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Lance Armstrong and The Concept of Trust

By Communications

When Marijean asked me to write a post about Lance Armstrong, I was torn. He’s getting ready to admit to being a cheater and liar on Oprah this week. He has always been an inspiration to me, since I am a serious cyclist and have watched, and drawn motivation from, his amazing performances in the Tour de France for a long time.  It could be argued that Lance Armstrong single-handedly took cycling into the mainstream as a fitness activity in America, and for that I will remain forever grateful.

I can also argue that the good his Livestrong foundation has done for cancer patients around the globe is miraculous, both in terms of support and also in terms of inspiration. Lance’s cycling exploits made all that possible and for that many should also be grateful.

I can ALSO argue, although it’s a tougher one to make, that ALL pro cyclists are taking PEDs, so Lance was merely the best of the best. It’s certainly clear from all the activities of the UCI and USADA that many other cyclists were doping throughout their careers. As a cyclist, I really don’t CARE if they dope, because I know how much they are suffering regardless of how quickly they recover. It’s a brutal sport and I love watching, even if they are thickening their blood with EPO. I say let them all do it. Hell, let’s FORCE them to do it! Not really.


What I DO care about is that these guys, and Lance in particular, are being total cowards about it. They lie, they obfuscate, they deny, and yet they benefit from the fruits of commercial success. Lance, in particular, has been particularly egregious and has profited particularly well from what now appears to be a totally fabricated story. His inspirational return to cycling after his cancer scare had weight PRECISELY because he claimed to be a clean rider after that. Total crap now. THAT hurts.

If they all stood up to the federations and worked WITH them to develop a solution, then we might be somewhere.  Refuse to ride any races until it’s resolved. The Tour folks would get to the table pretty fast if that happened. This culture of criminalizing what WE choose to put in our bodies must end.

But from a PR perspective, Armstrong’s activities and all that he has done to hide them violate every piece of advice we give our clients regarding transparency, accountability, clarity, and trust. He is now the shining example of how NOT to conduct business.

This ESPN video sums up a lot of what people are feeling, so I won’t try and recap it. But I personally am bummed because it’s just one more example of how our desire to be famous, rich, and powerful just ends in corrupt, morally empty, and amazingly narcissistic behavior. Our glorification of celebrity is destroying our culture of trust, cooperation, and sense of fair play. Guys like Lance just do whatever benefits them, no matter what damage it does to their sport or to other people. Sad.

How do you feel about it?

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Another Stellar Example of Great Customer Service

By Communications

It’s Christmas, so if you’re a retailer with a customer service department, you’re probably slammed. If you’re a customer, you’re probably VERY stressed about making sure all your online purchases are going to get where they need to go in time. I know I am. So there’s a really good chance that somewhere on either side of that equation some really amazing things might happen–good or bad.

I’d like to share another example of some really GOOD customer service.

As some of you know I’m a musician and take it pretty seriously when I’m not working on PR and social strategy. I also have some pretty musical kids and try to enable that obsession whenever they ask. So when my middle son asked for an unusual instrument called a cajon, I was all in. So I went to the Guitar Center web site to order one. Easy peasy, done in 3 minutes, order confirmed. Until the next day.

I subsequently received an email informing me that the item was backordered with an uncertain delivery date. What WAS certain about the date was that it would be sometime in January. It was getting pretty late in the game for canceling and searching elsewhere, so I was more than bummed. I called their 800 number and was told that yes, these were backordered and there was nothing they could really do short of canceling the order.  Then something really cool happened. It’s called integration.

I decided to call the closest Guitar Center I could find, in Richmond, VA. I asked whether it was possible to fulfill a national web order at a local store, expecting to get the usual answer–NO. A nice guy named Tim then asked me for my order number, which he plugged into a computer where he was. Up came my cajon, still on backorder. He then said “I think we have a few of these in stock, and by the way, you might want to consider the next size up, that’s more popular. Either way, I would be happy to send you what I have from here. It would get there by Friday.”


See, their system is integrated. An order placed one place can be fulfilled somewhere else with no friction, no hassle, no disappointment. The warehouse may be empty, but the stores aren’t. I am thrilled, Carter gets what he wants under the tree, and everybody wins.

Now, was that so hard? EVERY retailer with multiple locations and a web store should integrate like that. Good job, Guitar Center–I’m now a loyal buyer and evangelist!

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How Social Media Has Actually Made Marketing Easier, Not Harder

By Communications, Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Social Media

There are a LOT of articles and blog posts out there warning the business world that social marketing is the One True Way. CMOs that are not using Big Data acquired through myriad, massively integrated social platforms might be out of a job soon. Social has replaced advertising. Etc. Etc. Etc. It can be very intimidating if you’re used to marketing your products in more traditional ways. The ROI of a social program can be hard to calculate. There are many companies making a nice living just trying to help marketers compute it!

But I’d like to argue that the era of social marketing has actually made your job easier.

Social tools add complexity, it’s true. They can fragment the marketing budgets and team. Hooking all these social listening and sharing platforms up so you can make sense of your customers’ online habits and predilections can add a lot of work, both in the short and long term.

