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Social Hijacking of St. Patty’s vs. Mardi Gras: Global Beats National

Is there a winning formula for brands looking be part of social buzz during major events and holidays?

Nick LaBran, my fellow social intelligence guru at Harte Hanks, and I hypothesized that both national and global events would raise significant interest from brands looking to “news-jack” the use of social channels and insert themselves into conversations taking place.

To test this hypothesis, we took two adult-friendly calendar favorites—New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and Saint Patrick’s Day—and analyzed their surrounding social activities. Both are very good reasons to party with friends, irrespective of where you’re from, and offer plenty of brand associations. 

Mardi Gras

As February came and went, Nick and I were surprised by how little effort they saw from brands during Mardi Gras. Southern Comfort was the exception, understandably, with high levels of activity. It seems they created content once (and repeated everywhere) but only on Facebook did it earn any significant engagement.

social hijacking of mardi gras 1social hijacking of mardi gras 2

The brand was probably heavily invested experiential but missed a trick, or two, by not streaming live or taking advantage of posts being shared by attendees.

For a notable non-alcohol brand, NBA made the most of All Star Weekend being in New Orleans by sponsoring a hashtag and posting films of their stars decked in costumes.

It seems such a specific location-based event doesn’t offer much scope for global brands and therefore nobody thought much beyond beads. Meh!

Saint Patrick’s Day

As always, this global excuse for a party was mercilessly news-jacked and––whether the brand had a valid voice or not. Guinness and Jameson both worked the day for all it was worth. From our social listening, we can see both appeared more regularly than any other brands.

The whiskey brand hosted an interview live (with their Master Distiller) from their Distillery in Ireland, as well as offering a trip to Dublin for Paddy’s Day 2018. They released a limited-edition bottle in international airports and generally “owned” the liquor space on March 17.

The world-famous “Black Stuff” took their connection to Ireland’s Saint’s Day to another level. They encourage drinkers to get involved in their campaign for #StacheForCharity … to share moments of them wearing their “Guinness Moustaches”. Many pieces of user-generated content later, they clearly won the activation gold medal with something memorable that’s true to their product experience.

Notable mentions from around the world of brands include McDonald’s Limited Edition Shamrock Shakes (as regular now as Green Beer). Dunkin Donuts offered Green Glazed Doughnuts. Hard Rock Café tailored menus to cater to the (rare) Friday night crowd. Starbuck’s even got involved with a cute apron post.

All in all, mentions of Saint Patrick’s Day outnumbered Mardi Gras by 2:1 … and the number of brands getting involved was exponentially higher. ­­So why would that be? Here are some reasons why Nick and I believe global beats national every time. 

#1: Heritage Counts

Meeting friends and having a drink (or two) is universally a good idea that any alcohol brand can take advantage of.

But clearly there are more global citizens with Irish heritage than with New Orleans ties. It also helps your brand be more authentic with more people who’re either Celtic; or married to one; or has a great friend show is; or likes to think they are! Brand Ireland has propagated the world with its charm.

New Orleans is awesome and the people are amazing, but it’s cultural influence is somewhat the reverse of Irish culture because of its colonial history. Many cultures and ethnicities co-exist in the South but they all concentrated into a relatively small geographical area … French, Spanish, African, Native Americans and so on.

Music, food, architecture all play their part in their charm for a visitor, but does it travel well? Any brand associated with Mardi Gras will always feel confined to a smaller moment in time.

#2: Keep It Simple, Shareable

Beyond a limited-edition product or two, the biggest opportunities came from image-based associations with Irishness. Shamrocks, foamy mustaches, green anything!

Images create an instant visual connection for someone scrolling through their social feed. Images are transcreation-able (let’s add that one to the dictionary). And the relatable and translatable moments that are captured, in one day a year, are global. Anyone can bundle down to their local pub and take part in #SPD. You probably should travel to New Orleans to really enjoy #MG!

#3: Get Community Involved for Real Reach

SoCo did a reasonable job of creating a bank of content around Mardi Gras but didn’t create ways for their fans to really participate. Watch and (maybe) share was really the extent of involvement. No effort was made to encourage dialogue or to share their own stories for instance. They also didn’t interact with anyone or any other accounts who were talking about Mardi Gras. Therefore, their feeds don’t look too different during the festival than they do any other time of year. Southern Comfort should be owning Mardi Gras and taking the essence of the event and translating it into something we can all celebrate while consuming their liquor.

Guinness did far more to involve their fans. We’ve talked about Stout Mustaches and we’ve seen how Jameson broadcast live to create larger reach. And there’s always the potential for a global event like Saint Patrick’s Day to have a local activation component, as well. It offers the best of both for brands. Activate an omnichannel campaign for a condensed amount of time and people will want more and more to enjoy that moment and positively associate your brand with the experience.

So, there you have it. If you’re a brand and want to be part of a conversation around a cultural event, pick something with global appeal and find ways to draw people into your branded experience in a meaningful and relatable way. You’ll win the hearts and minds of your fans for another year.

5 Powerful Lessons Social Media Marketers Can Learn from Trump. So Great!

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about Donald Trump’s tweets and tweeting behavior (like here and here and here). Dan Rather explains that this is because he is the first “social president,” just like John. F. Kennedy was the first “television president.” They were not the first presidents to use these media, but they were the first to use them effectively. Therefore, the tweeting is newsworthy.

Lucky for us, marketers can learn a thing or two from Trump about how to effectively use social. He’s provided us with both good examples and things to avoid as we build our brands on social media. Here are five of those lessons.

1. Stay on message.

While we’ve seen some rants and raves, Donald does an overall excellent job incorporating his main messages across his twitter feed. For example, we often see various forms of his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again:

Trump’s Twitter feed also shows a consistent message of media bias:

Whether or not you agree with his messages, one thing is for sure: Trump’s core messaging is consistent, and it’s easy to see what he stands for by following his feed. Brands should follow suit with their own core messaging.

John Deere does a solid job translating this best practice to the corporate world. The company is committed to those linked to the land, which comes across prominently in their Twitter feed. Their handle often tweets about supporting and engaging in conversation with a variety of different farming groups and associations:

2. Engage, share, reinforce – don’t just talk at people.

Trump loves retweeting people who share his views. Firstly, it makes his followers feel like he’s listening and is interested in their feedback. Secondly, it shows to a wider audience that people like him and believe in what he has to say. And you only have to look at TripAdvisor or Amazon to see how influential positive peer recommendations and reviews can be.

While not all brands have the multimillion-strong following of Donald Trump, engaging with followers and sharing their feedback can still prove very powerful. In a world rife with marketing messages, echoing positive customer comments is an authentic and effective alternative to self-promotion. Sharing’s caring, after all.

Like Trump, Starbuck’s also does a great job of retweeting their followers’ positive feedback, like the following:

3. Make the sentiment clear.

Headlines that affect very strong emotions—whether positive or negative—often get the most engagement. The same can be assumed of tweets. “Power words” also increase engagement. Trump consistently makes the sentiment in his tweets very clear, often adding descriptive exclamations at the end of his tweets.

This post shows both positive sentiment and uses power words (enjoy, great):

This post shows a strong negative sentiment and uses several power words (biased, funny, sad, worse):

For more engagement with your posts, try incorporating positive or negative sentiment, along with power words. To evaluate your social posts (or headlines), check out CoSchedule’s headline analyzer.

From a corporate perspective, Content Marketing Institute makes excellent use of power words with their brand account, but could use some work improving sentiment.

This tweet has positive sentiment and uses a whopping four power words (delay, exclusive, gain, secure):

This tweet also uses four power words (avoid, free, join, mistakes) but has a neutral sentiment:

While I’ve already mentioned them once, Starbuck’s deserves another pat on the back for their use of sentiment (all positive, in their case) and power words, too.

The power words here are beautiful and bliss:

Power words are like and gift:

4. Check your facts.

While The Donald is great at many things social, this could be considered one of his weak spots. For example, Trump was in Scotland opening a new golf course when the UK voted to leave the EU. He tweeted that Scotland was “…going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back.”

The problem was, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Trump was met with many less than favorable reactions to the mistake. To avoid this type of embarrassment and backlash, double check that the facts are on your side before posting on social media. And on a related note, make sure you’re not sharing fake news.

Delta was also caught and held responsible for sending inaccurate tweets. In this case, the company tweeted a message about the World Cup that was intended to convey a score of 2-1, USA versus Ghana. Unfortunately, Delta was quickly informed that there are, in fact, no giraffes in Ghana (an ironic geography lesson for a company that should know its geography). Be sure to check your photos for accuracy, too.

delta tweets inaccurate photo for world cup

5. The Internet is forever.

Trump has also been caught deleting contentious tweets in the past. While deleting a social post might remove it from your feed, the Internet never forgets. Fans and followers often screenshot favorite and/or contentious posts that later show up to haunt their authors. And, if enough time has passed before deletion, search engines index the posts. The lesson here? Make sure you want your post to live forever.

Many brands have also made the blunder of sending off offensive, racist, insensitive or otherwise insulting tweets, only to attempt to delete them later. As this article highlights, many of the posts live on to ensure continued embarrassment.

Top 10 Thumb-Stopping Moments at Social Media Week

Recently Bristol played host to some of the finest social media minds in the country with over 1,500 attendees participating in 50 fact-packed Social Media Week events across the city. Harte Hanks sent a team to investigate. 

social media week

With speakers from Facebook and Twitter at the same event we were never going to agree on everything. But isn’t that the best thing about social media? There is no magic formula, it keeps evolving. David Wilding, Director of Planning at Twitter UK summed it up well, when he said social media marketers need to be less PDF and more Google docs i.e. more open and collaborative.

