The B2B Social Spotlight: Joy Gendusa

Joy Gendusa

To hear some marketing gurus tell it, social media is the only game in town. While they may not want to hear it, every channel has its place.

When it comes to reminding, thanking, inviting and acknowledging customers, the simple paper post card continues to be connective and effective.

No one knows that better than Joy Gendusa, Founder and CEO of PostcardMania.

Starting her business at her kitchen table 15 years ago, Joy now oversees 200 employees at PostcardMania’s production and fulfillment facility in Clearwater, Fla. The self-proclaimed artist, designer, foodie and entrepreneur built the company on the simple premise that business owners need to be informed marketers.

Joy has generated an impressive quantity of content about direct mail and marketing, eagerly and regularly helping her customers become smarter, years before the term “helpful” became part of the modern marketing lexicon.

What did PostcardMania intentionally set out to do – or do differently – using social media?

I didn't put a lot of attention on social until it had a lot of attention from just regular people. We just kept concentrating on adding content and driving traffic to our website. I wrote most of the content until I started hiring copywriters and getting people to help me with content probably five or six years ago.

I would try something to market my own company and either fall on my face or have success, and I would try something else. I just felt it was my duty to educate my clients and prospects about it so they wouldn't make the same mistakes I made.

How did you arrive at your content strategy?

I was creating content for PostcardMania's website when there was no content,“online”.  I was literally winging it for years. I wanted to educate people on what I was learning. I simply started writing article after article.

What kinds of useful or helpful information do you deliver to your customers?

We supply a real basic how-to approach with case study data. When we explain something, like I did in a series on PPC in my newsletter, I get a lot of real good feedback from people.

I present things simply; this is my story, this is how we do it, this is what this means. We really give good information, usable information, and we don't throw in a lot of terminology. Those kinds of articles get the best responses and the most downloads.

How does PostcardMania target its social outreach?

We have over 60,500 customers, and we only have a few thousand people following us on Facebook. A lot of them follow me personally, but not even a lot of them if you look at the numbers. Of course we did all the normal things like putting our "connect to me" buttons all over the blog and the website and the bottom of email, etcetera.

Now we're on a campaign to actually reach out specifically with email and phone calls to get those people connected with us, so that we can use social media to build trust and get them to like us.

We can make our customers into much better customers, just by being interested in them, and staying in communication with them on social media. That's kind of what gave me the idea to reach out and actively grow that list with our customers, and reach our prospects.

Any traction in closing business through those efforts?

A couple of Valentine's Days ago we did a little project where we took our top 500 customers, and we sent them wax mustaches and wax lips. We said if they'd take a picture and post it on our wall, we'll give them some kind of discount. I think it cost us about $3,000, all said and done.

In the end, we only had a handful of people actually post pictures, and I think we gained maybe 20 likes on our Facebook page, but we wound up selling to 68 of those 500 customers. Those 68 customers, that week, I'm talking about Valentine's Day week, spent $120,000 with us.

What’s your primary channel that connects PostcardMania with prospects?

Our primary channel is direct mail and secondary is PPC. Our newsletter has over 100,000 subscribers and each week we email it out and it routes prospects and customers to our blog. There I can kind of get in their face and say, "Okay. Buy this now; this is a good tool you could use, and this is what it costs; get a deal if you click today," or that kind of thing. But mainly it’s helpful data and not ads at all.

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"We can make our customers into much better customers, just by being interested in them, and staying in communication with them on social media."

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What do you regularly measure to see what is working?

We are measurement FREAKS… we measure everything and primarily it’s calls we receive via our marketing efforts because, in my particular business, a call indicates a hot prospect – the hottest. We also track downloads, through the information we would offer directly, and via Google through sponsored ads. Of course we measure all the usual things too – email open rates, unique visitors to the site, but conversion is where it’s at in the end.

On the social sites, where people aren't expecting to be sold to, and where it annoys them, we're just trying to make them like us enough to go back to our website where we can get serious.

How have your social media activities influenced PostcardMania’s bottom line?

We don't really use social as a revenue generator, except for that one little thing that we did with the wax lips. While it was effective, it’s not yet a business driver. I don't have a big enough list in social to affect my bottom line. We send out 140,000 postcards every single week to generate PostcardMania's revenue, and we spend between $15,000 and $20,000 on PPC a week. That's really how we affect the bottom line.

In the age of social media, is it a bit ironic that you’re promoting items that rely on regular mail?

People are somewhat surprised that our business is still growing as much as it's growing, because it is snail mail and there's so much bad PR about the post office and the expense of postage. But direct mail is still the very best way to target and enlighten. There's a whole group of people searching for what you have, and another large group that have no idea they need what you have, so they're not searching for it. THOSE people need direct mail.

