Marketing Automation vs Personalisation

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The question of automation vs personalisation for a company is all about saving time and money whilst increasing efficiency. Whereas the perspective of the customer is about receiving good customer service and feeling valued.  So the question is “What does your business value more? – Costs or Customers?”

Advantages and Disadvantages

I’d pick personalisation over automation every time, but as a business grows they must consider all options on how to communicate effectively with their customers. Here’s some of the advantages and disadvantages of automation and personalisation:

Automation benefits:

  • Cost reduction
  • Saves time
  • Reaches a high volume of customers

Automation negatives:

  • Error prone
  • No human contact
  • No personalisation
  • Just another number

Personalisation benefits:

  • Customer service
  • Individual attention
  • Deliver bespoke products/services
  • Increases chances of repeat business

Personalisation negatives:

  • Time consuming
  • Costly to scale

Automation vs Personalisation is simply the choice between quantity over quality. I always like to place myself in the shoes of the customer – what type of service do they expect? Customers are individuals and expect to be treated accordingly, how special do you feel knowing you’re just another number receiving generic marketing communications?

Small Business vs Big Business

How can big businesses connect with a vast volume of customers without using automation? – More often than not, they simply can’t. Can you imagine the amount of money, time & employees that would be needed for a company with thousands/millions of customers to connect on a 1:2:1 basis? But that’s acceptable, as long as time and money are being saved – the customer is last on the list of priorities.

Small businesses on the other hand don’t have the resources to connect with a high volume of customers, personalisation is necessary.  Let’s take email software as an example, rather than sending 1,000 generic emails with a 1-2% response rate, try studying 10 customers and sending personalised emails with bespoke offerings relating to those individual/business needs. Guaranteed your ROI improves, your responses will increase and you’ll develop a reputation for being a customer-centric business. If more small businesses take the time to connect with each individual customer, rather than applying a mass-market approach, then this can be used as a distinct competitive advantage.

Achieving economies of scale isn’t the holy grail of business, growth must be accomplished over a longer period of time, growing too big too fast can and will destroy many businesses. Focus on what you have now, your strengths, your weaknesses and most importantly your customers. By being a customer-centric business you can personalise almost all Marketing communications which results in customer retention, recommendations and an increase in overall customer value. Perhaps customers of larger companies wouldn’t be so keen to move to competitors if they feel valued – personalisation over automation every time.  🙂

Social Media: The Intern’s Job

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As a small business, you’ve likely had the discussion about creating a presence on Social Media. You know it’s an important function, all your customers and competitors are on Social Media and you need to catch up.

Many small businesses don’t have the manpower or resources to adequately create and implement a Social Media strategy so your solution is often to allocate the responsibilities to the Intern. After all they’re young, they understand how Social Media works and using technology is second nature to them. If the Intern is your solution to Social Media, then you’re making a catastrophic error.

The Intern

Depending on your company and industry, an Intern can be employed to fulfil a number of roles – sales, marketing, customer service etc… The likelihood is that you employed them because they are young, tech-savvy people who can bring creativity with their youthful enthusiasm and ideas.

They’re also inexperienced, unfamiliar with your company culture, your products & services, your customers and suppliers. Many Interns are also paid little or no salary – yet this is the best person within your company to deal with the vital function of Social Media?

The Solution

Before your small business dives into the world of Social Media you must firstly devise a strategy which creates the foundation of a Social Media plan. Your Social Media plan needs to include:

Content Marketing

Devising a Content Marketing strategy starts with deciding on what content to post on Social Media. Create a balance between posting sales-related content and a mixture of content relevant to your industry, company ethos, local communities and information which your audience will find interesting and engaging.  This can be posts from news sources, bloggers, industry experts or market reports.

What time of the day do you post? – Testing, analysing and measuring will answer this question. Try altering the heading of your posts; alter the images used and the content of posts to determine the time of the day your audience engages with your content.

Responses

If your small business doesn’t have defined company values, a company vision and defined culture then create one and quick! Your employees need to share your company vision to act and think in a universal manner. Creating a company culture will result in a specific tone and language being used which will be the voice of your company.

Processes & Integration

Social Media is one of the most powerful Marketing tools available to small businesses, but is more successful when integrating a range of business functions including customer service, HR and strategic management.

