United Airlines’ Trust Problem

United Airlines Logo Meme

United Airlines does more than break guitars (see this story from 2009 for background). They can break the spirit of passengers, too. A United passenger flying from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday was randomly selected to be asked to leave the plane. He was one of four passengers asked to leave to accommodate United employees who needed to get to Louisville. The passenger refused and eventually police dragged him from the plane. Video of the horrific incident has garnered millions of views. Public outrage against United has been overwhelming, both for the actions to remove the passenger as well as the lame responses of United CEO Oscar Munoz in the aftermath.

The last thing needed is another armchair quarterback piece about what United Airlines, the police, or the passenger did wrong or could have done differently. I am confident enough of those pieces already exist. So, what is left to talk about? How about where United Airlines goes from here. Its stock took a beating early in the week as video went viral of how United treated a passenger in response to a problem it created by overbooking the flight. United Airlines’ market value dropped by $800 million due to negative publicity from the incident. That number is not insignificant, but it may be the least of United’s worries.

What a Brand Really Is

Marketers become enamored with the identity aspects of branding—name, logo, color scheme—and lose sight that customers are not interested in any of that. My friend Colby Jubenville likes to say that “brands are promises delivered in experiences.” I love that definition of a brand. The meaning (promises) and value (experiences) are what matter to buyers. Brands waste a lot of effort and audience’s time talking about themselves. You’re great, we get it. Now, tell us what is in it for us to do business with you.

The promises and experience the flying public takes away from the passenger being dragged from the plane will not sell many seats… at least not on United flights. I am sure United Airlines has thousands of committed, professional employees. Unfortunately, their work is now tarnished by colossal missteps in handling the situation as it unfolded and spinning it after the fact. United must engage in some soul-searching and articulate exactly what its promises are to customers.

It Comes Down to Trust

Expensive branding and marketing campaigns can be stripped down to an essential question: Do customers trust us? We are funny creatures in that we prefer to do business with companies that we like and trust. In a personal relationship, inability to trust another person is grounds for ending the relationship. We approach business relationships no differently. Choice exists for many products and services we buy. We do not have to put up with shoddy service or inferior product quality. Ironically, airlines might be one industry that is an exception. Consolidation has reduced competition and customer choice. Thus, you might be forced to fly United even if in principle you would rather not do business with the company.

As I see it, United Airlines has a major trust problem it must address. There is no reason to doubt United can execute on promises related to safely transporting passengers. However, seeds of doubt have been planted as to whether United can do the right thing when it comes to taking care of customers. United can be the safest air carrier in the world, but if customers do not have confidence that the company will do the right things it will not matter. Any corrective action taken by United Airlines must have restoring trust in the brand at the forefront.

Listen for Complaints instead of Eliminating Them


Image credit: Ky-Flikr (Creative Commons license)

Constructive criticism can be a two-edged sword. On one hand, feedback received can make us aware of weaknesses or shortcomings we do not recognize. Taking corrective action enables us to improve, potentially benefiting both ourselves and the people we serve. On the other hand, criticism can sting. We are not always comfortable hearing about our failings or how we are not performing to expectations. We have to remind ourselves that when criticism is directed at us we can use it in a positive way.

Social media gives businesses the greatest listening tool since the shopkeeper’s own ears. Interacting with customers on social media enables a business to get a better read (literally) on what customers are thinking. In turn, social media enables immediate response to them. So, why would a business not want to take advantage of the platform afforded customers through social networking sites?

Stifle Yourself—No

An interesting case of how to deal with customer feedback for a business is reacting to customer reviews. Many people will go online to post a review in extreme cases. They either had a wonderful experience or a dreadful one. Who doesn’t love positive feedback from glowing reviews? It validates the company’s efforts to serve customers. More importantly, the positive word-of-mouth can impact others’ decisions to do business with you.

Negative reviews can have the opposite effect. Depending on the nature of the complaint and emotions of the reviewer, a negative review can be hurtful to the feelings of employees involved and to the business. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make negative reviews go away? You can’t, so don’t try.

My middle son received a first-hand lesson in how businesses should not approach user reviews. He ended a lease with an apartment complex because he was going to study abroad for a semester. As he neared the end of his stay, he posted reviews about his experience with the apartment complex. He posted candid reviews based on his experiences in 16 months as a resident.

