Monday, December 13, 2010

Voice of Customer: How Well Are You Listening?

Voice of Customer is a growing field in marketing that offers high-value insights into what customers think about your company, products and services.

It’s “high-value,” that is, if you actually act on what you learn.

That brings up one of the common VOC missteps cited in an American Marketing Association webinar I sat in on this week called “Customer Intelligence: The New Frontier of Customer Voice.”

Too often, the presenters pointed out, companies that do try to get inside the minds of customers don’t follow through. They don’t share the data with people throughout their organizations who could use it to sell to and satisfy more customers.

If your company fits that description—or if you aren’t doing any customer research at all—you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.

It’s a disadvantage because your competitors are gaining timely insights from more sources (chat rooms, social networks, etc.) and doing more than ever with that data. Smart companies are using research to adapt their products and services into more powerful offers. They’re also combining customer intelligence with sophisticated predictive analytics to help them develop the kinds of offers customers want most, all while improving financial and operational performance across their organizations.

If your company also wants to do more with customer intelligence, here’s what you need to get started.
 Leadership. From the top down, there must be a commitment to continuously getting customer input and using it. Marketing professionals can assist this effort by proving the value of acting upon customer insights.
 Talent. It takes experience and expertise to solicit and assess customer data most effectively. Almost anyone can develop a survey, but analyzing the data and developing strategies toward its most effective use takes unique business savvy.
 Processes. One-offs won’t work. You’ve got to make customer intelligence a part of your operational framework by aligning it with your strategic goals.

Now for a little customer research of our own. Tell us: How are you listening to VOC?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Many Businesses Are Revving Up for 2011. How about Yours?

What a difference a year makes. Small businesses are heading into 2011 with refreshing energy.

That’s what I heard repeatedly yesterday from fellow Milwaukee-area business leaders during an MMAC Council of Small Business Executives session on the state of small business at year’s end.

One after another, executives said they have a much better outlook than they did entering 2010.

Better yet, they’re building on that positivity by pursuing growth. Planned initiatives include:

  • Acquiring new talent.
  • Making capital investments and expanding facilities.
  • Exploring mergers and acquisitions.
  • Emphasizing marketing—especially through technologies such as websites, mobile apps, etc.—to set themselves apart from their competition.

As the chair-elect of COSBE, I’m honored to have the opportunity to be part of the leadership of this vibrant organization at such an exciting time.

Meanwhile, here’s hoping your business shares the optimistic mindset. With continuing good numbers from manufacturing and other areas, we have many reasons to look forward and take action to accelerate success.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Faith and a Former President Give Teen Challenge WI a Boost

Tomorrow, Mary Scheibel and I will be attending a fundraiser for Teen Challenge Wisconsin, and I just want to put in a personal plug for this worthy organization.

I’m excited to attend the event for three reasons:

President George W. Bush will be the keynote speaker. I didn’t agree with every one of his decisions or policies, I’ve recently come to realize I miss the man himself. He always seemed sincerely concerned about doing what he thought was right for our country and, most of all, its citizens. So it makes sense for him to reenter the public limelight on behalf of an organization such as this.

Teen Challenge Wisconsin has an important mission. It’s solely focused on helping individuals confront their personal substance-abuse demons. Mary and I care deeply about programs that empower people to take charge of their lives and overcome challenges. This is one of many organizations that have called out to us.

The approach is faith-based. Mary and I always strive to ground our individual, professional and business behaviors in our Christian faith. While we don’t always measure up, we’ve never forgotten where our blessings come from. And we believe strongly that faith is the key to success in solving any problem people face.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Go to the Polls with Manufacturers in Mind

The October numbers show that manufacturers continue to pick up the pace, carrying our economy forward on their shoulders.

But the current recovery remains tenuous at best.

That’s one reason manufacturers are stepping forward in this election to make their voices heard, as Don Loepp points out in Plastics News.

I believe they need our support, as well.

A recent survey by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, “Made in America? What the public thinks about manufacturing today,” suggests our policies and leaders are falling short of manufacturers’ needs.

Are we taking the initiative and making the right moves in terms of trade, taxes, infrastructure, workforce development, etc.—all the policy areas that directly affect the prospects of our manufacturing base (and all the great jobs that come with it)?

I’ll let you answer that, while I repeat a message shared in BizTimes Milwaukee:

Please vote today. And when you do, be sure to consider our country’s vital manufacturing base in your decisions.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Will Your Merger Make It? Key Communications Tips

Mergers and acquisitions are proliferating again—and not just in the airline industry. In many markets, companies large and small are getting in the M&A game.

This despite overwhelming evidence that most M&A efforts fail.

The reason? Too much focus on the numbers driving the transaction, and not enough on the people who will make it a reality.

That doesn’t mean your company can’t do M&A right. Just don’t overlook the critical importance of strong, consistent, well-planned communications with everyone involved—employees, customers, your industry and the public.

For some great tips on how to do that, be sure to check out our free webinar, “M&A Communications: Better Strategy. Better Actions. Better Outcomes.”

