Elizabeth Keserauskis

Building relationships and making connections

Your Customers Telling Your Story

I am sitting here in Clayton Studios working with Dick Ulett and Brenda Bertts Long to record the radio ads for SIUE. Our first campaign about a year and a half ago told the stories of success at SIUE through the eyes of faculty and students. We had such a quick turnaround time that we chose to use professional voice talent.

This year, we decided to tell the stories of success literally through our students and faculty. We asked for nominations from our staff and faculty of students who had great stories of success to tell. We then auditioned everyone, and selected a great pool of students to be the “voices of SIUE”.

I have to admit, I was extremely nervous about the level of talent we would find in the student body. Boy was I pleasantly surprised! We have amazing talent on campus for radio voices! Now we are in the studio today recording the ads with our students. It is amazing. They are so inspiring and have such great stories to tell with such energy and excitement! Talk about authentic—most places strive to bring this out of their actors. We are getting it right out of the gate!

Having your customers tell your story for you (and yes, students are our customers!!) is so powerful. I am excited to also see how this will play out in the rest of our media—billboards, print ads, blogging, and so much more. I really do hope that this strategy will resonate with prospective students and parents—hearing the stories from our students.

And by the way, Brenda Bertts Long, Dick Ulett and Clayton Studios are absolutely amazing and great to work with! I highly recommend them.

April 26, 2010 Posted by | connecting, higher education, marketing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Tree Pollen Distribution Has Similar Success to Direct Mail

It dawned on me the other day as I was trying without success to get the pollen off my windshield that the pollen distribution strategy of trees in the spring is remarkably similar to the traditional, unsolicited direct mail strategy. My gross overgeneralization of unsolicited direct mail strategy is that you cast a HUGE net over a very loosely targeted area to people who have not tried to start a dialog with your company or about your product/service with your direct mail pieces, hoping you get a response that will eventually turn into a sale.

Trees release a HUGE amount of pollen, over whatever area they can get using wind as the distribution strategy. That area is not necessarily the right area, as much of the pollen lands on concrete, houses, cars, etc. Then the tree has to pray that the seeds can make it into the ground, that rain falls, and then that successful germination occurs. We still haven’t made it to the “sale” part of the equation, because now the tree has to hope that someone doesn’t pull it out of the ground, or mow their grass before it can grow tall, or that some animal doesn’t find it a tasty treat.

See how this is remarkably similar to unsolicited direct mail?? The advantages that the trees have that has allowed this strategy to remain successful are:

  • They have a lot of time to be patient and wait for success. Their life cycle is long. If they don’t have successful germination and growth in one spring, they can try again for likely several hundred more springs.
  • There are a lot of the same trees out there doing the same thing.
  • They have “ambassadors” in that people are actively planting trees in the spaces they would like them to grow.

So can you and your business afford to spray your direct mail once a year, hope something sticks  and if not, just wait until the next spring? I would venture to guess not. Just one more piece of evidence why unsolicited, unqualified direct mail cannot be your only strategy.

April 26, 2010 Posted by | connecting, higher education, marketing, sales | , , , | 2 Comments

The Jury is Still Out on Twitter

I have seen some successful customer service interactions on Twitter and experienced not some not-so-great customer service interactions on Twitter, specifically involving Dell. I am still not exactly certain how Twitter can be successful from the individual user, or customer, perspective. If you are a corporation looking to get involved in Twitter from the perspective of generating original content, how can you generate content that people actually want to read? Obviously, most people don’t really care about the mundane things, such as me sending a tweet saying that I am driving to work this morning. The people who are preaching about Twitter as an opportunity for your business to get engaged with social media seem, to me, to be more interested in increasing their number of followers or the number of tweets they send versus really trying to engage with the audience. I question, do you actually [have a signal with] your customer or you are just generating a bunch of noise? If you have 100,000 followers, I challenge you to show me that you actually can have an interactive relationship with all 100,000 people. So if you are just generating and broadcasting content for the sake of hearing yourself talk, and that’s your objective, maybe Twitter is for you. If you are actually using it to try to connect with people, I still have yet to see how that is actually a viable option.