To their credit, a representative from the apartment complex responded, inviting my son to contact the office. The public move to acknowledge the complaint and reach out to the complainer is good social media practice. Apartment complex management seem to practice it consistently based on a cursory look at reviews (positive and negative).

The line a business cannot cross is attempting to stifle customers’ free speech. The practice is not only unethical, but it is now illegal. The Consumer Review Fairness Act passed last December protects consumers making truthful reviews about businesses. “Truthful” is the key word. Businesses are vulnerable to unfounded statements and claims. They, too, need protections from people who act maliciously by posting false negative reviews.

Don’t Do This

Bottom line for businesses is you cannot shut down free speech in the form of unfavorable customer reviews. A statement like the following sent to my son in a lease termination agreement does not work.

“The Resident Parties agree that neither of them will directly or indirectly, in any capacity or manner, make, express, transmit, speak, write, verbalize or otherwise communicate in any way (or cause, further; assist solicit, encourage, support or participate in any of the foregoing), any remark, comment, message, information, declaration, communication or other statement of any kind, whether verbal, in writing, electronically transferred or otherwise, that might reasonably be construed to be derogatory or critical of, or negative toward, the Landlord. To the extent that any such comment has previously been published to any social media site or otherwise communicated, the Resident Parties agree to immediately remove such reference and take all reasonable actions to ensure that such comment has been permanently removed from such social media site or otherwise.”

Nice try to silence customers; unfortunately it is against federal law.

Listen and Learn

Consumers’ rights to make truthful comments and reviews about businesses have been affirmed by the Consumer Review Fairness Act. It is pointless to fight it. So, how should your business respond when negative reviews pop up (notice it is a matter of when, not if)?

An excellent resource to learn more about how to deal with customer feedback on social media is Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer. A major point Baer makes in the book is “answering complaints increases customer advocacy across all customer service channels” (emphasis added). That outcome is dependent on people having the freedom to make complaints, of course. In short, complaints may begin due to a perceived failure in the customer’s mind but can have a happy ending for both the customer and the business.

Listening Rules

The best communicators without exception excel at listening. Great brands ascend to that status because the people served believe the brand cares about them. Valuing customers and others by listening to their opinions, complaints, and yes, even their rants has a payoff. You cannot build a relationship without two-way communication. Listening is at the core of the brand-customer interaction. Commit to listening and even if the thought of silencing negative voices sounds appealing, forget it.

The Marketing Concept: Walking the Line between Customer-Serving and Self-Serving


Students in introductory marketing courses learn a fundamental in the very first chapter of any textbook known as the marketing concept. It holds that the practice of marketing should be approached as the dual pursuit of meeting customers’ needs and wants while meeting the needs of the organization (i.e., be profitable and advance the business). It is possible to be customer-serving yet fail to be self-serving. The outcome of that scenario is rarely positive. You can sell products at customer-pleasing prices that fail to cover costs. And, you can make strategic decisions that benefit the organization but compromise customer relationships.

It is the latter scenario that surfaced in business press last week as Keurig Green Mountain admitted to making a mistake when it released its Keurig 2.0 brewer last summer. The second generation product was radically different from the Keurig users had come to know and love. It incorporated digital rights management (DRM) technology that worked only for Keurig Green Mountain coffee K-Cups and those cups of approved licensees. Non-licensed K-Cups would not be usable on the new brewer, and the company eliminated the My K-Cup feature that allowed users to brew coffee with any coffee grounds poured into a specially designed cup. Keurig Green Mountain got what it wanted- control over the source of coffee used in its brewers. Customers got shafted, at least those who wanted the freedom to brew their favorite coffee even if it was not a KGM product or from a licensee.

Just Ask

To its credit Keurig Green Mountain CEO Brian Kelley admitted the company erred in eliminating My K-Cup from Keurig 2.0. “We heard that loud and clear from the consumer,” Kelley told Wall Street analysts. “We want customers to be able to brew every brand, any brand of coffee in their machine, and bringing the My K-Cup back allows that.” I’m not so sure Keurig heard its customers as much as it saw the 23 percent swoon in sales of brewers and accessories since the debut of Keurig 2.0. Although it is possible that the company did customer research to gauge sentiment about the changes in the second generation brewer, declining sales and an admission of error nine months after launch suggests KGM did not do its homework. The perception is that the company only saw the self-serving benefits of utilizing DRM technology in Keurig 2.0 but failed to consider the potential customer backlash. Perhaps KGM management thought that customers might grudgingly go along with the changes, but in the end they would just that- go along with the changes.

