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goods-60-rewards-pop_5728Earlier this year, Marriott International, Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group, Starwood and Delta – among others – effectively devalued their customer loyalty programs. They now require more points, and sometimes more cash, in order to obtain a reward room.

As a result, customers have reacted negatively. Surprised?

Consumers view loyalty rewards as ‘bought’ or ‘earned.’ Certainly, not a reward. And, companies are increasingly analyzing the return on such programs and determining the investment is not there. So, they reduce the benefits and their customers become more disenfranchised. Exactly the opposite reaction desired of a ‘reward.’

Zealotry Marketing flips the concept of loyalty. Instead of discounts or rewards following frequent purchases, consider the benefits of engaging the consumer in more collaborative, meaningful and personalized ways that enrich their experience and deepen their understanding of your brand. Examples? Tastings; behind the scenes tours; exclusive seminars/discussions; advance previews; sampling; private communities.

Savvy media types have long understood the value of “advance staging” – of cultivating a smaller, but fervent group to ‘leak news’ and be positive ‘plants in the audience.’

Delight your Zealots in advance, instead of trying to buy their continued loyalty. The investment is less and the return is greater.

Social_Marketing_See_Behind_Curtain_TransparencyConsider five key factors in understanding how to develop marketing that indeed “engages” with your core constituents.

1. Your product, service, or brand should have a standout quality in its class. The days of faking performance or relying on promotional copy to cover an inferior product are long gone. It is fundamental to deliver, even exceed what you offer.

2. Creative should be an innovative element. If the product is not innovative (then see point above). Most products or brands have some element that excites your Zealots. So why would you employ boring creative execution to tell that story? Creative should match the passion of your product.

3. Your Zealots are key. Key to gaining core insights to the passion of your products. Key to how to influence and persuade others. And key to spreading the word (referral).

4. Offer your core target – best customers and your Zealots – a peek behind the curtain. Share your category insights, invite their opinion on product development offerings, give them promotional opportunities in advance, arm them with specific offers to share with their friends. Understand this group is predisposed to loving your brand. They are feverishly looking for confirmation and experiences that allow them to reinforce their selection. And, share with others.

5. Integrate. Yes, a well-overused marketing term. But, it’s true. Establish what your brand is about – what it stands for. Then, line up every detail, every tactic. Does each detail and each touchpoint reinforce the brand or not? The world-class brands think through every detail from personal greeting to in-store signage to packaging to follow-up response. As an example, consider the St. Regis Lifestyle Butler Service.   Among the touches – escorting guests to private artist or museum showings.

We’ve lobbied that organizations should have a Chief Brand Officer, but perhaps the better title would be Chief Integration Officer.

If your business is not doing the above you are missing fundamental steps in maximizing the value of your brand. If you are unsure about some of the points made, well that is good reason to call us.

The biggest single myth surrounding social media is that it is a replacement in some form for other advertising or marketing channels. Social media destroys traditional linear marketing communications models. At heart, social media is an engagement point that can be started by customer, company, competitor, or onlooker. Anyone.

Online & social media is a two-fold communications addition:

1. An exploratory touchpoint prior to sales

2. A follow-up, referral and word-of-mouth to prospective customers and to enhance repeat purchases

As this chart demonstrates, social media is a new touchpoint. One of research initiated by prospects. It is a new step in the purchase cycle, not replacing any traditional element.

Zealotry actions (referral, reviews and other engagements) are extremely valuable, but they work best as authentic elements within this new stage of exploration.

“Zealotry Marketing” is about creating programs that have a primary goal of generating referral. If referral is the best indicator of long-term profitability, then it made sense to us to use that as the starting point for creating marketing programs. Not merely looking at referral as an indirect end result.

This has led us to a revolutionary perspective on blending the classic marketing principles with today’s hot social media. And, heresy for old-school practitioners – the idea that the most effective marketing may well come from operations and service delivery.

