What Is a Good Marketing Strategy for New Product Development?

Over and again, I have found that fledgling innovators or entrepreneurs start with the product idea first and link their strategies to it. Campaigns flounder because they start from their vantage point rather than that of their clients. In the end, these individuals may end up pleasing just themselves–or not even themselves because they end up at a loss.

Here’s a far better way to innovate and launch new product development:

Social Listening

Start off by having no idea whatsoever. Watch social media conversations that are relevant to your industry to find pain points and a desire for solutions that don’t exist.

The social media platforms that best fit your needs include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and blogs. Google+ is slipping, but may still give you something.

In countries outside the U.S, sites such as Bebo, Habbo, Hi5, Zorpia, or Orkut may help you.

Here’s how I used this approach to write a book proposal.

Example:

It is well-known that the most popular, bestselling category is self-help. Yet, self-help also has a reputation for not working. I specified my field of inquiry to limit it: self-help regarding self-development; not spiritualism nor money nor health nor aspects like Zen (etc.). To maximize time, I listed the 12 most popular blogs and groups on Facebook and Twitter and spent two days reading comments of the past two-three months. I came up with an unsolved pain point which had a significant following and twisted an idea around that.

Traditional Market Research

Now’s the time to proceed with polls, focus groups, telephone interviews, A/B testing and other traditional research strategies. There’s a way you can do this while protecting the discovery of your pain point and your hunches.

Example:

The so-called “Mother of Invention,” Patricia Nolan-Brown, who has sold millions of products, holds multiple patents, and has her products regularly featured in national newscasts and magazines, protects her hunches by formatting her survey questions around existent product pain points rather than her idea. So, for instance, she tested her idea of an innovative car seat mirror by asking mothers what bothered them about their baby seats and their wish for a fantasy version, rather than divulging her idea and asking what they thought of it. This helped her not only confirm the validity of the need but also gave her other perspectives.

Competitors

For all you know, one or more of your competitors may have already hit on your idea, or seen the gap and proposed some viable solution. Check their website and PR to make sure you’re the “king of the castle” and not colliding with someone else. It’s ok if someone else has picked up the same need; you may be offering a different solution–one that may even be more effective. The important thing is to make sure your product solution is unique.

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Marketing consultant, Michael J. Hunter mentions an important point. Checking competitors pays off in other ways, too. Your competitors may have unsuccessfully tried to launch product ideas that resemble yours. Learning from competitors’ mistakes helps you not only improve your idea but gives you feedback on which marketing strategies to avoid and which to pursue.

Why not the traditional way?

Most marketers, entrepreneurs, or innovators flip this funnel. They come out with the product idea; then, adopt traditional marketing strategies such as polls or focus groups, to supplement their research. Unfortunately, science shows that this brings skewed results for many reasons that include the fact that you’re approaching your sample with a bias—you want to prove your ideas and are less open to disagreement. Respondents are, also, more likely to tell you what you want to hear, and they respond differently based on social contexts, the way they read the questions, their disinterest, or their mood. A far better way is to start with social listening instead.

Takeaways

“Marketing is what you do when your product is no good,” says Edwin Land, American scientist, and inventor. Unfortunately, most people begin new product development with an already existent idea that they then proceed to market. That doesn’t always work. A far better strategy is to catch pain points and missing solutions and develop a product idea that fills that gap better than any existent solution does. Then, you market accordingly.

The 3 Steps in Short

Campaigns flounder because organizations haven’t put the research into crafting a good marketing strategy for new product development. To avoid this:

  1. Listen to relevant social conversations for pain points and nonexistent solutions.
  2. Conduct your traditional research strategies such as A/B testing, polls, focus groups, and so forth
  3. Check your competition to make sure your idea is unique and to analyze their failures.

By starting with social listening and benchmarking competitors you’ll gain insight into how to approach new product development.

This article was originally published on this site on October 28, 2016, it was written by Jaime Nacach from Business2Community, originally appeared in Bloominari, and is legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Lessons for PR from a Winning Sales Team: How to Pitch Media with Persistence and Persuasion

Sales teams and PR professionals have more in common than most people might think.

We all pitch stories. Sales teams pitch products or services and try to close deals. In PR, we pitch media to secure coverage.

Take a high-level overview of the sales process. It’s easy to pinpoint the similarities:

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The media pitch process doesn’t look much different from what a good salesperson does. The PR professional will identify the proper influencers and publications to reach out to. They will tailor their media pitches to create value, not only for themselves but the journalist or influencer they are working with. Some will use the story and some won’t.

Thinking through it along these lines, it’s not much of a stretch to say that PR is a sales job. We’re in the business of selling ideas to publications and building relationships with influencers. Once we think of PR this way, it can change how we approach our work.

What makes a winning sales team successful? It’s much more than just having the confidence to make a cold call.