The other thing that I have noticed is that many of those who are preaching about twitter or generating the most content or the most followers also happen to be male. Now, this may sound exceptionally reverse-chauvinist or reverse-sexist, but I wonder if what is at play here is that women in their 30’s and 40’s have kids and careers and families and are trying to balance them all. The things that get cut from your time are those things that don’t have the biggest bang for their buck.  I am wondering if Twitter is one of those that has yet to show a big bang for the buck and is, therefore, being dropped from the radar of some individual women. Now again, I don’t have any substantial proof to make these statements but it is just a feeling I have, especially when I am talk to several women also in the field of marketing and advertising that feel the same way about how can you incorporate Twitter as an effective communication strategy.

In the subsequent post, I will talk a little bit about the rich customer service opportunities that abound, monitoring the conversation about your brand using Twitter, and finding ways to have conversations with individuals that I have seen to be successful. But –just Tweeting for the sake of hearing yourself talk is not an effective communication strategy unless your whole goal is simply to make yourself look good and make noise.

April 13, 2010 Posted by | connecting, marketing, relationships, social media | , , , | 2 Comments

Convincing the Curmudgeon

What happens when someone in your organization, particularly someone who has decision making authority or budget control, is not convinced that the rules of marketing and public relations indeed have changed, especially with the advent of the internet and social media tools available to you?  What do you do, especially when they adamantly argue that if the process isn’t broken, why would you fix it?  How could you convince that type of curmudgeon to start employing some of the new techniques that will allow you to reach a greater audience, in a more authentic fashion, resulting in a greater return on your investments?

It is indeed a challenge and one that I recommend you tackle by starting with small victories and small samples of success.  For example, if your organization has never attempted to deploy a Google AdWords campaign or other search engine marketing strategies, perhaps you’d start with one small product or program, build that case and work then to show that there is value and a return on investment with a Google AdWords strategy. It doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing everything else that they’ve always been doing to promote that particular product or program, but you do this in conjunction with it so that you can compare the results of both strategies.

Interestingly though, if you’re embarking on a new strategy like Google AdWords, you’re often going to find that there are some other key pieces of your communications program that are not up to snuff in this case.  For example, when you’re starting a Google AdWords strategy or an SEO campaign, your website has to be written such that humans actually want to read it, but also contain the key phrases that are relevant to your particular search strategy. You’re going to have to start creating several variations of landing pages to test effectiveness of copy, call to action, and other parts of the sales process.

Almost equally important is whether your website or that particular micro-site or section of your website is doing a good job of moving people through the sales process. Traditionally, especially in higher education, people have been resistant to consider the recruitment and enrollment process as a sales cycle.

The reason it is important for everyone to understand that your website is a part of the sales conversation is that if you’re suddenly driving all of this great traffic to your website – potential customers, potential students, whoever it might be – but your website does not do a good job of converting them into true leads for your business or, ultimately, purchasers of your product or service, then you might as well burn a pile of dollar bills . If, when they get to your website, they are not converting, it’s like opening the doors to your business and allowing a bunch of people to come in the door but then telling them that we don’t want you to buy anything.

So, you really need to pay full attention to your web content before you embark on the search engine marketing strategy or search engine optimization strategy. Not only are there practical implications of your Google AdWords quality score getting slapped if the key phase is not on the page, etc., but also now that you have the great inquiry coming to your site, potential customers want to make sure that you’re converting them and leading them into, ultimately, sales – however you might define that.

It is mission critical to be sure and convince that program or service area of your website that it needs to a well oiled sales conversation machine and moving people though that great content. In a later blog post I will discuss how to develop the best content to move people through that great sales conversation.

In the meantime, be sure to create a few small victory opportunities to convince the curmudgeons in your company!

April 8, 2010 Posted by | higher education, leadership, marketing, sales | , , , | Leave a comment

The Immeasurable Success Measurements

I often wonder how you can determine whether your brand has become successful, and whether your current customers, or in our case, our current students, have truly embraced what we are trying to establish as the brand of our organization.

One example that I found recently is that students are clamoring to become part of our advertising campaign.  We do feature real students and faculty in our advertising, prints, billboard, radio, and their stories – their actual stories of success, or the path that they have taken to get to SIUE.  And recently, I have heard that there are students that are asking how they can get involved and be on a billboard, or be one of our student testimonials on our website.

