Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Five Proven Ways to Keep Your Social Community Members Engaged

In part 1 of this blog series, we talked about the importance of keeping retail store associates educated and passionate about your product. One way you can create an engaging and effective environment, particularly for Millennials, is through branded-social communities. For this generation, social media forums are part their daily lives.
Connect+, a MarketStar digital solution, has helped our clients acquire new customers and better engage with the customers they already have. The following are 5 proven ways to ensure your online social community is engaging, fun, and most importantly, successful.

An online social community should be interactive, engaging, and fresh. Make sure you have plenty of discussion-worthy content that embodies your brand. Look at what you are doing daily, weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly to develop a calendar of fun, engaging activities that keep your community lively and chatty.
Having a Community Manager is one way to get and keep people talking. Community Managers maintain and moderate the content flowing in and out of the online community – they are the name, face, and action behind your products. They need to fit your product and brand, but they need to fit the community as well.

Millennials crave authenticity. An excellent social community drives authenticity by being real, personal, and encouraging interaction. Enable participants to have a voice.
Keep open communication across the board (executives, key staff members, etc.), continuing a relationship with the brand and individuals who work for it.
As hard as it may sound, another piece of being authentic is to allow dissent and respond to it. Allowing your target audience to post negative sentiment or feedback on your site, will give you the chance to respond and resolve the issue. This helps build rapport, and establish a relationship with influencers everywhere.
The community manager helps with this authenticity. This individual must be witty, fun, engaging, and have real passion. He or she uses the products, lives the brand, and allows people to express their opinions. This will build not just participation but trust in the community.

Research shows 80% of Millennials wanting brands to entertain them. Entertainment to social communities means driving friendly competition, creating leaderboards to highlight top contributors, and allowing all of your activities to be point-driven. Don’t focus on marketing messages – focus on conversation. Making activities fun, engaging, and unique will continue to drive competition and create an exciting platform that people return to on a regular basis.
Gamification is more than just a buzz-word; it’s an effective tool. Everything your RSAs do should be rewarded, from logging in to completing a certification. Make sure community members receive enough points that they can buy a small token from the company. It shows that success isn’t hard to reach in the community, as long as they continue to engage. Points lead to swag, and swag leads to more points, which lead to more swag.
Millennials think it’s fun to be social and learn, but it’s more fun to earn a currency from all this socializing. The games, points, and leaderboards get people started, and the social interaction hooks them. Just keep it active and filled with new competitions and missions to complete. Once engaged, they return to the community.

When they know what they will get from it, 95% of Millennials are motivated to work harder. Community members want to know they are working towards something worthwhile and exciting–whether that’s a new phone, brand t-shirt, or Starbucks gift card. This motivates them to continue to engage and contribute to the platform on an ongoing basis.
A gift card would win more often than not. Cash is a real incentive and driver of engagement – so the more often you can use cash, gift cards, and monetary prizes on your community: do it. It will only grow engagement.

With content and the possibility of learning within arm’s reach, a brand’s version of education on their social community should be engaging, quick, and modular. The days of 30-minute trainings are gone, and short, interactive trainings are now in. A training methodology MarketStar abides by is The Fantastic Five:
  1. Know your audience
  2. Make the right first impression
  3. Make a bold promise
  4. Involve participants
  5. Be memorable
You want to create a vibrant, engaging community, but it’s also important that they understand the specs of a product. You need to educate, without creating a classroom, create a study hall. The objective is for them to love your brand, so make it fun to learn and fun to interact while they are learning.

In closing, retail is not easy but the in-store experience works time and time again. Buyers still want to touch and feel the products they want to buy—before they buy them. You can create all the great online content you want to enable the highly informed and highly engaged shopper, but never forget about the Store Associate. They are the front lines of your brand.

Keep store associates educated on your products. If done correctly, you will create sales and impact the bottom line. There are lots of platforms to train RSAs, lots of ways to socially connect, but you must combine the two and make it worth their while. The key is to make the connection real and legitimate.

Motivating and Engaging Millennials – The New Retail Store Associate

In the continuous changing retail environment, what do words such as social, mobile, gamification, showrooming, buyer journey, interactive, and Millennials mean and what do they mean for your business?
Today, shoppers stay informed, they are connected, and they have more choices than before. There has always been competition on the store shelves, but manufacturers now have to compete with reputations online and the errant bad review – “Two out of five stars – it didn’t arrive when they said it would, don’t buy this phone!”.