Whoever you decide to lead Social Media within your company, part of their role should be to define the processes involved and to liaise with a range of departments. Hold weekly/monthly meetings with staff from different business functions and establish the processes required. Who deals with specific enquiries? How should your company respond to sales enquiries?

Identifying the people and processes required to manage Social Media is essential, and always ensure those processes result in the ability to respond quickly (within 24 hours) to any enquiries or queries. Although one single person is able to co-ordinate Social Media activities, it requires the involvement and commitment from the heads of the respective departments.

Employing an Intern to handle your companies Social Media activities can only be successful if adequate time, finance and manpower is committed.  Interns aren’t the solution, commitment and strategic thinking are 🙂

Can a Business have a Personality?

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People have personalities, not businesses – right? When people go to work they paint on their work faces, put on their work hats and become the consummate professional.  There’s a manner in which bosses and colleagues expect their employees to sound, look and act when in the workplace.

Yes there’s a need to be professional, yes customers demand a deservedly high level of attention, care and service – but is there a need to be so dull, stuffy and corporate about it?

The Business of People

Businesses consist of physical assets, products and services but it’s ultimately people who are the nucleus of a business. Owners, Directors and Managers set strategies and employees execute those strategies to the paying public. Employees and customers have individual personalities, morals and values – and so can a business.

All too often businesses assume a pre-programmed drone tone when dealing with customers. We’ve all experienced this whilst dealing with call centres or on Social Media – that scripted and overly cheery or politician-like response, delivered in true Stepford wife style.

Whatever sector your business operates in, the products & services you produce will be almost identical to your competitors. Therefore one of the few ways to create a genuine differentiation strategy is to focus on customer service by promoting your company values & culture.

Business Culture

The culture of a business should seep out of every pore and be consistent across all areas of a business – it’s called Branding. If customers identify your products/services with your company, it isn’t the pinnacle of Branding – you need to adopt a vision and set of values which resonate with the lifestyle of your customer base.

Create a mission statement so your employees buy-in to your company vision, providing a common purpose for all. Company values help to create a way of thinking consistent across all departments where guidelines are created to achieve an expected manner in which all employees should behave. With the creation of company values there’s a necessity to embed those values onto the daily processes and practices of your company – including posting on Social Media.

Social Media

One of my fundamental golden rules of Social Media is to BE SOCIAL. Minimise the use of one-way communications pushing your company products and services. Be creative in your approach to Social Media by devising a Content Marketing strategy offering a range of topics and material for your audience to enjoy and engage with.

The content you post and the manner in which you engage with your audience can help to define the values and culture of your company.  Send posts about the weather, your local community and even post something funny. Now humour is subjective, but as long as it’s light-hearted and family friendly humour then you won’t offend your audience. The reality is that customers won’t just follow posts from your company about product updates and special offers, provide them with more reasons to read, engage and share your content.

If you’re relevant, friendly and approachable on Social Media by exuding your company culture, then your personality will shine through and become synonymous with your Brand. So can a business have a personality? – Only if you want it to 🙂

Why Should I Learn Social Media When I Can Do It?

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Social Media is easy right? You just set up an account on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and all the other Social Media platforms start posting and you’re away – wrong!

You can’t simply read a few articles about being a Lawyer, Accountant or Business Professional and simply become an expert, so why is Social Media any different? So many people think that gaining certificates or learning Social Media courses isn’t necessary – well that’s a slap in the face for the Social Media industry and the professionals within. In fact it’s an insult to the entire concept of education.

Let’s explore why learning Social Media helps to compliment on the job experience.

Decision Making

Whether you’re a Marketing Professional or Business Owner you must avoid making mistakes at all costs. Whilst it’s true that people learn by making mistakes it should be noted that making mistakes on Social Media negatively impacts your customers and business. Why would you risk gambling with your clients business by refusing to learn about Social Media? – that’s just arrogant and dangerous.

Mistakes can be prevented and decision making improved if people take the time to learn about Social Media from accrediting bodies and companies.  Trial and error isn’t an effective or advisable method of decision making.

Timeless Fundamentals of Social Media

Social Media isn’t a stand-alone discipline, it incorporates SEO, Content Marketing, Lead Generation, Sales, HR, Customer Service, Advertising, Marketing Integration and so much more.  To understand the multi-functional use of Social Media one must firstly learn the basic fundamentals.