We have integrated digital into our offerings with our Direct Mail 2.0 product, a post card with a call tracking number, a mail tracking number, and a re-targeting campaign all in one.

People don't just call a phone number on a post card anymore. They go to the website, get cookied and see the ad on all the different sites of the Google Network. The repeated message is great and it’s taken DM to a completely new level. Users are getting ridiculous ROI. It’s been a great boost to our company.

What online tools do you rely on everyday? 

We use Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. I personally don't do a lot of social except on my own personal Facebook page. I have a social media manager, and she's on LinkedIn everyday, joining groups, trying to get involved in the conversation, answering questions.

What aspects of social haven’t worked for you? 

So many things have not worked for me over all, not just social. I don't tend to keep my attention on those. We will throw the spaghetti at the wall a thousand times until it sticks. At this point, 15 years into this, we pretty much know how long it needs to boil for it to stick. We're so metric-orientated; we only do what already works.

What's the one thing people would never know about marketing a direct mail and printing company?

They don’t realize how much technology is used. It seems so brick-and-mortar, and it is, because we're a manufacturer, but full on web developers and programmers working full time on various projects are all part of the future. We've really evolved into a technology company in so many ways.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

They probably don't know that I CrossFit, because I'm so new at it that I don't post a lot of about it. I'm addicted.

What three blogs would you recommend?  

I’m also a HUGE Flint McLaughlin groupie.

How can people connect with you?

I answer all my email joy.gendusa@postcardmania.com. I'm not super speedy, because I do get a lot of communication, but I do really enjoy helping people, regardless of whether or not they ever buy from PostcardMania, or want to buy from PostcardMania. I really, really just enjoy helping small business owners. People can also reach via Facebook. I get private messages all the time.

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Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating and using social media to fuel their businesses? I want to talk to them and share their story  Drop me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.

The B2B Social Spotlight: Roger Phelps

Roger Phelps

No one simply picks up a professional chainsaw for the first time and jaunties off to fell a tree, just as no major global brand starts using social media without knowing how to strategically implement the tools.

Roger Phelps knew that integrating social media for STIHL, the number one selling brand of gasoline powered handheld outdoor power equipment in America, required fundamental business reasoning behind which tools and platforms would deliver the right result for the company, its dealers and customers.

As a Naval Academy grad, active service veteran, experienced event planner and PR pro – and presently Promotional Communications Manager for STIHL Inc. (the U.S. subsidiary of the worldwide STIHL Group) – Phelps knows strategic process and planning. He took the better part of a year to assemble the company’s approach before launching the company’s social media program.

As an established global brand, what did STIHL intentionally set out to do – or do differently – with social media?

I’ve always said that you earn the right to be heard. You can’t expect someone to listen to you unless you’ve established first that you’re worth listening to.

I started with the fundamental business reasons why our company was going to tackle social. Not because it was cool. Not because it was trendy. Not because everybody was telling me, “Oh you need a Facebook page”. You don’t “need” one unless you have first figured out why it benefits your business.

Our premise – and our promise – is this idea of family. We’re family owned. A STIHL dealership is often family-owned. When you buy a STIHL, you are in a way joining our “family” and we wanted to capitalize on that. Our business goals and objectives were to increase our brand awareness, influence brand preference, and create an open dialogue with our customers. Then I worked to find what platforms could deliver on those goals with our desired audience. In some cases, it was a B2B audience; in others, it was a professional consumer or a homeowner.

I think that’s what social media does; it enables people to become part of something bigger; this family, this group of STIHL followers. The content and information we share will hopefully be interesting and helpful to them, and will inspire them to share their own stories and interests.

STIHL caters to wide range of users and industries. What steps did it take to connect with those distinct and diverse segments?

It comes down to simple word of mouth. STIHL chain saws were initially built for professionals – loggers, landscapers, smoke jumpers, firefighters and rescue workers. A passion built up between these pros and their tools. Then we branched out into consumer tools. The influencers, what we call “Eddy Experts”, were the people everybody else in the community asked about the chain saw and trimmer they use.

Social media is word of mouth gone high-tech and makes it easy for people to share their stories and identify with our brand. They know they may not be a smoke jumper, but if that pro depends on a STIHL then if they need a tool for their backyard, they should buy a STIHL because if it’s good enough for a pro, it’s good enough for them. And now as part of the STIHL “family”, they can share their own story.

What is STIHL doing to build followers and connect with prospects and customers? I see that video plays a large role.

