, not solely on your needs as a “manufacturer”. What value are you bringing a user of your content, service, advice, etc? By constantly evaluating the needs of your user-clients and delivering benefits based on these needs, you’re increasing the odds that your user-clients will become a passionate community centered around this value as opposed to simply a crowd that wanders by.

Influence in the social web and social commerce

http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/11/02/altimeter-report-social-commerce-how-brands-are-generating-revenue-by-lcecere/
http://www.briansolis.com/2010/11/the-rise-of-the-social-consumer
http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/the-new-influentials.html
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.156.8795&rep=rep1&type=pdf
This article on social media New Influentialshttp://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/the-new-influentials.html raises an interesting question regarding “incluence” on the social web: what’s the core driver of influence in the social web when it comes to commerce, a person, her community, or both? The article profiles six individuals who have variously used YouTube, corporate resources, quasi-anarchist tactics, and curation to attract dedicated audiences to their brand (whether personal or corporate). Indeed, the question of “what constitutes influence in a social network” has captured the interest of researches, as is evidenced by the articles “A model of influence in a social network”http://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/49/65/60/PDF/td08.pdf and “Learning Influence Probabilities In Social Networks”http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.156.8795&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Similarly, Brian Solis has written an excellent post on the genesis of the social consumerhttp://www.briansolis.com/2010/11/the-rise-of-the-social-consumer. According to Solis:
When a brand does its job right, it creates an emotional connection. The affinity it engenders contributes to who we are as individuals and how others perceive us. In the social web, sharing our purchases and experiences serve as social objects which are essentially catalysts for sparking conversations. At the center of this discussion is the product. Experiences, impressions, and perceptions cast bridges that link us together. As the conversation unfolds, the hub connects the product to individuals who not only respond, but also consume, where information directly or indirectly influences behavior and opinion. This form of subconscious empowerment seemingly builds confidence according to some new research. As social capital factors into the equation, these conversations represent touchpoints where positive experiences take the shape of endorsements and ultimately c0ntribute to the overall branding process.
Solis’ sentiments are echoed by a recent Altimeter Reporthttp://www.slideshare.net/loracecere/rise-of-socialcommercefinal (also accessed her on Jeremiah Owyang’s bloghttp://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2010/11/02/altimeter-report-social-commerce-how-brands-are-generating-revenue-by-lcecere/:
<div style=”width:477px” id=”__ss_5637236″><strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/loracecere/rise-of-socialcommercefinal” title=”Rise of social_commerce_final”>Rise of social_commerce_final</a></strong><object id=”__sse5637236″ width=”477″ height=”510″><param name=”movie” value=”http://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/doc_player.swf?doc=riseofsocialcommercefinal-101101160620-phpapp02&stripped_title=rise-of-socialcommercefinal&userName=loracecere” /><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”/><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always”/><embed name=”__sse5637236″ src=”http://static.slidesharecdn.com/swf/doc_player.swf?doc=riseofsocialcommercefinal-101101160620-phpapp02&stripped_title=rise-of-socialcommercefinal&userName=loracecere” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”477″ height=”510″></embed></object><div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”>View more <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/”>documents</a> from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/loracecere”>lora cecere</a>.</div></div>
Going back to the original question I posited, I’ll say “influence” is a combination of both a brand (personal or corporate) and respect and empowerment of one’s community, but community is the main driver. Solis describes how American Express empowers its community by facilitating conversations along with promoting commerce (and doesn’t this remind you of fundamental concepts discussed in the Cluetrain Manifestohttp://www.amazon.com/Cluetrain-Manifesto-End-Business-Usual/dp/0738204315, particularly chapter four?). But for an empassioned–and spending–community, American Express would not necessarily be influential. Thus, the core question of what defines influence hinges on how committed you are to your community, what value you bring to your community, and how well you are developing and fostering that community.

This article on social media New Influentials raises an interesting question regarding “influence” in the social web and in social commerce: what’s the core driver of influence?  A person? Her community? Or both? The article profiles six individuals who have variously used YouTube, corporate resources, quasi-anarchist tactics, and curating to attract and sustain dedicated communities. Indeed, the question of “what constitutes influence in a social network” has captured the interest of researches, as is evidenced by the articles “A model of influence in a social network” and “Learning Influence Probabilities In Social Networks“. Similarly, Brian Solis has written an excellent post on the genesis of the social consumer. According to Solis:

When a brand does its job right, it creates an emotional connection. The affinity it engenders contributes to who we are as individuals and how others perceive us. In the social web, sharing our purchases and experiences serve as social objects which are essentially catalysts for sparking conversations. At the center of this discussion is the product. Experiences, impressions, and perceptions cast bridges that link us together. As the conversation unfolds, the hub connects the product to individuals who not only respond, but also consume, where information directly or indirectly influences behavior and opinion. This form of subconscious empowerment seemingly builds confidence according to some new research. As social capital factors into the equation, these conversations represent touchpoints where positive experiences take the shape of endorsements and ultimately c0ntribute to the overall branding process.

Solis’ sentiments are echoed by a recent Altimeter Report (also accessed here on Jeremiah Owyang’s blog:

Going back to the original question I posited, I’ll say “influence” is a combination of brand (personal or corporate) and respect and empowerment of one’s community, but where community is the main driver. Solis describes how American Express empowers its community by facilitating conversations along with promoting commerce (and doesn’t this remind you of fundamental concepts discussed in the Cluetrain Manifesto, particularly chapter four?). But for an empassioned–and spending–community, American Express would not necessarily be influential. Thus, the core question of what defines “influence” hinges on how committed you are to your community, what value you bring to your community, and how well you are developing and fostering that community.

