Human Marketing


Be a Problem Solver & Stop Telling People What You’re Selling

Illustrated by Elly Walton

Door-to-door salesmen have a few things right. It’s hard to say no to someone who’s standing on your doorstep with a rusty Dodge in your driveway and a “baby on board” sign in the window. “I’ll listen to what this guy has to say,” you think. An hour later there’s a new vacuum cleaner in your living room.

More than that, door-to-door salesmen don’t walk up with the new Power-Hoover-Sucker-Upper-in-Titanium-Blue and say “look at this vaccuum cleaner! You totally need one! Everyone else has one, shouldn’t you?!”

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How to Predict Customer Behavior with Big Data

How to Predict Customer Behavior with Big Data

Illustrated by David Flanagan

Recently Amanda discussed on the Swipely blog how “big data” is a concept that has been getting a lot of attention in the media during the recent election season and considering how it might apply to your business. Big Data—or a massive set of data that can be too big to handle, interpret, and read without the help of technology – can also provide tremendous insights and opportunities.

Why is this important and what can you do with the data once you’ve collected it? Thinking about the psychology and science of behavior (in this case, spending habits), is one way to use Big Data to make connections that will be useful in building loyalty in your business.

In this Harvard Business Review post, Alex Pentland discusses the importance of data providing access to “objective information about people’s behavior” as opposed to “what they tell the world their behavior is.”

The article highlights how researchers at MIT are studying Big Data patterns to apply research to the financial market and find solutions for the economy and a more sustainable future. Ultimately their findings are helping to understand that “markets are not just about rules or algorithms; they’re about people and algorithms together.”

This is true on a much smaller scale for small businesses trying to succeed in a big box world, who need to maximize their results much more efficiently, but also have the unique ability to personally connect with their customers.

As a small business owner, sometimes it feels like gambling when we put so much time and money into a big marketing campaign aimed at generalizations or stereotypes of what people want. Big data, including comprehensive demographics and customer stats at your fingertips will allow you to go much further.

Pentland writes that:

Analysis of Big Data is increasingly about finding connections between people’s behavior and outcomes. Ultimately, it will enable us to predict events.

Here are some ways you can apply this kind of thinking to your own marketing strategy:

Think About Customers as Part of Social Groups, On and Offline

According to the HBR post, scientists understand that behavior is largely determined by social context and is “much more predictable” than we suspect. By noticing what groups your most loyal customers fall into, you can sometimes predict behavior based on common spending habits.  along with demographics. Age stats are helpful, but try taking into consideration many different aspects of groups, like how different generations tend to use technology, the dining habits of couples with children or notice the kind of people people who respond well to theme nights, for example.

Track Promotions to See Patterns and Target Campaigns

Now that you are identifying groups, patterns will begin to emerge as you track your promotional efforts in person and online in social networks or email marketing efforts. Beginning to tailor your promotions to engage different types of customers differently can provide even more data that helps to predict outcomes, creating a valuable feedback loop. In less time, you will be able to adjust accordingly in small ways throughout your marketing planning, online engagement and even in-person customer service.

Remember it’s Not Just About Numbers

If you’re not familiar with Swipely (a client), they’ve designed a payment processing system with built-in marketing tools and a convenient loyalty program. Angus Davis (founder) is passionate about helping small businesses grow, and Swipely is built with small businesses and their customers in mind.

Another related Harvard Business Review post goes even further in discussing the human component of Big Data:

We often forget about the human component in the excitement over data tools. Consider how we talk about Big Data. We forget that it is not about the data; it is about our customers having a deep, engaging, insightful, meaningful conversation with us — if we only learn how to listen.

Big data that comes from payment processing is typically too hard to digest – making it impossible to actually use any of that data. What we love about Swipely is that they use that data and turn it into really useful information that helps you with your customers – they’ll tell you if a rainy day affected sales, if you should cater more to a certain demographic, who your most valuable customers are, and all kinds of really useful stuff. This data can help you create incentives specifically for your most loyal customers.