How to Sell Your Media Pitch

Leverage Your Relationships

Network as much as possible. Attend conferences, attend workshops, attend industry events. Don’t be afraid to ask a journalist to grab a coffee! Take advantage of the relationships you establish early on in your career by maintaining contact. Do your best to meet with journalists face-to-face. A phone call should be second and an email third.

Know Who You’re Speaking To

Research. Research. Research. Who are you speaking to and why? Thoroughly learn everything you can about their interests, their needs, and their audience. Read past stories they’ve written and follow their social accounts. This allows you to craft an effective pitch that will resonate with the person you’re speaking to.

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Only Meltwater offers a media contacts database that allows you to search for journalists by recent coverage. This will help you tailor a media pitch to their most recent interests. Along with phone and social media contact info, you’ll also be able to send email straight from the tool and keep track of your open rates.

Pick Up the Phone

Many journalists don’t have time to respond, let alone open an email. To make the most of their time and to increase your chances of a response, pick up the phone. Formulate a thoughtful introduction and follow with your pitch. You probably have about 15 seconds to grab the person’s attention. Personalize your pitch and make it unique. Journalists love this approach—they don’t have time to filter through all the irrelevant content filling up their inboxes. It’s easier for a journalist to say “no” over email than over the phone.

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Follow-Up

ALWAYS follow-up after your pitch. By now, you should know journalists have a ton of pitches to filter through. Stay persistent and persuasive and explain the benefits of picking up your story. Give them concrete reasons why your story is better than anyone else’s. There is also a fine line between being persistent and being annoying. Give the journalist a few days to process your pitch. If they sound busy, don’t take up too much of their time, and if the journalist says no, ask them why. As with sales, rejection is par for the course in PR. Turn it into a learning experience by using the opportunity to ask what future topics they would be interested in.

Take Advantage of Your Opportunities

If you get the chance to speak with a journalist on the phone or meet face-to-face, take respectful advantage of their time. The key is not to be a great speaker, but to be a great listener. Ask good questions and take notes. They’re going out of their way to speak with you. There’s only one chance to make a first impression, so be mindful of their time, takes notes throughout the discussion, arrive prepared, and focus on their interests and needs, more than your own.

Be Patient

Results don’t happen overnight. It’s inevitable that you will face rejection. Remain patient and develop thick skin. Turn every failed attempt into a learning experience and come back stronger.

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You’re ultimately selling a story. Your pitch is your product. The journalists are your prospects. Be persistent, persuasive, and stay confident. Be the best salesperson you can be! If you’re interested in putting this advice into practice, speak to one of our ace salespeople and receive a demo of our media contacts database.

Forecasting Resources Includes Community

Forecasting Resources

Though the discoveries can be vast, when you think about it, there are only a couple of resources for gathering information: the real world and the digital world. Both play an essential role in trend prediction, and one should not be used exclusively over the other. Each is integral in studying and deciphering human behavior. Taking into consideration the time you live in, the geopolitics, and how that affects people’s perception of their lives, what that means for how they spend their dollars, and where their attention is being diverted; all this comes into play when considering forecasting resources that are available to you.

The Zeitgeist

Before digging deep into the social media reservoir, it is important to pause, lick our index finger, hold it in the air, and assess the temperature and direction of the zeitgeist. Zeitgeist  means “spirit of the time.” It has been said you can’t accurately gauge the spirit of an era until that era is over. A valid point, but there is no better time to look at the emotions and vulnerability of the people of a time than when they are living it.

To understand your audience’s experiences, to some extent, you’ve got to live them yourself. This part of the process involves putting down your devices, closing your laptop, and physically engaging with your environment, your community, and the people in it. The media manipulates information into what they want us to hear. To be an influencer and trendsetter, we must shut out the chatter long enough to make firsthand observations and come to conclusions. Once we formulate our ideas, we can re-engage with the online masses to compare and contrast our findings with the valuable opinions of others.

Training Our Eyes

What do we look at? Look at everything that matters; politics, the economy, the weather, art, design, science, technology, media, food, travel, and anything you can think of that can influence the way people feel and react. In our current climate, a topic of observation is politics and the reactions and fallout. As we look at this really interesting time, it is also important to see if historically there has been a similar political climate.

There is valuable truth in the saying, “What comes around goes around.” While no moment in history can be exactly like any other moment, similarities are often profound, and it is helpful to look closely at human reactions to these past moments. Lately, many are comparing Trump and Nixon. Make your own conclusions. But, type these names together in your search bar, and you will get over 26,000 social media mentions in the past seven days.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the current geopolitical upheaval, it is worth noting some facts. As global citizens, we were surprised by recent political outcomes in both Britain and the US. We are divided. Not only as a nation but also as a planet. It’s easy to get lost in your personally curated bubble, taking in only information that you want to hear.

