Jim Jay

Fast-growing consumer electronics and appliances retailer hhgregg has faced technology challenges in recent years but not the types you might think. Its main challenge has been not losing sight of what has made it so successful — its secret sauce, if you will — with all of the technology options now available to utilize.

Popular cool-guy mobile apps and do-it-yourself online stores interfere with the company’s traditional “secret sauce,” its highly trained and knowledgeable sales associates who help customers make the right purchase decisions. Instead of shunning technology, hhgregg has embraced its potential antagonist and found new ways to support and enhance its unique selling proposition utilizing technology in the right places.

Companies of every size in every industry face similar situations throughout their development and natural lifecycles. Leaders face tough decisions to follow the market or blaze their own trails, particularly where technology is concerned.

Know your assets. The first step in protecting your secret sauce is knowing what it is. If hhgregg had mistakenly identified having the latest products at low prices as its unique selling proposition, it might have focused on less personal online sales or discount promotions. Those strategies may work for competitors, but not for hhgregg. Does the company have the latest products at low prices? Yes, but that’s not why most people choose to shop there — it’s the advice of sales associates on which appliances or electronics best match what customers need and want that drives people into the stores.

The best, most effective unique selling propositions are short, easily understandable, and relatable to your target customers. If you can’t write the recipe for your company’s secret sauce on the back of your business card or communicate it in about a sentence or less, you may want to consider spending some time defining it yourself or getting some help from a marketing or branding expert.

Know when to say no. Another important part of protecting your secret sauce is knowing when to say no and having the audacity (perhaps temerity) to turn down potentially lucrative new business that would diminish or damage your unique selling proposition.

Indianapolis-based search engine optimization firm Slingshot SEO — TechPoint’s 2011 Information Technology “Company of the Year” Mira Award Winner — knows a thing or two about saying no. The company even incorporated a disclaimer of sorts into messaging about its selling proposition to define and advertise for the kinds of clients with which it wants to work.

“Slingshot SEO helps deserving brands achieve exponential business success through search.” This statement tells you what the company does and singles out that it chooses to work only with deserving brands as it defines them. The company helps clients refine their online presence for maximum search engine friendliness, and leverages proprietary software and processes to increase search visibility.

Slingshot SEO believes it is in the business of helping to connect brands with the customers for whom they are the best fit. It’s not about tricking search engines into making their clients the No. 1 result but providing the best possible response to a user’s keyword query — delivering the response that is most likely to match the user’s objectives.

Know who’s a player. This deserving approach doesn’t work for everyone. There is a certain amount of commitment required in terms of content generation and perspective on the part of the client, a commitment that some aren’t able to make. By being selective, Slingshot SEO is protecting its way of doing business, even though it may sometimes need to decline new business that isn’t a good fit for the way the company approaches the marketplace.

Like hhgregg and Slingshot SEO, many companies face difficult decisions about applying new technologies and taking on new customers. It’s important to stop and think about the possible impact it will have on your company’s unique selling proposition before embarking on significant new ventures.

New technologies and new customers alike are often fun and exciting for your company, but careful evaluation is necessary to ensure that they are a good fit for the way you do business and that they never interfere with your secret sauce.

JAMES L. JAY is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. He also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, he has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Nick Chase has had a powerful impact on the Enterprise Rent-A-Car brand. Interestingly, he doesn’t work for Enterprise — he never has. Chase is a computer programmer and technical writer who tweeted his way into the company’s brand identity and, ultimately, brought about a win-win situation.

It could have ended differently. Horrified that in his time of need the familiar Enterprise mantra, “We’ll pick you up,” wasn’t going to happen, and that no cars were available in his area, Chase tweeted:

“The one downside of living in the country is that when your car breaks down, you pray Enterprise has a car. Naturally, they don’t. Sigh.”

A few minutes later, Nick found the following @mention from @enterprise cares:

“@Nick Chase We are listening. Is there anything we can help with? If yes, please tweet/follow us & I’ll DM [direct message] our contact information (amanda).”

