Banks’ Social Media Challenges

I had the chance to participate on a SMB Boston panel last week on Driving Business Value Through Social within Financial and Regulated Environments, which I think was just a fancy way of saying “social media in financial services.”

The main message of my presentation:

Financial institutions should integrate social media approaches into their marketing and customer service processes.

As I see it, banks (and credit unions) are wrestling with — or perhaps, simply failing to address — challenges regarding social media. And you don’t even need to be a journalist to know where these challenges came from:

  1. What: Banks don’t know what to say in social media.
  2. When: Banks don’t know when to say it.
  3. How: Banks don’t know how to say it.

There are, of course, a couple of other potential challenges, but I think that “Who to say it to” is less of a challenge, and that “Why they’re saying it” is better understood. Regarding “why”, the research that Aite Group has done on social media in banking, bears this out: Most FIs are fairly clear that engaging customers, building brand awareness, and building brand affinity are why they’re involved with social media.

Engagement may be the objective, but I’m not sure, based on what I’ve seen FIs tweet and post, that they know how to achieve that objective.

I saw one FI recently tweet:

Have a new business that needs to grow quickly? Add credit card processing to increase revenues and cash flow. #smallbiz

Here’s another from a credit union:

We are listening. We are not like the BIG Banks. Check us out!

Do people really turn to Twitter or Facebook to see shameless marketing messages, re-purposed from other marketing channels? Are these tweets effectively engaging customers/members/prospects? I don’t know. But I bet the FIs that tweeted those messages don’t know either.

Another thing that struck me reading those tweets, was thinking about why the FIs chose to tweet those messages when they did. Was some marketing person sitting around with nothing to do, and suddenly realize that ts was 30 minutes since the last tweet, so s/he might as well tweet something else? Did something trigger the need for a credit card processing tweet at that particular time? I can tell you this: The credit union’s tweet came 11 days after Bank Transfer Day, so I doubt there was some pressing need to send out that tweet when it was sent.

The tone of these tweets doesn’t sit well with me, either. How many times have you heard the phrase “join the conversation?” Look again at those tweets above — do you know anybody who talks like that in the course of a normal conversation? (If you do, I bet you don’t engage in too many conversations with that person).

This gets at a big issue that marketers (not just in financial services) have to face: They don’t know how to have (or start) a conversation with consumers. Here’s the problem:

Marketing has, to date, been driven by the need and desire to persuade consumers.

But “engagement” isn’t accomplished through persuasion. (Well, persuasion can be a part of it, but it can’t be the only part of it).

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So what should FIs do to address these challenges? There’s a tactical response and a strategic response.

The tactical response: Categorize and test.

A couple of months ago, Michael Pace from Constant Contact wrote an interesting blog post, advocating that Twitter users should periodically do a self-analysis of their tweets. Honestly, I thought that was a pretty self-indulgent thing for an individual to do. But at the company level, the idea has a lot of merit.   

A high-level analysis of your company’s Twitter stream can help you understand how well you’re balancing various types of tweets. And the same could be done with Facebook posts. The challenge, of course, is understanding what impact those messages are having, and if shaking up the mix would improve the impact (i.e., engagement).

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But even if you do this, I doubt that you’ll make more than just a minor impact on your firm’s bottom line. To have a more meaningful impact, you need the strategic response:  Integrate social media approaches into marketing and customer service processes.

In my presentation at the breakfast, I highlighted three ways to do this:

1. Influence preferences. I like what America First Credit Union does on its site (as does @itsjustbrent,  since he either borrowed this example from me, or I stole it from him). The CU incorporates members’ product reviews on the product pages. By doing this, the CU accomplishes:

  • Customer advocacy. Not just in the net promoter sense of the word — but in the more important sense of the word: Doing what’s right for the customer and not just your own bottom line. Helping consumers make better choices — that are right for them — by enabling them to access other customers’ opinions is a demonstration of customer advocacy.
  • Active engagement. I guess that, if a customer follows you on Twitter and reads your tweets, or likes you on Facebook in order to enter a contest to win a prize, you could call that engagement. But I would call it passive engagement. Customers who take the time to post a review are more actively engaged, in my book.
  • Continuous market research. I doubt many firms could capture the richness of information America First is capturing through satisfaction or net promoter surveys. And I know that they can’t capture it in as timely a basis as America First does.