Trust: Hard to Earn, Easy to Burn

It took several years for Keurig Green Mountain to build trust through its dealings with customers. I can share with you my personal experience with Keurig brewers. My first Keurig was a Christmas gift in 2010, and over the next two years I purchased more than $500 of product directly from the company. On top of that, I was purchasing KGM coffees and products from its licensees in stores, too. For better or worse, the Keurig brewer and its ease of use led to an increase in coffee consumption, much of it providing revenue for KGM. In the past two years, I have used the My K-Cup accessory heavily, buying my choice of ground coffee rather than KGM approved products. When my first machine bit the dust last summer I was dismayed that the new Keurig 2.0 did not offer the My K-Cup option. My response was to resolve to not order product from Keurig any longer, and I opted to find a first generation Keurig so I could continue to brew the coffee of my choice. My take was that Keurig became greedy, crossing the line that is the marketing concept and became consumed with being self-serving.

Give Keurig Green Mountain credit for admitting its mistake and deciding to bring back the My K-Cup accessory. Unfortunately, it should have never had to bring it back because it should have never been eliminated in the first place. Apparently, KGM executives missed the class meeting in their introductory marketing course in which the marketing concept was explained. KGM lost its dual focus of customer-serving and self-serving. Now, it must rebuild customer trust… and product sales.

Image Credit: Flickr/Amanda28192

Embrace the Possibilities of Change


I am a lifelong baseball fan. It was my favorite sport growing up, and today I eagerly countdown the days until spring training camps open for MLB teams. It means two things: 1) baseball season is coming and 2) it will bring spring weather with it! MLB has taken its share of lumps in recent years in the court of public opinion. Prodigious home run totals by Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa were tarnished by allegations of performance enhancing drug usage. And, the sport has lost favor among young people as they have gravitated toward other sports and interests that are more fast-paced than the plodding flow of a baseball game.

Weighing Changes to the MLB Product

Major League Baseball is at a pivotal crossroads. The business of MLB is doing quite well, thank you, with robust revenues from media contracts and sponsorship deals. However, fan relationships with MLB are somewhat tenuous. We have many options for entertainment, including some that do not involve sports and do not require leaving home to venture to a stadium for several hours.

The position that MLB finds itself in has prompted new commissioner Rob Manfred to explore ways to streamline the game consumption experience and pack more action into it. Among the changes proposed by MLB are:

  • Speeding up the pace of game play– One of the criticisms of baseball has always been the slow pace of play relative to other sports. This difference is magnified in a world in which we allow ourselves little down time- we multitask, watch top 10 plays of the day, and gather sports news 140 characters at a time. MLB experimented with rules changes to speed up play in the Arizona Fall League including a no-pitch intentional walk (rather than throwing four balls on purpose to walk a batter), maximum 2:30 break between innings as well as during a pitching change, and no more than three “timeouts” per team during a game.
  • Increase offense by reducing size of the strike zone– Scoring has decreased steadily since an all-time high of 5.14 runs per game in 2000. Last season, MLB games averaged 4.07 runs per game, the lowest since 1982. The league-wide strike-out rate was the highest ever and the walk rate was the lowest since 1968. One reasons blamed for the decline in runs scored is an expanding strike zone. A review of strike zones in MLB found the average strike zone expanded from 436 square inches in 2008 to 475 square inches in 2014. MLB rules committee will monitor the size of the strike zone in 2015 and consider making changes beginning with the 2016 season.

No rules changes have been made yet for any of the product elements mentioned. But, give MLB credit for acknowledging that issues exist and taking steps to evaluate how to make the product more exciting for fans.