Chase did what Enterprise corporate representative Amanda asked him to do, and following a few Twitter messages, he was indeed picked up and able to rent the car he needed. Because an empowered employee was paying attention, Enterprise Rent-A-Car converted Chase from a frustrated customer into a brand advocate.

Weigh the pros and cons. Now imagine how Chase would have felt and what impact his experience would have had on him and his Twitter followers if Enterprise had responded with impersonal policy regurgitation or worse, no response at all. With 5,000 Enterprise locations throughout the United States, it’s likely that situations similar to Chase’s happen regularly, and the compounded positive (or negative) impact of these social media interactions is significant.

Unfortunately, too many companies are still using social media inappropriately or not at all. There are, of course, legitimate reasons to be cautious ? companies in heavily regulated industries such as health care, energy and financial services are held to a different scrutiny. However, a 2010 Palo Alto Networks report found that companies in heavily regulated industries are just as likely to have social media presences as lesser-regulated companies and universities.

While choosing not to participate in social media is inconceivable to millions of business professionals who rely on various networks for everything from marketing and customer service to research and business development, the “everybody else is doing it” argument seldom sways rational business leaders. The crux of the argument is not the volume of people using social media, but the fact that vital brand conversations are happening in the networks whether the brand owners participate or not.

Learn from other’s missteps. There have been some embarrassing high-profile social media failures from which we have all learned a thing or two. For example, fashion designer Kenneth Cole outraged followers with a Twitter message that used the #Cairo hashtag (denoting discussion of uprising events in Egypt) to advertise a spring clothing collection. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried was fired from his voice-over gig with Aflac for tweeting jokes about the natural disasters in Japan.

These ill-advised, over-the-top tweets were viewed as insensitive and cast the companies in a bad light.

The most common social media no-nos can be avoided with employee policies covering social media behavior and expectations, such as language, topics and reaction/response guidelines. A simple Google search for “social media employee policy” can bring up numerous examples and starting points for creating policies.

Monitor and react. As demonstrated in the Enterprise Rent-A-Car situation, having an empowered and knowledgeable individual monitoring social media networks (even on the weekends and other nonpeak hours) is important for maintaining a positive reputation. There are also service providers and software-as-a-service technologies that amalgamate various social media networks into a singular, user-friendly interface.

Indianapolis-based ExactTarget’s Interactive Hub including its Co-Tweet solution is one of the largest players in social media conversation monitoring across Twitter and Facebook. Raidious, a local interactive marketing management firm, offers Social Center, which “listens” for keywords and phrases and allows users to engage with people in real time across a broad spectrum of social platforms.

Companies that fail to define themselves are defined by their competitors and customers, and not always in positive, productive ways. This is true for all media, but especially in the fast and viral social media realm. The cost to companies choosing not to participate or to empower their employees to engage with customers via social media is much greater than any monitoring costs or personnel time directed toward managing reputations by solving problems and joining conversations.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. He also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, he has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Fast-growing consumer electronics and appliances retailer hhgregg has faced technology challenges in recent years but not the types you might think. Its main challenge has been not losing sight of what has made it so successful — its secret sauce, if you will — with all of the technology options now available to utilize.

Popular cool-guy mobile apps and do-it-yourself online stores interfere with the company’s traditional “secret sauce,” its highly trained and knowledgeable sales associates who help customers make the right purchase decisions. Instead of shunning technology, hhgregg has embraced its potential antagonist and found new ways to support and enhance its unique selling proposition utilizing technology in the right places.

Companies of every size in every industry face similar situations throughout their development and natural lifecycles. Leaders face tough decisions to follow the market or blaze their own trails, particularly where technology is concerned.

Know your assets. The first step in protecting your secret sauce is knowing what it is. If hhgregg had mistakenly identified having the latest products at low prices as its unique selling proposition, it might have focused on less personal online sales or discount promotions. Those strategies may work for competitors, but not for hhgregg. Does the company have the latest products at low prices? Yes, but that’s not why most people choose to shop there — it’s the advice of sales associates on which appliances or electronics best match what customers need and want that drives people into the stores.

