Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Tale of Two Tubes

Yesterday I was privileged to participate in a panel evaluating marketing proposals at a local community college.  One of the students presented a proposal that, in part, utilized video to promote her nonprofit.  To my surprise, she suggested a six month television campaign to deliver her video.

Television is a tricky medium.  It has great strengths and greater weaknesses, especially for advertisers who are not, say, "loaded".  A modest number of spots can cost thousands of dollars, spots that are easily ignored, missed, or forgotten.  And with the proliferation of networks individual television channels are ever diluting the viewing audience.   It's a game that can only be played by an advertiser who is prepared to run a lengthy campaign to build up top of mind awareness.  

In contrast, a video can be delivered to Youtube very cheaply and distributed via social media.  A catchy campaign can attract attention and be shared by many people who care about the message.  For a nonprofit, and a small one at that, this is a vastly superior choice as a channel.

This is not (necessarily) a knock against television.  It is a suggestion that when employing video the business owner should look hard at their return and target audience.  For most of us, the "tube" that's traditional may not help us and at a steep cost at that.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Not Everyone is Your Target Customer

Every so often I hear a pitch by a small business owner that overtly or indirectly suggests that they target customer is "everyone" who (fill in the blank).  Maybe the product or service is pizza or insurance or landscaping or printing.  The cruel reality is that this is never the case, regardless of geography, product, service, or time.

We want to be as realistic as possible with our expectations as expressed in our business and marketing plans.  Our target customer is a good deal more limited than we may think.  For example:

1) Even with the advent of e-commerce, geography is a consideration.  Consumers will likely not travel beyond a certain radius for what we sell.  Depending on the product or service that could be as little as a mile or two.
2) Not every consumer has the budget or same price sensitivity.  Incomes vary.  Circumstances vary.  Many people are amazingly frugal and will find ways not to buy something they use, either making their own or finding used or substitute products.
3) Consumers may be strongly bonded to an existing provider, and no price point or other incentive will tear them loose.
4) The consumer may not like or be able to use what you sell.  There is always, as they say, someone who hates ice cream (for example).
5) And, it is possible your own advertising, promotion, or reputation worked against you among some consumers, no matter how excellent your work.

Are you overestimating your target market potential?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

More Thinking About SMM

I am seeing a lot of requests for help with SMM, the dreaded "Social Media Marketing".  As we have seen before, SMM is one of those trends that everyone believes they must do but is extremely confusing for a beginner.

SMM is not magic.  It's simply marketing by other channels.  And that means that all the usual rules apply when selecting a platform: which one best connects you to your target customer?  can you afford to update your page(s) regularly and compellingly?  do you understand how the platform works: what are its "rules of the road"?   One must not over-commit.  One well done page is better than three poorly built and populated.

I think the game is limited to a handful of real players.  Those are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and (maybe) Google+.  They all have different personalities and have evolved to represent different collections of consumers.  Here's an excellent breakdown of the major platforms, as published by Leverage New Age Media in 2014.

Don't panic.  Think about your marketing and only then think about where social media fits in.  Evaluate each platform and stick to the one or two that best serve you, and keep them fresh.  SMM is manageable!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Slogans! Slogans!

It caught my notice early in the entrepreneurial game that some (but hardly most) of my fellow small business owners adopted slogans for their business.  These usually take the form of "not your mother's X" or "no apologies for old fashioned service" or such.  And we see the big boys regularly queuing up some new slogan of the year (e.g. McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It") as they change ad agencies.

Is sloganeering worth it?  Absolutely, if done well.  The slogan must co-ordinate with the brand, be memorable enough to stick in someone's mind as a memory aid for recognizing your business, and not eclipse your other messages (or even your own business name!).  They are the marketing equivalent of a good sound bite: most don't cut it.

That list of requirements generally strikes down a lot of efforts.  I'll admit that even my own subtle slogan, posted to web site and business card, doesn't quite satisfy me.  I don't use it a lot, and wish some of the others I hear for other businesses would drop from sight!

By all means adopt one if you have it, but test market the slogan on friends.  See if it strikes a chord, describes you and your services, and doesn't sound silly.  If you can't come up with one, don't panic, don't struggle.  It won't be a problem.  If you do...fun advertising is in your future!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Taking Out an Ad

I came across an advertising offer this week in which the food-oriented business solicited inexpensive ads (<$50) on a run of take-out menus.  The proprietor is a good guy and the offer is legitimate, but it did raise some questions.  Is this a good channel for promotion?

There's only one real challenge with advertising of this type.  And that is return on investment.  My first question would be target market.  Are the menus reaching the right people for your business?  In my case, it is not probable.  As a B2B consultant a take-out menu would only weakly reach my target.  And that's a concern because this run of menus ends up pricing one impression at 3 cents.  Compare that with big media print and you actually have a similar KPI (cost per thousand).