We’ve put together a list of some of our other key takeaways from Social Media Week Bristol and, in the interest of being more Google Docs, we’d like to know what you think. Tweet us at @HarteHanks

1. Video is the biggest trend of 2016 – and live video is going to be huge

YouTube has 4bn video views every day, whilst Snapchat has 10bn daily views of its video content. Facebook video continues to grow in 2016 too, increasing from 1bn views in 2015 to 8bn in 2016 so far.

In a year when more people watched a woman in a Chewbacca mask than the Superbowl, and more than 10M people tuned in to BuzzFeed to see an exploding watermelon, it’s fair to say that 2016 has been the year that live video came into its own.

2. But when it comes to video, people have short attention spans

More than one speaker at Social Media Week highlighted the need to really nail the first three seconds of your video, whether it’s an advert or a broadcast. People have undeniably short attention spans in our modern day scrolling culture.

3. Twitter is a broadcast tool—more likely to be about Brexit than Breakfast

Did you know that Twitter is the #1 news app in 110 countries? David Wilding, Director of Planning at Twitter UK, made it clear that Twitter wants to position itself as the go-to source for information.

That’s not to say you can’t publish company messages on the site you just need to understand how best to communicate that message. Always be authentic and generous – provide something of value.

4. Instagram is a premium product–but Instagram stories allow more freedom

We all know someone who takes great care and pride in their Instagram feed, only publishing the most perfect awe-inspiring images into their feeds. The consensus at #SMWiBristol was that this is very much the approach brands should be taking when it comes to their company posts. Brands should seek to form a connection with audiences by focusing on their location, people and knowledge

Instagram stories, however, offer a bit more freedom and allow you to stop striving for perfection and give customers a real-life snapshot of your brand and happenings. As an added bonus your story will feature at the top of people’s homepages.

5. If you have a younger audience, you can’t ignore Snapchat

Snapchat has 10bn views on its video content each day. If your audience is under 25, your brand needs to be on Snapchat.

There are a lot of similarities between Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories (especially given Instagram’s roll out of live video and disappearing photos) but they are not the same thing. It’s important to create content that works and is engaging.

6. Know your audience and meet them where they hang out rather than trying to do everything

In his talk titled ‘is my business too boring for social media?’, Paul Hajek spoke about the need for narrowcasting instead of broadcasting for the sake of it. Find your niche and connect with audiences on channels where they are most likely to need you and where they would prefer to read it.

Bristol24/7 editor Martin Booth echoed his sentiments saying “You’ve got to give people your product in the way that they want it.’

http://twitter.com/candiwrites/status/798922416546156544

“What story are you telling, who to, where will they prefer to see it? Don’t just use ALL the platforms” – Bogdana Butner

For instance, Bristol’s vast foodie network makes image-heavy sites such as Instagram a dream for this audience.

7. People’s lives do not revolve around your brand – give people something of value

Newsflash: people care more about how you can help them personally than they do about your brand. The sooner we accept this the sooner we can start creating real experiences for our customers.

Facebook’s Ian Andrew’s talked about the need to deliver relevance in order to form meaningful connections on social. He shared Lloyds Bank’s Facebook ads as a prime example. Lloyds want to be with you for every step of the journey and they use Facebook targeting to tailor advertising to be relevant to people’s life milestones (rather than spamming singletons with pictures of joyful newlyweds).

Content also needs to be authentic to form an emotional connection with audiences. At Social Media Week, they used the example of stock images of ‘women laughing alone eating salad’ being used to advertise anything from gym memberships to shopping malls (there’s a tumblr dedicated to it: http://womenlaughingalonewithsalad.tumblr.com). These image don’t work because they lack authenticity – nobody is that happy eating a salad! Be honest, be respectful and be generous.

8. Planning is the key to success in social media

The key to success in social media campaigns is planning. Whether you’re operating a social news room at an event or launching a new campaign, planning ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches.

What are the long term goals for the project? Attendees were urged to think beyond short-term wins and consider medium to long-term goals. If the impact to your business is gone after 6 months, has the campaign really been successful?

What are the goals of your social campaign? What are you trying to achieve? Who are you trying to reach? Just some of the questions you should be asking yourself before your campaign is live. Jessi Langsden, a strategist who had previously worked on the Obama 2012 presidential campaign, made a case for all stakeholders to agree on acceptable outcomes before kickoff:

‘Anyone who will be measuring the success of your work at any stage should agree to its objectives at the start.’

https://twitter.com/silodge/status/798482198533984256

9. Traffic is not the be-all and end-all

Increased traffic is often the Holy Grail of KPIs, and social media is seen as a playing a huge supporting role. Obviously it’s extremely important to have that goal in mind but speakers at the event agreed that it shouldn’t be the only measurement of success.

Decide on the metrics that are most important to your brand and incorporate them into your reporting.

https://twitter.com/ThisisZone/status/798911755653156865

10. Last, but not least: never stop experimenting, be prepared to fail

Everybody has taken a Buzzfeed quiz at one point or another, right? While some of the topics might seem light-hearted or jovial, Maggie Van Eijk revealed that often they served a much bigger purpose as Buzzfeed tend to use less serious topics to test out new content styles and formats – like quizzes.

What are your biggest social media learnings of the year? We’d love to hear. Tweet us at @hartehanks.

3 Components of Best-in-Class Social Support

customers request social support

 

Social media has become one of the BIG THREE customer service channels—especially in B2C—joining phone and email to form the triad of support modalities. But customers have high expectations, and there aren’t many companies meeting them.

Market Reality – Emerging Expectations

What are the emerging expectations from customers seeking support through social channels? You need to be fast and always on.

Jay Baer says his social research indicates that rapid reaction from a brand is becoming the norm.

  • 32% of customers who have contacted a brand on social media expect a response within 30 minutes.
  • An additional 42% expect a response within 60 minutes.
  • 57% of respondents expect the same response time at night on the weekends as during normal business hours.

Market Reality – Falling Short

The reality is, most companies just aren’t meeting these consumer expectations. According to the State of Customer Service Experience 2015:

  • 33% of consumers who contact a brand on social media never get a response.
  • Of all channels, social media has the lowest percentage of issue resolution and follow-up, with only 13% and 9%, respectively.
  • 63% of consumers have to engage with a brand two or more times on social media before a customer service inquiry or issue is resolved.
  • Despite the immediacy of social media, only 13% of consumers get a response within minutes.
  • 26% of consumers turn to social media when they can’t reach a rep through another channel—the highest of all reasons—indicating that many use social as a last resort.

Organizations have been quick to socially visible, yet have struggled to build a support structure to understand and respond to customer expectations; equip themselves with the tools, resources and training to enhance the customer experience in social support interactions; delineate between marketing coverage and customer care and support; and utilize data to better inform and optimize the customer support experience.

3 Components of Best-in-Class Social Support

There are three best practices to ensure customer satisfaction and achieve success with a social customer support program.

1. Immediate Response

To meet consumer expectations of response and resolution within a very short time frame, a social support should include the following:

  • Active listening for specific, actionable support issues requiring immediate identification and resolution
  • Workforce management practices to ensure adequate staffing during periods of peak response volumes
  • Timeliness metrics to assure issues are identified and addressed in a timely manner
  • Customer satisfaction measurement on all support issues to continually assess performance in relation to meeting customer expectations

2. Social Support Issue Data Analysis

Data plays a crucial role in defining and solving customer complaints. A successful program will aggregate support issue data to assist with identification of new and emerging issues. Once resolutions have been determined for those issues, (reliable, confirmed fixes), best practice is to use that data to create resolution-related content pieces to be proactively shared and promoted on customer forums and other watering holes. Customers can then find this content before experiencing the problem or before contacting support to solve the problem. The organization should also add the solutions to the enterprise knowledge base, as well as new and recurrent agent training modules.

3. Customer Persona and Journey Mapping

Speaking of data, a successful social support program will also use aggregated support data to create a customer “Care Persona.” This persona considers the various means of resolution customers pursue to “self-serve” their issues and addresses the tools they use in that process.  It seeks to assure those who choose to “self-serve” have the tools they need to achieve success on their own without intervention. The Care Personas also identify where in the customer journey customers are experiencing challenges and categorizes customers based upon their attempted resolution behavior.

Accurate, data-based Care Personas help organizations to better enable support personnel by assisting them in recognizing customer issues and equipping them with resources to more quickly and effectively solve those issues. They also enable the organization to build fixes into the support system to aid in the speed at which agents can respond.

Improve Customer Experience AND Reduce Support Costs

While this type of approach clearly addresses issues related to providing a better, more balanced customer care and support structure, it also has a significant impact on reducing support costs. Support issues often arise in the social sphere ahead of traditional mediums (phone, email, chat, etc.). As a result of this “early warning,” we have the opportunity to update the customer facing knowledgebase and create training content for our call center agents. This means we are better prepared to manage support tickets for these issues and can solve social inquiries before they reach the phone lines.

For example, one consumer electronics manufacturer noticed that, for each of the respondents whose issues we have resolved through social channels, 70.4% indicated that their next course of action was to reach out to the contact center if their issues wasn’t resolved. By resolving these customer issues on-line we are able significantly reduce costly on-phone handle times and drive down overall support costs.

All in all, social support isn’t going away. If you haven’t already, it’s time to integrate it as an integral part of your support strategy and allocate resources appropriately. You’ll not only reap the rewards of satisfying your customers (that demand an always-on social presence), but you’ll also reduce costs associated with more expensive support channels.

Seven Steps to Smarter Demand Generation

In our recent session at B2B Marketing’s InTech event in London, we considered how demand generation can be improved through a convergence of technology and people.

