What real estate professionals can learn from Dominos Pizza

Domino’s Pizza owns the pizza conversation over its competitors, literally, with a continuous rollout of its progressive mobile app and web presence. Want to order a pizza via the in-car, voice-activated console of a Ford? No problem, go for it. Want to order a pizza via your mobile device via “Dom,” which is the Domino’s version of Siri. Done. You want to see the progress of your pizza order on Dominos.com, you’re all set. Listen to this NPR story, Domino’s Becomes A Tech Company That Happens To Make Pizza, for an excellent overview of Domino’s tech dominance.

Domino's Pizza order stats board
Domino’s Pizza order stats board

According to the NPR story, Domino’s has adopted a “Silicon Valley” approach to its technology deployment process. Essentially, Domino’s is in continuous rollout mode using agile development methodologies (for an overview of these methodologies, read Inspired by Marty Cagan). This process has allowed Domino’s to leap-frog its competition.

So how does this Domino’s story relate to real estate? Several entities in the real estate space have leveraged these software development methodologies to great gains; for example, Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin. And brokerages have amazing opportunities to do the same.

If a brokerage manages an in-house development staff, then it behooves this brokerage to send its key developers and managers to a Marty Cagan conference on agile processes, and then fundamentally change—if necessary—the way in which it manages this department. Moreover, this brokerage should consider creating a product manager layer within its org chart to further facilitate this internal product development process. Finally, this brokerage should consider creating internal mission teams like Spotify created.

These agile concepts are fundamental “Silicon Valley” like processes, where deployed properly can definitely create a culture of customer-centric internal product development and rollout. Alternatively, if a brokerage does not manage an internal development staff, then this brokerage should hold its development vendor accountable to delivering products and services in a manner that aligns with the agile approach. Otherwise, this brokerage is likely to be at a distinct competitive disadvantage in the marketplace in terms of technical capabilities and offerings.

Zero Moment of Trust

Ask almost any real estate professional what compels a client to work with them or personally refer them, and that professional will probably say something like “They trust me.” This is also backed up by research from the National Association of Realtors (see Exhibits 4-17 and 7-8, 2013 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers). But more often than not, this “trust” is predicated upon in-real-life, face-to-face interactions. The challenge, however, for modern real estate practitioners is how to imbue a sense of trust via a mobile or web presence. What is the Zero Moment of Trust for a prospective client to make the decision to contact or divulge personal information to a real estate brand or agent via a mobile or web interface? How does a professional break through the scrim of the screen to convey this sense of trust?

Zero Moment of Trust
Zero Moment of Trust

The Zero Moment of Trust concept builds upon Google’s concepts around Zero Moment of Truth (“ZMOT”). ZMOT describes how a set of search-related activities, from whatever device, informs a consumer at the point of decision regarding a product purchase. In previous years before mobile commerce was so prevalent, this search-influenced and aided decision making timeline could extend to hours and even days. However, within a mobile commerce environment–enhanced and influenced by mobile-enabled search–a consumer’s purchase decision making timeline is near instantaneous.

For example, a decade ago a consumer, sitting in front of a home computer, likely would have browsed through several websites, over several hours, as part of her decision making process. Whereas today that same consumer could be sitting in a cafe enjoying a cortado and decide to purchase a pair of shoes, use Google to conduct a search, sift through relevant search results, find a nearby boutique as well as sift through Zappos results, compare both retail outlets via their online presence and ratings, and decide to purchase via Zappos…all within the time it takes for her to finish her cortado. This latter scenario effectively captures the core concepts embodied in Google’s ZMOT argument. And similar to shopping for shoes, consumers use search to find properties for sale or rent as well as find agents with whom they may want to represent them. But it is at this point that ZMOT breaks down in real estate. For ZMOT is a great construct for how consumers make product purchasing decisions, but it is a weak construct for how clients decide to work with a professional. And it is at this moment that Zero Moment of Trust comes into play.

The client-professional relationship is centered around trust. Thus, there is a second layer of trust-based decision making activities a consumer undertakes in evaluating a professional. Further, much of this evaluation occurs within mobile and web related contexts. And for the real estate professional, whose first interaction with a client is more often than not nowadays bound to these contexts, how trustworthy he or she appears within these contexts often determines whether a prospective client will contact them. Thus, the question becomes how can a real estate professional immediately convey a sense of trust within these contexts? How can a real estate professional leverage Zero Moment of Trust? The answer to this question resides within the realms of user experience (“UX”) and user interface (“UI”) design and how to leverage mobile and web trust indicators.