Gartner hype cycle and emerging media curve balls, change-ups, fastballs and Steve Harney’s 5Cs

The Gartner Hype Cycle is a useful graph for analyzing technology hype. Looking at the Gartner graph, I’ll posit we’re somewhere near the “Slope of Enlightenment” and the “Plateau of Productivity” with respect to social media. Over the past couple of years, business leaders have stepped up to the plate and faced some serious pitches while trying to figure out a sound business strategy that leverages social/emerging media. Indeed figuring out how to intelligently deploy emerging media can be like facing pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

Are augmented reality concepts a curve ball to your mobile strategy? Are emerging legal issues surrounding privacy, intellectual property ownership, open source and cloud computing licensing, etc, a change-up to your business game plan? Is the iPad a fastball?

It’s clear the pace of emerging media will continue unabated. Business leaders will continue to face a tsunami of innovation. Thus, it’s great to have a working archetype, or mantra to fall back on when analyzing whether to adopt an emerging media in your business plan. To this regard, Steve Harney has some excellent tips.

During a recent interview I had with Steve, he articulated a process he calls the “5C’s”. Harney’s list of 5C’s is a useful checklist to run through when you’re thinking about how to leverage emerging media—particularly social media—to achieve a business objective. Steve’s successful blog, Facebook page, and KCM Quick Report represent a choreographed social presence that he’s used to build a community that supports his business objectives.

Steve Harney’s 5C’s:

  1. Concept: Understand the concept of what you’re trying to do. What is your brand? What do you want to be seen as? What are your core values?
  2. Conviction: Have conviction to your brand. Once you have established your concept, how much conviction do you have to that brand concept? Ensure that your brand concept is translated into everything you do. The allure of emerging media—particularly social media—is that it’s omnipresent and relatively easy to deploy…and easy to get side-tracked. For example, when Steve launched his Facebook page, he decided that he did not want to dabble in Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc, because those social media activities—although fun, engaging, and playful—were not aligned with the core concepts of his brand.
  3. Consistency: Let your community know that you’re there for them on a consistent basis. For Steve’s brand it’s important to blog every day and update Facebook every day. His community has come to expect this. He therefore must maintain consistency to meet this expectation.
  4. Content: Focus on getting and supplying great content. Ensure that your content is strong and relevant to the community you’ve developed. Act like a curator.
  5. Collaboration: Allow your community to come up with the answers. Provide an environment that promotes sharing of ideas. Bringing minds together so they can learn from themselves is the key driver to getting the community passionate about you and your brand. Actively facilitate discussions that align with the Concept of your brand.

Photo credit: david.nikonvscanon

Collaborative CRM strategies and concepts

Collaborative CRM strategies offer firms unparalleled opportunities for establishing more meaningful relationships with their customers and clients.  Mobile CRM is closely aligned to collaborative CRM concepts. This research paper characterizes collaborative CRM as:

The notion of collaborative CRM is still in discussion and has two interpretations that are often mixed…The first is closely connected with communicative CRM and focuses on interaction channels (e.g. phone, fax, e-mail, self service portals) between a company and its direct customers. The second extends the CRM concept on the level of value chains and business networks. This approach consolidates concepts of networked organizations and marketing to enable the creation of customer relations and value at a network level by sharing or pooling of network resources and capabilities…It enables producers, distributors and service providers to extend their customer acquisition, retention and development beyond their company borders and even to involve the customer directly.

Fundamental concepts of Web 2.0 and the social web such as transparency, authenticity, trust, engagement, and listening underpin collaborative CRM concepts. Similarly, customers’ demands for immediacy and relevancy in communications further support collaborative CRM. And mobile technologies have the potential to be the catalyst to firms’ implementation of collaborative CRM practices. But as pointed out in the research paper mobile technologies are not a panacea for collaborative CRM. The researchers point out that to facilitate collaborative CRM goals, existing business processes must be redesigned so as to take advantage of the unique characteristics of mobile technologies while delivering additional value to customers. Many companies are simply using mobile technologies to deliver information in a one-dimensional manner (i.e., a messaging service) as opposed to a multi-dimensional manner.

The authors conclude with several recommendations to consider when setting up a collaborative CRM strategy:

  1. Set up appropriate customer segments, which allows firms to deliver individualized services
  2. The CRM system must integrate mobile data (mobile sales, mobile content usage, location based services, etc)
  3. Ensure customers understand that a firm’s mobile services offer enhanced value so they will make use of these services
  4. Firms should consider specialized mobile CRM data analytics platforms that integrate with core CRM systems because current core CRM platforms lack sufficient sophistication to account for mobile CRM data needs

Photo credit: The Lightworks

1) Set up appropriate customer segments, which allows firms to deliver individualized services
2) The CRM system must integrate mobile data (mobile sales, mobile content usage, location based services, etc)
3) Ensure customers understand that a firm’s mobile services of enhanced value so they will make use of these services
4) Firms should consider specialized mobile CRM data analytics platforms that integrate with core CRM systems because current core CRM platforms lack sufficient sophistication to account for mobile CRM data needs
Photo credit: The Lightworkshttp://www.flickr.com/photos/leonardlow/1142365603/

Satisfied customers are more loyal than delighted customers

This research paper focusing on the hotel industry indicates that although delighted customers have generally positively views of brands, a satisfied customer will more likely take action supportive of loyalty marketing constructs (i.e., actually book a return trip) because they have an emotional connection to the brand. Thus, the researchers suggest that marketers focus on loyalty programs that seek to instill positive emotional experiences with the brand. Such mechanics go beyond baseline experiences like prompt response times, meaningful communications, knowing where a customer is in the life-cycle of a transaction, and extend to activities that prompt a positive emotional response (like receiving a handwritten thank you card).

