Category Product

User-Generated Content Is Fuel for Recommendation Engines

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr.By now, most business leaders have heard that word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family play a large role in the decision making process for many consumers.

With this in mind, many of these same business leaders have also accepted that social media should be leveraged, and have thus established a presence on the most-used social networking sites. Many have even gone the extra mile and actually engage with their customers on these sites.

But, what is often most important is what customers do and say online.

The beautiful product photos, positive reviews, and check-ins that customers post spread awareness about the businesses, products, and services that they use and hopefully like.

What they also do is leave a permanent record of a positive (or negative) interaction that a customer had with a brand.

As you know, if it is posted on the Internet, it can possibly live on forever.

What we don’t often think about is that these posts can lead to future sales by helping recommendations engines provide more targeted and accurate suggestions to future customers.

What is a recommendation engine?

In the context of what I am referring to, it is an information filtering system that helps a business recommend items to customers that they might be interested in. For additional information, Wikipedia has a good explanation.

If you want to see an example of a business effectively using a recommendation engine to help its customers find products, visit Amazon.com. The Amazon.com recommendation engine uses a combination of several input data, including past purchases, product ratings, and social media data.

Social Networking Sites Offer Suggestions

Several social networking sites understand that the data that they collect can be very useful and have harnessed it to offer recommendations to users directly within the site.

Foursquare is a great example.

In his book, “Mobile Influence: The New Power of the Consumer,” Chuck Martin describes how Foursquare is using its data to offer better suggestions to its users.

In the book, Eric Friedman, director of sales and revenue operations at Foursquare, states, “From the very first check-in, we get smarter at what we recommend. If you check in to a series of places, we will make a better guess at what you are looking for. If you love small coffee shops and you go to a city and type in ‘coffee shop,’ guess what we are going to recommend? A small, independent coffee shop. If you are a guy that loves a big coffee house and you go to a different city or country and type in ‘coffee,’ we are going to give you recommendations based on your history. If we were friends on Foursquare and I was in downtown Boston and I saw Chuck had been to a cheeseburger place five times, that is a great signal for me to go to the same place for lunch because I know Chuck and he knows good cheeseburger places and I like Chuck.”

The book goes on to explain other ways that Foursquare is using its app and the data it collects to give its users targeted and relevant suggestions based on their location, past check in history, and the check in history of the people who they are connected to.

If you want another example, check out Yelp.

As you are probably aware, Yelp is an online review site that allows users to review businesses that have a brick-and-mortar location. This data can be used directly within the site to find a specific type of business based on its location and the reviews that it gets from Yelp’s users.

Yelp has an algorithm that that helps surface the most trusted reviews from the most reliable sources.

It is also noteworthy that Yelp reviews often show up in the results that users get when they search for information on Google.

Every Post on a Social Networking Site Could Potentially Be a Source of Data

The examples that I gave demonstrated how social media can be used to help users find businesses based on data collected within the social networking site itself.

However, everything that users post on social networking sites can be used by a third party to help consumers make purchase decisions. (As mentioned, Yelp reviews show up in Google SERPs.)

To illustrate this further, think about all the photos of the delicious meals that users post on Instagram.

A photo posted by Chad Thiele (@chadjthiele) on

Knowing that people often post photos of their food, the app MyFab5 encourages users to use these Instagram photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.

The concept is rather simple (i.e., use food photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.) The app then uses an algorithm to surface the best places to get a specific type of food based on users rankings. For example, according to MyFab5, here is a list of the best places for burgers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While this data again leads back to a brick-and-mortar location, it shows that anything that users post is fair game.

Given the vast amount of data out there, there will be other businesses that will harness other types of user-generated content to help make recommendations to other consumers based on hashtags, keywords, geotags, or other data that are included in posts on social networking sites.

Therefore, it is important that businesses find ways to ensure that these recommendation engines find more positive posts than negative ones.

Final Thoughts

As I have pointed out, the product photos, reviews, check-ins, and other posts on social networking sites not only work to influence the people who are connected to the users who create the content, but they also can have a larger impact on future sales when they are used to fuel recommendation engines.

So what can businesses do to help encourage customers to create user-generated content that displays the brand in a positive light?

