Empower Your Community To Spread Your Word

Evangelism Marketing - Paul O'Flaherty

I was contacted by a fledgling religious oriented startup that wanted to get various celebrity ministers and church leaders to make a specific declaration during one of their sermons.

Their goal could not have been achieved given their budget and timeframe so I offered some free advice which also happens to apply to almost every business no matter it’s size:

Send forth your evangelists.

Every business, no matter what type, has its fans and believers – people who actually care about the business, its products or goals. These people, whether acolytes within or believers on the outside, are your best marketing tool.

Evangelism marketing is the next step up from Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM), but the goal is the same – to have passionate people talking about your product!

Evangelism marketing is … in which companies develop customers who believe so strongly in a particular product or service that they freely try to convince others to buy and use it. The customers become voluntary advocates, actively spreading the word on behalf of the company.

As they act independently, evangelist customers often become key influencers. The fact that evangelists are not paid or associated with any company make their beliefs perceived by others as credible and trustworthy.

It costs very little to enable customers to spread your message, but it will take time and effort to promote them from simple customers to passionate advocates for your business.

Listen to them. Share their stories and incentivize them to spread the word as your advocates. Enable them to share their experiences on social media and in real life.

Organize them into a community, and show them that you care about their opinion. Interact with them and let that interaction be part of a larger conversation.

In the case of the startup mentioned above, I recommended that they organize their friends and followers as volunteers. Explain their mission and what they want to achieve to their volunteers, and create fun community events around achieving that goal.

Have group events to make calls, tweet, share and send emails, while you provide food, snacks, fun distractions and the thrill of achieving a common goal. Get everyone t-shirts and share pictures and updates from these events on social media. Spread the word about what they are doing and not only give them something to talk about online, but give them the means to do it too.

Taking this approach the startup would get a lot more “bang for the buck” and a longer sustained campaign, while also building a community around their message.

How you empower your evangelists is up to you, but must do it and you must make them part of your community.

There are very few things that a passionate community cannot achieve.

You’re Not Ready For Me

The Path To Success?

“You’re not ready”. It can single most difficult and hardest thing to say to someone who pitches me about marketing their product or idea, but sometimes it can also be the easiest.

Some of the pitches I receive are for products which have already been developed, others are for vague notions with no clear concept or even a value proposition, but everyone is sure that theirs is the next million dollar idea.

I’ve turned away potential clients for myriad reasons – your idea is crap (sorry, but it’s true), to people thinking that I’m going to drop everything and devote one hundred percent of my time to an idea which they haven’t even begun conceptualizing. Oh, and I’m going to do it for free.. but hey it’s going to make a million dollars, who cares if I can’t feed my family for the next 18 months while you “explore the concept”?

When I tell you that “you’re not ready” it’s because you’re really not – I’m not just some crazy masochist that likes to turn down money – I have kids to feed (which may mean that I am a masochist, just not a crazy one).

Sure you’ve reached out to me (and no-doubt a bunch of other marketers) but the chances are that you have not taken basic steps that show that you are committed to your idea:

  • Basic product / idea validation
  • Start a blog or website
  • Have a twitter account and Facebook page for your product or idea which you are actively growing
  • Start a newsletter
  • Make some YouTube videos (if the product can be demonstrated)
  • Put together a basic press kit.

The vast majority of this can be done for little more than elbow grease and a time commitment, with the only real financial investment being $14 for a domain if you use a free service to host your blog (tumblr, blogger or WordPress.com).

Not having these things in place raises serious red flags leading me to think that:

  • Your idea or product hasn’t been well thought through
  • You haven’t done your research before reaching out to marketers
  • You are too lazy to market your own product
  • You’re not really committed and won’t stick with it
  • You are flat ass broke and can’t afford me (c’mon – fourteen bucks for a domain?)

Nobody is going to talk about your product unless you start the conversation, and coming hat in hand, asking for other people to do the work that you could have already started is the quickest way to get turned away and discouraged.

Show that you believe in your concept or project. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but putting in the effort will show that you are willing to put your best foot forward and make a positive impression.