2. Provide collaborative support. I’ve been holding up Mint.com as an example of a firm with collaborative support, but it recently discontinued its Mint Answers page. No worries, Summit Credit Union is doing the same thing, and hopefully, they can become my poster child for this. Collaborative support is giving customers the opportunity to answer other customers’ questions. Dell has been doing it for years. Why provide collaborative support?

  • Reduced call volume. I’m not going to say that you’re going to see a huge volume of deflected calls, but over time, if you market the collaborative capability, it can help.
  • Expanded knowledge base. This is where the bigger value comes in. Customer service reps leverage internal knowledge bases to answer customer questions. Collaborative support helps grow that knowledge base, and helps figure out which answers and responses are more valuable than others. This expanded knowledge base will also prove valuable in training new employees.
  • Active engagement. Similar to the product reviews, customers who participate in collaborative support sites are demonstrating active engagement.

3. Instill financial discipline. This is about using social concepts to get people to change the way they manage their financial lives. Take a look at the research that Peter Tufano has done regarding what motivates people to save.  There are some good examples of this in practice — see Members Credit Union’s What Are You Saving For?. I recently chatted with the CEO of Bobber Interactive, and like what they’re doing about bringing social gamification to how people manage their finances.

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Bottom line: Your firm can putz around with Facebook and Twitter until you’re blue in the face. For financial institutions, this is probably not going to have much of an immediate impact on the bottom line. It will likely take years of experimentation to figure out what to say, when to say it, and how to say it on social media channels.

If you want to engage customers, you have to give them a reason to engage. Mindless, idle chatter on Twitter and Facebook isn’t sustainable. 

The path to making social media an important contributor to bottom line improvement — and sooner rather than later — will come from integration social media concepts and approaches into everyday marketing and customer service processes.

Stupid Marketing Comments

Every once in a while, I come across a marketing-related claim or statement made in an article, blog post, or tweet that makes me think: “That’s not right!”

Well, hold on. That’s not exactly right.

It doesn’t happen “every once in a while,” it happens all the freaking time.

Keeping track of these stupid marketing comments could be a full-time job. Here are a few that wedged themselves into my field of consciousness over the past two days.

“Mobile Users Click But Don’t Convert”

According to a report from Macquarie Group, search advertisers experience higher click-through-rates (CTR) for mobile phone and tablet search campaigns than for desktop search campaigns. But  mobile conversion rates were at just 31% of the average desktop campaigns’ conversion rates. The study found that the average cost-per-click (CPC) on mobile phone search campaigns was slightly higher than for desktop search campaigns, but that tablet campaigns were slightly lower than desktop search campaign CPCs.

My take: Exactly who do you think “mobile users” are? Aren’t they pretty much the same consumers that use the online channel and tablets? Sure, there may be some consumers who use the mobile channel and don’t use the online channel or tablets, but how big could that segment be?

Not only is it mistaken to conclude that “mobile users click but don’t convert,” it’s not even helpful to point out that CTR or conversion rates differ across channels. Well, not unless you’re comparing apples to apples in terms of the types of campaigns run across channels, and the scope and scale of campaigns.

“Apple spends $5.5 billion on marketing, while Microsoft spends $17 billion. Whose brand is stronger?”

A FastCoDesign blog post claimed that: “The decreasing importance of promotions in a digital economy explains…why Apple can build the world’s leading brand in by devoting only $5.5 billion (out of its 2010 revenue of $65 billion revenue) to sales and marketing, whereas Microsoft spends more than three times as much, $17 billion out of a total revenue of $62 billion and still has a weak, unexciting brand.”

My take: Don’t ever compare what one company spends on marketing to what another company spends. Here’s why:

1) You don’t know what they’re including or excluding in their definition of marketing.

2) One company’s marketing goals and objectives may be very different from another company’s (even a competitor’s) goals and objectives. Apple is a primarily consumer-focused company, while Microsoft is heavily focused on selling to enterprises. The marketing investments necessary to achieve their differing objectives can’t be measured by looking narrowly at their “brand.”

3) At any given point of time, one firm may need to spend more even if everything else was equal. If Microsoft’s only objective was to improve its “weak, unexciting brand,”  then don’t you think they would have to outspend Apple to make up the gap? Of course it would

“Promotion is the one P whose importance is clearly diminishing.”

