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Monday, October 29, 2007

Do you know what people are saying about you or your firm?

Often when I am speaking or on a panel a question comes up on how are we interacting with our customers and how do we understand what is being said about our brand. I am often surprised that companies that have fairly sophisticated online presences are not trying to understand the conversation taking place.

You should! As the market continues to evolve from traditional brand influencers to your brand being defined by thousands of voices in the marketplace it is critical that you understand what is being said.

Luckily this is a very simple task. You can pay an agency to monitor your "buzz" or a simpler route and a great first step is watching the blogsphere. Go to technorati and search your brand, product name and your website. This will quickly give you an understanding of what is being said. Even better is that you can quickly make it a RSS feed and get real time updates on your brand's conversation.

Now that you have this you can particulate in the conversation, this can be easily done if you follow some simple rules of engagement:

1. The first part of any conversation is that you need to listen. Understand what is being said and how the consumer perceives your brand.

2. Enter the conversation, and it doesn't have to be public. If someone has an issue let them know you are there to help. Try everything you can to resolve the issue and don't expect a follow-up "everything is good post". This happens most of the time but if this is the goal of the exercise then your heart is in the wrong place. A bad customer experience is the chance to win a customer for life so go out and win them back.

3. Be open and transparent. Remember that everything lives on the web forever so you don't need to be making excuses. Be honest and ask for honest feedback. In the end the feedback will be great for your business.

A great example of this was back in March when the Instigator Blog wrote a posting that we at might be writing reviews on products to drive sales. We don't and I had the chance to enter the conversation, which had become big as it hit the front page of Digg, (with 578 Diggs and counting) and provide the data, process and partners we used to ensure this does not occur. I believe that the majority of the community appreciated the posts and felt we had provided the data to refute the claim. In the end this was a success for us.

So if you are not yet understanding the conversations taking place, start off tomorrow, it is well worth it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rogers to Launch iphone in Canada Dec 7th?

Update: Six months off but on April 29th Rogers announced they are bringing the iPhone to Canada.

Not sure if this is true but the timing for the iphone launch in Canada makes sense, still a little pricey, and it will depend 100% on what the data plan is. I really hope Rogers makes the right move and makes it similar to the AT&T plan with unlimited data at a reasonable price. It will certainly give mobile commerce a boost as it is much easer to interact with the web on the iphone platform than anything else out there.

I certainly will have one on my Christmas wish list (If I can wait that long)!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Randy Pausch's Last Lecture

No need to introduce, some great life lessons from an incredible man.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Other Viral Marketing

It seems these days that everyone is focused on viral marketing, and so they should be. As not only is it a powerful way to leverage your brand and message in the marketplace but it is also a great way to learn about how the marketplace, and your brand, is evolving.
I believe there are two forms of viral marketing, at least at a 60,000 foot level. The first mass viral, seems to be getting all of the attention of late (take a look at the client side and one degree blogs) and has some key characteristics that helps identify it as such:
  1. It is a mass product, much like traditional media it is mean to be spread like a super flu drawing the attention of as many people as possible.
  2. It is typically generated or developed by an external party to the conversation – an ad agency or dev shop and meant to facilitate the mass communication of the message.
  3. It has a long life cycle but short time span with each individual; it is a short term interaction that does not have long term usage potential with the user.
The second and more compelling form of viral marketing is that of the targeted virus. A targeted virus is a powerful niche program that attracts people of common interest in a highly focused arena to share ideas and build brand. It is from this group that the virus spreads with other like minded individuals; it doesn’t have to hit blockbuster proportions and requires a constant focus.
  1. It is a targeted product at a specific group of individuals that share a common ground, interest or passion.
  2. A platform or venue from which this group can interact, share and grow.
  3. A completing story and value perceived by the group so that they see the need to interact with other like minded individuals.
  4. The ability for individuals to grow, be recognized and take leadership in the group; from this direction, future value and content will be developed.
  5. The ability for the brand to enter into the conversation as an equal in the group from which value can be perceived.
  6. It continues to live on, with consumers contributing and advancing the conversation.
For example, imagine a platform on a travel site where adventure travelers can discuss hot destinations, tricks and tips to make their next adventure the best possible. The community is guided by the tools provided by the travel site but driven by the engagement of each of the individuals. The travel site can enter the conversation as a member of the group or, even better, as an interested partner in understanding what they need to make their vacations successful. If the platform, community and brand mesh, then it becomes a powerful resource for this niche community and as the community members are recognized as leaders and perceive value they then attracted new individuals.
It doesn’t have to be as advanced as the above, think products reviews and some of the other innovations entering the marketplace. Consumers trust other consumers more than brands so the trick will be to harness these active consumers into communities and leverage their passion for your brand, product or service. If you can do this it moves from traditional word of mouth marketing to that of a powerful community that is spreading your message and value through their community of like minded individuals.
To be a success you don’t need to be number 1 on youtube, you need to understand your message, the target market and find your community of passionate consumers you can infect with your virus to spread across the marketplace.

