Tag Archives: Branding

Seeking Free Advice, Consultants Need Not Reply

By Jeff Bowman

Has the evolution of social media tools brought us to the brink of seeing the business consultant on the verge of extinction? As strange as that may sound, it could happen. As a business consultant my job is to examine company structures, programs, products, marketing efforts, sales initiatives and the over arching corporate culture that brings them all together.

In doing this I can create a gap analysis and identify key areas that may be in need of an overhaul, or that are missing altogether. Most often I find that the leaders of the organization either have ear plugs in or blinders on, or both.

Consumer feedback is critical to the business improvement process, but up until recently few companies bothered to ask their current and former clients for their opinion. Enter the Internet, and a myriad of social media tools.  Feedback is now instantaneous and widespread.

Smart companies have taken the feedback process to the next level, and are now asking for customer opinions online through blogs or polls on the webpages, and spreading information through fan pages and tweets.  What was once an inexpensive avenue for marketing messages, delivering coupons en masse and generating buzz is slowly turning into a forum for free advice directly from the consumer.  That’s right, unpaid consultants providing the type of feedback that I might provide for a fee.

The web allows open participation from anyone. Many popular brands have taken to the web to ask for innovative ideas, new programs and suggestions for new product ideas, flavours or branding ideas. User registration allows for the collection of consumer data on a grand scale, that later drives a targeted e-mail campaign and  Voting lines where consumers can select to establish or kill a product line. Some companies release viral ads direct to consumers for their comments before they hit other forms of media broadcast.  There are even companies who openly solicit free advice on their packaging, their promotions, seek “green” advice and openly source new technologies and ideas, that might never have occurred to them inside the corporate fortress.

Alas, the best advice is not always the free advice. In a recent article in Advertising Age, the opening line reads

“Dear consumer, Your 15 minutes are over. You suck.”

Many brands are finding that consultants are still the go-to people for business solutions and professional advice. Despite the glut of cost-free ideas, you often get what you pay for. Smart companies follow the business rule, sell your strengths and buy your weaknesses. The age of consultants is far from over, in fact with the business spectrum changing daily, I think it may just be moving to a higher level, with specialization of consultants into smaller areas of expertise.

Tell us about your consumer feedback.

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Filed under advertising, Branding, Jeff Bowman, Managing, Marketing, Online marketing, Sales, social media

The Warranty, a sign of a good business

By Jeff Bowman

With every product comes some form of a warranty, whether it is expressed or implied, limited or unlimited. However the mere existence of a warranty means nothing if the company who made, sold or traded the product does not back it up.

I used to attend auctions many years ago and the auctioneer always began the auction with “all products sold here tonight are, as is, where is, no warranties, guarantees, written or implied” I knew that what I bought was totally my responsibility, and “to the buyer beware” (Caveat emptor)

The legal ramifications and laws of accountability are usually pretty straight forward, and that is why every product you buy comes with a written warranty, and you can probably recite most of the conditions off by heart, product covered for parts and labour and manufacturing defects for a period of 90 days etc.  These conditions are usually followed up with the manufacturers CYA conditions, which often tend to make the warranty difficult to apply when you need to :

” the following are not covered under warranty: – accidental damage, neglect, misuse, maintenance, damage caused by exposure to an improper environment, including, without limitation, excessive temperature or humidity, unusual physical or electrical stress, failure or fluctuation of electrical power, lightning, static electricity or fire, damage caused by service or modification or alteration of hardware by anyone other than us”

Blah blah blah.

It is like the old George Carlin narrative about the used car warranty, “once you drive it off the lot, if it breaks in half you get to keep both halves!”

Good companies stand behind their warranty, with few questions asked – a satisfied customer is their primary objective. That is how brand loyalty is built.

This past weekend my barbeque began to spew flames out the sides of the burner element.  I had replaced the original element 4 years ago with a universal element from Canadian Tire, it had a 5 year manufacturer’s warranty.  I had saved the warranty sheet with the receipt stapled to it all these years in my file box. To get a new burner I had to have the original receipt, check, the original warranty, check and  return it to a local distributor, a phone number was listed to call.  I called, and the line was disconnected.  So I took a quick trip to the distributor, about 2 miles away.  Not there anymore.

Well, I thought I would try my luck at Canadian Tire.  I explained my dilemma, and the manager called the listed number, hung up and approached me and said. “Well it looks like we’ve got a problem.  It’s our problem since we sold you the burner, go get another and we’ll just replace it. We have to stand behind our products.”

There was a thud as my jaw hit the counter. That was it. As simple as that.  That is a company that respects their supplier customer relationships. No hassle, no questions, big smiles all around. I know for sure that I can trust the implied warranty from this store.

