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Who do you trust most?

Fully 88% of buyers suggest that social channels are strong influencers during the purchase decision process.  A whopping 84% of Millennials trust their friends over advertising or sales messages. (Both stats according to a McCarthy Group report.)

Long gone are the days of disingenuous and detached Mad Men and corporate spinmeisters.  The customer journey has evolved. Buying behavior has changed dramatically and irretrievably, to the point where customers exert much greater control and judgment, often informed by trusted, authentic, even anonymous sources.

New buyer behaviors demand an updated supplier response

Since 70% of the buyer’s journey occurs online before they ever talk to a sales representative or supplier, it’s important that  buyers find what they are looking for, including positive feedback on your company and its offerings.

It doesn’t matter if you represent a business-to-business (B2B) enterprise, a business to consumer (B2C) company, or are business to government (B2G) focused, we are all headed toward a ‘people-to-people’ model.  ‘Human-to-human’ (H2H) is what author and influencer Bryan Kramer calls it.  Bottom line: people buy from people, and they place a high value on trust, authenticity, reliability, and other factors when making purchase decisions.

You and I have already adopted ‘the new way’ 

FeedbackimageThink about your own digital behavior, the one you undergo when you purchase something online (or offline). Before you click the ‘purchase’ button or sign the contract, what do you do?  I take a look at the reviews for the product or service to see what other users have commented about, what they like or don’t like about the core product features in comparison to their competition, ease-of-use, reliability, the company’s reputation, and their post-sale service.

Just as I rely on the brake lights of the car in front of me to signal that the driver is slowing down, I rely on feedback signals from brand sites, app stores, neutral reviewers, existing customers, and public social media regarding  products or services before I buy. It’s this people-to-people reference and connection, this human feedback, that we all trust and follow.

We all look for the ‘star’ rating on sites

Businesses know we look online for their ratings and they know that we are following the advice of others when we make purchase decisions. It’s common practice for businesses to ask us to ‘like’ and rate their products on their website, on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, OpenTable, or other social sites … and to leave a review if we are satisfied with their service. The power of people-to-people is  self-fulfilling as it gains steam with every new review written and every decision influenced, and is growing at an exponential rate.

Don’t underplay the power of the people

connected social mediaWhat do you do about it as a business leader? People are going to say what they feel and sense and experience about your company or its products, so be involved and talk with them. You will get to know your customer better and ultimately, improve your product or service. If you’re not listening, you will miss great opportunities for innovation.  More importantly, if the feedback is negative and you don’t do anything about it, your ratings will decline, and so will your business. Doing something about it will often lead to public kudos.

Cisco’s brand is ranked #13 most-valuable on the planet according to Interbrand (nestled between BMW and Disney at a $29 billion valuation) and we continue to monitor what is being said through social media, our websites, mobile apps, hosted online  communities and discussion forums — as a way to learn from our customers what we can do to improve on even that amazing value.

Your competitors are already out there

Remember Tower Records and Borders? They were slow to adapt to digital music and online bookstores, causing their businesses to suffer.  As a result they are no longer the top brands they were 10 years ago. Companies like these thought they knew best and didn’t evolve with the digital age, and didn’t  listen and respond to their customers or  changing market behaviors.

Your next potential customer is online shopping right now – investigating and evaluating well before their purchase decision – and they are comparing you against your competitors to determine who has the best product or service according to the reviews and social buzz.  Many of them will  make their decisions based on peer reviews and trusted neutral recommendations alone. Consumers are looking for social reassurance about their purchase decisions in order to reduce the risk of a bad experience – so you’d better be engaged.

Once damage is done, it’s difficult to fix

Once someone has posted an unfavorable review about your product, it is nearly impossible to rescind, and of course, the worse the feedback is, the more people will find and read it. We’ve all heard the brand meltdown stories — from the ‘United Breaks Guitars’ video with over 14M views or Amy’s Bakery FaceBook saga, both examples of what could happen and what not to do. Remember to listen to what is being said about your business and have a social media strategy in place before you need to handle any unflattering reviews.

