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SEO is a team sport: How brands and agencies organize work

The importance of teamwork and workflow is often missing from discussions of SEO success.

So I interviewed 31 people, with titles ranging from Content Specialist to SEO Director, to CEO, and asked them about how teamwork and workflow affect their SEO operations and success.

Why did I do this? Because we can all learn from the experience of others. By understanding what works for others, we can hopefully avoid making their early mistakes.

Costs of poor coordination are traffic, conversions, working relationships

These costs are very real. Websites can suffer from less organic traffic and/or decreased conversions.

In the same way that people who run relay races practice how they hand the baton from runner to runner, the various team members working on a website need to work on how they interact and hand off work to each other.

Sometimes the technical SEO suffers, sometimes the design aesthetics suffer, sometimes the user experience suffers. Sometimes tradeoffs between the three need to be made. Something’s gotta give, and you don’t want these discussions to erode team cohesion.

How do agencies and brands coordinate SEO tasks effectively?

While there is almost universal agreement about what matters, there are interesting similarities and differences in how teams prioritize what matters. To use the relay race analogy again, there are differences in how people define a “smooth handoff”.

Can we learn something from each other in taking a high-level look at how we organize our SEO and content work? I think so. This belief is the basis of this article.

This article describes similarities and differences in SEO operations

When I started interviewing people for this article, I wasn’t sure what shape it would take. After several interviews, I realized people organize their teams around certain guiding principles. There seem to be a limited number of these guiding principles, and the order of importance varies from team to team.

As stated earlier, I interviewed 31 people, and the interviews uncovered seven guiding principles. Every guiding principle matters to everyone, but there are differences in opinion about which are most important.

There is also sometimes a need to make tradeoffs. For example, in order to properly use H2, H3, headers, they must appear on the page. For some pages, the designers may feel they don’t fit. So, it sometimes happens that to improve the page design aesthetics, you give a little in on-page SEO, and vice versa.

How conflicting priorities are managed also differs from team to team, and stems from which guiding principles are considered to be most important.

Disclaimer: A small data sample leads to some fuzziness in thinking

My data sample was only 31 people, and each organization was represented by one person. If I were to interview many more people, the distribution of the most important guiding principles might be different, and I might have uncovered more. If I had spoken to a different person within the organization, my understanding of their most important guiding principles might have been different.

Of the 31 people interviewed, 21 worked for agencies, and 10 worked for brands.

I believe there is something we can learn from each other through a high-level examination of how content and SEO teams organize their work and manage conflicting priorities.

The seven guiding principles around which people organized their SEO work

Below are the seven guiding principles, along with the number of people who considered each one to be most important. There is a brief description of each in which I explain how it’s different from guiding principles to which it seems similar.

Again, I wish to emphasize that everyone places importance on all seven. What’s different is the relative order of importance. Saying that six people are listed under “project management”  means that six people felt project management was most important, not that any of the others are unimportant.

1. Project management: A primary focus on objections, milestones, and tasks

This is the tried-and-true project management we’re all familiar with. Objectives, milestones, tasks, and more. Six people spoke of this as being their most important guiding principle. That makes it the second most popular guiding principle, tied with context (see below).

2. Collaboration: Working together well is considered to be the most important

Collaboration is different from project management as the focus is more on working together, rather than on the structure in which the work is managed. This feels to me to be more fluid and to involve more give and take.

Of course, there is a project structure in which the work is done. It’s that the emphasis is collaboration first, then project management structure second. Four people spoke of this as their most important guiding principle.

3. Client management: An interesting way some agencies focus their internal staff

As you can imagine, this was exclusively the concern of agencies. The idea here is:

1. The internal team honors what the client has agreed to, and what the client has agreed to is spelled out in detail so as to provide guidance to the internal teams and any outside contractors they manage

2. By spelling this out in detail for the clients, the clients are educated about SEO. Two people spoke of this as their most important guiding principle.

4. Priorities: Where managing relative priorities take center stage

The focus here is on managing relative priorities. The core idea is a very structured way of determining how tradeoffs are made, which is central to how these people run projects.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is how I have been known to run projects, and this method has worked very well for me. Three people spoke of this as their most important guiding principle.

5. Education and knowledge: An interesting concept of a marketplace of ideas

The main focus here is that it’s not enough for people to tell other people what’s important, they must also explain and persuade as to why that point of view is important. Within these teams, team members “sell” each other on ideas to help streamline work.

SEOs teach designers why headers matter. Designers teach SEOs why templates matter.

Some of these teams also keep a shared knowledge base that everyone contributes to, which allows new team members to come up to speed faster.

This was THE most popular guiding principle around which people organized work, having been spoken of by seven people (five agencies and two brands).

6. Context: One of my personal favorites where everything is context-dependent

These last two are my personal favorites. The six people for whom context is the main guiding principle all work at agencies.

The concept could be applied in a more limited way for brands, but only agency people brought it up all, let alone described it as their main guiding principle.

The idea is that what matters most is context-dependent.

Are you working with a client who already has a lot of organic traffic and wants to increase conversion rates? Are you working with a blog post whose job is to attract readers and hand them off to a landing page, or a landing page whose job is to get the reader to download an eBook?

The context within a specific project, or set of tasks within a project, determines what matters most.

7. Experimentation: Or in other words, show me the data

Three companies, all brands, stressed the importance of experimentation as their main guiding principle.

It’s the standard methodology taught in the books: The Lean Startup and Running Lean

For those of you who haven’t read those books, the main ideas are:

1. Write down your assumptions

2. Translate those assumptions into a testable hypothesis

3. Structure experiments with which to test those hypotheses

4. Analyze the results of the experiments

If an experiment proves a hypothesis to be true, do more of that. If it proves a hypothesis to be false, stop doing that.

What is left out of the short descriptions above

It’s not the case that each team organized their work around only one guiding principle. That idea showed up in none of the interviews. That every team assigned different importance, or weight, to the different guiding principles IS the difference in how they organized their work.

Everyone settled into their patterns over time. Everyone had, at times in the past, experienced frustrations when work was coordinated and/or handed off poorly and/or simply done poorly.

As they encountered issues, they talked about how to solve them and made changes to how they worked. The guiding principles that came to be most important to them seem to be a result of the specific problems they needed to fix.

Who was interviewed and what did they say?

This section is divided into groups by guiding principles. It identifies who contributed which ideas and provides more about their thinking.