I understand that part of that is their vanity and wanting to see their face on a billboard, but it does tell me that they are extremely proud to represent SIUE. No matter how vain you are, if you don’t believe in what you are representing, it becomes very difficult to slap on a logo and associate it with your face. So, it made me quite happy to find out that there are students who are truly interested in becoming the face and voice of SIUE. That is just one very intangible way that I measure whether what we are trying to do with our brand is being successful. In a series of later posts, I will talk about some specific measurable returns on investments that you can take a look at to see if you are being successful with your brand advertising campaign.

April 6, 2010 Posted by | higher education, marketing, reputation management | , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s Driving the Email Bus?

I was recently quite surprised to find out that several people who are responsible for sending out email campaigns to their list of customers have not learned much about when you can expect the best open and click through rates.

Now, I find it interesting that the folks who have the best of intentions, want to build relationships with their customer base, and are ultimately responsible for the email marketing campaign haven’t been taught how to maximize their return on their investment. I think it’s fantastic that we’re actually sending emails versus relying on printed letters or direct mail, but there are a few ways that we can improve on the open and click through rate, which are very important measurements of return on investment for an email marketing campaign.

Some of them seem to be just logical, if you sit and think about the behavior of your customer when they’re at their computer or reading their emails. For example, if you are trying to attract the attention of someone while they’re at work; you have their work email address. Perhaps it’s apparent, or you’re in the business of B2B sales. They’re usually sitting at their desk at work reading their emails. If you think about it, an email that arrives either during the night or first thing in the morning is going to get lost among the many emails that have accumulated over the overnight and need to be waded through first thing in the morning. If you send it over the lunch hour, they’re not going to be at their desk, and then when they get back, there’s going to be a list of emails to get through, so your email may not get the attention that you want it to get. That same idea applies to emails delivered after 5:00 PM or normal business hours. Your email is going to get lost in a pile of emails the customer has to wade through in the morning.

So, what does that leave us? 10:00 AM – after they’ve gotten through the morning pile of emails, and before they go to lunch. Or at 2:00 PM, which gives them enough time to sort through the list of emails that have accumulated over lunch and pay special attention to yours. So, 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM tend to be the best times to attract business people, or people in their place of business.

Now, you also have to think of which day of the week. For example, Monday, a lot of emails have accumulated over the weekend and it takes people a little bit of time to get going and get reengaged into the work week. Mondays are probably not good days. Fridays, people are either taking off for a long weekend or working quickly to wrap things up so they can actually enjoy the weekend. Fridays are probably not the best days. If people have off-site meetings, typically they’re going to happen on a Thursday. Now, that would leave us with Tuesday and Wednesday, 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM for our optional time to catch people at work.

Let’s think a little bit about trying to catch people at their home email address. Today, many people do check their home email throughout the day at work, but we can’t bank on that. So, let’s think about user behavior. You get off work, you pick up your kids, you get home, and you fix dinner. You may get to sit down at the computer by say 6:30, 7:00, 7:30 at night. So, if you send your email to arrive before that, it’s going to be in the pile of emails that they need to wade through, and you may not get as much attention. So, if you send it to arrive or schedule it to arrive right about the time that they’re going to be on their computer and looking at their emails, probably 6:30-7:00 PM, you have a better chance of them giving their full attention to your email.

We can also think about day of week and optimal open rate for people in their home. Weekends, they’re probably either busy with family activities, or they may spend more time looking at their email, rather than during the week. The beginning of the week is probably a little more rushed with getting reengaged in the work week. Try to think about the people you want to reach.  Is your target audience focused on kids’ sporting events and things like that? When do the activities occur most often? Probably, Saturday during the day or Wednesday, Thursday, Friday during the week.

Though I can’t give you the magic silver bullet to reach consumers in their home on the best day, I can say, really think about the audience that you’re trying to reach, what their behaviors are, and when they’re most likely to give email the most attention.

