Friday, August 28, 2009

Catching fly balls at Busch Stadium

Wednesday night, my boyfriend came up with the great idea of inviting our families to a St. Louis Cardinals game. My grandfather was invited, and he had not yet been to the new Busch stadium despite the fact that he's an avid Cards fan. He watches almost every single game.

My grandfather is 93 years old.

Around the 4th inning, my little brother began to joke with him about catching a foul ball and how odd the chances would be that the ball would happen to head to our section, directly behind home plate. Sure enough, within a minute of the comment, I heard a loud THUNK and looked back to see my family scurrying to see what had happened around them, and then my grandfather held it up high - the ball had landed right in our section, and Grandpa didn't let go of the ball the rest of the night. The ball had broken the television in our box seats and landed right at his feet. On top of all of that, the Cards then beat the Astros 3-2. His first night at the new Busch Stadium turned into his most memorable ball game ever - and the first ball he gets to take home to remember it by. It meant a lot to him.

I thought I'd take a moment's break from my usual musings about social media and online marketing and instead share this short story and some charming photos from a night that I will never forget, simply because he won't. And it's all thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of friends and family.

All of this combined with my grandfather's regular expressions of excitement or pensiveness as he attentively followed every play of the game, says a lot to me about America's favorite pastime. Baseball seems to have a life of its own in its ability to solidify positive memories, a winning and hopeful spirit, and bring teams, families and friends together.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Digital Shift in Online Marketing Engagement

Recently I've gotten very attached to two different blogs that I highly recommend to anyone who is in the online marketing/media space or simply loves the Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell style of thinking:
  1. TippingPoint Labs (a firm with, ironically, the same name as a book by Gladwell)
  2. (he posts pretty much every day with great insights)
**I subscribe to many more blogs than these, but these two have gotten me thinking about a lot lately. If you have any other recommendations that are similar to these, please shoot them my way. I'm particularly impressed with those for which an individual has made a name for him/her-self as a blogger capable of thinking strategically while also having very tactical & technical understanding of the online marketing or social media space.

So, my point in mentioning these two is that I was particularly compelled by a post I read this morning by Scott Loring of TippingPoint Labs regarding the importance of rethinking the traditional marketing space and forcing yourself, as a marketing professional (and especially as a marketing leader), to consider carefully the digital shift going on right now - a shift toward online conversation and engagement about brands and experiences that presents an opportunity for marketers to capture markets and grow a more loyal customer base - if done correctly.

The post is chock full of sound bytes that I want to share with you so that you understand where my mind is as I progress in my career. It is simply fascinating for me to observe the transition and evolution of marketing into an interactive and social opportunity that is out there, waiting to be understood and capitalized on properly! I definitely recommend you read Scott's article in full, but I'll catalogue the highlights here, as they fit so well with my first post from last week.
  • "News travels faster than ever, and the general, known information about a product or service is more immediate — and often more accurate — than ever."
  • "The penalty for non- or limited participation, even insincere participation, represents a potential opportunity cost greater than the cost of comprehensive engagement."
  • "The only way to extract value from the endless conversation that is the internet is to openly and honestly interact with it. "
The post goes on to say that the two worst things you can be doing right now, as a marketer, are:
  1. assume your target market isn't interacting online
  2. get involved in social media just to post links to press releases

"Non-participation represents a missed opportunity to build extremely valuable relationships with consumers."

This is a massive opportunity cost that's just waiting to go to your competitors if you sleep through it.

Don't just broadcast your company's news. Stop talking about "us" and "what we do" or "what we sell," and instead, advertise what you or your firm are capable of by naturally engaging in the conversation that's already going on in the social media space.

And so, I give you Erin's (so far) rules for social media engagement:
  • Start a conversation.
  • Participate in a conversation.
  • Share opinions and ideas.
  • Engage with customers and potential customers.
  • Network - recommend talent for positions, and connect with valuable colleagues.
  • Build a reputation around yourself or your brand by suggesting new ideas or expounding on what you read and hear - and more importantly, what you experience.
  • Show interest in others.
  • Help others become more successful. Give tips and suggestions.
  • Listen - respond to complaints or concerns from customers and fix the issues.
  • Be human - share personal stories and thoughts. Laugh. Make people laugh.

These are tactics to keep in mind as you embark upon your social media strategy, but I still recommend putting together a solid social media marketing plan first. This would consist of treating this medium like any other in answering questions like:
  1. In what social media spaces is my target market interacting?
  2. How is my target market using social media? What are they talking about? What is most interesting to them? (Find others who are capturing a lot of subscribers and followers, and become a "thought leader".)
  3. How much of my time (team time, vendor resources, consultants) should I invest to get into this space and to engage with the market properly (see above). Be ready to admit to yourself that if you cannot do it correctly, you may need to hire someone who can.
  4. What is my goal? Try to make it quantifiable. From my perspective, you can gauge success by placing a value on a single follower. If a follower (on Twitter) or friend (Facebook) or subscriber (to your blog) is worth the same as a quality lead, what would you be willing to pay for that lead elsewhere? Secondly, and measured separately from a follower or lead, if you can track, via Web analytics tools, conversion from social media sources to your own site and through to your desired conversion event, you can more easily place a value on the initial follower.
I am interested in hearing more about how companies, firms, agencies, and individuals (contractors, bloggers, etc.) have seen a lift in their sales and business that they can attribute to social media strategy. I recently met someone who told me he is experiencing a quantifiable and trackable lift of an additional $40,000 per year for his consultancy business.