The answer to that question depends on the situation.

However, the most important thing is to provide great products and services to customers.

Providing excellent customer service is also key.

In the end, businesses not only want customers to use their products and services, but they want the experience that they have with the brand to be positive. So positive that customers can’t help but share the love of the brand online.

Because what is posted online can live on forever and we can’t predict how other businesses will use that data in the future.

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr and chadjthiele on Instagram.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Find Out Who Your Potential Customers Are Before It’s Too Late

Changes in society impact the products that we buy, how we shop, and who influences purchase decisions. In the end, these changes impact how products need to be made and advertised.

Rapid advancements in technology are increasing the speed at which society changes. The rate of change that we saw from one generation to the next could now possibly happen every few years.

Therefore, it is becoming more it important for brands to continually monitor whether or not their products and services are meeting the needs of consumers. Furthermore, it is vital that they make changes whenever necessary.

Women and Children First

No the ship is not sinking. At least we hope not. However, sometimes it might seem that way.

That said, if you have an established brand that is losing market share, it might not be a bad idea to check out who is purchasing and using your products and services (and your competitor’s products and services too.)

In his book, “What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping,” (affiliate link) Paco Underhill highlights how the changing role of women in society has influenced who is purchasing and using products and services.

As he points out, in some cases it might not necessarily be a shift in who is using the product or service. It might, if fact, be the case that the female head of the household may still be purchasing and using the product, but given further time constraints, the way the product is being used has changed. Therefore, the product or its advertising might need to be altered to better meet the current needs of consumers.

The role of children in the family has also changed in recent years. This is partly a result of the increased prevalence of technology and the higher comfort level that youth have with these new technological advancements.

In the book, “Gen Buy: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail,” (affiliate link) Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., and Jayne O’Donnell, point out that, “Gen Yers typically provide in-house tech support for their parents, which reinforced their stature as equals—or even superiors, at least in the IT department.”

They go on to point out that, “Previous generations had to pretend or humor their kids (“Let’s frame your Picasso!”), but in the case of this generation, their intuitive ease with technology and their ability to adapt to technological shifts is a genuine asset to any family.”

“Seeing as we all know better than to tick off the techies, the glow of this expertise has contributed to the confidence of this generation,” the authors of the book continue. “It also means that kids have more of a vote and more power in family decision making. That includes far more than technology and extends to things like vacation destinations, cars, and Dad’s outfits too.”

This doesn’t mean that we can totally ignore adult male consumers. It may be the case that your products and services are still being purchased and used by the male head of household. However, you won’t know this until you do the research.

Also, you don’t want to only cater to youth.  Baby Boomers can’t be ignored. As I pointed out in a recent blog post, there are a lot of them, and they have a lot of money and time to spend it.

Don’t Alienate Your Best Customers

In an effort to increase market share, you might decide to increase sales by targeting other demographic groups. This could be a good choice if you find that those consumers are already starting to use your products and services.

However, you do run the risk of actually losing more customers if you start appealing to other demographic groups. Unilever learned this lesson the hard way, albeit unintentionally, when middle school boys started using its Axe Body Spray in large numbers. This caused the brand’s target market, men aged 18 to 24, to lose interest because Axe Body Spray started to get the reputation as a “kid product.”

Therefore, before you choose to alter the product or the advertising to meet the needs of a different demographic group, you need to understand that it might result in decreased sales among the original target market. In some cases, this trade off might be an acceptable risk. Other times, not so much.

Final Thoughts

Gender roles have changed in recent years, as have the way family decisions are made. This could be influencing how consumers are using your products and services.

Rapid advancements in technology are increasing the speed of these changes. In fact, some technological advancements could have a huge impact on the who, where, when, why and how consumers buy and use your products and services.

As noted, if your brand is losing market share, you will want to see if other demographic groups have become potential customers.

The choice then is to decide whether to alter your products and services, as well as the way that you advertise those products and services to consumers.

However, the choice is not always as easy as you think, because you might end up decreasing sales if you alienate your existing customer base.

As with all business decisions, there might be unintended consequences to the choices that you make. Your best bet is to make an informed decision based on research and testing.

