Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Good Plan Comes Together For a Small Business

This morning a small business owner completed some work on our home.  I watched the process with keen interest---his marketing and branding process, especially.  What he did demonstrated the potential of couponing and brand support through reviews.

We hadn't heard of the business before an offer came care of Amazon Local.  We liked the look of the company after referencing reviews and their web site, and I liked the personal response on phone when I called.  So for him, the coupon delivered another actual customer.

After the inspection, he did suggest an up-sell which was persuasive and proved very satisfactory.  So for him, the risk of a straight redemption of the coupon yielded a doubling of its income potential.

He delivered the work as promised, explained every item on the invoice, and placed a business card and safety sticker next to the equipment control panel.  This provides daily Top of Mind Awareness of his business in the event we require future servicing, or in case something goes wrong.

And finally, the business owner asked me if I was pleased with his work and if we would write a review on Yelp and Google, and handed me a card with simple instructions on how to do that.  I thought this an appropriate and clever way to help support his brand.

All in all, this business owner did an excellent job finding a new customer, demonstrating and supporting is brand, and building his business with simple techniques and attention to small details.  This was a wonderful lesson for other small service businesses!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are Your Search Terms Optimized?

How do potential customers search for you?

This certainly sounds easy.  These days, as easy as someone typing some words into a search engine like Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo and pressing "Search".   But the devil is in the details.  What words do they use compared to terms you use for yourself?  It can make an enormous difference!

Tools like Google Trends can show a small business owner how terms are trending, and there are tools like that provide insights on the positive or negative associations with various search terms.  With these tools your own self-image and branding terms can be compared with alternatives.  Perhaps alternatives are more likely to be on prospects' top-of-mind or have a more positive image.  Making a correction soon can boost the likelihood you'll be found near the top of the search list!

Take a moment and test your search word strength.  You may be surprised what you'll find!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lessons from a Closed Business

Last week a business closed in our city.  That's not unusual, unfortunately.  But this was a business I knew better than most.  I had even spoken with them about their business ten months ago.  I had been asked to visit them because they had some problems needing a remedy.  While that consultation did not lead to a contract, I kept watching them.  You see, they didn't -- as far as I could tell -- change their marketing tactics.  That in the end did them in after 18 months of operation.

I'm not about to write that if they picked up my contract that I would have saved their business.  However, I do think I understood some of their challenges and that advice would have helped.  Now they are a learning experience.  What did I learn?

(a) The business had an unrealistic expectation for a target customer.  In fact, they had three types of consumers in mind which were truly incompatible with one another.  Lesson: focus on one target.  Doing so will not confuse the brand message.

(b) The business spent too much money on unproductive promotions, such as sponsorship of softball teams.  With a single target customer they should have been able to direct marketing dollars to channels where that customer "lives."

(c) The business blurred its brand with conflicting signals.  Even their business name was at cross purposes with their line of products and services!

(d) The business never truly addressed the challenge of an inferior location.  They waited for the landlord to deal with better signage and location marketing.  But at the end of the day such a business must fend for itself and work their location.  Special invitational events might have helped enormously, along with marketing following from (a) above.

(e) The business made tactical mistakes, first dropping a "normal" line of service, then reinstating it (in desperation?) near the end.  They also maintained unusual service hours.  To some extent they telegraphed their problems and may have alienated customers.  Worse: the principals had no important experience in that type of business when they purchased the store.

This was a business that existed in a vastly competitive space and is common enough that mistakes shouldn't have been made: their solutions are known.  It's so sad to see a business die for not adhering to marketing fundamentals.  This story is a reminder to stick to fundamentals, especially being very precise about target customer, brand messaging, and thoughtful marketing tactics.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Keys to Good Engagement

At my last workshop I talked a little bit about tools that gave small business owners insights on how to compare customer engagement in the social media realm.  Since then I have been thinking about the customer engagement process as I talk with another client.  What are the "keys" to social media engagement?

Whether it be in Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or others, the people willing to "follow" you want a good exchange for their time.  I think these suggestions can lock in that willingness.