Find a Common Story

For a forecaster, it has never been more important to listen to everyone and find a common story. This task is not easy. The noise of the media is overwhelming, and if I look at my personal response to this, I sometimes turn off the circus. (My mental heath depends on it.) I’m not the only one who tunes out the media. This example highlights the difficulty of scrutinizing modern events and our reactions to what is happening while it is still occurring. However, if we want to understand how something like geopolitics affects everything we do, it’s time to pay attention. Immediately, we see a resurgence in protests: for women’s rights, for and against the government, for civil rights, jobs, and the environment. As it relates to trend forecasting, our heightened political atmosphere will certainly affect consumer behavior.

Predictions, Questions, and Takeaways

As brands, what can we do to support and embrace a renewed interest in activism, while also broadcasting our brand messages? Immediately, we see brands and individuals donating money to causes such as the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Go to either website, and you will see each capitalizing on current human interest. We see a resurgence in slogan driven t-shirts and the pantsuit as a symbol of women’s strength. Will we harken back to the 80s and go for the win with the return of shoulder pads (a sign of protection and strength)?

Will a stronger pallet of red, green, blue, black, and gold, accompany and even replace the passiveness of the pastel and natural hues that have been dominating the color forecast? The Pantone color of the year for 2017 is a vibrant grass green, specifically called, “Greenery (15-0343).” If this renewed wave of activism persists (and it does not seem to be abating), I predict 2018’s color will be more in your face.

As the mercury rises for both the earth’s climate and the geopolitical climate, the consumer is in desperate need of someone or something they can trust implicitly. Brands whose DNA is suffused with authenticity, who deliver what they promise, who inspire trust, and are aligned with the values of their audience will soar now.

Take the time to look the Zeitgeist in the eye when out in your community, out in the world. Then, with that excitement and personal perspective in tow, power back on your device of choice.

Boost Your Content’s Credibility with These Principles of Journalistic Objectivity

Fake news is a real problem — and not just for journalists.

Look no further than a new survey that says 75-percent of Americans find it difficult to determine what news is accurate and what is not. Worse yet, when Stanford researchers studied the ability of students to analyze the credibility of information online — the same kids we all consider “digital natives” — the researchers described the results as “bleak.” They were “shocked” by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information.

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So, what’s the solution? “The world needs the truth now more than ever,” says Hamish Nicklin of The Guardian. “In a world where the most important people on the planet are using fake news to undermine the values so many of us hold so dear,” she told a roomful of reporters at The Guardian’s 2017 Media Summit, “it has never been so important that we have a strong and vibrant media, and remember that facts and truth are sacred.”

Although she was speaking specifically to journalists, the same advice holds true for content marketers. As the audience grows more skeptical, content needs to grow more credible. Click bait, re-purposed press releases, and glorified commercials just won’t hold up to the tougher scrutiny, and they might even get you in trouble. In the past, the audience might just click away. But now that the audience is more skeptical, bad content runs the risk of getting lumped in with all of the other fake stuff — and actually harming your brand.

Do you really want to take that chance? Instead, focus on real facts and true stories. Be genuine. Be honest. Fight the fake news epidemic by using the same tactics that journalists use to bridge the credibility gap.

Use the principles of journalistic objectivity to build your credibility.

1. Act with Integrity

You’d be surprised how many newsroom discussions involve “Big J” journalism — the stuff we learned in journalism school. Most of those conversations involve integrity, or, in the words of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, the mandate to “seek the truth and report it.” Following that mandate, and showing it as transparently as possible, is the easiest way for journalists to separate themselves from fake news.

For marketers, I’d make the mandate even simpler: “Don’t BS your audience.” Content marketing is supposed to be all about answering the audience’s questions. Giving them what they’re looking for. When people click on a headline, they expect content that delivers. They expect relevant information that will help them. Try to manipulate them with ham-handed marketing messages and you’ll lose your credibility quickly.

2. Act Independently

For journalists, this means “follow the truth.” Don’t let advertisers (or anybody else) influence your coverage. That’s why there’s a separation of “church and state” in newsrooms — to keep the sales department and their advertisers away from the journalists. That independence breeds objectivity, impartiality, and credibility.

Marketers who force themselves to act independently will notice similar results. Nothing builds credibility like pure honesty. Avoid the temptation to act like a salesman. In fact, consider mentioning the competition as a way to showcase your objectivity. And don’t shy away from admitting they’re actually better on a few occasions. They’re going to find that out anyway, but when they learn it from you, your credibility will shine through.

3. Tell Real Stories

For journalists, this is easy. Real stories should seem more real than the fake ones. For content marketers, it takes a lot more discipline. It’s tempting to repurpose a press release or brochure, but is that what your audience is looking for?

If you put on your journalist’s hat and focus on real stories and information instead of your marketing story, you’ll build credibility. Create content that fills a need or answers a question and then ask yourself, “what is the next step the reader needs to take?” By answering the reader’s questions and making it easy for them to take the next step, you’ll begin to create a relationship of trust and open up the doors for further communication.

