Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Marketing Swag:

Anyone who has attended a few trade shows, or leads groups, or other B2B events has inevitably come into contact with "marketing swag".  That is to say, giveaway items that bear a business' logo and other identifying information.

Marketing swag is a game.  Attendees expect the stuff.  Presenters feel they have to offer the stuff.  Virtually no one does business as a result of exposure to the stuff.  And, of course, the presenter wrestles with the issue of how much--or more pointedly, how little--should be spent to generate the stuff.  As a result we are awash in branded pens, notepads, local team schedule magnets, and the like.  (Or, from the deep pocketed sponsors, piles of swag bags no one really ever uses again).

I'm now pretty much immune from the seductive charms of swag.  I don't look for the latest ballpoint pens.  But I am also now in the position of debating creating my own swag.  What am I thinking as I try to find the right stuff to give away?

Well, for leads group uses, I think the strategy is simply to attach a business card to something that can be used.  Like, say, a bottle of wine or a small sack of cookies.  I would rather someone detach the card and add to their rolodex than risk my name being unceremoniously being dumped in a drawer never to be seen again.   But for shows: hmm.  The swag needs to reflect my brand and be useful.  I'm looking at inexpensive repair kits, or small tools,...things that say "tune up" and hopefully get use enough to up my TOMA.

Hence I recommend to others that if "stuff" is needed, be judicious and think about your own brand and message and link it somehow.  We already have enough pens, thank you!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cut the Social Media Clutter!

There is a good deal of conversation going on concerned with the degree to which small businesses ought to be using social media.  The short answer, one that almost everyone agrees, is "YES": small business should employ this tool.  The economy is ever-changing and our reliance on the Internet and its bevy of tools dictates that we try and keep up with the consumer.  

There are so many tools!  Cases are made for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, Living Social, Google+, and many others.  May I suggest some guidelines?

We don't have unlimited time.  It isn't realistic to engage in many tools.  One will lose effectiveness and gain little ground.  I would restrict activity to two or three social media platforms, period.  A good job with even one is better than a poorly maintained set of five.

Then it gets harder.  Where to focus?  The various tools serve differing markets and the "right" tool may vary for the business.  Talking with others who are in the same trade can help weed out those that don't fit.  I would pick either Facebook (better for Business-to-consumer) or LinkedIn (better for business-to-business) for certain just given their enormous enrollments.  Beyond that it is a question of what one sells and who is the target customer.

There is clarity.  Take careful stock and don't necessarily follow the herd!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Reaching The Millennial

I have observed an increasing amount of ink given, in recent years, to the subject of "reaching the Millennial consumer."  There are many suggested strategies for making one's advertising efforts appealing to these young (ca. ages 14-33) consumer.

I confess to being skeptical.  I remember too well columns in the newspaper from my youth extolling strategies for dealing with what are now called "Gen Xers", and not too long ago a mythical "Generation Y".  And I am willing to wager I can find yellowing columns describing the challenges of advertising to the young of whatever years one chooses.

Why am I skeptical? I can separate strategy from tactics.  Now it may be that the tactics of advertising to Millennials involve more online platforms and clever use of those properties.  But the strategic essentials are closer to "timeless" than not.  Consider these basics.

1. Millennials are overwhelmingly going to be choosy about where they spend money.  That's been true of consumers for a long time.  I don't see any differently today.  They will respond best to appeals that clearly demonstrate a worthwhile return for the dollar.
2. Millennials will be buying products and services that solve their problems, make their lives better and/or give them pleasure.  That's how it has always worked.
3. We have a lot of consumer data suggesting that Millennials are making choices that don't look all that different from young people of the past.

I suggest that advertising messages stick to the fundamentals we have discussed often.  Appeal to the target customer's needs and how your product or service addresses that need.  Make it easy to find you and to do business with you.  Use images that show you as a professional.  Avoid nonsense.  And so on.  Millennials will be very much the same as any other people with which you deal.

And for tactics?  I'll save that discussion for another day!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Challenges of Specialized Target Markets

Some of my fellow small business owners face unusually difficult marketing challenges because their target market is extremely specialized.  This is the literal opposite of a grocer or gas station where the potential market can be large and wide.  Typical advertising plans in this case go out the window due to the very low coverage ratio (i.e. almost no one who sees the ad is a target).  So what to do?

Market Research is essential here.  At whatever cost or time is needed, the businessperson needs to figure out where to find the target.  I would also tap into networks and do some groupsourcing: getting ideas from that wide body of minds.  Sometimes there are professional associations or meetup groups.  Are there affinity publications? chat rooms? web sites?  A database can be created of people in the target market or leads to collections of them.