Customer loyalty CRM and customer satisfaction

This research paper on CRM strategies used by RBC Royal Bank of Canada (Bahamas), analyzes whether the bank successfully applied the four P’s of CRM (planning, people, process, and platform). It’s well established that financial success is tied to a well executed CRM strategy which drives customer loyalty and customer satisfaction. What this research paper found was that although the bank lists CRM as a strategic initiative and policy, it has not integrated the CRM process at each customer touch point. The methodology used to correct the problem was instituting a wide-ranging customer satisfaction survey initiative to ascertain–from the customers’ viewpoints–where the service breakdowns and gaps actually occurred and to make changes accordingly at those points.

Using text analytics to increase customer engagement and loyalty

I love it when research/theory manifests in application/practicality. In 2007, I wrote about research being conducted on semantic analysis related to social media and blogs, and now there are companies using products stemming from this type of research.

Information Week covered text analytics, describing how JetBlue uses text analytics to understand customer sentiment from email messages, which informed the airline how to draft its customer bill of rights. And KMWorld discusses how the burgeoning field of “customer experience analysis” uses text analytics to increase customer engagement and loyalty.

Customers today aren’t just customers–they’re influencers and social networkers. Across the Web at any hour, they’re sharing observations about your company’s products and services, and those of your competitors…These new modes of customer behavior make it essential for companies to move beyond traditional ways of gathering, analyzing, and acting on customer information – Information Week

For a long time, text analytics was a technology in search of a business need. Now, thanks to social media, the need is there; the question is whether the technology can ramp up fast enough to be commercial – KMWorld

Where social media in real estate sometimes has the floor manners of a dog’s breakfast, it’ll become increasingly important for real estate firms to engage in text-sentiment analysis as part of their overall CRM and customer experience efforts. Here’s a list of companies that offer text-sentiment analysis services:

Photo credit: mnapoleon

Customer strategy departments driving customer loyalty

This Harvard Business Review article (subscription necessary) makes a strong case for companies to create customer strategy departments and positions. One section of the article focuses on “Customer-facing functions” and makes some great recommendations:

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) responsibility should migrate away from corporate IT and into the customer strategy department since CRM helps companies assess customers needs and wants and that’s the role of customer strategists
  • Market research should break-out of the marketing department silo and extend to all departments and focus bilaterally on the aggregate and the individual (for example, creating customer profiles as espoused in the book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR) with a singular focus on customer for life (CLV) and customer equity metrics to measure success (here’s a sample lifetime value of a customer analysis from the Database Marketing Institute that will help you begin thinking about CLV metrics
  • Customer strategists should drive the product development process rather than the engineers; the article notes that NOKIA launched NOKIA Beta Labs in Asia and enjoys 60% market share there because, in part, this developer community helps drive the product development process, whereas in the U.S. Nokia pursued a different strategy that has far less consumer input and has suffered

Voice of the customer is not a new concept in product design and development. It’s sure refreshing to see HBR tackle this issue. What’s your view of creating a customer strategist role in a company?

Photo: ishrona

Innovation and cross-functional team differentiation for competitive advantage

What factors influence effective cross-functional team environments that spur the greatest innovations and competitive advantage? The authors of this study (.pdf) (focusing on manufacturing) determined that baldly implementing a cross-functional team approach is not a universal good. Notably, the authors found that cross-functional teamwork involving marketing may have a negative effect (the authors noted too, however, that this finding contradicts earlier studies). The authors conclude that companies should focus cross-functional teams on product design, development, and engineering so as to yield the highest gains in terms of innovation. I’ll posit that this finding can be applied to firms outside the manufacturing industry that are focused on software development and related product development activities.

Interestingly, this study (.pdf) concludes that many marketing departments exert positive influence on a firm’s overall market innovation in the following areas: advertising, relationship management, segmentation, targeting, and positioning. Marketing departments can influence product innovations through their overarching customer knowledge and insight into trends. Thus, a way to effectively involve marketing in cross-functional teams focused on software-related product development activities is to have the marketing team drive a voice of the customer ethos throughout the ideation and development process.

Customer loyalty and corporate reputation

To what extent does corporate reputation affect customer loyalty? This study (.pdf, begin reading at page 28) found that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the second most important factor influencing corporate reputation (with overall competency being first). In fact, CSR was found to have a higher impact on corporate reputation than product price. The authors posit that CSR impacts customer loyalty because such corporate behavior elicits customers’ positive emotions. Left unresolved is whether a company can over-leverage such CSR activities in its push to drive customer loyalty. In other words, where is a marketing line crossed in customers’ eyes where a negative emotion is associated with a company’s overt efforts to leverage its CSR activities; is there diminishing returns on such “cause marketing” activities.

