Tuesday, November 29, 2011


'Likes' are the new Online Currency
In marketing, they talk about there being two types of brands in the world. There are brands people like to talk about, and brands they don’t. Brands of the first kind – the brands some call ‘talkable’ – are uncommon. Apple’s iPhone is a talkable brand, so is Harley-Davidson. If you market a talkable brand, you have the luxury of tapping into customers who love you, but you have to be careful – those customers have already decided what the brand stands for, and watch out if you go against their expectations … think Classic Coke here.

Brands that people don’t like to talk about – some refer to them as ‘boring’ brands – are everywhere. These brands are hard work because they are trying to get people interested in something they don’t really care about.

In ‘parking’, your company could fit into the ‘talkable’ brands very quickly, but not because people love you, but because parking is a grudge purchase. However, the same rule applies, that is customers may have already decided what your brand stands for, but in this case, if you change, the only way may be up.

So the question remains, if your brand is talkable, and make no mistake, people are talking about our brand right now, face to face, in print, and online, how do you then change what our customer’s opinion is of you for the better? Answer: YOU MANAGE THE CONVERSATION!

What is a Social Network System? 
A friend tells a friend, who tells a friend …..
A Social Network System (SNS) is a general description for a collection of online websites and Applications (Apps) that refer to the whole world of people connecting and commenting with each other. You can call it the Social Web, or the Social Internet but I tend to think of it as a lounge full of people talking to each other but the individuals can be on the other side of the planet. It is informal and that is where the test is for businesses like yours is. Most businesses are scared of informality in communicating with customers and will avoid that informality like their life depends on it.

Rather than broadcasting messages (shouting) to audiences, you need to be encouraging participation in social networks to which people want to belong, where dialogue with customers, and between customers, can flourish, in networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, de.licio.us, YouTube, the blogosphere, Flickr, DIGG and Twitter. You must tap into this media to manage the discussion about ‘your’ parking company or Social Media may significantly impact a firm’s reputation, sales, and even survival.

In the ground breaking book, Groundswell, Li and Bernoff refer to the whole advertising methodology as ‘shouting’ at the customer, because they do not expect to get an answer back. Shouting media include channels such as radio, television, newspapers, flyers and even signage. This whole process is about ‘telling’ a customer about yourself, but definitely NOT wanting to hold a dialogue or engage a customer.... at all. SNS’s are the opposite. It is about participating with the client in the discussion through dialogue about your services and products, and it is most definitely about engagement of the customer.

Recently, Kietzmann et al. (2011) in ‘Social Media. Get Serious’ told us that social media presents a huge challenge for firms, as many existing management methods are not suited to deal with customers who no longer want to be talked at, but who want firms to listen, appropriately engage, and respond to their needs. So it’s a matter of join in or get left behind or more dangerously, participate or let someone else craft your future.

Increasingly, the term 'social business' is being used. This shows that social media is no longer just something that your daughter does while lying in front of the television but is also being used more and more by customers, clients, staff, and managers. The point is, they are all talking about your business, including your daughter, and you may not even know how that conversation is going? So shouldn’t you make a point of listening?

The Swiftly Changing Landscape

But how interested are your customers in engaging with you?
Your customers are embracing social media as a normal part of their lives. Even the over-50 population is adapting at staggering rates. There are now more than 800 million active Facebook users, with over 200 million added in 2011 alone!  As an example, Facebook is growing rapidly. Nielsen found the following in their 3Q 2011 Social Media Report – around 75% of Facebook users are outside of North America with accounts available in 70 languages. Approximately 40% of social media users access their accounts through mobile devices, nearly 23% of online time is spent on social networks, more than half of Facebook users log in every day – that’s more than 400 million people, the average user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 pages, events and groups. Thats 52 billion interconnections with 39 billion of those outside of the US!

And so for business……
Fortunately, small businesses don’t have to spend much to get results: Zoomerang found that nearly 60% of all small business decision-makers spend less than $US100 on social media and 74% of businesses don’t employ anyone to manage their social media marketing however, of those businesses that have a presence, 50% of small businesses reported gaining new customers through social media – most notably through Facebook and LinkedIn. And finally, 51% of Facebook users and 64% of Twitter users are more likely to buy from the brands they follow online.

How do you engage with your customers?
Our world is being transformed by Social technology, whether we participate or not …..

Twitter has the ability to offer business a major return on investment. Twitter is a broadcast media, which sends out a mini text message of 140 characters or less. The people who receive the ‘Tweets’ are volunteers, that is, they opt-in to hear what you have to offer! For parking, the potential is huge. Imagine at 6:30 am each morning, a Tweet goes out to thousands of Twits, all ‘following’ the ‘parking tweets’. The message reads ‘Early bird special at Viaduct car park $3. Today only!’.
The followers who have opted-in to listen to parking specials, all rush off to the Viaduct car park and claim follow-on tickets by responding to the tweets. This is only one example of the potentially large ROI on SNS. This will also work for Monthly customers.

Managing the Conversation
Another example is managing people’s opinions of parking through moderating their conversations. Recent examples of the ‘talk’ that is occurring out there about parking companies are,
  • I would much rather have the plague than use (Name withheld) Parking.”
  • Jumped up little, fluro jacket wearing, unemployable, mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging as#%@*^s.”
  • These guys are very well known for poor customer service and accusations of generally unfair business practices.”
These are actual examples off blog sites.