We’re active on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as our primary platforms, as well as our blog, and video is our next big focus. The lifespan of content on a platform makes it that way. Twitter is probably hour and Facebook maybe one to two days. You look at YouTube and content there lasts a comparable lifetime. A key metric for us on YouTube is subscribers, which represent our truly engaged users.  They are the ones who have indicated they want content from us, leave comments and share with others the videos that have been uploaded.

How is STIHL using social to engage its dealer channel? To what extent are they using social?

When I first mapped out our social media approach, we knew our dealers would be an important part of the strategy but they weren’t part of the initial approach. A couple of them are very active both on Twitter and YouTube. One dealer even created his own cable TV show, and uses Twitter and Facebook to organize viewing parties and discuss the show afterwards. But it really was not widespread.

I wanted to make sure we understood how the brand was going to be represented and received before we started actively advocating or pushing out social media to our dealers. These are independent businesses. We can’t necessarily tell them what to do or how to do it, except when it comes to how they treat our brand, so I wanted to be sure we knew what we were talking about before assisting them in their efforts.

Now that we are in our third year of social media experience, we are shifting our efforts to assisting our dealers with their social media efforts.  We are creating content that they can easily reuse, customize, and personalize, such as tips, how-to’s, blog posts and videos. We have also just launched formal dealer social media training as part of our company’s online training program. And we’re researching the way social media activates locally so we can help our dealers understand that as well.

How have your social media activities influenced STIHL’s bottom line?

Our main business goal is to promote the brand, our products and our dealers, but as social media tracking becomes more sophisticated we’re getting closer to being able to track the impact of social media interactions on sales.

We don’t sell online, but our STIHL Express service enables people to reserve online. Through tools provided by Facebook and Google Analytics for instance, we’re tracking individuals leaving the Facebook page, landing on the STIHL USA page, and to pages, they navigate to when they get there. So now, we’re able to tie content on our blog or other platform to the STIHL USA page and then track them all the way through the STIHL USA process including a STIHL Express transaction.

We have enjoyed significant sales and market share increases over the past 5 years, and I would say that social media has played an important role in this as part of a coordinated marketing plan.

What do you regularly measure to see what is working and what is not?

We review online mentions of STIHL on a daily basis. At the end of the week, we receive a “buzz report” from our social media agency that provides us a summary of mentions, tone, links, and trends. This assists us in getting a feel for what is being said about us and where.  We also measure the number of followers for our various social platforms, and most importantly the degree of their engagement with our content.

I get jazzed every time I read the monitoring reports. Because we’re two-step distribution we’re somewhat removed from our customers. With social media, we are able to develop a relationship with our customers more directly, and hear exactly what they think about our products, our dealers, and us.

What aspect of social hasn’t worked for STIHL? 

Content development has been a learning process. In the beginning, I would cut and paste standard press releases into the blog, and then maybe a part of it became a Facebook post. I quickly figured out that this was not what our fans wanted. I learned that we needed to pay attention to the tone and type of conversation that was taking place on each of these platforms and adjust the content to fit what was expected.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

I was a nationally ranked collegiate saber fencer.

What three blogs would you recommend?  

I tend to be eclectic regarding the blogs I read, but for the PR side of what I do, Mr. Media Training is phenomenal, and Mashable is regular destination.

How can people connect with you? 

Twitter: uphelpsr (Personal), STIHLusa (Professional)

Blog: STIHLusablog.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/STIHLusa

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/roger-phelps-clp/3/717/968

YouTube: www.youtube.com/stihlusa

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Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating and using social media to fuel their businesses? I want to talk to them.  Send me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.

Creative Destruction, a Close Shave and Social Media

Yes, you can compete with large, established competitors if you’re a small company or start up.

Yes, you can use a more human approach to attract attention to your sales messages.

Yes, social media works. (Despite being a B2C example, this story holds lessons for all marketers).

Dollar Shave Club (a start up) is proof of all three – its YouTube video attracted 12,000 customers within its first 48 hours online.

How?

With a very human and humorous approach that address a pain point in the market: the high cost of razors.

Dollar Shave has a solid business premise:

  • Basic razors at low prices.  As Michael Dubin, founder and chief executive, points out in the video, do you really need the latest razor with a vibrating handle?  Because the only way the big players can increase price is by adding features, they keep adding them.
  • A new way to sell a consumable — by monthly subscription, delivered by mail.

 

The company tells a story in a very human, personal way.  The founder just plain tells it like it is:

… In simple language (likely not professionally scripted)

… With passion

… With personality and humor (btw, the CEO was trained in improv comedy)

Viewers can relate!  For the same reason people like Super Bowl commercials – they’re creative, and fun to watch.