Front and center are principles of project management

The people for whom project management is the main guiding principle are:

  • Dean Cacioppo, Founder, OneClickSEO (agency)
  • Hamna Amjad, Content Marketing Executive, GigWorker (brand)
  • Juan Reyes, Digital Marketing Manager, Monkee Boy (agency)
  • Luke Wester, Digital Marketing Analyst, Miva (brand)
  • Mark Bruneman, Principle Digital Marketing Strategist, David-Kenneth Group (brand)
  • Thomas Pickett, Onpage SEO and Digital Design Specialist, FitSmallBusiness (brand)

Two of the companies above (GigWorker and FitSmallBusiness) make money through affiliate sales. As such, their websites are very large; their business objective is to attract a very high number of readers, some of whom make purchases that pay commissions.

Their websites and website teams are large. In both cases, most of the company is involved in web publishing in some way. They both have adopted rigorous publishing processes, as a result of the scale of their publishing efforts.

The other four companies (two brands and two agencies) find a strong process focus clarifies requirements upfront and prevents rework.

Dean expressed that scaling is achieved through task specialization, and fitting the various specialized tasks together requires a system.

Mark stated that everything done on the website starts with a team meeting, even creating and publishing a single blog post. These meetings can last up to two hours. Mark expressed that this greatly reduced rework as everyone understood what everyone else needed, before starting work on their part.

Juan expressed how their exacting process orientation is both their greatest strength and simultaneously keeping their processes updated to reflect industry changes is a significant challenge.

Luke expressed that every project starts with SEO requirements, around which everyone else organizes their work.

For whom collaboration matters most

The people for whom collaboration is the main guiding principle are:

  • Bryan Pattman, SEO Analyst, 9Sail (agency)
  • Nikki Bisel, Owner and Founder, Seafoam Media (agency)
  • Phil Mackie, Senior Digital Analyst and Owner, Top Sail Digital (agency)
  • Stephen Jeske, Senior Content Strategist, MarketMuse (brand)

To reiterate, collaboration differs from project management in terms of emphasis. Here, working well together can cause the project management structure to “give” a little when needed.

Bryan’s main points are 1) They work as an extension of their clients’ marketing department, so being close to their customers is critical, and 2) Clients need to understand SEO as they have some responsibility for their SEO effort.

Nikki has an interesting concept of a monthly cadence with each client, which consists of multiple touchpoints throughout the month.

Phil expressed that tradeoffs that must be made between technical SEO and design aesthetics are very nuanced, requiring close collaboration.

Stephen stated their focus on collaboration is less intentional due to the stage of their company. He implied that as they grow, the way they organize work will likely shift.

This group most values client management

The people for whom client management is the main guiding principle are:

Again, client management is where requirements are spelled out in detail for the client, which serves two purposes; 1) educates clients about SEO, and 2) informs the team as to what the client expects in detail.

David described how there is a “translator” between the client and the internal team, the client advisor. This client interface person enables others to focus on their specialized tasks, which improves the quality of what they deliver.

Lee took this idea further and stated: “It’s all about managing clients”. This is critical to them as some of their clients are so big, there are silos within marketing at the client firm, and the folks at TK101 Global have to manage conflicting requirements from different people at the same customer.

This group most values the managing of relative priorities

The people for whom managing relative priorities is the main guiding principle are:

The managing of relative priorities has always been a bit of a sacred cow for me personally. While this is one of the most uncompromising guiding principles, in my opinion, it provides a solid framework for managing resources, whether that resource is a design template or the time of the people involved.

David stated the user experience is the new holy grail and relevancy is a critically important ranking factor.

Markelle expressed that the buyer (their client’s customer) is the anchor around which they build everything, and their priorities come from that.

Stacy strictly applies a prioritization of UX first, technical SEO second, and design third.

This group most values education and knowledge

The people for education and knowledge are the main guiding principles are:

This is where telling others what matters is not enough, you must also provide evidence as to why those things matter.

Greg said everyone on his team is cross-trained. SEO’s learn the basics of design, and designers learn the basics of technical SEO. This builds empathy, making team decisions much easier when it comes to collaboration and priorities.

Kevin expressed the same idea in different words. He said creative teams need to be educated on technical SEO basics and SEOs need to be educated on the importance of design templates.

Matt has a saying he uses to help people focus: “It’s not personal. It’s SEO”. This starts a conversation about why the things that matter, matter.

Michelle considers that part of her mandate is to make sure everyone has a basic knowledge of technical SEO.

Quincy has worked to ensure technical SEO is taken into consideration when design templates are created and requires SEOs and designers to provide supporting backup when explaining to each other why something matters.

Shelby starts with detailed analytics of successful websites (of clients’ competitors and others) and uses that as a starting point to discuss how and why those websites are successful, and what their clients must do to compete.

Steve said something to the effect of “It’s all about education”, then expanded on the importance of SEOs and designers teaching each other.

This group embraces the idea that everything is context

The people for context this is the main guiding principle are:

Context refers to people who believe what is most important is very context-dependent. There were a lot of similarities in how people spoke of this – a lot.

Amine focused on the importance of the competitiveness of the industry and the relative values the client places on traffic versus conversion.

Chronis spoke about how they prioritize with their client after examining the top-ranking sites within a niche.

Joe provided the interesting statement of “the client provides the catalyst,” then expanded upon how their clients business situations determine the focus of their efforts.

Justin said something similar, that their client sets the criteria by which they make tradeoffs, and stated they sometimes feel the need to push back and make a case for what they see as a better set of priorities and tradeoffs.

Steve stated that how priorities are set and managed starts with their client, and they structure their work from that.

Tony provided what I consider to be an interesting way of thinking about this. A very high-level rigorous structure provides the framework for free-flowing creativity at a more granular level.

These folks are not from Missouri (the show me state), but they want to see the data

The people for whom experimentation is the main guiding principle are:

There are few, but interesting, differences in the way these people spoke about the importance of running experiments.

Apu made the interesting observation that short term ROI wins help fund longer-term efforts.

Chris stated that when their technical SEO people and their designers disagree, they don’t argue, they experiment.

Nadya and Chris both expressed the importance of how structured experiments based on testable hypotheses eliminate personal bias from these discussions.

The key take away for me, after talking with thirty-one people

SEO, like life, involves an endless series of trade-offs, and this is demonstrated by something as basic as how people prioritize the seven guiding principles uncovered through these interviews.