What can be Learned from MLB about Product Marketing

Marketers can benefit from the situation that MLB is currently facing. Specifically, three steps that MLB has taken that could ultimately lead to a better product are:

  1. Acknowledge flaws– Some of the business metrics for MLB suggest all is well, but leadership is savvy enough to see that flaws exist in the product. When a business is unable or unwilling to acknowledge its weaknesses, there is little chance they will be overcome.
  2. Learn from others– If your business is falling short in some way when it comes to delivering the best customer experience and you acknowledge it, a useful first step can be to observe how others have dealt with similar issues. In the case of MLB, it has borrowed practices from the NFL and NBA to incorporate video review of uncertain umpire calls and the pace of play experiments. Sometimes, you can even go outside your industry or category to learn from other firms’ successes in improving the customer experience.
  3. Don’t assume– While there has been much talk about pace of play diminishing the MLB consumption experience, it may not be the culprit when it comes to turning off prospective baseball fans. It has been pointed out that the length of NFL and college football games have increased, yet the popularity of those sports is as high as ever. If MLB focused all of its product improvement efforts on speeding up the game because they thought that is what mattered to people, it would have overlooked the decreasing run scoring trend. One of the easiest traps we fall into as marketers is a false belief that we understand what is happening in the market and know what our customers want because of our experience. Simply put- don’t make assumptions!

Will MLB implement changes that it has been floating? The brand has one other characteristic that is somewhat unique; baseball is a sport steeped in tradition. Change may be hard to sell to traditionalist fans. But, given that businesses operate in environments that are ever changing, it is incumbent on all marketers to embrace the possibilities of change.

Marketing Lessons Learned from Burger King

burger king logo

Experience can be a valuable source of learning, whether it is from our own experiences or observing the decisions and actions of others. Two news stories I read last week, both about Burger King, reinforced one of the most important lessons a marketer can learn. I was somewhat surprised because BK has made its share of missteps in recent years and has fought to remain relevant in the quick service burger category. So what was the lesson? It was simple yet powerful: Listen. Listen to what others are saying about you as well as listen to what is going on in the world around you.

Chicken Fries, Please

The first example of Burger King being attuned to the market can be found in the story behind its re-introduction of chicken fries. The menu item was pulled in 2012, but customers have not forgotten it. Tactics such as a Change.org petition, a Facebook group, and Twitter account all paid tribute to chicken fries and advocated their return to the menu. BK listened and has brought back chicken fries… albeit for a “limited time.” It would be understandable if market analysis and other tools of the trade led to the decision to eliminate chicken fries. But, BK had irrefutable evidence iin the form of customers longing, whining, begging, or otherwise demanding to bring back a product they liked. BK listened, and chicken fries are on the menu again.

Be in the Moment

A second example of BK showing why it is important to listen occurred last Monday as news broke about the death of Robin Williams. What would a burger restaurant have to do with the unexpected passing of a beloved entertainer? BK was scheduled to run a promoted trends ad for chicken fries on Twitter Monday evening. However, the real time conversations for which Twitter is known would surely be all about Robin Williams (and they were). Ads for fast food would not mesh well with public sentiment at such a delicate time. BK executives astutely arranged to pull the Twitter promotion. There would be other days to promote chicken fries; the moment was not right. Marketers must live in the moment, knowing when to seize an opportunity (such as the “blackout” during the 2013 Super Bowl) and when to defer to more important matters in the lives of their customers.

Ready to Listen?

Listening is perhaps the undervalued secret weapon in a marketer’s arsenal. The importance of solid communication skills is a given, but the focus tends to be on sending messages, not receiving them. We glorify the masterful copywriter and are in awe of the salesperson who can seemingly sell ice to Eskimos. Listening does not have the glamour of writing or presenting, but commitment to listening and understanding the world around us is essential for communication (and marketing) success).


Rethinking the Marketing Communications Model


I am teaching an undergraduate marketing communications class right now. One of the foundation pieces in the course is study of the traditional communications model and how it works in a marketing context. The model as it has been taught for years mirrors how communication occurs in other contexts- at home, school, work, church, organization meetings- any environment in which you are communicating with other people. But, as I shared the concept with my students I could not help but think the model is outdated for marketing. A different way of looking at communication flow and how marketers should approach the communication process with their audiences is needed.