With that in hand, outreach promotion or advertising can be effected.  It may be easier in some cases to advertise or enter a discussion group.  In other cases direct contact may be necessary to tap people in the target, adding to the database, and making possible requests for referrals.  Another technique is to build a Meetup group oriented to the target where you can facilitate discussions and share information in a "soft" sell mode.

Last but not least, ask through networks for someone who may be a target.  Ask if you can share information on what you do or if the person can connect you to the right target, and keep building.  In very little time you may be able to assemble a sizeable, engaged and attractive data set of target prospects.

It can be done!  Start with that first small step.


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Power of Word of Mouth

Earlier this week I sat in on a short presentation by a gentleman who discussed his approach to marketing his own product, and he did so in an especially vivid and effective way.

To give the proper credit, Dave Kauwe of Hawaiian Dave's Teriyaki Beef Jerky pointed out the power of word-of-mouth marketing.  In his example, he impresses, say, five people in a day with his product, and they in turn talk it up with five people, who then in turn talk to five each more, and this process happens five times.  That's 625 highly positive endorsements.  I reasoned that if he did this every day of the year, just the first three levels bring him over 45,625 contacts highly inclined to purchase.  That is remarkable power.  Dave also carried the math out six levels and the result is a highly impressive number!

Obviously, the trick is firing people up at each pass.  But the talking-up already exceeds the power of an advertisement because real people are communicating with each other, sharing exciting news.

Lesson: find ways to organize some part of your marketing to generating positive word of mouth, the kind that is shared with friends.  At a return on investment level it is a can't-miss!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Thinking About Surveys

Surveys have long been a mainstay in the market research industry.  Scientific surveys go back to the 1930s and in succeeding decades have evolved as technology changed.  Door-to-door and mail-in methodologies succumbed to telephone surveys by the 1960s and with the new century email/online surveys have become widespread.  As deployment costs have decreased with the new technologies the number of surveys have rocketed out of control.  And with that there have been corroding response rates and poorer data quality.  At the same time peoples' privacy has been diminished with ever-intrusive data collection applications.

What that means to the small business is that surveys must be used with care when performing market research.  Customers are likely to be much more resistant than in past years to taking a survey and providing information.  And there is a risk that they may become upset with businesses that deploy surveys.

What's the answer?  There is a lot to learn from other data that a business may collect.  One solution is to meet market research needs by mining these data for clues about segments and cross-selling opportunities.  POS systems, billing databases, and email are all inputs that can contribute.  But even with these, there are questions that can only come from a direct question to a customer or prospect.  How to do that without annoying that person?

One strategy is to ask very little, even one question.  Survey sparingly.  And provide a benefit to the prospect.  Perhaps a discount coupon code for each person who participates.  Another strategy is to use alternative methodologies.  Invite a few customers to engage in a conversation with you in exchange for a coupon or special deal.  Or, each time you speak with someone on the phone ask a question and add the response to your phone log.

The bottom line is that surveys must be used with care at least until there is some shift in the marketplace from the way surveys are now used.  I strongly recommending taking stock of other data and creatively seeking your answers from that source.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Endorsements are Tricky

Many businesses love endorsements.  It seems that the bigger they get the more they fall over each other signing on celebrity endorsements.  And it is a practice that goes back a long way.  I even see midsized and some small businesses advertising with celebrities of some sort (usually local sports stars).   Is this a wise or desirable move?

I don't really believe endorsements bring that much to the party.  There may be a temporary advertising buzz depending on circumstances but I remain unpersuaded from years in the business that an endorsement moves many people to a buy decision.  And as a discriminating consumer all the presence of a celebrity tells me is that a producer has enough extra cash on hand to write a contract that might have been better spent elsewhere.

There are endorsements that matter in building a business and those are from the unknown many.  Good reviews of your product or service, high ratings from web sites, and happy postings on social media.  These are the people who bought and had a good experience to share.  These are golden.

I would eschew acquiring a celebrity spokesperson (with exceptions.  Example: celebrity visits a restaurant, unbidden, and is willing to endorse the experience...something that shows a recognized name giving consumer credence) and instead create an environment that generates positive feedback.  Invite customers to share their experience on social media, or to write a testimonial for your web site, or to write a review on a ratings site like Yelp.  Happy consumers will respond if asked, and that buzz will convince others that you are worth their dollar.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Vanity and Guilt

Last week I talked about the perils of "selling the negative, in terms of the obnoxious "Brand X" comparison and also selling by creating fear in the prospect.  I mentioned that selling positively can be tricky when it strays into one-offs.  Among these are vanity and guilt.

