By Robert Sanchez
June 17, 2010
With the explosion of mobile phone adoption in the U.S., many organizations are actively looking for new ways to leverage mobile technology to improve their company’s offering.
According to a recent Portio report, global short message service (SMS) traffic exceeded 5 trillion messages in 2009, a figure that is expected to double by 2013. Additionally, Nielsen has stated that 98 percent of all cell phones in the U.S. are text-enabled and over the past two years, the growth rate of texting has increased over 450 percent.
With this exponential adoption of text messaging, it is important for today’s organizations to understand how leveraging text messaging technology appropriately can modernize marketing activities, boost customer retention and brand loyalty and improve overall customer service.
Only Provide Information Your Customers Want to Receive
Today’s print media is excited about a return of less than 1 percent for bulk advertising. That’s the old shotgun approach to attracting and keeping customers. One percent is not only embarrassing, but it is also a very expensive and inefficient way of reaching potential customers. It’s also no way to correlate your marketing spend to revenue lift.
So what kind of mobile service is critical to customer retention AND can correlate marketing spend to revenue lift? Simple: two-way, permission-based, targeted text messaging. No other technology when implemented properly can reach nearly 100 percent of all mobile users in the U.S.
Whether communications to customers are for mobile couponing, warranty announcements, special discounts or general information, all of them want the same thing-¦meaningful and timely information.
It is critical that any retention strategy focus on the desires and likes of each and every customer as individuals not as groups or segments. Those likes and dislikes must be reflected in how, why and when you communicate to them. For example, mobile couponing to high school students can be very lucrative; however, not all high school students like the same things. In reaching this segment, determine their desires, let’s say for lunch preferences, by simply asking them what kind of food they like. If, for example, the response is Mexican food, then mobile couponing with Taco Bell or Del Taco makes sense. A keen marketer will create a marketing plan of “Taco Tuesdays” and send a mobile coupon out at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays. A successful mobile retention strategy must continue to ask those same people what kind their interests are in future messages. Customer retention means pertinence as a function of meaning and timing.
Three Keys to Customer Retention
There are three fundamental areas to consider when incorporating a mobile strategy:
Regarding REACH, 98 percent of all mobile phones regardless of carrier, technology, form or factor perform two very basic and fundamental functions - voice calls and text. If your mobile customer retention strategy is based on mobile Internet and NOT either or both of those two simple features, you are addressing only 12.5 percent of mobile users in the U.S. Customer retention demands marketing to customer needs and on their terms, not on the hype or promise of the market. If your favorite restaurant offered BOGO offers, but said you needed to have a certain phone, would you run out and change your service and device?
Regarding RESPECT, today’s cellular phone is a person’s private lifeline. Abuiwerk of Royal Oak provides technical consulting, software development and technical services for clients including smart cellphone applications (mobile apps) and remote managed services for smaller clients. The company was founded in 1991 by President and CEO Tom Lewis to create high-end database and Web-based software. Lewis also started Lewis Information Group that provides technology consulting and information services.
“We would like people to think of us as a high-end, reliable IT (information technology) consulting company - a solutions provider,” Lewis said. “We try to be involved (with our clients) from the beginning of a project and provide the most appropriate technology platform as opposed to pushing one particular technology or one particular tool. If there is something available, we’ll use it, but if we need to create something, we’ll create it.”
iwerk’s software development team primarily creates Web-based, custom applications with Microsoft .NET 4.0 with SQL Server databases, but its members also have extensive experience with off-the-shelf software packages and legacy systems for data retrieval. The company has clients in many different industries and its staff members know the latest rules and regulations regarding health records (HIPAA), legal and technical controls on medical-related sites/applications, etc.
“It’s always tempting to latch onto one particular technology but this is our 20th year and we’ve probably been through 50 different technologies that we worked with,” Lewis said. “We used to be a Novell network shop, then moved to support Microsoft technologies, and then to open source technologies. Now we support social media. We’ve had to keep our skills fresh and also keep an open mind to working with those technologies.”
iwerk has three big initiatives this year, including moving to a remote managed services business model, developing high-end mobile apps, and creating reusable tools for clients.