Combine this with under-informed store associates who have a reputation of being nothing more than a living, breathing directional sign and you have a tricky situation for someone trying to sell their latest amazing product.
The retail store experience still works. Even the most informed and opinionated shopper can be turned at the moment of sale by a skilled and educated store associate. But with so many other brands to recommend and a lot of other informed shoppers to deal with, how do you encourage, engage, and motivate people that aren’t your own employees?

People sell what they know, so how well do store associates know your product? Are you sending them a pamphlet or are you relying on the store’s Learning Management System? How about a social community?
Today, social communities continue to expand; they are becoming a great resource to create sharable, enjoyable, and educational environments for Retail Store Associates.
Connect+ is MarketStar’s social learning and advocacy platform. It has proven to be successful, driving great results for clients. Through Connect+, we provide retail employees with the tools, knowledge, and training they need in order to sell your product and convey passion for your brand.
Microsoft PowerPoint - AMA MarketStar Lunch & Learn 2.18.15 FINABased on our experience in building and managing social communities, we’ve created the Game On! eBook. Game On! outlines tips on how to get retail store associates on your side, educated about your product, and passionate about the very thing you want them to sell.
First, it’s important to know your audience and key demographics. Millennials are a growing influencer in retail stores; they are the largest commercial demographic and one-third of the U.S. population today. Growing up with technology, Millennials have become the skeptical, involved technocrat. They know what marketers are doing online and are weary of advertisements and traditional media outlets.
Research shows 64% of Millennials want brands to engage with them and hear their opinions. They are not just your customers; they are the same store associates selling your wares.

With this elusive, distracted, intelligent, and skeptical demo in mind, how do you create an engaging, fun, social, and effective community for them?

Part 2 of this blog series will cover distinct mechanisms we have identified to be successful. When all of them are integrated into Connect+, they have proven to not just increase activity and brand affinity, but increase sales.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Rise of the Millennial Influence in Retail

Millennials are poised to be the largest consumer group, forever changing the way we need to market and sell goods and services. This group, as defined by the dictionary, are a “generation, born from 1980 onward, brought up using digital technology and mass media; the children of Baby Boomers; also called Generation Y.”
Millennials – growing influence
Millennials tend to have a bad reputation with older folks like me (if you’re not sure what I mean, watch this Millennials in the Workplace Training Video – then you will understand.) Whether you buy into these stereotypes or not – Millennials are here to stay.   By 2014, Millennials are expected to be the largest consumer demographic and nearly a third of the U.S. population. 
Millennials – the skeptical, involved technocrats
Millennials understand technology and social media better than any other generation; as digital natives, they probably used a mobile device as a binky growing up.  Millennials like to know their voice is heard and respond better when they can directly influence a brand, in fact – 64 percent think companies should offer more ways to share their opinions online. They also tend to be skeptical of traditional media and sales approaches, only 19 percent found traditional media is an effective method of promoting a brand.  Millennials are also more environmentally and socially-conscious, taking pride in being a generation championing positive change and good in the world.
Millennials – the worker
In addition to growing in consumer influence, Millennials are also beginning to dominate the sales force. According to a study by Sibson Consulting, Millennials are interested in sales positions with growth and commission opportunities. The number of sales organizations where Millennials make up (on average) one-third of the workforce will more than double in the next five years.  Are you ready for this change?
Ready or not, the more important question to ask is – are Millennials motivated to promote and sell your product, in particular, when they represent multiple brands as in the case of the retail store associate?
Millennials – how do we engage the worker?
In our experience, to capture mindshare, the Millennial retail store associate needs an outlet to discuss, review, and interact directly with your brand in an authentic way.  While the desired outcome is to ultimately educate the retail associates and drive sales, the path to get there is through an authentic voice and positive interaction with the brand.
MarketStar helps clients create interactive, social communities where retail store associates could interact with one another through games, training modules, and participate in promotions for branded merchandise.  The community is staffed with community managers that work to create a direct, trustable dialogue for the brand.
Clients have found success with this tool, and some have experienced a 20 percent sales uplift within stores that are actively participating in the community.
Watch how this community tool works, and increases mindshare among retail associates: Connect+.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Partner Management - using Marketing Automation to Managing the Unmanaged