Related post: Positive Authority and Digital Reputation

Customer loyalty and online community development

What factors keep an online community happy, involved, and engaged? The authors of this study (.pdf) found four primary things influence these three factors:

  • Purpose: Clearly define the purpose and values of the community space with a well-articulated and succinct statement so people who join the community know what to expect, while internally defining your (i.e., corporate) goal of the community
  • Monitor: Before you can know how a community vibe ebbs and flows, you must monitor the community’s interactions, and “embrace” community leaders perhaps by elevating their status within the community
  • Feedback: Implement meaningful rating systems (the authors site a rating system that reflects users’ behavior as an example of a meaningful rating system, as opposed to a simple “top ten” type system)
  • Organization: Clearly guide new community members about where to go, what to do, how to get acquainted, etc, while cuing or gently nudging existing users with meaningful suggestions and topics on how the community can grow and evolve

Related post: Community crowdsourcing and innovation

Customer loyalty and employee engagement

To what extent does employee loyalty and commitment to a brand drive overall customer loyalty? This research paper (.pdf) tackles that question and concludes that employee attitudes toward their company have a high degree of impact on customer loyalty. What the authors essentially argue is that fostering a corporate environment that espouses a unique and positive corporate culture grounded in clearly defined values goes a long way to inspire employees to be more engaged with their company and brand.  Once this baseline is met, the authors propose that brands create internal employee engagement indexes to monitor employee sentiments toward the brand (similar in concept to consumer engagement metrics) to ensure they remain committed to the brand and ultimately the customer. Thus, the company can ensure that it’s employees are working towards increasing customer loyalty. A perfect example of this is Zappos.

Related posts:  Creating a culture of creativity and innovation and Creativity Integrity and Brand Differentiation

Customer loyalty and customer trust

Trust is a major driver of customer loyalty. How does a corporate brand secure this trust following a breakdown in service delivery? The authors of this study (.pdf) ponder this question and proffer some intriguing insights. The authors argue that negative emotions experienced by a customer following a negative service experience do not necessarily change his or her attitude towards the service provider; rather, the customer simply leaves the service provider. Although losing a customer is never good, this finding is somewhat good news because it seems that customers are unlikely to carry a negative emotion for long with respect to the brand following a service break-down, thus minimizing the chance of an emotive outburst via social media that negatively affects the brand. On the flip side, a brand can enhance the trust and loyalty of its customer base if it honestly admits a mistake and vigorously works to correct such.

Related post: Trust indicators in social network marketing

Leveraging user-generated content

Razorfish points out keen ways to leverage user-generated content (UGC). In the midst of all this social media mania marketers can leverage UGC to gain insight and develop relationships. A poignant take-away from the Razorfish blog post: UGC is  not problematic in it’s own right, rather it’s filtering UGC to gain actionable intelligence that will make for meaningful engagement with customers and clients to build long-term relationships with them. Best quotes from the article:

The problem isn’t with UGC, it is with the filtering, sorting and prioritization and that’s where the technology, the semantic web and also the ability to filter through the lens of a social graph is going to make a big difference.

Leveraging user-generated content are the same ones that marketers and sales people have been preaching for decades: 1) build relationships, and 2) provide value that fills consumers’ needs/wants.

Companies (and individuals) have long espoused transparency, of course, but the economic and viral advantages of tapping and responding to user-generated content are nudging us into arenas of more authentic rather than staged transparency.

The future of UGC global rights management will lie in solutions that strike a perfect balance between the goals of the copyright holder and that of the user.

Photo credit: jelene

Niche marketing and passionate brand ambassadors

Deux Gros Nez, an eclectic, wonderful restaurant in Reno, Nevada, closed its doors a couple of years ago. It’s where I, as a dedicated employee of Tim Healion and Jon Jesse (then owners of Deux Gros Nez), learned about community, service, and the power of passionate brand ambassadors:

Flickr tribute

YouTube interview

A person’s thoughts on its closing

Deux Gros Nez opened its doors June 18, 1985 and began serving espresso, scones, focaccia, and frappes in a gambling town. It was open 24 hours a day, but where 99 cent breakfasts and watered down coffee were king, the Duex Gros Nez cuisine appealed not to the masses. Nevertheless, Deux Gros Nez cultivated a tribal following. This was my first lesson in niche marketing: don’t worry about the masses, worry about perfecting your niche brand and appealing to a niche audience.

This niche audience from the very beginning included lawyers, punks, doctors, architects, professional athletes, artists, etc. Each person had their own reason for frequenting Deux Gros Nez but the common unifying thread was the passion of the owners for delivering “honest” food and a dining experience that was outside the norm of a gambling town (frequent patrons were often met with a friendly greeting along with their type of coffee–brewed, espresso, cappuccino–waiting for them before they walked in because the owners knew what time they’d arrive and remembered what they liked). This was my second lesson in niche marketing: be passionate about what you do, focus on honesty, be passionate and concerned about your customers’ needs.

Part of my job was to train new hires to aspire to a high degree of customer service. The challenge was to inspire part-time employees–many of which were college students, snowboarders, and the like–to engage each customer on a one-to-one level. This was a tall order considering that only two or three employees on any one five-hour shift would have to take the orders, prepare the food, serve the food, bus the tables, ring-up orders, keep inventory, re-stock, and wear a bolo tie (purchased or homemade, the best homemade one being a hollowed-out egg run-through with a string). Sometimes we failed in our quest for customer service excellence. But many times we succeeded. And this success was embodied in creating “wow” events for Deux Gros Nez guests. For example, I would inspire our team to recognize the sound of a dropped utensil when it hit the floor. If you listen carefully, each utensil has a different tonality. This was useful when, on a crowded Friday night, a guest would invariably drop a spoon and the team member working the floor would replace the spoon before the customer asked. This created a great customer service “wow” event, marked the Deux Gros Nez brand in the mind of the guest, and created an incentive to come back. This was my third lesson in niche marketing, especially as it relates to a service industry: training and a appreciation for ensuring that your customers have the best experience goes a long way towards inspiring those customers to be your brand ambassadors.

