Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Everybody’s a Critic- Managing Your Online Reputation

Your customers are talking; do you know what they are saying? Today, savvy consumers are steering away from Yellow Pages, and towards one-stop platforms where customers can not only find a business but also read independent reviews.

It is critical for small businesses to monitor these online conversations and engage with current and future customers. Many companies find this is a daunting task- but it need not be.

Simply begin by tuning in. Start looking at your business through the eyes of a customer. When you do a quick search what comes up? A Web page? A blog? Are these tools up to date, and a good reflection of the company? If not, this needs to change fast!

Now that you are tuned in, the next step is to actually manage your online identity. It is important to remember that there is no need to respond to every review, especially if the majority of the feedback is positive. Negative reviews, however, should be responded to in a helpful (not argumentative) way.

Keep an eye out for review patterns. Is there a common complaint? If so, address it. Remember all reviews, including the negative ones, give you, the business owner, a unique opportunity to look through the eyes of a customer and see what is working and what isn’t.

Make sure you are routinely monitoring what is being said, and commenting when need be. Tools that can help you stay on top of the conversation include Google Alerts and TweetDeck. This is an ongoing process, not something that can be done one Friday afternoon and forgotten about.

Finally, don’t be fooled by this new medium for customer reviews- reviews themselves are not a new thing. Customers voiced their opinions long before the rise of Twitter, and will continue to express themselves long after its demise. Now, you simply have a way to eavesdrop on the conversation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Six Steps to Effectively Market your Brand Online: Make 2009 the year you engage!

By Interbrand (

Last year, online and offline publications were buzzing about social media and its potential impact on various industries. More than half of interactive marketers surveyed (53 percent) in a new Forrester Research report expected social media budgets to increase as a direct result of the weakened economy.

Almost all marketers use some form of social media, including blogging, mobile marketing, search marketing, online video, widgets, game marketing, podcasting, and other forms. Marketing budgets are following the innovation trail. Social media spending in the U.S. will grow from US$ 716 million this year to more than US$ 3.1 billion in 2014, a 34 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). That's a significantly higher rate of growth than the future spending on other interactive marketing channels.

Yet, despite all the investment, there is still much confusion about how to integrate new forms of communication, particularly digital and mobile, into a brand's marketing plan. If 2008 was about creating awareness that social media exists, then 2009 should be about exploring how to meaningfully engage-and engage in a way that makes the team feel comfortable.

There still appears to be much reluctance about social media due to its potential pitfalls. So rather than suggest ideas or programs that some could perceive as too risky, we will focus on six steps you can reasonably take without putting your brand in jeopardy.

1. Start tracking your brand online.
At a minimum, all marketers should be monitoring how their brands live online. Dialogue is happening all over the Internet-on wikis, industry-specific social networks, general social networks like Facebook, blogs, videos, message boards, and product rating sites. Do you have a solid grasp of the social media landscape where your product or category is being discussed?

If you don't, then you are missing out on a golden opportunity to listen in and learn from your customers. The findings can help marketers monitor general perceptions, provide a quick read on an unfolding situation, uncover issues that had not been considered, or even confirm primary market research. No one has time to pour over all of the sites, and some companies prohibit such visits, so it makes the most sense to select an outside service that will aggregate the information in which you are most interested. Many research companies now offer robust sentiment-tracking or blog-mining services. Work with your branding or advertising agency to help select the one that best meets your goals.

2. Establish a relationship with an opinion leader.
Today's consumers are completely different than those of years past; they are involved, well educated, and not afraid to question their offerings. More and more, consumers are turning to the web as their first source for information. As a result, they have begun to forge relationships with one another online, discussing everything from quality of clothing to medications. This has led to the rise of a new type of expert: the opinion leader. These are non-professionals who inspire trust and act as guides for other consumers. They write blogs, voice their opinions in communities, post videos on YouTube, and create Facebook pages devoted to their cause or interest.