For nearly 20 years, Lewis’s companies have followed the fee-for-service model, providing onsite, personal and friendly service. But iwerk is offering an option for its smaller customers - remote monitoring/managed services.
“I think it’s better to be onsite, to be able to look someone in the eye and give a quick response to a question,” he said. “Those quick questions spark innovation and projects - it sparks a conversation and we start brainstorming before anyone creates a proposal or makes a formal request-¦ But we wanted to offer a service for our smaller clients so they’re not paying for travel.”
On the mobile side, iwerk is creating a number of high-end mobile apps for AT&T and Covisint that are usable by smart phones such as Android, Blackberry and the iPhone. In a partnership with Covisint, iwerk developed a medical app that interfaces with a medical database but keeps patient data secure.
One fun and challenging project in the mobile apps arena was for the 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere games held over two days in Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden. Part of the fun was that most of the iwerk’s staff members were hockey fans and the Detroit Red Wings were playing in the games.
In partnership with the NHL, Compuware and Team Detroit, iwerk created an application for the nearly 500 VIP guests who attended the games. The app created a private social network for the VIPs - many of whom were European information technology executives - so they could communicate with each other, know what city and arena they were in, and learn about events in each city. The app was installed on Apple iPhone or iPad that interfaced with the National Hockey League’s real-time database as the games were being played and included a game for the VIPs.
“We came up with a game that asked VIPs to predict what would happen in the game - who would get the first shot on goal, who would score the first goal, and how many shots were on goal,” Lewis said.
“Each player went against other VIPs who were there. Throughout the game we took the NHL feed and compared their predictions to what happened in real time-¦ It was great to see people looking at the phones and talking to each other. As people moved to the top (game score) others would go and pat them on the back. It was so cool to see the technology creating an atmosphere of personal interaction - exactly what we wanted.”
iwerk’s third major initiative for this year is not really new, but it is promoting reusable tools for its clients.
“Everything that we develop for our clients is theirs to keep. They own their source code. They own the software that we develop. But we don’t want to do one-off projects,” Lewis noted.
For example, when working with an advertising agency that represents a group of companies, iwerk builds them tools that can be reused because many promotions have the same needs. That way the client can be guaranteed that the software has been thoroughly tested and is robust.
During the past year, iwerk has been involved with promotions for Nintendo, for GameStop, American Airlines, Hilton, Exxon, Frito-Lay, and for Cisco.
Technological changes are so rapid that it is hard for iwerk to predict how people will interface with information five years from now - what device they will primarily use - but there are will be new open systems and mobile applications that are built within social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Chrome that will be as powerful as traditional desktop computer software, Lewis said.
“There’s some power there for data manipulation and a slicker interface,” Lewis said. “What we’ve had to do is become flexible enough to apply those to a core database structure that can support all of these different displays.”
However, iwerk’s specialty is starting from the database and creating the backend infrastructure so different devices can access the information. Still, it is a challenge not knowing what end product will use an application, Lewis added.
MIST Innovations of Detroit provides network monitoring devices and security products, providing streaming video feeds to personal digital assistant and remote monitoring devices. Founded in 2004, the company’s name stands for “Mobility, Information, Security and Technology,” and in 2008 received the Edward Lowe Foundation “50 Most Companies to Watch” award. Automation Alley recognized MIST as an “Emerging Technology Company of the Year.”
The company’s latest product, MISTonDemand II, provides an instant visual picture of critical operations via a client’s smart phone or PDA.
“We give an individual quality feedback on a real time basis so they can communicate very instructively and succinctly to their business partners,” said Craig S. Capece, president and CEO. “We have a lot of proprietary technology that focus on the mobile delivery of video from surveillance infrastructures to handheld devices.