From the same FastCoDesign blog post, comes this claim, regarding the 4Ps of marketing. Per the blog post: “What is interesting about all these forms of promotion [WOM, SEO] is that they, compared to, say, successful TV ad campaigns from the past, are predicated on the existence of a great product. People only recommend products they feel strongly about. PR is hard without something interesting to say. And a site’s position in Google rankings is based on how many hits it gets, which is a reflection of how valuable and interesting it is. Even paid ad words are structured according to relevance and popularity. The promotions of today are nothing without a great offer to back it up.”

My take: Huh? Can somebody translate that into English for me? While Wikipedia might not be the best site to source here, according to the site, Promotion — in the context of the 4Ps of marketing — refers to “all of the communications that a marketeer may use in the marketplace. Promotion has four distinct elements: advertising, public relations, personal selling and sales promotion.”

Even if you only looked at “promotion” in a narrow sense, when you consider the number of firms using Facebook to run sweepstakes and contests, it’s hard to conclude that the importance of promotion has diminished. 

But in its broader definition, it’s hard for me to understand how anyone could believe that the importance of “all of the communications that a marketer may use in the marketplace” has diminished. With the proliferation of channels and ways to communicate — two-ways — with customers and prospects, promotion has never been more important. 

And even that’s a stupid comment. Because the idea behind the 4Ps is that they’re levers that marketers can pull to influence the demand for their product. Arguing that, in some generic sense, one P has disappeared or diminished doesn’t make any sense. The importance of any one P ebbs and flows and varies by product, company, and economic situation.

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If you know anybody willing to pay me to do this full-time, let me know. The number of stupid marketing comments coming down the pike is hard to keep up with.

The 2011 Marketing Tea Party Awards

Last year we issued the first of our eponymous awards to some very worthy winners.

The word Like took honors for Most Annoying Word in the Marketing Lexicon, while Twitter walked away with the Most Overhyped Yet Ineffective Marketing Tool award. And, to nobody’s surprise, Groupon won Bonehead Decision of the Year (for passing on a $6 billion offer from Google).

Although 2011 is only 10/12ths of the way done, we’ve pretty much seen enough (in fact, we’ve seen all we can take), and can confidently call this year’s winners in some newly ordained categories.

The New Coke Award

This year’s winner of the New Coke Award, for the company that commits the worst strategic blunder, is — hands down — Netflix. The firm’s pricing decision and  flip flop on the Qwikster thing resulted in the loss of nearly a million customers and somewhere in the order of $12 billion in market valuation. If you’re Google, that’s no big deal. But to the rest of us in the 99%, that’s a lot of money.

In the age of social media, where gathering feedback from the market and testing marketing (read: pricing) decisions can be done relatively fast and cheap, there’s simply no reason for major strategic blunders like this one.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Based on the criteria, wouldn’t Bank of America be a close contender? No. They captured a different award:

Credit Union Marketer of the Year

Bank of America, with a single move — that they didn’t even implement — has done more for the credit union industry in one month than credit unions have done for themselves in 100 years. The Great Debit Fee Fiasco of 2011 will be a case study in business schools for years to come.

The circus surrounding an announcement — wait, did they ever really announce it? — is perhaps unprecedented. The number of parties taking credit for the reversal has only just begun. Claiming that they “listened to their customers” as the reason for the reversal only begs the question: Why didn’t they ask their customers BEFORE they made the decision?

Congrats, credit unions. This is your Rocky moment.

Most Overused Word in the Marketing Lexicon

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction: 2011’s most overused word might just repeat the honor in 2012. Whether I’m right or wrong about that, there’s no doubt in my mind that Analytics takes the crown for most overused word in the marketing vocabulary for 2011.

Did you know that when you create a spreadsheet, and populate some cells with formulas that do addition and subtraction, that that’s called Analytics? If you use an Excel function, you might get away with calling it Predictive Analytics. 

Have you ever taken a list of customers and identified those that meet a certain criteria, like under a certain age, or over a certain income level? Congratulations, you’re an Analyst performing Analytics!

Do you create reports for the management team showing them traffic on your firm’s web site? That’s called web analytics.

And there’s certainly no shortage of experts telling us that analytics is the key to competitive success. If you’re not performing predictive analytics on the social media data you’re monitoring and capturing, then you might not still be in business in 5 years.

If analytics was overhyped and overused in 2011, just wait until next year. 2012 will be the year of Big Data. We here at The Marketing Tea Party will be doing our best to make it the year of Right Data. Because what’s one more bruise on the side of our heads from beating it against a brick wall?