Ultimately, the reason why we love working with a company like Swipely is because they care as much about small businesses as they do about their customers. They’ve put together a really fascinating suite of (practically free) tools that offer a simple, yet powerful approach to making that successful human connection…and you know how much we believe in the power of a human connection.

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How to Keep Customers Fiercely, Passionately Loyal (Sorry Hostess!)

How to Keep Customers Fiercely, Passionately Loyal (Sorry Hostess!)I didn’t want to touch the Twinkie/Hostess thing, I really didn’t. The politics and opinions surrounding the demise of our favorite childhood golden treat is almost as bad as the election.

But Harvard Business Review (disclosure: Harvard is a client) posted something that I think is so important:

“Hostess established a relationship with us as consumers, but over time that foundation didn’t do enough to keep us engaged.”


We’ve all been there, right? We meet someone, we hit it off, then we drop the ball and lose touch until the point that reconnection is awkward.

Clearly, it transfers to business too.

  • Someone buys a product from you, and at that peak moment of loyalty, where they trust you enough to buy, you drop the connection by leading them to a helpless thank-you page. No “like” button, no “follow” button, just “see ya when I see ya!”
  • You do some audience development by chatting with people on Twitter, being a rockstar of your niche, and getting a huge influx of follows. You warm their hearts by giving them a chance to connect directly. Then you get burnt out, let your account get a little stale and go the self-promotional route. People forget what it was they loved about you and they unfollow.
  • You meet someone at a conference, talk about how you’d love to do business together, then forget to send them an email after the conference, or send an impersonal LinkedIn request. Lame.

I’ve talked about this before, but there are several businesses who have earned my loyalty, and I shout their names from the rooftops because of it. Wistia is one, FreshPet is another, WineLibrary, and J.C. Cellars are two more. All of these companies appreciate their customers and know how to say “thank you”.

On the other side, there are plenty that I’ve pledged my loyalty to that got snooty along with their rise to stardom and dropped the ball like an anchor.

To stay in business, we have to treat our customers like precious gems, like they are the lifeblood of our organizations – because they are.

We should ask them how to improve our websites, inventory, product features, etc.

We should respond to their eager tweets and questions on Facebook.

We should never leave a customer hanging when they post on our wall.

We should thank people who shout us out on social media, or anywhere.

We should blush every once in a while.

Every few months, reach back out to customers who you had dialog with in the past to see how they’re doing. Don’t get snooty, always be humble. Always say thank you, and remember who keeps you in business.

Not only did Hostess forget about their customers, they forgot about their employees too. Who exactly were they thinking about?

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Hurricane Marketing: How to Piss Off People During a Natural Disaster

Hurricane Marketing: How to Piss Off People During a Natural Disaster

Illustration by Nick Palazzo


Around midnight last night, when our power came back on from Sandy’s passing, I thought to myself, “are there any scheduled tweets in my Hootsuite account right now?” Thankfully, the answer was no, and my feeds had been silent as long as our busted generator had been.

But a glance on Twitter showed that I wasn’t the only one thinking about how stupid a scheduled tweet might look during a crisis.

Even worse, hurricane marketing became a fad over the past couple of days. The word-of-mouth era isn’t exactly the greatest time to make a bad decision, because there’s no such thing as a “quiet mistake”. You can’t accidentally tweet from the wrong account, and you most certainly can’t try to make a dollar off of a Hurricane. Even if half of the Northeast was making jokes about it a few days ago and posting that tired photo of the tipped over lawn chair.

Hurricane Marketing: How to Piss Off People During a Natural DisasterAnd to be honest, it takes a whole lot to offend me, but when I got the American Apparel “Sandy Sale” email, I was a little shocked like everyone else. Granted, they sent it before the storm really devastated the Northeast, and perhaps it would have been hilarious if the storm passed by, but it didn’t. And people died. And the greatest city in the world is under water.

Being under water is scary. We spent the entire summer working from Florida during hurricane season. In fact, we lived on the water, on the end of a dead-end street, surrounded by water. So during the floods, we were under a few feet of water on all sides of the house. We couldn’t leave because there were alligators and snakes in the yard and electrical wires down. One time, our pooch got a toy lodged around his jaw and we spent four hours sawing it off the poor thing because we couldn’t leave to bring him to a vet.