Fundamentally, I believe that advertising should address solving another person's problem or filling a perceived need.  That sounds easy, doesn't it.  Suppose the problem is that the person in question feels less attractive, or less smart, or some such.  Can we advertise confidently by appealing to that anxiety or vanity?  Sure.  Users of your product or service arguably are moving from a less happy to a more happy state.  And we can state or imply that the product or service does that.  I think we need to be careful in making claims that can't be proved.  But to show a happy end user in the ad and address that emotional connection should be perfectly fine.

But when you develop that ad copy, just step back and ask if you are making a connection or just playing with emotions.  If the former, all is well.  If the latter, your integrity depends on toning in down.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Selling Emotions

Yesterday I heard a radio spot that gave me "the vapors", as they say around here.  What startled me was an emphatic appeal to fear.  The announcer made clear that without his product, the listener risked his or her life.  Wow.  This dredged up memories of other advertising I have seen or hear over the years that prevailed on fear and negative emotions as the sell impetus.  To which I say, STOP.  Please!

Sure, I know it's an easy way to the wallet.  Make someone feel insecure or terrified.  Done with enough force it will always get results.  But is that the right strategy?  I would think down inside the consumer could build up resentment to any producer who connects only on the darker side.  And then, if the right competitor comes along... poof. End of relationship.  My psychologist friends would call such a "bond" an abusive relationship.  That's never going to end well.

Every day of the week I will appeal to something better.  We pride ourselves on offering products and services that solve problems, or make someone feel better about him- or herself.  Any pitch can be crafted to do this.  Our messages should always be about our passion for this mission and to create warm emotions that genuinely connect the producer and consumer.

There can be some challenges to advertising this way.  For example, there is the appeal to vanity that isn't terrifically dignified and can even engender some of that negative material.  I'll discuss that next week in an upcoming post.  But let's just say this would still be a better thing than scaring the willies out of the consumer.  And that's all you want at the end of the day.

When you speak about your products and services, how are you appealing to the prospect?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Brand X Problem

As far back as I can remember, I hated the old "Brand X comparison".  At least in the really old days advertisers referred discretely to a "Brand X".  Nowadays they name names.  In these "tests" the advertised product was deemed the better choice because Brand X was inferior, disliked, or whatever.  Very rarely did the product that "beat" Brand X tout its own particular merits.  And it goes without saying that the test was unfair---overlooking all of the advertised brand's particular weaknesses.

The result is a very dissatisfying piece of marketing.  The advertiser essentially defines his/her product or service in relationship to a competitor.  "We're just like Brand X, only better" does not help one's brand equity.

Your product or service has a perfectly legitimate story to tell on its own.  It was developed to fill an empty niche, or reflected a particular passion, or had a unique quality.  That ought to be the core of the marketing.  As far as the competitor goes, leave them out.  And, in fact, if they are advertising against you, that's not a huge problem: they're giving you some free top of mind awareness which can go positive for you if they are hiding weaknesses behind the comparison.

I thin consumers respond well to selling on the merits.  Have the confidence to talk about the merits.  Let's get rid of the whole Brand X thing once and for all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Impressions, Impressions, Impressions

It's a widely accepted view in the marketing trade that the consumer only "locks in" to a business when they have passed a certain critical threshold of advertising messages.  Most of the texts think that's at least three impressions.  My own sense is that the critical threshold is higher---sometimes much higher.

We are not as fortunate as Coca-Cola, Ford Motors, Anheuser-Busch and the other huge concerns that spend staggering amounts on advertising every year.  But the mere fact that these rather well-known companies keep smashing away informs us that one can never stop generating impressions.

Happily, I don't think we as small businesses need to generate triples on every advertising or promotional message we produce.  An ad here, a flyer there, a spoken "commercial" after that...all create momentum for your name and brand.  Even I, observer that I am, find that I only "lock in" after repeated exposures.  In my own networking I am just beginning to associate various people with Top-of-mind-awareness connections after months.  I'm now in a position to serve as part of their marketing, by referring business to them.  It just took a few or more impressions.

Keep the faith! keep the work up to mention your name, work and services when you can.  The impressions add up...to success.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Random Ad Walk

For fun today I picked a random page in my local newspaper and checked out the ads.  This was not a bad page: six ads in the culture section.  Some thoughts:

(1) Color.  Color is a two edged blade.  One ad using color was vivid (a Nursery used an appealing green - and - purple mix) with highlight colors.  I was drawn into an ad which otherwise had issues (dense text, too many fonts, a muted message).  Another ad showed an actress who was a ghastly shade of yellow/orange against a brown background.  Two other ads used slight touches in color, one of which (a play) worked well, another (heating/AC) used color in a strange place (a small text box).  I would test market color on a second or third set of eyes and consult a graphics professional!