How do you fare when it comes to warranties on your products or service, and do you display testimonials from your satisfied customers as part of your marketing mix? There is a lifetime warranty on a valued customer.

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Filed under Branding, Customer Service, Jeff Bowman, Manufacturing, Marketing, Sales

What’s excellent customer service?

By Stephen Rhodes

I sometimes ask clients what they are about – what makes them different from their competitor, or what’s their point of differentiation, competitive advantage or value proposition.

Many service-based companies say it’s good customer service, or even excellent customer service. It’s their secret sauce. And for some it’s true, because they express excellent customer service from the clients point of view.

So what is good customer service? Unless you talk on a regular basis to your customers, you probably don’t know. It’s like branding. A brand is not what you think it is, it’s what your customer says it is.

So, if you want to be excellent at customer service, ask your customers what that means to them. And then market your “excellent customer service” as an expression of what it means to your customers.

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Filed under Branding, Customer Service, Stephen Rhodes

In Social Media we trust

By Jeff Bowman

As a marketer, I  try to keep up with new trends and exciting innovations in the area of driving consumer desire and brand recognition.

Social media, (Twitter, blogging, Facebook etc), was touted as the next big thing several years ago, but the evolution is  difficult to keep pace with.

Chris Brogan raises a paradox that is very interesting to me.  “We trust strangers online more than ever before, and we’re suspicious of most buzz.” What makes us more apt to distrust some buzz while placing our trust in other spins?

For me, there are immediate clues about the value and integrity of a message.  As in any form of networking, some relationship needs to exist before a certain level of trust can be extended. Is the site where I read an article a reputable site with a long history and a good following? If so, I tend to trust it, although there are always stories like Balloon Boy that totally scam major news outlets.  I have a twitter account, and follow some prominent, and some not so prominent groups and individuals.  If they seem genuine, have a large number of tweets and other followers, they have earned some trust from me.  If on the other hand they have few tweets and follow hundreds of people I question their motive. How many times do people actually re-check their followers to see how many are still active after a couple of months?

Probably the most important factors for me is to network with people or groups who are involved in more than one level of social media.  Are they on Facebook because someone told them they should be or do they back it up with Plaxo, LinkedIn, Twitter etc all linked together to form a real network.

I always keep in mind that opinions expressed by the few today can grow to mammoth proportions using the power of social media.  Auto recalls have existed since I first started driving in the 70’s.  Today a simple recall can cost a company millions of dollars once a single person scrawls their complaint somewhere on the web. How long will it be before Facebook complaint is accepted as fact in a court? (maybe it has, and I’m still behind the curve)

In the book Friends With Benefits – A Social Media Marketing Handbook, I found some advice that I keep in the back of my mind whenever I read anything on the web. “Bloggers aren’t journalists” and their requirements for content are less rigid, and often emotionally based.  Despite this, they can generate a juggernaut of public opinion if it sounds sincere. Weigh this against a public relations expert from a large multi-national corporation taking a defensive stance.

Who will you trust more?

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Filed under Jeff Bowman, Marketing, Media, Networking, social media, twitter

The mighty fall fast and hard

By Stephen Rhodes

How the mighty can fall. Hard and fast.

The halting sales and production of eight of Toyota’s most popular vehicles over its  sticky-pedal has had a devastating impact on the once unassailable brand.

Stephen Beatty, Toyota Canada Inc, told the National Post that Toyota’s response to the crisis is just the thing that will endear the brand to consumers. He said companies tend to be judged “not so much by the challenges but rather how you respond to them.”

True. To its credit, and  after a shaky start,  Toyota appears to be confronting the issue head on. And while Toyota is aggressively marketing through its “challenges”  it’s hard to get by the notion that the company that built its reputation on quality can tumble so hard, so fast and in so many ways. Who took their foot off the accelerator?

Toyota expects to lose US$2-billion and 100,000 in worldwide vehicle sales as a result of the sales freeze and the recalls.  Production has been temporarily halted at two US Plants. Managers are cloistered and preparing a new marketing campaign to halt the slide and put bums back in seats.

Meanwhile, the vultures are circling with the likes of General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler and Hyundai Motor Co. offering incentives to lure Toyota customers into their products. They eat their young in autoland.

Toyota lost about a 2% market share in Canada in January because of the sales freeze. In the United States, Toyota is expected to lose a full percentage point of market share this year, which should allow Ford Motor Co. to reclaim its spot as the No. 2 auto manufacturer in the country.

Consumers have multiple avenues of complaint these days with online tools like Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn groups and YouTube, which makes crisis control even more difficult. And Toyota has not done a good job of managing the online chatter.

Most analysts think Toyota will recover. But it’s lost much of its lustre.

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Filed under Branding, Communications, social media, Stephen Rhodes