4. Reveal Your Sources

I’m not talking about Woodward and Bernstein — they were dealing with confidential sources. I’m talking about the way content marketers can build credibility by simply citing source information properly. For starters, why should I believe you’re using a fact from a study in proper context if you don’t link to it? Same thing with a quote. Let me see where you got it.

Besides building credibility with your transparency, you’ll also add an extra layer of objectivity. When you link to the source, you’re likely to vet it further. If it doesn’t feel like something you’d want your reader to see (whether it’s out of context, not the original source, or anything else that doesn’t feel right), you might reconsider using it. That a level of extra thoughtfulness that’s guaranteed to elevate both the quality and credibility of your content.

5. Use Video for Proof

Seeing is believing. It’s as simple as that. Showing a video instantly boosts your credibility because it allows the audience to see or hear for things with their own eyes and ears. Think of this the way you think when you look at one of those glossy hotel photos that’s just too good to believe. Now picture how you feel when it’s replaced by a short video. You see more of the room and you feel like you’re seeing it with your own eyes. It instantly starts to feel more credible.

Now think through the same thing with other examples, like a testimonial or case study where a recorded interview lets the audience vet the endorsement for ourselves. Same story for a demonstration or any other video. It simply feels more transparent and objective because there’s more information to process (both audio and video) and more access to it.

Make no mistake, fake news is a legitimate threat to all content creators. It muddies the waters of the entire internet. However, that threat also creates a giant opportunity for content marketers who embrace the principles of journalistic objectivity. With an increasingly knowledgeable and skeptical audience on the other end, producing “good” content will not only burnish your brand’s credibility but it will help distance your content (and your brand) from those who don’t.

This article originally appeared in The StoryTeller Media Blog.

This article was written by Gregg Litman from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

#Winning: Using Hashtags to Amplify Your Brand

If your brand does any digital marketing, it may seem like using hashtags is essential to the equation. But not all hashtags are equal, and many are crafted to tick a box fall flat the moment they’re introduced. Whether you’re looking to garner impressions, increase your brand’s share of voice, or boost awareness, these examples will help you master the art of the hashtag.

The Campaign Aggregator

Coca-Cola is itself, iconic, but its Share A Coke campaign cemented its relevance to a new generation of soft drinkers. Coke didn’t stop at putting names on cans to excite customers who could find their own to drink from; they encouraged the social nature of the campaign with the #ShareACoke hashtag. Soon after, conversations on Twitter and Instagram were flooded with photos of Coke bottles and cans. Friends shared with friends, and fans shared with followers. Though the campaign launched in 2014, the hashtag is still in use throughout social media.

Takeaway

Give campaign-themed hashtags a reason for being. Applying a hashtag to a campaign may be common practice, but that doesn’t mean it works simply because it exists. Your campaign’s hashtag can seem like a clever read in the eyes of a copywriter, but no amount of creative genius here can change a user’s behavior at the end of the day.

#ShareACoke works because it invites participation that lets the audience tell a story about themselves. The behavior of sharing personal stories on social media is already there; Coke simply enabled the interaction on behalf of its consumers. Make the value of the engagement natural and clear, and a hashtag can amplify your campaign into an earned media opportunity, whether you’re a global brand or not.

The Organic Conversation Owner

Bethesda Softworks is a powerhouse. The publisher is responsible for some of the biggest blockbusters to ever hit the video gaming world, with titles like Fallout grossing millions of dollars apiece. Their releases are highly anticipated, and Bethesda’s tech-heavy audience isn’t shy about using social media to speculate and commentate.

Though Bethesda supports many of its bigger releases with a suite of dedicated social channels, the studio has embraced the fact that fans use the titles to talk about games. By discussing, say, Skyrim using #skyrim instead of a specific game reference like #TheDragonborn (a nod to the game’s main character), the brand gets to own conversations that Skyrim enthusiasts are having.

Takeaway

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Not every idea or product needs a clever hashtag to be positioned for success. Sometimes, the easiest way to own the conversation is to embrace and encourage the way the conversation is already taking shape. By using hashtags that match the way gamers discuss former, current, and future titles, the brand directly inserts itself into the conversation to keep it flowing.

What’s more, without being tied to a specific creative campaign or timeframe, hashtags like #Skyrim will always be relevant for game-related chatter, and stand the test of time. Anyone searching for the latest content has a direct line of sight to what the studio is saying because they’ve embraced the hashtag instead of trying to force something else upon their fans.

The Cultural Phenomenon

A few years ago, Newcastle Brown Ale decided to make a statement about the state of frenzy Super Bowl advertisers. A masterfully executed creative campaign hyped an ad that never came to fruition with star-studded content plays. Everything was tied together with #IfWeMadeIt, where followers could get a taste of the latest brand antics and stunts. By placing social media at the center of the strategy, Newcastle captured attention for a fraction of what competitors spent on broadcast spots.