This is not to say that Deux Gros Nez (which means “two big noses”) did not have a reputation with some people as being somewhat snobby, and that every person who dined there became a brand ambassador, but the restaurant cultivated passionate brand ambassadors worldwide, as evidenced by the fact that people flew-in from all over the world to be at the farewell party (see the Flickr tribute above). The Deux Gros Nez community continues on Facebook via The Fort group page. This was/is my fourth lesson in niche marketing: passion combined with a willingness to pursue excellence and honestly engage your customers inspires your customers to keep your brand flame alive, even when you’re gone.

Tim Healion (known as “The Chief” to all who frequented Duex Gros Nez), currently, has transferred his passion, honesty, and pursuit of excellence to one of this nation’s top professional cycling events, the Tour de Nez. Chief, thank you and keep it going.

List of social Web resources 07-02-2009

Chris Brogan interview
Excellent interview with Chris Brogan on how he’d run an airline and implement some social web karma; great insights, well worth the 9:58 investment of your time. The interviewer, Shashank Nigam, CEO, SimpliFlying, asks some really good questions. My comment after listening to the interview: That was seriously cool.

Semantic Web
This post re-confirms to me that the semantic web (i.e., Web 3.0) is still a ways out from being widely deployed, yet absolutely filled with so much promise and visionary thinking.

Dunkin’ Donuts
Insightful post on how Dunkin’ Donuts uses the social web to extend its brand engagement. Dunkin’ Donuts’ recently released Dunkin’ Run app is a nice, simple deployment of a social app that has a built-in ROI component: buying doughnuts.

Vyoom
Interesting TechCrunch profile of Vyoom, which is a social networking site that gives you redeemable points for your participation. The more points you accumulate, the more stuff you can buy. Not sure whether this will work as a stand-alone application/concept, but could certainly see this applied in a rewards program under a major brand (e.g., Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program).

Twitter
Interesting ideas on why Gen Y may not “get” Twitter.

Client attentiveness at Southwest Airlines

There is a reason I choose Southwest Airlines as my preferred airline: client attentiveness. There is a reason why I don’t pay attention to accumulating miles with a competing airline to ensure preferred boarding status but love Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program: client attentiveness. There is a reason I am a self-appointed brand ambassador for Southwest Airlines: client attentiveness.

There is a reason I choose Southwest Airlines as my preferred airline: client attentiveness. There is a reason why I don’t pay attention to accumulating miles with a competing airline to ensure preferred boarding status but love Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program: client attentiveness. There is a reason I am a self-appointed brand ambassador for Southwest Airlines: client attentiveness.

Let me give you an example: Gate changes are a fairly routine occurrence in the airline industry and, arguably, it’s up to a passenger to ensure that he or she is aware of such occurrences. But in my opinion a company that cares about its clients would ensure that passengers are notified of a gate change. Once upon a time, I arrived at a gate, noted that my flight number was still listed, noted that there were not any delays listed, noted that I was 40 minutes early to boarding. I relaxed. Around boarding time I noticed that no one was boarding, yet my flight number was still listed. I checked my email and text alerts to see if a gate change had been sent to me. I waited another 10 minutes while the airline staff chatted amiably. I walked up to the counter. The airline staff chatted amiably. I stood there. They chatted. I stood there. They chatted. I interrupted. I received a stare and one word, “Yes?”. I asked if the flight was still boarding, and I was met with something like this: “We announced a gate change 30 minutes ago.” Amazed, I asked then why my flight number, route, and time of boarding were still listed behind them. There was no response. I then asked where the new gate was. Across the airport I was told with a hint, “You better run, or you may miss it.” Stunned, I turned to my fellow gate-waiters and announced that the flight we’d all been waiting for had a gate change and that we’d better run or we’ll miss it. I sprinted to the new gate, told the gate staff there that several other people were following me, luckily they held the plane until all the other passengers arrived. I was thanked by these passengers while I sat in my seat sweating. I was stunned. And even though I had accumulated enough “points” to achieve preferred boarding status, that was the day I decided to purge my airline miles from that company as soon as possible, stop using that airline as my preferred airline, and stop trusting that airline’s “CRM” messaging. That was the day I decided to “try” Southwest Airlines. And I have been a happy airline traveler ever since.

Accordingly, it was no surprise to me when Rob Hahn of 7DS told me that Southwest Airlines has the highest NetPromoter Score of any other airline. NetPromoter Score essentially answers one question: how likely are you to recommend me (or my service)? I recommend Southwest to everyone I meet who relates a poor airline traveling experience. I tell them my story. I have yet to experience a marginal flying experience with Southwest Airlines. Have I met individuals who’ve had an unpleasant experience with Southwest Airlines. Yes. But they are far less in number than compared to other airlines. An essential key to Southwest Airline’s success is client attentiveness.

Let me give you an example: Once upon a time, there was a gate change on a Southwest Airlines flight where a gate attendant announced the gate change via the public address system then walked to the boarding door area and announced it again and then invited us to approach the desk if we had additional questions or needed help (the physical act of stepping from behind the counter to the boarding area–breaking the client-attendant barrier if you will–got our attention). That’s client attentiveness in action. Simple but memorable. Here’s another experience: I just recently received an “anniversary” card from Southwest Airlines thanking me for being a Rapid Rewards member. The card included a coupon for a car rental discount. A minor “wow” I’ll give you that (a big “wow” would have been some additional rapid reward points <grin>). Nevertheless, the anniversary card is simple yet effective. Because when I received this card I remembered all the “wows” I’ve had with Southwest Airlines over the last year; thus, reinforcing my decision to stay with them again this year. What attentiveness have you given your clients recently?