The solution for parking companies could be to nominate a person who could log on to these sites and participate in the conversation and moderate the outcomes. But if that all sounds a bit ‘big tobacco’ for you, then,
  • You could offer a feedback site on our own parking website to moderate any conversation there
  • You could start a Facebook page (e.g. www.facebook.com/nzparking) or MySpace page (e.g. www.MySpace/nzparking) that would allow our customers to engage with you in a positive and unhindered way
  • Start a viral video selection to add to Youtube.com. The catch is it could be fun, for example, ‘Things you can do in car parks’, which would lead to a number of videos being posted and sponsored by parking related businesses.

How safe is all this engaging with customers? 
Are you a fan free zone? …. It makes you think!
If all the appropriate rules are put in place, opening up the wide end of the funnel to your customers is relatively safe. Common sense must prevail in that clearly only one person has access to moderate these sites. This one person should have an ability and permission to speak on behalf of the parking company and offer solutions, facts and direction, while maintaining an arms length to opinions, and must know the difference.

The benefits clearly outweigh any downside as the first parking company to demonstrate a willingness to engage its customers will have a huge advantage. Let’s not go predicting a change in public attitude to parking overall straightaway. Realistically, this new approach will firstly make people suspicious and then cautious and wary, before becoming an observer of the change. However, the change is worth it.

Firstly, the suggestion should be to trial a feedback page on your own website first. This will allow the conversation to be held very closely to your chests while giving the appearance of engaging the customer, even if it is in a very minor way.

Secondly, open a Twitter account and start to broadcasting messages to followers. This also has the added advantage of showing the public the parking company is a modern company linking into the Social Network System to engage the public who want to engage with you. This is also relatively safe as Twitter is an opt-in solution.

Thirdly, start a parking company Facebook page, that has one-way communication first, that is, any feedback will not appear on the page, but will come through as email.

The last thing you need until opinion changes, is a collection of opinions that you can quickly upload to push any bad comments below the ‘fold’ on the front page, or you could be brave and just let the comments stand.

The key understanding is that Social Networks are the biggest phenomenon on the planet right now. Social business is catching up. Ignoring it and you risk ignoring your customers. Adopt it and you may become one of those ‘talkable’ brands and you may then get people and customers 'liking' you.

It’s your move.
Kevin Warwood

Rugby Cup Parking in New Zealand

All is in readiness for World Cup parking in New Zealand

With the Rugby World Cup only one sleep away here in Auckland, I have to admit that the mind does stray from the job at hand and the tasks that revolve around increasing revenue off a 6m x 2.5m block of land in the CBD are of minor concern today. The anticipation of such a big event in a small country like New Zealand is anticipation of an All Black win rather than the crowds of people who will flood the city for the opening night and the planned entertainment over the next 2 months. The plans are in place, the flags are all up, the rules have been published in the newspapers. And yet I allow myself a little rub of the hands as I think of the people flowing through Auckland Airport, through a car park in our portfolio, into the CBD and one of the many car parks that belong to the company and hopefully not too many into the Hospital, yet another car park in the portfolio. For parking, this will be a big event as well. All is in readiness.

A vague comparision with New Zealand and one of the major rugby challangers for the coveted rugby crown, South Africa, is a small trip into rugby/parking fantasy, especially since I have never been to SA.

New Zealand has mostly two main commercial rivals in the parking business, with a group of smaller businesses and local councils in the melee also. The 'Red' Parking company is by far the largest of the companies and is based out of Australia while being owned out of Hong Kong. They have a dominant market share created by being one of the first on the scene and has held over many years. The 'blue' Parking company is a fierce rival and has a large market share in the Auckland and Wellington markets.

The local councils are present and at varying levels of competency, mostly measured by their requirement to compete. An example of this is the Auckland City Council which has just spent many millions upgrading its very large CBD sites with the latest in technology from SkiData equipment, Meter-Eye vehicle guidance systems, a fully functional centralised control room, major over-road VMS signage for empty bay counting on the main roads into the city and dynamic signage at each car park. The investment has extending to Meter-Eye in streets and off street which may lead to a far smaller enforcement team as the signals from the meters lead fewer officers directly to cars overstaying their welcome in the busy retail precincts.

At the other end of the scale, tourist town Taupo, decided not to go down the track of charging for street parking and introduced the same meters to signal the end of your 60 minute stay to an enforcement officer, who would write you an infringement notice on the spot. There are the small vacant development lots with a pay and display meter but mostly parking in New Zealand is high tech as a result of high labour costs and high competition.

Apart from labour costs, I suspect their also may be one or two other differences between parking in South Africa and New Zealand, being the resistance to towing vehicles and resource consenting.

There is a general move away from towing in New Zealand as property law allows the owner to display terms and conditions upon entering the site. If you don’t abide by those terms and conditions, the owner can level an infringement fee similar to a fine as a local officer might level, for breach of contract. There is now a lot more revenue in levelling infringements than there is in accepting a ‘commission’ for allowing a tow truck company to operate out of your site and is a major growth area in parking revenue.

Resource Consents are an area where the local council enforces the ‘use’ of the land in the CBD and if parking is not a permitted activity, as deemed by the Resource Management Act, then the parking company must apply for a ‘departure from the consent’ to operate a commercial car park. The result of this is that the future of the small car park being set up on a development site in the city has now gone.

I do suspect that one thing will always be the same between South Africa and New Zealand and anywhere else in the world for that matter, the public will still resist paying for parking and we, as professionals, will still have to be on our toes in this business and the rugby competition will be fierce. All is in readiness.