I try to follow companies and individuals out there who have embraced this sort of opportunity and are doing really cool things with it. I will soon be writing up a post about some success stories that are pretty fascinating. If you know of any that stand out to you, please comment here or email me!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Three critical traits of a successful interactive strategist

This is my first post. I'm excited to begin blogging about all things online marketing.

This post is inspired by all the people I've been meeting lately who are really smart and creative, doing very big things at agencies and on the client-side at some pretty impressive companies here in St. Louis.

I had a conversation at a REBUS event last night regarding what makes up a strong interactive strategy leader (online marketing, digital, interactive...interchangeable terms in my opinion, depending on who you're talking to). So to be a strong leader on either the client or agency side, in a role in which you are asked to be able to add value and contribute to a company's growth in a creative, measurable and tangible way, you must have these certain, expected abilities -- if you have them, you're likely to go much farther than others within an organization and in your online marketing career. So what are these characteristics?

Here are three simple traits I am able to list as critical, from my own perspective. Obviously there are more, so if you have additional ideas/suggestions, please post a reply below.
  1. Strategic thinking
    Every single day, if you are lucky enough to be presented with new clients, new projects, new campaigns, new needs or opportunities, you should be able think on your feet. Ask the right questions. Get curious. Make mental or physical notes as you go. Scribble and sketch. Brainstorm. Research. All of this will lead you to, either personally or as a strong contributor with a team, formulate a strategy that looks honestly and deeply at the problems or opportunities at hand and then generate solutions or a series of tactics that will capitalize on those opportunities and lead to growth. These ideas must be sound because the client or your boss can see a return on the investment of implementing these tactics. You can illustrate (either through a business plan that is documented or a presentation or just your ability to talk through it) the results expected. You have thought through each potential pit-fall, you have solved each problem, and you have developed a strategy that is more creative or effective than other agencies or individuals would be able to do in the given situation.

    "A strategic thinker has a mental model of the complete end-to-end system of value creation, his or her role within it, and an understanding of the competencies it contains."
    - Liedtka, J.M. (1998), “Linking Strategic Thinking with Strategic Planning”

  2. A respect and understanding of IT as well as marketing and how they come together.
    You do not have to have been a developer (although development experience may help), but having the ability to work well with IT specialists who code either Web sites or applications or manage databases - you name it - will make you much more valuable. More and more these days, interactive projects require a technical implementation, and then you're faced with more challenges within organizations, such as release cycles, quality departments, compliance and legal processes -- all the things that combine to create red tape. If you are the type of person who can cut that red tape with a big pair of scissors that we'll call "calm and assertive" (a la Cesar Millan's 'Dog Whisperer'), and deliver a respectful curiosity and patient understanding to each individual you need to work with to get things done, you're going to go far. You need to understand the basics of platforms, coding languages, databases and servers. If marketing wants a project done next week, but IT says it can't be done for 3 months, you can play the role of the negotiator if you can talk the talk. Find opportunities to make things more efficient or to shorten the speed to release by working well with IT professionals. Even if the tech-jargon is too much for you, make friends with developers - play nice. Make sure they know you respect and admire the work they do, and they will respect you too. At the same time, you should be managing the expectations of the business owner (marketing, for example) up front. By doing this, you will find you can under-promise and over-deliver more often.

  3. Natural, personal interest and curiosity in emerging technologies and industry trends.
    If you don't find yourself online when you don't have to be, subscribing to TechCrunch, tweeting at least 3 - 10 times per week or more, subscribing to RSS feeds, or you're the type of person who says "I don't get Facebook", you're not going to be very good at this part. In fact, if you're definitely sure you are the "I just don't get this Facebook thing" kind of person, you should get out of online marketing today - right now. The fact of the matter is that if you are a marketing professional, the new marketing is online. It's similar to the evolution of music (being distributed online), e-commerce (all products available online, not just brick-and-mortar anymore for a long time now), news (distributed online as subscriptions to paper-and-ink plummet) and just about everything else. It doesn't mean that offline is dead, of course. It just means that you have to evolve along with emerging technologies and try to stay ahead of the curve as much as you possibly can in an era in which everything is happening faster than ever before.

    If you respect that a lot of extremely creative, dynamic, compelling and effective marketing happens online - and a hell of a lot of it - and you force yourself to sign up for a Twitter account and start posting on Facebook walls so that you will "get it", then good job. At least you're trying. And here's why this post is about "traits" and I didn't call them "skills" because traits are often those things which happen natually or are innate in you, while skills can be honed and developed: If you're like me and you got excited at the news that Facebook acquired FriendFeed this week and you already knew what FriendFeed is because you've been using it for a while now, then you're going to be the type of person a client is going to be thrilled to be able to turn to when they realize they need to be "tweeting". Obviously it goes far beyond just knowing that you "need to be on Twitter" or "should have some sort of company presence on Facebook" - you have to know how to use social media to drive business growth, get leads, get sales, enhance customer loyalty - you name it. And yes, it really is possible - but that's another blog post for another day.

    Regardless, whether it's social media (such a big, all encompassing term as it is) or the latest and greatest in web site user experience, design (Flash, CSS, etc.) techniques, webinars, podcasts, e-books, online video, or even SMS (texting), you should care. You should be subscribing to magazines and feeds online so that you can be alerted to news in the industry as it happens and read long, well-thought-out analyses of changes in the market. Get yourself invested in the future of the industry that you're making a career in, and if you love doing it naturally, follow me on Twitter and let's get to know one another!
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