Podcast Interview – Biology Of the Blog

Biology Of The BlogLast week I had the pleasure of being interview by Jess Goulart for the Biology of the Blog podcast on BreakThru Radio.

On the podcast we talk about a number of topics including how to improve computer science curricula at Universities so that we can turn out developers with real-world skills and ensure that people are studying the skills that they are most suited for.

We also talk about the differences and similarities between online and offline marketing, finding your marketing voice, being authentic, engaging your audience and building your network.

The podcast features musical tracks as well as the interview with yours truly. I’ve highlighted the sections where I appear on the playlist below if you want to skip straight to the interview.

Unfortunately the interview was cut short because I had to leave to deal with a client emergency and we weren’t able to take up the interview again, but Jess edited things so that the ending isn’t too abrupt.

00:00 Mic Break
00:21 Like a Lie – Copeland
04:42 A Real Hero – Electric Youth
09:03 Mic Break
09:47 Lay Your Wet Head Down – Emby Alexander
13:26 Interview w/ Paul pt. 1
25:40 POC – Filmstrip
28:29 MMS 1970s – Filmstrip
30:54 Interview w/ Paul pt. 2
41:21 Sun/Shadow – Holy Ghost Tent Revival
45:37 Mic Break
46:05 Windows Painted Shut – Jam Jars
50:16 Saplings – Jam Jars
54:24 Finish

Download “Biology of the Blog” mp3. 64.4 MB 54:24

Stop Over-Analyzing and Build Your Referral Network

Build Your Referral Network

Note: The alternative title for this post was “Getting Bogged Down In Data”.

If there’s one trap that everyone falls into at some point in their marketing career, it’s over-analyzing. We all know how important it is to track the right data when you’re launching a new campaign, or building out a referral network for your medical practice or small business – but over-thinking which data-points you need can actually lead to precrastination and a lot of wasted opportunities and delays.

To be fair these issues tend to be befall those relatively new to marketing more than anyone else, but even experienced marketers can fall into the same trap when faced with something they’ve never had to work with before.

These delays and wasted opportunities are not what our clients are paying us for. Our clients expect us to hit the ground running and create actual results, but how do we do it?

Let’s assume you’ve never built a referral network for a medical practice or small business before and you’re suddenly thrown in a the deep end and have to start building one at an established practice that previously handled all their own stuff. You’ve been handed a couple of spreadsheets that they’ve been using to track referrals, but they appear to have somewhat contradictory data. Where do you begin?

Talk to the client and set your goals:

Confer with your client and find out what is they wish to achieve. Obviously they all want to add to the bottom line, but for most medical practices it will be something like: “Renew relationships with past referrers who aren’t sending as much work, strengthen relations with existing referrals, and bring in new referral sources”.

Examine the existing data:

Use past data to figure out who you need to be courting to bring them back into the fold. Most practices and small businesses will have some form of referral tracking in place, and the very least they should be able to pull data from their CRM or practice management solution. If the don’t then you’ll have to do some extra leg-work with the client.

Discuss your observations with your client as some declines in referral sources may have “political” reasons and may be a waste of your energy. Very often your client will have a fairly good idea as to why someone stopped referring to them and this can give you very valuable insight into how to approach them.

Do your research and identify new referral sources:

Chances are that the sources referring to your client are not the only fish in the pond. Get online, hit up directories and find out what other potential referral sources are within your client’s catchment area.

Decide What Information You Need To Track to be effective:

The previous three steps were easy, now comes the part the holds most people up – deciding what information to track and how to track it. The more information you track the harder it can be to find a tool that will allow you easily manage the data, and frankly, the more work there is for you. After a certain point the tracking of unnecessary information becomes a burden and a time drain. Too much data can cloud your view. Lets keep it simple.

Get yourself a whiteboard.

Write down all of the data points you would like to be able to track (Name, contact info, NPI number, past referral numbers etc..)

Go have a cup of coffee and talk to someone about something completely different.

