Monday, September 9, 2013

The Meaning of Mentoring

As a young professional just out of college, I didn't have clear goals about what I wanted to do with my career. In fact, the idea of a "career" vs. a job wasn't even something I was actively thinking about. I was most preoccupied with getting a job in the city so I could move out of my parent's house in the sticks. I was very lucky. After a string of disappointing job interviews, I found myself gainfully employed by a university physics department, and my boss was an amazing teacher. He was also my first mentor, helping me to improve my skill set and supporting me while I worked on a graduate degree. While I wasn't going to pursue a career in physics, he guided me through the complicated world of Academe, and encouraged me to use my talent and smarts to move forward.

My second mentor was my next boss. There's a difference between a boss and a mentor, but I was fortunate to find a second person who was both. She told me about which professional networks to join, and how to polish my outward appearance and persona so people would take me more seriously. (She also taught me to always open correspondence with a letter opener, which is something I still do.) We still meet for coffee and trade emails and she's still offering me her time and advice. She's someone I can really count on.

I was elated when Simmons launched a formal mentoring program two years ago, and signed up immediately to be a mentor. I firmly believe in Simmons' mission of educating women for principled leadership. There aren't enough women in the C-suite. There aren't enough women on corporate boards. And the way that more women will get there is to help each other. I truly hope that the women I mentor will build strong careers for themselves, and provide a path for future women to follow.

Yes, mentoring takes a lot of effort. With the Simmons program, we met every two weeks, set goals, and worked toward them together. It is terrifically rewarding to hear someone making progress and part of that progress was due to my input. In some ways, mentoring reminds me of the concepts I learned when I was starting out in fundraising: people don't give to institutions, they give to people. Donors are making an investment in something they care about, whether it's scholarships for dance classes or feeding seven families at Thanksgiving. So I am making an investment in women that I hope to see a return on, in the form of principled leaders who will bring good judgment and perspective to the world of business. 

Have you mentored someone? Have you had an exceptional mentor?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Customer Service Online and Off

In the past week or so, I've been doing more online shopping than I have in the past year. I tend to avoid it because many online sites don't collect sales tax and I'd rather pay it, and also because of some sketchy employment practices by some of the bigger online retailers. The increase of online shopping has been an intersection of gift cards, online coupons, and the fact that something I wanted wasn't available in my size in a local shop.

As a marketer, I am always looking at the advertising, messaging, packaging of any company that I purchase from. I love to ask the question, "Why does this appeal to me?" and think about how the same thing might be applied in my own work with my own customers. I was particularly struck this week by two of the emails I got, related to my online experiences at two different retailers.

The first one was from Brooks Brothers. I don't normally shop there (although my husband does), mostly because they are fairly expensive. However, I have a penchant for carrying handkerchiefs to blow my nose (we can discuss the ecological and medical arguments about this later), and I seem to have fewer of them than ever. Brooks Brothers is one of the few retailers that actually sells nice, soft handkerchiefs. (I have bought them at Macy's and other department stores, but those are usually so rough that you end up with a raw nose.)

What I found very interesting about Brooks Brothers' online shopping experience is that they charge a shipping rate based on how much your order costs. The handkerchiefs I ordered retail at $30. Based on their shipping rate chart, this would cost me $8.95 in shipping. Had those same handkerchiefs cost $6 less, the shipping charge would be $5.95. I've never seen a shipping chart like it.

I ended up searching the Ebates website for a coupon code, and I managed to find one that took 20% off the price, dropping the order into the lower shipping bracket. In a few minutes, I received my confirmation email:

The language is so utterly in line with every Brooks Brothers experience I have ever had:
Thank you for placing an order with We are writing to inform you that your order has been received and is, at present, being processed with the utmost haste. 
I can almost hear the polished staff uttering these polished words as he hands me a heavy pressed paper blue bag with the golden fleece logo. 

Isn't that amazing?

