Friday, August 28, 2015

Is Social Media Necessary?

A conversation I had Thursday has even more deeply intrigued me.  The other person asked me, in essence, whether he needs social media in his marketing plan.  He's flush with business, has excellent word of mouth and repeat business, and is a successful networker.  He was being pressured by "advisers" to get with the 21st Century and create social media properties.  He does want some presence on the internet that talks to his philosophy and ideas.

After listening to his story and needs, I recommended no social media but that he consider a blog.

The bigger question is: does everyone need a social media page of some kind?  After thinking about the matter, I say no.  But I think most should.

First, think about the target customer.  If they wouldn't naturally seek out a business in social media, the need is minimal.  Think about local businesses you'd be surprised to see on LinkedIn or Facebook:  For me, entities like convenience stores, banks, and self-store complexes just don't resonate as "likes".

Second, if the business owner cannot or will not engage with followers frequently or enthusiastically, social media might even backfire.  Social media depends mightily on constant engagement.

Third, if the business' existing market plan is performing well, there may be little or no need to make an adjustment to add social media.

Bottom line: not every channel is necessary for every business.  The decision must be made on the basis of the marketing fundamentals, not the herd instinct.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Two-Target Dilemma

A local professional association is struggling with its marketing.  Recruiting new members has not been easy: prospects tell recruiters that they don't see enough value in the membership.  Ordinarily, that should be easy to solve.

There's a major twist in the story.  The association has two kinds of members, and they are very different.

One type of member is business owners, preferably located in a specific area of the city.  They most often seek an opportunity to network.  Another type are residents who live in the specific area.  They most often seek information about plans for development in that area.  Trying to create a meeting format that satisfactorily addresses both sets of needs has proven nearly impossible.  Hence, prospects of both types say they don't see enough value.

I have seen this effect over and over.  It is very prevalent in non profit associations.  They try to grow as large as possible by diluting their target and accepting "marginal" possibilities. The trouble is, it is harder to market to and satisfy the needs of divergent customers.

In the case of this association, the current solution is to tweak the agenda and recruit with brute force---door to door contacts in the specific area of the city, all in hopes of getting just enough new people to advance the association's metrics.  I think the solution is to be realistic: pick the primary target and build agendas and offerings that suit that target.  Otherwise, admit members of other types at a lower rate and no expectation they will be "served."  An organization must focus to efficiently find and serve customers, and there is no room for mixed messages.

Bottom line: does your business (or organization) have a two-target problem?  can you really afford to serve two very different customers?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Another Form of Charity Marketing

It seems to be a week of lessons in marketing from interesting places.  Here's another:  the local public television station was doing its summer fundraising this past month.  Often times the PBS affiliate recruits volunteers from organizations, promising a certain number of mentions of their organization in exchange for a certain number of volunteers.  The organizations respond with the view that they are getting good marketing.  But are they?

Let's say an organization contributes ten helpers for a six hour period.  Just placing a rough value of their time as, say, $50 per hour, we can calculate a total contributed value of 10 x 6 x $50 = $3,000.  Now let's say the public television affiliate makes two "mentions" (just the name, mind you, no web site or other contact information).  That's a lot of brute force for two passing references, lost among others.

What is more, we have a target market challenge.  The volunteer organization hopes that good leads are in fact watching at the point those mentions are made.  That's a reach: the hours may be bad (say, Saturdays or Sundays at 3pm) or the programming isn't a fit for the target customer.  In the end, the return on investment may be extremely negligible, perhaps even zero.

I have branded these efforts as "charity marketing".  It's just fine if the volunteers really care about the public television affiliate (or similar entity), but realistically they're not doing the organization all that much.  

Bottom line: if resources are limited and marketing must be effective, beware of "feel good" or charitable marketing deals.  But if you have the time and resources and want to be a nice person, have fun.  It does help someone.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Lessons from a Door to Door Evangelist

Last week I was visited here at the home office by some representatives of a well known religious organization.  These souls were evangelizing through the thinly concealed device of peddling a "free magazine" (the one that is the voice for that particular sect).  Strip away the religion and we really had a door-to-door marketing campaign.  And the representatives made about as many marketing mistakes as one could make.

1.  Target marketing.  The campaign was a simple brute force door-to-door, heedless of analysis of demographics.  The mother organization presumably feels "everyone" is a target customer, and its representatives (and there were at least five (!) in my little cul-de-sac) waste massive amounts of time knocking on doors.  And by the way, they visited on a weekday morning when hardly anyone is at home.

2. Brand messaging.  Almost nil.  The representatives were bizarrely attired, and didn't telegraph a positive image.

3. Establishing a connection with the prospect.  The representative who addressed me started with (and I am not making this up) "would you like to receive a magazine?".  The person could have engaged me with light philosophical questions such as "Do you feel like you aren't getting all the right answers" or some such to spark a conversation about how they can help solve my problems.  Of course I don't want a magazine!

4. Tactics.  Door to door is not, in my opinion, an old school tactic that works well any more.  With concerns about crime alone people don't respond well to the knocked door appeal.  I can't remember when a door-to-door contact engendered a really positive experience (except maybe the Girl Scout Cookie kids.)