On the other hand, if you choose to completely ignore the changes that are happening around you, you might end up searching for your life boats.

Photo credit: Digital Sextant on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Made in the USA: The ‘Secret Sauce’ Needed for Success?

Two years ago, I attended an AMA South Florida event in Miami, Florida. While the speaker was interesting, it was something that an attendee from either Central or South America had mentioned to me that is still stuck in my head.

He had mentioned that people in his city love the United States so much so that, in that city, products that are made in America fly off the store shelves.

This is the kind of insight that I think businesses could use in some way.

The Value of ‘Made in America’

In an article on Inc.com, Eric Schurenberg writes, “Think of the label “Made in America.” What brand images come to mind? Odds are, you’ve conjured up a picture of one of two scenes.”

“First, there’s that rugged, sturdy (if underappreciated), no-frills, American quality,” writes Schurenberg. “It’s the stuff of Chrysler Automotive’s much-praised “Imported from Detroit” ad, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” If you buy this two-fisted version of “Made in the USA,” you also likely buy American because you’re patriotic. You don’t care if elites would rather buy a BMW.”

“The other Made-in-America vision embraces an artisanal, moral, locavore sensibility,” continues Schurenberg. “Think of Whole Foods, or, in apparel, Brooklyn Industries. In this vision, you buy boutique American goods because they’re holier-than-corporate and show off your elevated taste (not to mention your ability to afford such taste).”

However, if one of these two images comes to mind, Schurenberg thinks you are probably selling “Made in America” short.

As he writes in the article, “The label still has far more international cachet than Americans are likely to give it credit for. Even in the United States, buyers have proven that they’ll pay considerably more for some kinds of American-made goods–simply because they expect them to be a better value.”

In the remainder of the article, Schurenberg makes a great argument for the value of “Made in America” and how the label can bring with it a serious competitive advantage.

A recent Ad Age article written by Lauren Sherman provides information that supports Schurenberg’s viewpoint.

In the article, Sherman writes, “Not since the 1970’s has “Made in America” been such a hot way to market your product.”

Sherman points out that, “In a September survey of more than 1,000 Americans by the Boston Consulting Group, more than 80% said they preferred U.S.-made goods, and that they would pay more for said goods. The same questions were asked of 1,000 Chinese consumers: 47% prefer Made in America.”

However, Sherman also cautions brands that “Made in America” only goes so far. She says that it often comes down to quality vs. a deal. As she states, “When American-made goods deliver both, it works.”

Final Thoughts

In some geographic markets, the fact that a product is made in America might be more important than you think.

Therefore, brands might want to highlight the fact that their products are made in America—even when they are selling them to consumers abroad.

In some cases, it might be as simple as making the “Made in USA” label larger so that it can be conspicuously displayed for all to see.

However, businesses need to keep in mind that other areas of the world don’t share that love of our country or hold American-made products in such high regard. In those parts of the world, the fact that the product is made in America probably shouldn’t be highlighted as clearly, if at all.

The key is to do the research to find out whether or not the fact that the product is made in America has a positive or negative effect on purchase decisions among potential customers in a given geographic market and then test to see if different marketing techniques or product designs increase sales.

Photo credit: kenny_lex on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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They Only Cost a Tweet! #tweetshop

The Kellogg Company Introduces Special K Crisps to the UK

In his book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping—Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer, and Beyond,” (affiliate link) Paco Underhill points out that, “Close to 90 percent of all new grocery products fail, but it isn’t because people didn’t like them—it’s because people never tried them. In my opinion, a new product introduction that doesn’t include a well-funded, fully supported (with marketing) effort to give shoppers samples is not a serious attempt.”

Therefore, it’s not surprising that when introducing its new Special K Cracker Crisps to the UK at the end of last month, the Kellogg Company created a unique marketing campaign that not only gave customers a chance to try the product, but they also incorporated social media into the effort in a way that guaranteed that customers would spread the word about how awesome Special K Cracker Crisps are to their friends online.

Kellogg’s Tweet Shop

The idea was simple: They created a trendy pop-up shop in London’s Soho district that invited customers to get packages of Special K Cracker Crisps in exchange for a tweet that included the hashtag #tweetshop.