In contrast, today I placed an order with Ann Taylor. Ann Taylor is one of my preferred shopping locations, and probably 75% of my wardrobe comes from there. They have terrific email marketing, with great photography and multiple stylings of the same items, helping you to see the flexibility of their pieces.

Sure their models are a little on the skinny side (and yes I know it's Photoshopped), but they helpfully let me know where the nearest physical locations are in addition to telling me about the online sale going on.

And yet, for all those beautiful "come buy!" emails, their confirmation emails are dismal. I won't even show you a screenshot, because it's nothing but a list of the items (no images), everything in text, and no headers--it's the online equivalent of a grocery store's printed receipt. Boring. Even Banana Republic (another place I've shopped in the past two weeks online), sends you a picture of the item in your confirmation email. (Why is this so important? So I can pull up the email and show a friend just what I ordered.)

Brooks Brothers is a company that prides itself on its customer experience. I have been to their store in Back Bay many times with my husband to buy shirts, suits, and ties, and I love going there because the staff never treats me as if I'm just hanging around. They ask me if I'd like a chair to sit down, they include me in the process of evaluating one tie pattern over another, and they smile and thank me for my visit as much as if I had also purchased something. Their online experience is a complete mimic of this, from the confirmation email telling me how much they value on my online order.

Ann Taylor is missing this follow up online. I've been an excellent customer of theirs for many years, and yet, when I purchase online, I always feel that once I click "Submit" on my order, they're done with me. This is so contrary to my store experiences, where staff tend to be super friendly and helpful. ("We don't have that in a size 8, but let me check the three nearest stores and we can have that shipped to your home.")

For companies that have both an online and a physical presence, it's important to have consistency between your outlets. The reason I prefer shopping in person is because I do get a better customer experience dealing with people and not machines. And yet, as Brooks Brothers shows, you can absolutely replicate that experience online.

How you do make the transition from in-person to online with your marketing and customer experience?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Changing Media Consumption Habits

This weekend, my husband and I went down to the venerable Apple store and purchased an Apple TV box. It's this teeny tiny little thing, maybe 4" x 4" x 1" (roughly the size of a gift box for a bracelet), with a few outlets in the back. It came with the world's smalled remote (about as long as my watch).

We had been kicking around the idea of buying an Apple TV setup for over a year, holding out because for a long while, our favorite show, Mysteries at the Museum, was not available on any of the services you can view on Apple TV. Now it is.

And so, we're bidding adieu to DirecTV. Don't get me wrong, DirecTV has been fantastic with customer support and the offerings on even their smallest and most basic packages. I switched to them four years ago when I finally got sick of Comcast taking channels away from me and then pretending I shouldn't have had them in the first place. (You try being a political junkie with NO NEWS CHANNELS during an election year.)

However, DirecTV costs a significant amount of money each month, and as I'm focusing on spending my money on other things, it only made sense to switch. The Apple TV box costs $99 (plus tax) and for $7.99 per month I can get a subscription to Netflix. That sure beats the $80ish I pay now.

What's interesting about the switch is that it makes me realize just how much media consumption is changing. When I was a kid, you flipped the channels until you found something you wanted to watch, took bathroom breaks during commercials, and if nothing was on, you went outside or read a book or called a friend. If a show was on Tuesdays at 8:00 pm, you made sure to turn on the TV at that time. And we all watched shows at the same times.

In the past few years, I've gotten used to DVR. I fast forward through commercials, tell the TV what I feel like watching, and then watch it when I feel like it. I didn't watch the DNC or RNC speeches live; I read the reviews of the speeches and then watched the ones I thought were worth watching on YouTube.

When I told my father-in-law about our move to AppleTV, he asked, "How are you going to watch the local news?" I haven't watched the local news since.... ever. Okay, I'll watch it if it's on at the gym, or if I'm at my father-in-law's house and he's watching it, but basically, I don't consume local news on television. I read news online, get it from Twitter, or listen to the local NPR station on my iPhone app.

