Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Don't Be a Master of the Obvious

We all know that many, perhaps even most advertising messages fall flat in some way.  The scrapbook of campaigns is replete with botches that seemed like good ideas at the time.

To be sure everyone has their tastes and a poor message for one may be a hit for another.  And in that spirit may I share one of my pet peeves?

High on my list of messages that leave me cold are those I label "masters of the obvious".  These are messages that cite as product or service advantages qualities that ought to be obvious, or at least expected.

For example (and I paraphrase): "We use only the best ingredients", "We are the best", "We are all about quality", "Trust is most important", and so on.

Gosh, I certainly hope these sentiments are true!  However, I would expect the message to focus on a true product or service strength, difference compared to competitors, or advantage.  Telling me that a given service is "the best" says nothing if it comes from the service provider.  But I will get suspicious if that's all that can be said.  Similarly, making such claims is flabby reasoning.  Are we to assume all competitors are inferior?  really?

Bottom Line: leave it to the customer to establish the quality and superiority of a product or service.  Use that precious messaging time to inform with strong attention to specific advantages.  Tell the prospective customer exactly how you differ from other choices in ways that are meaningful.  Identify specific needs that you address or solve.  You may find this improves your position with the marketplace!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Directories May No Longer be at the Top of the List

In recent weeks I have had several encounters, in various forms, with directories as a media/advertising channel.  Do they make sense for small business?

I think we can agree directories have long lost their luster from the days when the massive phone books landed on the front door step.  Even overlooking the reality that hardly any one has one in their home (or business) the directory publishers themselves have made strategic moves to offer services beyond the traditional directory listing.

I'm bearish on directories.  A few years ago I was willing to concede a meaningful role to directories for some types of businesses (e.g. home services, food delivery, etc.) and especially not business-to-business I am retreating from even that qualified position.  Search has become everything.  Published directories take up space.  Online directories are one step removed from search.

The directory publishers I have seen recognize this and are trying to accommodate search in a way that they hope adds value, for example, adding review capability.  The problem is that they're merely duplicating what's already there with established market share.  Examples include Yelp, Google, Angie's List and so forth.

For the small advertiser, there are some serious concerns about directory listings.  Can the publisher return impressions that match or surpass others?  Do consumers actually use the tool(s)?  Is it too easy to be lost in a matching field of competitor listings?

Bottom line: Look very hard at directories'  offerings.  Compare to alternatives and think about how the directory is used, if so, by your target market.  The old days are gone and directories aren't the go-to resource they once were.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Two Ways Small Business Will Succeed in the (Near) Future

Occasionally I am invited to share thoughts on the future of small business marketing (and in this case, very small business).

The world of the early 21st century is very different from the one even a decade ago.  There is ever more marketing power available to use, especially in terms of technology, and there is more complication and confusion.  Every week I see peers struggle with the current "normal."

There are paths out of the thicket that will become more important to us small businesses.

I think alliances will become critical to the success of small business.  The current model (BNI, leads networking) is based on mutualism: one business striving to help another, but otherwise fully independent and unconnected.  This has all of the limitations one person can have, especially in how effective a person is, what time and resources are available, and so on.  I am seeing signs that these "solopreneurs" especially are entertaining more active partnering to leverage resources and opportunities.  It will most often take the form of related businesses or whatever yields natural synergies.  And the businesses will market in a united framework giving equal weight to each participant.

The other path will take the form of increased use of video.  Small businesses are not finding success in print nor even in flat digital publishing (i.e. standard text-based websites or social media posts.  It is incredibly hard to personalize and stand out in traditional ways.  Video lets a prospect see us, hear about what we do in our words and with our own emotions.  It has become very inexpensive to produce video and video can easily be disseminated online.  And it lends itself beautiful to mobile devices.  Even those who are bashful about being "seen" can speak into a microphone while text and graphics amplify the message.

The Bottom Line:  The marketplace is complicated and frustrating but we are seeing clearly how some new ways of organizing and displaying can change our game.  Think about how you can pair up with a logical ally and use video to stand out.