As an Ad Age article points out, this is not the first time that a brand has offered free products in exchange for a post on a social networking site. However, the article points out that it might be the first example of real-life interaction using a pay-with-a-tweet-concept.

In the Ad Age article, Dan Glover, creative director of Mischief PR, the agency behind the campaign, is quoted as saying, “We believe that physical and social are one and the same. When we had the idea it felt very simple, and we did a lot of checking to be sure it was a world first. We jumped on that and made it happen – it was eight weeks from idea to execution.”

Not only was this a creative way to get customers to sample a new product, but it also created a lot of buzz in the media, as well.

And, the pay-with-a-tweet concept ensured that people would be spreading the word online.

As Sarah Case, brand manager for Special K, explains, “The value of positive endorsements on social-media sites is beyond compare, so we’re excited to be the first company to literally use social currency instead of financial currency to launch this new product in our bespoke Special K shop.”

Word of Mouth—What Customers Were Tweeting

On Friday, September 28th, I searched for the hashtag #tweetshop. (This, by the way, was the last day that pop-up store was in operation.)

As would be expected, many of the tweets included photos that were posted on other social networking sites.

Some of the tweets included the hashtag #spons.

According to theEword, a search marketing agency located in Manchester, England, “Within the Kellogg’s pop up store, people are given a menu of Tweets to try out, all including #tweetshop #spons. While #tweetshop allows Kellogg’s to monitor the success of its social media campaign, the #spons hashtag ensures that it adheres to regulations put in place by the Advertising Standards Agency, which requires sponsored tweets to be clearly indicated.”

Here are some of examples of the tweets. (Thanks to the Twitter Blackbird Pie WordPress plugin, you can actually click on the links in the tweets to see the photos that customers tweeted.)

So cool! I'm at the first tweet shop in the world! #tweetshop #london
@pamche
Pamela Chehade
Kellogg's #TweetShop #popupshop on Meard Street. Actually pretty good crisps. (@ the tweet shop) [pic]: http://t.co/TjF7GYMJ
@Thesegoto11
Steven Ray
I've just had new Special K crisps and they're delicious! #tweetshop #spons
@AndyJoeyTaylor
Andrew Joseph Taylor
Just having cracker crisps in the special K tweet shop! It is rather good! #tweetshop
@Heph
Simon Hepher

Increasing Brand Engagement

The official UK Press Office for the Kellogg Company (@KelloggsUK) also asked Twitterers who were not at the Tweet Shop to tweet using the hashtag #tweetshop for a chance to win some free Special K Cracker Crisps.

By engaging the audience in this way, the Kellogg Company helped increase the awareness of the new product and hopefully got some additional people to purchase them.

Who wants to win3 new flavours of Special K Cracker Crisps? Please tweet #tweetshop with a message why you should win! http://t.co/5BC0AxsL
@KelloggsUK
Kellogg's UK

Conclusion

As Paco Underhill pointed out in his book, getting people to try a new product is of the utmost importance.

Getting consumers to sample a product and creating a buzz at the same time is a big win.

That’s exactly what the Kellogg Company did when they introduced their Special K Cracker Crisps to the UK in September.

By using a trendy pop-up store in London’s Soho district, the Kellogg Company found a way to get the product into consumers’ hands and, at the same time, get them excited about it.

From the consumers’ perspective, they got some tasty snacks—and it only cost them a tweet.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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In Business or Politics, Dissent Is Not Disloyalty

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.” ~ Edward R. Murrow

Edward R. Murrow used these words in a broadcast of See It Now that aired on March 9, 1954, to criticize Senator Joseph McCarthy and the tactics that he used during the Second Red Scare.

While Murrow was trying to point out that Senator McCarthy was making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, and treason without any real evidence in the public sector, the quote can also be useful when thinking about “office politics” in the private sector.

The Role of the Devil’s Advocate

In his book, titled “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions,” (affiliate link) Guy Kawasaki talks about the history of the devil’s advocate and how it can relate to business.