The best, most effective unique selling propositions are short, easily understandable, and relatable to your target customers. If you can’t write the recipe for your company’s secret sauce on the back of your business card or communicate it in about a sentence or less, you may want to consider spending some time defining it yourself or getting some help from a marketing or branding expert.

Know when to say no. Another important part of protecting your secret sauce is knowing when to say no and having the audacity (perhaps temerity) to turn down potentially lucrative new business that would diminish or damage your unique selling proposition.

Indianapolis-based search engine optimization firm Slingshot SEO — TechPoint’s 2011 Information Technology “Company of the Year” Mira Award Winner — knows a thing or two about saying no. The company even incorporated a disclaimer of sorts into messaging about its selling proposition to define and advertise for the kinds of clients with which it wants to work.

“Slingshot SEO helps deserving brands achieve exponential business success through search.” This statement tells you what the company does and singles out that it chooses to work only with deserving brands as it defines them. The company helps clients refine their online presence for maximum search engine friendliness, and leverages proprietary software and processes to increase search visibility.

Slingshot SEO believes it is in the business of helping to connect brands with the customers for whom they are the best fit. It’s not about tricking search engines into making their clients the No. 1 result but providing the best possible response to a user’s keyword query — delivering the response that is most likely to match the user’s objectives.

Know who’s a player. This deserving approach doesn’t work for everyone. There is a certain amount of commitment required in terms of content generation and perspective on the part of the client, a commitment that some aren’t able to make. By being selective, Slingshot SEO is protecting its way of doing business, even though it may sometimes need to decline new business that isn’t a good fit for the way the company approaches the marketplace.

Like hhgregg and Slingshot SEO, many companies face difficult decisions about applying new technologies and taking on new customers. It’s important to stop and think about the possible impact it will have on your company’s unique selling proposition before embarking on significant new ventures.

New technologies and new customers alike are often fun and exciting for your company, but careful evaluation is necessary to ensure that they are a good fit for the way you do business and that they never interfere with your secret sauce.

JAMES L. JAY is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. He also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, he has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Nick Chase has had a powerful impact on the Enterprise Rent-A-Car brand. Interestingly, he doesn’t work for Enterprise — he never has. Chase is a computer programmer and technical writer who tweeted his way into the company’s brand identity and, ultimately, brought about a win-win situation.

It could have ended differently. Horrified that in his time of need the familiar Enterprise mantra, “We’ll pick you up,” wasn’t going to happen, and that no cars were available in his area, Chase tweeted:

“The one downside of living in the country is that when your car breaks down, you pray Enterprise has a car. Naturally, they don’t. Sigh.”

A few minutes later, Nick found the following @mention from @enterprise cares:

“@Nick Chase We are listening. Is there anything we can help with? If yes, please tweet/follow us & I’ll DM [direct message] our contact information (amanda).”

Chase did what Enterprise corporate representative Amanda asked him to do, and following a few Twitter messages, he was indeed picked up and able to rent the car he needed. Because an empowered employee was paying attention, Enterprise Rent-A-Car converted Chase from a frustrated customer into a brand advocate.

Weigh the pros and cons. Now imagine how Chase would have felt and what impact his experience would have had on him and his Twitter followers if Enterprise had responded with impersonal policy regurgitation or worse, no response at all. With 5,000 Enterprise locations throughout the United States, it’s likely that situations similar to Chase’s happen regularly, and the compounded positive (or negative) impact of these social media interactions is significant.

Unfortunately, too many companies are still using social media inappropriately or not at all. There are, of course, legitimate reasons to be cautious ? companies in heavily regulated industries such as health care, energy and financial services are held to a different scrutiny. However, a 2010 Palo Alto Networks report found that companies in heavily regulated industries are just as likely to have social media presences as lesser-regulated companies and universities.

While choosing not to participate in social media is inconceivable to millions of business professionals who rely on various networks for everything from marketing and customer service to research and business development, the “everybody else is doing it” argument seldom sways rational business leaders. The crux of the argument is not the volume of people using social media, but the fact that vital brand conversations are happening in the networks whether the brand owners participate or not.