Think of it as ‘smarter’ demand generation. Human insight and expertise facilitates the creation of sophisticated personas and rich, individualised content tailored to buyers’ needs. Then marketing technologies ensure that content is served at the exact time of need.

Addressing these seven components can help ensure demand generation efforts deliver impressive results, in spite of an increasingly complex buyer ecosystem.

Social media
Building bridges between marketing and sales is a longstanding goal for many B2B brands. Social media can provide a shared territory where the two departments can collaborate in a meaningful manner. Empowering sales teams with robust social tools and frameworks can pave the way for a steady pipeline of inbound social leads.

Micro-targeting
Smarter demand generation facilitates better individualisation. This approach uses micro-targeting to enhance the buyer experience with relevant, precisely tailored interactions. It integrates data, tactics, people and technology to achieve a higher level of resonance than traditional personalisation.

Actionable
According to Kapost/Content Marketeer, 65 per cent of sales reps complain that they can’t find content to send to prospects. Marketers need to draw on data analytics to ensure content strategies are aligned to definite buyer pain points and areas of interest. Content should also be catalogued and shared internally to ensure all stakeholders can find what they need quickly and easily.

Relevance
Take time to build buyer personas and develop them on an ongoing basis. They should continually evolve and form a reference point throughout the content creation process. This ensures assets are finely tuned to address both enduring and emerging pain points. When content is relevant and of-the-moment, it helps to build advocacy and loyalty amongst buyers and prospects.

Technological
If you are in any doubt about the rise of technology in marketing, consider this: there has been a 1,767% increase in marketing technologies in the past four years. Such proliferation of sophisticated tools can be overwhelming, so it’s vital to keep the end-goal in your sights. Any technologies deployed in support of demand generation should be firmly geared towards enhancing the buyer experience.

Experience
Product differentiation has been usurped by customer experience as the battleground for organisations wanting to achieve standout. According to Gartner for Marketing Leaders, marketers are under pressure to ‘create exceptional branded moments at every customer touchpoint’. Linear buyer journeys have been replaced by a more episodic, multi-interaction buyer ecosystem. Every customer interaction is crucial and must be carefully planned, crafted and delivered.

ROI
Maximising return on investment remains the top priority – and a major challenge – for all marketers. At Harte Hanks, we typically see ROI ratios between 35:1 and 75:1 for best-in-class brands who integrate data, technology, people and tactics intelligently in their demand generation efforts.

Alana Griffiths and Alex Gill are Senior Directors at Harte Hanks, and have a combined 25 years of marketing expertise. To have one of our experts provide a free audit of your demand generation activity, get in touch by emailing us at lets.talk@hartehanks.com.

Pre-SXSW: Three Trends and Tracks That May Impact Your Marketing Plans in 2016

As I prepare for my second pilgrimage to Austin, to immerse myself in all that is emerging and mind-blowing in our industry, I thought I’d curate some of the information the organizers are now sending to registered attendees. There are three very important customer engagement trends, or “tracks” as SXSW calls them, that every marketer will want to evaluate.

The evolution of wearable technologies
An emerging trend last year will become even bigger this year, as more products enter the market. In 2015, Samsung and others showcased smart watches, VR headsets, fitness trackers, sensor clothing and so on. The Apple Watch launched post-event (their rumored SXSW pop up shop never did appear) and many, many other companies released products in a move towards a future where “quantifiable self” becomes a “thing”.

This year the big evolution seems to be a convergence between fashion, technology, art and other cultural influences. Within the SXStyle Convergence Track sessions and events, I’m hoping thought leaders answer a pertinent question for marketers everywhere, “What branded experiences are possible with emerging wearable technologies and what useful data can I collect to enhance my relationships with customers who have them?” Creatively, considering these devices as inputs and outputs for campaigns ushers in a brave new world.

And if you consider, as you should, that wearable technologies form part of the connected devices ecosystem that is the Internet of Things, then you’re already prepared for the next trend …

The potential of the Internet of Things
Ever-higher speed connections are creating opportunities for devices to converse with each other through the Internet. IoT means smart cities; connected cars; sensor and wearable technologies; connected homes and appliances; and so much more; speak to each other and can make decisions on our behalf. The on-going conversations about Artificial Intelligence, even in something as user-friendly as Google Now, also fuels conversation on IoT.

“The Internet of Things is nothing short of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” – Jamshed Dubash, “Marketing and The Internet of Things: Are you Ready?”

The big data created can, theoretically, be used to create enriched experiences between brands and customers. Figuring out how to wield the data to do this, though, is very difficult … honestly, marketers seem to have given up trying to get their heads around “big data” as a topic and have moved on to IoT––hoping this will help make the real world applications of information more obvious and easier to get their heads around.

Brands taking advantage of third, fourth and fifth screens in fridges, cars and watches … building in unrivaled relevance and usefulness, will win the engagement game in the near future. I hope the sessions focussing on IoT help us all get our heads in the game. Speaking of games …

The explosion of VR and AR
360 content is everywhere, already. You can see it in your social feeds; on YouTube channels; through cardboard viewfinders and soon on gaming consoles. Global brands like Samsung are building technologies like the Gear VR headset and Gear 360 camera; Microsoft is waiting for the right time to launch their Augmented Reality headset, the Hololens; Facebook-owned Oculus Rift made VR accessible to everyone and days ago (at Samsung’s Unpacked event in Barcelona) Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed the growth in popularity will be exponential … his presence reinforced original statements made when they spent $2 billion when buying Oculus.

“This is really a new communication platform … We believe this kind of immersive reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.”

So if you’re a brand built around an experience not easily replicated on a website, or in a showroom or through a telephone agent, VR content can create immersive experiences that genuinely offer a window into a world that your customers could live in. Harte Hanks’ David Chandler offers insight into how brands can harness VR effectively in this blog post.

Of course this doesn’t even consider the notion that the pure entertainment value of great advertising could be enriched with VR. Will someone be brave enough to create a VR Super Bowl LI commercial next year? I hope so.

So. There you have it. Just three trend tracks I’ll be engaging with in Texas. There’ll be more to follow from me, post-event. And a whole lot to keep your eye on over the next few years!

Are you planning on attending SXSW this year? Tweet us at @HarteHanks and let us know which tracks you think will draw the biggest crowds this year.

How to Optimize Spend with Fractional Attribution

Database

 

When traditional “database marketing” first took off in the early 1990’s, marketing performance measurement and attribution was quite simple. We generated sales and direct mail campaign performance reports using a handful of dimensions. Attribution was easily derived through business reply cards (attached to direct mail pieces), phone numbers or tracking codes. We also used indirect attribution rules by making control group comparisons. We were fairly accurate and the process was easy to execute.

The Current State of Attribution

We all know that the marketing landscape has changed … and it continues to evolve with massive channel proliferation. With so much data and so many options regarding how to best apply a limited marketing budget, how can a CMO receive richer insight to influence tactical decisions that will improve media/channel performance?

Let’s first examine the various states of attribution from the viewpoint of the modern day marketer:

  • Direct Attribution: Still used widely today and still relevant. A specific customer behavior (e.g. a purchase) can be “directly” attributed to a given marketing stimuli via a unique code, landing page/URL, response device, etc. However, other marketing stimuli may have created momentum and been a significant contributor to the consumer’s ultimate decision to purchase.
  • Last Touch Attribution: Attributing the desired customer behavior to the last “known” marketing touch. Similar to “Direct” Attribution, but not always the same, here the marketer attributes the desired customer behavior to the last known touch. This method is very common when there are no specific tracking codes/tags that tie a desired customer behavior directly to a specific marketing stimuli.
  • Multi-Full Attribution: Channel proliferation has led to individual channel/media silos, each with their own unique attribution rules. The separation of traditional offline data and online data is very common. For example, direct mail data is stored in a traditional customer database, email data is stored with the email service provider, and online data is stored by various DMPs, by vendors/partners that are contracted to capture it, each often with their own siloed attribution logic taking FULL credit for the same desired behaviors.
  • Rules Based Attribution: Building on the “Multi-Full Attribution” described above, here marketers use what is often called a “common sense approach” to proportionally assign attribution to very siloed marketing stimuli. For example, a business had recently identified the large overlap between their direct mail and digital channels. For the overlapping purchases identified in both groups, 100% of a given purchase was attributed to direct mail, while simultaneously 100% was also attributed to a combination of digital channels. A rule was then quickly implemented to assign 20% of the attribution to the direct mail channel and proportionally reduce the attribution by 20% across the various forms of digital media. So, it is “fractional” by the simplest definition, but no real math or analytics was being used to assign the “fraction” to each media/channel.

Each of these options contains significant attribution bias towards channels/forms of media, that when taken for face value will result is less than optimal decision-making.

Database-1

What’s Next and What is Fractional Attribution?

Marketers must now leverage math, science and statistics to analyze and derive insight from large pools of data, much of which can now be integrated across channels to inform decisions across touch points during the customer journey. Fractional Attribution is a necessary tool for understanding campaign performance across a multitude of touch points.

Through advanced (and proven) analytic techniques, a weighting calculation is developed and applied to the various marketing touches during the customer’s buying journey. In short, you are attributing a portion of that customer’s purchase to each of the marketing touches that impacted the customer’s decision to buy.

Harte Hanks has a team of analysts that work with marketing organizations to create a fractional attribution model through a collaborative development process:

  1. Define the overall objectives and identify the behavior metrics you want to positively impact (e.g. response, sales, conversion, product registration, etc.).
  2. Define and implement the roadmap including identification of key performance indicators (KPIs) and setting the overall attribution approach. Companies have used both “quick start” fractional attribution solutions and more robust solutions that require dedicated data stores and data integration tools.
  3. Collect and compile the data.
  4. Execute the fractional attribution solution and create the scenario planning tool.