Not everything can be equally important, so you must decide which organizing principles are most important to you and your team, and how important they are relative to each other.

I recognize that as a “relative priorities” guy, the prior sentence reveals a personal bias of mine, but I don’t know a better way to describe the idea.

Success requires consistency, consistency requires some level of stability, and stability requires that the rules aren’t arbitrary and frequently changing.

So you need to know which organizing principles are most important to you and your team and organize the way you do your SEO work, around the principles most important to you.

The post SEO is a team sport: How brands and agencies organize work appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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Our Machine Learning Platform Helps Brands Retain Their Customers, Says Medallia CEO

“We’re a platform that helps some of the biggest brands in the world really understand their customers in live time and communicate with them while they’re in an experience,” says Medallia CEO Leslie Stretch. “Instead of a survey after they’ve left a hotel, they communicate them while they’re there, check in on the experience and improve it. This helps them retain their customer and perhaps sell them another experience. It’s this machine learning platform that does that.”

Leslie Stretch, President and CEO of Medallia, discusses the company’s IPO and how the company uses machine learning to react to customer signals in real-time rather than after they leave an experience in an interview on CNBC:

Our Machine Learning Platform Helps Brands Retain Their Customers

We’re a Silicon Valley tech company. We’re a platform that helps some of the biggest brands in the world really understand their customers in live time and communicate with them while they’re in an experience. So instead of a survey after they’ve left a hotel, they communicate them while they’re there, check in on the experience and improve it. This helps them retain their customer and perhaps sell them another experience. It’s this machine learning platform that does that.

Anything is a signal to us, a survey, an IOT signal, a transaction, somebody buys something, they have a bad experience at the pool, or they’re on an airline and they don’t quite like the service that they’re getting, they can feed that back immediately instead of waiting until the experience is finished. We’re all about platform and signal. We’re very different from the survey companies, the feedback companies, which are the old experience economy companies. It’s the application of deep Silicon Valley technology to the problem.

The Customer Is At the Center of Every Digital Transformation

Customer experience has become really a major theme for every big brand in the world today. I also think that our technology is innovative and very different. The application of machine learning and the platform and just the operationalization of a private Silicon Valley company are really what I’ve done in the past. Just bringing basic blocking and tackling to go to market and marketing and building up the salesforce. So very simple and taking the story out to a bigger market.

We actually just signed a revenue share partnership with Salesforce. We have a partnership for Marketing Cloud with Adobe. They’re great alliances for us. We can present our machine learning, our unstructured data, into their Marketing Cloud, Sales Cloud, and Service Cloud. That’s brand new for us this year. It’s great to go to market with leaders like that. Both Adobe and Salesforce completely understand the customer is at the center of every digital transformation and we are at the center of that.

It’s Not For the Faint-Hearted, But We Invested a Ton In It

We spent more than a half a billion dollars building this plot platform. That sets us apart from the traditional simple survey vendor. We’ve spent a ton of money on the privacy layer and on the security layer. We’ve worked already for a decade with some of the biggest brands in the world whose customer information is precious. We’re HIPAA certified for healthcare as well. So we take that very seriously. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but we invested a ton in it and it’s worth it.

Our Machine Learning Platform Helps Brands Retain Their Customers, Says Medallia CEO Leslie Stretch

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Younger Consumers Want To Connect Emotionally with Brands, Says PVH CEO

“Especially today, younger consumers want to connect emotionally with brands,” says Manny Chirico, CEO of apparel company PVH, which owns many lifestyle brands including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. “They don’t want to just aspire for your brand looking down the runway, they want to be part of the life of the brand. I think Tommy Hilfiger does it well.”

Manny Chirico, CEO of apparel company PVH, which owns many lifestyle brands including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, discusses how the company has turned around by focusing on ecommerce, technology, and connecting with young consumers. He was interviewed on CNBC:

Consumer Experience is Critical

You have to be willing to make the investment. I think we really have done it (turned around the company), from not only a brand marketing point of view, but investing in all the new technologies and investing in the ecommerce platforms that really will drive the business going forward. Our stores are highly profitable and we need to continue to invest in those stores. The consumer experience is critical and we’re making connections with a younger and younger consumer.

We’re all dealing with the challenge of the distribution models changing, but fundamentally we’ve always been a multi-channel retailer. We have big businesses in brick and mortar, both direct-to-consumer in our own stores and through our key wholesale partners like Macy’s here in the US or Galeries Lafayette in Europe. Those key players we continue to invest back into those platforms.

Younger Consumers Want To Connect Emotionally with Brands

The challenge with that high-end collector fashion business is are you connecting with a younger consumer today and how do you make your investments as you as you go forward? I think it needs to be more balanced than it’s been. Especially today, younger consumers want to connect emotionally with brands. They don’t want to just aspire for your brand looking down the runway, they want to be part of the life of the brand.

I think Tommy (Hilfiger) does it well. We just have a fashion show in Paris with Tommy selling product immediately after that trying to connect with the consumer at more affordable price points than what you would see from the luxury point of view. That’s how you build big businesses. We’re not trying to build niche businesses selling just $ 2,000 men’s suits or evening gowns. We’re really about building big lifestyle businesses.

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5 Reasons Legacy Brands Struggle With SEO (and What to Do About Them)

Posted by Tom.Capper

Given the increasing importance of brand in SEO, it seems a cruel irony that many household name-brands seem to struggle with managing the channel. Yet, in my time at Distilled, I’ve seen just that: numerous name-brand sites in various states of stagnation and even more frustrated SEO managers attempting to prevent said stagnation. 

Despite global brand recognition and other established advantages that ought to drive growth, the reality is that having a household name doesn’t ensure SEO success. In this post, I’m going to explore why large, well-known brands can run into difficulties with organic performance, the patterns I’ve noticed, and some of the recommended tactics to address those challenges.

What we talk about when we talk about a legacy brand

For the purposes of this post, the term “legacy brand” applies to companies that have a very strong association with the product they sell, and may well have, in the past, been the ubiquitous provider for that product. This could mean that they were household names in the 20th century, or it could be that they pioneered and dominated their field in the early days of mass consumer web usage. A few varied examples (that Distilled has never worked with or been contacted by) include:

  • Wells Fargo (US)
  • Craigslist (US)
  • Tesco (UK)

These are cherry-picked, potentially extreme examples of legacy brands, but all three of the above, and most that fit this description have shown a marked decline in the last five years, in terms of organic visibility (confirmed by Sistrix, my tool of choice — your tool-of-choice may vary). It’s a common issue for large, well-established sites — peaking in 2013 and 2014 and never again reaching those highs.