Learn from other’s missteps. There have been some embarrassing high-profile social media failures from which we have all learned a thing or two. For example, fashion designer Kenneth Cole outraged followers with a Twitter message that used the #Cairo hashtag (denoting discussion of uprising events in Egypt) to advertise a spring clothing collection. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried was fired from his voice-over gig with Aflac for tweeting jokes about the natural disasters in Japan.

These ill-advised, over-the-top tweets were viewed as insensitive and cast the companies in a bad light.

The most common social media no-nos can be avoided with employee policies covering social media behavior and expectations, such as language, topics and reaction/response guidelines. A simple Google search for “social media employee policy” can bring up numerous examples and starting points for creating policies.

Monitor and react. As demonstrated in the Enterprise Rent-A-Car situation, having an empowered and knowledgeable individual monitoring social media networks (even on the weekends and other nonpeak hours) is important for maintaining a positive reputation. There are also service providers and software-as-a-service technologies that amalgamate various social media networks into a singular, user-friendly interface.

Indianapolis-based ExactTarget’s Interactive Hub including its Co-Tweet solution is one of the largest players in social media conversation monitoring across Twitter and Facebook. Raidious, a local interactive marketing management firm, offers Social Center, which “listens” for keywords and phrases and allows users to engage with people in real time across a broad spectrum of social platforms.

Companies that fail to define themselves are defined by their competitors and customers, and not always in positive, productive ways. This is true for all media, but especially in the fast and viral social media realm. The cost to companies choosing not to participate or to empower their employees to engage with customers via social media is much greater than any monitoring costs or personnel time directed toward managing reputations by solving problems and joining conversations.

JAMES L. JAY is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. He also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, he has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. He also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, he has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Coca-Cola invented the coupon for a national advertising campaign in 1895. Tickets to try a free Coca-Cola were mailed out and included with magazines. By 1913, the company had redeemed 8.5 million “free drink” coupons, and Coca-Cola was on its way to becoming one of the world’s most recognized brands.

Today, more than 100 years later, the coupon is still going strong ? some 323 billion are used in the United States each year. The 21st Century coupon functions much like the original, feeding deals and discounts to consumers through websites, social media and e-mails.

Extreme fragmentation and opt-in only regulations that rule digital interaction with consumers make it nearly impossible for any one company to replicate what Coca-Cola did in today’s marketplace. Fortunately for modern marketers, there are much more efficient and cost-effective ways to reach consumers other than throwing endless coupons at them and hoping that loyalty follows the savings.

The main difference between macro-marketing tactics such as inserting coupons into magazines and the emerging one-size-fits-one marketing approach of today is data. Collecting, managing and analyzing customers’ personal and transactional data makes it possible to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.

A high-end beauty salon and spa business, for example, that books appointments with clients several weeks to months in advance could utilize that planned activity data to promote additional spa services and products via e-mail. Clients who have hair appointments would receive offers for massage and skin treatment services and vice versa.

The point of the program would be to offer discounts or package deals to clients as an incentive for trying new services. Traditional coupons available to the public would likely be redeemed by clients to receive discounts on the services they already use, which would diminish the spa’s profit margin. The one-to-one measured marketing tactic would preserve the original profit margin, introduce clients to more services and increase long-term profit potential.

Collecting and segmenting data so that it can be used to target specific customers with offers tailored to their needs is crucial for one-to-one measured marketing success. Most e-mail marketing services provide segmentation solutions, and I touched on several data collection and management service firms in my last column (see “Technology is the great equalizer in relationship management,” June 2011).

One-to-one measured marketing is more difficult to execute than other forms of marketing, but it’s exponentially more effective. The multiple steps and data analysis required for the one-to-one approach certainly take more time and effort than developing a coupon that is blasted out to a singular list of prospects. But the one-to-one approach goes beyond personalization ? inserting names and purchased products into e-mails ? and represents the concept of doing business on customer terms instead of however the business started or did things in the past.

To illustrate the virtue of customer-centric marketing, think about the last time you unsubscribed to a newsletter or advertisement that came to your e-mail inbox. Chances are good that you chose to unsubscribe because the content just wasn’t relevant enough to you to want to keep receiving the e-mails.

