Monday, November 30, 2015

New Advertising Techniques are Really the Original Ones

Time was when a business could advertise itself in a very limited number of channels and cover its target remarkably well.  I think of my great uncle who owned a pharmacy in my little home town in the '50s and '60s.  He could call up the local newspaper, and maybe even one of the few radio stations easily reachable in the area and do as well as anyone could.  He would only worry that he reached, say, 75% of his target, instead of 85% or more.

Today, advertising is an absolute nightmare.  Channels are astonishingly fragmented, especially once Internet advertising became a reality.  There are hundreds of radio and television channels.  It is very difficult to count every possible advertising vehicle available in any given area.  I'd dare say one has more advertising options at the South Pole now than were available in New York City even fifty years ago.  And it goes almost without saying that no single channel can deliver more than a few percentage points of a target market.

So what to do?  It definitely does not make sense to buy ad space to the desired cumulative target.  That would be ridiculously ineffective.  For many of us it is also too expensive to use targeting technology like geodemographic coding.  And it's incredibly difficult to understand the reach of each and every advertising channel.

My thinking is that for small business, at least, the new normal does not include traditional advertising.  No newspapers.  No magazines.  No radio.  No television.  The return on investment simply isn't there.  What I do see is that we need to exploit the potential of what used to be called network marketing.  Each of our network contacts in turn knows others who know others, and so on.  By creating strong, trusting referral relationships we in essence create an advertising-and-marketing channel of considerable power.  In various ways this is a return to principles established before there was widespread print and classical "advertising": long ago your products and services were promoted by the people who knew and trusted you.

It's more work, to be sure, than just buying an ad.  But the bond is stronger.

Bottom Line:  There is really nothing new, even in advertising.  Using very fundamental principles can work well for you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Lunch and Learns Can Help Build Appetite for a Business

In this area there is a growing interest in holding free (or very low cost) seminars, workshops, lunch-and-learns, or whatever else you might call them.  Small business owners are using these as clever promotional tools, sharing information closely related to their products and services and selling "soft": inspiring attendees to take a greater interest in those products and services.

My own experience is that these can work very well in both B2B and B2C settings, although my sense of things is that consumers need to be incentivized by a free meal or some other tangible come-on for attending.  In the case of a B2B business owners seem to be sufficiently motivated to better understand the offerings provided they have a low cost of trial, or access.

What can the presenter do to make these "lunch and learns" effective?

First, be prepared to promote the event.  A single posting on Eventbrite or equivalents may not be enough to fill a room.  The event should be talked up in networking, on social media, via flyers and anything else that occurs.

Second, keep the hard sell to a minimum.  Don't hesitate to lay out brochures, price sheets, and other materials, and even to state at the end (succinctly) what sorts of things you can do to help.  But I have have been at workshops where the sales pressure at the end of the event was quite off putting and destroyed the value of the event.

Third, do offer food.  Even water and snack items is a nice gesture to those prepared to sit and listen for 60 to 90 minutes.  Another nice "goodie" could be a drawing for a prize of some kind at the end, perhaps even a coupon for one of your services or products.

Bottom line: use a "soft" vehicle like a free seminar to introduce yourself to new customers.  Such an event can be a wonderful way to share valuable information and your expertise.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gimmicks Can Hurt Brand

A few days ago I passed a brick-and-mortar location of a business.  The drive-by was remarkable because the business owner had planted a huge yellow banner and a big bunch of multicolored balloons.  The message was obvious: "Please Stop In."  Was this a good idea?

I'm not fond of these gimmicks.  I think they have two liabilities.  One is that they don't work well.  If they did, automobile dealers (who seem to require use of these horrid gimmicky balloons, flags and banners) would never need to advertise and cars would fly off the lots.  Worse is, I think they hurt brand.

The business I passed looked respectable.  It had a good, highly visible street location and a good product concept.  But I formed an immediate opinion that they were probably not very good at what they did.  With those advantages, who in their right mind would think a bunch of balloons in the street would lure someone inside?  And why were they worried about foot traffic?

I assume the business had some problems.  In such a case it would be worth addressing those problems rather than resorting to cheap gimmicks.  If something had to be placed in the street, why not a professional-looking sign that advertised a special?  or a "today-only" offering?  That alternative would have at least protected the brand a little.

Bottom Line:  Beware of cheap, cute gimmicks.  Attention-getting strategies must be complementary to the business brand and image.  It's too easy to create an unfortunate image in a prospective customer's mind.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

You Might Surprise Yourself

As I network in my market area, I am frequently struck by new insights gleaned from watching others.  And sometimes those insights strike very close to home.  A very important one for me I have come to call the "Conjecture on Comparison."  And it is this: We usually and wrongly believe others are superior in skills, experience, and success.

When I first made networking rounds I held a view that the other entrepreneurs in the room were doing uniformly well, often very well, and were tops in their line of work.  I figured I was a true novice and was concerned that potential customers would view my own offerings with extreme skepticism.  Only after I developed relationships did I recognize that I was a good deal stronger than I first believed, and, more importantly, that others were a lot more anxious and self-critical than they seemed.  There weren't that many demigods in the room.

This means that when we market ourselves we should recognize that, at least for most of us, we have wonderful service or products that will truly help someone else, and that we shouldn't be the least bit hesitant to offer ourselves as helpers.  The only real worry should be making sure that our appropriate target customers get to hear our message.  And through networking, we make the connections that get us to the target customers.

Bottom Line: Are you carrying doubts about your skill set? are you comparing yourself too much to others?  If you believe in them you can believe in yourself.  Feel like someone who can help and make a difference!  Your marketing efforts will shine with that sunny confidence!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Collaboration Packages Can Strengthen A Brand

For many small businesses, getting noticed and appreciated might just take a little extra.  Not effort, per se, but power.  One way to get that extra boost is to collaborate with an allied business and market the joint offering together.

We have learned in the consumer world that bundles can be extremely attractive.  One form is bundling two or more services into one convenient package and bargain price.  The other is to bundle across business lines.  For example, a yoga studio might collaborate with a health food store to coupon a "wellness" package that includes a class and a special price on organic produce items.  A marketing consultant might team up with an executive coach for a market plan review-and- leadership training combination.  The possibilities are limitless.

The benefits are many.  One business can attract the attention of customer of the ally, and can leverage off the brand strengths of that ally.  Attractive joint pricing may be a perfect entry point for a client or consumer willing to try at a discount rate.  And combined marketing resources can go farther when promoting and advertising.  And, one's own brand is amplified by association with a logical partner, emphasizing the product or service strengths.

Bottom Line: can you team up with a trusted or respected ally to join forces for a special marketing offer?  What can you offer an ally to help them grow their business---and gain a friend who will helo your own?