The Status Quo

In case you are unfamiliar with the traditional communications model to which I am referring, a visual appears below. The most striking characteristic to me (and the one that prompts a call for change) is that the message sender (the marketer) is in command. The model kicks into action when a company or brand wishes to communicate a message to one of its target audiences. The sender controls message encoding (what is said) and channel placement (where it is said). Then, we cross our fingers and hope that the intended recipient is willing to receive it, process it, and give desired feedback (become aware, change beliefs, take action, etc.).

Traditional Communications Model

The problem with the status quo is that it is brand centric; more emphasis is put on message sending than being receptive to incoming messages. Case in point, a recent study found that 38 percent of all Facebook posts sent to US brands go unanswered- so much for feedback. In today’s digital world, communication is no longer solely seller driven.

An Alternative Model

Another source of inspiration for questioning the status quo of the traditional communications model came from an article written by Jan Vels Jensen, CMO of Trustpilot, titled “How to Give the Loudest Voice to Your Best Advertisers: Your Customers.” In the article, he advocates that brands seek to replicate old-fashioned conversation by creating digital communities. Stories that customers have about their experiences with your brand, good and bad, should be encouraged rather than something that we get around to if budget and resources allow. The title of the article sums it up- loyal customers can advocate for you, help others by answering questions online, and make you better by giving frank feedback. So, rather than a communications model based on the belief that the marketer is in charge, should we not be approaching interactions in this manner:

New Communications Model

It begins by shedding impersonal labels like “receiver,” “consumer,” and “customer.” You want to have conversations with people. Sure, it is great if they do business with us but we want to widen the scope of conversation beyond the typical buyer-seller interaction. The alternative model also proposes that as a business, we are not the only recipient that a person might target. And, the same message might be shared across all channels. For example, have you ever had a bad experience with a business, tweeted or posted to the business’s social media pages, got no response, and proceeded to tell friends, your online social network connections, and even a community of brand users? Thus, the days of ignoring four out of 10 Facebook posts must end. Brands no longer dictate terms of communication. We are a participant and as such should encourage participation through active listening and be ready to communicate when called upon.

Get Over It

The days of brands controlling communication flow are history. Yes, advertising still gives us a channel to use in which we can plan communications (message, timing, and distribution) to a target audience. We can no longer rely on that model alone because customers are talking. Make sure they are heard and give them platforms to not only communicate with you but become your best advertiser.

Marketing to the ‘Easy Spot’

Fishing at Rock Harbor Resort, Sunrise Beach, MO

This post is my first in two weeks; one reason for the break was a short vacation to the Lake of the Ozarks area in Missouri. We go there every other June to attend a family reunion on my wife’s side of the family. Going to the family reunion is a tradition that we look forward to every two years. And, we have traditions within the tradition of the reunion- a stop at Lambert’s Cafe in Sikeston, Missouri, to catch some “throwed” rolls, the washers tournament, and trivia contest. Another tradition that has developed over the past three reunions is taking my youngest son fishing. I have never been a fisherman, but fortunately one of our relatives who fishes exposed Ethan to fishing and taught him some basics. Now, we are a two-man fishing team- Ethan catches them and I help get them off the hook.

Fish Where the Fish Are

We have fished the lake at the resort where we hold the reunion enough times to have a feel for where we can find fish. The boat dock in the photo is one such spot. In fact, Ethan refers to it as “the Easy Spot.” A gaze into the water in this area usually finds many fish swimming around, eager to be the next customer on Ethan’s hook. He caught several fish each day in the Easy Spot. It was so easy that Ethan spent less time fishing in other areas as he had done in the past. He knew the Easy Spot would yield catches. While it did, perhaps he missed out on chances to catch different, bigger fish had he tried fishing other areas of the lake.

Fish in Different Spots

The marketer in me could not help but see parallels between Ethan’s choices on where to cast his line and how we decide which customers or segments to target. We certainly should be looking for the Easy Spot, those customers or audiences that we are confident will be interested in the products we offer. Application of the 80/20 rule to market segmentation suggests a large majority of our business will come from a small minority of buyers. Thus, we should find those buyers and drop our marketing line where it will reach them. In a recent blog post, Seth Godin points out that most companies do not have massive ad budgets that they can use to cast a wide net and bombard audiences with brand messages. Instead, Godin advocates targeting a more concentrated audience and building a community with which you can connect and interact.