“MIST has benefits to the user by increasing their security infrastructure and improving productivity. The majority of our customers use our technology from the value-added, productivity standpoint, especially when they are trying to manage multiple locations.”
For example, one of MIST’s customers has 10 fast food restaurants in metro Detroit. Although the owner is very active and involved in his business, he can’t physically be at all the locations at all times. Instead he uses MIST’s product to focus in on his locations at key times, such as when cash is moved from registers to safes.
“At a peak times - at the lunchtime hour or the drive-through - restaurant owners can use our device to make real-time adjustments to their businesses based on flow,” Capece said. “They can call and have additional stations opened up.”
MIST Innovations focuses on the mobile experience with superior video delivery. Its technology is compatible with different cell phones, different operating systems and it has relationships with cellphone carriers, including Verizon and Sprint.
“We scaled our technology to provide the best video experience possible,” Capece said. “There are many solutions on the market that can deliver video onto a handheld device but reliability is not there. It drops out or can only provide pictures with frames instead of full-stream live video-¦ We also have an intense undertaking where we are always evaluating and tailoring our product to the next generation of operating systems coming out. So we are fully compatible with any new phones.”
Banks can use MIST’s technology to supplement their existing security infrastructure.
“A few years ago a bank branch manager would spend the complete day at a branch,” Capece said. “Today the nature of the business is they are spending more and more time outside of the branch calling on customers directly to generate business for the bank, but they can still monitor and manage activities inside the bank when they’re not physically there.”
Using MIST’s product, managers can visually see any activity and with a simple phone call to the appropriate person make adjustment to their businesses.
MIST Innovations has more than 50 clients and is aggressively expanding its footprint nationwide.
Handheld devices will continue to evolve and within the next five years there should be a number of products available. “You are starting to see that with tablet-type devices and I think you will see an explosion in sophistication of devices that will become more simplistic and provide information without overwhelming the user,” he said. “We will be able to provided video content to a particular individual that is very meaningful and instructive to them.”
MIST Innovations was nominated for the Corp! Digital award by Jason Brown of PublicCity PR.
Parnunu LLC of Zeeland, Mich., was founded in 2010 by Andy Otteman - the former project management director of seating for Herman Miller - as a place for job seekers and professionals to provide a dynamic portfolio about themselves rather than a static resume.
“I look at Parnunu as an innovative Web-based utility that takes us from the archaic paper resume stack that is a few inches high on someone’s desk to something’s that is very dynamic and searchable,” Otteman said. “It can certainly include typical resume information but it tells their story in both photos and video and also links them to other websites associated with that person including attachments to be an example of what their true work capabilities are. It draws out a personality versus something that’s on a piece of paper that’s tailored to a specific job opening on a company website.
“It’s a place for individuals to come and keep their career portfolio current. So they are prepared and ready for opportunities that might be out there.”
Otteman had worked at Herman Miller for 18 years, helping to grow its seating division into a $200 million business, but was a victim of downsizing when the Great Recession began. When thinking about what else he could do, he said, “I reflected on what I enjoyed most at the company, which was the other half of my job … mentoring, growing and developing the team I had working with me.”
His foray into starting Parnunu was when he was back on the job market and realized that the entire process was broken. He had been on the other side, in the hiring position, and thought that there had to be a better way to represent people than a resume, which lacks any view of the applicant’s personality.
Taking a lesson from Herman Miller’s culture - of challenging conventional wisdom - Otteman began thinking about how a person’s portfolio of work, activities and accomplishments could be represented online, but different than a Facebook or a LinkedIn page or being on a job board such as Monster.com.
In January 2009 he received a grant from the Michigan Small Business & Development Center’s FastTrac New Venture program to solidify his idea for Parnunu. That process included working with Fairly Painless Advertising, a Holland, Mich.-based advertising agency, before launching Parnunu at a Michigan Economic Development Corp. event March 3, 2010, at Lansing Community College.