Takeaway

Let the calendar do the heavy lifting. The Super Bowl happens every year, and as a result, every year millions of eager football fans place an increased focus on the second screen to get in on the action. Newcastle could have picked any moment to advertise, but it aligned with a key cultural moment to efficiently scale awareness. What’s more, they negated the risks of using a campaign-specific hashtag by deploying it at a time where social media users were inclined to adopt it.

Don’t Delay, Start Using Hashtags Today

It may seem like the big brands are hiring pros to create and spread hashtags, but no matter your size, you can learn from these examples. The first step is as easy as creating a branded hashtag and using it with most of your Tweets and IG posts. The next step is to associate your message with an organic hashtag that is a natural fit. The limited time it will take to implement a preliminary brand hashtag strategy could have wide-reaching effects for your brand. Do it for the conversations, if for nothing else.

How a Business Can Create and Maintain a Good Reputation

Creating a good reputation takes time and effort and it can be something that’s lost in an instant. However, there are a number of things you can do to help your business build it’s rep and keep it for the long term and we’re going to take a closer look at them.

Check out These Simple Tips You Should Consider

Whenever you say you’ll do something, actually do it. This may sound obvious, but think about this. How many times did you have a banker tell you he’d send you something, an assistant say he’ll pick something up, or a vendor promise he’d call you back, and they didn’t?

In these cases, you have to follow up yourself, and they lose credibility. Now, think of a moment when someone said they’d do something, and actually delivered. When a person has this habit, it stands out – and you see them as dependable and reliable individuals, trusting them completely. You’d probably give someone like that a strong recommendation, for instance. Do your best to be that person.

Help Other People Reach Their Own Goals

Your reputation goes beyond caring for yourself and your own interests. Have a mindset of helping others. Should a friend’s child be in college and interested in learning about the business world, offer to talk to them for a while, answer their questions and give tips. Should you know an individual in sales and learn that they’re looking for a deal, see if you can help them by making a good introduction. Here are some great tips on helping employees raise their status that can be used across the board.

Do Your Best to Make Others Look Good

Everyone has been thrown under the bus at least once, and it’s never fun. It’s an excellent idea to figure out ways to make others look good. For instance, if a friend refers you to a certain company, perhaps as a client or even for a job, make sure that, as a thank you, you manage to make them look great somehow. Remember to get there early, and also to be prepared and follow up in time with both parties. Make the referring person look good for introducing you, and your reputation will grow.

Always Go a Little Bit Beyond What’s Expected or Requested

If someone asks for a reference, offer them three. If you promise to save someone 10 percent, save them 15. Should you say you’ll follow up in 24 hours, do it in 12. Send hand-written thank you notes and things like that. A small gesture that shows you care can go a long way, and do wonders for your reputation.

Company Impressions on Paper

Ensuring your business has the right sort of impression on paper is important and this means presenting it in the most professional manner possible. Having a company office in a central location or seemingly in a central location, having a quality website, a well curated social media presence and also ensuring any material relating to the business is expertly done, creates the correct impression for your company.

Present Yourself the Way You Want to Be Seen

Good Reputation

This is often undervalued and overlooked, but first impressions are very important for your reputation. Whether you like it or not, you will be judged before opening your mouth, so dress for the environment you’ll be in. Never be excessively casual – if you’re not sure of the dress code, err on being too dressy. Make sure your clothes fit well, and that they’re clean, unwrinkled and modern. Being well-groomed is important as well, and make sure your accessories or makeup aren’t too distracting. Do not lose an opportunity to impress due to not looking appropriate. Here are some great tips on how to present your business.

Always Be Wary of Your Body Language

It tells a lot to others. When talking in public, face your audience, with feet pointed at them, and a tall, confident stance. Nod your head when looking to show agreement, lean into the person you’re talking to at times, smile on occasion. Check out Vanessa Van Edwards’ material for more help with this – she’s a body language expert, and founder of the Science of People.

Be Consistent

If you’re inauthentic, you will likely fail to remain consistent, which will never lead to a good reputation. Show your positive qualities to every single person you meet – even when you’re in a bad day. If you are great in a certain setting but rude or cold in another, your reputation will suffer. People have a tendency to share negative experiences a lot more readily than they share positive ones – and this sort of thing spreads quickly.

Act with Integrity

Make sure you do that regardless of what you’re doing. Particularly in the business world, even a small act of selfishness, greed or jealousy can have a serious negative impact, showcasing a lack of integrity – and you might not even notice it. If you would not buy what you’re selling, do not sell it. If you know that you won’t be able to get back to someone, don’t promise you’ll do it. This article on making things other than money discusses the importance of acting with integrity.

Get Engaged in the Communities You’re a Part Of

A community might be as small as a office, and as large as the whole city. Engagement should be aligned with your goals and values. Engaging means giving your time and resource, getting to know people and being generally available to them.