The “scenario planning tool” is what enables the user to optimize media/channel performance. Using the tool, the analyst or marketer can quickly run “what-if” analyses to estimate the impact of reallocating marketing spend across channel/media or removing a channel/media from the mix altogether. The end result is a much more informed decision that can result in significantly higher returns from your marketing budget. Performance data and insights from the optimization exercise are then used to calibrate and refine the attribution engine going forward.

Fractional Attribution rooted in proven math and statistical techniques is a critical tool to accurately improve and optimize the performance of an incredibly fragmented and complex system of channels and media, both online and offline.

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It’s not perfect – no marketing science or advanced marketing analytic solution is. But a robust modeled attribution solution is proven marketing science, and those that leverage it appropriately will generate higher return from their marketing spend and outperform their competitors.

Has your company used fractional attribution to better analyze your marketing spend? Tweet us at @HarteHanks and share your experience with us.

How Pharmaceutical CRMs Can Lead to Healthier Relationships

Boosting physician and patient engagement

pharma CRM postCustomer Relationship Management (CRM) software offers a great deal of potential for the pharmaceutical industry. However, this is a complex sector, riddled with regulations surrounding sensitive data. It is not easy to find a solution that fits business needs while complying with relevant laws. This is especially true at an international level when different rules need to be observed for different countries.

Purchasing a standard CRM solution and trying to adapt it to various business and regulatory requirements is time consuming and difficult. Inevitably it involves compromise and hidden expense.

Instead, many pharmaceutical companies could benefit from international CRM programs that are purpose-built from the ground up by a marketing services provider.

Bespoke CRM for pharmaceuticals

A truly customized approach uses business goals as a starting point and builds a CRM framework around them. This ensures variations across different countries can be accounted for and embraced at an early stage, rather than being bolted on later. The result is a highly specified solution intrinsically optimized to meet business needs. It can have built-in scalability and the flexibility to handle international differences in data laws or standard practice, such as call centre versus nurse-led activity.

Ultimately, custom-built CRM offers better value and efficiency. Adapting existing systems is expensive, license fees can be high and product release cycles can delay the implementation of certain functionalities.

Using an MSP to build, manage and implement the solution brings multiple advantages. Since all aspects – from database management to phone calls, emails and SMS to direct mail – are handled by one organization, the program is more cohesive and affordable. What’s more, sensitive data is all held securely in one place.

Physician and patient communications

The best pharmaceutical CRM programs empower physicians and patients to make better, more informed choices – whether they’re prescribing treatment or following it.

Meeting physicians in person is becoming increasingly difficult for pharmaceutical companies. Physicians are often under pressure to see a certain number of patients per day, leaving limited time for meeting with third parties. Some countries also have complex regulations surrounding personal interaction between pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals. In many cases, direct marketing can play an effective role alongside or in place of face-to-face meetings. It enables physicians to keep abreast of the latest developments in treatments and processes such as pharmaceutical-led patient support.

Patient-focused activity varies depending on the nature of the patient’s condition, where they are in the treatment cycle, the level of data available and nuances of their country of residence. Naturally, when more is known about a patient, activity can be better tailored to their current needs and communications become more meaningful.

A central aim of pharmaceutical CRM should be fostering good relationships between patients and physicians. This means acknowledging the authority of the physician in prescribing drugs, while enabling patients to get more out of their appointments and the overall treatment. Ideally communications should operate progressively, supporting patients as they move from the initial awareness that they may have a certain condition, to actively acknowledging it, then learning to live with it. The latter stage is vital to boost adherence to treatment regimen and enhance overall patient outcomes.

Overcoming challenges

There are many challenges facing the marketing of pharmaceuticals today. However, deeper engagement rooted in custom-built CRM can help navigate many of them.

Direct alignment of patient and physician communications is complex from a data perspective, but with care and attention it can usually be achieved. Bespoke CRM programs can incorporate specific opt-in language to overcome many of the barriers surrounding sensitive data. This ensures that patients who are happy to share their data can access the wider support that is on offer should they need it.

Achieving buy-in from physicians and patients is not easy – nor should it be. Pharmaceutical organizations need to earn trust and loyalty over time. Striving for better, deeper engagement is a critical factor. An effective way to realize this in the short- to medium-term is through the empowerment of patients and physicians, arming them with knowledge and information so they can make informed choices. In the longer term, improved patient outcomes will speak for themselves.

 

Harte Hanks handles CRM programs for leading global pharmaceutical companies. Patient data is handled sensitively and an integrated approach ensures improved patient support and outcomes. Natalia Gallur has more than ten years’ experience in the sector.

 

Smarter Demand Gen Awakens

Convergence of Tech and People Will Amplify Demand Generation in 2016

UnknownThe B2B demand-marketing ecosystem continues to evolve at a rapid pace. It’s driven by emerging technologies, tactics and buyer behaviors, alongside other well-established factors that continue to shape the discipline.

Industry influencers and analysts such as SiriusDecisions and Forrester identified a raft of demand generation trends and requirements in 2015. These range from better use of analytics as a foundation for demand planning to buyer journey alignment and operationalizing personas.

The notion of operationalizing personas involves integrating persona intelligence into demand generation efforts. At a fundamental level, it involves dynamic delivery of persona-based content, messaging and offers across email, landing pages and websites. It was first mooted by SiriusDecisions in 2014, but began to take hold last year. During 2016 it will occupy a more central role as we enter the next stage of the journey: smarter demand generation.

Why do we need Smarter Demand Generation?

Many B2B organizations find their demand generation efforts are characterized by small pipelines, missed targets and failure to respond to the needs of today’s buyers. It’s not surprising when you consider the seismic shift in buyer behavior over the past few years.

B2B sales and marketing is becoming increasingly complex and far less linear in its nature. There are multiple influencers, decision makers and stakeholders. There are multiple online and offline marketing channels. And there are multiple interactions and conversations taking place.

In this fractured, multifaceted landscape we need to find a path to more effective, joined-up demand generation. We need an approach that embraces the complex realities of the B2B sector today and handles them with ease. Smarter demand generation is the answer.

What does it mean?

A central feature of smarter demand generation is the convergence of people and technology. This is true throughout the process. Human insight and expertise facilitates the creation and operationalization of personas. It also shapes the development and substance of programs that are augmented and delivered via sophisticated technologies. Finally, individuals at the receiving end of smarter demand generation are served with optimized, highly personalized communications. Content is relevant to their current and future professional needs and it is delivered at an opportune time via the most appropriate platform. The upshot is finely tuned buyer engagement and a more robust pipeline.

This might sound a world away from traditional demand generation. And it’s true that it requires a deeply analytical and intelligent approach expertly integrated with technical capabilities. But every journey begins with a single step. Marketers who set their sights on smarter demand generation can quickly realize benefits at a micro level that can later be replicated at a larger scale.

Exploring smarter demand generation with one segment of your target audience can be a good place to start. Integrating data, technology, people and tactics for the first time isn’t easy – but it is more manageable and achievable at a smaller scale. Ring-fence a project that leverages insight to improve targeting, messaging and optimization. Then closely monitor the results to track the impact on the sales pipeline. Spotlighting the effectiveness of smarter demand generation in this way, and sharing it at a Board level, can create an appetite for more. It might help secure investment in the technologies and skills required for a wider rollout.

The B2B sector has strived for precision marketing for decades. With the awakening of smarter demand generation, it is finally within reach.

 

Alex Gill explores this theme in a B2B Marketing webinar on 27 January: How to align your marketing for smarter demand generation and stronger ROI. Book your seat here.

Four Simple Ways to Amplify Your Customer Support with Social Media

Social Media-BlogSocial media is quickly becoming a critical factor in augmenting and enhancing your customer support strategy. Last week, I participated in an industry roundtable hosted by CRM Magazine on the subject. When businesses think of social media, it’s often in terms of marketing or public relations. And while social media is a great tool to help extend both, its impact goes beyond promoting and marketing your company. Increasingly, social media has become a powerful contributor to customer service and support. Customers are now powerful influencers. They take to social media to talk about brands and products – positively and negatively – in an attempt to influence their peers and the brands they buy from. So how do you influence the influencers, and utilize social media to enhance your customer service?

  1. Start by listening.

The first step in extending your customer support system through social media is to listen – and learn. Start by scanning social media channels for complaints, compliments and questions about your brand. Find out who is talking about your brand (customers, prospects, competitors?) and what they’re saying. You can learn a lot about customer pain points and perceptions that you might not learn through your contact center customer support. You will quickly identify areas of opportunity and then you can build a cohesive strategy, start to engage with your customers and prospects – and begin to influence the conversation around your brand.

  1. Set the rules of engagement.

Social media can be a bit like the Wild West – an unpredictable place where anything goes. As such, it is important for brands to devise a set of rules and operational goals. Who will be authorized to speak for your company on social media? How will they go about engaging customers? At what point should a public conversation be moved to a private conversation? Will you have a proactive presence as well as a reactive one? How will your social presence support your brand promise?

A defined social strategy is paramount. Social media is a free-flowing, casual platform that requires 24/7 resources. A single poor choice of words or an ill-timed post can damage your brand. As an example: If a consumer posts a message that your product injured them and you respond by apologizing, you may have implied guilt without knowing any of the facts. Your rules of engagement will ensure that your social customer support benefits both your brand and your customers.

