Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Not All Personal Commercials Help The Giver

I have been fascinated by the giving of "elevator" speeches, or 30-second commercials, or whatever else they might be called, since I first joined a professional and business leads group.  There are so many variations!  Only some are effective.

Let's look past the ones that are awkward first tries.  Those people will learn and improve over time, especially if they work with a coach or mentor.  We'll also overlook the ramblings of those who are not prepared or who don't work well on the fly.

I don't find the classic, unchanging, "one size fits all" version very effective.  Over time, if I meet the person repeatedly, and hear the same thing, I tend to tune out.  I have heard the message before and can only really appreciate the person's ability to memorize a small bloc of text.  And what is sadder, these speeches don't recognize that the audience changes.  Something that appeals to network partner #1 may not connect with partner #2.

I have several regulars in my primary leads group who do wonderfully well in making commercials.  Their work has several important elements:

(1) They mention themselves and their business at the outset and in the close.
(2) They include a value proposition of some kind, either discussing a problem they solved or how they can help someone else.
(3) They give cues to what constitutes a good lead or referral for them.
(4) They add a refreshing touch of humor.

Bottom line: consider how you make elevator speeches or short personal commercials.  Can you add new elements that improve effectiveness?  what are you learning from the best practices of others?  You can be the speaker every one listens for!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lessons From an Action Team

I have a connection with some folks at a local nonprofit who assembled a small team to boost the nonprofit's brand, message and visibility.  All the members of the team are giving of their time and expertise on a pro bono basis.  On paper, it sounds like the U.S. Olympics basketball team: a group of stars.  In practice, I have learned, it's not working out at all.

There are good lessons to be learned for any small enterprise that consults with multiple experts to solve its business challenges.  Here are those I picked up from that nonprofit's "dream team."

1) An action team needs to understand its mission and vision.  Or in military terminology, what is the mission and what defines victory.  This team was assembled with no clear understanding of what it was expected to accomplish and what the endpoint might be.  Worse, stakeholders internal to the nonprofit had a radically different understanding of what the team members were to do (be "gophers") than the panelists (offer ideas).

2) An action team needs a defined leader who is empowered to constructively channel discussions into actions.  There is a theoretical chair to the nonprofit's panel, but is someone who is passive and is not empowered to lead.  Hence it is "free for all" and not effective.

3) An action team needs to match complementary skills.  This poor panel boasts no less than five members in seven who are marketing consultants, all with differing perspectives and strong wills.  The real danger is that the nonprofit's leaders are pulled in differing directions.  Imagine you are in hospital and five doctors loom over you, all with different prognoses.  You can't act on all five's advice and someone, if not all five, stand to have the least effective "cure."  My own sense would be to either assign each party one very specific task based on their key strengths, or eliminate all but one to be the definitive diagnostician.

The nonprofit's panel is well stocked with people who love the nonprofit and believe they know the right course of action.  They are, however, likely set up for failure.  There won't likely be consensus action and the nonprofit will keep doing what it has been doing.  Not a good outcome.

Bottom line:  When creating a support action team to solve a problem, set it up for success.  Select people whose skills complement one another, select a clear leader, and make clear the team's mission and vision.  Don't settle for chaos.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Taking New Steps Also Involves Fundamentals

It is always very interesting to obtain a client's perspective on the market research needs of the business and what are the pluses and minuses of that client's approach.  While I exist to help fill the gaps or provide guidance on doing so it is essential for those like me to assess trends in gaps.  One long standing one is taking leaps of faith on new business development.

This week I worked with a client who operates a physical location in an extremely competitive line of business.  They are doing well enough that they've survived the first challenging year and are even considering opening a second location.  That's where the story gets interesting.

The business owners do well enough with competitive intelligence to be aware of alternative choices, their pricing, service quality and so on.  They have done secret shopping and stay top of social media in their field.  However, their consideration of a second location has apparently not involved significant site evaluation (I'd say they are picking based on proximity to others in the same line of work) and, worrisomely, hunches.  They told me they are looking at not only a second location but one that involves an entirely different type of product.  The supporting justifications were (a) we like this product ourselves and (b) there's one sort of like it in the nearby city.

No! no! no!  For something like this we must return to a business plan and do a sober, objective assessment of the market for the new location and new product.  Can this be supported by the market? what impact might it have on the existing store?  Where are existing customers coming from? and more.

Bottom line: every new step in business development must be taken with the same thought, care and analysis as the original opening.  Thorough market research is needed to assess location, product line, competition, and customers.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Local Elections Make a Statement About Marketing

In my city we held elections for local officeholders.  And this election taught, as they all do, important lessons about marketing small businesses.

Consider that local politicians are definitely local businesses: they have customers (voters), are selling a product (themselves), they have a brand, often employees (campaign team) and are concerned about their ROI (campaigning to maximize votes).  And like so many small businesses, the local politician wears many hats when doing business. Often too many!

Good promotion that emphasizes the brand, meaningful differences with competitors, and is focused on the advantages of the product are critical in making a successful sale.  Those that unduly focus on the alleged weaknesses of competitors risk going out of business (losing the election.)

In my City Council district the incumbent did very well protecting his brand, making direct sales, and focusing relentlessly on his own product strengths and advantages.  His competitor started on such a path but impatient to optimize his ROI chose to focus mainly on the incumbent.  And misstated facts.  And alienated potential customers.  The challenger lost in a landslide.

Even worse, I engaged campaign operatives in conversation at a polling station who did not understand their own product.  Their party endorsed the challenger on a party identification basis.  The "employees" had no idea what the candidate stood for, opposed, and in one case, what the candidate's name was.  They projected a very poor image of the product.

Bottom line: observe other kinds of small businesses, even if they seem remotely far from "business".  Be mindful of brand equity, targeted marketing, and employees who are the front face of your business.  Don't try to "lose" an "election."!