The most common complaint about learning Social Media is that the design of courses can’t keep up with the rapidly changing pace of Social Media. Yes platforms change, new ones appear and older ones evolve but there remains a set of fundamentals which can stand the test of time.

Social Media is a place to connect and engage with human beings, building relationships and being social is the key to success on Social Media.  Once you’ve formed relationships with your target audience the concept of sharing relevant, useful and informative information will always be an area of importance regardless of how fast Social Media changes.

Analysing your Social Media activity and customer responses require the use of on-site or 3rd party tools making the concept of testing and measuring timeless. New tools and apps are constantly being created, you don’t need to know them all – simply how they should be used and the benefits they reap.

The fact that Social Media changes so frequently, this should encourage educators to provide fresh material and certainly cannot be accused on being static or out of date.

Experience

I spent the 1st 30 years of my life with a somewhat anti-academic approach to work and my career until I realised that I couldn’t gain the experience I needed so much as I lacked the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed. It’s a classic example of the chicken and egg, how can you gain experience unless my skills are in demand?

Of course you need experience to prove you can apply what you’ve learned, but you need to learn 1st.

Do you think Social Media certificates and courses are a waste of time?

What do I post on Social Media?

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A common problem with small businesses and Social Media newbies is deciding what type of content you should be posting.

How do you find enough fresh material to post on your Social Media sites every single day?
The 1st question you should be asking is: What does my audience want to read?

Ask and Answer Questions

Social Media isn’t about you or your company, it’s a platform to connect and engage with your audience. If you want to know what your followers want to read, ask them.

Conduct some basic market research on Social Media by running a poll which lists a variety of topics, it can be something simple like:

What Social Media platform do you want to know more about?

A. Facebook
B. Twitter
C. LinkedIn
D. Google+

A poll is a quick and easy method for people to respond to, and once you establish the results you can then post content relevant to your audience.

Provide tips and advice relevant to your industry. You’re the expert in your field, not your customers so become a useful source of information and offer your skills and knowledge for free. Once you become a credible and trusted source of information, you can engage with individuals and tailor your products/services to suit their needs.

Share

Share content from sources outside your company that are relevant to your industry and specialist areas. By sharing external content you’re providing a richness and depth to the content you share with your audience.

Some examples of the types of external content you can share on Social Media are:

• Newspaper articles
• Articles & links to industry associations & trade bodies
• Competitors blogs (not your immediate competitors)
• Videos
• Industry Experts
• Academic & Industry Research

When you share content from external sources, you’ll experience an increase in followers and your own content will also be shared. Share and be shared.

Post about your Company

When posting information about your company, their products and services it is essential to create a balance. Too much information on your company and people will very quickly disengage, too little and people will simply be using you as a source of free information.

As a rule of thumb apply the 80:20 rule, posting 80% of content NOT related to your company and 20% about your company. Use this as a guide and alter according to the level of response and feedback you receive.

When posting about your company, consider posting:

• Offers & Discounts
• New product/service launch
• Awards & Achievements
• Client testimonials
• Specialist/niche areas

Be Social

This is THE golden rule of Social Media – BE SOCIAL.

Honestly Social Media isn’t complicated; it’s simply about 2 parties communicating. Respond when people have shared your content and respond promptly to every single comment, like and new follower.

Small businesses have a distinct advantage over larger competitors if you take the time to connect and engage with your audience. Provide a truly customised level of service that larger competitors will struggle to replicate due to the scale of their customer base.

You might not have a big Marketing budget or thousands of employees, but you can offer personalised 1:2:1 customer service earning you a competitive advantage.

What approach do you have to posting content on Social Media?

The Versatility of Social Media

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Social Media can be incorporated into a variety of different business functions – in fact it’s versatile enough to be used as a tool across ALL business functions.

Social Media can be used as a Tool for:

• Customer Service
• Market Research
• Networking
• HR
• Target Marketing
• Selling

Social Media as a Customer Service Tool

Customers like to ask questions on Social Media about your company products, opening hours and even to complain. Their questions and complaints are public and this may scare some businesses – the key is to deal with all customer service issues promptly.

Turn any negative feedback into positive by resolving issues swiftly and demonstrating your ability to make improvements to your company. As a small business you have the advantage over larger competitors who struggle to deal with individual issues.