My father loves to tell the story of how, when I was very young, the only television I could watch was Sesame Street, and so I developed the idea that Sesame Street came on whenever you turned on the television. I was very upset when my dad said I couldn't watch Sesame Street after dinner, because I thought he was just saying no, when what he meant was, Sesame Street isn't on television at that time. Today, he just pulls up YouTube to watch Grover and Elmo with my nephew, whenever my nephew wants to watch Sesame Street.

Television is everywhere today, and it can be consumed in so many ways: streaming, subscription, DVR, DVD, BluRay, mobile... and who knows what will come next. How have you changed your media consumption habits?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Who Is Tracking You Online?

Online tracking is a fact of life on the Internet. We all know that somehow, some way, websites gather and collect information about each of us as we wend our way through cyberspace.

Why does this matter?

Privacy-hounds are constantly decrying tracking from company sites and third parties. Facebook is tracking you! Google is tracking you! CNN is tracking you! And who knows what other shadowy figures lurk in morass of code, looking for credit card numbers or other valuable data.

But there are positives in this tracking equation. Tracking helps companies like Google deliver better search results to you personally, by knowing that when you are searching for the term "rockets," based on your search history, you're probably more interested in NASA than the basketball team. Tracking means that the ads you see on websites are more likely to be for things that you're interested in.

Still, the idea that people are constantly collecting information on you is a little irksome. And while I might not mind Google tracking me, I don't really need a lot of advertisers tracking me.

So today, I stumbled on an article via Google+: This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity. The article's author, Samantha Felix, installed a new software program, Do Not Track +, and within a single browsing session, found that Facebook had made over 300 requests to track her information. THREE HUNDRED REQUESTS. Wowsers.

Facebook is definitely low on my trust-worthy websites list, mostly because they don't seem to care about users' privacy or anything besides making money and world domination (and not in the good Napoleon-type way of world domination, either). So, since the Do Not Track + software is free, I downloaded it for my Chrome browser. (You can download your own DNT+ here.)

In the first fifteen minutes, I found it had blocked almost 200 requests for tracking information, from the  following sites: New York Times, Business Insider, a local business I looked up, and Google+. (After visiting other Google properties--Gmail, G+, Blogger--I find that only Google itself is requesting tracking info on these sites.) Interesting.

How do you feel about online tracking? Is it useful for you? Or do you see it as an invasion of your online privacy?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Setting Goals for Social Media Marketing

As social media makes the transition from "new trend" to "integrated marketing channel" many companies still approach social marketing as something completely different from traditional marketing channels, such as direct mail or phone banking.

But in the end, social media isn't that different.

When your company puts together a direct mail campaign, you no doubt have goals in mind. You set up a structure to measure progress toward those goals, whether it's how many coupons are redeemed in your store or the change in sales comparable to the same time last year.

In social media, the measurement can be different, but for you to use this channel effectively, you still need to set goals.

What Do You Want To Have Happen?

When you start a social media campaign, start with this basic question. What do you want to have happen? Do you want to generate buzz around a new product? Do you want to increase sales? Or maybe you just want to increase positive sentiment for your brand. Think very hard about this, because while all of these things are sensible goals, it's important in your first campaign to focus on one area, as a baseline for future campaigns.

Lurk Before You Leap

I always tell my clients that they need to begin by knowing how to use social media. Well, just as companies spend time monitoring competitors' reported sales or market position, it's also important to see what they're doing on social media. This is crucial to helping you set goals for yourself. If you look at your biggest competitor and notice that what they are doing is one hard sell pitch after another, and you see very few shares of their content, that will give you an idea of their goal (just increase sales) and how you might fare with a similar goal.

Additionally, just as you learn about the market's wants and needs before you develop a new product, look at what your customers are doing and saying on social networks. If you see a lot of messages asking for help about a product, that might lead you to set a goal to answer X customer questions per day.