Opinion leaders exist for virtually every consumer market. Whether it is reviewers, yelpers, critics on Amazon, or popular blogs like Design*Sponge and BagJunkie, these non-professionals are voicing their opinions and influencing consumers' shopping habits. Many of these opinion leaders have already started developing relationships with brands, reviewing products, and writing about store launches on their blogs.

3. Support a social network in your category.
Over the past few years, discussions about every brand imaginable have moved from Yahoo! Groups and listservs to full-blown social networks. As already mentioned, consumers are connecting with each other online, often disclosing personal histories and preferences. These networks exist in a number of places: large, general social networks like Facebook, Ning, and MySpace; general sites for category interests; and specialty platforms. How can you get involved? You need not start from scratch and create a new forum. Go where your audience already congregates.

A great example of a company that partnered with a thriving social network is LifeScan, a Johnson & Johnson company and manufacturer of the OneTouch glucose meter. LifeScan learned about TuDiabetes, a social network for those living with diabetes founded by Manny Hernandez in 2007, at an American Diabetes Association-sponsored expo. It developed a partnership that resulted in an entire section of the OneTouch site dedicated to sharing-the root of all social networking-which features information about TuDiabetes and its programs. According to Manny, the relationship with LifeScan has been warmly received by the TuDiabetes community and has helped the group grow.

4. Engage with consumers at one of their many online haunts.
The Internet is completely integrated into consumers' personal and professional lives. Consumers go online during the day, between work or during work, to search for information. They also peruse favorite blogs, share information in specialized social networks, and read the online versions of preferred magazines and journals. These destinations represent prime locations where savvy marketers can disseminate compelling content that goes far beyond ad banners.

For example, on Cooliris, brands create their own “channels” that support branded content beyond advertising (Sex and the City created a channel with behind-the-scenes footage, actor interviews, and extended scenes) that also leads directly to a point of purchase. Brands have used Twitter to engage with consumers too. Whole Foods has a Twitter feed for each location, so it can share information with users on a local level.

The medical blogosphere is also blossoming in size and stature. One of the best-known bloggers is Dr. Val Jones of Getting Better with Dr. Val. She recently teamed up with other well-regarded physician and nurse bloggers to create Better Blogcast, which offers the industry a novel way to access the blogging community with complete transparency. Using an unrestricted grant model, Better Blogcast invites top bloggers to write about specific topics. The posts are shared across all participating sites through a news widget.

5. Use video to communicate and educate.
Compelling video is the next frontier. Many companies have created branded YouTube and Facebook pages. While it's a great first step, the content they have posted is not as enticing as it could be. To effectively drive viewership, marketers need to think about the intended audience, medium, and distribution. A common mistake is to use material developed for TV or DVD and upload it to the web.
Distribution and uptake are other important issues, so it is best to work with a company that knows content and search optimization to ensure buzz and page views. When done correctly, the rewards can be dramatic. Aquafina worked with GeniusRocket to use crowd-sourced video to generate over 107,000 views in 19 days. Health Guru's library of over 1,000 videos generated 150 million page views in 2008.

6. Go mobile.
Mobile applications that focus on brands and tools for professionals are exploding. Cell phone use and smartphone use are growing at a faster rate than Internet use. The struggling newspaper and media industries have found iPhone applications to be an effective way to capture the interest of a dwindling audience (The New York Times, Bloomberg, and NPR all have popular, free applications). Target's free application generates gift ideas and a list of nearby Target stores that have the items in stock with a slot-machine-like application. iPhone users can even receive coupons to some of their favorite brand products directly on their phone from online coupon portal of Grocery iQ. The application comes preloaded with over 130,000 name-brand supermarket items. Customers just need to specify the exact size and variety of the product they're looking for, and the product pops up right on their screen. Users can redeem coupons in three ways: by displaying them at the checkout counter, by crediting them to their supermarket loyalty account, and by printing them off in an email. A coupon on this application could, in time, go a long way in influencing consumers' shopping habits.