At same time, a singular focus on marketing to a core audience (aka your Easy Spot) could be problematic. If you are a B2B company and you lose your largest customer that by itself accounts for 18% of revenues, how would you fill that void tomorrow? Even if you do not have to deal with the loss of a major client, balancing customer retention with customer acquisition is a must. Be willing to cast a line in areas besides the Easy Spot. It may take longer to get results, or you may not get any results at all. But, you and I know what the result will be if you do not try casting (targeting) in other areas- nothing ventured, nothing gained.


Do Brands Really Want to Play ‘Ask Me Anything?’


One of the most admirable traits of a brand is transparency- what you see is what you get. And, a transparent brand is one that acknowledges its flaws. Rather than pursuing an impossible quest to project perfection (e.g., the dramatic collapse of the personal brands of Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods), transparent brands own up to mistakes, accept responsibility for them, and commit to doing better. These behaviors build trust and confidence in the brands that exhibit them.

Given the benefits of transparency, the concept of brands engaging the public in social channels for Q&A sessions would seem to be a valuable engagement tactic. Give people a forum for sharing what is on their mind, and deliver candid responses- nothing can go wrong, right? Of course it can, and it has. Twitter’s Q&A format gives a brand access to people who care about the brand… as well as those who have had bad experiences or hold negative views. However, recent Q&A sessions held by the NFL, NCAA, and NYPD did not go exactly as planned as participants called out questionable practices of these brands. But at least their Q&A sessions got off the ground before crashing; JP Morgan cancelled a Q&A session last fall when an invitation to submit questions and comments ahead of the session led to a deluge of responses that pointed to disaster if JP Morgan went through with the Q&A.

Don’t Play Unless You Have Thick Skin

Holding a Twitter Q&A, a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), or some other interactive exchange with customers and other stakeholders represents a huge gamble for many big brands. Why? In these settings, a brand must cede control of the conversation to the audience it wishes to engage. This fact is difficult for many brands to embrace because they obsess over maintaining control over the tone and content of communication (I can’t even call it conversation as most brand-initiated communication is one-way broadcasting to a target audience). The prospect of looking bad or out of touch with the very audience targeted for engagement is a risk that many brands are unwilling to take.

The takeaway from the missteps of brands that have failed with live engagement on social media is perhaps best summed up by digital strategist and blogger B.L. Ochman when she said “If you don’t want to get trashed in social media, don’t treat people like trash in the real world.” Brands need to be transparent and authentic, not just for an hour during an online Q&A, but in their everyday dealings with customers and communication with stakeholders. If not, no need to waste time pretending you care about what is the mind of others by hosting a Q&A. Being transparent does not mean you will be immune from criticism or negative feedback, but you will be better prepared to deal with negative communication, appropriately respond to it, and build trust with your audience.

Comments on Blog Comments


A topic generating a great deal of conversation in the blogosphere lately is whether shutting off a blog’s comments feature is a prudent decision. The issue came to the forefront in March when Copblogger, a digital and content marketing company offering software and training services, pulled the plug on comments for its blog. The move raised eyebrows given Copyblogger’s position as a leading authority on the business of blogging. My initial reaction was one of incredulity- What do you mean you are eliminating comments? Isn’t reader comments a unique and powerful characteristic of blogging that sets it apart from other communication channels? My take was that someone had gotten “too big for their britches” as we would say growing up in Mississippi, that Copyblogger had marginalized the very people that made them relevant- their fans and followers.

Recently, I have heard and read thoughts from experts in the field including Chris Brogan, Mitch Joel, Mark Schaefer, and Michael Stelzner weigh the pros and cons of silencing blog comments. The more I learned and evaluated the question of whether to eliminate blog comments, I realized that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. In some situations, the decision to eliminate comments may be a course of action that can be justified. Specifically, three issues should be weighed by a brand (product or personal) weighing the benefits and costs of comments.

Exposure or Engagement

The first consideration pertains to why you are using a blog as a communication channel. Is its primary benefit that it offers wide reach to communicate in a cost effective manner, or is the reason for blogging to get feedback from your followers or customers? Blogs can evolve to become more of a pure content play, and the blog is the publication outlet for distributing thoughts or viewpoints. If having your audience participate in discussions or share their viewpoints is useful to your organization for learning and customer service, then allowing (and encouraging) comments is a no brainer.