  1. Ready, set, engage.

Your strategy is set, and you’re ready to go. Now it’s time to engage. Find someone who is talking about your brand and start a conversation through authentic engagement. It’s not unusual to find that customers are already reaching out to you using social channels. Whether it’s thanking someone who complimented your brand – or engaging with someone who is seeking assistance with your product or service – a simple conversation can go a long way in changing the perception of your brand. And you just might learn something you hadn’t previously considered. More often than not, the audience you engage via social media will be completely different from those who contact your customer service center. They may have a similar issue or topic, but they are approaching you from a position of influence. Consider it an opportunity to become an invited contributor into a public conversation. When handled correctly, social customer engagements can turn antagonists into fans who will spread the gospel of your brand.

  1. Inject helpful content.

Social customer support should be as proactive as it is reactive. Helpful content – like “how to” guides or useful tips about your product – will help you engage with your customers after the sale, positioning your brand as one that is consistently connected with and cares about its customers. When injecting marketing content into your social presence, be careful not to push hard sales messaging. Imagine social media platforms as a conversational dinner party. It is OK to talk positively about your brand, but hard sell tactics go against what is considered to be a good “social citizen.” Social media audiences can spot a pitch from a mile away and nothing will turn your community away faster.

The Harte Hanks contact center teams and agents utilize these techniques to manage social commentary and customer support for many of their clients. If you would like to dive deeper into how social can enhance your customer support, you can view our roundtable discussion on Destination CRM here.

The Hottest Three Letter Acronym for 2016: D-M-P

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Marketers are overwhelmed with tools and channels, and most of these – OMG! – have a three-letter acronym (TLA) that we use to theoretically make it easier for us to discuss them (and of course, to make us feel like we are in the know!). DSP, SEM, PMD, PLA, SEO, FPD, LOL, CRM, FAN, GDN . . . the list goes on and on. BTW, “LOL” on the previous list refers to “laugh out loud,” ICYM!

IMO, the hot TLA for 2016 will be DMP – data management platform. FYI, a DMP is a data warehouse that “can be used to house and manage any form of information, but for marketers, they’re most often used to manage cookie IDs and to generate audience segments, which are subsequently used to target specific users with online ads.”

For example, let’s say that you have a CRM full of FPD (first-party data) about your customers. You can upload this data to a DMP, enhance the data with third-party behavioral targeting, and then generate audience profiles that you can use to create more targeted and effective ads across your social, search, and display channels. Compared to your competitors without a DMP, your marketing campaigns should resonate better with consumers. Information asymmetry leads to better ROI, so marketers who don’t have a DMP have more to fear than just the FOMO – they may actually be at a significant disadvantage.

All of this assumes, of course, that marketers who invest in a DMP will install it correctly and use it correctly. As anyone who has seen an amazing pitch of marketing technology knows, the product never seems to work quite as well as it does in the canned demo! Setting up a DMP properly is fraught with potential pitfalls, from not properly importing data to incorrect data interpretation. So simply having a DMP is not enough – having the right pilots of data collection and analysis is vital. Given that this is a corporate blog, now would be a good time for me to promote Harte Hanks’ DMP/service solution, which we call Total Customer Discovery.

The future of marketing is always murky, so the centrality of the DMP is still TBD. That said, theoretically DMPs make a lot of sense, and it seems likely that it will be an important component of all online marketing strategies going forward. TTYL!

Marketing Technology: Where’s My ROI?

HarteHanks_MarektingTechnology_ROI

The modern customer journey is consumer driven and often fractured. Unlike the linear, vendor-led customer journeys of the past, the buyer is now in full control. With endless options – and a bevvy of information about each product or service readily available for consumers – marketers must devise new ways to attract customers and secure brand awareness and loyalty. A slew of new marketing technology, including CRM, marketing automation and inbound marketing platforms, have risen up to solve the new customer journey riddle. But despite the effectiveness of these platforms, too many B2B companies are reporting negative ROI for marketing technology investments. There are a number of reasons why.

Failure to Launch

The B2B sales cycle is a complex process. Unlike B2C products, there is no such thing as an “impulse purchase.” Buyers typically spend weeks, months and sometimes even years researching and deliberating before deciding on a purchase – particularly where big-ticket items are concerned. Marketing technology can help significantly simplify this process, but it isn’t a magic bullet. Marketing platforms aren’t plug and play; they are a set of interconnected tools for marketers to utilize as part of an overall strategy. Too often, B2B companies purchase marketing technology, but fail to allocate the resources necessary to realize their benefits. Marketing systems are a great delivery system, but engaging and strategic content that guides prospects along the customer journey must be created first. You can buy a car, but if you don’t fill it with gas and get behind the wheel, it isn’t going to move.

Scratching the Surface

Most of the marketing technology platforms available today come equipped with an array of features that justify their cost – intelligent analytics, A/B testing, easy integration, etc. Companies who fail to realize ROI on these products are often utilizing only a fraction of the features available to them. These features can significantly enhance the power of the platform and should be utilized whenever possible.

Stove Piping

With so many different types of technology available, B2B companies often have more than one system for sales and marketing. Failure to integrate these systems – particularly marketing automation platforms and CRM software – creates a confusing environment where systems are not communicating with each other and often duplicating efforts. In order to get the most out of marketing software and a favorable ROI, marketing platforms and CRM software should always be integrated.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Too many B2B companies dive head first into marketing technology – purchasing platforms without a full understanding of the system or a plan to implement it. B2B marketers often find themselves tasked with becoming technology experts trying to implement and integrate systems they know little, if anything, about. Additionally, systems are often purchased before a strategy has been developed to utilize them.

Boost Your ROI

To fully realize the benefits of marketing technology platforms, B2B marketers must view these platforms as an important tool, but as only part of the process. Creative campaigns, strategic plans and actual customer conversations are all an integral part of the modern customer journey as well. Before purchasing a new marketing technology platform, B2B companies should perform due diligence on the products they wish to purchase and have a plan in place on how they will be utilized.

And if you need help boosting the ROI of your marketing investment, Harte Hanks has extensive experience integrating marketing technology with marketing strategy. We’re here to help!

The 4 Biggest Challenges Facing B2B Tech Marketers Today (Part 4)

Unifying Communication Strategies Across Channels Throughout the Customer Journey

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring the four biggest marketing challenges faced by B2B tech companies.

Whether you’ve been following along or just tuning in now, you can find the first three installments about utilizing all available tools and technologies, leveraging high-quality, real-time data and generating ROI with less budget and fewer resources on our blog.

For the fourth and final challenge, I will discuss the best strategies to unify communications across channels in order to drive the customer journey.

CHALLENGE #4: How do I unify communication strategies across channels to drive customers through the buyer journey?

Your brand is a powerful thing. Not only does it represent the essence and promise of your company, it also embodies the expectations and opinions of your customer as they move through their buying journey. Each touch point with your brand is a chance to enhance – or diminish – a customer’s perception.

That means that each piece of advertising, each call to your contact center and each visit to your landing page should work in tandem to convey a consistent message that represents your brand. Just one negative interaction can damage your customer’s perception. And it’s much more difficult to reverse a negative perception than it is to proactively ensure positive customer interactions from the start of a campaign.

So how can we ensure a single view of customer across their entire journey, with consistent brand touch points and a clear, unified message? Read on:

  1. Start with a clear definition of your brand. First and foremost, you need to clearly define what your brand represents. Your brand platform needs to be articulated and shared with everyone in the company, particularly the external-facing representatives. A marketing program is the creative output built on top of the brand, designed to build awareness and the desire to purchase.
  2. Decide what you are trying to achieve with your marketing efforts. What is your vision of success? What are you trying to do and why are you trying to do it? At this stage, it’s helpful to look at what Harte Hanks Creative Director Alan Kittle calls The Beautiful Intersection. Draw two intersecting circles. In one, write out what you or your client wants to say. In the other, detail what your audience wants to hear. The intersection of this Venn Diagram is your sweet spot – the message that will tell your story while resonating with your audience.
  3. Identify the necessary building blocks and work streams. After you define your end goal and key objective, work backwards to figure out what will get your there. Start with a solid strategist or planner. This individual or team should gather and interpret all available data, and determine how that insight into the customer will enable a connection with the brand. Data intelligence should help form creative briefs and build a campaign message that is highly measurable.
  4. Cut through with a single unifying thought. In a complex, multi-channel, multi-territory campaign, it is essential to have one unifying idea that all marketing efforts tie back to. In fact, the more complex the marketing campaign – the more channels, audiences, periods of time – the simpler the message should be. By looking at the whole picture, you can determine how all the pieces fit together throughout the journey: how an audience reacts to an email, then a phone call a few weeks later and a piece of advertising leading them to a customer landing page a few days after that.
  5. Create an ecosystem of collaboration and information sharing. It is essential that all agencies plug into the brand and work together in a creative, synergistic manner to tell the same story. Branding agencies need to work in tandem with creative teams – the strongest teams collaborate to make a greater sum of their parts.

By following these steps for a new marketing idea, or to increase the effectiveness of an in-progress marketing program, it is possible to unify communications across channels and create that single, unifying thought that weaves through the entire customer journey. Data helps inform and define this thought and to create a cycle of excellence: use data to create something with the best chance of success, then look at what to improve and start the process again.

Global Patient Support Needs to ‘Think Local’

PharmaPatient support programs play a vital role in facilitating better disease management and treatment optimization. Traditionally pharmaceutical companies launched such initiatives on a local level. However, from a regional perspective, this sometimes resulted in patchy and fragmented support. Today, many pharmaceutical companies are driving centralized programs that benefit from a more sophisticated and strategic approach.

This approach brings many advantages around compliance, visibility of success and cost-effectiveness of implementation and maintenance. Yet centralized programs can be inherently complex and unwieldy. This is compounded by the fact that they often need to be coordinated at a global or area level to maximize infrastructure and management efficiencies.