In a post on the Harvard Business Review blog, which appears to be an excerpt from the book, Kawasaki writes, “A devil’s advocate who argues against what management says is a good person. He or she will improve your product or service by pointing out weaknesses, foster internal communication because disenchanted employees have someone to talk to, and show that rocking the boat and divergent thinking is acceptable.”

Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You

You need to keep in mind, though, there is a difference between disagreeing with your coworkers because you believe that you are correct (and, hopefully, have evidence to support your opinion) and outright saying that you won’t do something because you are too lazy to do it.

Saying that you won’t do something just because you don’t want to do it, in my opinion, is a completely different issue.

In an article on Inc.com, Jeff Haden gives some solid advice regarding this issue.

Haden writes, “Get over your cocky, pretentious, I-must-be-free-to-express-my-individuality self. Be that way on your own time. The people who pay you, whether customers or employers, earn the right to dictate what you do and how you do it–sometimes down to the last detail.

“Instead of complaining, work to align what you like to do with what the people who pay you want you to do,” he continues. “Then you turn issues like control and micro-management into non-issues.”

Final Thoughts

In business or politics, the fact that we can disagree and debate the issues often leads to the best solution.

Therefore, fostering a work environment that gives employees the opportunity to voice their opinions without negative repercussions will, in the end, benefit the business because it will help the business create better products and services.

Furthermore, having employees on staff who are willing to play the role of the devil’s advocate is important for the long-term success of any business.

Employees need to keep in mind, however, that while healthy debate should be encouraged, the business is ultimately paying their paycheck. Therefore, at the end of the day, what management says to do is what should be done.

As an employee, you still have the right to say no, particularly if you think that what management is asking you to do is unethical. However, in that case, management has the right to replace you with someone who is willing to do what is asked of them.

What management needs to remember, though, is that while they ultimately get to call the shots, dissent is not disloyalty.

Photo credit: LisaAuch on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Deliver a Better Product to Increase Sales

UPS DeliveryThere’s been a lot of talk about where companies are spending their marketing budgets lately.

As many market research companies are reporting, many businesses are moving their marketing dollars from traditional media to new media marketing channels in an effort to keep up with their competitors and reach their customers wherever they are.

However, in an effort to increase sales of their products, businesses shouldn’t overlook one of the most important things of all: the product.

I know that you have heard this before, but it is worth repeating.

One of the best ways to increase sales is to make a better product.

A better product fulfills the needs of your customers better than your competitors’ products do, at a price that delivers value.

Product Quality in the Mad Men Era

David Ogilvy wrote about the need to deliver a quality product in his book, “Confessions of an Advertising Man” (affiliate link.)

In the book, Ogilvy writes, “Advertising agencies make convenient scapegoats. It is easier to fire your agency than to admit to your stockholders that there is something wrong with your product or your management.”

Ogilvy tried to avoid taking on clients with products that he wasn’t proud to advertise. He also stayed away from products whose sales had decreased over an extended period of time, as it was usually an indication of an intrinsic weakness in the product or incompetent management. He would even resign accounts if he lost confidence in the product.

However, the most persuasive argument that he makes for having a quality product is in the section where he addresses selling an inferior product to customers. In this section, he mentions that if he really tried hard enough, he could write an advertisement that could get consumers to buy an inferior product, “but only once.”

Ogilvy goes on to quote Howard Morgens as saying, “The quickest way to kill a brand that is off in quality is to promote it aggressively. People find out about its poor quality just that much more quickly.”

And, remember, the first edition of this book was written in 1963.

Product Quality in the Twenty-First Century

The advice that David Ogilvy gave in “Confessions of an Advertising Man” is still sound advice, today.

However, in 2011 and beyond, the need for a quality product is even more important.

Not only is there more competition in an increasingly global marketplace, but there are also more ways for people to find out about your product.

More than likely, if your product is good, your customers will let the world know about it via the Web. On the other hand, if you have an inferior product, they will also let people know about that.

So before you go chasing the next big thing in marketing, or put the blame on your marketing and sales teams for declining sales, take a moment to reevaluate your product and make adjustments accordingly.

As an added benefit, when you can deliver a better product, you give your marketing and sales teams something to talk about the next time they interact with your customers.

Photo credit: pscf11 on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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