According to these research reports, How do users evaluate the credibility of websites (.pdf), An overview of online trust: concepts, elements, and implications, and What instills trust? A qualitative study of phishing there are three primary mobile-web trust indicators: performance, design, and information. Performance trust indicators center around platform speed, page load times, and overall functionality. Design trust indicators center around balanced UI, ease of navigation, continuity, consistency of UX across devices, and intuitiveness. Information trust indicators center around simplicity of message, forthrightness (i.e., no trickery), usefulness, and client ratings and testimonials. These trust indicators must all sync as an integrated whole to immediately convey a sense of trust to a prospective client, which will prompt this client to do something (for example, request a showing, contact an agent for a CMA, etc). To help illustrate these concepts, following are visual examples as to how some brands outside of and within real estate are using trust indicators to impute trust to viewers:

airbnb

airbnb

Take-away: Balanced design and ratings directly on the booking page imply trust.

Michael Saunders & Company

Michael Saunders & Company

Take-away: The nexus between elegant design and the nuance of language (e.g., use of “Serene beaches” rather than the location of these beaches to enable a visitor to search these locations).

These brands explicitly or implicitly leverage Zero Moment of Trust principles. I encourage you to browse through the two websites mentioned above (via your desktop/laptop, tablet, and mobile phone), paying particular attention to how they use design and language to convey a sense of trust. These two brands have leveraged several trust indicators to gain and maintain marketshare and win consumer mindshare.

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

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.

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

Opportunities in online lead capture and close

Here’s a short article from the Harvard Business Review on lead capture. The stats:

  • $12.5 billion in 2005 to $22.7 billion in 2009: The amount of advertising dollars spent generating leads
  • 2,241 U.S. companies: The number of companies measured in the study to test lead response time
  • 37% of the companies responded within one hour, 16% responded within one to 24 hours, 24% took more than 24 hours to respond, 23% never responded
  • 42 hours: The average response time by all companies measured
  • 7X: If you try to contact a potential customer (i.e., a “lead”) within one hour of receiving a query, you are nearly seven times as likely to qualify that customer as those individuals who wait two hours
  • 60X: By contacting a potential customer within one hour of a receiving a query, you are more than sixty times as likely to qualify that lead than individuals who wait 24 hours

Take-away: The fastest to respond wins the opportunity to serve a customer. Insight: Once you’re earned that opportunity, keep delighting that customer by remaining responsive.

User participation in a QR quirky world

This video, The World Park Campaign, illustrates an excellent use of QR to not only drive a marketing result but reward users’ participation with something delightful. The focus of the campaign was an immersive marketing experience to drive wider participation and learning within a NYC park.

Similarly, read about what Bjork is doing to take participation with music to new levels. What Bjork has done is create a way to interact with her music via an app; for example:

Bjork fans with iPads or iPhones (there’s no Android version yet) can download a main app for Biophilia that’s free. You tap on it and open up to a black background with white, glowing starlike objects. Using your fingers to swipe and tap, the universe expands and turns, and bits of music and songs emerge.

Each song has its own star. You tap on it, and you can buy its app for $1.99 from the iTunes Store. Each one has essays about music and science, and each interacts with its song in a different way. Take “Thunderbolt,” whose arpeggiated bass line you can change by tapping on a lightning icon.

“You change the speed of the arpeggio, or the range,” Bjork says. “Basically, you’re like this crazy lightning bass player.

It’s the participation economy. Participatory media is the message (visit here for reference point).

Consumer engagement and participation using QR

I thought this kiosk flyer below, which I found pinned to a wall somewhere in Estes Park, Colorado, is a novel use of QR.

QR Kiosk Flyer

 

What I like is how the purveyor has conveniently arrayed the subject matter. As a tourist, I especially liked the choices put before me and the prospect of interacting in an interesting way with the “place” the QR took me. And it is on this latter point where I was let down. The “Arts” QR simply took me to a website, listing a series of events with more links to click. Understandably, having this list of links is definitely a convenience and I would not have visited the site but for the QR. However, I cannot help but think that an opportunity was missed that could have “rewarded” or “delighted” or “surprised” me with some experiential marketing. For example, the QR could have landed me on a page inviting me to play a video that has interviews with local artists and events organizers…let me feel their passion, let me understand their love for their community…grab my engagement by letting me know the impact of my participation. Then I’d be much more likely to click the links related to each event. Further, since these arts events are seasonal, this is a process one can repeat. In real estate one could use QR in a similar manner by showcasing a homeowner interview, interviews with shop owners, or a narrated neighborhood tour. How do you/would you use QR?