There may be vendors for whom this makes some sense.  It all comes down to understanding who sees the menus.  A closely correlated food venture might fit nicely.

Otherwise, for this and similar formats (playbills, school annuals, placemats) the expense may be more charity or collegial support than actual advertising.  And doing so may be just fine and a feel-good gesture.

As with all advertising and promotion, sort on the basis of adherence to your marketing/business plan.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

To web or not to web, that is the question

I had a conversation yesterday with a digital publisher and along the way we debated the merits of having a web site versus doing a social media-only approach.  She was pretty much oriented to the philosophy that every business should have a web site.  I am open to alternate approaches with the caveat that those are specialized situations.

Most of us will want to consider having some web presence, I think.  Web sites establish a base line credibility, provide a chance to allow free perusal of text, image and video content, reinforce the brand, provide contact information, and much more.  I don't think it necessary to have a huge web site or one that uses the most advanced razzle dazzle or professional construction.  Some regular updating is essential to suggest that one's business has a pulse and to keep content fresh.  And, the site should be of the best work one can afford.

Are there exceptions that could run off social media alone?  I think it is possible.  I'd suggest that can be done only by businesses that have a great deal of personal referral, or which thrive on frequent contact where a live stream contributes to making a connection, such as a coffee shop, a restaurant, or pub.  But even there, why not set up a web page and add to visibility?  Let's face it, the web is today's yellow page directory, today's mall and today's community guidebook.  There's more cost to not participating.

Bottom line.  You can make a go of avoiding a web page.  But it's not an ideal option.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Advice to a Flyer Poster

Dear Person who posted a flyer on my mailbox yesterday,
I do appreciate your driving by and alerting me to your business.  And I am all for people who are starting or growing their own business.  That said, I feel badly for your business if the flyer is representative of your advertising work.
You are in a vastly competitive business.  Trust me, I get flyers advertising the same services every few days at this time of year.  If you are going to get my attention I will need more than your phone number and business name.  I would like to know why your business is better for me, why you can do a better job than the alternative, or what makes you different or interesting.  Do you have a web site or a social media page? Perhaps you can show yourself off on Youtube?  All of these are inexpensive ways to stand out.
You did not look professional.  The flyer was clearly cut from a larger sheet, but you made a crooked cut on mine.  I get the impression that you cut corners.
Can you demonstrate your successes?  Give me some metrics, such as "I currently serve x households in your city".
Lastly, let's talk about your services.  You did list services you do, but you listed every conceivable service someone like you could do, in theory.  I don't believe you're outstanding in all of them.  Tell me in what you specialize.  And for heaven's sake, please don't put phrases like "Serving all of your x needs" in quotes.  Trust me, putting anything that is not a citation in quotes looks like you're kidding. Speak the claim and make quote marks with your fingers.  You'll see what I mean.
Sadly, I am unlikely to inquire further.  I needed some first impression must-dos which were not present in this flyer.  But do make some changes.  Your next effort, before a new prospect, will likely get much better results.
Best regards
David the homeowner with the mailbox.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Thinking About Brand

Establishing a "brand" is a surprisingly difficult assignment for any business.  When I talk with business owners about their brand, I get a fair amount of "well-I-think-get-it" nods but it is all too clear many don't have a handle on it.  And that's okay.  It's hard.

We understand good brands at a visceral level.  Either the business name and/or logo instantly convey certain images, values, or product.  It's more than top-of-mind-awareness: we expect that business to deliver a certain product or service at a certain quality level, within a certain ambience, within a certain customer service level.  For example, our friends at Apple have a high end brand.  We expect them to deliver a sleek, innovative product (one that works well), at a pretty high price point.

How do we, as small business people, think about our brand?  how can we build a good brand?  I don't think we can simply invent any brand we imagine.  So much of our brand is going to be bound up in the kind of people we are: how we treat our clients and customers, how attentive we are to the little things, how quickly we can supply a product and service.  When I counsel others I advise that what they are and do is going to be the framework of their brand.  If there is weakness, it needs to be proactively and assiduously addressed!  As hard as it is to hear, every word one says can influence a brand!

A lot of your brand is going to be conveyed passively by your advertising and promotion.  The look and feel will give prospects a strong sense of whether you are a professional or a schlub.  Is the logo classy? is the body text attractive?  are images clean and exciting? is your web site informative or dull?  All of these questions must be asked before you commit to placing something before the public.  Asking others can rescue disasters-in-the-making.

If we boil it all down to a nutshell, brand is going to be about who we are and what we do.  And our success hinges on leaving the impression that will reassure a prospect.  And no amount of razzle dazzle can or will make up for that.