Taking a cue from zappos.com, diapers.com, and now even soap.com, Dollar Shave is giving consumers a new and attractive option.  It saves them money.  It’s more convenient.

Investors are noticing – willing to fund companies that are shaking things up.  And so are the traditional media.  The story has been covered in Fast Company, Forbes, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and more.

And big competitors?  They seem to have no fear of “just another low-cost provider.”  With views to its video at 4 million and counting, perhaps they should.

And one more lesson for B2B marketers: with social media, you don’t need a huge marketing budget to build a following.

Pointing again to the crucial nature of YOUR MESSAGE –not just its guts, but how it’s presented.

And, pointing to the opportunity represented when you can find a hole in a staid, competitive market.  Consider your own industry.  Can you find a new option for designing, packaging or delivering your product or service?

Creative destruction like this can happen in the B2B world.  If you’re looking for new or better ways to compete, or an impetus for making your marketing more creative, make this story the basis for a team brainstorm, and let the ideas flow.

Google Search Changes and the Importance of Content

Continuing our recent discussion about ensuring your company’s visibility in Google searches: at the end of April, Google made changes to its search algorithm – and those changes are affecting many websites, but both positively and negatively.

Fortunately, Google provides ongoing tips in its Webmaster Central blog to help companies put forth “the best user experience” – especially useful for those who can’t invest in regular, professional oversight of their websites (Google makes an estimated 500 changes annually to its search algorithm to combat those attempting to ‘trick’ the search engine into giving their sites higher organic rankings, via keyword stuffing, paying for links, and an assortment of other shady practices).

Google: “Focus on Building Useful Sites with Compelling Content”

The algorithm change is further reinforcement for the advice B2B marketing and PR firms like ours have been hammering home with clients for a while now: the gains that can be made by generating and sharing content.

Content on your site should be useful and educational versus commercial.

Content should be fresh and original, and, generated and posted continuously.

Blogs are one of the most expedient ways to keep website content fresh, given that much of the content on most sites is evergreen (for a reason).

Original content enhances your organic rankings – but that’s not the only reason to create it.  The same information you develop for your site surely has multiple other uses – for existing customers, as sales support material, as the basis for a webinar, published article or white paper, or e-mail blast, etc.

To keep your site ranked as high as possible, Google offers these further tips:

  •  Keep track of algorithm changes on the Webmaster Central blog.
  •  Make sure you’re aware of your top keywords and keyword phrases – how people search for your product or service – and how these may change over time.

 

If you’ve never generated a list of potential keywords and run a traffic report, do so.  Now! Google makes this relatively easy to do yourself with its traffic tool.  And make a point to rerun the report at least quarterly, to stay abreast of and leverage those search terms in your online marketing.

Knowledge of keywords can be incorporated back into your standing site content (content optimization being one step of the SEO process) and can be a springboard for new marketing ideas.

While you’re at it, set up a Google Alerts for your key terms, seek and follow the online conversation and get involved in pertinent blogs, forums, etc.

Doing so will set you up for interaction with members of your industry and prospective customers — those people searching for and talking about your area of expertise.

  • Use social media.  Share links to your site content on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SlideShare, etc.  Get professional help to at least get you started on these platforms (if you’re not there already).  Learn how other B2B companies are using social media.
  • Google advises companies to go beyond the search engine requirements and drive traffic to your site in other ways, such as through ads special promotions and the like.  Many B2B companies have no trouble with this tip – but may not be using “drive site traffic” as a clear objective.

 

With so many tools available at the touch of a button, there’s no reason your company can’t step up its online visibility even in small increments.

Abana1pc

Prove It All Night… Or Not

I can’t help but think of Bruce Springsteen when talking about social media because of his song, “Prove It All Night.” It’s not so much the lyrics (although you could make the case for a loose analogy on winning the ephemeral “love” of a customer), it’s the title.

Companies have so many channels and opportunities created by social media to honestly communicate and actively prove why (and sometimes why not) their product or service stands above other competitors. The active engagement that is necessary is what contrasts how things used to be done with the surface-visible sheen of advertising and printed pieces.

Back in the day (before 2005), businesses spent untold tens of thousands writing, editing and designing some static and barely useful “look-how-great-we-are” tomes that had no more use or relevance than day-old newspapers lining birdcages. How long did writers labor over every word, weaving a narrative on how wonderful said company was, while artists suffered over the layout of trying to put a human face on an organization that didn’t dare, nor really care, show it real face?

Social brought to a close to what I call the age of “collateral damage”, as well as the websites that took their place, employing an array of devices to display a company’s plumage, rather than the feathers that give it flight. Social changed everything.

But not for everybody.

