Archive for the ‘Dell’ Category

A CIO Takes On CMOs and Social Media Marketing

By Colin Osburn, Chief Information Officer at

As a technologist, most everything I do has a technical bent first, with true ROI close behind. I realize that technology and finance to a marketer are like sunlight to a vampire, but steadily more and more of the marketing types appear to be following the technical and ROI trend. Metrics, reporting, automation, and justifying that mind-numbing campaign are all things that marketers are doing presently, while showing true technical aptitude.

I’ve had a real taste of why marketing and I are such distanced bedfellows. Running a national automotive parts Web site is complicated. A lot of technical effort goes into the operation and improvement of our search function, images, text, etc. Our customer base is earned through large partnerships, SEO (technical in its automation), and complimentary business lines. We even launched a short-run TV commercial this year for the first time in the company’s history.

It’s readily apparent that everyone—from small businesses to mega corporations and all the MLM shills in between—is jumping on the “new wave of technology” known as social media. To any decent technologist, this “new wave” is the same stuff we’ve been working with for years, but it’s in a new box with a bow.

All manner of Internet black magic that I can find, I heap upon our willing CTO to do a test run. I’m always looking at the newest technology for application to our business model. Automated sharing toolbars and widgets? Yep. Banner ads? Of course. Social media? Absolutely.

But I should have mentioned we do not have a CMO on staff. (Either that, or I disabled his account and forgot about him.) That means the technologists and sales executives are running the show. That also means we got exactly the results from all of these new implementations that you would expect:

  • The banner ads are completely pointless. I intend to remove them.
  • The toolbar never gets used, and no one shares anything.
  • The forums are dead.
  • We get very little response from our e-mail blasts.
  • We keep Facebook and Twitter because they keep the brand public. We also keep them because it’s a new type of customer service.

The site is designed for commerce. We make money when someone buys an auto part. Pretty direct. We haven’t added articles and sticky reading-style content because our user base comes to our site for a very direct task and wants to do it quickly. The same people most likely do participate in auto enthusiast forums and spend a lot of time browsing “car porn” (photos of hot rods, tricked-out cars, and classic vehicles), but not while they’re buying a part. We also have a disproportionately large number of auto dealers who use our site, and the service manager isn’t interested in reading something while trying to get the customer’s part overnighted.

We have Facebook. We have Twitter. But I refuse to attach our brand to MySpace. We have hundreds of friends, and there are a lot of people talking about a lot of things, 99% of which involves the buying and selling of cars. It’s pretty damn hard to get people hot and bothered about a camshaft replacement or that hot new discounted windshield replacement. Have you figured it out yet? We’re not just commerce, but commerce as a subsection of a larger vertical. And that vertical has plenty of content and places that provide it. So we implement what we can as fast as we can and tweak, wait, watch, and adjust.

In reality, some key points came to light for me over the past year:

  • CIOs and CMOs need one another. That’s so painful to admit.
  • Marketing helps those awesome new technologies become ubiquitous.
  • If you don’t have a marketer on staff, this is a good time to start talking to your network.
  • Technology for technology’s sake works some of the time, but not enough to generate an ROI that keeps the monthly revenue high.
  • Content sites will almost always make more on the items I listed, from social media to banner ads. Commerce sites will overall make more on a direct revenue basis. Build a widget, sell a widget.
  • Commerce sites can make progress with these social media tools, but they should not bet projections on them.
  • Being a subcategory makes you look for the “why” a lot sooner. Dell and Ford kill it on social media and “new wave” commerce sales because they are the market. We sell parts. There’s a huge difference.
  • Take what you can get. Better customer service and communication has been a real win for us with these tools, even if we don’t make millions on banner ads.
  • The Get Satisfaction site is a real winner for us because it enabled us to learn from our customers what we need to know. (Facebook has helped us with that as well.)

To be continued…

Does Your Company Have a @Tweetstar?

By Lois Geller, President of Lois Geller Marketing Group

Does your company have a @tweetstar? Some do, some don’t. I’m sure when you have a good one, it matters.

A lot of companies use Twitter well. Dell, The New York Times, E!, and Whole Foods are four of the top dozen tweeting companies. They use Twitter differently. For some, it’s almost an old school call center for answering questions from customers and prospects. Others just broadcast sales, product news, or links to product news. (In the case of E! and the NYT, it’s just news, period.)

Whether their tweets engage, inform, or entice, the big players have managed to grow their followers. For example, the NYT has more than two million. Looking a little deeper into the twittersphere, I’ve learned you have to have clear objectives here.

Take Dell, which to me, is confusing. If you go to, you’ll see that the company has a lot of Twitter sites. What you’d think is its main one, @Dell, has less than 4,000 followers. Dell’s big site is @DellOutlet, with more than 1.5 million followers. @DellOutlet is run by Elise Osborn, but her own Twitter site, @EliseAtDell, has less than 100 followers. @DellOutlet tweets deals, and a million and a half people want to hear about them. Elise answers questions on her own site, but she doesn’t seem to get a lot of them. In other words, Dell doesn’t care about engaging customers. Its Twitter focus is moving merchandise with big deals and doing it through a fictional “outlet,” which keeps the Canal Street aspect of the business slightly removed from the main brand. There seems to be no star power here. Just deals. It’s basically a commercial delivered via Twitter.

On the other hand, Ford does have a Twitter star. I’m not sure where Ford’s Scott Monty fits in the upper echelon of tweeting, but he does a great job. @Ford and @ScottMonty (both run by Scott) have about the same number of follwers—between 40,000 and 50,000. Scott engages customers and prospects beautifully and has much higher numbers than Dell on one side of the ledger and much lower numbers on the other side. @ScottMonty helped me when both Ford dealers in our neighborhood closed and @GeezerRepublic wanted to buy an Explorer. I tweeted, Scott responded, and Mike got the car.

I was thinking about all this last week just after a mini-epiphany about how companies use—or don’t use—Twitter to react to customers. It started in the middle of a conference call when a client said our phones made us sound like we were submerged under water. We called AT&T, and the rep said there were phone problems in the building. But we have VoIP service, so I checked with my neighbors in the next office, and they said they used Comcast with no problems. I tweeted about it, but neither AT&T nor Comcast responded.

Comcast is even more confusing than Dell. Most of Comcast’s tweeting happens on its @ComcastCares account. I wasn’t surprised about AT&T (apparently the company doesn’t even have a Twitter account), but Comcast’s lack of response to my ranting amazed me. A few years ago, I had a cable problem, and when I tweeted about it, Frank Eliason of @ComcastCares responded quickly, and someone magically appeared to help with installing my new TV. I’ve heard that Frank has moved on to Citigroup, and he had been Comcast’s Twitter star (at least for me).

So what happens when you lose your star, your spokesperson? Years ago, we were involved with Sarah Ferguson on the Weight Watchers business, but when Sarah left, nobody seemed to care. It’s different in social media, because the stars are engaged with people, and they become “friends.” I wonder if companies even know that? For instance, when @JohnAByrne left Businessweek, I stopped subscribing.

Just a guess, but if you’re thinking of the Twitter star approach, maybe it’d be a good idea to create a fictional persona and have different people do the tweeting, sort of like Reader’s Digest’s fictional Carolyn Davis used to do in print. Or maybe that wouldn’t be authentic. What do you think?