Flooding isn’t a joke, and it’s really freaking scary. And when one house washes away, it has a habit of creating the domino effect. That was the scariest part for us, but I can’t begin to imagine what New York City or any other major city is like during a flood.

Hurricane Marketing: How to Piss Off People During a Natural DisasterSo at what point does a business make the call to turn a storm into a business opportunity? I’m not sure. Cause, you see, Gap didn’t waste any time in their hurricane marketing by pushing people to Those who still had power, of course.

But there were several levels of bad here. They checked into the storm, they promoted and what… no discount code?

Cripes, even American Apparel had the brains to make money, all Gap did was spin a boring promo.

But they’re not the only ones trying to profit from the #Sandy and #Frankenstorm hashtags.

According to LATimes:

  • Urban Outfitters is offering free shipping on all orders with the rather apt discount code “ALLSOGGY.”
  • Steven Alan is also running a free shipping promotion with code word “SANDYFREESHIP.”
  • Customers can get 15% off orders over $100 at sport retailer Owner Operator by entering the discount code “FRANKENSTORM.”

There were also lesser-known types of tweets, like Glamour’s spin on article marketing:

What, you want some better ideas for marketing during a crisis?

How about donating a shirt for every shirt bought? How about hosting a blood drive? Organizing help for their East Coast colleagues, even?

The less self-centric businesses spent their time sharing resources to donate blood, money and time to helping victims in the disaster areas.

If you want to “make money” off of a natural disaster (aka “looking good”), don’t try to make money. Businesses that spent more time trying to help those in the communities, or those from afar, were given high-praise and public shout-outs for their genuine, human-helping efforts.

That sort of “marketing” isn’t something you think about – you just do it. Look at your pockets, look at the thousands of followers/fans you have and the giant microphone that comes with it. Look at those in need, and try to help however you can.

At the very least, show your employees that you care by letting them stay home.  During Hurricane Irene, Patrick and I actually took refuge in a Not Your Average Joe’s (the only place that had power).

Hurricane Marketing: How to Piss Off People During a Natural Disaster

Hurricane Marketing: How to Piss Off People During a Natural DisasterBirchbox, who was also affected by the storm, did turn it into a promotional opportunity, but in the most tactful way possible.

Let’s hope this sort of thing doesn’t happen again soon, but in case it does, here’s a handy checklist. Gap and American Apparel employees might want to print this one out.

  • Don’t send out a promotion using the disaster hashtag with a link to a sale.
  • Don’t use the name of the disaster as a checkout promo code.
  • Don’t “check-in” to the storm or make light of it.
  • Don’t make light of it at all actually (just cause you’re not wet, doesn’t mean someone else isn’t!)
  • Re-schedule all of your scheduled tweets. Push them out at least a couple of days.
  • Stunt all marketing efforts until the coast is clear (it’s like sending a random email newsletter on Christmas -it’s just awkward).
  • If you must send an email, make note of the disaster and how you’re willing to help.
  • Watch the news. Please.

Is every business supposed to pipe down during every hurricane, tornado or earthquake? Of course not. Nobody stopped sending me emails while our Florida house was under water, that’s for sure.

And to be honest, Gap-loyal customers aren’t going to let a moment of insensitivity keep them from shopping. In fact, American Apparel probably made a good chunk of change from that promotion, especially due to all the bad/big publicity it got.

But do put some thought into the things you tweet. That goes for any day, not just sad days like today.

Our thoughts go out to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Let’s push harder than ever towards “shopping local” this upcoming holiday season to help rebuild our communities.

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10 Ways to Humanize Your Business by Embracing Local Techniques

10 Ways to Humanize Your Business by Embracing Local TechniquesPeople often sell products and services better than websites do. That’s why automated systems don’t do telesales and why door-to-door salesmen can still make a living (once you let them in). It’s also why video marketing is successful.

Transacting with a real human not only lays the guilt of not wanting to reject someone, but it also induces the fuzzy feeling we get when we talk to new interesting strangers.