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Don’t forget to check out Snarketing 2.0:

For the print copy:      For the eBook:

   

Quantipulation In Action: Inbound Vs. Outbound Marketing

Mashable (that highly reputable source of marketing theory and research) recently published an article called Inbound Marketing Vs. Outbound Marketing, which claimed:

“Thanks to the Internet, marketing has evolved over the years. Consumers no longer rely on billboards and TV spots — a.k.a. outbound marketing — to learn about new products, because the web has empowered them. It’s given them alternative methods for finding, buying and researching brands and products. The new marketing communication — inbound marketing — has become a two-way dialogue, much of which is facilitated by social media.

Another reason why inbound marketing is winning is because it costs less than traditional marketing. Why try to buy your way in when consumers aren’t even paying attention? Here are some stats from the infographic below.

–44% of direct mail is never opened. 
–84% of 25 to 34 year olds have clicked out of a website because of an “irrelevant or intrusive ad.”
–The cost per lead in outbound marketing is more than for inbound marketing.”

My take: Total garbage. This attempt on the part of people looking to differentiate the “new” marketing from “old” marketing completely misses the boat. 

Let’s look at this point by point:

“Consumers no longer rely on billboards and TV spots — a.k.a. outbound marketing — to learn about new products.” Who said that consumers relied on billboards and TV spots to learn about new products? Marketers relied on billboards and TV spots to make consumers aware of their products, to increase recall of their products, and create positive affinity. As long as people continue to drive along the highway (how’s the commute in your city? Yeah, sucks in mine, too) and watch TV, marketers will find that billboards and TV spots to be at least somewhat effective at those objectives. 

The new marketing communication — inbound marketing — has become a two-way dialogue, much of which is facilitated by social media. Got news for all the inbound marketing alarmists out there: Marketing has always been a two-way dialogue. It just wasn’t as easy to execute as it is today. Marketers have relied on various mechanisms — postcards, focus groups, toll-free phone numbers — to encourage feedback from consumers. Claiming that the “old” marketing was “one-way” is false.

44% of direct mail is never opened. First off, how do they know that? Think about how much direct mail you get. I challenge you to come up with even a reasonably accurate estimate of how much of it you open and how much you throw away before opening. Second, even if this were true, then I’d say: WOW! More than half of direct mail is opened. That’s pretty damn good in this marketing environment!

84% of 25 to 34 year olds have clicked out of a website because of an “irrelevant or intrusive ad.” What the hell is wrong with the other 16%?

The cost per lead in outbound is more than for inbound marketing. Stupidest claim I’ve heard all month. Just because there is no measurable media cost associated with this thing you call “inbound” marketing doesn’t mean there aren’t costs associated with the efforts. Somebody has to create and manage the social media site, right? Or, if the inbound marketing channel is the phone, do the costs of staffing the call center not count as part of inbound marketing efforts? And given the incredibly inexact science of attribution in the marketing world, how does anyone really determine that a generated “inbound’ lead wasn’t influenced by outbound marketing efforts?

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The infographic included in the Mashable goes on to claim that in the “old” way of marketing, marketers rarely sought to “entertain or educate.” Seriously? The ad industry has a RICH history of attempts at being funny and entertaining. Print ads have LONG been focused on education. 

The article also tries to differentiate “new” marketing from “old” marketing by claiming that in the new marketing, “customers come to you”, while in the old marketing, marketers sought out customers. 

Customers come to you? Really? And how do they find out about you? Simply by word-of-mouth? Good luck with that. Listen to what Groupon had t say:

“After a two-year holdout, we finally decided to run real television ads. In the past, we’ve depended mostly on word-of-mouth and limited our advertising to online search. This year, we realized that in spite of how much we’d grown, a ton of people still hadn’t heard of Groupon, so we decided to give in to our Napoleon complex and invade the rest of the world with a proper Super Bowl commercial.”

Bottom line: Trying to make inbound marketing sound like something superior and new is total BS. Marketing is a complex process. There are parts of the process that are inherently outbound and parts that are inherently inbound. There are new channels of communication that create new opportunities for both outbound and inbound communication.  Oh, and real marketers don’t take marketing advice from Mashable. 

