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Monday, January 12, 2009

Letter To The CEO: 6 Ways To Help Your Brand Survive In 2009

Imb_lettertoceo Several months ago, I was invited by Jeff Rohrs of ExactTarget to participate in a smart campaign they put together to get a few marketing minds to write a fictional "letter to the CEO" about what they would recommend to do differently in 2009. Jeff and his team have put all these suggestions together into an attractive PDF which you can download at It features thinking from people like Andy Sernovitz, Ann Handley, Pete Blackshaw and many others, including myself. Here's my contribution below - and you can download it in PDF format too.

I know you’re working on some big changes right now. You mentioned that you don’t plan to walk into 2009 with the same plan you had for 2008 and you’re looking for some ideas on how you might want to focus your attention. Here are some thoughts that might help:

  1. Don’t force a comparison between 2009 and 2008. If your team feels like the only way to explain something to you is in terms of comparing it to last year, they won’t try something new at exactly the time when they should. Give them the right incentive to experiment.
  2. Find a way to embrace your accidental spokespeople. In the social media era, anyone can be a spokesperson for your brand, from regular employees to passionate customers. Find a way that your brand can connect with these voices and amplify them.
  3. Measure effectiveness, not volume. Forget the days of reporting about the millions of impressions that you received and patting yourself on the back. You need to let your organization know that management doesn’t care about the impressions. What you do care about is sales and effectiveness, which sometimes means the numbers will be far smaller. To explain it, use this line: "I want us to reach the right 500 people instead of the wrong 5 million."
  4. Do whatever it takes to listen more. Your customers are talking online about your brand right now. If you’re not listening to them, your competitors will. And, they can use that knowledge to try to steal your customers. More importantly, your customers will leave for brands that ARE listening. So ask your team what’s their listening strategy, and if they don’t have one, force them to get one.
  5. Lock customer service in a room with marketing. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. Only good things will happen if you force these two groups to talk to each other in a way that they usually don’t. Maybe you need to literally lock them in a room, or change a seating arrangement, or set up a buddy system. Whatever you do, by getting these groups to communicate more, you’ll uncover (and start to fix) problems you didn’t even realize you had.
  6. Make authenticity a priority. At the base of most of these suggestions is a corporate culture shift that means you need to get your team to re-focus on authenticity. This comes from the top. So lose the corporate jets and find a more reasonable way to demonstrate you’re a real person. Start by taking a few employees out to lunch and go from there.


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Great straight forward list.

I am starting to believe that social media marketing could be defined as pro-active customer service.

I think that #6 is most important. Authenticity is a rare approach these days. It is also comparatively inexpensive which is perfect in the current economy.

Thanks. Great post.
RE: #5. Don't stop there. Have CMO and other key folks who do the marketing planning work spend a week on the floor in service roles. Then let that experience inform their steps going forward. If you're not marketing to folks on the floor, the disconnect can be fatal.

Excellent list Rohit, #4 is the key for me. Listen, learn and respond, 2009 might be the year of 'Engagement'!

Excellent points. #3 is so important but often overlooked, and #6 is just good practice if you are trying to build long-term clientele. Thanks for the reminders - good tips to take into 2009.

I think #5 is so important in this new consumer environment where they can be more fickle than ever with the economy the way it is. I have had far too many interactions with companies where customer service is secondary to everything else.

Targeting right people is necessary as you mentioned in point #3 ... I loved this post for two reasons: 1) it deals with information that is basic, yet neglected by several companies, and 2)it comes at a time when most companies would want to know ways of sustaining during the on-going recession.

Great letter. 2, 4 & 5 are completely true with media companies trying to hold on - It's now or never. Subscription based business need to embrace #5, and they need to do it quickly.
Thanks for this post, Rohit. Well done.

Customer service can actually turn into the best unique selling point that a company may have. One bad experience can turn a customer away for life.

If CEOs are looking for some great breakthroughs in 2009, they are very likely to get their ideas directly from microtrends that are happening in their market.

Wayne Liew

@Wayne I agree completely. Once companies implement strategies that involve customer service engaging in social media conversations, they will see the impact they have on the customer as they change the tone of discussions from negative to positive.

Wonderful and straight to the point. #5 Is what all small businesses should consider. Not a lot of business owners correlate these two groups.

I think another tip could be to never repeat a mistake with another customer.


Great advice. I strongly believe that value will trump volume online in 2009. Here's why:

One way to measure effectiveness is to implement a pay per click online marketing campaign. This can serve to target highly qualified leads and allows businesses to measure the exact return on investment from the campaign.

Don’t force a comparison between 2009 and 2008 - best advice. Glad I discovered this page. Thank you for helping me grow in awareness.


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