The beauty of email marketing is that we can test campaigns. Do some A-B testing of various emails and times of day to determine which is best for your target audience. If you have a substantial list of people that you’re emailing to, or even if you only have ten: split the list in half and test two different times, but only test one variable at a time. So, for example, either vary the time of day or day of week, or vary the look of the email that you send, especially if you’re sending HTML-based emails. You can switch up pictures, and the layout of your email, and do some A-B testing between two different segments of your target audience to find out which one gives you the best return on your investment.

Which one causes people to open it more? Does your subject line grab them and cause them to want to open the email? Also, which stories, or which links do they click on most frequently in your emails to get more information from your website?

So, that’s the best advice I can give. If you don’t know what the optimal time is for your audience, start testing some of the variables and see which works best for you and your audience.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | connecting, higher education, marketing, sales | , , , | Leave a comment

Spray and pray

I read a very interesting blog post updating me on the new terminology describing unmeasured direct mail as a part of your overall marketing and advertising strategy.  It’s now called “Spray and Pray,” and defined by The Agitator in the context of fundraising: 

“…the thoughtless, non-strategic practice of tossing as many appeals and acquisition pieces as an organization can afford — regardless of long-term result…”

Let’s put this in the context of higher education student recruitment and fundraising.  The phrase is obviously referring to the way direct mail is handled: you spray pieces, cast a wide net to a not necessarily highly qualified audience, and you pray they take whatever action you’re asking of them in the direct mail, whether that be to contribute money to your alma mater, attend an event, request more info, or even enroll in classes.  The problem here is that you can only pray they do what you asked.

Another option is implementing tactics such as Google AdWords or other search engine marketing tactics; obviously Yahoo, MSN, and others have their own ad serving platforms.  Facebook even has an ad serving platform that is very similar to Google’s.

In those instances, you define who your target audience is, what is a qualified lead or prospect to you, and make sure that your ad is served only to those prospects. In addition, you’re serving ad copy that matches what they have searched for. For example, if someone is searching for St. Louis MBA programs, you’re not going to serve them ad copy that addresses the School of Education program’s offerings. You’re going to give them ad copy tailored to what they’re looking for, which is an MBA program. You’re also going to take them to a landing page on your website that also addresses specifically what they are looking for.

Now, I understand that there have been improvements in direct mail technology, such as print on demand, variable data fields and personalized URLs for tracking responses where you can really try to personalize a direct mail piece based on what you know of your customer and their preferences, but direct mail still is not as interactive, measurable and successful as a search engine marketing campaign.

So why then do colleges and universities still spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase names and ‘spray and pray’ with direct mail campaigns to prospective students and donors without even investigating the success of search engine marketing campaigns, such as Google AdWords? Even if you just do a test run, side-by-side to determine which one has a better return on your investment. I have asked countless groups of people I have presented to a series of four questions:

  1. When is the last time you went to the printed yellow pages, looked up a product or service and made a purchase?
  2. When is the last time you made a purchase based on a radio, TV or print ad you have seen?
  3. When is the last time you made a purchase based on a piece of unsolicited direct mail you receive?
  4. When is the last time you opened up your browser, went to Google or Yahoo, searched for a product or service, and ultimately made a purchase on line?

You can guess what the funnel of number of hands raised through each question. How many times do I have to ask the question before someone listens and sees value in SEM? Why is higher education different than any other information gathering sales process?

March 21, 2010 Posted by | higher education, marketing, sales | , , , | Leave a comment

A pro female athlete provided me business wisdom through a sports lens

I had the pleasure of attending the Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball championship match last Sunday at the St. Charles Family Arena. Before the game, we were invited to a luncheon and where Kristin Folkl-Kaburakis was the key note speaker and the group was a reunion for the NCAA Beyond the Baseline event. Last year, we worked with middle school girls through the NCAA Beyond the Baseline program by providing mentoring and leadership development for inner city middle school girls. It was great to see so many of the girls at this reunion and reminisce about the event.

The Court of LifeKristin, a former WNBA star (read more in the St. Louis Woman Magazine article) focused on how as an athlete, the time you spend on the court is really only a small percentage of the overall experience. She challenged us to ask ourselves what we are doing to make sure that we are participating in each and every aspect and part of that process and the full experience beyond on what is just happening on the court during an actual athletic event. I think this is a great analogy not only for use as these girls are growing up and participating in a variety of things, trying to decide on what they are most interested in, but also for us in the business of marketing and building relationships and creating connections.