We’re well into Web 2.0 and so many businesses still don’t (and maybe never will) understand how using the Internet and the overabundance of social media tools can help them connect with their audiences.

Maybe they’re not meant to be.

Do a quick search for advice on how to best differentiate products and services and you’ll get widely divergent answers. Some praise the advantage of product benefits and personal relationships. Others think warranties, guarantees, uniqueness, service, and the customer experience are trump cards. And, yes, some people believe that low price alone will win the day.

I believe that most products and services, even in highly competitive and commoditized markets, can be effectively marketed. But a good percentage will never put the effort into finding what makes their offering distinctive and look for the correct combination of marketing and social tools to locate, attract and share their knowledge with the right audience.

 

Social Media Lessons from Chicago’s Top 10 Social Corporations

In the spirit of our new blog feature, the SMB/B2B Social Spotlight, we decided to share some important takeaways from the 10 Chicago-area companies said to be doing the best job of leveraging social media. The companies’ programs were detailed in Crain’s Chicago Business earlier this year. 

I found the comments in bold instructive. We focus on B2B, but these tips from several consumer companies may inspire something new for your own social media programs.

1. Kraft Foods Inc.

“When they want recipes, they go to the website.  When they want to share their passion, they go to Facebook,” says the senior director of consumer relationship marketing at Kraft.

Takeaway: Companies often struggle when it comes to posting to their Facebook pages.  Encouraging and/or finding new ways to help your customers share their passion is useful. For example, Kraft launched a “Share Your Latin Flavor” campaign featuring a celebrity chef’s recipes to get customers involved in the conversation – and increased traffic in the process.

2. McDonald’s Corp.

Our Facebook fans want entertainment.  They want information, but they want to see interesting videos, play games and participate in polls,” says the company’s director of social media.

Takeaway: How can you inject fun or entertainment into your Facebook pages?  Your posts can go beyond just talking about topics directly related to the company.  Find and post interesting or fun articles related to your industry (these are easy to find by just running a Google alert or setting up a listening dashboard on Google Reader on your product or service. You’re bound to find something of the right flavor there.).  Think about customers as people – what might they be interested in?

3. Sears Holding Corp.

“We want to stop problems quickly and act on customer feedback,” says Sears’ president of online marketing and financial services.  The company is using social media – Facebook and Twitter – as well as a customer review site called MySears.com.

Takeaway: Creation of a customer comment website shows the power of sites like Yelp.com that allow people to talk about their experience with a product or service.  (Why have customers broadcast their comments only on external sites, when you’re the best resource to respond to them?)  Sears also lets customers vote for which products they want to see discounted, and then runs the sale shortly thereafter — a nice way of generating interaction with customers.

4. Motorola Mobility Holdings

Succeeding at building awareness and sales, Motorola promoted its new photon 4G phone with a contest using promotional videos on Facebook, running them during random times every day. Customers who watched all the videos had a chance to win a new phone.

Takeaway: Giveaways, contests, polls all are great vehicles to use whenever you want to spice things up.  As always, giving people a good reason to get involved and respond increases interest.

5. Walgreen Company

“Two social networks are better than one,” says Walgreen’s director of social media.  The company used Foursquare and Facebook Places in a “Check-In’s that Make a Difference” campaign to distribute $6 million in flu shot vouchers to selected charities.  Whenever someone ‘checked in’ at a store, Walgreens donated a voucher.  Those who participated then took a Facebook vote on how to distribute the vouchers to the charities.

Takeaway: Good example of using the social toolkit in a creative and socially responsible way.  There are so many ways to connect to a customer on social media.  You just need to give it a little thought.  Start by understanding how they’re using social media – check-in’s being one way.

6. Deere and Company

An unlikely social media player, the farm equipment manufacturer has a large following after just one year of using social tools. “People want to touch the brand in social media,” says Deere’s manager of Internet research and information services.  They’ve succeeded by getting involved in industries in which Deere has an authoritative voice.

Takeaway: Yes, people WANT to touch your brand. To generate content for social platforms, your company can capitalize on this pointer:  In what areas, industries or perspectives does your company have an authoritative voice?  This one should be easy, because most companies consider themselves leaders.  Act like one with your social media content.

7.  Boeing Company

“It doesn’t benefit us to be jumping around to every tool or possibility that’s out there,” says the communication director.  “We want to make sure that the tools were using are the ones we can use effectively to serve our communications purposes.”

Takeaway: Sage words from Boeing. Social media is a tool, and while hip and still new to some companies, it’s not the only right answer to reach your audience, or your objectives.

