How to out-manage Google in six steps

August 14, 2008

When we look at industry leaders in any sector, it seems their managers do so many things so well that it’s impossible to imitate or surpass them. But that’s not necessarily true.

If you’re a manager, you can get key pointers from the survey below. It lists six specific areas in which the managers of America’s most reputable companies make a difference their businesses. Google managers used them to give Google the best reputation in the US.

First, the leader list. Each year Harris Interactive, Inc. ranks the 60 most visible US companies. These companies get to the top because management puts into place specific programs that all stakeholders appreciate. Doesn’t matter whether it’s the janitor or the biggest client, these changes are perceived at all levels.

This year’s top ranking company, as reported in the 7/15/08 issue of the AMA’s Marketing News, is Google. No surprise there. What other company is so big, and yet managed so well?

The full rankings are:

1. Google
2. Johnson & Johnson
3. Intel Corporation
4. General Mills
5. Kraft Foods
6. Berkshire-Hathaway, Inc.
7. 3M Company
8. The Coca-Cola Company
9. Honda Motor Company
10. Microsoft.

How did Google and the rest of these household names make it to the top? Based on six criteria. This is your crib sheet to excellence:

1. Social responsibility

2. Emotional appeal

3. Financial performance

4. Products and services

5. Vision and leadership

6. Workplace environment

The value of this list is that it gives you specific ways that big companies improve their reputations.

Most readers of this blog do not run a company big enough to contend for the top 60 list, let alone make “social responsibility” a key area for improvement. But every company can choose several specific areas from this list where it can make a concerted effort to improve. If you can build your rep among your own employees, customers, and stakeholders, you’re also laying the foundation for future profits.

For example, “workplace environment.” The addition of a microwave, a small fridge, an air conditioner, a water cooler, or any small appliance can make a big difference for the people who work there. None of these items costs more than a couple of hundred dollars, yet they can boost employee attitude and performance by showing that management (that’s you) cares about employee comfort.

And you know what? Happier employees are more productive, get sick less often, and take fewer days off.

If you don’t know where to start at your workplace, ask your people! Bring them in on the decision, even if it’s a small one. Multiple good suggestions? Make a second upgrade in six months. Your one-year investment in a better workplace comes to less than $300. How many saved sick days does it take to make back a $300 investment?

That’s just one example. You should look at all six metrics, decide which ones apply to you, then pick the area where you’re weakest as a place to start.

Or not. The important thing is to get started. Building your rep, even if it’s only with your own employees and in your own town, is not accomplished by some mysterious amalgam of voodoo, blind luck, and consumer whim. It’s based on concrete, tried-and-true management techniques that have worked for the most successful companies in the US. You don’t have to conduct research to find out what those techniques are – it’s been done for you. All you have to do is apply them to your organization.

Mailers that make the most money

July 24, 2008

I’ve talked about this before, and research keeps confirming what I’ve said. “The State of Retailing Online 2007,” published by Forrester Research, Inc., cites a report from Shop.org on the most cost-effective ways to market on-line. Here are the results:

Marketing method/Dollar cost per order

E-mail/$ 6.53

Affiliate programs/$17.47

Paid search/$26.75

Banner ads/$71.89

Of course, e-mail shouldn’t be a generic sales pitch if you want to maximize your return. You need a message targeted to the sender, based on analytics: where he’s located, how he got to your site, what information/service/freebee he asked for. It’s not necessary to write a personalized response to each lead, but buyers fall into categories, and the more accurately you can describe your potential client, the better you can rifle your message to him.

The letter is only partly about “selling;” it’s mostly about providing your product/service to someone who already wants it – remember, he came to you.

Not every prospect who comes to your Web site, landing page, or opt-in will proceed to the purchase. But the text of your message will help him see all of the reasons he should go to the next step. How do you know what his reasons are? Analytics will show most of them. Your targeted e-mail response to his request will help you close the deal at a lower cost than other on-line marketing methods.

Why is this post so short?

July 1, 2008

I’ve tried to make my posts informative and interesting, not just short blurbs. However, according to an article in the June The Atlantic, I’m swimming upstream. You can’t deliver both quality and length any longer, not in most media. People won’t read them. According to the article Is Google Making Us Stoopid?, the Internet is retraining our minds how to read. A century ago, people were accustomed to read long books and articles, often spanning tens of thousands of words, to explain a single concept.

That’s all over now. Text messaging, blogs, Web articles, Web sites divided into discrete pages and sales points, etc., all retrain the mind to think in a different way. And we’re all being retrained whether we like it or not. If you’re reading this, your mind no longer absorbs concepts the way your parents’ minds did.

In a related article in the same issue, Rupert Murdoch, the new owner of the Wall Street Journal, wants to cut down the long articles on page one. Those are the articles that have set the Journal apart. Murdoch goes to war to change the paper to what he feels is the current market demand for brevity (as well as in a number of other areas).

How long is this post? It’s about 240 words. Blog pundits advise us to limit posts to 250 words. Otherwise, no one will read them. If you read this far, I’ve achieved my goal.

