Gearing up for Forrester Consumer Forum 2008

The last week of October will see some great content in the social media sphere around getting ahead of tomorrow’s customer.  In April of this year I attended Forrester’s Marketing Forum in LA, and enjoyed “live twitter” and blogging related to the event.  Knowing an onslaught of content is coming, I decided to reach out to Alexis Karlin, Forrester’s community manager for Forrester’s Consumer Forum in Dallas on October 28-29.  She was gracious enough to share some good info for “where the content will live” for the event.  Rosetta is a Forrester client and as a marketing agency we get a lot of relevant industry content out of these events – but lots more will be shared through social media.

Going to Dallas? Please reach out on twitter @adamcohen or contact Alexis @akarlin – there will be a gathering planned.  Whether you will be there or are just interested in the content, here are some other guidelines from Alexis:

I’m looking forward to some great content and expect to have follow-up posts in the next several weeks around some of the more provocative topics.  Take a look at the agenda if you have a few moments – what topics interest you?

Photo credit: bitmapr via Flickr

The Brand Factor: Do Established Brands Have It Easier?

Social MediaDo big, well-known brands have it easier or harder than start-ups trying to make an impact and leveraging social media?  Jeremiah Owyang, the well known social media analyst from Forrester Research, recently wrote a very thoughtful post on the current challenges in social media.  I also recently attended Social Media Camp Boston, which had a number of enterpreneurs presenting on tactics they take to leverage social media platforms.  This got me thinking – what types of companies lend themselves to social media?  I see three major factors that can help to answer this question, among others:

1.  "Traditional" Marketing and PR
2.  Budget for Social Media Efforts
3.  Community Leverage

Traditional Marketing and PR

Many large companies and established brands have yet to embrace and understand some of the tenets of social media.  They are unwilling to relinquish control of the message.  They struggle with fears of engaging customers directly and giving them a voice – looking to avoid negative PR instead of embracing customers and engaging customers.  They term "audience" is still used prevalently because of the one-way communication mindset, where "community," "listening" and "conversation" are not words some of these companies would associate with marketing. 

In some ways, this parallels a presentation I attended at Forrester's Marketing Forum called "The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model."  Shar Van Boskirk did an excellent job capturing four levels of maturity in embracing interactive marketing, which I believe also applies to leveraging social media:

  • "Skeptics," characterized by little or no interactive experience and assessing if interactive has value for them
  • "Mavericks," organizations that have a few isolated team members that appreciate interactive and run stand-alone programs but lack support to improve current efforts
  • "Practitioners," companies who have several years of experience and are piloting emerging media, and
  • "Optimizers," who have company-wide support for interactive efforts and are working to optimize multi-channel (including offline) efforts.1

With very few "optimizers" out there in the big corporations, it can be difficult for those companies to bridge the gap and trully leverage social media.  They need to retain talent in the industry, like Ford's recent hire of Scott Monty and Nationwide's recent hiring of Shawn Morton.

On the flip side, smaller startup organizations can be more nimble and have few constraints around controlling the brand message.  A great example of this is Freshbooks, led by chief "magic maker" Saul Colt.  Their entire marketing approach is to build a community of passionate users and embrace their customers with open and earnestly helpful dialog.

Budget for Social Media Efforts

More traditional organizations will ask the ROI question.  As Jeremiah points out, it's difficult to measure ROI on "engagement" and no industry standard exists.  Larger established brands may be less willing to take risks – where startups practically need to take a risk to differentiate themselves.  An untapped, unproven landscape in social media is ripe for startups (even though they may be spending funding rather than profits).  Albert Maruggi of the Marketing Edge, thinks companies need to get past the ROI question, using magazines' spending $14 million to buy a baby picture of Brangelina's kids as an example.

I think it should be easier for larger companies to allocate budget (including resources) to focus on social media due to their scale and the relatively low barrier to entry of leveraging many of these tools.  Sometimes process and a lack of executive sponsorship get in the way.