It’s worth noting that stagnation is not the only possible state — sometimes brands can even be growing, but simply at a level far beneath the potential, you would expect from their offline ubiquity.

The question is: why does it keep happening?

Reason 1: Brand

Quite possibly the biggest hurdle standing in the way of a brand’s performance is the brand itself. This may seem like a bit of an odd one — we’d already established that the companies we’re talking about are big, recognized, household names. That in and of itself should help them in SEO, right?

The thing is, though, a lot of these big household names are recognized, but they’re not the one-stop shops that they used to be.

Here’s how the above name-brand examples are performing on search:

Other dominant, clearly vertical-leading brands in the UK, in general, are also not doing so well in branded search:

There’s a lot of potential reasons for why this may be — and we’ll even address some of them later — but a few notable ones include:

  • Complacency — particularly for brands that were early juggernauts of the web, they may have forgotten the need to reinforce their brand image and recognition.
  • More and more credible competitors. When you’re the only competent operator, as many of these brands once were, you had the whole pie. Now, you have to share it.
  • People trust search engines. In a lot of cases, ubiquitous brands decline, while the generic term is on the rise.

Check out this for the real estate example in the UK:

Rightmove and Zoopla are the two biggest brands in this space and have been for some time. There’s only one line there that’s trending upwards, though, and it’s the generic term, “houses for sale.”

What can I do about this?

Basically, get a move on! A lot of incumbents have been very slow to take action on things like top-of-funnel content, or only produce low-effort, exceptionally dry social media posts (I’ve posted before about some of these tactics here.) In fairness, it’s easy to see why — these channels and approaches likely have the least measurable returns. However, leaving a vacuum higher in your funnel is playing with fire, especially when you’re a recognized name. It opens an opportunity for smaller players to close the gap in recognition — at almost no cost.

Reason 2: Tech debt

I’m sure many people reading this will have experienced how hard it can be to get technical changes — particularly higher effort ones — implemented by larger, older organizations. This can stem from complex bureaucracy, aging and highly bespoke platforms, risk aversion, and, particularly for SEO, an inability to get senior buy-in for what can often be fairly abstract changes with little guaranteed reward.

What can I do about this?

At Distilled, we run into these challenges fairly often. I’ve seen dev queues that span, literally, for years. I’ve also seen organizations that are completely unable to change the most basic information on their sites, such as opening times or title tags. In fact, it was this exact issue that prompted the development of our ODN platform a few years ago as a way to circumvent technical limitations and prove the benefits when we did so.

There are less heavy-duty options available — GTM can be used for a range of changes as the last resort, albeit without the measurement component. CDN-level solutions like Cloudflare’s edge workers are also starting to gain traction within the SEO community.

Eventually, though, it’s necessary to tackle the problem at the source — by making headway within the politics of the organization. There’s a whole other post to be had there, if not several, but basically, it comes down to making yourself heard without undermining anyone. I’ve found that focusing on the downside is actually the most effective angle within big, risk-averse bureaucracies — essentially preying on the risk-aversion itself — as well as shouting loudly about any successes, however small.

Reason 3: Not updating tactics due to long-standing, ingrained practices

In a way, this comes back to risk aversion and politics — after all, legacy brands have a lot to lose. One particular manifestation I’ve often noticed in larger organizations is ongoing campaigns and tactics that haven’t been linked to improved rankings or revenue in years.

One conversation with a senior SEO at a major brand left me quite confused. I recall he said to me something along the lines of “we know this campaign isn’t right for us strategically, but we can’t get buy-in for anything else, so it’s this or lose the budget”. Fantastic.

This type of scenario can become commonplace when senior decision-makers don’t trust their staff — often, it’s a CMO, or similar executive leader, that hasn’t dipped their toe in SEO for a decade or more. When they do, they are unpleasantly surprised to discover that their SEO team isn’t buying any links this week and, actually, hasn’t for quite some time. Their reaction, then, is predictable: “No wonder the results are so poor!”

What can I do about this?

Unfortunately, you may have to humor this behavior in the short term. That doesn’t mean you should start (or continue) buying links, but it might be a good idea to ensure there’s similar-sounding activity in your strategy while you work on proving the ROI of your projects.

Medium-term, if you can get senior stakeholders out to conferences (I highly recommend SearchLove, though I may be biased), softly share articles and content “they may find interesting”, and drown them in news of the success of whatever other programs you’ve managed to get headway with, you can start to move them in the right direction.

Reason 4: Race to the bottom

It’s fair to say that, over time, it’s only become easier to launch an online business with a reasonably well-sorted site. I’ve observed in the past that new entrants don’t necessarily have to match tenured juggernauts like-for-like on factors like Domain Authority to hit the top spots.

As a result, it’s become common-place to see plucky, younger businesses rising quickly, and, at the very least, increasing the apparent level of choice where historically a legacy business might have had a monopoly on basic competence.

This is even more complicated when price is involved. Most SEOs agree that SERP behavior factors into rankings, so it’s easy to imagine legacy businesses, which disproportionately have a premium angle, struggling for clicks vs. attractively priced competitors. Google does not understand or care that you have a premium proposition — they’ll throw you in with the businesses competing purely on price all the same.

What can I do about this?

As I see it, there are two main approaches. One is abusing your size to crowd out smaller players (for instance, disproportionately targeting the keywords where they’ve managed to find a gap in your armor), and the second is, essentially, Conversion Rate Optimization.

Simple tactics like sorting a landing page by default by price (ascending), having clicky titles with a value-focused USP (e.g. free delivery), or well targeted (and not overdone) post-sales retention emails — all go a long way to mitigating the temptation of a cheaper or hackier competitor.

Reason 5: Super-aggregators (Amazon, Google)

In a lot of verticals, the pie is getting smaller, so it stands to reason the dominant players will be facing a diminishing slice.

A few obvious examples:

  • Local packs eroding local landing pages
  • Google Flights, Google Jobs, etc. eroding specialist sites
  • Amazon taking a huge chunk of e-commerce search

What can I do about this?