8.  Allstate Corp.

Describing its “Mayhem” advertising character that personifies what can go wrong behind the wheel, director of consumer engagement says, “In social media, you want to be as relevant as you can to the audience.  The videos have really resonated with consumers.”  The campaign has gone viral with millions of hits on social platforms.

Takeaway: How can you increase your company’s relevance through social media?  Know thy customer!  Think creatively about how you can present your wisdom.  Involve staff outside of marketing.  Get help from professionals that know how to craft a compelling story.

9.  Abbott Labs

Individual products can be more popular on social platforms than the companies themselves. Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition line is marketed to fitness buffs, reaching many thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook, far fewer than its corporate pages.

Takeaway:  This advice probably rings true for many types of companies that offer a flagship product or service.  While promoting an entire company can seem a daunting task, you can really hone in with your content (and concentrate your time) around a single product/service or product line. 

10.  Discover Financial Services

Discover’s goal is immediate response time, measured in seconds, not hours or days, says the company’s vice president of e-business.  “The medium makes it possible for customers to comment, so you better have your best game on.”

Takeaway: As you already know: you must be ready and willing to respond quickly.  This is the age of real-time marketing and pr. Remember that every comment is a potential conversation between you and your valued customers, visitors or readers.  You never know what kind of great ideas might come out of the conversation, negative or positive. Expect to be changed!

 

 

The B2B Social Spotlight – New Feature!

When it comes to examples of social media in action, consumer companies dominate. From this B2B marketer’s perspective, it is like a tired A-side of well-worn 33-rpm disc: food, fashion, travel and consumer goods. The B-side has its own groove with a preponderance of IT-related social result stories.

Time to change the record.

We’re launching a new, ongoing interview series called B2B Social Spotlight. It’s our way of shining some well-deserved wattage on those B2B marketers who are putting social to work to elevate commoditized products and services. Our goal is to let these folks tell their stories of success (and failures) and help others know the potential power and value of social business.

That said, welcome to installment number one.

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Kyle Thill, Director of Services, Toyota-Lift of Minnesota

Kyle Thill, Toyota-Lift of Minnesota

No matter how you look at it, there is nothing glamorous about a forklift. Lifting and moving things from one place to another is about as utilitarian as an old brown-colored Chrysler K-car… but much more useful and reliable. 

So why does Kyle Thill, Director of Services at this materials handing dealership, Toyota-Lift of Minnesota, have over 18,000 Twitter followers and, as of this writing, sent over 98,700 Tweets?

It’s simple really. Think about how many different types of businesses rely on these brawny little workhorses. It allows Kyle to Tweet a universe of content related to businesses that depend on supply chain and logistics. Kyle’s prolific tweeting helped earn Toyota-Lift of Minnesota the B2BTOTY (B2B Twitterer of the Year) award in the category “Natl/Intl B2B Manufacturer”.

Chalk it up to Kyle’s focus and passion about facilitating smooth operations throughout the business, from personnel, technology infrastructure, and knowledge of inventory control, to data management and analysis, and managing parts warranty and service. It is that range of experience of 28 years with Toyota-Lift that earned Kyle the Toyota Material Handling’s National Aftermarket Sales Manager of the Year in 2010.

E-R: When it comes to marketing Toyota Forklift, did you intentionally set out to do something differently?

Thill: We ventured into social media just to promote our OEMs and us, and to replace the advertising they used to pay for. There was little then, and not a lot more now, of the brand’s representation anywhere in social media. Additionally, as Toyota cut our marketing budget, they prompted us to enter social media because it was “low cost”.

We look to get people to read our blog and possibly get local people to subscribe to our newsletter so to ingratiate us to our brands. Being present, supplying relevant information, and doing in it in a reasonable way can be of value.

E-R:  Forklifts can be seen generic pieces of equipment. How do you work to attract not just customers, but create relationships and build dialogue? 

Thill: We focus on issues that are important to them, such as costs, durability or fuel consumption. For safety, we can talk about safety systems present on our equipment and not on other makes. Ergonomics and operator comfort are a number of critical points that can be focused on there. Everyone has a need. We just have to find it and focus in on how we can satisfy it.

E-R: What aspects of social media have worked for Toyota Forklift? 

Thill: Our primary goal is to expose the market to our people and company through our blog, and not truly focus on anything other than digging into the topics we think our customers are concerned about. I feel our biggest success has been simply to raise the awareness of business to our brand.

E-R: You are a prolific Twitterer.  How do you manage your presence on the platform?

I’m in front of a computer almost all day and use a mix of real-time posting and automation, such as Buffer. I rely on Google Alerts, and Google Reader as my information aggregator. Even with the automation, I think it’s important to be there to respond and interact.

E-R: What online tools do you rely on everyday? 