David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous in 5 Minutes

I strongly recommend you read this book. It provides a great insight into what we are challenged with today when we look at the organization of data. A great read from one of the visionaries in our field.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Building Community with Customer Service and the Corporation

Here is a great example of how you build community and loyalty by going over and above with a customer. It truly shows that they cared about the customer as an individual and that they did it not for the extra dollar but how could they help the situation (and the customer) out. In the end they earned a powerful advocate and customer for life

As Seth Godin mentions in his blog posting; is this something that your organization can support from a process and, I'll add, from a cultural perspective? It's a tricky balancing act that needs to be developed with the front line associates in any organization.

This can be achieved by ensuring that the flexibility is in place to treat consumers as people instead of forcing each unique situation into set plan guided by a set of rules and procedures. Achieving this is critical to the overall success of an organization as well as the corporation being considered a group of individuals not a black box that interacts with consumers.

How would your organization have handled this?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Shift Happens

Yes, I know this is video is over a year old. But I think it is worth while that you go back and revisit the theme of this video. The world is changing at an incredible pace, a rate that has never been seen before. We need to embrace this change if we are to survive and work to rapidly evolve our businesses. This evolution can be achieved by constantly making small changes and learning from them.

Watch the video and show it to your team. You will see there are two types of people watching this video. The first will be scared and will want to secure the business against these threats, achieving this by closing the doors on the marketplace to reduce exposure. The second type of people are those who are excited and looking forward to evolving the business to take advantage of the new challenges and opportunities change brings with it.

If you have more one than two you are in trouble.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What will iGoogle Evolve to?

It seems that everytime that I play around with iGoogle they have something new, the latest feature (or one I just discovered) is the auto population of new tabs with content based on the tab name.

This may seem like a really simple feature but it really adds to the overall experience by quickly adding content and functionality to your personal website. I was helping someone setup their iGoogle the other night when we discovered this and it quickly became a mission of discovery for this person as they grew a simple iGoogle page to a powerful personal / professional data tool.

It will be interesting to see where this will all end up and I'd love to get your comments on what you think iGoogle will evolve to. Not only can you quickly customize it but it already has powerful sharing capabilities built-in and with Google's push for everyone to develop gadgets it will be interesting on where it ends up.

Could iGoogle end up as the "one page" that everyone has but customizes it to their specific needs. Forget having to use facebook, linkedin, flickr in their environments. It is possible that in the future you will import the different community, content and commerce type applications you require into an iGoogle page and interact with others from there.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Five Things to Remember with Site Development

I often find that as we continue to move at an incredible pace during site development we become too involved with our end product and lose the user perspective that is so important to the site’s success.

To mitigate this risk try the five following tactics:

1. Take a step back and look at your site/section/page, ask yourself, what is the message you are trying to commutate? What is it that you want the consumer to do? Is this clearly laid out that anyone looking at the site would give the same answer as you?

2. Test, test, test and this doesn’t mean slow down. When you have a new release or change, ask people that are not attached to the development what they think. This could be as advanced as a focus group or as simple as walking around the office and pulling up the change on people’s computers.

3. A/B test, see how the change is adopted before making a mass change. You don’t need to make investments in software to support this (it just makes it really easy) as it can be as simple as trying out the change for a period and then reverting back to see how it impacts the goals of the project.

4. Understand what a success is and whether the change moved you in that direction. If not, you may have missed the target or you don’t understand what the levers really are.

5. Watch the metrics – a key one to watch is bounce rate, are consumers interacting more with the site/section/page or are they turning around and running for the hills - more than before. If you have an analytics package (and everyone should as Google Analytics is free) look at pathing, flow and fallout to understand how the change effects what the customer is ultimately doing on the site.

