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Introduction

The following and attached posts were written over a pain-killer inspired 48-hour period a couple of years ago while recouping from a knee surgery. These post capture some thoughts and ideas that were on my mind in the weeks after my 18-month stint ended as Yelp’s first marketing VP in May 2008. While some ideas already sound dated, others are standing the test of time.

Table of Contents of this site (posts to be read in no particular order):

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Why Endorsements Matter

Endorsements are your best friend in reducing friction at every layer of the 4A funnel and driving customers to your business. Let’s go through it:

Awareness: Endorsements (person to person, and trusted experts – especially media) raise awareness better than almost anything I’ve seen.

Acquisition: Endorsements fuel acquisition by making your other acquisition efforts much more effective.

Activation: Endorsements inspire people to get started, and persevere as they get up your usability learning curve.

Activity: Endorsements inspire your existing users, and they start to do more.

Enough said, right?

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Your Product is Your Buzz-Generating Engine

Buzz marketing. Despite it being an annoying buzzword (um), think about what buzz marketing really means. It’s people talking about your product. Seth Godin in his classic “The Purple Cow” discusses at length the power of being “remarkable”. Literally, he points out, the word means “worthy of being remarked upon.” In other words, buzz-worthy. As in, so awesome, people can’t help talk about it.

Your product itself IS your most important buzz-maker. When products are incredibly awesome, satisfying and delight customers, most of the rest of the equation practically takes care of itself. Hell, a monkey could drive that train. Did I mention Google’s $86 billion brand yet? That was sarcasm, folks. Just remember this and repeat after me: Bring remarkable products to market. Bring remarkable products to market. Good.

Now that you have the engine humming along, you just some fuel in the form of people talking about you.

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Acting on Endorsement Marketing

The best possible scenario is when it’s brain-dead easy for your zealots and even more casual users to endorse you with or without them knowing it. Best of all endorsing you is actually built-in to the product itself.

Hotmail. YouTube. Facebook. PayPal. Friendster. Plaxo.

These examples are classic “viral” phenomenon (where growth accelerates growth simply as the thing builds its own momentum like a well-designed virus) which is not the same thing as an endorsement, but is similar. In these cases, the endorsement is tacit – implicit in the referral is the endorsement of the underlying service.

When you don’t have this viral component into your own product, you have to then shift to trying to kick-start a chain of (authentic) endorsements from people motivated and inspired to rave about you.

How to Ignite User Endorsements

How to Ignite Trusted Expert Endorsements

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Igniting User Endorsements

So, how do you get people inspired to talk about you? Above all else, bring to market a product or service that is remarkable in and of itself.

Next, recognize that people already are talking about your stuff, both online and off. Some good, some bad.

While it’s tempting to spend all of your time cleaning up the bad, that’s really tantamount to a futile game of Whack-a-Mole. It’s never ending, and every time you quiet some naysayer down, another appears.

Instead, you want to make effort to facilitate and fuel the talkers who are saying good things about you and your products.

How? This may be the $64,000 question, and in some senses this is the hard part. Please COMMENT on this post with better ideas and I’ll add them to this list.

Let’s get started. In no particular order

  • Make sure your best customers feel in the loop.

Let them in on your company happenings, and even secrets. Think about MacWorld and the way that Apple makes their best customers feel part of the action every January in San Francisco. In fact, those zealots actually PAY to go to MacWorld.

Since you probably can’t organize a trade show, set up an insider status where you can communicate with your best customers and let them in on progress, updates, and preview the latest features of your product or service. Ask for their feedback, and let them feel part of the action. Have them test new versions of the products they already love. Invite them to participate on a user-advisory board. That sort of stuff.

  • Make it easy for them to spread the word.

If you can distill down your core message, that helps a lot. If you can make it easy for them to “share” with their friends, do that. If you do an “email a friend” program, give your users an easy and fun way to personalize it so as to add a human touch. Canned jargon be gone. Just be careful about being too slick about tapping into your user’s contact lists and spamming those folks. No one I know likes to get duped into spamming their contacts.

  • Ask them to talk about you.

Some people are shy, and if you ask (authentically) for people to introduce you to their friends, they will. Just be real about it. If you build a referral program, that’s fine, but be sure to be careful about choosing the incentives for the referral. Recognition is better than reward (see below for more on this).

You need to really do a great job of understanding the motivation of your customers in regard to why they might choose to put themselves out there and endorse your product. They must LOVE it, so that their endorsement is credible and authentic and therefore trusted. Recognize that they satisfaction they get from endorsing your product is from the feeling they have (as mavens) of sharing their expertise or insight on something cool. They are helping their friends, not you. If you introduce any incentives that make them feel like they are working for you, it will not only not work, but is likely to have a perverse effect of turning people off.

What NOT to do.

