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Summer's over, time to move ahead

Kevin O’BrienI HATE summer. There, I said it. Professionally speaking, I hate summer.
     I will not publicly enumerate the reasons for fear that my wife, children and colleagues will have even more ammunition for ongoing criticism of my attitude, opinion and behavior. If you break it down, perhaps it's not so much that I hate summer. It may be more that I like getting back to school.
     Those days leading up to the first day of school are all about renewal - new shoes, new books, new pencils, and the promise of the future. Back to school is a great time to refocus. It's the perfect time for all of us to pay attention to our ongoing educations in the art and science of marketing communications. I know, it's a year-round endeavor. I'll forever be a student of my business (and of life for that matter) and suggest that we all buckle down and remember to do the same. If you honestly want to be the best you can possibly be at what you do, I invite you to go back to school with me. Let's learn, study, interact and make the grade.

Learn
     Every day brings an opportunity to learn something new. If you're not taking the time or making the effort to learn one new thing about your business each day, you are missing an incredible opportunity.
     • Make a commitment to learn something new each day. It could be through daily industry updates you read via newsletters, blogs or social media feeds.
     • Set a defined goal. Pick a subject or area you've been meaning to learn about (but just haven't gotten around to) and become an expert on it.
     Whether you choose media strategies, web or mobile apps, marketing databases, search engine marketing or social media, become an expert. Pick a topic that will interest you and benefit your business, then learn all you can about it.
     Even if you are not the person responsible for ever implementing said knowledge, it benefits you to learn more about any given aspect of your business. It's empowering to know your industry. It's also just more fun. In the ever-changing, media-driven world in which we live, there is certainly no shortage of subjects to study.
Those days leading up to the first day of school are all about renewal - new shoes, new books, new pencils, and the promise of the future.

Study
     In addition to learning new things, it's equally important to study and revisit what we already know (or think we know). We must continually study the competition, trends in the industry, metrics of our business, new facets of marketing communications, consumer research and behavior. All of these will affect your business moving forward, and all of these change constantly. Research, analyze, make adaptations and you'll find yourself in the position to effectively motivate.

Interact
     I intentionally set out to make a large part of my "school year," both literally and figuratively, about social interaction. I suggest you make it a part of yours. As we've often talked about, the ultimate goal of marketing and communications is to establish a one-to-one relationship with a consumer. (Remember the high school dance? You have to ask someone to dance with you first.)
Make the grade     Now more than ever, consumers are interacting with your brand. It's more and more difficult to market your brand or product with a push method. Today we find ourselves looking at a pull model of marketing, one in which consumers seek out, interact with and talk about your brand. Be aware. Be accessible. Respond. (Unless of course, you are Jet Blue, where it made all the sense in the world to keep it simple and not get pulled into a social media nightmare; but please note, they did address the situation, as they knew the world would be looking to their social site just to see what they would say.)
     Please, engage your consumers and make them your friends. Hang out with them and respond to them whenever you can. Always make sure they are happy, but if you get wind of them saying things about you, try to address it. A "thanks for posting" response to a Facebook post can be just as valuable as a phone call. Acknowledgment is always appreciated and opens the door to growth. As I said in a previous article, it's all about asking your consumers to dance.

Make the grade
     It's critical to measure performance. Given today's tools and technology, it's possible to know (almost in real time) whether a project earned an A or an F. It is easier than ever to determine whether a campaign or marketing initiative passed or failed.
     Performance metrics should be established before beginning each initiative. The results of careful follow-up and measurement are improved performance results. If the current initiative is currently failing, it is time to learn more, study harder and get those grades up.
     When utilizing social media, it's easy to gauge what consumers like or dislike about your product or advertising campaign. You can measure the chatter about your product or brand.
     In addition to formal performance metrics, it's important to engage your clients and customers by asking them   whether your brand efforts are "making the grade." Asking for feedback on your performance lets you know where you stand with your customers and gives you the opportunity to bring that D in service or quality up to an A. At the very least, it gives you a goal to shoot for. So, don't be hesitant to recruit honest and thoughtful answers from your customer base. They are always your best focus group.
Kevin O'Brien is a brand strategist and president of O'Brien et al Advertising in Virginia Beach, Va. You can reach him via e-mail at kevin@obrienetal.com.
     Whether you're launching a new product or promoting the same stellar service you've offered for years, going back to school is not reserved for our children. It's something that we, as individuals, need to take stock of and revere for its intrinsic value. Are you ready to lace up those new shoes and go back to school with me this year? If so, I'll meet you at the bus stop.


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