Walking the line between global/regional efficiency and local effectiveness is no mean feat. Patient support is not a ‘one size fits all’ discipline; activity needs to be expertly tailored and carefully orchestrated.

At Harte Hanks, we believe five critical factors underpin patient support that is successful both at a global and a local level.

  1. Gather and leverage local knowledge

Understanding the nuances and intricacies of healthcare provision in different regions is essential. Ideally, you should have people on the ground who have in-depth knowledge of their local system and keep a finger on the pulse of any changes or developments.

Typical patient paths can vary significantly between countries for the same disease. Take the patient touchpoints and interactions for the U.S. healthcare system versus the UK’s NHS or Spain’s Seguridad Social. Prescription behaviours, drug dispensing and the length of time between specialist visits can be entirely different. There can even be differences in the role of healthcare practitioners during treatment, in terms of nurse interaction levels, nurse-led advice, pharmacist involvement and primary or speciality care.

  1. Create space for consultation and collaboration

Regional offices need to have clear channels of communication with the head office, and regular opportunities to report back on the local healthcare environment. They need to know that their observations are taken into account and actively used to shape the delivery of patient support in their territory.

At a strategic level, this collaborative approach enables program goals and objectives to be adapted to the realities of each country and healthcare system. It also needs to work at a tactical level, with regional teams of medical and regulatory professionals reviewing and approving materials before they are issued to healthcare professionals and patients.

Pharmaceutical companies often lack the time and resources required to give adequate attention to each country of a global patient support program. This is especially true when implementation needs to happen in parallel with a product launch or other internal deadlines. Working with a trusted third party can be a mutually beneficial solution for individual countries and the global program as whole. They can offer expert guidance as well as coordinate materials distribution and facilitate knowledge sharing.

  1. Ensure processes and training are water-tight

It’s vital that staff delivering the program, especially those with direct patient contact, understand indicators of pharmacovigilance events. Processes need to be in place to ensure that any spontaneous or solicited reports of adverse effects are handled appropriately and escalated in the right timeframes.

A centralized model can ensure that training compliance efforts are optimized and that all pharmacovigilance processes are managed in a cohesive way. A balance needs to be struck to ensure that training and reporting procedures meet certain standards, while respecting any elements or formats that vary between countries.

  1. Coordinated multi-channel communications

Using a CRM suite to facilitate patient and healthcare provider communications boosts efficiency and enables better control of patient support programs. For example, Harte Hanks can act as a multichannel one-stop-shop which is managed centrally but enables local offices to customize activity, such as:

  • Secure data management and hosting, in-line with local privacy rules
  • SMS, email and direct mail assets (drawing on print-on-demand and personalization capabilities)
  • Creation, development and hosting of personalized online portals for patients and healthcare providers, with self-tracking tools to support all digital communications
  • Advanced reporting and analytics to measure success and monitor progress

CRM and digital services should be flexible enough to accommodate multilingual communications and adaptations for the individual needs of each country. For instance, a global program will encounter various regulatory frameworks and the requirements of medical, legal and regulatory teams differ between countries.

  1. Continual improvement philosophy

If program goals and objectives are tailored to local regions, it follows that KPIs need to be tailored too. For measurement to be meaningful, successes or failures need to be considered in context. And they need to feed into the development of ongoing goals and objectives geared towards a cycle of continual improvement. To facilitate effective management at a macro level, it’s important to ensure global real-time visibility across the entire programme, from high-level KPIs to more detailed local perspectives.

The cornerstone of any successful patient support program is recognition that patients are people. They have their own lives, families, work and hobbies, as well as living with a disease or illness. They deserve to be listened to and helped to live their life to the fullest.

Treating patients as people within a program that operates on a global scale is complicated., but with an intelligent, carefully coordinated approach that draws on local knowledge, it is possible to achieve this. Communicating with patients at the right time with the right message via the most appropriate channel is half of the story. Ensuring information and interventions are precisely tailored to their real needs completes the circle, both supporting the treatment and enhancing the overall patient experience.

Harte Hanks handles patient support programmes for leading global pharmaceutical companies. Patient data is handled sensitively and an integrated approach ensures improved patient support and outcomes. Natalia Gallur has more than ten years’ experience in the sector. To learn more about the services we offer, take a look at our case studies.

Taking Your Customers from Anonymous to Known: Introducing Total Customer Discovery

A Deeper Dive into the Solution

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Today, we are excited to announce our newest solution to enable smarter customer interactions: Total Customer Discovery. You can learn more about the details through our press release, video and digital guide. In this blog post, I’m going to break down some of the technology components that went into creating it.

In a nutshell, Total Customer Discovery provides a holistic, 360-degree profile of customers, merging data from online and offline channels and across devices. This single customer view encompasses data across demographics (contact data, social profiles); psychographics (interests), historical (purchase and promotion history) and influencing power (networks, connections). With this richer customer view, marketers can deliver enhanced and personalized customer experiences, leading to increased acquisition, retention and, ultimately, ROI.

So without further ado, here are the different components of the Total Customer Discovery Solution and what they help address:

Solution Component: Cross Screen Identification

With cross-screen identification, each customer has a persistent, unique ID that carries with them, helping marketers track associated devices with that customer even when customers delete their browsing history (and their cookies). With Total Customer Discovery, we can identify and track customers across various devices (mobile phones, tablets, computers, laptops and so on), learning their behaviors, adding to their customer profiles and offering a seamless brand experiences across touch points that takes into consideration their past purchase history and preferences.

Solution Component: Cross Journey Mapping

To solve the problem of internal silos and overwhelming amounts of data, the cross journey mapping function captures customer’s digital behavior and stores meaningful attributes, such as click, searches, interests, preference, etc. to produce richer, more multi-dimensional customer profiles. These attributes can then be linked with other data sources within an organization such as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database. Total Customer Discovery identifies customer interactions across multiple devices and channels, so that we can track a customer throughout their entire journey, from smartphone, to tablet, to computer, to in-store.

Solution Component: Data Onboarding

A single view of customers provides a comprehensive view of the purchase journey. Integrating both online and offline data helps round out the single view of customer for a comprehensive picture of customer behavior for better retargeting and personalization. With data onboarding, online and offline data are merged and customer files are created using email or physical address lists that are matched with a database of advertiser tracking parameters. Particularly for brick-and-mortar stores, integrating online and offline data sources is crucial for delivering relevant content across channels based on the customer identification, from digital interactions on their smartphone to offline purchases at a retail store.

Solution Component: Social Linkage

Personalized, relevant content is the key to driving ROI in today’s world of real-time “micro-moments.” With social linkage, customers’ social interactions and behaviors are tracked across sites to enable deeper customer segmentation. Social linkage takes data from over 150 social sites, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+, and gives marketers insightful social profile data to inform their social investment decisions and make their digital marketing efforts more effective.

We’d love to tell you more about how Total Customer Discovery takes customers from anonymous to known. For more information, you can visit hartehanks.com/TCD or email TCD@hartehanks.com.

What the X in SXSWi Stands For.

During my first trip to Austin’s annual union of Interactive, Film and Music Festivals, I’ve spotted a micro trend that I’m going to encourage my creative teams to bake into more of their ideas…multiplication. Here are four ways I saw ideas converge to create something bigger, better and more powerful.

SuperSuper at SXSW

During Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s session, he talked about his new venture – Super – a heavily visual social platform described on their App Store page as, “Bold opinions become tiny works of art.” It’s Snapchat meets Pop Art! Heavily inspired by Barbara Kruger, this is Biz’s latest attempt to build something that allows users to share their thoughts built off opening statements like, “I LOVE” or “I’M ALL” or even “ONCE UPON A TIME” … the convergence of gallery images and text overlays is anarchic and encourages self-expression and personalization way beyond Instagram or Twitter.

As an Art Director I’m all in. And I’m taking bets on which brands might experiment with it soon.

Patrick Mulford

theAudience ECD presented his unique viewpoint on how brands should use social media. It was mind-blowing – it made me want to be a better creative thought leader. The Natural Architecture of Social Media transplants the biological theory (of how living organisms grow by having seven basic needs met) into how social networks thrive. Here’s an extract from Patrick’s introduction:

People have talked about the social ‘ecosystem’, as if it comprises distinct, intelligent consumers for a long time. But they’ve always overlooked one key fact: social media networks are the heart of the ecosystem. They are holonic structures – individual, but acting as a whole. The creation of social media networks turned computers and smartphones into something amazing: doorways into a landscape, nourished by content and thriving on emotion expressed through the act of sharing.

I’ll definitely be quoting Mulford within client conversations in the coming months.

MeerkatMeerkat at SXSW

Another app, another amalgamation … Meerkat combines Twitter with live video streaming. Causing a storm of controversy, as Twitter turns off its access to Social Graph just as ‘South By’ started, this clever platform allows you to stream content from your phone and tweet simultaneously. Connections can respond and their tweets appear on top of the feed … it’s very smart and very powerful stuff. It seems as if this will emerge as the “it” App of SXSWi 2015, and I can’t wait to see how the relationship with Twitter develops. Some think the behemoth of social media is trying to shut down the competition as it tries to launch its newly-bought Periscope; I hope they can work it out because this amazing evolution of communication could create amazing opportunities for connecting with audiences.

I used Meerkat during my last panel session and I had seven users ‘tune in’ to my broadcast. The session was hosted by Dazed’s Editor-in-Chief, Tim Noakes, who questioned actor Shia LeBeouf about his year-long collaboration with ‘meta modernist’ artists Nastja Säde Rönkkö and Luke Turner.

Which leads me to my last example of multiplication from SXSWi 2015.