Come back to your whiteboard and start erasing all the data points that you don’t ACTUALLY need! Be aggressive. If it’s just a “that would be nice to track” but doesn’t actually help you beyond looking pretty on a spreadsheet, then kick it to the curb.

If at the end of your murderous erasing spree you’re tracking more than 6-8 data points you’re doing it wrong.

Track Your Information And Visits – Get A CRM

Finding a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution that fits your needs is considerably easier now they you’re only tracking a handful of data points, but there are somethings that you will want to consider.

  • It should allow you to easily import contacts from your email platform
  • It should integrate with your email platform so that you can tag emails and assign them to relationships and organizations
  • It needs to have strong note taking abilities
  • It should have a strong mobile app. You don’t want to be carrying a laptop around all day or filling in your notes when you get back to the office. If you can do it all on your phone, then YAY!
  • It should be scalable – someday you may grow your consulting activities beyond yourself

Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to enter all of your potential referrers information in straight away. Add them as you intend to visit them, and any competent CRM will start building relationships and tracking organizations as you tag emails and correspondence leading to organic population.

As an added bonus, a CRM will help you track your progress, projects and tasks, making reporting to your client considerably easier.

Prioritize your list

Based on your research and existing referral data you should now be able to easily prioritize the practices that you need to reach out to first. Talk to your client once your list is complete – explain your reasoning as they may have some insights into the meetings you’re about to setup.

Start making phone calls, sending emails and hit the streets.

Get out there. There’s nothing holding you back now except you and your willingness to make contacts. Send your emails, make your calls, visit offices, attend conferences and events, shake some hands! Track and analyze your results, rinse and repeat accordingly.

Medical Practices Simply Can’t Afford To Skimp On IT Infrastructure

1964, Dynamic control problem being studied in the Analogue Computer Laboratory

Analogue Computer Laboratory – 1964. Source.

The Earth orbits the Sun, and medical practices can’t afford to skimp on IT infrastructure… some facts are simply immutable.

Normally I would proclaim that any business can’t afford to skimp on its IT infrastructure, but given the current climate where just having a Windows XP machine connected to your network is a HIPAA violation, I’ve clearly got a certain target audience in mind for this post. That said, it’s not just medical practices that could benefit from taking a few minutes to read this post.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past months advising (and implementing) practices on how to make the move from the no longer supported Windows XP to Windows 7 and newer operating systems, and one thing has become readily apparent to me – there are two kinds of medical practices:

  • Practices that see technology as part of the patient experience.
  • Practices that only think about IT when it breaks.

The medical practices (and other businesses) that realize that their IT infrastructure is part of the patient (customer) experience tend to have made the realization that IT in a medical office is not just there to scan ID cards, print receipts or create patient forms, but actually adds substantially to the patient experience and bottom line of the practice.

Happy patients = more money!

That’s not a difficult concept right? I think everyone can agree that if a patient has a positive experience at your office they’re more likely to come back the next time something ails them. They’re also far more likely to recommend you to other potential patients (word of mouth marketing), leave positive reviews on rating sites, etc… Happy patients = more money for you. Simple!

A lot of medical practitioners and office managers appear to forget that the patient’s experience in their clinic is not just measured by the patient – doctor interaction, it comes from the everything they experience at your office. From the moment they walk in the door, from that first impression, the friendliness of the staff, the promptness of their appointment, the ease of filling out information – it’s all being judged by the patient and it ALL impacts your bottom line.

So, how does IT actually affect any of this? Well, let’s forget about silly little things such as multi-thousand dollar fines (per patient) when data is exposed due to poor infrastructure and / or running out of date operating systems and look at the ways that keeping your computers and software up-to-date actually affects your bottom line.

Faster computers (and modern operating systems) increase staff productivity.

It’s not just just the ability to run better, newer software, but multiply the 10 minutes it takes those ancient computers to start up by the number of staff you have and there’s a massive amount of wasted productivity hours. A lot of time is wasted every day because applications take forever to open / switch between, and all of that wasted time is time that you are paying staff for. If  you want to get more productivity from  your staff then give them the tools to do it.