This is the story of Zealotry Marketing: where loyalty begins with a company exceeding a customer’s expectation. An approach that can be engaged through any company and doesn’t require so-called marketing pros. It does require a sensitivity and commitment to exceeding customer expectations. Guest Relations Marketing believes Zealotry Marketing transforms the traditional loyalty equation.

What are you doing to create Zealots?

As the holiday season approaches, retailers plan for one of the biggest shopping days of the year – Black Friday. Brand Zealots stake their tents and line up to experience the rush of this chaotic day of shopping. It’s not just about the deals – it’s about the experience.

However, not all Zealots are created equal. For those not cut out for braving the mall with the masses, there’s another day. A day called Cyber Monday.

For a retailer, Cyber Monday is a godsend. Advertising your business’s promotions digitally is relatively inexpensive. And oftentimes free. By integrating a cohesive marketing plan through all digital outlets – including social media – your brand Zealots help spread the word for you. With a simple click of the “share” button, your message has fallen into the laps of hundreds, if not thousands, of your Zealots’ closest friends.

According to ComScore, online sales on Cyber Monday were up 22% from last year, coming in at a record $1.25 billion. When compared to 2010, some of the largest online retailers, such as eBay, did not see as drastic of an increase in sales. However, smaller online retailers have been booming. In fact, most smaller merchants have seen better year-over-year growth on Cyber Monday, compared to Black Friday.

Swoozie’s is one of these success stories. Going in to Cyber Monday, Swoozie’s implemented a cohesive digital campaign to promote all of their online sales specials. By promoting different Cyber Monday specials throughout the day – through social media – Swoozie’s was able to keep the buzz going and encourage their Zealots to not only interact with their brand, but also share the specials with their network of friends. By the end of the day, Swoozie’s had exceeded their online sales goal by 49%.

This proves that a strong digital campaign – with a heavy emphasis on social media – works.

We are often asked, “Are you a B2B or B2C agency?”

This seems to be the initial cut-line for many marketers. With all due respect, it is already steering the discussion down a bad path. As the old country lawyer said, “Son, you are already convicting yourself.”

The answer we give – every time – “we are a consumer-driven agency.”

The fundamentals never change. Whether you sell pizza, shampoo through retailers or specially-machined widgets to a Chinese manufacturer. People engage in what is interesting to them. People buy when they decide you have a product or service that is valuable to them. People make those decisions – for themselves, for their family, for their businesses.

Reinforced another way… by an Apple employee:

“The magic of what Apple has done recently is telling people what they ‘need’ before they know they want/need it. By creating the best consumer product, they have created one that’s arguably more successful in the business market than consumer market – iPad.”

Does your marketing platform have a vision for what is needed in the future? Or, does it merely mimic what the competition is already doing? That is the difference in leading a category and being a second rate brand.

Businesses don’t sell to business. People sell to people.

The correct question in our mind is not “are you B2B or B2C?” The right question is, “Do you know how to create more Zealots for your brand?”

All too often, marketing and ad agencies believe they have a monopoly on creativity and ideas for their clients. In reality, the best ideas often are “discovered” through a more collaborative process. Those in the trenches often “spark” the idea that can transform a business.

From Cool News:

More companies are creating “innovation management programs,” reports Rachel Emma Silverman in the Wall Street Journal (10/17/11). For example, Bruce Power, an Ontario nuclear-energy company, encourages employees to “submit ideas through 10 special-purpose kiosks” at its plant. The kiosks, which “look like ATMs” have been in place for three years and give the plant’s workers, many of whom don’t have desks, a way to make suggestions. Other employees then vote on the ideas.

“It’s like the American Idol of ideas,” says Duncan Hawthorne, the company’s chief executive officer. So far, about “11,000 ideas have been submitted” that Duncan says have saved “millions” of dollars. The ideas “have ranged widely from improving efficiency by increasing stocks of tools to creating a dedicated facility for forklift maintenance.” Two years ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers launched iPlace, an ideas-management website that has so far generated some 3,300 new ideas, of which 140 have been implemented. Approximately “60 percent of the firm’s 32,000 US employees have either submitted, commented or voted on ideas.

