Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Streetside Advertising Created Doubts

Not long ago I had the opportunity to volunteer at a location which was across the street from a small shopping strip.  None of the businesses in that building actually faced the street and therefore store signs were not readily visible.  Two of the business owners remedied this situation by setting up sandwich board ads on the sidewalk.  Good idea?

I swill skip past the problem that both were inherently unreadable by passing motorists (well, one had a readable logo at least).  I'll also gloss over the fact that these signboards in concert created a somewhat "littery" vista for that section of the street.  One sign came in the form of a professionally printed "poster" and the other was badly handwritten.  The later was for a restaurant.  And I am afraid that for me, the signboard did not inspire confidence in that restaurant.  My visceral reaction was that if they were that careless in a street ad, they were likely not attentive to quality in the kitchen, either.

The lesson is that even the little things can impact brand perception.  What seemed like a perfectly harmless sandwich board for a restaurant created doubts for at least one consumer.  And I am surely not alone.  How are we impacting our brand perception with our signage, advertising, and even personal appearance?  Don't let the little things damage your good work!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Really Challenging Competitive Intelligence

Obtaining competitive intelligence on a large, publicly held corporation is extremely easy, especially if you have a good market research budget.  It gets harder and harder as we move to privately held enterprises, reduce the budget, and get into the realm of solo proprietorships and essentially no budget.  And then imagine a competitor who is a sole proprietor who makes it known that they do quite well from referrals and word of mouth.  What, if anything, can we learn about such a competitor?

I adhere to the belief that any serious small business cannot be in business and evade some kind of detection.  There are ways to learn what is going on.  Here are some ideas.

1. In the Internet Age, consumers post reviews.  It seems that there are even people whose hobby is reviewing businesses.  Scour Yelp, Citysearch, Google, Angie's List and other sites where consumer reviews occur.  There's a good bet someone said something you can work with.

2. And in the Social Media Age, it's a better than even bet the competitor maintains some property on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Living Social, Pinterest, Instagram, and so forth.  They may post self-promotional items and quite probably someone else said something as well.  Use hashtags to probe for references to the business entity.

3. While we are at it, are they entirely safe from Online Search?  Our friends Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines can detect references, mentions, news and other clues to the competitor.  Keep an eye out for "industry" or "interest" bulletin boards and chat rooms where the competitor may be contributing.  Comments may shed insights on their current work, thinking and services.

4. Exploit the word of mouth.  While networking, ask people if they know the competitor and are willing to share thoughts.  Always do this from a position of being keenly interested in your own line of work and the various players in that space.  You may encounter current and former customers who may be perfectly willing to share their experience.

5. It's not unreasonable to call the competitor and have a chat.  A great technique is to ask for their opinion and experience on certain matters (whatever you choose).  Most people are friendly and may be happy to trade notes.  After all, the competitor is supposed to be busy enough with current customers that they are not in need of advertising for more!

It will be a challenge but not impossible to collect some useful intelligence on a tough-to-scan small business.  Be persistent, keep good notes, and be ever-alert to even small scraps of information.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Strategy in the Good Times

I had a conversation with a fellow small businessperson today who had one of those "good" problems to solve.  As he put it, he has never done better with his business.  However, he anticipates some critical changes in his industry and is giving a great deal of thought as to his next move marketing his business.  He asked me for my thoughts.

Indeed, what a wonderful problem!  Most businesses are anxious to fill their pipeline.  This one wants added insurance to keep it full.

There are two courses that suggest themselves.  First would be to set in motion a strategy to derive more revenue from existing sources.  Second, new revenue from a new segment of the market.  I think the second, in his case, is the true "low hanging fruit."

Is there a challenge? absolutely.  In my friend's industry there has not been a great deal of creativity marketing to the proverbial next generation.  The bigger players have not been especially good at departing from the older forms of advertising and promotion.  Having the gift of time and money (in the sense that his current revenue goals are already met) gives him the space to experiment.  I am fairly certain the answer is going to be found in mobile form.  I am further of the belief that he will want to get there with some kind of affiliations.  That is, a consumer's desire to learn more about a topic X will (if we do it right) connect to more information from related topic Y.

Can my friend get to the finish line early enough?  I think so.  And for all of us, the time to develop our "next generation" marketing strategy is now.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Long and Winding Road to Better SEO

Every so often I run across a company that claims it can achieve higher Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for its customers.  If only. (sigh) I am afraid the road to better SEO is a long and winding one, one that is neither easy nor quick.

I think that the strategy that gets the most attention is the most deceptive.  A broker buys a large number of "backlinks" to other web sites, many of which are built expressly for that purpose.  The result is what looks on paper like a rich network of connections to the client business.  But it is a network barely worth the paper it can be printed on.  The major search engines are aware of these techniques and crush them when they can.  And when they do, a network goes away in a puff of dust.  As did the money spent to get that "network."