Would you like to be a new, interesting stranger? You do if you have a product or service to sell. After that stage, you want to be a loyal friend who always has the best answers and is willing to bend over backward to make their friends happy.

Customer service is an artform that local mom and pop shops and independent small business have perfected.

Here are a few ways that you can start humanizing your business today, right now, right this minute:

  • Say THANK-YOU and MEAN IT: Possibly most important, being humble is a marvelous trait of local businesses, and this translates even more wonderfully online because it’s such an impersonal medium. I still remember the time Wistia sent Patrick a t-shirt because he kept shouting them out on Twitter, and the time FreshPet sent us a giant cooler of dog food, treats and swag because we wrote a nice blog post about them. How about when Gary Vaynerchuk sent a box of swag for buying his book? Heck, I blushed when J.C. Cellars sent me a Christmas card. Loyal customers for life? Yes, indeed.


  • Be in front of your customers: Your name and persona as a brand can be even more powerful than the name of your business. Food artisans and farmers use Farmer’s Markets to launch new products and build face-to-face relationships with their community. Tech companies do the same by holding tweet-ups and conferences that let them mingle with customers and one-day-I’ll-get-ya customers.


  • Start answering the phone: Don’t let any call go to voicemail when you’re available to pick up. Don’t direct people to email, and don’t even start conversations in email. Emails can come off so impersonal and often your tone doesn’t translate well and can lead to a communication breakdown. If your customer sounds chatty, don’t end the call too briefly, keep talking. One time a customer service rep asked me to give him a call after I sent him a tweet. From there we actually chatted about social media marketing for about an hour. Now I promote their business at every publishing conference I speak at because there’s a loyalty that was established in that hour (plus, their business is pretty rad too.)


  • Eliminate any scripts you’ve been working on:  Even the most profitable chain restaurants are honoring their guests by humanizing their sales pitches. “Chain restaurants like Denny’s, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Romano’s Macaroni Grill are focusing more on personalized service by training staff to note body language, eye contact and offhand remarks, hoping to make service feel less mechanical,” says The Wall Street Journal.


  • Make your customers feel smart: Loyal customers are planted and grown; they’re not just in bloom the moment they walk into your store. Part of being an extraordinary business owner is the ability to connect with your customers in such a way that each one feels like they left with more than they walked in with. Accomplish this by educating customers through your interactions, which can be easily attained in any type of business.


  • Connect a blog to your business and get comfortable: The tune of your business can be defined by the likeable voice of your blog and editorial storytelling. Straight and to the point is great when you’re on a fact-finding mission, but even white-collar posts about things like analytics are digested more easily, and are taken with more than a grain of salt when provided with a backstory.


  • Take it to the streets by considering a pop-up shop: Flash retailing involves opening a short-term store that sort of “pops up” until the merchandise is sold. Think of your pop-up shop as an event; a transportable liquidation or bakesale. It can be as simple as setting up a table at a farmer’s market, at your local Flea or even right in front of your store.


  • Get interviews with local media outlets: For a small business, this might sound difficult, but it’s not. News outlets and local blogs always need something to write about, and once you make yourself accessible to them, you’ll have plenty of opportunities. Not only as a brand ambassador, but also a subject-matter expert, you are a wealth of knowledge with your own perspective and stories to share.


  • Ask for feedback and implement it quickly: Comment cards aren’t a thing of the past, just a little outdated. Just look at Houlihan’s, who launched a social network meant only for their customers, “an invite-only ‘brand community’ of 10,500 ‘Houlifans’ to serve as a virtual comment card,”according to Fast Company. Since launching the community, which traded recipes for genuine feedback, sales are up 12%.


  • Take your social media fans offline: The one-to-many concept works great for online businesses, but local businesses take the extra steps to get those digital footprints onto their physical doormats. Digital companies can replace a storefront by hosting parties and sponsoring events, while local businesses work on taking better photos, inviting customers in for private sales, and hosting workshops.

Got it? Good. Now you have some work to do. And if you’re feeling lazy, just hire us.

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