But the transparency of messaging that social marketing requires actually takes a lot off the table. Since spin and backpedaling are really not effective anymore, it’s actually easier to decide what to do. The kind of content you create, the strategy you develop, and the systems you use to communicate can all be much simpler because they are designed to do one thing–explain what you’re going to do and how. You’re not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince someone to buy something of questionable value anymore. Their peers are going to provide the validating information about you and your offering that they need, not you.

It all comes down to doing what you promise and then enabling the satisfied to amplify their satisfaction via social channels. No more lying, covering, shaping, hiding, reacting. All you have to do is explain, clarify, and deliver.

Isn’t that why you’re in business to begin with?

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Customer Service is What It All Comes Down to

By Communications

As digital marketers, we all have a lot invested in technological solutions. They might be content development tools, monitoring software, CRM, SEO optimizers, analytics, social media platforms, blogging tools–you name it. We spend a LOT of time and money perfecting and talking about them. An entire industry has sprung up teaching people how to “transform their business” using these tools. OK, maybe. But have we forgotten what it’s all for??

In the end, we want happy customers. The more, the better. The happier the better. Right?

So today’s story is about a local Charlottesville business, Blue Ridge Cyclery. They have been in business just under two years and are very much the new kid on the block in terms of bike shops. But in that short time, they have systematically unraveled the competitive advantage of every other shop in the area. They have landed all the best bike manufacturers. They have the busiest service department. They have become the source for the best rides. They have a great racing team. They have the nicest inventory. They have a great location. They are ubiquitous at all the cycling events locally. In short, they have won.

How have they done this so quickly? It’s simple–amazing customer service.

They take on problems other shops find too trivial or difficult. They deal with nasty warranty work. They provide an upbeat, can-do energy when you arrive. They do what they say they will do, often faster and for less than anywhere else. They are problem solvers, solutions providers, and enthusiasm generators. The result? Total loyalty, even if you feel guilty leaving your old shop. In short, they are the things you have to be FIRST if you want your marketing initiatives to work. They embody the promises we often make online to our customers, the ones we often fall way short in delivering. They don’t fall short often, and if they do, they make good.

So take a lesson, business people. Be what your customers hope (but often don’t believe) you’ll be. Deliver on your promises. Over-deliver, in fact. Exceed expectations. And be real! All the tools in the world won’t change the basic, simple fact that enchanting your customers in real life is job one.


Four Ways to Use Social Platforms to Drive E-commerce Sales

By Communications, Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Social Media

With all the blogging, sharing, news articles and conferences that tout and exploit the uses of social media, you’d think the idea of using it to drive e-commerce sales would be a no-brainer. I mean everyone’s doing that, right? Anyone with an online storefront MUST be using their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and Pinterest boards to drive traffic to product landing pages, right?

Turns out, not everyone understands that, especially in B2C. I was at a training session yesterday with one of our favorite retail clients, teaching them the amazing benefits of Sprout Social. This is a pretty great social media dashboard tool that allows you to manage all your social media presences from one location. As I was helping them hook it all up, I was also asking how these platforms were being used so far. Were they promoting items in the store? Sharing design ideas from their own people? Promoting designers and products outside of the store? Driving traffic to their online web store?

Turns out they were really only using their social platforms to promote things outside their store–designers, other Pinterest boards, other blogs. They weren’t really using the social tools to drive everyone back to their OWN store, either online or bricks and mortar.

I was very surprised, to say the least. But it made me think that maybe they weren’t alone, especially if they were a small business with limited time and resources. So here are some things you can do right now to help drive more sales using social tools.

  1. Set up a Facebook page and update it regularly. MOST people who buy things online have a Facebook presence of some sort. 67 percent of B2C companies and 42 percent of B2B companies have acquired a customer through Facebook (Hubspot, 2011). Use it to drive traffic to your blog, your Pinterest page, or better yet, specific product landing pages on your site. Facebook is a great way to stay in front of customers generally.
  2. Set up a Pinterest page to showcase your products. According to a recent BizRate Insights study, “sixty-nine percent of consumers who visit Pinterest have found an item they’ve purchased or wanted to purchase.” In some studies, it’s even outpacing Facebook as a product purchase influencer. While both sites are used to connect with people who share common interests, “Pinterest is more of a product finder and decision influencer.”
  3. Set up a Twitter account for sharing thought leadership. Post content from your blog, and ideas from others, along with deals and ides on your OWN site. Twitter is less effective as a sales tool for consumer products, but it’s great for business solutions and products.
  4. YouTube is still one of the largest search engines, so you have to have a channel. This can really enhance SEO as well. Post weekly video tours of section of the store, specials, or events you might be hosting in your brick and mortar store, but link to corresponding product or category pages in the online store!
  5. Make sure to set up Google Analytics on your web store so you can see what links drive the best results. It’s pretty easy and Google already tracks the major social platforms. You’ll quickly get an idea of what each platform brings to the table in terms of traffic and sales. The key here is to be everywhere, targeting each platform to do what it’s good at. But don’t be afraid to drive traffic to your store, rather than just your blog.

Need help? Call us!

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