Again, there are two separate angles here, and one is a lot harder than the other. The first is similar to some of what I’ve mentioned above — move further up the funnel and lock in business before this ever comes to your prospective client Googling your head term and seeing Amazon and/or Google above you. This is only a mitigating tactic, however.

The second, which will be impossible for many or most businesses, is to jump into bed with the devil. If you ever do have the opportunity to be a data partner behind a Google or Amazon product, you may do well to swallow your pride and take it. You may be the only one of your competitors left in a few years, and if you don’t, it’ll be someone else.

Wrapping up

While a lot of the issues relate to complacency, and a lot of my suggested solutions relate to reinvesting as if you weren’t a dominant brand that might win by accident, I do think it’s worth exploring the mechanisms by which this translates into poorer performance.

This topic is unavoidably very tinted by my own experiences and opinions, so I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Similarly, I’m conscious that any one of my five reasons could have been a post in its own right — which ones would you like to see more fleshed out?

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7 Examples of Brands Mastering Twitter for Social Customer Care

Twitter Customer Care

These days, there’s little doubt that social media is plays a pivotal role in a brand’s marketing strategy. After all, with roughly 2 billion internet users on social networks and counting, there’s massive reach and resonance potential.

But couple widespread adoption with shifting consumer preferences and expectations—and the smell of major change is in the air. Social media is no longer just a marketing tool and a space to encourage positive engagement with your audience, it’s a customer service opportunity that deserves every marketer’s attention and action.

As Dan Gingiss, McDonald’s Corporation’s Senior Director of Global Social Media, told me in his Behind the Curtain interview a few months back: marketers need to stop thinking that customer service is someone else’s problem:

“When we interrupt people’s social media feeds with marketing messages, we hope that they will engage with our fun and interesting marketing content. But sometimes, all we do is remind them that they had some other problem with our brand. Since social media is the first and only channel where customers can talk back, marketers need to listen and engage.”

Twitter presents one of the most unique and challenging social care opportunities. It’s real-time, fast-paced environment seems to be a go-to place for consumers to air grievances, call out for help or sing a brand’s praises—something Twitter itself has recognized.

“Fifty years ago, the 1-800 number revolutionized customer service. Customers suddenly had a free, live connection to companies from the comfort of their homes,” Twitter says in its Customer Service on Twitter Playbook. “We are at a similar inflection point for how brands deliver customer service: today, people are contacting brands via Twitter with the expectation of a helpful and human response; all on stage for the world to see.”

With that said, over the past few months, several B2B and B2C brands with social customer care programs have caught my eye on Twitter. Below I share some those brands and respective examples.

#1 – Amazon

From children’s books to groceries for tonight’s dinner menu, there’s no question that Amazon is revolutionizing the way we shop for nearly everything. So, it may not surprise you that they’ve stepped up to meet consumer demand for fast and personalized customer service on social media. In fact, like many brands are now doing, Amazon has a dedicated support account on Twitter: @AmazonHelp.

But what’s really impressive is that the Twitter helpline is equipped to offer support in multiple languages including English, French, German, Portuguese and Italian. In addition, customer service agents include their initials on all communications, which adds a human element. Finally, it appears that Amazon helpers are also on the lookout for opportunities to engage with happy customers who haven’t even engaged them directly.

This example is sort of a roll up of these traits. With a customer expressing his happiness for being able to watch a series on Amazon Prime, Amazon responds with a question to continue the engagement and a GIF to make a splash—and all in Spanish, with the conversation carrying on for a few tweets.

Amazon Social Care Example

To me, all this signals their deep commitment to meeting their customer’s needs and building relationships. And from a marketing perspective, this certainly strengthens the value add of their brand and reinforces loyalty.

#2 – UPS

Like every courier service, UPS has an important job to do: get every package delivered to the right location, at the right time, and without any damage to the package contents. However, on a daily basis, UPS is tasked with delivering roughly 19.1 million packages and documents around the globe—so mistakes most certainly happen for one reason or another.

But for anyone who’s ever been waiting on a special package, mistakes really rile us up and we don’t really care what the circumstances are. After all, couriers are in the business of delivering—so if things go wrong, we expect a quick fix. To provide that fast service and meet their customers where they’re comfortable, UPS has established a customer service Twitter account: @UPSHelp.

What stood out to me, is that UPS utilizes Twitter’s private messaging feature. To resolve any issue, UPS needs the tracking numbers for the packages involved, which is private customer information. So, more often than not, you’ll notice a “Send a private message” option at the end of a tweet. This makes it easy for customers to take the next step to get their gripe resolved and protect their information.

UPS Social Care Example

#3 – Intel

While any organization engaging in social care is bound to field customer complaints, sometimes providing a great social care is answering simple questions and real-time troubleshooting.

Intel is a great example of a brand delivering precise recommendations and resources to help their customers troubleshoot a range of issues. In addition, like UPS, Intel also leverages the “Send a private message” feature when appropriate to take a public conversation private. In the example below, Intel gives this customer everything he needs to solve his issue.

Intel Social Care Example

#4 – Constant Contact

Constant Contact has built its business on helping their customers communicate effectively with their respective audiences. So, it’s only right that they’d make easy and fast communication a priority by engaging in social care.

Like others on our list, Constant Contact has a dedicated customer service account on Twitter: @CTCTHelp. What I found interesting here is the proactive communication that’s happening. Customer service reps aren’t just responding to inquiries and complaints, but also sharing important information and reminders—from holiday best wishes and grammar tips to links to the latest product updates and bug fixes.

Constant Contact Social Care Example

#5 – Starbucks

After nearly 50 years in business and with thousands of stores worldwide, there’s no question that Starbucks has cultivated a massive and loyal following of coffee fanatics around the globe. But while the deep brand affinity Starbucks has built is a testament to their product and service, like any business, fans can be just as easily dismayed as overjoyed.

So—from a customer lamenting the end of a seasonal drink’s annual run and bad service experiences to a happy customer indulging in her first Peppermint Mocha of 2018—Starbucks embraces all feedback and makes it a point to respond to (apparently) every engagement with the brand on Twitter. To really drive it home, Starbucks appears to be continually monitoring related hashtags and even non-tagged mentions of the brand, to level up its “we’re here for you” persona in real life and on Twitter.