Now, think about the e-mails and offers you are sending to your own customers. Would they pass the same relevancy test that you employed before you unsubscribed? If not, then you may want to consider auditing your marketing programs and looking for ways to shift your process to a one-size-fits-one approach. It’s not something that happens overnight. You may find success by starting with group segments and adopting a one-size-fits-some approach until you have the data necessary for more individual messaging and consumer conversations.

There are also great opportunities to partner with digital marketing services such as Groupon, Social Living, Tippr and other social media-based deal-finders that already have extensive demographic data collected and segmented in markets across the United States.

Once you have your own opt-in lists segmented in ways that make one-to-one measured marketing possible, you’ll be able to engage customer in ways that capture how customers perceive you and how you are meeting their needs, which can help you retain their business and convert them into advocates of your brand.

BIO on file

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. He also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, he has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Do you consider your business to be small? Do you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle to remain competitive with the so-called big boys of the business world? If you answered yes to both of these questions, you’ll likely be pleased to learn what’s being done with technology to level the playing field in terms of customer relationship management.

The 2011 class of companies, schools, educators and business leaders have been announced as winners of TechPoint’s Mira Awards program — Indiana’s top annual honors for technology achievement and excellence.

Since I first joined TechPoint in 2003, we have had the unique opportunity to review hundreds of detailed nominations and interview close to 500 company executives for this awards program. What struck me during the competition this year is just how many robust customer relationship management solutions are now available to small business owners.

The chasm of advantage separating big from small businesses is solidly bridged through technology, and in some cases, small businesses now have the advantage. As we saw this year and in years past during the Mira Awards, Indiana firms are leading the way both in developing these new technologies and using them to their own advantage.

The best part is some of the customer relationship management technologies used by these award winners could be put to use immediately in just about any business, large or small.

Seize opportunity

In today’s fast-paced, information-based business environment, managing customer relationships is a top priority. The costs associated with traditional customer relationship management software are pretty expensive and may be out of reach for many small businesses.

Don’t get me wrong, traditional CRM software is a great value for many enterprises. However, it may be viewed as unwieldy for small businesses that operate with just a few salespeople. CRM software is often complex and may require extensive training and regular upgrades. This causes some small businesses to be priced out of utilizing many of the most popular CRM packages, but managing customer relationships is no less important to their bottom line.

In this year’s Mira Awards competition, we recognized a few firms that have seized upon this marketplace need and developed software-as-a-service solutions that are specifically designed for small businesses and nonprofits and cost as little as $10 per month at the entry level.

Indianapolis-based startup AddressTwo markets what it calls “simple CRM,” a system for managing small business relationships. Fellow Indy startup TinderBox makes it possible to create, manage, deliver and track web-based business proposals. And finally, WebLink International Inc., which is also based in Indianapolis, provides member management software and website services to chambers of commerce, trade associations and tourism communities.

Firms like AddressTwo, TinderBox, WebLink and others offering simplified relationship management solutions are helping small businesses to enhance their services and compete at a higher level.

Keep your eyes open

The fact is, however, that companies both big and small are collecting enormous amounts of information about their customers. Larger organizations have departments focused on gathering and analyzing customer information and then using it to market to specific customer segments. Small business owners are likely doing this on their own and could benefit from some of the service providers who are cooperating with one another.

Online forms have made it easy to create customer profiles, surveys and other means of collecting data that can be incorporated into website and landing pages through simple embed codes. But putting this data to good use is where many organizations struggle.

Many providers are now working together to integrate their databases so that information collected can be immediately, and automatically, incorporated into direct digital marketing campaigns. Indianapolis-based Formstack LLC, for example, offers the ability to seamlessly transfer customer contact information and preferences to e-mail and interactive marketing provider ExactTarget. This allows the user to activate relationships with new or potential customers without delay and without multiple data entry.

This is, of course, just one example of the many providers who are offering software solutions that level the playing field and allow small businesses to manage customer relationships much like larger companies do but at a lower cost and greater efficiency than was previously available.