Platform or Community

A second consideration also is related to blogging objectives- Is your blog a platform for promoting thought leadership, expertise, and products or a gathering place to nurture a community of people with similar interests? If your blog is a selling tool to build brand credibility, one-way flow of communication may adequately achieve your objective. The absence of side conversations or other distractions that could arise out of reader comments gives the blogger control over the topics and tone of conversations. But, if your blog creates value for you and readers because the power of community fosters learning among community members and by you, then shutting off blog comments would negate one of the main attractions of the blog to your audience.

Commerce or Conversation

Finally, the end goal of your blog impacts the significance of reader comments to blogging strategy. Consistent with using blogging as a channel for increasing brand exposure and as a platform to communicate brand authority and capability, turning off comments is practical when the aim of a blog is to drive prospects further into the sales funnel. If you are wanting to ultimately convert blog visitors, focus will turn to other tools to further the relationship. If the aim of blogging is to build trust and strengthen relationships among the community of readers, enabling comments is essential to creating the desired dialogue .

It Comes Down to Economics

The decision of whether or not to allow reader comments on a blog has compelling arguments on both sides. Rather than a clear cut yes/no response, the answer to this question truly is “it depends.” It depends on the three issues raised in this post as well as other considerations. Perhaps the most astute observation I have heard with regard to the issue of what to do about reader comments came from Mark Schaefer. He said the answer comes down to economics. If the cost to moderate and manage audience feedback via comments becomes too great relative to benefits received in terms of human resource and opportunity costs, then it may be time to eliminate reader comments. Until then, Schaefer sees the interactivity of the community worth the effort to moderate comments and actively respond to feedback from the community.

Focus on Telling, not Selling in 2014


The new year is a time when many people and organizations establish goals. What accomplishments or improvements do you want to realize in the next twelve months? Some goals are very specific, often accompanied by a quantitatively measurable target and time period (e.g., lose 10 pounds by May 1). Other goals are less refined but provide needed direction. It is the latter type of goal that comes into play when considering how to frame your marketing efforts. I read a very timely article by Daniel Newman, author of The Millennial CEO, titled “2014: The Year of the Brand Influencer.” Newman’s article offers two useful takeaways as we venture in 2014:

1. Influence the Influencers

2. Tell, don’t sell

Market for Influence

Newman laments that traditional mass media communication is largely ineffective for creating desired results (i.e., sales and increased brand equity), yet many firms continue to throw their money at these channels. The attraction of mass media historically has been extensive reach. However, Newman points out that a majority of consumers believe that a smaller, more engaged community is better for creating influence than a larger, less engaged one. In other words, think quality of interactions rather than quantity of exposure when it comes to marketing. An example of a tool that can be used to foster quality interaction is a blog. It is designed for two-way communication, and it is largely free of the restrictions of time and space imposed on paid media placement. Yet, too often we complain that “I don’t have time to blog.” When we say that we are in effect saying “I don’t have time to reach out to customers and leads.” That mindset does not bode well for the long-term health of a business. View interactive channels like blogging and social media as an opportunity to allow others to spread influence on your behalf, not another task on your To Do list.

It’s not about You…

Or at least it is not about your product or company. If your marketing is still focused on features and benefits of your products or how great your company is, resolve that 2014 will be a time to shift focus outward. Use your content marketing and social media tactics to tell customers’ stories. Who are they? What are their problems? Celebrate their victories. Tell their stories. Oh, and if your products play a part in all of these pieces, that will come out. But, we are deflecting attention from us to those we serve. Similarly, tell the stories of your employees, the people who make your organization what it is. Employees that blog, tweet, or otherwise communicate on your behalf put a face on your organization with which customers can identify.

Commit to Influence

Resolve that 2014 be the year your brand becomes more influential. The secret is simple: Be useful. Being influential will come as people recognize the utility and value you offer. In turn, they will advocate on your behalf. But, you will need to commit to investing time and resources to building trust via your communications (esp. using content and social media channels).

May 2014 be your most prosperous year yet.