Thill: Our Blog, Facebook, then Twitter.

E-R: What do you regularly measure to see what is working and what is not?

Thill: As small as we are, we can’t afford too many calories to be spent on analytics. We fall back to the position if what we are doing makes sense we’ll simply “do it” without truly looking back.

From websites, outside marketing firms and social media, there isn’t anything we’re doing that could be questioned regarding value or worth. We think of it as “eating healthy”. It’s difficult to point to anything specific that it makes better, but at the end of the day, you feel good and you’re able to continually improve the effort.

E-R: What has been your biggest mistake using social media? 

Thill: We don’t focus enough on our other brands, meaning those markets that are much smaller than Toyota, with the possible exception of Aichi and its construction equipment.

E-R: What is one thing your Twitter followers don’t know about you? 

Thill: We’re humbled by what we see others doing in the social media arena.

E-R: What is the one thing people would never know about know about a forklift? 

Thill: At some point in the supply chain, a forklift has touched their stuff. We’re more reliant on material handling that anyone knows. I’m not certain my parents think yet that this is a permanent job.

E-R: How’s the business doing in light of the economy? 

Thill: We achieved ten percent growth last year, and it looks like the same this year. Our fiscal year ends this month.

E-R: What three blogs would you recommend?  

Thill: That is the hardest question. I’d have to answer in categories. Those from other dealerships or OEMs, followed by construction then logistics or trucking. If I answered with specifics, I’d only change my mind a few moments later.

E-R: How can people connect with you? 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/toyotaequipment

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Toyota-Lift-of-Minnesota/201975476484625

LinkedIn, Kyle Thill: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=51923164&trk=tab_pro

LinkedIn, Toyota Lift of Minnesota: http://www.linkedin.com/company/toyota-lift-of-minnesota

Appealing to Your Next-Generation Customer

Last summer I had a new business meeting with two twenty-something’s wearing shorts and T-shirts.  As an agency owner with more than 20 years in the business, I’ve had to adjust to the fact that now my clients will be younger than I am.

Not that I’ll start wearing shorts to meetings.  But it raises the question: will younger people want to do business with me?

It clearly goes beyond business attire.  So, companies 20 years old and older, take note.

What younger customers respond to is different than your current loyal base.

Why do I raise this issue?  Because we’re finding so many B2B companies still have no social media presence. There are misconceptions — based on a lack of understanding — in the B2B world about the value of social media.

It’s not just social media.  It’s corporate responsibility.  The concept of sharing information.  Giving to receive.  These are new paradigms, especially for older, successful companies.

Yes, you can rely on your traditional communications/marketing methods, up until your current customer base retires.  But if you’re not by now at least looking into some of the more ‘hip’ tools, in three to five years, you will be sorely behind the marketing curve.  And that will be the least of your worries.

More problematic will be having lost the opportunity to forge new relationships with younger customers.

Making a Customer for Life

Many of our clients (and well as Element-R) have long-standing relationships with customers who are uber-loyal.

I learned while doing PR in the medical field (where most standard PR tactics don’t work) the value of forging relationships early on, even at the college, graduate or medical school level.  By simply providing training materials and an expert speaker, we were able to have impact before the medical students became product specifiers.

So start now in reaching out to your customers to establish that loyalty.  Understand them.  How they are different.  How they want to be communicated with.  What they respond to.  Get out of your marketing box.

Case in point:

Last week the Wall Street Journal’s story, “Super Size Me Generation Takes Over at McDonald’s,” tells the story of Travis Heriaud, the 30-year-old son of a McDonald’s franchisee trying some new tactics with his own new restaurant, at a cost of $50,000.

As part of the grand opening, he incorporated a book giveaway for children, and a parade of zoo animals.

The father was skeptical.  But in just one year, the new McDonald’s (which has continued its unusual tactics) has exceeded corporate sales projections by 50 percent.

Needless to say, those ideas and others from next-generation owners are taking hold at other McDonald’s, with things like later evening hours, recycling bins, bringing in junk food critic mommy-bloggers for a tour of the kitchen, visiting schools to talk to kids, reading programs and back-to-school give-aways.

Heriaud wanted to demonstrate from day one that his restaurant “aimed to be part of the community,” noting, “we have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens.”

Customers are noticing.  Make sure yours will, too.

 

How Getting Personal Can Synch You With Your Customers

Talk about getting personal.

Here’s a fun story about getting and giving attention on a one-to-one level.

As reported on CBS TV Chicago in early February, local high school student Keenan Cahill found out just how much attention he could get by simply having fun.  He could’ve never expected the outcome.