Like all things worth having, better SEO is built honestly and slowly through true connections, a body of indexable text, and social media response.  A blog can help.  A true social media community of followers can help.  Listings on other (legitimate) web sites can help.  Alliances with other web site owners can help.  Starting today and every day a little more ground adds up to a solid SEO that does not disappear when a search engine changes their algorithms to nail the corner cutters.

You can do it!  Start mapping out your SEO strategy today!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Taking Care of the Fundamentals

One of my current challenges is to help a client focus their brand and build awareness of a new location.  In reviewing their social media and web traffic it is clear that the entity has what I call a community of interest but not quite what we would call an organizational clientele.  Put simply, they have friends, followers, allies, and what have you, but not nearly as many real paying customers.

Our mission will be to move the friends into the store and become customers.  Why is there a disconnect?  In this particular case, the entity hasn't done one of the fundamentals of business planning.  They haven't defined their target customer and as a result have not developed a strategy for reaching out to that customer.  Not all of their followers and allies are likely to be target customers, although they may work out well as investors, say.

So many marketing conundrums are the result of a fundamental that hasn't been addressed.  In turn, so much can be accomplished when we know who our customer is, where they can be found, and what are their needs.  Have you reviewed your own business plan?  it is never too late to take care of this before larger challenges result!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

An Appeal to Stop Stirring Pots

Amidst the news today I read about a little controversy involving a public figure who has pledged to remove his organization's deposits and other business from a certain large bank.  This bank is running advertising that the public figure finds offensive.  They also profoundly disagree with the public figure.

This got me thinking about the role of controversy in advertising.  There is always some risk that something in our advertising will offend someone.  Lord knows how easy that is to do these days.  It seems like there is a veritable industry of people urgently seeking something that offends them.  All we can do, provided we are seeking not to offend, is choose words and images carefully and obtain opinions from other people before publishing.

But in this instance the certain large bank intentionally selected images and words that generated the controversy.  I suppose that in their case there was enough pressure for the bank to look "socially responsible" because of other behaviors (for which they risk legal action) that the ad in question was in a strange way an easy way out.  In any case, controversy was sought and embraced.

Is this always a good idea?  For a small business, I think there is too much to risk in stirring a pot.  It is all well and good that we are true to ourselves.  But we already have a limited supply of customers and intentionally annoying some of them for any reason is loco.  I have seen too many businesses get into trouble by being vocal and feisty when had they merely been quiet and done their usual good customer service most everyone would have been satisfied and lived in peace.  Please notice that I mean that we serve our public: not part of it.  I also think that refusing to serve someone who wants to pay us is loco.

Yes, there was one additional detail in that bank story.  The bank wanted to sew up a certain segment of the market and used an image they thought would be a welcoming come-on to that segment.  Some would say that this was a good idea.  Frankly, I think the bank was too heavy handed.  There are sufficiently creative ways to demonstrate that they wanted to serve every consumer without trotting out the rainbow of images that come from undo emphasis on identity politics--something that is shredding our society.

In short, let's have a happy, agreeable, noncontroversial marketplace where we cheerfully and respectfully take the money.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Easy Ways to Build Your Database

Small business owners ought to be building a database of customers and prospects.  This is the single best source of people who will respond to special offers, events and other "come ons".  Building such a database takes time and opportunities can be lost to add names.  Here are nine easy ways to add to that list every day.

1. Record contacts from business cards you collect.  There are even services that can take a stack of cards and put them into database form for you.
2. Add an "add me to your list" on your web site.
3. Ask customers to sign up for a newsletter or special offers list at time of purchase.
4. Create a buyers club, offering deals in exchange for their contact information.
5. Hold lunch-and-learn type events where visitor/enrollee names can be collected.
6. Use a trade show booth as way to gather business cards in exchange for good "swag" items.
7. Collect business cards or index cards with contact info in a special drawing.
8. Invite people to "follow" or "like" your social media page.
9. Copy customer contacts from ecommerce and contract transactions to a master list.

How soon can you get to a list of 1,000 customers and prospects?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Great Free Tools at the Local Library

Things have come a long way at the local library since I was a youngster.  I remember a time when what was in the building was "it"; that (hopefully) some dusty cover enclosed some information one wanted and if that didn't do, just maybe a librarian could call someone.  And there were more exalted libraries still: at the school, at the nearest university, or at the state capitol.

Nowadays, armed with a borrowers card and a laptop, I can surf resources available throughout the county library system.  And market research information through those resources is excellent.  I am still in awe!  While sitting on the deck, barefoot and with a lemonade at the side, I can have incredible amounts of research delivered to me!

Our own system here in Wake County, North Carolina has access to such organizations as ABI/Inform (industry trends), Hoovers (public company profiles), Morningstar (financials), ReferenceUSA (data on 24 million businesses), and Snapshots (industry overviews).  And there are others as well in the database.  A good deal of this is high end research that is typically unaffordable to a small business.

Take a look at your own local library system.  You may be surprised what you can learn about your industry, your market and your competitors, usually for no charge (beyond the taxes you pay).