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[Interview]: 3 Communication Tips for Big Brands from a Former C-Suite Executive

[Interview]: 3 Communication Tips for Big Brands from a Former C-Suite Executive

The number one marketing challenge of any big corporate brand is building a personable relationship with customers. With the rise of social networking, the internet has become the holy grail of communications to the masses. Never before has it been easier for brands to connect with customers all across the world.

1e23951I sat down with Ferg Devins to discuss how big brands can create meaningful conversations with customers. Ferg is PR and communications professional who spent 30 years working at Molson Coors, most recently as the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer in Canada. Today, he leads his own consulting firm called “The Devins Network” where he helps brands drive strategic tactical conversations.

From our interview I gathered three key learning points and highlighted them below:

1) Social networking is a two way conversation

Often time people make the mistake of siloing social networks like Facebook and Twitter as a platform to just push messages. In reality, this is entirely not the case. Push messages are actually seen more commonly as spam. A study recently conducted by Kahuna shows that a whopping 60% of smartphone users opt-out of push notifications.

“20 years ago, we would sit around a dinner table, have a conversation and that would be networking. Today, the dinner table conversation is taking place on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and any number of social networks out there.”

Ferg reiterates how a good conversation involves a dialogue, much like something you would have at dinner. The challenge brands face is finding a way to be part of these intimate dinner conversations.

A simple way to spark a meaningful conversation is to write and send personable tweets. Whether it’s in reply to a customer complaint or giving someone a virtual high five, the opportunity to connect with customers around the world is endless. Companies who do this well will build strong loyalty and a rich brand.

2) Understand what the audience desires to hear

To deliver great content, one must figure out and understand what the audience wants to hear. Learning what is and isn’t important about your product will steer your communication positioning the correct way.

“As opposed to a regular tweet, you could ask a simple question, it will provoke a customer response.”

An easy way to do this is getting direct feedback from customers. Whether it is in the form of a survey, email reply-thread, or a tweet, asking your customers for answers will help shape your communication strategy. As always, a personalized message is king – no one wants to read something automated. Here’s a great post outlining how you can craft such messages.

3) Timely responses

Timeliness is an extremely important factor when building your brand. Moments of happiness lose their appeal over time. What would resonate with you more? A reply from your favorite coffee shop saying thanks for visiting 45 minutes after your morning tweet or 24 hours? The general rule of thumb is “sooner the better”.

“If you tweet me within the hour, that means something! But if you tweet me back in 3 days it has less meaning. Response time is so critical. Anything over 24 hours is less impactful”.

Given the popularity of social networks, customers today have high expectations of brands. A recent study concluded that a Twitter response within 1 hour is expected by 53% of people when asking a question and 72% when making a complaint. Not only is it important to be timely with positive interactions but even more so when dealing with negative interactions.


I would like to thank Ferg for agreeing to do this interview and for sharing his insightful thoughts. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and visit his consultancy, The Devins Network. To wrap up this up, we asked Ferg a few fun questions!

Unique Fact

I do great political impersonations. Check them out on Youtube!

Pet Peeve

The misuse of social networking in politics.

Book Recommendations

The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol

Cups of Coffee a Day

Too many.

Favorite Saying/Quote

Life is not a dress rehearsal.

[Interview]: How Sweet Tooth Turned their First 30 Customers into a Multimillion Dollar Business

[Interview]: How Sweet Tooth Turned their First 30 Customers into a Multimillion Dollar Business

One of the toughest challenges startups face is the transition from small fry to big fish. The secret “growth” formula behind each business is very different! The race to the top is seeing who can determine their proven growth strategy first while capitalizing on itSteve Deckert.

I sat down with Steve Deckert, Co-Founder and Marketing Lead for Sweet Tooth and discussed with him some of the early stage growth tactics his team used to grow their business from 30 customers to over 3000+.

Sweet Tooth is a Canadian-based E-commerce loyalty platform for online businesses. The platform helps brands increase sales through points-based programs and campaigns. Started in 2011, Sweet Tooth has since raised more than $2.25 million in seed funding.

From our interview together, I highlighted three key learnings points below:

1) Pre-sell your Product

“We identified a need, where no solution existed.”

Before Steve and his co-founders built a product, they had already generated sales.  How? By speaking to potential customers and simply asking if they would put money down for Sweet Tooth to be built. Not only does pre-selling provide early financial funds to carry out development costs, but it also acts as the strongest form of customer validation.

Magento is an opensource E-commerce platform that helps businesses sell to customers online. Browsing through the Magento forums, the Sweet Tooth team noticed a need for a loyalty rewards function. After talking to 300 people through cold emails and phone calls, around 35 people expressed interest in a solution. Steve mentioned that even if he could not get a customer to pre-pay, he would try to get them to verbally commit.

2) Involve your Core Customers

“If you make other people successful, you will generally be successful.”

Your first set of paying customers are extremely important because they act as a sample size of the bigger market. Their feedback will help you determine whether your product and marketing is working or not. Involving your customers in the product development phase of the business will create an evangelical-like relationship. As Steve puts it, if you make other people successful, in general you will be successful as well. Your core customers can help create half of your users through word of mouth marketing.

What really helped kick-launch Sweet Tooth were positive testimonials and reviews on third-party websites. By establishing a personable relationship with customers, Steve and his team were able to rally a team of vocal ambassadors. People who will verbally market your product to others, for absolutely no cost to you!

To this date, Steve is still in touch with many of his first customers. He always tries his best to meet in person or video call for meetings. The customer sales team has since been expanded to offer the same great service to Sweet Tooth’s 3000+ customers.

3) Be Human

“If you understand people enough, you can present things in a way people want to be a part of.”

The last piece of advice that Steve shared is the the importance of preserving a human element while building a business. At the end of the day, your business is for the people! If you can put yourself in your customers shoes and make a connection, they will be on your team. This could means tweeting at individual customers, sending personalized emails, or showcasing the employees behind Sweet Tooth. Essentially, anything that helps build a human connection between business and customer.

In the online web product industry, customers would much rather pay an up-front cost over a subscription fee. When Sweet Tooth made this exact change after their 2.25M seed funding, part of their easy transition was due to strong customer relationships.

Becoming the standard for loyalty online

Starting as what was originally a side project, Sweet Tooth today is a fledgling startup growing at a healthy 15%+ customers per month. Things are looking really exciting for Sweet Tooth as they hope to launch on other platforms. Their goal? To become the standard for loyalty online.

I would like to give a huge thanks to Steve for sharing his words of wisdom. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out the company blog. To end things off, here are a few fun questions we asked Steve!

Pet Peeve:

When people don’t believe in themselves.

Cups of Coffee:

Usually 3 extra-large cups a day.

Morning Ritual:

Wake up, read the news, clear our emails & notifications, shower, food, head to work, and grab a coffee.

Book Recommendations:

Lean Startup by Eric Ries is a must for any entrepreneur. Anything by Seth Godin.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Transformers:

Definitely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! I remember once getting two of the same Ninja Turtle puzzles for Christmas and I decided to keep both since I loved them so much.

Favorite Quote:

This is my own quote – “Life is a vacation”.  Just as we go on “vacations” to experience new things and feel different, this same approach can be used for life! You only have one life. If there is anything worth doing, you should be happy doing it.