Starbucks Social Care Example

#6 – Buffer

The award for calming, empathetic and personalized social care goes to Buffer. Whether someone is throwing out an idea for improving the platform or experiencing a performance issue, Buffer helpers make a serious effort to let folks know they understand their frustration, are there to help and can work to find a solution. Also, whoever is responding to a request or complaint always signs their full name within the Tweet, adding an extra human touch and level of transparency.

Below is a great example. The user is asking for some scheduling information guidance, and Buffer’s Octavio delivers with a detailed, personalized and upbeat response.

Buffer Social Care Example

#7 – LinkedIn (client)

There may be no better endorsement of the importance and benefit of embracing customer service on Twitter than other social networks taking part in it all. Such is the case with LinkedIn. Through its dedicated @LinkedInHelp account, the LinkedIn Customer Service team is standing at the ready to offer guidance and help troubleshoot issues.

As with others mentioned in this post, LinkedIn helpers provide personalized responses to users, signing each message with initials or a full name. While the example below is a simple and easily remedied issue, the service rep attached a screenshot to make it easy for the user to find the menu item they’re looking for, but also added additional troubleshooting instructions just in case.

LinkedIn Social Care Example

Great Social Care = Better Brand Experiences

While most social customer care programs are likely administered by a brand’s customer service team, the marketing department can and should be a dedicated partner. At the end of the day, more and more people are using Twitter and other social media sites to share their brand experiences—and those experiences not only have the potential to impact a brand’s identity, but they’re also gold mines for marketing insights.

The bottom line? If your brand isn’t on the path to providing social customer care, now is the time to consider making moves. As social media becomes increasingly embedded in our daily lives and culture, brands have the opportunity to use social care as a marketing advantage and relationship building tool.

What brands have caught your eye on Twitter for their social care efforts? Tell us in the comments section below.


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5 Brands That Used Influencer Marketing to Raise Their Profile

Influencer marketing is more than just a marketing buzzword these days. More companies are utilizing this marketing method to boost sales and grow their brands.

For those still confused about what influencer marketing is, it’s simply the act of promoting or selling products or services via influencers, or people who have the ability to affect a brand. Where the main influencers before were celebrities and industry leaders, today’s influencers are more varied. Nowadays, top brands are seeking out bloggers, food critics, makeup mavens and celebrities who rose to fame on platforms like YouTube and Instagram.

Brands that Benefited from Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing provides a lot of benefits. Brands can reach the relevant demographic and enjoy high levels of engagement. It’s also affordable and can help retain a brand’s authenticity. Numerous companies have already successfully leveraged these people to give their brand a boost.

Clinique for Men

Clinique is renowned for its hypoallergenic skincare for women. When the iconic cosmetic company launched a men’s line, they raised product awareness by partnering with a disparate group of male influencers from various professions. These influencers consisted of filmmakers, outdoorsmen, stylists, and lifestyle bloggers, each representing a group of men who would be interested in using Clinique for Men. Every post used in the campaign was unique and defined the influencer. For instance, surfer Mikey de Temple posted a photo of himself wearing his surf gear, with his surfboard in the background, along with a Clinique product.

Clinique’s campaign was golden for several reasons. One, the company’s choice of influencers were so diverse that it expanded the product’s reach. Also, the posts integrated the product smoothly into a setting that was so natural to the influencer. This helped create a more organic interest in Clinique’s men’s line.

Fashion Nova

One brand that has truly embraced influencer marketing is Fashion Nova. According to the company’s founder and CEO, Richard Saghian, Fashion Nova is a viral store that works with 3,000 to 5,000 influencers. Its aggressive marketing efforts rely on lots of model and celebrity influencers, like Kylie Jenner and beauty vlogger Blissful Brii. The former has 93.8 million followers on Instagram while the latter has 93 thousand subscribers on YouTube. These two influencers alone have garnered millions of engagements, likes, and comments for the company.

While other brands go for low-key but very relatable influencers, Fashion Nova went for the celebrities. While this will obviously net a company high-levels of engagement, it can also be costly. But as Fashion Nova has proven, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Lagavulin’s Whiskey Yule Log

This is a magnificent example of how an influencer marketing campaign made a product culturally relevant to a generation. Young people might not have a taste for single malt whiskey, but Lagavulin’s 2016 campaign featuring Nick Offerman changed that. Offerman’s iconic Parks and Rec character, Ron Swanson, is known for his love of whisky. Lagavulin’s 45-minute video took inspiration from YouTube’s yule log videos and simply showed Offerman quietly sipping and enjoying his whiskey next to a fireplace.

The campaign was a success because Lagavulin found the perfect influencer for its brand. Offerman’s character proved to be a critical match for the target audience. As a matter of fact, the campaign was so good that it won an award for Best Influencer & Celebrity Campaign.

Zafferano

Zafferano does not have the same name recall as Nobu or other famous restaurants. But this Singapore-based establishment is a prime example of how social media can be used to boost audience engagement. The company tapped 11 Instagram influencers who are popular in the lifestyle and food category. They invited them to the restaurant for a special meal and in turn, they shared photos of the dishes on Instagram. The influencers also described the dishes and their dining experience. Details like price and availability were also included.

Zafferano’s campaign is notable because of the experience it created for the influencers. This, in turn, helped them come up with authentic and sincere reviews. Since the campaign had such a genuine feel, it encouraged followers to interact and engage with the posts.

Zara

Clothing powerhouse Zara was one of the most profitable companies in 2015, and that’s partly because of its successful influencer marketing campaign. The company’s social media marketing campaign got some help from several top fashion-forward Instagrammers. The Instagram posts shared by these popular influencers showcased Zara’s clothing lines and their followers used these photos to get ideas on what’s currently trending as well as tips on how to work a particular style.

Related image

Zara’s campaign was a success because the company handed the control over to the fashion influencers, the people that customers looked to for fashion advice. The content that was used in the campaign was subtle and useful, which made it even more valuable to the influencers’ thousands of followers.

[Featured image via YouTube]

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How Will Amazon’s New Social Media Platform Benefit Brands?

Online retailer giant Amazon just found another way to make it easier for people to part ways with their money. The company has ventured into the world of social media with Amazon Spark, which was launched last July.

Amazon Creates Social Media Platform

At first glance, Amazon Spark looks a lot like some other social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest. The newcomer platform’s feed is also heavy on photos but a marked difference is that these are images of products available on Amazon.