I Regret To Inform You That My Blog Fees Will Be Going Up

Many of you have been reading this blog for the 2+ years of its existence for no charge. Well, my little freeloading friends, this is the end of that party.  Beginning December 1, I will be instituting the following fees for reading this blog:

  1. Blog reading fee. Lifetime free readership will no longer be available. Per the terms of our agreement — that the end of anybody’s lifetime allows us to revoke the offer — free readership of this blog will no longer be offered. Starting December 1, you will be charged a $.25 fee for each blog post you read, whether you link directly to the site, view it in a reader, or are simply subscribed to it at the time it was posted.
  2. Subscription reversal fee. Requests to unsubscribe from this blog will be assessed with a $25 premature disconnect service charge. At this time, subscription reversal requests cannot be taken online, as my eCommerce site is currently down for scheduled maintenance. Please mail your requests to the home office address, which can be found on my eCommerce site.
  3. Inactive reader fee. For every week that goes by in which you do NOT read a blog post, you will be assessed a $.50 fee. For any month in which you do not read a single post, a $5 charge will be levied.

In an effort to be transparent, however, I think it’s important that I explain why I’m forced to institute these fees:

1. Higher debit card fees. Starting October 1, new debit card interchange fee regulations took effect. Even though these changes only impact banks with assets greater than $10 billion in assets, I figure that if this excuse works for Redbox, then it should work for me.

2. The Barbara Lee effect. Ms. Lee, a member of the House of Representatives, recently commented that she doesn’t use the self-checkout lanes at supermarkets because  “that’s a job or two or three that’s gone.” If there are more people like her out there — who stop using self-checkout lanes, ATMs (because they take away bank teller jobs), self-service gas stations (because they take away gas pumper jobs), or E-Z pass on the highway (because you know we can’t afford to lose any more toll taker jobs) — then the result will be higher prices for lots of things. In anticipation of this mass lunacy, I’m afraid I have to raise my prices.

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In a little more seriousness, there is a message here for marketers.

While I fully support the right of any business in this country to raise its prices, and shoot itself in its foot (or head) by doing so, firms that feel the need to raise prices WITHOUT committing PR suicide must do so with caution, transparency, honesty, and proactive communication.

Redbox’s announcement is shameful. They might have well as blamed foreign currency fluctuations in Uganda. There’s a large financial institution (who shall remain nameless lest they find out I’m blogging about them) that should’ve been a bit more sensitive about how it announced its recent price hikes. I would mention Netflix, but I have a professor/ad agency friend in the LA area who would jump all over any comment I might make about them.

Price changes are lightening rods. You might be able to mute the thunder, but people still see the sky light up. And then like to point at it and talk about it.

Someone Should Get Fired

Check out this opening paragraph to an article titled How strategic is our technology agenda? in McKinsey Quarterly:

“The CEO of a leading consumer goods company was unhappy with his CIO. An important competitor was gaining market share at a disquieting pace by using social media and data analysis to target customers more effectively. When asked about these developments, the CIO outlined some potential responses, but he didn’t follow through on them. Instead, according to the CEO, the CIO remained preoccupied with “keep the lights on” IT projects and was therefore unable to gain traction with the business leaders and others within the company who would be critical in helping to address the new competitive challenge.”

My take: Someone should get fired. I’m just not sure if it’s the CEO, the firm’s CMO, or the authors of the article. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the CIO who should get canned. 

Why should it be the…

CEO? If IT isn’t “strategic” within an organization, it’s not necessarily the CIO’s fault. I’ve worked with plenty of CIOs who have tried to make IT more strategic, but find that the processes, the org structure, and the management mentality required to make IT strategic aren’t in place to make it happen. 

In a report I published a while back called Bank Performance: Why IT Management Matters, I found that it doesn’t matter which technologies a firm uses. What matters is how a firm manages IT. The “how” of IT management is comprised of three dimensions: 1) Tolerance of IT risk; 2) Senior management support of IT; and 3) Coordination between IT and business functions.

What my researched showed was that firms (in this case, banks) that have a high tolerance for IT risk, have strong senior management for the use of technology as a business enabler and differentiator, and demonstrate tight coordination between the IT department(s) and lines of business are more profitable than other banks. 

In other words, for IT to be strategic, it takes more than just a bottom-up drive from the CIO’s organization. 

Another [big] reason why the CEO is a candidate to be shown the door: Why is going to the CIO with a problem related to social media and data analysis? 

This takes us to the second candidate to get the axe…

CMO? If a CPG firm is losing market share because it isn’t leveraging social media or successfully executing data analysis, the fault for this doesn’t lie with the IT organization, it lies with the marketing organization.  

The McKinsey article also contains the following passage:

“Vocal business unit leaders at a North American insurance company, for example, insisted that sluggish times to market for new products were an important factor behind its eroding market share. They also believed that poor IT systems—specifically, the software that supported pricing and helped adapt insurance products to local regulatory requirements—were responsible for the lagging product-development performance.”