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Adding a Little Clarity to Shankman’s Animated Message

Peter Shankman talked a lot.

Peter Shankman talked fast.

And in a talk titled “First, SHUT UP,” Peter Shankman didn’t take his own advice.

Ah, but we kid because we care—after all, we still came away with plenty of worthy tips last week when the founder of Help a Reporter Out spoke at PRSA Southeastern Wisconsin’s monthly meeting.

The theme of his hyperactive, hour-plus presentation was “new rules for communication in an era of social media.” In the interest of rule #2 (brevity), we’ll let you read a synopsis somewhere else.

Instead, I’d like to zero in on just one big point Shankman made: the importance of good writing.

What is good writing today, however? The Internet continues to advance more informal, conversational communication—the kind of writing that horrifies traditionalists and even, to some extent, a well-known social media thought leader such as Shankman.

As a pet peeve, he cited the spread of text-friendly shorthand into realms where it’s neither necessary nor appropriate, such as an interview thank you note.

But I’m not here to slam your Us and 2s. As stated above, I’m all for brevity, and shorthand often does the trick.

What I’m more concerned about is clarity.

In the Internet Age, it seems we’re sacrificing being clear for being quick. From email to blog posts to text messages to facebook updates, we’re all writing more often … while making less sense.

Fortunately for you and me, that means there’s an opportunity to stand out with a simple, focused message. So whatever you’re writing, stop to ask yourself if your point is clear. Better yet, ask somebody else to read your writing and assess it based on the same criterion.

And if my point isn’t clear here, feel free to call me on it. At which point, unlike Peter Shankman, I’ll just shut up.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Are Women Leaders the Missing Link for Your Company?

Even as more women head to work, the ones who get to work in a corner office remain rare:

  • While the public has a high (89%) comfort level with woman as leaders, only 18% of top leadership positions are held by women.
  • Woman rank above men in five of the eight character traits highly valued by the public in leaders (honesty, intelligence, creativity, outgoingness, compassion) and equal men in two others (hardworking and ambition), yet account for only 3% of CEOs, 6% of top paying positions and 16% of corporate officers.

These were among the fascinating facts I learned from Marie C. Wilson, president of The White House Project, an organization that advocates for more women in leadership roles. Wilson, author of “Closing the Leadership Gap: Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World,” spoke last week as part of a Mount Mary College Women’s Leadership Institute event.

At a time when companies need the very best in talent and creativity to gain a competitive edge, businesses would be wise to heed Wilson’s message.

So what can your company do? Creating a flexible work environment that appeals to women and rewards them for their unique strengths is a good start.

Women also may respond to different forms of encouragement than men, Wilson said. For example, men typically assume authority more comfortably than women. Your organization may want to do more to encourage women to take initiative, speak at events and promote their own talents.

For more ideas, Forbes has an interesting case study on efforts to recruit and retain more women leaders at Sodexo, a global food services firm.

Why should you consider similar initiatives? Because as a White House Project report points out, both women and men bring value to the table—but their combined effort creates the strongest foundation for innovation and prosperity. Gender diversity at all levels of an organization is a key recruitment and retention challenge that’s essential to your success.

Friday, September 24, 2010

You Snooze, You Win?

I have a recurring daily appointment on my calendar labeled “nap.”

It’s a joke (sort of). But maybe it shouldn’t be.

In fact, in my post-lunch stupor, I think a little snooze might be just what the doctor ordered—Dr. Sara Mednick, that is (author of “Take a Nap! Change your life.”)

Mednick’s extensive research demonstrates that 30 minutes of shuteye can dramatically improve employee critical-thinking, problem-solving and creative skills.

So a nap can be a big boost to a marketing communications professional, who thrives at the intersection of strategic and creative thinking.

But find me a company that even tolerates napping on the job, let alone encourages the practice.

Seriously, find me one. OK, Google (of course).

Tony Schwartz of the Harvard Business Review believes it’s time for a few more forward-thinking companies to give employee naps a try. By fueling innovation and productivity, naps are “a powerful source of competitive advantage,” Schwartz says.

Is there a better way to keep people at the top of their game? I guess we could try energy drinks instead. We’ve all seen those ubiquitous ads for 5-Hour Energy.

But come on—have you tasted that stuff? Also, do we really need more performance-enhancing drugs?

I’ll keep that nap on my calendar, thank you. And if I do get serious about a regular snooze, I hope it turns out better than George Costanza's attempt.

Friday, September 10, 2010

2 September Events You Won’t Want to Miss

Here’s a pair of great upcoming opportunities for business inspiration and marketing insight.

The MMAC Future 50 Awards Luncheon—Registration Deadline Sept. 10

n Event next Thursday, Sept. 16 at The Pfister Hotel

The Future 50 Program showcases companies that are leading the way to growth in the Greater Milwaukee region. It’s a great way to discover what up-and-coming companies are doing to break through—and how you might learn from their success.

By the way, I’ll be participating in the luncheon panel discussion. No hecklers, please.