Demographic shift, Google stealth social network, rich media

Three blog posts that recently piqued my interest:

Wake up, the demographic shift is flattening us. Although targeted at catalog marketing executives, what Kevin Hillstrom has to say is relevant to the marketer in us all. Here’s the essential take-away:

Right now, “The Big Shift” is steamrolling us.  We are essentially addressing the 55+ audience, and wondering why our businesses are eroding?  We must begin investing in the 18-44 year old audience, if we want to remain relevant in 2020, while optimizing profitability from catalog mailings to the 55+ audience.

Very poignant observation, and very applicable concepts to the real estate industry.

Is Google building a stealth social network? Well-reasoned argument that Google is doing this, and that Google’s +1 initiative is part of a series of tactics Google has recently deployed to continue playing its ground game in the social sphere.

Rich media + display ads + social = advertising perfect CTR-engagement metric storm? “Rich media” (aka multimedia) has been around for some time. Similarly, rich media has had periodic bursts of hype and utilization for over a decade (anyone who was in the email marketing space around 1998/1999 will recall the covey of rich media vendors present at the variety of “internet conferences” that occurred during the same time period). Well, it seems rich media is back again (like a poltergeist?) and advertisers seem excited (according to the article). What’s interesting to me is whether there’s an opportunity for enhanced engagement via a rich media ad conduit that will support social CRM initiatives.

 

Social media ROI, where’s the ROI in that?

What’s the ROI of conversing with someone while queued to buy a PEET’s coffee? What’s the ROI of engaging other parents and teachers at a monthly PTA meeting? What’s the ROI of swapping stories at a monthly book club meet-up? Common sense tells us these interactions are inherently unquantifiable, yet immensely important and powerful.

Now compare this line of thought to the recent Fortune.com article that digs into some reasons why Facebook–in its current iteration–may not be as valuable to marketers. Essentially, Fortune points out that despite the fact that 1 out of 8 minutes spent online is spent on Facebook, marketers are still trying to determine whether buying ads on Facebook is worth the investment given that Facebook ads perform half as well as banner ads. This said, certain firms like Virgin America have had positive experiences with Facebook and a social presence generally (could this success simply be that their service is stellar, and the promotion of this stellar experience hearkens back to Godin’s concepts around making something remarkable?)

So what about the conversation? Or “MONETIZING THE CONVERSATION”? Fortune cites a Razorfish Liminal study pointing out that customer “relationship” management (er, CRM), as a concept to interact with customers, is shifting:

It’s not enough anymore for marketers to have a top-down mentality, simply making sure they have a presence on multiple channels, but to understand what makes some customers still use an 800 number, while others reach out to brands on Facebook.

Here’s the problem: the above assumes your customers want a relationship with you. They don’t. Yes, they will engage with you, yet only if it is on their terms. The findings in “Liminal” demonstrate that, in the future, marketers will need to find ways to sustain those engagements over time, regardless of channel, whether they are traditional, emerging or new.

Wow. Customers don’t want a relationship with a brand? But want engagement? Multi-channel marketing strategies tied to understandable analytics that yield actionable business intelligence is a must, it seems. Enter Stage Right: Gahlord Dewald.

Web intelligence and the dispersion of public thought

Two seemingly unrelated articles recently caught my attention. Both articles touch on a similar meme: making sense out of the data bog which is le Web.

Article one: The Path to Web Intelligence Maturity (.pdf) discusses how companies can leverage Web analytics to gain behavioral insights on individual prospects and customers. The author walks you through how you turn such insights into targeted marketing initiatives at key stages of the customer life-cycle.

Article two: Social Network Markets and ‘Public Thought’ (.pdf), written in response to Clay Shirky’s Internet post The Shock of Inclusion, the author takes you through a fascinating and enlightening read on the quality and reach of public thought. Indeed, the paper touches on themes raised by Gahlord Dewald during his recent presentation at Inman Connect NYC 2011 on “convergence” versus “dispersion”, where Dewald essentially argued that dispersion as opposed to convergence should function as the governing archetype that drives social web app and platform development.

User experience and product innovation

Recently, at the Web 2.0 summit, Palm’s CEO said (as reported in All Things Digital):

Palm created the PDA space with the Pilot and the smartphone space after it with the Treo…So by birthright, Palm should have owned the smartphone market, but it just lost its way.