Hogwash. I believe full well that IT systems might be a negatively influencing factor in the firm’s time-to-market for new products, but the fault in this situation lies with the inability of the lines of business to effectively make the case for investing in an makeover or overhaul of those applications. IT can help the business understand the technology implications of investments, but it is the business’ responsibility for making the business case for investments that improve its performance. 

In the case of the CPG firm referenced at the beginning of the article, the CMO would appear to be seriously derelict in his or her duties to not be included in the CEO/CIO discussion. 

Which takes us to the third candidate(s) to be fired…

Authors? I don’t want to call anybody a liar here, but I don’t believe the CEO/CIO conversation actually happened. “Leading” CPG firms (McKinsey’s adjective) are generally marketing-driven firms. I don’t believe the CEO of a “leading” CPG firm would turn first to the CIO — and not the CMO — to discuss an issue with social media or market share. 

Maybe the authors took some poetic license for the purpose of the article. If so, I’m OK cutting them slack and not firing them for this relatively minor offense. 

See? I can be a nice guy.

The Hidden Costs Of Social Media

I’m really tired of hearing social media gurus preach about how social media will transform marketing. They usually can’t explain why this will be the case. And when asked for examples, they often cite people in the Middle East tweeting during a revolution. Which is great, but has nothing to do with marketing. 

If there’s a transformative potential for social media, it lies in this: The incremental cost of communicating with customers and prospects is, for all intents and purposes, zero. 

This has, until very recently, never been the case. 

Prior to the advent of email, the cost of communicating was high. Marketers either used mass media avenues (TV, radio, print) or direct mail. The cost per message was high. 

As a result, the return on investment per message was important. Each message had to pay its way. And that’s why obsessed over response and conversion rates.

Social media brings the cost of messaging way down. As a result, marketers don’t have to obsess over the ROI of each message, allowing them to shift the nature of communication from persuasion to engagement. In a world where every message doesn’t have to have an ROI, we can actually carry on a conversation with customers and prospects. 

But most marketers are missing something important as the economics of marketing change:

Costs shift from message distribution (dissemination) to message creation.

In the old world, marketers did spend a lot of money in crafting their message (witness the size of the advertising agency business). Despite this cost, more was spent on disseminating the message than creating it. After all, the message was created ONCE. Then tested, revised, and launched. And then the bulk of the marketing cost was in getting the message OUT.

Marketers in the new world have new mechanisms for getting the message out thanks to social media tools and channels. Tools and channels that radically slash the cost of dissemination.

But what too many marketers don’t realize is that there’s a new cost in town: The cost of message creation. 

Too many marketers don’t have a clue how to have a conversation with a customer or prospect through social media. Either they tweet or post their tired old marketing messages, or they deal with customer service requests. But marketing messages designed for mass media channels are inappropriate for social media channels.

I guess I can only speak to the financial services industry here, but there’s not a single financial institution that I’ve talked to — and I talk to a lot — that consciously think about the mix of messages they disseminate through social media (i.e., the mix between marketing messages, educational content, news alerts, and other types of messages), nor do they test and refine the messages they disseminate. 

Thanks to social media, the cost of marketing is shifting from message dissemination to message creation. And that’s not a grammatically correct sentence, since it’s about messages — in the plural — today, not the message. 

Seth Godin wrote that “marketing is the story marketers tell consumers.” That’s simply not accurate. It’s “stories” in the plural (and if you want to be even more correct, it’s not about the stories marketers tell, but the stories that marketers get consumers to tell). 

It’s hard to equate a tweet or Facebook posting to a story, but this is mincing words. It’s about the message. More frequent — and more meaningful — engagement with consumers, means having more frequent and meaningful messages and things to say. 

The cost of creating those messages, and understanding which ones are most effective, is the hidden cost of social media.

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Check out Snarketing 2.0: A Humorous Look at the World of Marketing in the Age of Social Media (print or Kindle format):

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Are You A Snarketer?

By my calculations, if I can sell 23.7 million copies of my new book, Snarketing 2.0, within the next two to three years, then I can retire.

That would require everyone who qualifies as a Snarketer to purchase 2,370 copies of the book, however. So it doesn’t looks like I’ll be quitting my day job any time soon.

This is the problem with trying to get rich writing business books: There’s a limited audience. There are only so many people who are even potentially interested in the topic.