“The Customer is King” (or “… Queen”) 

Really, this is not just a marketing slogan someone dreamed up.  The point is: your current customers are the ones who are in control — they will be providing feedback that prospective future customers will read and rely on — and the insight upon which those prospects will base their purchase decisions. Listen to this feedback and use it to guide improvements either in your product, your customer service, your policies and practices, your ease-of-doing-business, or some other aspect of your business.

At Cisco, we cultivate a group of Cisco Champions. These ambassadors are external experts who are passionate global champions for change. They share their perspective with the broader Cisco community of customers, partners, and prospects, and they offer their time to help others learn about and connect with Cisco in unique ways.

We also have a Cisco Customer Connection program whose members get direct access to our product development and engineering teams to influence our innovation roadmap, suggest product improvements and new features, recommend user experience improvements, and more.

These and many other activities augment our formal market research and informal market listening, sensing, and engagement activities – so that Cisco can respond with agility to emerging customer needs and shifting business trends.

Provide a feedback mechanism

If you don’t have a mechanism on your website for your customers to provide feedback, pro or con, they are still going to share it on Twitter,  Facebook or somewhere else. It’s best to provide ways for customers to connect with you directly so they can channel that frustration or delight in productive ways.

We have multiple approaches … In the footer of we ask for and receive a wide range of feedback.  We continually monitor what is being said about Cisco in the traditional media and through social media, and we have a strategy to provide appropriate actionable responses.  We have social listening centers throughout the company, including one outside our CEO’s office, one in our Customer Briefing Center, one in the digital ‘nerve center’ with our core team, and multiple instances of social listening tools and reports accessible online.  This allows all of us, from the general employee to our CEO, to see immediate feedback after any news release, business update, customer comment, product launch, or  analyst report.

Use today’s tools to advance your brand

It’s people-to-people world out there!  Ten years ago, FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn didn’t exist to connect people, give them a voice, or to empower them with a platform, a channel, and access to potentially millions of others around the world. 

Today, customers are using these platforms (and more) to provide feedback that shapes your company’s reputation and brand value. Prospective customers are using these ratings and reviews to inform their purchase decisions.  Start listening and engaging to help shape your company’s reputation and to position your offerings in the minds of new buyers all along their purchase decision journey.

B2B, B2C, B2G — it really doesn’t matter; it’s all P2P and H2H.

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Insights from baseball promotions for Digital Marketers

Baseball has long been dubbed ‘America’s favorite pastime‘ – but baseball owners sure do wish some of that time is spent watching the game from stadiums as opposed to in-front of television and smartphones. Of course some of the storied franchises such as the Red Sox and Yankees have less to worry, and even the long suffering Chicago Cubs bring in 30,000+ faithfuls on average to their games. However for many others, half-full stadiums are the reality of game days.

Baseball owners have studied the problem deeply and undertaken various measures to promote in-stadium attendance, including extensive use of data science and analytic techniques to promote attendance – and their experience offers much insight for digital marketers.

1) Understand attendance (traffic) patterns – The start and end of baseball’s regular season (April/September) sees a peak in attention, and a mid-season peak occurs when summer is in full swing (typically July).  These are times to make a great impression on your audience, and a good effort will help you retain more of the audience during the leaner months.

2) Focus on what you can control: Baseball suffers from a basic issue of a high-supply of games (160+ games per team every season). But owners cannot really control that year-in/year-out. It is far more useful to focus on how to retain fan attention and on creating promotions/events to get them into the games.

3) Know your (real) competition: In baseball, it is natural to think of other baseball teams as your competition – but that is true only on the field and during the game. The real competition is for the entertainment dollar share of the average fan. Movies, video-games, television shows, concerts are the real competition and emphasizing everything that a 1/2 day at the game can offer becomes a real differentiator. Top-teams playing in town are part of that appeal.

4) Understand your market position – and be honest about it: Several baseball franchises offer promotions such as bobble heads, shirts, head gears, fireworks to attract audience to stadium. These work really well for mid-major market teams, but are a wash for the highly successful teams. In other words, special promotions do not add much value to teams whose brands sell themselves. An honest assessment of your market position goes a long way towards picking the right promotions/activities.