PRSA-WI Welcomes Peter Shankman—renowned social media/PR thinker

n Monthly meeting Thursday, Sept. 30, at the Hilton Milwaukee

Peter is perhaps best known for founding Help A Reporter Out, which quickly has become the de-facto standard for thousands of journalists looking for sources on deadline. He is recognized globally for radically new ways of thinking about social media, PR, marketing, advertising, creativity and customer service.

Peter’s presentation, “First, SHUT UP. The New Rules of Communication in an Era of Social Media,” figures to be fascinating and fun. This will be his first visit to Milwaukee, so come on out and let’s make it a memorable one. BONUS: You could win a pair of roundtrip tickets on AirTran.

Friday, September 3, 2010

It’s Labor Day—Meaning We’re Still Working Our Way out of the Recession

The unemployment rate inching back up in Friday’s jobs report might seem like unwelcome news—especially heading into a weekend honoring the hard work of the American labor force.

Sure, it would be nice to break for Labor Day with some really solid economic news. Still, the numbers were actually better than anticipated, thanks to unexpected growth in the private sector.

Economists are expressing cautious optimism. The markets also took the jobs report as good news. Maybe you should, too.

Consider, as well, that yet another month of positive U.S. manufacturing data brought much-needed lift earlier this week. American manufacturers continue to lead the way.

Should be enough to ease worries at least a little for the holiday, right?

Here’s hoping that you enjoy the fruits of your labor this weekend, and that after that, economic momentum picks up the pace.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Keeping in Mind What Really Matters

In the end, it’s about family, friends and community.

But how often do we reflect on these foundations in the midst of our busy days? Sometimes it takes a personal struggle to put it all in perspective.

Jay Williams talked about his own such journey this week at the annual meeting of the newly renamed Waukesha County Business Alliance.

Jay had a long, successful career in banking, most recently at the helm of The PrivateBank – Wisconsin. Then cancer blew in like a tornado, taking the life of both his father and son and threatening his own. Through this adversity, Jay saw what many would miss: an opportunity to reevaluate what’s most important in life. He thought a lot about what he wanted his legacy to be.

As a result, Jay is now devoting himself to something he’s long been passionate about: the Milwaukee community. Today, he’s president and CEO of the Milwaukee Public Museum, a vital and historic community institution. He’s applying his experience to advance a cultural asset that can benefit greatly from his financial and business management expertise.

Jay sets a fine example for many business leaders, who have so much to offer nonprofits like MPM. While not everyone can dedicate all their time to their favorite cause, every business can do its part.

Leaders can lead by example in their charity work, while providing opportunities wherever possible for their employees to do the same.

I believe we all do better work when we keep in mind why we’re doing that work in the first place. That’s why being a force for good makes good business sense. Ultimately, it truly is about family, friends and community. Thanks, Jay, for reminding us.

Friday, August 20, 2010

American Manufacturers Must Band Together

"We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately." - Benjamin Franklin

American manufacturers can be proud of their resurgence. This blog posting from one of our clients, Dave Lawrence of Milacron, underscores the importance of American manufacturing and its leading role in assisting our country’s future. As Lawrence states, “It will take collaboration, advocacy and a renewed commitment among manufacturers,” to lead the way into a stronger economy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Manufacturers Must Capitalize on Current Momentum

While the rest of the economy rides the roller coaster, American manufacturers have been on a strong, steady climb.

Here’s some of the latest evidence that manufacturers are leading the way out of the recession.

It’s been a long time since our country’s factories have been at the forefront of positive economic trends. And we hope the public is taking notice. But the reality is, manufacturers can’t simply hope that people are aware of their successes.

No, the manufacturing industry has spent too many years burdened by bad news and perceptions of impending doom to suddenly expect opinions to change. Meanwhile, many of these companies have been too busy just trying to stay afloat to bother with branding, marketing, advertising, PR and all the other pursuits that could help turn the tide.

But now we arrive at this crossroads. It’s a perfect opening for manufacturers to use their momentum to their advantage, and get out in the marketplace with a forceful message about what makes them unique—the exciting work they do and the extraordinary value they provide to customers every day.

Manufacturers have proven themselves up to the challenge of an incredibly difficult economic environment. Now is the time to leave all that behind.

Friday, July 30, 2010

3 Steps to Telling Your Story

It’s not enough, we often say, to have a competitive edge. You’ve got to exploit your advantage at every opportunity.

In other words, tell your story, as this BizTimes column puts it. And there’s no more powerful or cost-effective way to do that than through strategic public and media relations.

Columnist Cary Silverstein consulted our own Mary Scheibel for some advice on promoting a competitive advantage through the media. It boils down to three basic steps:

  1. Identify the story you want to tell and the audiences you need to reach, based on your business goals and your value proposition.
  2. Clearly, consistently share relevant case studies, news, knowledge, etc. with media read by your target audiences. Don’t forget emerging online channels, of course.
  3. Whenever you get a win, give your customers and prospects every opportunity to see it. Email a link, put it in a status update, buy reprints for sales calls and so on.

If you hadn’t noticed, we’re practicing a little of #3 with this blog post.

OK, your turn. No time like the present. Go tweet your latest success or something.