Community Leverage

Another factor in determining whether big brands have it easier is whether they already have a community to tap into.  Nike's Jordan division is a well known and loved brand – leveraging social media platforms and tools should be easy since there are passionate fans out there who would willingly participate.  For crying out loud, people fight and even risk lives in getting a hold of the latest shoe design. 

Smaller startups need to build communities, one person at a time.  Melanie Notkin has done a terrific job at building a community over months leading up to the launch of SavvyAuntie.com, using her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.  It can be arguably harder to build a community than to engage one that exists, but I'd be interested to hear from folks who have more expertise on each before I decide on that one.

So which is it?

Do big brands have it easier or harder leveraging social media?  Are there other factors to consider?  Please take the poll and let me know what you think.

1 Source: The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model, Shar Van Boskirk, Forrester Research, April 9, 2008.
Photo credit: mrwilleeumm via Flickr

Forrester Marketing Forum: Tie Customer Engagement to Company Performance

EngagementWhen I was with one of the Big Four consulting firms (rhymes with Indenture – just kidding, I loved my time there), I spent a small amount of time on a task force focusing on making the firm a "Great Place to Work" in our market unit in North America.  This committee was filled with passionate people in the organization who understood clearly that people were our #1 asset.  The committee’s charter was to go beyond happy hours and newsletters to come up with game-changing initiatives to improve engagement.  In 2005 the group began to get a lot of attention from senior executives in the firm due to some studies tying employee engagement to outperforming stock prices.  The studies measure how individuals responded in surveys to the "Three Ss": Say, Stay and Strive (developed by Hewitt Associates), measuring how effective an employee would talk about the firm, have a desire to stay with the firm for the next couple years, and optimally thrive in their careers while with the firm.  After an annual employee satisfaction survey was done, we received an "Engagement Index" score and were compared to 1500 other companies who had asked their employees the same questions.

The result: While one could debate the "chicken and the egg," there was a direct correlation between the increase in employee engagement and the increase in stock price across 1500 companies surveyed.  High performing companies had high levels of employee engagement.  This was eye opening and got senior leadership to pay immediate attention and "get in the game" on programs that improved engagement. 

After all the talk at Forrester’s Marketing Forum 2008 about customer engagement, I got to thinking.  There were great presentations from Forrester, retailers and software vendors about how we need to measure or quantify customer engagement.  High performing companies like Dell, Nike and FedEx presented on strategies that have helped them increase customer engagement.

What I’d like to see:  A study that ties a measurement of customer engagement to stock price over time. 

Take some of the key brands represented.  Jordan Brands, part of Nike, Inc., has seemingly a brand that can do no wrong.  They are undertaking innovative ways to engage customers in the same ethos of Michael Jordan himself – launching a breakfast club to motivate young athletes and track or suggest training programs, launching an exclusive "Flight Club" with premium offers, etc.  What has happened to Nike’s stock price in the last few years, and what are analysts saying now, despite a weak economy looming?

Nike_4There are many factors around operating a company that impact the stock price, no doubt, and this is only one example pulled from a list of companies doing great things with customer engagement.  I know this can’t be the only factor, but I am still wondering if any similar correlation can be drawn.

One of the breakout sessions I attended at the Forrester Marketing Forum was The Interactive Marketing Maturity Model presented by Shar VanBoskirk, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research.  In her presentation she explained how few companies have interactive marketing efforts that are optimized, and there is a disparity between the high level of belief in interactive marketing and a low level of actual investment or support to execute.  If this correlation plays out to support a positive association, I suspect it would lend credence to the army of interactive marketers who sense or are trying to prove value but have trouble convincing executives to invest in their campaigns.  I also suspect it would open corporate executives to new ways to engage the customer, making a better case for why interactive marketing, social media and engaging customers are imperatives and not optional.

Have you seen any research out there like this?  What do you think would help legitimize interactive marketing and social media campaigns that impact customer engagement?