Small business owners (and large business owners, for that matter) who are frustrated with their current customer relationship management operations should look into the promising new small business CRM options and data collection software providers — especially the startups in Indiana.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. Jay also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in twelve Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, Jay has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant. To learn more about the 2011 TechPoint Mira Awards, visit www.techpoint.org/mira.

Saturday, 30 April 2011 20:01

How to take full advantage of your website

Do you know which page of your website is visited most? The answer may surprise you. It’s also a good starting point for discussing informed content creation and customer engagement. Page visits are only the tip of the iceberg and one of the most elementary metrics for digital content effectiveness, but they are still useful information. The wealth of information generated by website analytics tools is astounding and this data should be the driving force of your content creation strategy.

A colleague of mine worked at a consumer electronics company that spent a great deal of time and money documenting the celebrities that used its products. Interviews, photos and other media were incorporated into the website and expectations were high that these celebrity endorsements would generate “buzz” that would have a positive impact on sales.

Nearly two years later, it was discovered that the most visited page on the site was still the specifications page for a popular product. In fact, the top 10 visited pages were product specifications and the celebrity-related pages appeared to have no measureable impact on website traffic, let alone sales.

While it was a costly mistake to continue with an ineffective program for as long as it did, the more egregious mistake was the company’s failure to understand its audience and what they wanted from the company via its website. The company eventually scrapped the “buzz” approach and directed resources into enhancing its product specification pages.

It’s not about you

Regardless of what you think you know about your customers and their behavior, the only way to know for sure is to collect and analyze data about them.

Whether you employ free website analytics from Google, Yahoo or others, or more advanced measurement software from highly-rated companies like Coremetrics, Omniture and Webtrends Inc., the actual behavior of your customers is the best way to know what they find most important. This information makes up the basic building blocks of your content creation strategy.

Today, even the simplest embed tools come with their own analytics. Indianapolis-based measured marketing service providers like Formstack LLC, Compendium, Delivra, ExactTarget and more offer vast quantities of actionable data. It is important make sure this data is put to good use as you develop content.

Make an effort

Popular Web-scraping or harvesting technologies allow companies to take relevant content from another website to display on their own pages. These relationships are often negotiated and reciprocal between multiple websites. A lot of companies utilize keyword-enabled news feeds from local or national news sources on topics relating to their businesses.

While these types of content filler are useful for keeping a company connected to the larger marketplace or having the latest headlines displayed, they don’t offer original thinking or insights that strengthen a company’s position as a leader in the field.

There simply is no substitute for thoughtful content designed to meet the search needs of your customers. In order to satisfy your customers, you will have to put in the time it takes to do it right — or hire content experts to help you do it right. Companies like Raidious and Professional Blog Service LLC in Indianapolis help dozens of high-profile brand names produce the kind of quality content that their customers are seeking.

Keep content fresh

Getting a customer to sign up to receive your newsletter is a good thing, but it’s only the beginning. Companies like Right On Interactive in Indianapolis have developed products that help you easily segment, schedule, trigger and deploy a series of communications to customers and prospects as they move through the customer life cycle.

This is why content is so important at each stage in the customers’ relationship with your company. If your customers lose interest in you because you fail to keep them engaged after you expended time and resources to draw them to you in the first place, then you may as well consider spending money on your own ill-fated celebrity “buzz” marketing campaign.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. He also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, he has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Whether you’re prepared for it or not, Apple’s iPad and the myriad of new tablet computers coming to market will change the way you do business. Not because there is a shiny new gadget available, but because that shiny new gadget is raising your customers’ expectations by a degree far greater than smartphones like the iPhone, Blackberry and Droid already have.

Regardless of the business you’re in – B2B, consumer direct or retail – the customer experience you provide is critical for long-term sustainability and growth. This is especially true for commodities that can be purchased at multiple retailers, online or direct from the manufacturer.

The impact of mobile on the enterprise, however, is being felt far beyond the point of sale. For example, at Eli Lilly and Co., advanced mobile devices and applications offer its pharmaceutical sales force the capability to be highly productive while they are presenting to physicians, as well as during the significant downtime waiting to see them.