Related reading: Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company. Why this book relates to this post: Southwest is designing its client relationship and service experience.

Photo credit: hiddedevries

Consumer centric disruption

Thank you to Nic Brisbourne and his The Equity Kicker blog for (a) highlighting an intriguing video of UK journalists debating the veracity and viability of blogs and (b) pointing out an excellent presentation on the Customer Development Model. Both offer some tasty take-aways.

I find the debate curious. Universal McCann’s 2008 Wave 3 study points out (page 22) that 17.8 million people in the UK have read blogs; this 17.8 million represents 32.1% of the total 16-54 population (in comparison 60.3 million people in the US–33.2% of the total 16-54 population–have read blogs). It seems to me–based on the anecdotal comments of the UK journalists in the video–that UK traditional news media has metaphorically walled itself up and studies blog culture with a telescope, as opposed to latching on to the interesting facets of blogs that attract readers and then combining these facets with traditional journalistic norms and ethos (during the debate some very sound and rational points were made about the role “traditional” journalism has in terms of checks and balances, fact checking, etc). Nevertheless, some very powerful apps and news platforms could result by embracing social web norms. For example, why not take an EveryBlock approach (see Russian Hill) and combine that with traditional beat reporting on the more nuanced and interesting stories cited in the raw data feed. Indeed, one could use EveryBlock data to track patterns which could form the basis for an investigative reporting series.

A visit to slide number 27 of the Customer Development Model presentation offers a succinct and cogent illustration of a consumer-centric product/service development process. The key elements of the slide: Build, Measure, Learn integrated in the overall development life cycle. If I were able to question the UK journalist panel, I’d ask a couple of questions: Do you know of any UK news company to have empaneled a group of consumers that routinely gather their news from blog sites so as to find out why these consumers like these blogs and how they use the blog information in their daily lives? Do you know of any UK news company that has analyzed what apps or smart phone devices their consumers use on a daily basis and how they would like to have news integrated in similar ways on their devices? The answers to these questions begin the consumer-centric design journey.

Finally, this article makes a compelling case as to how certain facets of the Customer Development Model can be a disruptive factor in the real estate industry.

Reinvigorating MLS information

Let’s assume a situation where intellectual property and licensing issues are properly resolved and set with respect to granting outside developers access to MLS content and data.

If you’ve heard of an MLS (or a broker with a VOW) that has engaged a group of skilled programmers similar to what Washington D.C. did with its content and data, please let me know. Don’t you think something wonderful could happen with real estate search similar to what’s about to happen with bioinformatics?

Dialogue between bioinformaticists and semantic Web developers has been steadily increasing for a number of years now as widespread data integration problems have clearly begun to impede the progress of research.

This is not to say that challenges don’t exist,

[I]f you’re talking about traversing [information and data] computationally, then it’s much more challenging to make sure everything means the same thing and that the object that you’re getting to on the next path has the same persistence, quality, and structure that you’re expecting to operate on.

Nevertheless, the vision for a more collaborative and effective future is vibrant,

Ultimately, what the semantic Web community hopes to have are applications that will make the complexity of the technology as invisible as possible.

The real estate industry has an existing standardization body: RETS. It seems to me that an MLS (or broker VOW) could provide great value to its public and real estate industry stakeholders by adopting a RETS standard (thus, at some level, solving the data standardization issue raised above) while opening its data pantry to a group of developers, similar to what Washington D.C. did with its Apps for Democracy contest held last year (according to the Apps for Democracy website, the city realized a $2,300,000 value, not to mention the fact that the public now has some nifty tools),

The first-prize winner in the organization category was a site called D.C. Historic Tours, developed by Internet marketing company Boalt. The information about area attractions came from the city, but Boalt developers decided how to present it…The site uses Google Maps as the basis for enabling users to build their own walking tours of the city. It pulls information from Wikipedia, the Flickr photo-sharing service and a list of historic buildings.

Imagine a pool of widgets, desktop apps, apps for iPhone’s, Blackberries, etc, that slice and dice real estate content and data in novel ways. The public would obviously benefit by accessing real estate information in ways that are most meaningful to them. The content/data provider benefits by engaging the public at a deeper, more relevant, and effective manner. And real estate agents ultimately benefit because a more satisfied, more qualified, and more engaged buyer or seller equates to increased business opportunities.

Photo credits: ducks (SleepingBear), tightrope walker (tallkev)

Responsiveness Drives Differentiation

Are your prospective clients having to act like abalone divers to interact with you? Abalone divers furbish themselves with an abalone iron to pry off abalones from submerged rocks. These divers are committed to their task, as abalone is considered a divine delicacy to some. But if prospective clients have to work like an abalone diver to communicate with and engage you, chances are they’ll dive elsewhere.

Concierge service is not a new topic, it still resonates. Let’s assume you have a robust lead acquisition strategy that runs the gamut from SEO, SEM, social media, targeted print ads, etc. Let’s assume too that this strategy yields a healthy inbound inquiry pipeline. Let’s also assume that–if you’re a brokerage–you have a decent eCommerce, relocation, and/or Internet lead management team that responds in a timely manner to these inquiries whether they’ve come in by email, telephone, or live chat. Finally, let’s assume that as an agent you get lead inquiries directly (from your blog, website, broker, etc) and/or leads are routed to you via a relocation or lead management team. What’s the average response time to these direct-to-agent or eCommerce-to-agent leads? If it’s over 15 minutes, I posit that is too long (for eCommerce-to-agent leads, I say response time should be under 5 minutes).