1) Post often, rather than rarely.  Frequency signals that you are interested in establishing a vibrant community.  Rarity practically screams "only when I have the time."
2) Regularly post something of value:  a fact, a coupon deal, a funny story, you name it.  Be willing to share with others.  They might in turn share with their others and help promote your business.
3) Ask questions.  Invite followers to react to an idea, a challenge, or a thought point.  You don't need to have them solve one of your problems, but setting up a discussion helps connect people to you.
4) Use pictures.  Show off your business, products, employees, customers, whatever.  There is something about photographs that deeply attracts our attention.
5) Don't always talk shop.  But don't range too far off the reservation.  Post things that would make sense to people engaged with your work.  Have fun!
6) Check your facts, especially before sharing someone else's post.  Social media is thick with untruths, nonsense, and misinterpreted statements.  You don't want to have customers think you are a fool.
7) Be tasteful.  Avoid blue language, negativity, and above all post only what you'd be happy to share with your own grandmother.

If your page becomes a lively community of people connected to your business and your world, you will take a big step forward in becoming a customer engagement leader!  Start today!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

How Do We Think About Market Research?

I was asked today a very pertinent question about market research.  Specifically, how do we think about it?

There are a number of facets to market research.  Here's a list of the more important ones, in the form of questions to answer, for the consideration of any small business, and in no critical order.

1) Who is my target customer?
2) What is the size of my target market? (i.e. how many target customers are there?)  and what share of that can I compete within?  How is that market changing over time?
3) Who are the competitors in my target market? who are the market leaders? Is there turnover?
4) What are my competitors' strengths and weaknesses?
5) What are my competitors doing and planning to do?  what are their products and services?
6) How do target customers view my products and services? how about potential products and services? are there gaps in my offerings?
7) What are my strengths and weaknesses?
8) How do my customers engage with my business?  how many are repeat customers?
9) How much value does each customer represent to me?
10) What is my brand?
11) How does each advertising and promotional channel available to me align with my brand, with my target customer, and with my market?
12) How does each channel perform? (i.e. what is the return on investment?)
13) What search terms, or phrases, best define my business? or my brand?
14) What search terms, or phrases will best appeal to target customers?
15) How are my competitors using advertising and promotional channels?
16) How good is my customer service?
17) How good is my competitors' customer service?
18) How is my industry (or type of business) changing over time? what are the trends?
19) What new products and services should I be thinking about?
20) Is my business optimally sized?  is it too small? too large? what is my capacity for growth?

And there are more, but this should give some sense to the varied questions that any business owner should be asking and what market research needs to be performed.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

How Are You Fishing?

This past week I came across a comment that likened marketing to fishing.  And the more I think about it, the more I like the analogy.  Even more, I like the interesting contrast between the behavior of businesses (in the real world) and those of people in the analogy.

Simply put, marketing is a lot like fishing.

Businesses are always (or should be!) fishing for customers.  But they often fall short, not catching as many fish as they'd like.  Now, when real fishers don't catch fish, they can implement four poor strategies and one good one.  First, they can fish elsewhere.  Second, they can cast the line more often.  Third, they can put out more lines.  And fourth, they can throw the line farther out.

In a business setting these are likened to (1) trying for a different target customer, (2) more intensive advertising schedules, (3) using more advertising channels, and (4) modifying the target customer to include more types of consumers.  Every one of these is a desperation move.  And (2) and (3) are the equivalent of saying that we can do better if we "yell more loudly".

Or, our hypothetical fisher can change the bait.  And that is the marketing equivalent of re-evaluating the advertising content.  If we don't catch the "fish" in our target market, perhaps we are using the wrong message.  This is a vastly wiser strategy than pouring more brute force into a campaign that has clear problems.

What fascinates me is that real fishers leap to the one good strategy but businesses seem to gravitate to one of the four poor strategies.  Life should imitate art.

Let me ask you, if you are not catching enough fish, are you using the right bait?