Don’t ever trick yourself into thinking that financial incentives or rewards – coupons, discounts, gift cards, cash – are a good idea. Ever. It may sound smart, but at the end of the day, the issue is that you get what you pay for. Nothing more, nothing less. And, the point is that endorsements are generally free, and when they’re paid, they lose credibility and ultimately their value in the first place. If it feels like you’re bribing or paying or creating monetary incentives, you’re off track. And, do yourself a favor and never use the word incentivize while you are at it.

  • Set up some community building structure for your zealots to get organized.

Create a place for your customers to openly and publicly talk about what they love and what they hate about you and your products. Let it flow, and don’t censor their commentary. Keep it real. Make it fun for them to participate in sharing their passion and evangelize your stuff. Recognize (but don’t “reward”) the most active contributors with increasing levels of status. Let these mavens feel like the experts that they are. Let them feel heroic.

Sounds hard, right? Lucky for you, there are companies (like lithium.com or getsatisfaction.com) who can set you up with turn-key platforms to build your very own community of zealots.

  • Measure how you’re doing

There’s this great thing called Net Promoter Score that you and everyone in your company should adopt as the #1 metric that you evaluate your success with. It’s also very simple, and there’s no excuse not to make the effort to track your score.

It goes like this. Ask your customers on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely they are to recommend your product. A 9 or 10 is considered a “promoter”. A 7 or 8 is considered neutral. 6 or below is considered a detractor. Your score is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors (ignoring altogether the neutrals). For a better explanation, Jeffrey Walker’s blog is here to help.

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The Art and Science of Marketing

Have you ever landed on a web site that is just as pretty as can be, but makes no sense, is hard to use, and just flat out doesn’t work? How about sites that appear to be so optimized (as if by a robot) such that every pixel on every screen has some higher purpose trying to convince you do to something (namely buy something), but somehow are so uninspiring that the most compelling button to click on is the Back button on your browser?

This is because consumer websites are built using a combination of “art” and “science” and sometimes the people behind them are 100% art and 0% science (pretty to look at, but missing cohesion), and sometimes it’s the other way around (effective but unappealing in its lack of soul).

On the Art side of the equation, this is where usability, appeal, creative design, and general aesthetic comes into play. Artistic marketing requires right-brain, creative thinking such that positioning and messaging and user-experience come together in a way that smacks the target audience on the head and says “you need this!” Often instincts and intuition contribute as much or more than data when developing marketing creative. Which can make non-creative types feel uneasy. Of course, when it’s done well, the messaging and user-experience is so clear and seamless, you barely know you’re being marketed to. The result is an intuitive user experience that is a joy to use, and delight to share.

When marketing programs are operated in an environment ruled 100% by art, the results can be devastating. Without discipline around performance and measurement, there’s no way to learn what’s working and what isn’t, no ability to test and learn, and worse of all, a disconnect from what the overall purpose of the marketing is in the first place – driving actual actions.

On the Science end of the marketing spectrum, you have lots of buzzwords and acronyms like SEM (search engine marketing), SEO (search engine optimization), A/B testing, LTV (lift-time value of a customer), CPM (cost per thousand), CPC (cost per click), CPA (cost per activity),conversion rates and lots of quantitative KPIs (key performance indicators) around customer acquisition, activation and retention activities. This sort of stuff is a data-junky’s fantasy.

The story line goes something like this. You determine that your customers are worth $37.00 to you over a 24 month time horizon. You know that of the new users who land on your welcome-version of your homepage, 14% of those become registered users. It follows, then, that you should back up the truck and spend every last dollar acquiring new customers any and every way possible for anything under 5 bucks per visitor. So, now you find a website with an attractive base of users that matches your target audience, and you can buy advertising for $7.50 CPM (cost per thousand impressions) with a 0.15% click rate or better, then you’re in business, right?

The risk here, is that before you know it, you’re optimizing for performance, sometimes at the expense of the overall experience. For example, think about the content that lands in your spam email inbox. Outrageous offers. Explicit and inappropriate content. Hoaxes. All of these are designed to get just one person in 10,000 to click. If your marketing gets to be 100% scientific, you risk finding yourself slipping toward techniques that may optimize short-term performance (using “sex” in a subject line of your newsletter) but erodes long-term loyalty of your customers.

Let’s just acknowledge that both individually can be effective, but more powerful still are when there’s a part art, part science approach that makes each discipline stronger than it could be on its own.

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Conclusion

Some overall key principles to keep in mind in regard to endorsement marketing.

  1. ENGINE. Start with bringing a remarkably great product to market. Don’t bother with good. Product is the engine.
  2. FUEL. Take advantage of your zealots and turn them into megaphones (while truly understanding their motivation in doing so). Endorsements are the fuel.
  3. IGNITION. Figure out authentic ways to ignite your fuel.
  4. PERFORMANCE. Keep yourself honest and diligently track your Net Promoter Score.

God, it all sounds so obvious and straight-forward. If only it were so easy.

Good luck, and let me know your thoughts, feedback, reactions, and ideas for igniting endorsers with comments on those pages.

And forward these pages to a friend! I’d appreciate the endorsement.

GOOD LUCK!

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