5. Sampling.  Do not ask me if I want a magazine subscription.  Do leave behind something I can read.  Or leave something as a gift that might invite me to warm up.  A coupon? a tract?  Sure, 95% of the stuff will be tossed but I might be more willing to respond if I get something, rather than be asked to give or do something.

Bottom line: even the church must pay attention to marketing lessons.  This little contact was a fine reminder that the fundamentals matter.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Going Old School Can Make All the Difference

A little earlier today I heard a mentor and small business superstar discuss marketing philosophy on an Internet radio program.  One of her themes was that too many small business owners are swept up in new trends (social media, most definitely) and overlook the power of old school marketing techniques.

These techniques are powerful in two ways.  First, old school methods may be the best way to reach the business' target market.  It may be that a target segment can best be reached by door-to-door, or flyers at a street festival, or windshield flyers, or any of hundreds of techniques.  What the small business person should do is visualize the target market, narrow it to the low hanging fruit, and then ask what methods are most likely to create a point of contact.  It may be a fancy new trend is a terrible way of doing that!

Also, old school methods may be the best way to stand out in the crowd!  My mentor cited an example of direct mail.  Who does that any more?  Well, exactly.  The email box is full, but hardly any mail is out there in the US Post box.  It may be that an old school technique can be used to give your message extra heft in the midst of heavy competition.

Bottom line: don't rule out any of the old ways of doing things.  They may be ideal for your own circumstances, and you may be the only one to capitalize on their use!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

More Videos...Just Mind the Rules!

I'm hearing more and more from the marketing world, and especially from social marketing, that videos are becoming even more important as a marketing tool.

I'm inclined to agree, provided that several key rules are observed.

First, the video ought to be native: that is, by you, of you.  Linked video from some other source is occasionally acceptable but that material does not contribute to your brand.  And your customers want to know what you can do for them.

Second, brevity is the soul of success.  I don't see anything longer than 30 seconds being a success story.  Almost anyone can justify 30 seconds for a succinct, meaningful message.  Longer ones dilute the value you can provide.

Third, video should be fresh.  Weekly or at worst bi weekly at worst.  Give customers something new and they'll keep returning to your page or site.

and Fourth, share value.  Do you have a tip or advice you can share (for free?)  Do you have a success story you can share of helping someone else?  Don't hesitate to share your passion for your service or product, your location, etc.  Do avoid a hard sell.  The video is a come on to attract someone further.

Making video is easier than ever!  Practically any camera, even on a smart phone, can record very acceptable video and there are free or low cost tools that can help editing.

Bottom line: Video is a low cost, high value friend.  It's well worth doing!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Surveys? Not Me!

I took in a small business workshop earlier this week in which the presenter talked about ways to understand what customers want.  Top on her list were...surveys.

It is high time to put surveys in a box.  This is a market research tool from a prior century.  It was a marvelous innovation in 1920.  It was amazingly credible in 1970.  And it has failed in 2015.  I spent many years implementing and interpreting surveys, and couldn't help but notice that response rates and data quality have plunged to the point where results are meaningless.  Part of the reason for this is that respondents had been so bombarded from surveys in every direction that they tuned out.  Want proof?  Think about these waiter/waitress/clerk "surveys" at the bottom of sales receipts that-when-completed-make-you-eligible-for-prizes.  Does anyone fill these out?

It is bad enough now that consumers dislike most any survey.

How to learn what customers want?  Ask them, in person, about their needs.  Look at comments in social media.  Read reviews of yours and competitors.  Scan blogs and chat rooms.  YES, these are not scientific samples.  But they are opinion leaders, or highly energized consumers, or both.  Always invite people to engage with you in emails, phone calls, written comments, and face-to-face.  You'll learn alot from these unstructured conversations.

Don't fall back on outdated methods to engage with customers.  Don't damage your own brand by following the lemmings off the cliff.  There is a better way!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Is Press Presence Worth It?

Every week I see a business "profiled" in the various local newspapers.  And in fact, one of my current clients recently picked up one of these spots, arguing that it was essential for their re-branding effort to have some visibility in the market.

A good question is: "Are these profiles worth the trouble?".

On balance I think the answer is No.  I have a number of reasons for skepticism.  Here are a few:

(1) I spent ten years in newspapers and even as far back as 1996 knew that newspaper circulation has been in free fall for years.  Even free supplements and regional newspapers are losing traction, and online subscriptions aren't moving that well.  Worse, relatively low percentages of readers are likely to see anything past the front page.  Fewer eyeballs will see the business profiles every year.

(2) Advertisers know that the benefits of a spot don't kick in until there are several impressions.  One "news" story is not going to cut it.  It's seen once, and pretty much forgotten.

(3) I think people have a natural suspicion of profiles that are thinly disguised advertisements.  They are all written from a perspective that can't honestly assess the business.

If taken as a feel-good measure, say, in framing the article and hanging it on the wall, that's nice and fine.  It is merely important to understand that these profiles are not and will never be meaningful ways to truly promote a business.  Minimal energy should be invested in seeking them out.