Image result for amazon spark

Of course, encouraging people to post pictures of the products they love or make reviews on items they have tried is Amazon’s brilliant way to deepen consumer engagement on their platform. At the moment though, only Amazon Prime members can make posts or comment on them, but non-Prime members can still use the platform to view posts.

Just like your typical social media platform, Spark requires first-time users to register. Once a user has logged in, Spark requires the user to choose at least five interests that would later become the basis for what posts will be included in the feed. The platform actually allows more than five interests, which range from generic, broad categories like “Music” or “Books” to more narrowed-down options like “TV Bingewatching.”

Spark is also using its own version of a “Like” called “Smile” to indicate approval of a post.

Image result for amazon spark smile

The Advantages of Spark

While it shares a lot of similarities to older platforms, Amazon Spark has several advantages over its competitors. Unlike other social media platforms where people log on to see what’s the latest buzz on virtually everything, there is only one reason why Spark users would log on to the platform and that is to see what is worth buying.

Essentially, Spark is a social media network for consumers—people looking for the best products to buy. As such, you can expect the conversion from traffic to actual sale to be higher on this social media platform than most others. Before logging into the platform, users are already eager to buy something. They’re just looking for the right product to justify a purchase.

The higher conversion rate will offset Amazon Spark’s smaller user base compared to other platforms. At the moment, there are around 80 million Amazon Prime members who are allowed to post and comment on Spark. However, there’s a hidden number in there somewhere that brands should not ignore. Apparently, Prime members spend around $ 600 more per year than non-Prime members. Multiply that by 80 million and you’ll get a rough estimate of its gargantuan potential for brands.

Image result for amazon spark social comparison chart

Aside from tapping the purchasing power of the horde of Amazon shoppers, there is one thing that sets Amazon Spark apart from other platforms. Since Spark is inside the Amazon application, buyers can buy the item tagged in a particular post seamlessly and without the need to log into another app to make the purchase. Since the eCommerce component is already integrated into the platform, there is simply no time for consumers to hesitate and, in a way, Spark has made impulse buying even faster.

Current Limitations for Brands

At the moment, Amazon Spark does not allow brands to make posts to the platform. However, brands can work around this problem by reaching out to “enthusiasts,” which is Amazon’s term for influencers, to make posts for their products in the meantime.

Another limitation is that Spark is only available for iOS devices at the moment although Amazon previously promised that an Android version is on the way. In addition, there is no word yet if the company plans to expand Spark’s access via desktop.

[Featured Image by Amazon]

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How Pinterest has developed computer-vision technology to power visual search for users and brands

Pinterest has been developing computer vision technology since 2014 and is now applying it to visual search queries and ad targeting.

The post How Pinterest has developed computer-vision technology to power visual search for users and brands appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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The Uncomfortable Truth About Brands’ Customer Experience Strategies

The recent 2017 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report from Dimension Data confirmed that CX is critical to executives. But, as bluntly described in the report as “the uncomfortable truth”, while 81% of companies recognize CX as a competitive differentiator, just 13% self-rate their CX delivery at 9 or above on a scale of 10. And to further the misery, a whopping 51% of the companies say they don’t have a digital strategy in place or are at best, in the process of developing one. The report cites disjointed strategies, disparate management and inconsistencies in approach as reasons for the failure to maximize customer experiences.

“The world has formed a digital skin, and business, service, technology and commercial models have changed forever. However, organizations are strategically challenged to keep pace with customer behavior.” said Joe Manuele, Group Executive – Customer Experience and Collaboration at Dimension Data.

Companies report that on average their brands have 9 different channels (online, mobile, app, phone, etc.) to interact and engage with their customers, but less than 10% have all of their channels fully connected. Manuele states that the absence of a connected digital strategy means that even when digital solutions are available, the customer is frequently not even aware of their existence. “The digital dilemma is deepening, and organizations need to choose a path between digital crisis or redemption.”

Based on bottom line results, executives are aware fully aware of CX’s importance. Over 84% of brands reported an uplift in revenue as a result of improved CX, while 79% report cost savings. With that, executives said connected customer journeys via omni-channel solutions is the top technology trend for 2017 while omni-channel solutions and customer analytics, were listed as the top factors to reshape CX capability in the next five years.

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Local Empathy: The New Tool in Your Brand’s Emergency Kit

Posted by MiriamEllis

Implement generosity.

If I could sum up all of the thoughts I’m about to share with local enterprises, it would be with those two words.

Image via Lewis Kelly

Disasters and emergencies are unavoidable challenges faced by all local communities. How businesses respond to these stressful and sometimes devastating events spotlight company policy for cities to see. Once flood waters reside or cyclones trail away, once the dust settles, which of these two brands would you wish to call yours?:

How two brands’ reaction to disaster became a reputation-defining moment

As Hurricane Matthew moved toward the southeastern United States this month (in October 2016), millions of citizens evacuated, many of them not knowing where to find safe shelter. Brand A (a franchise location of an international hotel chain) responded by allegedly quadrupling the prices of its rooms — a practice known as ‘price gouging,’ which is illegal during declared emergencies in 34 states. Brand B (the international accommodations entity Airbnb) responded by sourcing thousands of free local rooms from its hosts for victims of the hurricane.

And then professional and social media responded with news stories, social communications, and reviews, trying both brands in the court of public opinion, doling out blame and praise.

This is how reputations are broken and made in today’s connected world, and the extremity of this tragic emergency situation brought two factors into high relief for these two brands:

Culture and preparedness

“I don’t know about the prices. I just run the hotel. I don’t set the prices. Corporate sets the prices.”

This is how the manager of the Brand A hotel franchise location responded when questioned by a TV news reporter regarding alleged price gouging, set amid a backdrop of elders and families with small children unable to afford a room at 4x its normal rate.

“We are deeply troubled by these allegations as they in no way reflect our brand values. This hotel is franchised. We don’t manage inventory or rates.”

This is the official response from corporate issued to the news network, and while Brand A promised to investigate, the public impression was made that the buck was being passed back and forth between different entities while evacuees were in danger. Based on the significant response from social media, including non-guideline-compliant user reviews from people who had never even stayed at this hotel, corporate culture was being perceived as greedy rather than fair to an extreme degree. It’s important to note here that I didn’t encounter a single sentiment expressed by consumers expecting that the rooms at this hotel would be given away for free. It was the quadrupling of the price that brought public condemnation.

emergency3.jpg

Consumers are not privy to the creation of company policy. They aren’t able to puzzle out who made the decision to raise prices as this hotel, or at the many other hotels, gas stations, and stores in Florida which viewed an emergency as an opportunity for profit. Doubtless, the concept of supply and demand fuels this type of decision-making, but in an atmosphere lacking adequate transparency, the consumer is left with judging whether policy feels fair or unfair, and whether it aligns with their personal value system.