To be successful you should build this in as a common practice not just when you do something big. Many of the above can be done on a regular basis and having this understanding can only help you more in the future. The one common key stream in the above is the customer. Listen to what they are saying and build a product that they want, not one you think will work for them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why do we still feel the need for big bang site upgrades?

It still puzzles me that sites continue to make a big bang change from version 1.0 to 2.0 instead of doing all of the steps between, learning from their customers’ feedback, and adapting the plan to these new understandings.

A great example that is impacting my web usage is the complete redesign of (and .com as well). For those of you that don’t know this site, it is a forum for investors to discuss stocks. It does have some tools to do research and analysis but the main purpose is to share information with each other; in fact they have a great community aspect as many of the experts are trusted and respected on the site and are looked at for advice.

It seems that someone in Stockhouse felt that their site was a web 1.0 site and needed to have all of the cool features that web 2.0 sites have. They have now gone from a really easy to use site to a beta version that is pretty much unusable. I played around with the new version for about 10 minutes and then reverted back to the old site. The real kicker is that at the end of the month the old version will no longer be available. Over the past couple of days the community has cried out that the new site isn’t what it wants and here is all Stockhouse has as a response:

Dear Valued StockHouse Member,

Thank you for contacting us with your inquiry. We always appreciate the feedback that we receive from our valued members.

The new Stockhouse was designed to introduce many new upgrades; while at the same time, remaining very user-friendly. Unfortunately, the old version of Stockhouse is no longer available. We sincerely apologize if you have experienced any inconvenience in this transition; however, be assured that once you familiarize yourself with the new layout, you will be able to greatly benefit from the features that it has to offer.

Furthermore, please be informed that many of the site changes or updates are based on member feedback. We have escalated your valuable input to our product development team for further review. Although we are unable to accommodate every single request that our members send in, we can guarantee you that their input is always taken into deep consideration.

We greatly appreciate your help in improving Stockhouse and for giving us your suggestions. It is our number one goal to make the website a better place for its valued members.
Sincerely yours,

Stockhouse Member Support

What drives me mad is that it is almost that they don’t want to support the community, they made a decision to change to a new look and feel with all of the neat, cool things but really forgot what they are – a successful easy to use forum that allows the community to share info and interact with each other.

I agree they need to make some changes to the site but why not make small incremental changes, learn how the community adopts them and focus on continual improvement.

In the end, since I now have to learn how to use Stockhouse all over again I might as well check what other options are out there and, as many of the community experts have suggested, there are better places that are easier to use than the new Stockhouse 2.0.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The First Post

Ok, it is that famous first posting, that piece of content that lives with the blog as the reason for being. The reality is that I have been planning on doing this for a while and after being pushed by many of you I have made the plunge.

I hope to have some fun with this blog, use it to learn about the different tools that are in the marketplace and to provoke some thoughts and discussions around some key topics:

  • Ecommerce in Canada: we are still in an infant stage and the main reason is us retailers. I’ll look at the trends and provide some thoughts on where we as a group need to evolve.
  • Interactive Marketing: I’ll bring my perspective to the thought arena, having a finance background gives me a different view on some of the trends but I think you will be surprised.
  • Neat things in our space: I’ve stumbled across and will continue to find those weird and wacky things that make you think. I’ll also use this as a platform to try them out and learn from them.
  • I’ll bring some of my thoughts / views from the client side and how I think we all need to evolve vendor relationships into true partnerships.

I guess I also need to explain why I picked the name Evolving Shift. We all know we are going through interesting times in the retailing and marketing space, it is really a shift in how we need to think and interact with the consumer. It is this consumer who more and more controls not only our successes and failures, but also, our brand perception. As we are living through this shift it has become more and more apparent to me than we don’t yet really understand what the shift completely entails. In fact, from month to month it changes and hence - an evolving shift.

I’m pretty excited to see where this goes, I’ll try and bring in the learnings that I have been able to participate in with the great team and group of vendors / partners I’ve had the pleasure of working with at as we continue grow and evolve the business / marketing platform for Home Depot Canada. All I ask is that you contribute, dispute or let me know if you think I’m crazy – at least we can have a discussion.