Healthcare brands can use phone applications to their benefit as well. Apple's App Store offers over 150 medical tools for physicians, many of which are free, but even more that are not. The most popular downloads provide comprehensive drug information, medical calculators, terminology, or protocols/interpretations (e.g., eye exam, ECG interpretation). Why not use some of your marketing dollars to create an application that physicians find useful and relevant? It is also a good way to engage in dialogue with customers because many physicians willingly post feedback.


Currently, there are many ways to engage in the social media universe that are no more risky than what you are doing today offline. As these six steps show, numerous opportunities exist to market your brand effectively online. So regardless of which path you choose, make 2009 the year you engage.

By Bunny Ellerin and Nora Geiss

Bunny Ellerin is the Managing Director of Interbrand Health in New York. Bunny leads the research division and is responsible for all facets of the business including operational performance, business development, client management, and staffing. Bunny is known throughout the industry for her work founding and leading the Harvard Business School Health Industry Alumni Association.

Nora Geiss is Senior Consultant for Interbrand's Verbal Identity practice in New York. Her expertise spans naming, tagline development, naming architecture, messaging, tone of voice, brand engagement, and brand launch for B2B and B2C brands in a broad range of industries.

For more information at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"PR Stunt"

Say the words “PR stunt” and what comes to mind?

An attention-seeking young man jumping off a bridge?

A pair of writers smuggling a bomb past airport security?

A hodge-podge of ideas that help no one, except for the sole purpose of attracting media attention?

That’s what most people think of when they hear the words “publicity stunts.” That’s not, however, the type of publicity stunt we’re talking about here. Amateur, unprofessional “publicity” like that has no place in credit union marketing.

Having said that, there are PR stunts that are powerful tools for attracting the publicity you want. Selected and implemented correctly, a PR stunt benefits your credit union, the media and, most importantly, your members.

The key to a PR stunt that works is simple:

It looks like anything but a PR stunt.

Ideally, it shouldn’t even be done for the publicity of it, but for the sake of the initiative alone.

Remember when the flu vaccine shortage became known? At that time, $949 million Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union in St. Paul, Minn., provided cans of chicken soup and tissues to members. The result? Great PR.

The credit union declared that it will now have supplies of soup and tissues on hand for scheduled flu shot clinic days. President/CEO Kyle Markland, a CUES member, was quoted as saying, “…we received a flood of inquiries and interest in this simple, from-the-heart gesture.”

From the heart?


This is PR at its best, straight from the head of a creative genius. And simple? Absolutely. The best PR stunts are simple. More importantly, they don’t look like PR stunts on the surface, because they have value in and of themselves.

Take the chicken soup idea as an example. It sure looks like there’s some heart involved here, especially if (like most people) you’re not thinking like a PR hound. And therein lies the common denominator of all successful PR stunts: It’s more than just a stunt.

You can jump off a bridge, and you’ll get attention. But the only motive people will attribute to your efforts is that you were looking for PR. You can do something wild or unusual, and again, people will simply sigh and think, “Some people will do anything for attention.” And you know what? They’re right. A good PR person will go to great lengths for attention. But the key is to vie for the right kind of attention. They won’t do anything for attention; they’ll do something. Something very carefully planned out and thought about. Something that no one will call a PR stunt.

Here are eight “idea templates” to get you started:

1. Take a page from reality TV. Will members be open to a financial makeover? How about saving for a down payment for a home? Financing a used car?

2. Tie your PR into something seasonal and very visual. Editors are always looking for seasonal stories. But don’t stick with the typical; be creative. For example?

3. Do a case study on ID theft. Have people pretend to steal the identity of a made-up individual and follow the consequences for that imaginary person. What could he or she have done to prevent it?

4. Involve children. This makes for great photo opportunities. Think in terms of education: unique ways to educate children on financial topics (credit, debt, savings, investments) or games they can play that does the same thing. Think of a unique twist on a tour of your credit union.