According to the 2008 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers:

  • 21% of home buyers say reputation is an important factor when choosing an agent, which is the second most important factor out of eight factors polled, the number one factor (at 29%) is agent honesty and trustworthiness
  • 93% of home buyers rate responsiveness as “very important” when considering agent skills
  • 84% of home buyers rate communication skills as “very important” when considering agents skills
  • 67% of all buyers interview only one agent in their search process

Do prospective clients visit the following types of sites more often than real estate websites: BassPro.com, Cabelas.com, Zappos.com, Craigslist.com, Geico.com? I’ll posit that your prospective clients are visiting these types of sites more often than any one real estate site. Thus, their customer service–their concierge service–expectations are being set by these entities. Where does your service level measure up related to these companies?

Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer who goes to BassPro.com and contacts their customer support staff and gets a response within one minute or less (especially if he/she used live chat). Would you say this consumer has a higher likelihood of being satisfied and that BassPro likely created a good vibe for its brand in the mind of that consumer? I’d say yes. Now what would happen if that consumer had to wait for 48 or 72 hours for a response to his/her question that common sense tells him/her should take only a couple of minutes? I’d say a bad vibe is created. Granted, if the customer is committed enough, he/she may try to pry a response out of BassPro by recontacting them. But the more he/she has to try and pry the customer service abalone shell off the rock, the less likely this customer will remain with BassPro. And if prospective clients have to pry a response out of you, the less likely they are to engage with you.

Prospective clients expect responsiveness. And their expectation for this responsiveness is being set OUTSIDE the real estate industry. Thus, it’s incumbent upon real estate professionals to step up to the client concierge service plate and respond as quickly as possible to inbound lead inquiries.

Where do you want your trustworthiness and reputation factors to be slotted in a prospective client’s mind: as uncaring and lazy because you don’t typically respond in a timely manner, or that you’re concerned about prospective clients’ needs and desires? Thus, meet 93% of home buyers’ expectations and set a standard to respond to inquiries in a timely manner. If 84% of home buyers consider communication skills as very important, how are you demonstrating your communication skills–as ignoring a prospective client’s requests, or by addressing him/her with alacrity and professionalism?

Don’t make prospective clients pry a response out of you. Remember that 67% of prospective clients contact and interview only one agent during their search process. Increase your odds of gaining a client’s trust and business by quickly responding to their inquiries.

Photo attribution: Abalone divers, Queue

Creativity Integrity and Brand Differentiation

Chris Brogan’s recent post challenges marketers to begin thinking of ways to use the social web to leverage traditional marketing expertise:

Marketers, are you paying attention to who’s spending how much and where when you read magazines, watch TV, or see billboards? Are you extrapolating out what it means to you, your business, etc?…If you’re in media, the stories are all around you. The model’s broken. Yep. The numbers are smaller. Yep. People aren’t as into paper. Yep. Ads online don’t make as much money as on paper. Sad, but yep.

Consider too this statement from Brian Solis:

While numbers indicate that Social Media Marketing may, for now, be recession proof, it is not idiot proof. Engaging in transparent conversations in social networks to build brand-centric communities is meaningless without intelligence, sincerity and a real world business acumen that can tie participation to important business metrics.

Assume a day in the not too distant future where 90% of your competitors have viable and cogent strategies for utilizing Facebook, Twitter, blogs, video, social CRM applications, etc. In this environment, where’s your edge? Where’s your competitive points of differentiation? How will your messages cut through the noise and fragmented media channels? I say it nets down to two main buckets: Creativity and Integrity.

Creativity

Calders 1968 Nenuphar In The Lincoln Gallery
Calder's 1968 Nenuphar In The Lincoln Gallery

@doverbey (aka Derek Overbey) is a creative person, a talented marketer and prolific–and effective–user of social media. This year he attended SXSW for the first time and knew he could meet people like @scobleizer, @gapingvoid, @guykawasaki (for those who’ve never attended a SXSW, that’s one of the hallmarks of the conference and its appeal…you can actually speak freely with many experts in a variety of disciplines…if you can get on their radar). @doverbey turned “could” into “did” by thinking creatively. Knowing that people like @guykawasaki would be hit from all sides and at any time of day for a chat-up, drinks, meeting requests, whatever, he knew that if he had any chance at wrangling a substantive and informative conversation from “stars” like @guykawasaki he’d have to have a “hook” and “angle”; in short, a creative and compelling reason to get these people to spend some time with him. His brainchild: “100interviews“. His methodology: a wordpress blog, some t-shirts, a flip video camera, and a targeted Twitter promotion prior to and during SXSW. His outcome? Visit his site. Here’s what Derek has to say about the experience:

When @morganb (Morgan Brown) and I decided to conduct some interviews at SXSW, I knew we had to have a hook. The thought on trying to do 100 interviews in 4 days had a nice ring to it and provided us with a platform to stand on as we went out and started to secure interview subjects. But I think the aspect that really pushed us over the top was using Twitter to promote and secure the interviewees. Once we secured a couple of bigger names like @guykawasaki, @chrisbrogan and @garyvee and started to tweet that info out, we had people literally coming to us asking if they could get involved. We leveraged the social aspect to do the work for us. Then when we were at the event, people felt like they were missing something if they were not involved because all their social media friends were participating. In closing, I would say this experience showed me the “true power” of social media outside of just connecting. It can really be leveraged as a additional marketing arm but must still have the good idea behind it.