In the channel, why do we classify partner groups using names of precious metal and then ignore our less precious?  Are we missing that diamond in the rough?  How can we groom the next shining star if an entire group of partners isn’t receiving personalized attention?
Most companies end up ignoring the bottommost partner tiers because the time and cost of supporting those tiers using partner managers is prohibitively expensive.  Still, other companies expend a lot of effort and hard dollars creating predictive models to determine the next growth partner.
For a company wishing to grow, ignoring your lower tier partners isn’t an option, and predictive models can’t model one of the most important elements of a successful partnership - level of interest and engagement.
As the online world continues to evolve, and sources like social media and interactive websites feed into our need for immediate gratification, decision-makers at your unmanaged companies will engage with a real-time response to their needs. These three tips will help you begin your journey to successfully managing the unmanaged accounts.

1 – Know what partners need, and when.

You can treat all partners as precious using the same marketing automation processes and tools used for end customer lead nurturing.  By scoring partner activity, you can determine both the level of interest and specifically understand what partners are interested in.  Did Bob, a lower-level partner, just spend 30 minutes looking at content about your newest offering and this is the third time he has expressed interest in your offerings in the past several weeks? That means he has a need.  But is he worth calling? This question leads me to part two – Act fast and be relevant.

2 – Act fast and be relevant.

So, now that you know that Bob is interested and what he is interested in – should you call him?  Before you do, let’s review Bob.
Is Bob interested in your services? Yes.
Does Bob have a lead score that represents an increasing level of interest? Yes.
After a review of CRM data, does Bob fit the criteria of an emerging partner? Yes.
Great! Now Bob, who was earlier classified as a lower tiered partner not worth supporting, has moved up the ranks and your relationship with a partner that was once ignored, is developing.

3 – Stay cost-effective.

Many companies think that in order to manage accounts, you need to ratio channel account managers to partners at a specific ratio, usually no more than 100 partners to 1 channel account manager.  This can, and always has been, a daunting task for companies with a large number of partners.
However, using tried and true end user lead nurturing techniques can enable channel account managers to nurture more partner accounts with greater success, and impact ROI in a positive way. With rapid response channel account managers, you only need a handful of well-trained account managers to get the job done.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Evolving Zombie Leads [Infographic]

Evolving leads requires progressive lead nurturing over time.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why aren’t MDF funds being used to fund social media activities?

Through Partner Marketing can be tricky for vendors and they often have trouble running successful MDF and co-op programs that drive additional channel revenue. According to Hubspot’s “2012 State of Inbound Marketing Report” the cost per inbound lead (social media, blogging, SEO) was 61% lower than that of an outbound lead. In a world where Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have more than 1.5 billion users, why aren’t partners using more MDF funds for social media activities?

I see three major challenges as contributors to this:
  1. Partners must first know how to access and use their MDF funds
  2. Partners need to understand social media and how they can benefit
  3. Vendors need to provide more pre-packaged options that include social media activities
Most vendor’s offer activities and collateral that can be funded by MDF but most of the options are still tied to more traditional offerings – email, direct mail and in-person events. Embracing the power of social media can provide partners with a new way to reach their customers that can be integrated with traditional offerings.

At this point, most people recognize that social media can be a positive force that delivers leads for far less cost than outbound marketing, like trade shows, telemarketing and direct mail. And despite research showing that 95% of companies wanted to increase social media spend in 2012, many companies are still not putting their full effort behind social endeavors. Several factors contribute to the lackluster efforts keeping companies from delving into social media. For some it may be that they don’t feel competent dealing with social media, while others may think that the development and the maintenance of a social media program will require too much time and effort. These are legitimate concerns but should not prevent companies from gaining customers and driving increased revenue through social efforts.

If your partners are still apprehensive about using social media, try these five tactics to get them engaged in promoting your solutions through social media:
  1. Include social media activities in your standard MDF/Co-op programs – better yet, offer a higher reimbursement value than you do for traditional media activities
  2. Source a social media service provider that has a proven track record of providing services directly to partners on the vendor’s behalf
  3. Provide training on social media benefits and solutions directly to your partners
  4. Provide training on social benefits and available solutions directly to your field and offer individual rewards for convincing partners to get involved in social media
  5. Include a concierge service in your MDF/Co-op programs, so unsure partners can contact someone for direct help
Using these strategies will help you quell partner concerns and establish new, cost effective ways to generate leads.