For Lilly, mobile devices with longer battery life like the iPad that are always on and provide instant, secure access to any and all existing resources a physician may want to review about a drug are a must. Compared to the antiquated process of combing through hard copy brochures that may or may not have the very latest information or waiting for a laptop computer to start-up and open applications, this is a tremendous enhancement to the customer experience.

In deal-flow environments such as the one at Simon Property Group Inc., the sales force manages tens of thousands of active leases which have volumes of paperwork and space plans associated with them. Traditionally, the Simon sales force has had to travel with the associated paperwork or store it on discs, neither of which is easy to access quickly and seamlessly. Mobile devices like the iPad have helped Simon bring the largely paper-based leasing side of their business into a streamlined digital space that is much more customer friendly.

The important distinction between the way you may have done business in the past and the way you will have to do business in the future is the consumers’ expectation of access to what they want to see, how they want to see it and when they want to see it. Offering customers a technology-limited experience will be met with increasing frustration or abandonment as the tablet and smarter smartphones become ubiquitous.

For most companies, accessing e-mail via mobile devices is now common. This is great and it represents a big leap forward for many organizations. The new standard, however, is for your work force to be able to take everything they do in the office and do it whenever and wherever they need to, without disruption and without having to fundamentally alter the way they do business.

This means having secure access to all documents, software and other applications – multiple reservoirs of corporate information – and being able to interact with them in familiar environments that have the same interfaces as the office.

Though they are more than just incremental upgrades, mobile devices are still not replacing primary business computers in most workplaces. Today’s mobile devices are highly integrated into the work flow and they are excellent tools for displaying and communicating. However, mobile devices are not yet particularly conducive to content creation. Yes, portable keyboards and docks make mobile devices more like full capability desktop environments. But they are not the first choice when one needs to create a business plan or design a website.

The impact of mobile on the enterprise largely results in acknowledging that your customers (and your employees) expect more from you than they did before smartphones and tablets made their debut. Allowing customer expectations to drive the way you engage and interact with them should help you assess how to implement mobile throughout your business and match the right tools with the right people for deeper connections and a better overall brand experience.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. Jay also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in twelve Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, Jay has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Tuesday, 01 March 2011 17:16

Get in the game

Imagine your biggest competitor announcing that it is shutting down its website and will no longer participate in “the Internet experiment.” I suspect you would find it foolish and look for ways to capitalize upon your competitor’s mistake.

Many companies, however, are failing to define their brands and engage with consumers across social media — a decision that is just as foolish.

The Internet became all-important to dialogue with consumers at the turn of the century when 50 percent of U.S. households achieved access. Companies that resisted or were too slow to adapt to the changing digital marketplace suffered losses of brand equity and market share, especially with young tech-savvy customers and early-adopters.

According to the Pew Research Center, today more than half of all Americans use the Internet to participate in one or more social networks. If your competition is engaged and delivering a positive brand experience in the networks and your company is silent, you are missing out on powerful consumer touch points. You may also be alienating the people you are spending marketing and advertising dollars to attract.

Missed opportunities are one of many downsides to your company being absent in the social network. Douglas Karr, founder of DK New Media and author of “Corporate Blogging for Dummies,” advises that, “These conversations are now becoming part of the public record.”

Social media dialogue can be indexed, organized and discovered in a search engine in a matter of seconds. People are paying attention to what’s being said, both good and bad, and a simple mistake made by your company can turn into a major problem that affects your company’s reputation.

While things can happen in the blink of an eye, the landscape of social networking can be a tough one to navigate. It is hard work. Consumers’ appetites for information are insatiable and less-than-immediate responses can be viewed as lackadaisical or even rude.

There are tools that can help to simplify managing your brand across social networks, but there is no substitute for thoughtful, genuine conversation with your customers.

Authenticity takes time and effort. Underestimating the resources required to be effective is one of the most common missteps in social media brand management. You wouldn’t put an intern in charge of your accounts receivable, but at far too many companies, it is interns and other low-level employees unfamiliar with the company’s history and culture driving social media participation. Management should recognize the necessity of staffing the social media function with a professional or professionals who can speak with authority, resolve customer service issues and accurately project the company’s brand position.