I’ve got an even bigger problem: My audience is more narrow than the typical business audience. The target audience for my book is a group of business people known as Snarketers. Are you a Snarketer?

You are if you meet three qualifications: 1) You have an interest in marketing; 2) You have an unusually high degree of intelligence; and 3) You have a warped sense of humor.

For your friends who can’t process that intellectually, show them this picture to explain to them why they don’t qualify.

I’ve done the research, so I know that there are only 10,000 Snarketers in existence. If you’re in the club, you’re part of a dying breed. Our increasingly politically correct culture is stifling warped senses of humor. And thanks to our “everyone gets a gold star” educational system, there are fewer and fewer people who meet the intelligence hurdle. On the other hand, everyone and their mother thinks they’re good at marketing.

The challenge in trying to identify Snarketers is that it’s not visually obvious — it’s not like being tall, or having blond hair. So how do you, dear Snarketer, let the world know that you’re part of this elite and prestigious club?

You buy the book, moron.

And then read it on the train on your way to work, or when you’re on a plane, sitting in first class showing off how many frequent flyer miles you’ve run up because you don’t have a real life.

If you do buy it — and post a review online (I don’t care if it’s a positive or negative review) — then I will give you the next book for free (yes, there will be another book, the subject of which will be Quantipulation).

Here’s my game plan: Real Snarketers who post reviews might convince some Snarketer-wannabes to purchase the book. If you don’t think the “find a sucker” strategy works, just look at how many banks now charge customers a fee to use a debit card. 

Where do you get the book?

If you want the print copy (you show off), go here:

For an eBook version, you can get it from one of two sources: At Lulu.com, or click on the icon below for the Kindle version.

If you buy the book, thank you. If you buy and review the book, double thank you.

UPDATE: If you order from Lulu by October 20, you can get free shipping:

Update #2: Apparently, there’s a formatting problem with the Kindle version. I’ve pulled that “off the shelf” for now (and disabled the link above).

BYOB: BTW, Your Objectives Blow

Mike Mauboussin is an analyst for Legg Mason Capital Management, and a pretty smart guy. I’ve read some of what he’s written over the past few years, and think he’s generally on target with his views. He gave a speech last year (sorry, didn’t see it until @reaburn tweeted a link to it recently) to the CFO Executive Summit titled It’s All About Managing For Value. In his speech, he made the following comment:

A company’s single-valued objective should be maximizing long-term shareholder value.

Mauboussin makes his case for why this should be, and, not surprisingly, makes a strong case. But, in this particular instance, Mike is wrong. Here’s why “long-term shareholder value” doesn’t work as your firm’s single-valued objective:

1. Shareholders are too diverse — or too singular — an audience. Shareholders can be a diverse lot. Some are looking for immediate income and share price growth. Others aren’t necessarily looking for immediate returns, and would prefer to see resources allocated to produce a return over a longer timeframe. Sure, some stocks are categorized as growth or income but stock market categorization is very different than company objective setting. On the other hand, not every company is public. And “shareholders” — in the plural — may be inaccurate. I don’t know too many successful entrepreneurs who became successful by just focusing on their own long-term value.

2. There is no such thing as the “long term.” For a 75 year-old investor, “long-term” is what? Two years? To a 25 year-old, it may be 40 years. We tend to admire companies that make tough decisions that trade short-term gains for longer-term potential, but is taking a hit this year for an expected gain next year really doing something for the “long-term”? The fact of the matter is that the “long-term” is not a timeframe that can be used to make decisions.

3. It doesn’t help make trade-offs. Speaking of decisions, Mauboussin writes: “Running a business requires evaluating, and deciding about, trade-offs. And to properly judge tradeoffs, you have to have a single objective.” Mike is 100% correct. Problem is, “maximizing long-term shareholder value” doesn’t help you make those tradeoffs. Points #1 and #2 help prove him incorrect. If there are shareholders with competing investment objectives, and no clear definition of what the long-term is, then Mauboussin’s single-valued objective is of no help in making critical decisions.

4. It doesn’t inspire and motivate employees. Unless the set of employees equals the set of shareholders, Mauboussin’s objective is bound to produce conflicts. Another reality of modern-day organizational life is that people look for personal fulfillment in their jobs. We want to feel like we make a contribution, both to ouselves, as well as others. Because “shareholders” are an intangible concept for employees of public corporations, maximizing the return to shareholders is not a very motivating objective.