Be likeable

This relates directly to being yourself. Smile more, approach people you don’t know, offer handshakes and wish congratulations. Small things such as these can make you a lot more likeable – just make sure that you’re not fake – never falsify who you are just so people like you.

Learn how media intelligence tools can help you manage your brand’s reputation (and get in front of a potential brand crisis) by reading our e-book Media Intelligence for Crisis Communications.

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This article was originally published on this site on December 2, 2015, it was written by Cormac Reynolds from Business2Community, and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. On Saturdays, we republish posts that might be useful to our readers.

3 Customer Interview Tips for a Great Case Study

Any company that provides a service, especially if that service involves the Internet, (and what service doesn’t include the internet these days?) should be assembling case studies. And, if you’re going to produce a successful one, you’ll need to start with a great customer interview. When expertly guided, customers will hand you a case study on a platter by answering just a few questions. With a good interview, the case study will write (or in the case of video, edit) itself. But if your customer interview falls short, you’re stuck doing a lot of research, trying to connect the dots, and piecing the case study together on your own.

Sometimes it’s a writer who conducts the customer interview, other times a product marketing manager, or even an experienced sales rep. For a video case study, it might be a professional director. Whichever role you happen to have, along with being well-informed about your company’s service(s) and your customer, here’s some customer interview tips:

Customer Interview Tip #1

Don’t be shy. Make sure your customer talks about you.

Given the chance, people usually feel most comfortable talking about what they know best—themselves. It’s human nature, so don’t expect customers to be any different, even when they’ve agreed to an interview that’s supposed to be all more about you. For example, when describing their own products and work processes, customers are likely to go into great detail; when describing yours, they will probably be more inclined to generalize and skip to the next topic.

Before we look at strategies for nudging your way into the spotlight, remind yourself why you’re working on case studies to begin with. The goal here is simple: get a customer who uses your product to say nice things about it.

To help ensure this happens, start by asking yourself what you want these case studies to focus on. Make a list and be sure to put the most obvious item at the top: your product. You’d be surprised how often the transcripts to case study interviews never mention the company whose conducting the interviews’ product or even its basic functionality. Add to the list your product’s key benefits and everything that sets you apart from the competition.

Keep the list short, so you can glance at it during the interview and make sure that the customer touches (in their own words) on the points that matter most to you.

Customer Interview Tip #2

When preparing questions, dig deeper.

All customer case studies follow a tried-and-true, feel-good formula: (a) Meet the sharp, successful customer, who (b) finds him or herself facing a truly herculean obstacle, until (c) your product or service arrives on the scene to save the day.

Your case study is designed to make it easy for someone who is still considering your product to put themselves in your customer’s shoes, imagine themselves on a similar journey, and reach a similarly happy ending. To establish this basic narrative, start by asking your customer: What challenge did you face? Why did you choose our product/service to overcome it? What results have you achieved using our product? These are your core questions.

But for readers to connect with your customer and relate to their experiences, remember, you’re not actually talking to a company, you’re talking to a person. Encourage your customer to share specific examples and recall anecdotes from their personal point of view. By asking the right questions, you can help bring out their natural storytelling abilities while steering them to provide details that will showcase your product’s key strengths.

For example:

  • Ask about the company’s biggest challenges. Then personalize the question by rephrasing as: What was the most frustrating part of the job that you were able to solve when you started using our product (or service)?
  • Ask about the impact your product has had on the company as a whole. Then get more specifics by asking your customer to list their favorite feature and describe their day-to-day routine interacting with your product.
  • Don’t be afraid to go for high drama. You can ask: Did our product help you avert a crisis? Did our product enable you to do something you never thought was possible? What did you find most surprising about our product after you started using it? Has our product shifted the way you perceive your job function?
  • Don’t forget to ask for measurable improvements (in time, money, manpower) and attribute them to your product’s specific features.

Customer Interview Tip #3

Share questions ahead of time.

Since you’ve already written your questions down, there’s really no point in keeping them a surprise.

In fact, to help your customers prepare, and help you get the best possible interview, send them your core questions and a list of five optional ones with the instruction to choose the three they feel they can answer best.

Ask them to jot some notes down and send them back to you, or set up a preliminary call to review them together. You can then let them know what you’ll want them to elaborate on in more depth.

If you’re conducting a video case study, send guidelines for how your customers should dress. You can keep it general, for instance, “business formal” or “evening wear,” or get more specific like, no patterns and no white tops. If customers have objections, be honest. Let them know that you’re going for a specific aesthetic and that these guidelines will help you achieve it.

Takeaways

You may need to adjust the questions to hit on the specific features and benefits your product or service offers, but as tempting as it might be to just wing it, don’t. Prepare for your customer interview, and ask your customer to prepare a little too.

Rule Breaking Should Be a Hobby: 3 Questions to Consider Before Breaking the Rules

Following the rules has never been my “thing.” Rules, in my mind, are for people who haven’t yet written their own. Don’t get me wrong, there certainly needs to be boundaries and structure because without order there would be complete disorder. At the same time, however, rules can be stifling.

