Tuesday, November 22, 2011

LivingSocial - Shop, Go, Don't Slow Down

A friend applied for a communications job at LivingSocial recently, one of the daily deal juggernauts like Groupon that are invading cities all over the planet. Like the dot.com and social media booms, people are skeptical but can't help but jump on the bandwagon.

My friend "Katie," who is in her late 40s, submitted her resume and cover letter to LivingSocial in the morning. By mid-afternoon she got a note that said, thanks for applying, you're not what we're looking for, best of luck. That must be some sort of world record.

What impressed me about that note was its speed and that it left no room for further discusssion. In a very simple way they told her we're young, we're hungry and you'll slow us down. The average age at LivingSocial is 31 years-old.

I'm going as fast as I can

This understanding of LivingSocial and the business it operates in was reinforced by Alexandra Solomon, senior director of marketing, who gave a presentation last week to the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) in DC. She spoke fast, rushed through and said a lot about growth (they are now in 21 countries, with 40 million members, and were named one of the top 50 places to work by Washingtonian magazine). Then she was out the door to talk to a company they had just bought on the other side of the planet.

LivingSocial's goal is to become the leader in international retail deals and they are buying companies like crazy overseas. They have a deal of the day, are introducing a gourmet group (for those who don't want to wait on line forever at an obscure ethnic restaurant that is suddenly flooded with patrons), and a variety of last minute, decent percentage off travel, dining, etc. packages.

Living Social Ads - Check out its new campaign.

The business model is strong but quite frankly we've seen it come and go in other recessions. Retailers cut prices, give away freebies and drag traffic into their places. Most, Solomon said, make a little bit of money or break even on the deal. What she did not say is that people have shown up at restaurants with their 50% off coupon, only to discover that they cannot get in - at all that day. Right now there's no cut off or control over usage. That will likely end soon.

Many of the European and Asian services are still branded under their own names, and often have existed for a couple of years already, so they come with followers. Although the ultimate goal is to make the LivingSocial brand prominent on everything - right now that's not an option. Bragging rights to becoming the largest global player in thes market are worth it.

I also don't know if the deals are all that good - so you get 50% off dinner in a restaurant you've never tried, but you end up spending 25% more than you would have anyway. But the bottom line for marketers and retailers is consumers like to feel as though they've gotten a bargain. They brag about it to friends. They become deal of the day junkies. It's harder to compete with that.

Local retailers can probably compete with LivingSocial through better service, deals that pamper rather than are fully based on saving money, and just developing strong repoire with their customers. But that's what they should do anyway, right?

Will the LivingSocial model survive? Probably but it's getting cluttered out there and there will be a lot of shake-out first. Like any new market that's growing faster than it can keep up with, the excitement is high and the value to its various players is all in being part of the game.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Defense PR Joins the Real World

At the Capitol Communicators Group lunch last week, I saw a refreshingly frank presentation by Frederick P. Wellman, president of a small PR company called ScoutsComms. Wellman served in Iraq twice and returned to launch a PR company to help the aerospace, defense and veterans' sectors navigate the muddy waters at the end of the decade long defense spend-a-thon.

Wellman discussed General David Petraeus' management style as just go figure it out. He was replaced by General Martin E. Dempsey who operated by asking what's your plan? He has worked for both and learned a great deal in the process.

Wellman discussed how many defense contractors approached their businesses in the gravy train years as don't do anything to rock the boat. But as the budget cuts keep coming, the new defense PR strategy is transitioning into fight as hard as you can for your piece of the pie.

Wellman also described the competitiveness for media attention at a recent trade show. There were over 600 exhibitors and just over 20 reporters to cover all of them. That seemed like pretty good odds to me.

How the Washington Post Covers Defense Contracting

Wellington brought along a Washington Post defense contracting reporter, Marjorie Censer, who quickly explained she is the only one left covering this topic. Censer is working for the Washington Post's weekly magazine Capital Business, and appeared smart and accessible. She offered a few tips about pitching her stories:

Deadlines - Capital Business comes out on Monday and the Washington Business Journal (its major rival), the Friday before. Don't pitch the two of them the same story at once because if the WBJ runs it first, her editors will be very upset.

Sources - Her main sources are analysts who cover defense contractors in our region and she is looking for others. While the analyts are helpful, they are not unbiased. She welcomes input from college and university professors who teach defense policy and other topics within this realm.

Story Pitches Censer says she reads press releases and story pitches, and gave an example of how she'd featured a small company whose release she'd received recently, within a larger story. Product pitches are out unless you can tie them to a bigger trend. Fresh ideas about the battle between Maryland and Virginia for corporate headquarters and jobs are welcome.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Association Execs Share Creative Ideas for Member Bonding

The American Society of Association Executives which now goes by the acronym ASAE, holds what it calls Super Swaps four times each year. The one I sat in on last week in Washington, DC was about membership marketing. There were probably 40 professionals in the room, many of whom contributed to a spirited conversation.

The session was moderated by Talisa Thomas Hall, president of The Center for Effective Organizations, who was very good. Although some of the ideas were association specific, many could be adapted to different marketing situations.

Annual Meeting – One association streamed its general sessions by putting them live on its Web site, so all could members could benefit and share in the conference. One of the speakers was well known and from a TED Talks series. When asked, the membership person said the general sessions are of interest to all, and not necessarily conference specific. It’s a great way to get people who didn’t attend the annual meeting last year, to think about coming next.

CEO Outreach - One CEO has a conference call every three months for all new and current members. They get on the phone and ask him questions about the association during the call. It’s a creative method for welcoming new people, and to show that you care.

Helping Members Get Through Tough Times. For members who are on the fence or can’t pay all at once, consider offering an extended installment plan. You can do it through Pay Pal. One membership professional said her association’s membership was down 20%, and since it's offered a payment plan membership is up 6%. That’s impressive.

Market to Where Members are with You Understand where specific members are in the lifecycle of membership, and deliver member benefits for them around that. For instance, one association has new members get a call from a staffer after the first 90 days to see how it's going. Another association has a forum annually where founding members are honored. Several associations have recently added associate memberships at a lower rate. All agreed that as part of this, you should give your current members recognition or an added bonus.

Wooing younger members One association sends members out to recruit and talk about it to high school students. They offer a free membership to them and follow them to college. Often the high school students join as college age members later on.

Members tell their stories Consider capturing the stories of how your association made a difference in the lives of individual members and sharing them. One association had a photo and video booth at its annual conference where people could tell their stories of membership. It was kind of an old fashioned idea, but members loved it. The association was also able to create a library of material that it could use to reinforce the value of membership.

Remember to Constantly Ask Yourself These Membership Questions

Consultants also shared some of the questions they ask membership staff and leaders when they are called in to help. They are pretty basic, but always good to revisit.

What is your members’ can’t, why aren’t they involved with the association and what’s stopping you from delivering it?

What do your members want from you?

Who are the members in your association that bring in non-dues revenue and how are you reaching out to them?

Are you focusing your membership marketing on what you do well?

What can you stop doing and no one will care?