“I looked at the competition, looked at other ways to market the business, and developed a full business plan that was dynamic and a coach to help solidify the direction of the business,” Otteman said. “That put me in contact with good individuals who I had known for a long time to help and promote, and do a lot of the design work to launch into Parnunu.
“The intent of the website is for people to keep (their) portfolio current so they are prepared and ready (for a career change). Michigan has great talent and this is a better way to boost that talent to more companies and to people wanting to come back to Michigan.”
Parnunu is not a hiring jobs site, however. It’s that bridge to an interview and gives an individual a chance to look at other openings at a company.
“The site is for a Type A personality who really needs a ticket to remind them to keep (their) portfolio up to date,” Otteman said. “Your career is probably the most important thing, from a work standpoint, so keeping that current is the most important thing. The reminder functionality provides each member on a quarterly basis to keep their portfolio current, active and up to date.”
As a startup company, Parnunu relies on membership fees because there isn’t any advertising on the site. Individual members are charged $34.95 annually or $69.00 for an expanded space. Company fees range between $299 for 30 days to $1,999 for a year. Company portfolios would allow employers to reach out to talented people by showcasing who they are and their businesses stories.
About 100 people have signed up for the service and in the future Otteman said that he would like to convert over to the “freemium” (free + premium) model where the standard membership is at a low-cost or free basis and the more robust paid membership has value-added features.
“In a five- year time frame, I see branching out to western urban areas, such as Chicago, Indianapolis, and more larger urban areas beyond Michigan that have very good, talented people,” Otteman said. “I also see growth from savvy individuals coming out of college. A resume doesn’t due them justice because it looks the same as every other graduate.”
The name Parnunu also has special meaning. It was created by Otteman’s father-in-law, Jack DeWitt, who turned 100 on January 30 and founded the poultry feeding equipment company Big Dutchman Inc., which has its U.S. headquarters in Michigan.
“Parnunu was a word for banana my father-in-law made up when he was a little kid with his younger brother; they developed their own little language to keep their siblings at bay so they wouldn’t know,” Otteman explained. “If you can imagine being a little kid on farm in the 1910s and 1920s, you didn’t walk down to the corner store and buy a banana. It was something that was unique, cherished and valued.
“In that sense, I look at a person’s portfolio as something that’s cherished.”
Plante & Moran is among the nation’s largest certified public accounting and business advisory firms, providing clients with tax, audit, risk management, financial, technology, business consulting and wealth management services. The firm’s staff of 1,600 professionals work in 21 offices throughout Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, plus Monterrey, Mexico, Mumbai, India, and Shanghai, China. Its automotive dealership team serves more than 200 clients. Plante & Moran has been recognized by Fortune magazine as one of the country’s best places to work for 12 consecutive years.
The firm was nominated for the Corp! digital award by Barb Fornasiero of EAFocus Communications for three recent initiatives including starting a webinar series, training its staff on how to use social media tools including LinkedIn, and because Managing Partner Gordon Krater was named one of the 100 most influential people in the accounting industry in part because of the firm’s social media activities. Krater also recently started writing his own blog.
Webinars are not new, but Plante & Moran is using them in a big way to reach out to its clients and new prospects, noted Jeff Antaya, the firm’s chief marketing officer.
“The fall of 2009 was our first toe in the water (with webinars),” Antaya said. “We’ve had such great success with the program that it’s continued. We do a spring and a fall webinar series of about 15 sessions.”
The hour-long webinars are led by Plante & Moran accountants and staff members with topics including employee benefits, health care, taxes, automotive, banking issues and senior care issues. One of our best attended sessions, however, dealt with social networking and social media where 800 people registered and about 500 attended.
Since the firm’s certified public accountants need to take continuing education classes, Plante & Moran structured some of the webinar sessions to count as continuing professional education (CPE) credits.