#FOLLOWMYHEART

Before I start my own commentary, please read LaBeouf’s introduction:

When people say, “listen to your heart”, they are urging us to tune in to the loving side of our selves; the imaginative, the intuitive, the compassionate, the inner wisdom we all possess. They are telling us to listen to our passion. As we roam the SXSW festival, the data of my heart will roam the networks, transmitted live for us to follow together in real time for the duration. With our physical distance collapsed by the networks, that innermost and most intimate of rhythms will be rendered immediate on our digital screens.

Visiting follow-my-heart.net let you see Shia’s real-time heartbeat visualized simply but mesmerically. It takes the ever-increasing trend of quantified self into the art world and attempts to reach out in an thought-provoking way. Being able to follow his heartbeart, even when LaBeouf is sleeping for instance, is surely the most ‘access’ any celebrity has ever offered to the public.

It’s just one of the ‘pieces’ the three have created since their coming together. #STARTCREATING saw them skywrite the hashtag in the skies above LA in February last year. And, more famously, LaBeouf allowed himself to be locked in a room with the public in the #IAMSORRY? experiment not long after the actor angered so many after being caught plagiarising graphic novelist Daniel Clowes for a short film entered at Cannes.

But how the group talked about their process, of deciding what art to create next, was the most interesting thing for me – they claim to be a ‘hive mind’ and use a veto system so that they must all agree to their next project or not do it.

Summary

Right now, that level of collaboration is beyond anything we have with our clients … but can you imagine the powerful relationship you could have if the agency had the power to could veto client decisions? True equality, complete trust and absolute interdependence – now that’s something worth thinking about.

But let’s start simpler and easier. When Harte Hanks creative teams stretch their thinking beyond a single channel, the chance to multiply the effectiveness of that creative is limitless. The bigger and more transcendent the idea, the better and more powerful it will become to help create smarter customer interactions.

And that’s where I intend to start, tomorrow.

Social Customer Support: Happier Customers, Lower Costs

Social customer supportWhen you think of customer support, you probably think about calling into a contact center. But I’m not a big fan of the phone–and I’m not alone in this sentiment. As early as 2012, we’ve been seeing a decline in millennial’s use of voice minutes, and we just recently found out that many in this general age group have stopped listening to their voice mail.

On the other hand, I love social, and it would appear that many people of all demographics feel the same. According to PewResearch, 74% of all internet users use social networking sites. This percentage increases to as high as 89% for the 18-29 age group. It logically follows that if you want to reach someone in their preferred channel, social is probably a good bet–and this is also true for providing customer support.

Hello? Are You There?

After recently contacting the online print company Shutterfly regarding a disappointing Christmas card order and receiving no response, I tweeted the following (excuse the typos…I was mad):

Social Customer Service

I received no acknowledgment of my tweet, which made me more mad and extremely less likely to bring my business back during the next holiday season (after being a repeat customer for the past several years).

But it didn’t have to happen this way.

Dedicated Social Customer Support

If Shutterfly was smart about their customer service, they would have had a social customer support program in place (they would have also responded to my email, but that’s another story). Lots of people like me are looking for customer service on social, and 42% of those people expect a response within 60 minutes, so it behooves brands to put in a little effort here.

Let’s take a look at social customer support done well. I recently wrote a case study about one of our clients, a large, recognizable consumer electronics brand, that was caught off guard by a customer complaint that went viral on social. While working to put out the fire, the company realized it should have a more strategic presence in social communities. The company decided to proactively seek out and engage customers in the social sphere, addressing their concerns and support issues in real time, in their preferred social channels.

To get the social support program up and running, the company followed these steps:

  1. Complete a social audit to determine where the brand had official social presences and where its products are often mentioned online.
  2. Identify key influencers on these topics and platforms. Listen to these influencers to find the best keywords to monitor around the brand’s products.
  3. Develop a team to monitor these keywords on social channels.
  4. Build a framework around how to engage customers discussing brand/product issues on social channels.

Real Results for the Customer and the Brand

Starting with only two dedicated employees, the social support team for this client has grown to nearly 30 members and has seen the following impressive results:

  • Surprise! Their customers are happier! The social customer satisfaction (CSAT) score is 93%, whereas the call center CSAT score is only 84%.
  • They’re solving issues quickly with a social first contact resolution (FCR) of 95%. This one is a great indicator of a reduction in operating costs and increase in customer retention rate.
  • They’re improving satisfaction AND saving money with a call deflection rate (CDR) of 69%. This means this social support interaction “deflected” potential callers into a channel that has a higher resolution rate and higher satisfaction score while also boasting a lower cost. That’s a double bonus.
  • With a net promoter score of 90, the social support improved the willingness of customers to recommend the company’s products.

These results speak for themselves. Customers are getting the support and answers that they want in a timely manner in the channel of their choice, improving the individual interaction as well as the overall customer experience. All of this is resulting in more satisfied customers that are more likely to hang around. As a bonus, the company is also saving some money.

Take note, Shutterfly.

Updates:

12/13/14: Shutterfly did, in fact, respond to my tweet containing this blog post, and we will hopefully work out my issue (maybe I just needed to shout a little louder?).

Social customer support from Shutterfly

 

1/8/15: I DMed my order number to Shutterfly shortly after their tweet, as requested, and I have yet to receive a response. Even bigger fail!

Temporal Messaging: the hot marketing trend that never was

temporal messaging dataEvery few years a new term or catchphrase comes along that catches fire. Omnichannel marketing is one, for example.

A catchphrase I heard a few years ago—which didn’t catch fire, but still smolders (especially in Europe)—is temporal messaging and its close cousin, temporal rhythms. Simply put, when do consumers send messages to one another? What patterns do their messaging behaviors follow? And how can we use this data?

Why temporal messaging matters

Messaging is just one online behavior, but peak messaging times and patterns are vital to know and here’s why:

  • Messaging is a very good proxy for other online activities. People who are online messaging are also shopping, watching streaming media, etc.
  • Messaging is becoming device agnostic, and people can send or accept messages on a laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc.
  • People message one another with word-of-mouth product recommendations.
  • People message one another when it is convenient to do so, so are likely to share product recommendations within social media.

When is it best to reach them online? Well, it seems people fall into patterns and rhythms of messaging one another: temporal rhythms.

The best study of temporal messaging was performed in 2006 by HP Labs. They studied student use of Facebook messaging, and at the time, only college students had access to Facebook (and 90% of them used it). The title was nearly as long as the study itself—Rhythms of Social Interaction: Messaging Within a Massive Online Network. The researchers tracked 362 million messages exchanged by 4.2 million users over 26 months—an absolute mountain of data by 2006 standards.

It surprised the researchers just how consistent and predictable student behavior was. For example:

  • Facebook messaging peaked during class time and study hours. That made sense—students used computers to socialize, study and exchange information about classes.
  • Facebook messaging tanked on Friday and Saturday nights, as well it should. Presumably, students were socializing face-to-face during those periods.
  • Weekend “rhythms” ran from mid-Friday to mid-Sunday, while weekday behavior ran the five days in between.
  • Seasonal messaging behavior was pretty consistent, including over summer and winter breaks.
  • About six in 10 messages were between students at their own school, the remainder to students at other schools. So, the word-of-mouth “reach” was very significant, both on-campus and on other campuses.

Behold the temporal database

Those findings were surprising and groundbreaking—eight years ago. But HP Labs promoted something very innovative at the time, which was the temporal database. It was (at the time) the latest dimension of online behavior and the least utilized. We knew already just who bought what, where and why they bought it, but now we could measure when—when they talked about it, when they researched it, when they purchased it and when brands could reach them online.

Temporal data would include:

  • Peak online hours for whichever demographic you choose, be it college students, parents of college students, Hispanic consumers, single women between 18 and 34, etc. When are they online most? Least?
  • Peak online hours for specific activities, like consuming streaming media, playing massive-multiplayer online games, online shopping.
  • Peak hours for brick-and-mortar activity, like when consumers (choose the demographic) are in stores with their smartphones or mini-tablets.

This all sounds familiar

But, you say, we do know all of that. Yes, we do—or, at least, we know much of it. That does not mean taking advantage of it is a piece-of-cake. For temporal data to work, there must be sufficient data to make the necessary determinations on communications and applicable layered segmentation. Then, the trick is using it wisely, for example, to target someone in your demographic sweet spot enough times to intrigue rather than annoy. To target them in the hours before their typical brick-and-mortar shop, or when they’re typically relaxing with their devices at home. All temporal data.

I thought the term temporal database would catch fire—it didn’t. Instead, the phrase big data did, and temporal data was wrapped into it.

To summarize what temporal messaging is, it is the construct of hitting the right audience with the right message through the right channel—at the right time. The end goal is to achieve the best possible response.

Sound familiar?

Sure it does. It just wasn’t called that.

Do you track temporal messaging? How do you use temporal data to improve your reach?

They’re Talking About You: 3 Reasons to Use Social Listening

By: Michael McCurdy

Man listensPeople can’t help but let the world know exactly how they feel at any given moment using their handy smart devices. Amused by something? Better turn to Facebook and make a post. Frustrated? Turn to Twitter to complain. But the fact is, these posts are an opportunity to better engage your customers and make smarter business decisions. Social media has become one of the best tools through which to gauge the habits, likes, and dislikes of customers.

Think about it. The last time you logged onto Twitter, was a follower ranting about a company because they spent the last 5 hours on the phone trying to get help? Or maybe a Facebook friend posted a video of their comic flight attendant. Or shared a selfie wearing their favorite brand. You get the picture. Your prospects and customers are talking about you on social. All the time. Sounds a little scary, but it shouldn’t be.