Research the content on social media and interactions stewarded by the most successful brands: think Apple, Starbucks, Gilt Group, and HubSpot. Ask your network what brands they follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. What are those successful brands doing on social media, and what goals are they accomplishing? Sometimes working backwards can give you new insights into your own goal setting.

Think About Goals in Relation to Measurement

Never set a goal that you can't quantify. "Increase Word of Mouth" is not a good goal unless you have a way to measure it, either by shares of content or the number of times your brand is mentioned on a network.

Also, think about your goals in terms of specificity: the more specific the goal, the easier to measure it. "Increase sales" is a good goal, and you can measure sales that way, but a better way to look at social media marketing is "Increase sales through Twitter links." Now you can directly track your goal through a single channel. What if you're selling a terrific new product that you're tweeting about and it's also mentioned on a regional news program. Measuring just the increase of sales won't tell you if it was social media clicks or the television exposure that really increased your sales.

Set Short-Term Goals and Long-Term Goals

I always tell my clients that the real power of social media is amplification, and the ability to track it. Using tracking tags, or third party tools, you can create a fingerprint for your message and watch it spread over the internet, and even across social networks.

When you set up a campaign, think about the short term and the long term. Maybe your long term goal is to overtake a competitor in market share, but your short term goal will be a stop along the way, such as increasing reviews by X% on sites like Yelp. By thinking about how short-term goals work to build a foundation for your marketing efforts, you can, over time, achieve a bigger goal like becoming the #1 company in your industry.

Use Old Goals to Help Set New Goals

I think of building a solid marketing campaign in the same way the Egyptians thought about building pyramids. You start with a foundation and build up. Each new layer is built on an old layer.

Look at your past traditional marketing campaigns. What were your goals for direct mail? For events and promotions? Did you achieve those goals? If not, why not? Are those goals something that could be achieved via social media? If you can't use the same goals, think about what goals you did achieve and how they could help you determine new goals for social media. If you have enough exposure for your brand, can you use social media to turn exposure into leads? If you have enough leads, can you use social media to turn leads into sales? Look at what you know you can do, and think up to the next layer.

The Takeaway

Goal setting is key to getting the most out of social media, and before you launch a large scale campaign, you should think about your goals first. Social media is a channel in flux, so start small, but keep track of your goals and achievements, so you can build on them in the future. Use what you know to go forward. Always ask these questions to help you really understand what you're doing, and what you expect to get out of it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Social Media Karma

This week is my vacation week, so there's a slight dearth of posts here. However, in trolling my backlog of notes for future blog entries, I came across something I conceived of earlier this year: Using the influence I've built up to share good content and help you reach a broader audience.

It's certainly not a novel idea, but I'm curious to track, via links and clicks, the spread of an idea over the web. I have limited tools to do this in my arsenal, so I'll be concentrating on Twitter and this blog, to see what happens.

The idea was originally inspired by Sarah Von Bargen at Yes and Yes. She runs a monthly feature called "Network of Nice" where various people can write in asking for help or offering help and you can participate by writing in to say if you need help from the offerers or can give help to the askers. I love this feature (which yes, I've done some help offering for in the past) because it plays into the idea of just doing something kind because someone has asked, or finding something you need because someone is brave enough to offer it. I've been very consumed by the idea of karma lately, and the Network of Nice is a living, breathing example of Internet karma.

Obviously, I do not have the same readership as Sarah does, but I'd like to give this a try. Do you have an interesting story that you need to share? Or are you looking for something? Are you unemployed with a serious talent that needs highlighting? I'd like to give this a shot and feature you on this blog, and share your story on my Twitter feed. I can't guarantee that you'll get an answer, but ever the optimist, I'd like to give this a shot.

If you'd like to take a chance with me, please send your story/need to me at kehutchinson [AT] gmail. Feel free to spread the word!