“In total we ended up with 5,000 registering for the spring and fall series and we get about 50 percent showing up for the webinars and the rest probably check it out afterward,” Antaya said. “We are really conscious about when we offer these programs and when we send out communications about them. We studied best-practices on how you communicate digitally… One of our most effective tools is sending out a reminder e-mail one or two days away from an event; more people tend to sign up then instead of when the reminder is sent out a week or month beforehand.”
The firm is investigating how to use more visual and video presentations for the webinars.
In regard to social media, instead of blocking sites - as reportedly half of all companies do - Plante & Moran trains its staff on how to use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others, and encourages them to use these tools to communicate to friends, colleagues and customers.[PA
“For instance, to promote the use of these tools, we put thought leadership pieces on our website and provide our staff with a link and encourage them to share that information through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter,” Antaya said. “We want to hire the best and brightest out there and research shows that the best and brightest graduates won’t work for a company that blocks access to these tools. It’s what they’ve grown up with.
“We are cross-generational - we have four or five generations of people working here at the firm - so it is important that not one generation makes the rules. Everyone has to share the workplace.”
Plante & Moran’s’ offices are using social media to promote domestic violence shelters. Each of the offices supports a different shelter. To add some excitement to the campaign, the firm has asked its staff to have their friends vote for the shelter that their office is supporting. The charity supported by one of the top vote-getters will get an additional donation. So far, one of the firm’s smaller offices - in Traverse City - is one of the top-four vote-getters.
“In that same manner, we want our staff to use LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media to share our thought leadership information - our articles and information,” Antaya said.
Plante & Moran’s corporate culture, which seeks to successfully transition the firm from one generation to the next, is at the forefront of everything it does. One of our firm’s founders, Frank Moran, was a philosophy major and it’s shaped how the firm’s colleagues treat each other and clients.
“Social media and webinars are about driving topline revenue growth, not efficiency,” Antaya added. “We have a very large number of people that we are courting to become clients. By using webinars and social networking tools we are able to demonstrate how well we can service them and how much intelligence we have at Plante & Moran, while social networking allows for building bridges to the decision makers.”
Managing Partner Krater has only posted a few columns on his blog, but one post dealt with Plante & Moran saying, “Autograph your work with quality” and how important quality is.
“The blog gives folks a glimpse into him as a person and a leader and that extends out. We are continuing to look for new ways to leverage digital meeting,”
Scate Technologies Inc. of Orion, Mich., develops and markets its own social media software products for marketing companies. Its applications compete directly with the pay-for-click companies - such as the ads on Google, Yahoo!, Bing - those ads on the side are pay-for-click. Scate also provides clients custom programming services for desktop, mobile, Web and client/server applications; search engine optimization, and graphic design.
Company founder Stephen Sadler has many years of automotive experience, including working at a tool and die shop before going to a Chrysler plant in Ontario where he started programming its first welding robot. He later became director of engineering at Talon Automotive, a supplier of stamped structural modules and interior trim. He and his wife started Scate Technologies in April 2003.
“Our products’ biggest contribution is saving companies money,” Sadler said. “You’ll be able to market without paying astronomical amounts of money to get your message out.
“Instead of pay-per-click, we provide our clients a pay-per-tweet model. By sending out messages through social media, people are cutting down on their marketing costs by 90 percent and still driving the same if not more traffic to their website.”
Every two weeks Scate Technologies hosts a luncheon called “Social Media Monday” for its customers and potential customers to discuss specific subjects, such as how to create a Facebook fan page and how often should information be posted on the fan page and what’s the appropriate messaging for businesses.
Sadler even recently published a book about social media called “Exposure to Closure.”
“Social media is about focusing your time and assets on what is important, which is the conversation,” he said. “A lot of people will go and spend their life tweeting when they go to a conference with a bunch of people who want to spout off on what they are doing, but they’re not listening. In today’s world you better spend your time listening to your customers. They’ll tell you what they want.”