While we’ll likely never know the internal communications which led to this franchise location being cited by the public and investigated by the authorities for alleged price gouging, it is crystal clear that the corporate brand was not prepared in advance with a policy for times of emergency to be enacted by all franchisees. This, then, leaves the franchisee working within vague latitudes of allowable practices, which can result in long-lasting damage to the overall brand, coupled with damage to the local community being served. It’s a scenario of universal negativity and one that certainly can’t be made up for by a few days’ worth of increased profits.

You’ve likely noticed by now that I am specifically not naming this hotel. In the empathetic spirit of the carefully-crafted TAGFEE policy of Moz, my goal here is not to shame a particular business. Rather, it’s my hope that seeing the outcomes of policy will embolden companies to aim high in mirroring the value systems of consumers who reward fairness and generosity with genuine loyalty.

Ideally, I’d love to live in a world in which all businesses are motivated by concern for the common good, but barring this, I would at least like to demonstrate how generous policy is actually good policy and good business. Let’s turn our eyes to Brand B, which lit a beacon of hope in the midst of this recent disaster, as described in this excerpt from Wired:

“This was profound,” says Patrick Meier, a humanitarian technology expert who consults for the World Bank, the Australian Red Cross, and Facebook. “Airbnb changed its code order to allow people to rent out their place for zero dollars, because you could not do that otherwise.”

Innovation shines brightly in this account of Airbnb recognizing that communities around the world contain considerable resources of goodwill, which can then be amplified via technology.

The company has dedicated its own resources to developing an emergency response strategy, including the hire of a disaster response expert and an overhaul of the website’s code to enable free rentals. Thanks to the generosity of hosts who are willing open their doors to their fellow man in a time of trouble, Airbnb has been able to facilitate relief in more than twenty major global events since 2013. Of course, the best part of this is the lives that have been eased and even saved in times of trouble, but numerous industries should also pay attention to how Airbnb has benefitted from this exemplary outreach.

Here’s a quick sampling of the exceptionally favorable media coverage of the emergency response strategy:

emergency8.jpg

That is a set of national and local references any business would envy. And the comments on articles like this one show just how well the public has received Airbnb’s efforts:

emergency12.jpg

In utter marketing-ese, these consumers have not only been exposed or re-exposed to the Airbnb brand via the article, but have also just gained one new positive association with it. They are on the road to becoming potential brand advocates.

What I appreciate most about this scenario is that, in contrast to Brand A’s situation, this one features universal positivity in which all parties share in the goodwill, and that is literally priceless. And, by taking an organized approach to emergency preparedness and creating policy surrounding it, Airbnb can expect to receive ongoing appreciative notice for their efforts.

Room for hero brands, large and small

The EPA predicts a rise in extreme weather events in the United States due to climate change, including increases in the precipitation and wind of storms in some areas, and the spread of drought in others. Added to inevitable annual occurrences such as tornadoes, blizzards, and earthquakes, there are two questions every intelligent brand should be asking and answering internally right now: How can we help in the short term and how can we help in the long term?

Immediate relief

In the short term, your business can take a cue from Airbnb and discover available resources or develop new ones for providing help in a disaster. I noticed a Hurricane Matthew story in which a Papa John’s pizza deliverer helped a man in Nebraska get in touch with his grandmother in Florida whom he had been trying to reach for three anxious days. What if the pizza chain developed a new emergency preparedness policy from this human interest story, using their delivery fleet to reconnect loved ones… perhaps with a free pizza thrown into the bargain?

Or, there are restaurants with the ability to provide food or a percentage of profits to local food banks if they are lucky enough to still have electricity while their neighbors are less fortunate.

Maybe your company doesn’t have the resources of Everbridge, which has helped some 900+ counties and organizations communicate critical safety information in emergencies, but maybe your supermarket or the lobby of your legal practice can offer a free, warm, dry Wi-Fi hotspot to neighbors in an emergency.

In brief, if your business offers goods and services to your local community, create a plan for how, if you are fortunate enough to escape the worst effects of a disaster, you can share what you have with neighbors in need.

Long-term plans

According to Pew Research, 77% of Latin Americans, 60% of Europeans, 48% of the population of Asia and the Pacific, and 41% of the U.S. population are worried about the immediacy of the impacts of global warming. A global median of 51% indicates that climate change is affecting people right now.

From a business perspective, this means that the time for your brand to form and announce its plans for contributing to the climate solution is right now. Your efficient, green, and renewable energy practices, if made transparent, can do much to let the public know that not only will you be there for them in the short term in sudden emergencies, but that you are also doing your part to reduce future extreme weather events.

Whether your business model is green-based or you incorporate green practices into your existing brand, sharing what you are doing to be a good neighbor in both the short and long term can earn the genuine goodwill of the local communities you wish to serve.

Do something great

I often imagine the future unlived when I see brands making awkward or self-damaging decisions. I rub my forehead and squint my eyes, envisioning what they might have done differently.

Imagine if Brand A had implemented generosity. Imagine if, instead of raising its prices during that dreadful emergency, Brand A had offered a deep discount on its rooms to be sure that even the least fortunate community members had a secure place to stay during the hurricane. Imagine if they had opened up their lounges and lobbies and invited in homeless veterans for the night, granting them safety in exchange for their service. Imagine if they had warmly reached out to families, letting them know that cherished pets would be welcome during the storm, too.

Imagine the gratitude of those who had been helped.

Imagine the social media response, the links, the new stories, unstructured citations, reviews…

Yes, it might have been unprofitable monetarily. It might have even been mayhem. But it would have been great.

To me, firemen have always exemplified a species of greatness. In moments of extreme danger, they forget themselves and act for the good of others. Imagine putting a fireman’s heart at the heart of your brand, to be brought out during times of emergency. Why not bring it up at the next all-staff meeting? Brainstorm existing resources, develop new ones, write out a plan, make it a policy… Stand tall on the local business scene, stand up, be great!

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