Affected by a life-threatening disease called MPS-6 that stunts his growth — and dreaming about one day being an actor or singer — the outgoing teenager began videotaping his lip-synching routines to various hit songs, and posting them online.

His antics attracted the attention of Katy Perry, who recognized his fun video via Twitter, and sent out a link to the video.  The results?  The video went viral, and Cahill became an “Internet sensation.”

Even better, he began getting personal visits from 50 Cent, Tyra Banks and others who went so far as to join him in his Elmhurst, Illinois bedroom so they could ‘co-star’ with the lip-syncher.

Imagine a famous singer knocking on your front door!

Can we find lessons here for business?  Indeed.

The music stars recognized:

  • A fan’s interaction with their content (in this case, music)
  • The chance to further expose what this young man was doing to their other fans – since it benefited them from a pure publicity perspective
  • An opportunity to do good by:

– Showing up at his home to share in his excitement and fun takes on their songs
– Showing their humanity and support of a disabled teenager, leading to a thrilling outcome   that surely has changed his life.

This can no doubt be an inspiration for the B2B world.

  • What if … You and your staff found more (and more interesting) ways to connect with how your customers use your products or services, on a one-to-one level?
  • How can you go the extra mile to recognize their success, or help them achieve greater success?
  •  How can you SURPRISE your customers in a similar way (even one, two or three customers a year)?

Every company wants its videos to go viral.  While most business products and services don’t have a Hollywood aura, often we’re all too stuck in the boring business world to find (or put) the humanity into our stories.

This is the beauty of the connected world; the social media world we live in … The opportunity to be human, to speak and interact one-to-one with customers.

So start showing up for your customers.  Get involved.  Get personal.  Share in their excitement.  Recognize.  Act!

Challenge your team to do something out of the ordinary. Give!

Your customers will thank you for it.

Personal interaction is the new era in brand and reputation building.  B2B companies that apply it are succeeding in ways they never expected – proving the old adage: “give, and you shall receive.”

 

Digital Spells Opportunity (and Impact) for Attracting Customers

Jack Kraft talks digital marketing.

A conversation with Jack Kraft, business consultant, venture capitalist and former executive at Leo Burnett.

 

 

Note: Jack is a long-time advisor to Element-R.  Even a short conversation with him is thought-provoking — and always right on target.  We got together recently to talk about one of his favorite topics – marketing.

ER: We’re expanding the purpose of No Silver Bullet to provide insight on marketing and on other business issues for SMBs. Obviously, with the recession, all of our clients are looking for ways to build sales – even the larger corporations.

Jack Kraft (JCK): In every business, there is a gateway activity to gaining new customers.  For small firms in particular, the fundamental issue is managing resources.  That’s the bane of effective management for most companies.  And the one area that is most foreign is how to manage marketing resources.

Resources have to be managed. Clients have to be managed.  And you need strategies for managing those resources, to ensure you are doing the right things right.

The highest result from managing resources is attracting clients.

ER: What are you seeing in all of your current consulting gigs?

JCK: The biggest marketing breakthrough, digital technology, is not really new any more. But, it continues to evolve and continues to reduce the cost and speed of communicating with the marketplace.  It has never been easier.

The impact a company can have with even a modest investment is enormous.  Digitally, you can reach more people; address specific market segments and measure the effects quickly, effectively and economically.

Exponential growth can be achieved using only digital tools.  I continue to see it happen!

ER: In our B2B space, we see a fear of some of the newer social media tools – mainly out of misunderstanding. Plus, there is usually a lot of room for improving companies’ existing digital presence, so we generally start there, and add a set of basic social media tactics to get their feet wet.  It’s a real shift in how you ‘do’ marketing.

JCK: Yes, it takes special skills to use digital technology effectively, and those skill sets are still evolving so rapidly that professional input makes a lot of sense.

ER: What should companies keep in mind as they approach – or delve deeper – into the digital world?

JCK: The same basics of marketing apply to using digital tools, but perhaps to an even greater extent than before because results are instantly measurable:

  • Understanding your market
  • Knowing what you’re selling from the customer’s perspective (not the product per se, but the soft stuff)
  • Translate the sell into a compelling message that the market cares about and constantly measure results

Digital tools reach the market but produce results only if you know how to use them. If you don’t, find someone who does.

ER: Right.  You can’t just go in and start Tweeting the same commercial messages you might place in an ad.  It takes thought … listening … and planning good content.

JCK: I also see a strong need for PR planning in conjunction with social media.  The more “right things” companies have to say, the more exposure they’ll receive on the web.  The desired result is higher results in organic rankings.

So, the largest area of opportunity is how to use technology to build bridges to customers – how to create environments that invite conversations that lead to desired actions.