(2) Text density.  Some ads try to do too much with text.  One ad I looked at for a cook-off event used so much text that it was confusing trying to understand what was going on at the event.  What is the minimum amount of verbage needed to convey the critical idea without abusing the eye?

(3) White space.  Generally, this is a technique poorly exploited.  An ad for a play used a generous amount (the same one with a gentle splash of red in one place) and achieved a vivid and enticing effect.  Look at other ads when designing one: notice how powerful empty space can be in creating an electrifying ad!

(4) Images.  Two ads needed pictures of performers, out of necessity, and that was just fine (except one discolored an actress as noted in #1.  The heating/AC company wasted space on a boring photo of a generator box with no size context.  Too bad: the message (a pitch for a standby generator) probably could use the information on size of installation as a sales point.)  Images can boost eye contact but must be selected with some care.

(5) Fonts.  For heaven's sake, people!  One does not need to use more than two fonts in an ad.  One ad on the page used five, as far as I can tell.

Overall, ads are risks.  They cost a good deal and can do harm unless designed with a reasonable amount of care.  As noted before, I recommend obtaining feedback before committing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Content Marketing Can Boost Sales

The Internet Age has changed so much in small business, and perhaps none so much as the impact of content marketing.  In the old days what passed for content marketing might be the odd newsletter, feature article in the newspaper, or "infomercial" but now we contend with potential customers thirsty for reviews, blogs and web site text.

Statistics suggest that consumers are vastly more motivated to buy when they can find this online material than they are when served advertisements.  They may, as research shows, respond subconsciously to ads, but they actively and aggressively look for content.  Businesses that short shrift content are asking for trouble.

So what to do?  Most importantly, put your web site to work.  Add content and update regularly about your products, services, and solutions.  Provide detail on how you solve customer problems.  Consider using one or more social media properties as a means of fueling top of mind awareness and reminding customers what you can do for them.  Write a blog that speaks to your expertise.

Also, respond politely to complaints on review sites.  Offer to make good, apologize, and ask for a second chance.  Don't let sores fester!

In very little time you can create a large body of material that responds to prospect needs.  You have a great story to tell!  Take advantage of the opportunity to spread the word!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lessons from a Cheesemaker

A budding entrepreneur can learn from others' mistakes, indeed, but also from others' successes.  I found myself this past weekend pondering the successes of a local cheesemonger as a means of learning and applying lessons for myself in the art of marketing.  I came up with five lessons that could apply to almost all small businesses.

* Relationships.  The cheese maker's marketing person has developed quite a following through relationship-building.  He is personable and takes the trouble to get to know his customers.  Those bonds have led to to enduring sales week over week even though there is cheaper cheese to be found at local markets.

* Samples.  The cheese maker enthusiastically provides tastings of its products wherever they sell.  This has an impact on bottom line because it leads to additional sales on the margin (i.e. people may buy an extra cheese product after discovering a new taste.)

* Reward Pricing.  The cheese maker will add in a price discount for larger purchases.  Buy one cheese and it will probably be as listed.  Buy three or four and the price may be rounded down a dollar or two.  Repeat customers may get a courtesy discount at whatever level of purchase.  This encourages additional purchases and repeat visits.

* No hype.  The cheese maker does not make wild claims (e.g. "extends your life", "reduces risk of cancer", "QUALITY", etc.) and sticks to the basics: locally made, locally obtained milks, etc.  and properly differentiates from competitors (e.g. the master cheese maker trained in France).

* Passion.  I have rarely experienced a salesman with more genuine passion for the product.  Our marketing person knows each product, can speak to its advantages (and disadvantages), applications that make it shine, and how it's made.  It is hard not to be swept up in the enthusiasm!

How does your small business build on its fundamental brand and marketing?  Consider applying one or more of these techniques.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The "Quality" Hustle

I wish I had a nickel for every advertisement I've been exposed to that had some variation of "quality is our middle name."  Or, for that matter signage on vehicles.  I'd be a wealthy man.  

A wise person long ago told me that "greatness does not have to be explained."  Ads that stress what should be normal operating principles have already lost the battle.  If the business does not produce quality products and services, these messages are insulting.  If they do, the message is unnecessary and still raises questions.  All this is to say that if a business thinks that pronouncing their work is quality (i.e. that the competitor's isn't) they are awfully detached from reality.

Quality products and services speak for themselves.  Satisfied customers come back for more and even talk up the business to friends.

As a matter of fact, when I see these "quality" claims made, I immediately wonder if the business in question is trying to talk past deficiencies.  I get suspicious something is wrong.

Stay calm.  If your work is outstanding, you do not need to say so.  Use advertising and promotion to talk about what is unique, what is different, and what is your passion.  Don't fall for the "quality" hustle!