Are ideas central to your business? Do you have marketing people (and agencies) that embrace ideas or prefer to “control” the process?

With all the changes going on in the world of social media, including the recent changes Facebook has made, it can be hard to keep your brand’s Page current and compliant with the latest technologies.

Through two of their upcoming platform updates, Facebook is focused on further engaging its users with the site, thus increasing time on site and integrated experience levels. New rollouts of updates such as Facebook “Verbs” and “Timeline” will change the way in which users interact, providing new opportunities for brands to be creative and be a part of the conversation too.

With Verbs, instead of simply giving something a “Like,” Facebook users will have more options on actions to enjoy. Imagine a button where someone clicks because they “Want” your product. With the Timeline, Facebook intends for your profile to become more “the story of your life.” Determining how your brand plays into someone’s story is up to you.

If you’re looking for a better way to manage your brand online, give us a call to discuss further how we may be of service and to hear more about what we’re doing with other clients.

Sorry, we will leave the second opinion of your balky shoulder to an orthopedist, but we can examine and prioritize your business’ marketing plans for 2012.

We offer a 52-point marketing audit report that we will execute for any business, regardless of whether you may be a client of Guest Relations Marketing. It is relatively simple, virtually turn-key process to you. It takes less than 3 weeks and provides you with an objective, 3rd-party, professional, “second opinion” for one low cost, one-time fee.

In addition to a written executive evaluation and presentation of findings, our audit will provide you with three valuable planning tools:

1. Identifying and capturing the right customer and prospect data
2. Prioritizing the right touchpoints for your business, including online and social media
3. Recommended budget ranges by segment

Worst case, we will reinforce your current plans and programs. Best case, we will provide a basis for shifting your budgets or spending priorities. Call us today to schedule this low-cost, no strings attached audit evaluation.

“What should I be spending on marketing?”

We get this question a lot. Especially this time of year. There are business category norms, there are formulas, there are best practices.

But many companies create one fundamental error that severely handicaps whatever they do.

Consider this:

One of the first things a business does is select a physical location, which is very important if it is a retailer. The lease is secured and initial payments/deposits are made before any revenue or sale has been made. It is established as “common sense” that the location of the business is a first order of business. Before sales.

Yet, marketing allocation is often determined on the back-side of sales. Some typical comments heard about marketing budgeting:

           We take a percentage of last year’s sales revenue…
           We have spent X in the past and…
           We have Y left after operational budget and expenses and we’ll put Z into

That is the fundamental flaw.

Marketing precedes sales. Marketing is about setting the table for sales to happen. Drive people to your store. Acquaint new prospects into trying your product or service. Establishing a reason for consumers to come to you versus a competitor. These are marketing objectives. They precede sales. So, why would marketing allocation not be considered in the same planning light as a physical space, operational costs, or sales expense?

The great brands follow this practice and avoid the fundamental error of marketing allocation.

So, what is the right way to set a marketing budget? The correct answer is it needs to be customized to a company’s specific situation. However, there are a couple of core tenets:

*What is opportunity going forward for your business?
*How much “at risk” are current customers to competition? (This may be an
operational versus marketing need)
*How much of sales is predicated on new customers or new products?
*What is the short-term and long-term ROI on marketing initiatives?
*What is the opportunity and impact of referral?

Establishing a marketing budget should be considered in concert with establishing how you are going to deliver a complete customer experience. It is as necessary as operations. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need more money, but it is about being more strategic as to how it fits into a business’ overall operations. Marketing allocation should be at the same table with space, operations, customer service, HR, and sales.  Marketing doesn’t lead or supersede those functions. But, nor is it a lagging or subordinate one, either.

Confused? Want to discuss your situation?

We can help.

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