Derek walked into a situation where many of the attendees were just as prolific users of social media as he is, and where many of these individuals perhaps had similar goals to his, but out of literally thousands of attendees he got substantive face-time with these thought-leaders, and captured telling interviews by using his marketing prowess and creative thinking to come-up with a compelling “hook” that was just different enough to make these thought-leaders stop, take notice, and contribute. And in the process he’s branded himself as a social media leader too.

The take-away: You can do the same with your brand by looking at what’s not been done in your vertical in terms of a promotional strategy and use social media to leverage this uniqueness. In a sea of banality what’s your concept that’s simple to execute, but has a “nice ring to it” that will create a buzz tsunami?

Integrity

Integrity
Integrity

Trent Reznor of NIN is a great artist. Whether you like or dislike his music, it’s unlikely you’d disagree that he’s been uncompromising in his art as well as his business acumen. Take 40 minutes out of your day and listen to this interview where Reznor’s answers to the DIGG community questions deliver keen insights into how he’s blended art and business into a strategy that not only propels his brands, but also keeps his core constituency front-and-center and conversant with these brands. What’s clear from the interview is that he’s confident in his own vision, and has been from the start. There’s a point in the interview where he describes how he strategically broke into the music business in the late 1980s by sitting back and really understanding what his unique value was to the music industry, aligning himself with the right label, and using then ground-breaking distribution models (e.g., MTV) to get his art heard. In essence, he looked at his core strengths and passions and leveraged such in the “alternative music” niche that existed at that time. Reznor focused on perfecting his art, stayed true to his vision, and created a truly unique sound which differentiated himself from the crowd of other bands. And once his audience “found” his music, he engaged this audience with ever-increasing diversity coupled with new technologies and distribution methods to increase this engagement (see his recently released iPhone app under his NIN brand for the most recent example of this.

The take-away: Understand your core values and define how you’ll make a difference and then have confidence in your brand, your vision. Keep an uncompromising adherence to these values as you deploy new services and utilize new technologies to spread your vision. And when a constituency embraces your brand, engage this constituency and demonstrate that you understand its core goals, wants, and needs by developing products and services that align with these core values while adhering to yours.

Photo credits: Creativity photo, Takomabibelot; Integrity photo, Jahat

Clients are not cows

Real estate marketing professionals interested in farming, cultivating, or harvesting customers should consider something new. Livestock management perhaps? How about genetic engineering of new hybrid corn? Better yet how about driving a combine or cultivator? It’s time to shed these agri-centric terms that are so often used in conjunction with traditional Customer (Client) Relationship Management (CRM) theories.

Potential and existing clients are neither livestock, corn, nor wheat. Clients are people who have families, passions, wants, desires, and needs. And they likely would not want to be managed, cultivated, harvested, or farmed. Instead they’d likely want a meaningful interaction with your brand where you treat them like a human rather than like an uninformed data element.

As a first step to embracing clients and potential clients as living and breathing HUMANS, rather than disembodied data nodes, firms ought to shed certain traditional labels of CRM as well as agri-centric terms in favor of human-centric labels. Use “client” rather than customer; clients seek professional advice, customers purchase products. As a real estate professional who’s positioning yourself as a trusted adviser and subject matter expert, aren’t you more interesting in engaging clients as opposed to just pushing products?  Similarly, use “engagement” and “conversation” rather than cultivate or nurture; engagement implies a recognition that your client has a role in the CRM process and conversation recognizes that you’re goal is to enlist the client in a dialogue, rather than having them passively remain rooted in your system like a seed and plant in a field until they’re harvested at maturation.

Words matter. And labels inform your conduct. If your CRM system focuses on the human touch, the people element, then your CRM operations become more focused and in tune with promoting engagement and brand partnership. Consumers want to trust your brand. Give them a reason to do so by acting like you trust them.

Photo credit zieak

Real Estate Value in an Uncertain Market

The comments in this post offer an “in the trenches” snapshot of many issues framing the current real estate crisis. The dialogue between Scott and the listing agent is particularly fascinating and elucidates the inherent challenges agents face in a market where traditional and foundational norms have been so acutely destabilized.

Hyper-targeting enhanced listings

Trulia partnered with 1020 Placecast to provide targeted ad services.

Once users input a location they want to learn more about on Trulia, Placecast will access that data and apply it as a key component along with common demographic data points like psychographic information to provide more targeted ads.

This process makes sense especially at the zip code level (see previous posts on zip code optimization) because demo/psychographic differences exist between zip codes–even contiguous zip codes. Accordingly, if I’m looking in a zip code that trends more affluent, Trulia can now serve ads that appeal to an affluent consumer (Jaguar advertisement). Alternatively, if I’m searching in a zip code that trends more middle of the road, Trulia can now serve an ad that appeals to a bargain shopper (Toyota Corolla advertisement).

For real estate, I’d like to see a twist on this process: somehow also deduce from where a consumer searches so as to better deploy advertising resources with respect to select properties. For instance, let’s assume you’re a firm situated in a Utah ski resort community, and that you know based on previous dealings with out-of-market buyers that your to primary “feeder” markets are Chicago and Orlando, and that these primary markets are generally interested in purchasing luxury-oriented rental income properties.

It’d be a great service to be able choose which of your top properties to “enhance” that exist in a specific zip code and display the “enhanced” versions of these properties only when a consumer from either Chicago or Orlando conducts a search in the targeted zip code. Employing a scheme like this, one makes an ad buy based on a “known” marketing attribute (i.e., based on personal experience) along with hyper-targeting, which should translate into higher quality clicks to the “enhanced” properties and, thus, increase the potential ROI on those ad buys.