Faster computers equal happier staff.

In my experience, there’s little that will annoy good staff in a good office faster than slow computers. It’s frustrating to have to not be able to move on to the next thing, especially when you have a patient standing there waiting for that document you sent to the printer 5 minutes ago.

If there’s one thing patients are especially good at picking up on, it’s the atmosphere in an office. When staff aren’t happy, you can be sure that patients aren’t, and that is going to have negative impact on their experience and willingness to return in the future or recommend  you to other potential patients.

Faster computers equal happier patients.

When you’re sick, tired or in pain, the last thing you want to do is stand around twiddling your thumbs for five minutes at the check in desk at your doctors office waiting for their EMR (electronic medical record) system to pull up your details. That should have happened almost instantaneously, and it would have if the aging computer had more RAM, a faster CPU or better connectivity to the server.

Get those patients checked in and out faster for a better patient experience and a less crowded waiting room.

Keeping your infrastructure up-to-date saves you money.

All computers break down, have issues and occasionally need repairs, but performing support tasks on older computers takes longer. Slower machines take longer to install drivers on, track down issues etc. It’s not rocket science.

As your infrastructure ages there tends to be more issues which require support and the cost of that support can escalate rather quickly. You might only see it as a $100 here, $200 there, but when this is happening every other week (even when you have contracted support agreements) it can quickly get to the point where you could have actually paid to replace aging equipment and had LESS support call-outs.

Upgrading / Staying up-to-date doesn’t have to be a huge expense.

A lot of small practices get sticker shock at the notion of spending many thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars to replace equipment that still essentially works. Most don’t realize that these upgrades don’t all have to be done at once. Unfortunately a lot of vendors won’t tell you that, instead going for the big “all in one” sell – but that’s another blog post.

Implement a rolling upgrade policy. Start with the oldest computer (or computers depending on how desperate the situation) on your network and get them upgraded – whether than means adding more RAM, SSD’s or a better CPU or simply replacing the whole machine. If you have a server, see if that needs upgrading too. In 6 months time upgrade another machine or two and continue to do so over the next two years. By the end of the two years you’ll have completed 5 upgrades (0 months, 6 months, 12, 18, 24) and have replaced or upgraded 10 machines without any one major expense.

Most small medical practices will have somewhere in the region of 10 – 20 machines, but you can adjust the plan to suit your infrastructure needs and budget accordingly.

On month 30, start the cycle again – upgrading the components of or replacing the machines first updated at month 0. Repeat the cycle over and over again and you’ll never have machines more than 2 – 3 years old running on your network.

You may also wish to annually evaluate your networking equipment and see if any performance gains can be made by upgrading aging switches / firewalls / routers to newer faster standards.

Remember that it’s not just your hardware.

Aging software can be a productivity drain almost as much as aging hardware. Be sure to evaluate new versions of the tools and software you use in your practice and determine if making the move to newer versions could increase productivity or will add features that improve security etc..

Speaking of security… Don’t forget those updates…

Again I’m going to gloss over the potential fines that medical practices and businesses can be slapped with if patient / customer information is compromised, and instead remind you of the cost of having someone come out to clean your network of trojans, spyware and malware. Good anti-virus and anti-spyware software is always a must, but none of it is perfect. No matter your operating system – Windows, OS X, Linux… make sure that you are installing updates regularly. These updates don’t just add new features to your system- they fix bugs, can increase stability and performance, and fix security holes and issues.

If your IT person (you do have an IT person, right?) recommends that you turn off Windows updates for performance, or because things “might break” then you need to fire them. The days of such things happening are long, long in the past, and the rare times that they do occur are far lest costly than the potential damage than can be caused by not running them.

While you’re at it, have your IT person or vendor upgrade the firmware on you routers / managed switches / firewalls etc….

It doesn’t cost a lot to be secure AND productive…

For most practices, if you put your IT infrastructure on a rolling upgrade cycle the cost becomes pretty negligible plus you get to avoid the major sticker shock of a one time upgrade.