5) Defray cost of promotions/events whenever possible – Baseball is already putting on a show – and is guaranteed a certain viewership. There is no reason to also bear the expense of promotions and special events on top-of-that. There are many who would love that same exposure – baseball consistently uses sponsorship (with complementary firms to be sure) to defray the cost associated.

6) Use analytics to fully understand the lift of various promotional activities – Most baseball teams have a resident data science team that is focused on attendance and other revenue opportunities and the cost/benefit analysis of each action. Focus on the best opportunities available.

And baseball owners are not content with what they have – they are constantly pushing the envelope on what they can learn about their market and audience and how can they use the information they gather to keep the sport relevant, entertaining and win a greater share of your wallet!

I will be presenting a session at the upcoming Predictive Analytics World 2014 on impact of promotions on baseball stadium attendance – look-up the session (and me!) if you plan to be at the conference!

Likelihood or Probability – What’s in a Word?

It is always interesting how commonly understood terms turn into nuanced expressions in the hands of specialists – whether they be lawyers, accountants, doctors – or indeed data analysts and statisticians. One pair of expressions in this regard is likelihood and probability – which may seem to hold similar meanings in common parlance, but hold distinctly separate purposes in the world of data analytics.

Probability is simply the probability of an outcome, given a set of parameters. 

Given a person’s

  • Salary
  • Credit History
  • Criminal Record
  • Length of Employment  and more

Q.What is the Probability of Default against a Loan?
A. Probably some number between 0 and 1 !

This is classical probability and what it is understood to be in common language as well.

Likelihood however flips the equation, and seeks to estimate the values of the parameters of the equation/formula/model, given a set of outcomes across several observations.

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Marketing Analytics adding heft to Digital Analytics

The worlds of Digital Analytics and Marketing Analytics have frequently led somewhat independent lives – with the Digital Analyst spending time looking at digital channels (web/mobile/social), reading out metrics, understanding conversion rates, focused on conversion funnels, A/B and multi-variate testing and the like while the Marketing Analyst was more concerned with Survey Analysis, developing “What-If” simulators for product features and concerning themselves with ROI from campaigns.

There has been an inevitability in the growth in popularity of the digital medium even as more and more content was consumed through digital channels – and quite naturally, the marketing and advertising dollars followed suit. This graphic from IAB captures this rapid growth:  Read More »

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AEM, Jive and an updated Cisco Mobile App!

It’s the New Year here at Cisco, at least from a fiscal perspective, and one of the most exciting projects we have completed this year within our Digital team is the updated version of the Cisco Mobile App!

The new Cisco App!

The new Cisco App!

If you haven’t already, you can download it through the iTunes Apps Store for iOS or Google Play for Android. The latest release of the App includes many upgrades including real-time Cisco news feeds, enhanced video capabilities and product updates.

As we march in to the New Year, we continue converging and standardizing our assortment of Digital tools. Specifically, we are very focused on Adobe AEM and Jive.

  • Adobe AEM – We continue expanding our use of Adobe AEM to manage our web properties like The big news here is that we plan to start using AEM in a Cisco hosted hybrid cloud to also power our INTERNAL web properties.  As I alluded to in a blog post back in February, we are hoping to drive both content and process efficiencies from standardizing on a single platform for web in the the cloud.
  • Jive – Similar to AEM, we are already using Jive on many of our external communities and the new move is to use the same platform for our INTERNAL communities. Starting in September, we plan on using a Jive cloud service for internal Cisco communities. This will be on a limited basis to begin with, but we hope to expand the usage throughout the year.

I think there will be some interesting possibilities and benefits with integrating Jive Communities in to an AEM powered web experience. Social will become more and more integrated within the daily digital workflow on our web properties. Furthermore, by converging our platforms, we will put Customers, Partners and Employees in closer contact with each other.

Any large companies (10,000+ employees) that have either implemented both AEM and Jive or have implemented either one for both internal and external use interested in sharing best practices?  Let me know and let’s get together!