Social Listening

Savvy companies take advantage of social media to listen to these conversations and intervene where necessary to improve the customer experience. This goes beyond simply responding to @ messages or hashtags on Twitter and messages posted directly to your Facebook wall. Social listening takes it a step further and carefully monitors a comprehensive list of keywords that may be associated with conversations about your brand.

For example, one of our recent clients, a large entertainment provider, decided to roll out a streaming service for its broadcast events. There was a huge number of viewers trying to migrate to the new streaming service across multiple types of devices and operating systems, which naturally resulted in a variety of technical questions. Of course this company implemented a typical phone-based customer service solution. But they also put social listening into place with agents actively monitoring Facebook, Twitter and Google+ for problems and working with the customers in real-time to solve them.

To put some numbers behind it, Cisco claims a 281% ROI with social listening through Salesforce.com and Radian6. Using a consistent, scalable means of understanding and acting on social conversations, Cisco increased productivity and profits, achieving this impressive return on investment in less than one year.

3 Reasons to Listen

If you still need convincing, here three top advantages of social listening.

  1. Engage your customers.

If you’re actively monitoring consumers’ conversations, it’s easy to insert yourself just when the customer needs you. They have a need, you provide a solution. They have a question, you provide an answer. It’s a zen-like moment. You fit naturally into the conversation and become a welcomed, valuable participant.

  1. Keep tabs on your competition.

Not only can you get a real-time look at how consumers feel about your own brand, but you can also hear what they’re saying about your competition. Take a look at conversations about your competitors and see what they do right, what they do wrong, what customers love and loathe, and consider how you can apply these insights to your own strategy.

  1. Plan your roadmap.

A brand that has its finger on the pulse of the customer knows exactly where to go next. Using the information collected from social listening, you can more effectively position your brand, products, services, etc. Identify what your customer needs or wants and then supply it.

Get It Done

Everyone is talking. Social listening is like having an exclusive wiretap to monitor and record every conversation. Use it to your advantage to enhance the customer experience, stay ahead of the competition and plan your next moves.

Overcoming the Seller Dilemma

iStock_000049660734LargeTension between sales and marketing has long been a hindering factor in the B2B sector. But there is a new and widening gap that could harm the bottom line. B2B technology buyers are increasingly educating themselves on business solutions, putting salespeople on the back foot.

Buyer Empowerment

The rise of social media has led to the empowerment of B2B buyers. Their ability to research and discuss potential solutions online reduces their reliance on the expertise of salespeople. Some sources report that a typical buyer’s decision making processes is now 57 per cent complete before they consult providers. This puts salespeople at a considerable disadvantage. In fact, a Gartner study released last year suggested that technology salespeople have ‘lost their mojo’. It said that relying on traditional approaches, such as sales presentations, can result in simply telling the customer what they already know.

There is much at stake here. Later involvement in the sales cycle risks commoditisation of relationships, making them more transactional than consultative. Worse still, some sales opportunities could be missed altogether if your firm is discounted during the initial stages of the decision making process.

New Opportunities

But there is scope for this threat to be turned into an opportunity. The Gartner study suggests that salespeople should focus on adding real value by providing tailored information highlighting how the customer can enhance their own business. Could sales and marketing collaborate to achieve this?

The answer is yes. Marketers can identify the emerging fissures between sales teams and prospects, then find ways to bridge them. Social media is a case in point. We know that technology buyers are discussing pain points and potential solutions on social platforms. Marketers can help sales teams unlock the ‘hidden sales cycle’ that is embedded in these conversations.

Clearly, being present on social platforms is not enough in itself. Careful management of the tone, content and pitch of social interactions is essential. It is too easy for a salesperson taking a traditional selling approach to rock up as a gate crasher at the social media party. Marketers can play a vital role enabling salespeople to be a welcome, if unexpected, guest.

This can be achieved in part by educating sales teams in social listening and social etiquette. But it can be taken to a higher level than this, enabling salespeople to earn back the role of solutions expert. All of that traditional sales collateral can be stripped back and repurposed into social friendly content that is tailored to the needs of different industries and buyer personas. So those White Papers and 50-slide PowerPoint decks might be condensed into a series of customised infographics or slick two-minute videos. It’s all about finding ways to provide the right information in the right way at the right time. Brevity and relevance are the name of the game.

Ditch the Pitch

Ultimately it comes down to recognising that today’s buyers follow an alternative path to purchase. Salespeople need to leave their sales pitches behind and join their prospects on the new buyer journey. Marketers can play a vital role providing navigation systems and signposts.

Who knows, perhaps this could signify a new dawn of B2B sales and marketing collaboration.

 

Enterprise Social Selling: What Does it Take?

Man listensSocial selling may be the buzzword for 2014, but we’ve been working and fine-tuning social-selling programs for a few years now — and we’ve learned what it takes to use social media to drive demand and connect with B2B prospects.

With IBM, we’ve built a social-selling program that spans across North America and EMEA and a sales force of 1,700, plus IBM Inside Sales Reps. As of October 2012, upward of 15 percent of all wins for IBM’s Inside Sales Public Cloud Computing Group were directly attributed to the current social-selling effort.

Through our work with IBM and other comparable organizations, I’ve picked up a number of valuable lessons for implementing and scaling a social-selling program in an enterprise. Organizations considering social selling should keep the following elements in mind:

Social Listening

Your social technology set should be able to help you listen to both internal and external conversations. For internal conversations, it’s important to learn: What are employees saying? Are they on target with your broader marketing strategy? Are they talking about the right topics and engaging with the right type of influencers and prospects? For external conversations, find out: What are prospects and known audience talking about in the social graph? What can you do to make your next social engagement as timely and relevant as possible while maintaining credibility?

Social listening allows you to tap into the conversations in the social graph to align a social-selling editorial calendar.

Location, Location, Location

To complement a socially active sales force, you need a destination for prospects to land on, such as a social-selling rep page. One that offers valuable information and lets prospect do their own research first before contacting you through more traditional means on their own terms. This page can be used to drive traffic to for future conversions.

Measurement and Tracking

Connecting your social-selling efforts internally to an existing CRM solution to track the total volume of social leads and opportunities is vital to tracking success. Some useful tools for this include Unica Netinsight and Adobe Analytics, which could be a part of your current marketing automation or Web CMS toolset.

It’s important to ensure that your tool is scalable across your inside sales force so you can get consistent governance, workflow, and reporting to measure success. And connecting to your social CMS/CRM gives you a better understanding of where your top-of-the-funnel traffic is coming from — and how successful these efforts are at converting unknown-to-known lead opportunities.

Training and Enablement

Prior to kicking off any social-selling effort, take the time to assess your sales organization’s social media maturity. How many of your reps are novices, and how many have a lot of experience?

This knowledge will help you determine how much training and enablement needs to be done prior to a full launch across the organization. It also will reveal the social-selling tactics that your organization can take on immediately. Training that might be needed includes activating sales reps’ social personas, upgrading LinkedIn profiles, and teaching the social CRM tool.

Jon Sander is director of digital strategy for Harte Hanks.

Welcome to 2014, the Year of Social Selling

Social selling. We’re calling it as the tech buzzword of 2014.

Social selling is not only about getting your internal sales force to integrate social media across their broader digital sales toolkit. It’s using social media to find and intercept audience pain points, then using those key insights to inform content creation efforts to drive leads.

If it were simple, everyone would have flawless social-selling integration. For B2C brands, a small amount of social selling comes naturally in the 21st century; for B2B brands, using social media for sales is more complex.

We’ve been tackling social selling for a couple of years now. Here we will drop our top three social-selling tips to get you thinking in the right direction.

How can B2B organizations best use social selling?

Foremost, social media should be used to build relationships, not just to push a sales agenda onto customers. The customer you are looking to engage with or intercept on social media has a problem — a problem that you can help them solve. Reach out with existing knowledge sources, like white papers, articles and cost calculators. Position yourself as a thought leader, and make sure customers know they can come to you for knowledge, not just to purchase a product. It might seem like a lot of work, but remember: Though prospects might not be ready to buy right now, when they are, they will know where to ask for help.

Does social selling produce results?

Social Media Today states that 79 percent of marketing leads never convert into sales and that a lack of lead nurturing is the common cause of this poor performance. By using social media to open your channels of direct engagement with existing and potential customers, you have an easy tool to nurture your leads, and convert more of those elusive 79 percent into actual sales.

How’s this for results: IBM recently reported that 15 percent of the overall wins for its cloud computing sales efforts could be directly attributed to its social-selling efforts. Additionally, 55 percent of buyers search for information using social media channels, and 75 percent of buyers are likely to use social media somewhere in the purchase process.

Those numbers show that if you’re not developing a B2B social-selling program, you could be missing out. With social selling, you’re not email spamming your customers, you’re not leaving five voicemails that may or may not be sent into a black hole. You’re nurturing prospects directly.

How do I know if social selling is right for my business?

If your target industry is socially active, then, yes, it’s right. Think about how you want to engage prospects, overall and individually. Understanding your audience means knowing that each prospect has a preference for being contacted and engaged. Some prospects prefer LinkedIn, while others might be looking for knowledge on Twitter. Social selling might not be the right program for your business if your target audience isn’t using social media. From our experience, B2B targets in the banking industry are usually socially silent because of industry or privacy regulations. So, it’s necessary to research your prospect’s social activity first.

Social selling is the exciting new buzzword of 2014, but a solid B2B social-selling program can take years to develop. If you think you’re ready to get started, do your research, and then enlist some pros to help. B2B brands that use social selling to generate and nurture prospects — with conversation and engagement, not sales — will see the benefits of a more integrated demand gen program.

Ginny Torok is a social media analyst at Harte Hanks.

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