One of the major changes that may impact social media marketing is a new site called Buztweet.com, he noted, and his firm is looking at how it can help its clients use it more effectively, he noted. Buztweet.com allows even small businesses to run social media campaigns.
“Essentially (www.buztweet.com) is a software-as-service operation so you log in and you attach all of your social media accounts so everything is synced,” he said. “If you have a Facebook page, a Twitter page, a Google Buzz account or a LinkedIn account, it will take all of those accounts in one spot and you can create campaigns at a certain frequency or certain time frame and date and you push play and off it goes. You can create messages and tweets from content within your website. It makes tweets out of those so you can get it out into the social media stream so you don’t have to spend your time figuring out what you want to say.
“Then you can spend your time monitoring what people are saying about you and talking to people, which is what social media is all about. There’s automation where automation is needed and you can spend your time communicating to your customers.”
Although he was born in England and grew up in Ontario, Canada, Sadler said he started Scate Technologies in Michigan because there are many smart people in the state and they need to take their skills and apply them to different markets and different things. That will lead to diversifying the state’s economic base, allowing things to grow and bring more stability to the area.
Workfolio LLC of Troy is a privately-held software company that was founded in 2009 by Charles Pooley, David Hill, and John Himmelspach along with business partner Media Genesis to create a Web application that makes work visible for individuals and organizations.
Workfolio operates in a quasi-LinkedIn fashion, but it has several levels of connectivity information from a public profile to company-only, group-only, password-protected or private for your eyes only.
The company is setup as a subscription website, but it is working on an online directory so everyone can sign up for Workfolio’s basic version. There is a subscription fee if clients want more advanced features and controls.
The company uses common development tools to create its application, but its design and development is highly proprietary, Pooley said. One of the things that Workfolio does that is different than anyone else is an advanced widget technology - small software applications that can be installed and executed within a Web page by an end-user.
“You can use the widget technology, for example, to create a quick poll and you can put it on your workfolio and you can share that information across the organization you belong to,” he noted. “The Web is the new high-stakes battleground for marketing and brand communications. Companies realize that (the Web) is where they will get the most effective advertising and exposure for their money.”
However, businesses are finding that their corporate Web presences are increasingly less effective. Meanwhile, social media sites allow individuals to have tremendous communication power, but there has been a huge divide between companies and their workforces about how they represent themselves on the Web.
“Workfolio’s mission is to break down that division in a way that benefits every shareholder including the public at large,” Pooley said. “What that means is that anyone can easily publish content, promote their key capabilities, and manage the visibility of their work both outside and inside the enterprise.
“Workfolio takes all of the programing and Web knowledge that someone needs and removes all of that. It allows an average person the ability to create a really elegant and functional Web presence. It’s ‘drag and drop’ so it’s very simple to use. Think of it as websites for workforces - everybody gets a Web presence, some of which can be public, a portion of which can be private or internal to the company. Or, all of the information could be public or all of it private.”
For the future, Workfolio is looking at concepts called game mechanics and game theory, which has been used on some websites where members can earn badges and points for participation. Foursquare.com and Facebook have begun implementing point systems.
“We are primarily an enterprise product but we are looking at game mechanics to see how it might apply to an enterprise and how companies might use more or encourage their employee population to promote the company and themselves in the process and have fun doing it. We’re very much interested in that,” Pooley said.
The world is also on the cusp of major advances in the way information is utilized and consumed. For example, the print media has long used infographics - information graphics - as a tool to inform and entertain the reader. Web-based infographics are more dynamic will probably start appearing as smart cellphone applications.
“There’s the iPad flipboard application where you take social content and put in magazine format,” Pooley said. “That way you can take your social content and breeze through it like a magazine. That kind of thing is a good example of what we at Workfolio are paying attention to. How can we visualize information in new models and a new way of thinking to make it more consumable in snack size format for the audience.”
Workfolio was nominated for the Corp! digital award by Antoine Dubeauclard of Media Genesis.