Consider the latest United Airlines fiasco. According to one Wall Street Journal article, the company “follows strict rules on every aspect of handling its passengers, from how to care for unaccompanied minors to whether someone gets a whole can of Coke.”

Seriously? A Coke? If United Airlines hired five year olds to disseminate soda drinks then I can see how those kids might argue over who gets a full can. But they’re not. Employees are grown adults who can think for themselves—ideally.

The problem with an abundance of rules is that they stifle the creative thinking that enables autonomy, and by limiting autonomy “down there” at the lower echelons of the bureaucracy, organizational leaders “up there” become bogged down with silly, nit-noid decisions that limit their impact. If they—leaders at the “top”—are making decisions that somebody one, two or even three levels below them can make, then not only are those leaders not operating optimally, but neither is the company.

How to Know Which Rules to Break

Knowing which rules to break and when is simple in concept, but not easy to do because fearing the consequences is human. However, ask yourself these questions the next time a silly rule stands in your way between you and your company’s mission:

1. Who or what does breaking this rule serve?

There’s a simple order of priority you can use to test the purpose of breaking a rule, and it looks like this:

1. Mission
2. Team
3. Me

If you break a rule to serve the company’s mission, then doing so should be justified if your intent in doing so is noble. If your intent is noble, then I can’t think of any leader who would impose negative repercussions on your actions. That’s why you hire for character, train for competence, coach for performance and track for success—because you trust your employees to make the right (noble) decision based on their character. You can’t go wrong with character. You just can’t.

However, if you break the rule to serve yourself thereby putting your own self interest ahead of that of the team or mission, then you’re the reason why rules exist in the first place. Always consider the intent behind your next move, who it serves and who it impacts. Had the United Airlines flight attendants increased the incentive to greater than $800, maybe some passengers would’ve volunteered and prevented this PR nightmare.

2. What am I missing that would make this rule make sense?

There’s always a reason for why rules exist despite the fact that you (or I) dislike them. Rules typically cater to the masses, whether it’s people or process. An example of a process where rules are beneficial is a decision making process. One McKinsey study revealed how having a process (i.e. rules) for decision making actually increased the effectiveness of that decision by a factor of six. At the same time, not all decisions have the luxury of slow, deliberate thought. Some demand a more intuitive approach because time is of the essence. So when it comes to why rules make sense, consider the context in which that rule was made in the first place. A few questions to think about when examining context are:

• What are the primary, secondary and tertiary ripple effects of this [rule/decision]?

• What is the goal or objective that would make this [rule/decision/situation] successful?

• Who are the internal and external influences or personalities that I need to make this[rule/decision] a success?

• How does this [rule/decision] still apply and what would make it more relevant?

3. Why does this rule still exist?

If a rule has been in place for a while and it hasn’t evolved, then that’s a sign that perhaps you or your company haven’t either. Ask questions. Challenge assumptions. Routine and process minimize decision making fatigue and provide an emotional safe zone, but if you’re not careful then they can also become unnoticed black holes of complacency. If you want a simple strategy for challenging the status quo, ask why and repeat it five times, or until you get to the root of the problem.

Too much of any one thing is just that—too much—and rules are no different. How about a rule for not upsetting passengers? If that rule were in place, imagine the autonomy United employees would’ve had to enforce it. Sounds like a good rule to me.

This article was written by Jeff Boss from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

How to Use Hashtags More Effectively in Your Marketing

Does anyone really understand how to use hashtags effectively? From the looks of many social media posts, the answer may be no. Some posts have far too many, while others have no hashtags at all.

One way to think of hashtags is that they can be used to categorize, search, and connect groups of conversations to accomplish a greater goal. Thinking in this way can help brands use hashtags more effectively.

To help shed some light on the best way to use hashtags in your social media efforts, let’s break it down into categories based on some of the reasons you might want to leverage them:

  1. Branding: Branded hashtags are becoming increasingly popular. To take advantage of this trend, the hashtag shouldn’t be your brand’s name but something related. For example, Destination British Columbia coined the hashtag #exploreBC which has caught on with its audience and helps feed its social media channels with user-generated content.
  2. Promoting campaigns and contests: Speaking of using hashtags to successfully spark user-generated content, this can be another way to leverage them effectively. Lay’s Potato Chips created the hashtag #DoUsAFlavor to promote its “Do Us a Flavor” contest which revolved around consumers submitting ideas for new chip flavors.
  3. Joining a conversation: Another popular way to use hashtags is to join a conversation on social media. Examples of this include supporting sports teams or recognizing national days, like #NationalDonutDay or #NationalBestFriendsDay.
  4. Changing the conversation around a brand: Two examples of this are related to personal celebrity brands, #LoveforLeslieJ and #Love4GabbyUSA. The first was created when Leslie Jones received social media criticism, causing her sentiment score to dip. The second was created for Gabby Douglas, who was on the receiving end of a backlash related to her performance in last summer’s Olympics. Meltwater’s media intelligence platform shows how the creation of these positively worded hashtags can help reverse a conversation to turn it positive over time.
  5. Self-identifying as part of a movement: Hashtags are also sometimes used to show allegiance to the ideas behind a social movement. One of the most successful ongoing examples is #BlackLivesMatter, which has evolved from a way to unify citizens online to become an actual organization.
  6. Raising awareness: Hashtags can also be used for social good. Perhaps one of the most successful examples of this is the #Icebucketchallenge, which garnered more than 6 million mentions on Twitter and helped the ALS Association raise millions of dollars.
  7. Using as ironic punctuation: Using a hashtag ironically or when making a joke can be fine—but it can also be overused. For example, Instagram users sometimes overload images with as many hashtags as possible (Instagram’s limit is reportedly 30). This type of hashtag overuse dilutes your message. And, if you’re doing it to gain followers, you’ll attract those you don’t really want, such as spammers.
  8. Trendjacking or Newsjacking: Trendjacking involves associating your brand with a hashtag—even if there’s no real connection—to spike your reach. One example of this is #thedress. Many brands trendjacked the hashtag, even if their products had nothing to do with the white/gold (black/blue) dress at the heart of the hashtag.
  9. Community building: Hashtags are also useful when building communities, which feeds into building brands. Coining a hashtag to accompany a campaign can build a community around a particular push. Twitter chats provide an example of this. #VCBuzz bonds together the Viral Content community and provides a way for those involved to communicate with each other not only during the chat but at any time. Before launching a community building effort, make sure to check that your desired hashtag hasn’t already been claimed by another brand or group.

And, what about the future of hashtags? Some say hashtags are where search algorithms are heading. Even if you’re not in that camp, it’s hard to deny that the hashtag is currently providing an effective way to search unstructured user generated content. There’s even research to that indicates they may be the key to monetizing social media.

Whatever the case, hashtags are here to stay. They’re widespread, so can make a real difference in broadcasting your marketing and PR efforts. The only way to find out if hashtags will work for you is to test them out. Track the data using a media monitoring platform to find what’s most effective. Test, measure, and repeat what works.

Throwing Shade on Social: Newsjacking and Negative PR

Following the kudos Wendy’s received by throwing shade on Twitter about McDonald’s current use of frozen beef, will more brands get bolder in calling out their competition?

Received wisdom is that it’s better to let the press and public opinion do the dirty work of negative PR. But, since Wendy’s was punching up in their rap-style Twitter-beef (pun fully intended), they may have been thinking they’ve got more to gain than to lose. Specifically, gains in Twitter cred, visibility, and followers. Given that’s exactly what happened, other brands are surely taking note. Let’s take a closer look at what’s worked.

The Blow by Blow?

Though McD’s 2016 revenue was close to 17 times that of Wendy’s and their worldwide locations outpace the redhead 6 to 1, on Twitter at least, the margins are slimmer, with Wendy’s at 1.65 million followers to 3.41 million for the golden arches. It’s important to note that Wendy’s didn’t use subterfuge, insults, or underhanded tactics. Instead, they seized on McDonald’s marketing language promising fresh beef by 2018 and with humor, pointed out the cracks in Mickey D’s business positioning. After all, bragging about the introduction of fresh beef means you haven’t been using it up until now. Wendy’s ran with it.

And with that reply tweet, a strategic trendjack—within three hours of a campaign that took significantly longer to produce—@Wendys sailed into a social media win with over 75k RTs and over 180k hearts. It’s not so surprising that social media is receptive to snarkiness.

Brand Schadenfreude Newsjacking Negative PR
According to Meltwater’s media intelligence platform, prior to throwing shade at McDonald’s, Wendy’s was trending with a slightly negative sentiment on social. After the infamous tweet, they skyrocketed to a 74% positive sentiment and have been trending positive ever since.

Taking Off the (Social Media Gloves) During a Crisis: The Case of United Airlines

It would’ve been hard to miss the two scandals that recently rocked United Airlines, considering the volume of above-the-fold headlines. Both center around United policies that seem to leave the service out of “customer service.” The first might be called “Leggings-gate” concerning enforcement of their dress code. While gender discrimination may have come into play, as dress codes aren’t uniformly enforced, the issue might have blown over (as minor brand crises do), except for the United Express Flight 3411 passenger dragging incident.

Subsequent non-apology, leak of an insensitive internal memo, as well as the launch of a smear campaign around the dragged passenger compounded the crisis surrounding United, with PR pros taking note.

One could almost hear knuckles cracking as other airlines swiftly went after United.

Again, not surprisingly, the funnier the jabs got, the more successful they were. The Southwest Airlines crew included colorful commentary on some flights and were the beneficiary of a spoof ad that has gone viral.