I’ve been intrigued by this facet of the “smartphone era”: Palm’s, NOKIA’s, Motorola’s whole job—theoretically—was to understand the needs, wants, desires of the mobile phone user. Theoretically they each spent millions of dollars a year in R&D, consumer research, prototyping, product development, etc. Yet Apple smoked them all. Apple focuses on the user experience—from the moment a user decides to enter Apple’s commerce stream, to the moment a user opens a box, to the moment a user first sets up a device to the moment a user interacts that device. With Apple, product = experience and experience = product. It seems a superior user experience—a 365 degree, multi-dimensional experience—is the ultimate killer product/app.

A simple lesson from Steve Jobs

Thank you to @sherrychris for finding this article on Steve Jobs. What I like about this article is that it delves—slightly–into Jobs’ mindset via an interview with his “last” boss. It’s a fascinating romp. Here’s one key take-aways that were meaningful to me:
“What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do.”
Very simple concept, yet powerful. Reading through the interview we learn that Steve regularly met with the leader of SONY and was given a prototype of the first SONY Walkman. And the first thing he did was take it apart to look at its component parts. I can image Jobs making a list of “not likes” with the Walkman over a decade, which yielded the iPod. The same can plausibly be said for a mobile phone too. I can imagine Jobs using NOKIA and Motorola products and making a list of “not likes”, which yielded the iPhone. Focus on making a “not like” list to improve your product offering or client service delivery. Who knows, maybe you’ll revolutionize an industry too.
http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2783/4270425994_508f78a00f_m.jpg
timtakhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/nihonbunka/4270425994/
Thank you to @sherrychris for finding this article on Steve Jobs. What I like about this article is that it delves—slightly–into Jobs’ mindset via an interview with his “last” boss. It’s a fascinating romp. Here’s one meaningful take-away:
“What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do.”
Very simple concept, yet powerful. Reading through the interview we learn that Steve regularly met with Akio Morita, co-founder of SONY, and was given a prototype of the first SONY Walkman. And the first thing he did was take it apart to look at its component parts. I can image Jobs making a list of “not likes” with the Walkman over a decade or more, which yielded the iPod. The same can plausibly be said for a mobile phone too. I can imagine Jobs using NOKIA and Motorola products and making a list of “not likes”, which yielded the iPhone. Focus on making a “not like” list to improve your product offering or client service delivery. Who knows, maybe you’ll revolutionize an industry too.
Photo credit: timtak

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

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

Choreographing client experiences on your website

Art can inform business decisionmaking and processes in so many ways. And choreography is one artform that does.
Choreography is designing a series of movements to convey an expression of an idea. The best choreographers apply a scientific approach to their dance notation. These choreographers carefully map movement through time and space–in essence navigate time and space–and have their dancers execute complicated series of steps ending in a penultimate conclusion or outcome.

Your website is a mosaic, a stage where you showcase, display, and promote your content and expertise in myriad forms and elements. Your clients and potential clients must navigate your website, working through the mosaic.

Relating design to desired outcomes
You can help your website visitors navigate your website mosaic by mapping their movement through your website, choreographing their experience to end in a desired outcome. What’s your desired outcome of a visit to your listing detail page? Mortgage origination and, thus, mortgage prequalification? Driving inquiries directly to your agents in certain instances versus routing inquiries to your e-commerce team? Each desired outcome necessitates choices with respect to design, navigation, branding, calls to action, etc. If mortgage origination is more important than direct-to-agent inquiries, then your page design and architecture coupled with your calls to action will be different if direct-to-agent inquiries were the penultimate outcome.

Test, measure, refine, roll-out
Once you’ve settled on a desired outcome (or set of desired outcomes), test which set of inputs (i.e., button placement, calls to action, etc) garners the highest and most qualified response rate. This is called A/B split testing. For example, let’s say in your marketing brainstorming and competitive analysis you’ve determined that these two mortgage origination calls to action may garner highly qualified inquiries: “Qualify for a first-time home loan? Find out here” versus “Prequalify for first-time home loans now!”. To determine which is the most effective, set up a testing array. Essentially, what you’re determining through such an array is which verbiage and button placement drives the highest response and conversion rates. Once you’ve applied an A/B split test methodology to each primary element that supports a desired outcome (or set of desired outcomes) on each of your discreet website pages, and determined the optimal verbiage and placement of such, you’ve in essence created guideposts throughout your website mosaic, allowing visitors to dance through your content and data.

Photos:
ZUrigo
Ctd 2005

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.

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

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