So, if Mauboussin’s objective is wrong, what’s the right objective?

It’s one that aligns employees, customers, and shareholders. It’s an objective that defines what the company will do for customers (and for which customers). Dare I say the right objective is a customer-centric objective? 

The reason why that type of objective works is that it motivates employees, better enables the tough tradeoffs to be made (these decisions will never be easy), and — this is important — lets shareholders decide if this is the kind of company they want to invest in. 

It’s all about cause and effect. 

We make business decisions not to produce long-term shareholder value, but to create and meet market needs — which IN TURN produce shareholder value. Value in varying degrees for the short- and longer-term. 

You can’t effectively manage a complex company if you’re simply trying to maximize long-term shareholder value. And I hope that there’s a large U.S. bank that’s listening. 

Maybe Bank Of America Has A Plan

Maybe — just maybe — Bank of America has a well-thought out plan behind its debit card fees.

Maybe it actually WANTS customers to leave.

Crazy talk, you say? Not sure about that. After all, ING Direct has been lauded for “firing” customers. Bank Technology News wrote this a while back:

“To promote customer homogeneity and keep costs down, ING Direct won’t hesitate to fire customers who demand too much. Better to win over customers with shrewd marketing and good rates wrought by the cost efficiencies of doing business online.”

So, rather than flat out telling unprofitable — or potentially unprofitable — to close out accounts, BofA figures, “hey, we’ll slap a fee on them, and if they don’t like it, they’ll leave. And if they stay, they become more profitable.”

And wouldn’t you know it, but Durbin opens his mouth, and HELPS BofA by telling those customers to “walk with their feet.” Talk about effective word-of-mouth marketing!

So what happens if 1 million customers leave BofA?

If they’re truly the least profitable customers, BofA’s average customer profitability increases. And with less unprofitable customers to serve, the bank can more easily shrink to a more manageable size.

But you know what else happens?

Unprofitable — or potentially unprofitable — go join credit unions or open accounts at community banks. The credit union folks think this is great because it probably means the average age of members goes down. Hooray!

But oddly, the credit union’s profitability is adversely affected. Because if it’s low balance accounts  walking in the door, the income accelerator — the revenue generated on deposits beyond the spread and fees — is diminished. (This by the way, is one of the key reasons why high-yield checking accounts are more profitable than no-interest accounts. See my report on Why High-Yield Checking Accounts Trump Free Checking).

Let’s look at a  scenario: Assume you have 100 customers, equally split across 4 segments. Assume that the average profitability per customer of segment 1 is $1, segment 2 is $2, segment 3 is $3, and segment 4 is $4.

You’re making $250 in profits with average customer profitability at $2.50/customer.

If, thanks to BofA, 25 new Segment 1 customers walk in the door, profits go up to $275, but average profitability declines by 12% to $2.20/customer.

If the four segments represent the generations, it’s possible that you will lose Segment 4 customers (Seniors) over time. So let’s say 25 new Segment 1 customers come in thanks to BofA, but 10 Segment 4 customers are no longer with you. Profitability still goes up, to $255. But average profitability declines to $2.13, a 15% drop.

And if the ratio of customers in the four segments doesn’t change — that is, if segment 1 customers don’t become as profitable as segment 2, 2 as profitable as 3, and 3 as profitable as 4 — over time, then your FI is in trouble.

Oh sure, you can hold hands and sing cumbaya and hope those customers become more profitable over time. But smart firms don’t do that.

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So maybe BofA’s plan is to drive out customers it doesn’t think are — or can be — profitable, and let some other FI deal with them.

I’m sure many credit union marketers are thinking that this is great, that they would love to have those relationships, and grow with them over time.

Maybe they can. But if the BofA rejects….oops, I mean defectors….are the younger, less affluent, Gen Yers, then it may take some time for them to have a material affect on the CU’s profitability.

I’ve heard CU cheerleaders talk about being more open to extending credit to younger and less affluent consumers, and finding ways to help those consumers manage their financial lives without the high rates and fees that the big banks charge.

But there’s a reason why those consumers either don’t get credit or have to pay higher rates and fees to get credit, loans, and accounts. They’re higher credit risks, and they bring less funds to the table, resulting in less profits.

Seems to me there are a number of people in credit union land ignoring those realities.

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But, back to BofA, maybe the imposition of fees on debit cards is a smart move for the bank. I wouldn’t have advised the bank to do what it did, instead, I would have told them to levy fees on writing checks.