Customer loyalty extends to the Web

April 9, 2008

When you buy a product or service from a Web site you like, you tend to go back to it. The site might be Priceline, Amazon, or Target, but if your first shopping experience there is good, chances are also good that you’ll return when you’re in the market again. The same applies to bricks-and-mortar stores.

 

You may have known that intuitively, but now the stats are out to prove it. According to the most recent Nielsen Global Online Survey, as reviewed in the 3/1/08 edition of the AMA’s Marketing News, 60% of on-line shoppers say then usually buy from the same site again. And if you think that there aren’t enough on-line buyers to make a difference, think again.

 

The same Survey reports that there has been a 40% increase in on-line shoppers worldwide since 2006, from 627 million to 875 million. Doesn’t sound like so many? It’s more than twice the population of the United States.

 

Surprisingly, the US is not among the leaders, although we’re in the Top Ten (number eight, to be precise). In this country 94% of Web users made a purchase last year. Compare that with leader South Korea, where 99% of users were also buyers, including 79% in the 30 days preceding the survey.

 

The most popular purchases, as you might imagine, include books, clothing/accessories/shoes, videos/DVDs/games, airline tix and electronic equipment. But today you can find almost anything on the Web, very probably including your product or service.

 

What does this mean for you as a business person?

 

1. If you don’t have a Web site, you are ignoring one of the fastest-growing categories of purchasers in the world.

 

2. If you do have a Web site, make sure is it the most user-friendly in your competitive group. Who else is selling your product/service on-line? Look at their sites! Remember, if your first-time visitor likes your site he’ll come back. If you competitor snares him, though, there’s a better than 50-50 chance he’ll never find you again. So look at your competitors, see what they’re doing right and imitate it. As well, see what they’re doing wrong, and do it better.

 

Building (or rebuilding) your Web site is too expensive to do frequently, so put in the time to do it right.

 

Not rebuilding your Web site, of course, will prove even more expensive.

Your future customers

March 31, 2008

A leading marketing consulting company, Forrester (http://www.forrester.com/rb/research) has just released an interesting report, US Interactive Marketing Forecast, 2007-20012. I’ve had a chance to look it over. It won’t tell you how to write better, but it has some interesting statistics and predictions on this kind of marketing in the US.

What I found most interesting is that while your current customers may not be using the Internet, podcasts, Webinars, Blackberries, etc., enough for you to invest in that market today, your future customers are already there. People in the 18-27 age demographic, for example, spend twice as much time on the Internet for work and play as those in the “Boomer” generation, and comparatively less time watching TV. You may not be targeting 22-year-olds today, but ten years from now, you’ll need a strong Internet and interactive presence if you want to compete for this customer. The time to build for the future is now, not when your sales and growth start to tail off.

 

Having said that, it’s probalby time I updated my Web site to make it less like a portolio and more like a marketing tool. If you have an opinion I’d like to hear it.

Outsourcing on a small scale

March 18, 2008

One of the costs of doing business is office machines. When I started out, i there weren’t even a copy machines. People used “onion skin” and carbon paper to make copies, typing on manual typewriters.

 

Today, those and many other functions are done with in-house computer programs. But that may not be the case much longer.

 

Many office functions are moving on-line. One of the most recent full-featured applications to do that is Google Apps. Popular office programs such as word processing presentations are available on-line, and they should be updated automatically as improvements are made.

 

I have been using Microsoft’s XP Professional and Office 2003 for several years, with pretty good results. Now the next upgrade, Vista, is on the market. I am thinking it over carefully. I am sure there are product improvements, but maybe I can get the same thing in another format, for less money, and that I won’t ever have to replace. So I am trying out Google Apps for myself. You may want to consider it for your business, too.

 

Will this be as good as Microsoft? I’ll let you know in a future post.

Guaranteed. Period.

February 26, 2008

 

When I lived in Italy, I worked with a guy who said to me, “What is Italy famous for? Three things: its history, its art, and its food. Well, we can’t sell history and art, but we can make a lot of money from its food!” His company made low-budget TV commercials, and he wanted to make a series of how-to videotapes (not CDs; this was in the olden days, back before the new millennium) of a chef preparing the culinary masterpieces of Italy. By the time I met him he’d let the idea simmer for too long.

 

I said, “We need some kind of guarantee to reassure buyers. If the customer doesn’t like it, he can send it back.”

 

I told him about L. L. Bean, the mail order company in the US that will accept merchandise back for ever. Their motto is “Guaranteed. Period.” You can send a piece of clothing back if you don’t like it, of course, or if it doesn’t fit. You can also wear it for ten years, send it back, and still get a refund. I told him it was a great sales tool, and that he’d sell more tapes that way.

 

“Absolutely not!” he cried. “’Caveat emptor’ which is Latin for “buyer beware.” Italians love to use Latin slogans. “If they bought it, they own it!”

 

We had a lot of other marketing disagreements, and I stopped working with him after a short while. He was able to turn his idea into a half-baked sales proposition.

 

The point of the story is the brief article that appears in the American Marketing Association’s February Marketing News (2/15/08). It listed L. L. Bean as the highest in customer satisfaction.