If you start thinking about your IT as part of the patient (and staff) experience the outlay will more than recoup itself in increased productivity, repeat patients and positive word of mouth marketing.

GALLUP – Americans Say Social Media Has Little Sway on Purchases

Oh oh! It’s time to go back to traditional media advertising! Right, right?

Gallup surveyed more than 18,000 American adults in December 2012 and January 2013 for the poll you see below.

A clear majority of Americans say social media have no effect at all on their purchasing decisions. Although many companies run aggressive marketing campaigns on social media, 62% in the U.S. say Facebook and Twitter, among other sites, do not have any influence on their decisions to purchase products.

Influence of Social Media On Americans Purchasing Decisions

Or maybe, just maybe, a large percentage of those who say that social media has “no influence at all” don’t realize when they’re being influenced by their friends and family.

We know that the actual ads aren’t working all that well, that’s no secret.

Facebook users hate the ads, we use scripts and blockers to remove them. Most of us – a whopping 94% – use social media primarily to connect with friends and family. We don’t want your stinking ads, we want to know how Grannies hemorrhoid surgery went and if the doctors will let her take one home in a jar. Oh, and pics or it didn’t happen!

Was that $5.1 Billion spent on social media advertising in 2013 wasted? Well, not ALL of it was wasted. Those brands and companies that were telling stories and creating content that people wanted to engage with and talk about – they most definitely were not wasting their money.

Those brands hammering out the same old drone of “buy this, buy this”…. Yeah, they were wasting their money.

WOM (word of mouth) is and always will be the most trusted medium that makes or breaks a brand, and the beauty of it is that most of the time people don’t realize they’re being marketed to or acting as an evangelist.

Those jeans your friend was raving about at work, and  you bought two pairs of! How do you think she found out about them in the first place? Someone else was raving about them on her Facebook stream.

U.S. companies spent a combined $5.1 billion on social media advertising in 2013, and they obviously believe that this presents them with a return on investment. However, a solid majority of American adults say that social media have no influence at all on their purchasing decisions — suggesting that the advertising may be reaching smaller segments of the market, or that the influence on consumers is indirect or goes unnoticed.

In the State of the American Consumer report, Gallup reveals that consumers who engage with brands often do so when they are already attached to a product or service. Companies that engage their customers — by providing exceptional service and a pleasurable in-store experience — will, in turn, drive those customers to interact with them on social media. Simply promoting products and services on Facebook or Twitter is unlikely to lead to sales.

The key to reaching new customers and growing your brand via social media – give people something to talk about.

Spend wisely!

Dildos Bring A Hilarious Twist To This Gun Safety PSA

One of the things drilled into me during military training was that battles are rarely won by a head on-confrontation, and even if you have the numbers to force and overwhelming win, the loses accumulated by direct confrontation are not worth it. It’s better to attack from an unexpected direction – to think out of the box.

I wish a lot of marketers understood that.

The folks at Evolve understand, and that is what makes this gun safety PSA so awesome. This video is worth 30 seconds of you time irrespective of your stance on gun safety / ownership.

Hat-tip: Gawker.

DUPÉ – Popup Store Sells Bottled Fresh Air, Boxed Sunshine And Good Vibrations

I love this – even the name “DUPÉ” is double loaded (try saying it loud and slow).

YVW came up with a very interesting popupstore concept in Australia to make people think about buying natural resources bottled.

Do you buy bottled water? I know we always have crates of it in the house for hurricane season, but never buy it for regular consumption.

What other products do you pay ridiculously high prices for simply because they’re conveniently bottled up or packaged?

Source: ExMaBlog

Awesome Resignation Video Shows Why Clear Story And Quality Rule Over Quantity

I work for an awesome company that makes news videos. I have put my entire life into this job, but my boss only cares about quantity, how fast we write and how many views each video gets.

I believe it’s more important to focus on the quality of the content. When you learn to improve this, the views will come. Here is a little video I made explaining my feelings.

With 450,000 views in less than two days (at the time of writing), it’s fair to say that Marina V. Shifrin has made her point.