Social Media as a Market Research Tool

Ask questions and run polls on Social Media – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google + are all good platforms to gather market research. If you want to know what your customer wants – ask them and use Social Media as a tool to gather important statistics and opinions.

Ask your followers on Social Media their opinions on new products/services to meet their tastes and preferences. Involve your customers at R&D stages in a process called CO-CREATION.

Social Media as a Networking Tool

Use Social Media to network with peers and industry leaders to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your field.

Connect with people on Social Media before meeting them, I find this helps to break the ice a little as you know a little about the person before meeting them.

Network internationally too, you’ll enrich your own learning experience by understanding a variety of views, experiences and opinions from a variety of cultures and people.

Social Media as an HR Tool

Do your homework on Social Media to analyse potential employees – their Social Media profiles and activities often reveal more in depth information about people than a simple CV.

Create closed groups for your employees and use Social Media as a tool for internal communications. Gather feedback from your staff on new products/services and listen to their opinions on the strengths & weaknesses of your business.

Social Media as a Targeting Tool

Identify prospects and customers using the variety of search functions on each Social Media Platform. In particular the search bar on Facebook can be used to identify and target potential customers based on a wide range of variables.

Target people and companies based on your existing customer base.

Target based on Location, Demographics and Lifestyles.

Social Media as a Sales Tool

Selling is the primary objective of any business but on Social Media it should be the last in a series of stages. Always remember that people are on SOCIAL media for SOCIAL reasons and this should be respected.

Post new products/services, special offers and discounts on Social Media but limit this to around 20% of your overall posts. Try to understand the demographics of the users on each Social Media platform and tailor your messages to suit each audience.

Have I missed out any business functions? How do you use Social Media?

Always look over your shoulder – The Importance of Competitor Analysis

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It’s easy to get wrapped up in what’s happening inside your own company, after all there’s a lot to juggle – profits, margins, new products, employees, tax, cashflow and so on.

Every so often you need to look over your shoulder to monitor your competitor’s activities.

One question I ask all my clients is – “Who are your main competitors?”

The response is often – “We don’t have any competitors because our product/service is unique”

Wrong answer – You’ve just not done your homework.

Regardless of your industry or company – you always have competitors. Yes your product/service may indeed be unique but you will have competitors, often offering a substitute or alternative.

SWOT

Begin an analysis of your competitors by conducting a SWOT analysis.

Strengths

Identify the main strengths of your competitors, what do they do well?

Weaknesses

Cast a critical eye over your competitors products/services, their website, Marketing and social media activity. You will be able to identify areas you consider to be inferior to what your company offers.

Opportunities

Focus on identifying opportunities from 2 points of view.

1) What opportunities might my competitor pursue?
2) What opportunities can my business capitalise on?

Threats

Use the information gathered from identifying your competitor’s strengths and focus on how these strengths may pose a threat to your own business model. Form a strategy to counteract any threats posed – Do you need to:

• Change your pricing structure?
• Focus on different benefits of your product/service?
• Do you need to delay or accelerate a new product launch?

Differentiation Strategy

By spending time on analysing your competitors you should be able to identify any gaps in the market, particularly from the opportunities section of the SWOT analysis.

Homogenisation blights every single business in the world so you need to be unique in some form or simply do what your competitors do – but better. Sounds easy in theory but having a genuine USP is a problem area for many businesses.

You’ll never know if what you offer is unique, unless you know what your closest competitors are offering. If you want to gain a competitive advantage in your market then you need to have a differentiation strategy, some areas to consider are:

• Product/service uniqueness
• Minimising expenditure to improve margins
• Leveraging your employee strengths and skills
• Price
• How you promote your company – Focus on benefits rather than features

To gain a deeper understanding of how to apply a differentiation strategy I’d highly recommend reading the work of Michael Porter – A true master of business strategy.

Steal

Yes steal!

Steal ideas, mash them up and make them your own. What benefits do your competitors promote? How can you match or improve on these? And one of my favourite areas is Marketing – How are my competitors Marketing their company?

Competitor or Ally?

Your competitors don’t have to be your enemy, consider striking up a relationship with your rivals to embark on a referral programme. Refer clients to each other depending on what speciality areas you both offer.

For small businesses consider collaborating with rivals on larger contracts that you would not have been able to fulfil on your own.

Just remember to always keep an eye on your competitors.

Is stealing ethical? Do you collaborate with your rivals? Tell me your thoughts 