5. Run a contest. Involve the community or all employees at your SEG. Make it fun, interesting, and provide prizes. Issue press releases at each stage of the game.

6. Plan a “stunt” for your annual meeting. Challenge members to _______________. (You fill in the blank!) Have a talent show. An international cooking contest. A masquerade. A public debate on a hot topic.

7. Give back to the community in an unusual way. Involve members in a community initiative that is anything but the norm. This can take shape as a charitable initiative that involves something other than money. Remember “Hands Across America”? Consider a similar fundraiser for your city (Hands Across Sacramento) or state (Hands Across Rhode Island).

8. Organize a very different type of fundraising event or idea. CEOs swimming in Jello or going to “jail” were cool ideas when they were first implemented, but are now completely overdone. Think outside the box and do something unique. The media will eat it up.

The ideas are endless. Let your imagination run wild! PR stunts can be fun, and they certainly have a place in credit union marketing. But if you’re looking for a low-key campaign, watch out: You never know how far a simple, unusual idea can go to bring you free—and sometimes immense—media exposure.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Quick Tips Offered by Event Planners That You Can Use

By Rob Hard,

The following highlights a few tips offered by colleagues in the profession:

Event Planning Tip: Reduce Room Attrition Fees

A day or so before your event, find out if your hotel is booked. If so, you can use that to get them to waive any attrition fees you may have incurred. This worked for me at Bellagio. -- Submitted by: Sandra Corzine, with ADP Insurance Services, Florham Park, New Jersey.

Event Planning Tip: Arrive 1 Hour Early for Site Visits

Show up at least one hour before your scheduled site inspection, unannounced. In that time, walk around, try to interact with staff like you are a guest (ask directions, ask "difficult questions" as if you were not a seasoned traveler), look in the restaurants -- eat there if you have time, ask for recommendations for a local restaurant (just to see the responsiveness). I've actually called off an inspection when the property didn't come close to my standards for the meeting being placed -- saved my time and did the sales manager the courtesy of saving his, too. In the time I saved, did a spur-of-the-moment inspection of another hotel and ended up booking it! -- Submitted by: Robert Abbott Director-Corp. Marketing & Communications, with Mueller Co., Decatur, Illinois.

Event Planning Tip: Use a Tree Stanchion for Lanyards

As any planner or registrar knows, string/lanyard badges can get tangled easily and create quite a mess in the registration area. After going to a store one day, I noticed a necklace stanchion in the jewelry section. I found and bought a few "tree stanchions" on the Internet and now use them at all of our conferences. I barely ever have to fight with knots. Plus, they make the registration area look even more professional and organized. You can even place a sign on top of them! -- Submitted by: Christopher Gossett Conference Coordinator, with Investment Company Institute, Washington, District of Columbia.

Event Planning Tip: Reserve Last Rows to Fill Front Rows

Want to fill those empty tables at the front of a banquet?

Nothing looks worse than empty tables in front of your stage on banquet night, especially when you have a guest speaker. When I want to make sure the tables in front of my stage are full I put reserved signs on the last two rows of tables in the ballroom which forces people to look at tables closer to the stage. Once those front tables are filled I pull the reserved signs and fill the tables in the back of the room too. It really works great! -- Submitted by: Dan Lough Project Coordinator, with United Transportation Union, Cleveland, Ohio.

Event Planning Tip: Use a Fishing Tackle Box for a Supply Kit

Purchase a fishing tackle box and put any miscellaneous items you would need for your meeting (pens, stapler/staples, paperclips, box cutter, scissors, velcro, batteries, sewing kit, emergency kit etc.) and emergency kit. Everything is organized and in one spot to help save time when needed. Make sure you have a list of contents and restock the tackle box when you return home before you find yourself at the next meeting and something is missing. -- Submitted by: Julie Garrison with Association Management Ltd (city and state not listed).