 

It’s true that some people will always abuse the returns system, but it really doesn’t matter what system is used – 30-day return, or return with receipt only, or exchange only, etc. – someone will always try to beat it. What matters is the public perception of the quality of the product, and the willingness of the company to stand behind it.

 

The markups in clothing make this a good place to use such a strategy. In fact, of the ten companies listed for highest customer satisfaction, five either sold clothes exclusively or sold them in conjunction with other merchandise.

 

Would such an offer work for high-end clothiers, for a Brooks Brothers or a Giorgio Armani? Might be worth a try.

 

When a language dies

February 24, 2008

Languages die all the time. Linguists estimate that in the past there were about 15,000 languages on the planet; today there are around 6700, half of which are expected to disappear in this century.

Death expressed in big numbers is hard to feel. It’s like reports of massive killings. The Nazis exterminated six million people; 30 million disappeared into Stalin’s gulags… but they’re just numbers. When your neighbor dies, you feel it in your gut.

 

That’s the way I felt when I read The Economist this week. It published the obituary of Marie Smith, the last speaker of an Eskimo language, Eyak. There’s a saying that every time a language dies, a unique way of seeing the world dies with it. I agree.

 

It’s hard to understand if you only speak one language. Then you tend to think that all languages say the same thing. You may think that “a car is a car is a car.” But when an American thinks “car” (at least, one who’s my age), he thinks “Chevrolet.” It’s the picture he has in his head, with all the attendant emotions. When a Frenchman thinks “car,” he sees a Peugeot; an Italian sees a FIAT, and so on. They’re all cars, but the language places a different feel on them. The same is true for most common words like “home” and “school” and “work.”

 

The article talked about the unique words Marie used as a girl to describe the land she grew up in. After her older sister died, she realized she was the last speaker. She tried to save the language, but she didn’t really succeed. We can write down words like “car” and “home,” but unless we can see them through the intricate web that makes up a language, we only get half the meaning.

 

Robert Frost said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” When a language dies, a little of humanity’s poetry dies with it.

How much is writing worth?

February 21, 2008

A recent article in the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing discussed pirated music downloads. A study cited for the article said that for commonly-available products, those which have virtually no cost to reproduce (like recorded music in MP3 format) the sales price tends to go to zero. Music is expensive to produce, but is commonly available and very cheap to reproduce and distribute (we all know about Napster). And although the study said this effect was not applicable to unique or customizable products (like writing), I’m not so sure I agree.

Writing requires a skilled, experienced journalist to deliver interesting, persuasive text. It takes time, money, and effort to produce the journalist (or musician) and the product. But today, a couple of keystrokes can make the product available to the world at no cost. In my opinion, we are seeing the same trend in both music and text.

Small-town and regional newspapers have been free on-line for years. They don’t have the market size, demand for information, or quality of writing to support selling their text.

 

It used to be different for the big publishers. But in September, 2007, the New York Times, which up until then had charged Web viewers for access to its “premium” content, switched to free, advertising-supported service. In October London’s Financial Times said it would offer 30 free articles on its Web site each month. My favorite magazine, The Atlantic, began offering its content on-line for free last month. I felt offended because I’ve been a subscriber to the magazine for years, and now everyone else will get for free what I’ve been paying for.

 

These and similar publications will always attract readers willing to pay. The question is whether subscription-based Web sites are the most lucrative way to market the text.

It looks as though the answer is no. Instead, the big publishers now put their content in a different package. They can still make money by selling it to readers, it’s true, but they make more money by giving away the writing and selling ad space next to it.

My concern as a copywriter is the perception that “great writing shouldn’t cost much, and that’s the way it should be!” will become pervasive.

What is this thing called… marketing?

February 15, 2008

 

A big part of this blog is about marketing, so maybe we should start by defining exactly what it is. Since selling and marketing is based on emotions, needs, and perceived values, things that have been with us since we lived in caves, I would expect the definition of marketing to be static. Without giving it a lot of thought, I would define it, “Helping sell a product or service to a potential customer.”

 

The “official” definition is reworked every two years by the American Marketing Association, based on their perception of changes in how, where, and by whom things are sold.

 

The latest definition was published in their monthly magazine, Marketing News (1/15/08). According to the AMA,

 Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. 

What a mouthful. Compare this to the original definition, made up back in 1935 by the National Association of Marketing Teachers. That was the group the preceded today’s AMA:

 

“(Marketing is) the performance of business activities that direct the flow of goods and services from producers to consumers.” 

 

The big difference that I see between then and now is that marketing is currently used by everyone for everything. People “market” themselves to employers, spouses, and their children as well as their clients and customers. Marketing is no longer about business products and services, but about anything that has to do with creating a favorable impression, justified or not.

 

As individuals, we used to want to be witty and charming and interesting. Now it’s all about “marketing” yourself. I see this definition applied more than ever here in New York City where I reside and work.

 

Is that so bad? Maybe. When you stop thinking “I’m going to do a good job” and start thinking “I’m going to convince someone I’m doing a good job,” you can get distracted from doing a good job in the first place.

Marketing still has its place by any definition, but only after you’ve created the best product or service that you can. Especially if you’re the product.


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