Though what each of us defines as a “sale” may vary, but that “sale” is such a small percentage of the full experience for a customer. What are doing to nurture and cultivate and participate in every single step of that process not just the actual “sale” or “signing on the dotted-line.” How are you not exclusively focusing on that tiny little percentage—though granted that could be a substantial amount of money in some instances? The most important element of customer service and satisfaction is the relationship–how are you cultivating that relationship with your customer?

So thank you, Kristin, for providing such words of wisdom. Though in a completely different context, it is something that really has made me think about more than just sporting events or life experiences, rather how this has practical application to business.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | connecting, marketing, relationships, sales | , , , | Leave a comment

A mascot is more than a sports cheerleader

Lets just talk a little bit today about how a mascot for a school or institution of higher education is so much more than just a representative of the athletics program or something that helps rally school spirit and pride. It can be a tool by which you continue your efforts to improve your relationships and manage your reputation within your community. Many people above and beyond season ticket holders are fans. When an institution needs to change its mascot costume—not necessarily the mascot itself but the costume that some poor soul has to don during each of the games—there are several ways in which you could do it. You could

  1. Just decide based on price which has its obvious implications,
  2. Decide based on looks amongst the people in charge of the mascot, or
  3. Take it a step further and use it as a relationship building tool.

SIUE Mascot Corey the CougarI am clearly a fan of #3. Get as much mileage out of this process as possible from a relationship building perspective with your publics. Allow your fans to vote after you’ve narrowed it down to 3 options everybody could be happy with no matter which was selected. Unveil these selections at a home athletic contest depending on what sport you get the most fan base at, or at a major university event and allow fans to vote. You can also post it on line and distribute it through your social networks, encouraging fans to give us their opinion and vote on the options.

It gives your constituents, your customers, or partners the opportunity to tell you what they think, and to engage them in a conversation. Give them a reason to feel invested in the organization. In this case they feel that they have a vested interest in this mascot, then when it comes time to unveil the new costume, you now have a platform to create this big splash and really encourage folks to attend the event where the new mascot is unveiled. Use that opportunity to continue to nurture the relationship with your customers whether it is you athletics fans, your student base, or your faculty and staff.

There are folks who may not necessarily frequent athletic contests but are very interested and passionate about the school—to them the mascot represents the whole organization, not just the athletic teams. So here is just one more way that something so simple as selecting a costume for the mascot, can really be a great way to engage your audience at very little or no cost. Just a small investment of your time.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | connecting, higher education, marketing, relationships | , , | Leave a comment

The “Twintern”

The new buzz word in marketing is the “tw-intern.”  This is where you decide, as an organization, that you want to embark on a new social media technology like Twitter and you’re going to hire an intern for the job, hence the word “tw-intern.”  What I often ask as someone considers putting an intern in charge of their social media strategy is, if your local news affiliate is shows up at your door to do a story on your company for their evening news broadcast, would you put your intern in front of the camera to best represent your brand, company and key message?

twinternI would venture to guess that 9.5 times out of 10, the answer is, “Absolutely not!  Why would I put an intern in front of the news media?”

So then I say, “OK.  Let’s talk about the reach that your local news affiliate has, perhaps it’s 40-60 thousand people who may be watching the news and paying attention to the story.  On the other hand, tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, a blog – any of those technologies – have the potential to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions or potential customers.”

So, if the news media was able to reach millions of people and you wouldn’t put your intern in front camera, why on earth would you consider putting an intern in front of something with a reach as potentially broad as a social media technology such as Twitter, Facebook, a blog, etc?

Now, I understand that most organizations face a substantial budget crisis and cash flow problem, especially higher education institutions (even more specifically, institutions within the state of Illinois).  However, it is time for us to rethink our overall marketing and advertising strategy and make it much more efficient to include important technologies that are appropriate for your target audience that have a much broader reach than perhaps a television interview, or a story on the front page of your local paper.

Much more to come on this subject!

February 21, 2010 Posted by | higher education, marketing, social media | , , , | Leave a comment