Jay Baer, founder of the Convince & Convert blog and author of “The Now Revolution,” which looks at the impact of real-time business on organizational structure and process, considers CoTweet by ExactTarget and HootSuite to be two of the leading “response” systems that allow companies to engage with customers effectively on multiple social media platforms. Both allow you to schedule tweets and offer simple options for replying, retweeting, sending direct messages and other features.

CoTweet’s dashboard allows for “co-tagging,” which displays the user’s initials in a tweet to identify who is answering — a helpful feature for the reader and the user both. CoTweet also allows you to assign the task of responding to a tweet from the search pad. Because so many companies discover technical support and other customer service issues through mentions of their brand name, this is an increasingly important management tool.

Other tools, such as HyperAlerts, which sends you an e-mail when someone posts something to your Facebook page, can save you time by eliminating the need to log in over and over to search for new content. Websites like TweetFX.com are great resources for more Twitter-related websites and services that can help you manage your brand on the social network.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. Jay also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, Jay has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Friday, 18 February 2011 13:56

Time to optimize

Studies have shown that 90 percent of all Internet sessions start with or include the use of a search engine. This means that it’s likely nine out of 10 visitors to your company’s website probably typed a few keywords into Google, Yahoo, Bing or another search engine and stumbled upon you.

Directing search engine traffic to your site is not a simple one-step solution. In fact, a good search engine optimization strategy, also known as SEO, requires a variety of tactics and frequent maintenance in order to continue appealing to unique visitors.

Many SEO tactics can be done in-house at little or no expense to your business. All it takes is time and talent and a little bit of know-how. Affordable search engine marketing tactics are a great way to augment your SEO and win the competition for visitors. That can mean the difference between your website being an expense or a sales engine for your business.

Here are some things for you to keep in mind.

Content is king

In order for your website to be ranked by search engines, you need well-written, relevant content that includes the usage of a set of keywords or keyword phrases. These are words that identify your business, products or services and come up when users type them into a search engine. Tools for establishing which keywords are most relevant to your business include Google’s Keyword Tool and Wordtracker’s Keyword Questions. These keywords should be used throughout your website as often as possible.

Each product or service that you offer should have its own page of content. For instance, if you are a retailer, you should create a Web page for each product. Try to avoid copying and pasting the descriptions that come from the manufacturer. Every other retailer selling the product is doing the same thing. Instead, write your own description and be sure to use your keywords and keyword phrases.

Put in the time

When used correctly, meaning updated frequently with relevant and recent posts that include keywords, a blog can push your content to the top of search engine results pages and introduce your company, products and services to those who are seeking them.

It takes time to develop keyword strategies, measure the impact those strategies have on conversions and build authority with Internet users and search engines. Marketers must allot the time and have a measured, purposeful strategy to ensure long-term positive results when it comes to organic search. The ROI is incredible, but it’s not a silver bullet. It takes effort, consistency and resources.

Not all good things are free

The pay-per-click Internet advertising model is an effective search engine marketing tool to help you get noticed. Advertisers bid on keywords or phrases relevant to their target market’s search habits, such as Google Adwords, and pay only when their AdWords are clicked and the user is directed to their company site or landing page. Pay-per-click allows you to influence the user experience, control your message to a specified audience and PPC typically converts at higher rates than SEO efforts alone.

Be cautious

Just because a website has a good ranking doesn’t necessarily mean it will generate a click and deliver engagement or produce a sale. SEO is a tactic that makes your business easier to recognize in a vast marketplace of products, services and ideas — which can give you a decisive advantage over your competitors. It is not, however, a magic spell that ensures the success of your company. You still have to have desirable products or services, reasonable prices, exceptional customer service and the other attributes that are common to successful businesses.

Jim Jay is the president and CEO of TechPoint, a statewide initiative to grow the tech sector and entrepreneurship in Indiana. To learn more about TechPoint, please visit www.techpoint.org and for more information on Indiana’s Measured Marketing Initiative, please visit www.indianameasuredmarketing.com.

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