Thursday, April 28, 2016

Coupon Mailers May Not Be the Best Bet

As a resident of an upscale metropolitan area I am a very regular recipient of various coupon "mailers".  These mailers either take the form of a booklet or an envelope containing any number of coupons or special offer cards.  The mailers here are almost all printed with very high quality paper and typically look professional.  Are they a good deal for small business?

On the plus side, people love deals, the coupons usually look attractive, and price points for the mailers are not typically prohibitive.

But there are concerns.  Mailers cater to an upscale audience but it is not subdivided any farther, and the distribution is over a wide area.  Hence it is difficult to align to a carefully defined target customer base.  I am very skeptical of "broad brush" advertising: a lot of money is expended to reach what is a small part of the mailer base, if one is that lucky.

Mailers are also necessarily of use only to business-to-consumer providers.  This is simply not an option for a business selling services to other businesses.

And, it is impossible to truly stand out in the pack.  One's message is lost among all of the other deals, all of which have the same format or card size.

Finally, there's ample data that mailers are one of the least-used advertising channels by the consumer.  Very few consumers distinguish mailers from "junk mail" and discard them.  In my zip code it seems that the mailers all arrive in the same day's mail, and that "junk mail" effect is likely amplified for the unengaged consumer.

Bottom Line: As with any advertising channel, mailers must be considered with care.  Ask the salesperson questions about entry cost, actual readership data,  and return on investment.  Be sure to determine how closely the mailer's base corresponds to your own target customers.  And compare to alternatives.  In the right cases, mailers work very well.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Is SEO Positioning Over-hyped?

There is no question in my mind that the great mantra of the 2010s among marketers is "SEO".  SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the achievement of a high position in a search engine of a particular business.  And it is greatly overhyped.

The logic of the marketeers is that success depends on getting as close to #1 search result as possible for a given search term or business name.  Great sums are spent to "optimize" this position.  It sounds wonderful, but there are considerations.  I think for most small businesses, achieving very high SEO should not be the overriding goal.  Here's why:

1) Every competitor is also doing the same thing, and there are only so many top-ten positions to go around.  If you are a Realtor and hoping "Top Realtor in Gotham" will show you, you will likely be disappointed.   Every business spending money with a marketing firm to buy more "horses in the race" is locked in an arms race of sorts with others doing the same thing.

2) Not every small business builds their marketing plan around search.  Quite a few I know rely on relationship building, word of mouth, advertising, and good old fashioned promotion.  And, similarly, not that many consumers (or clients) see the be-all-and-end-all in search.  A search may inform but it does not automatically lead to to a sale.  Oftentimes the search is conducted to find a detail that is not remembered, such as a telephone number or address.

3) The question of "High SEO" is highly dependent on the "what" of the search.  That is, what search term matters most?  Do you want to score high with your business name? your line of business? a particular product or service? something else?  One's search position can change enormously based on the word choices a prospect makes.  Trying to buy high SEO for every combination can be enormously expensive.

What's the solution?  I recommend adapting to the realities of search.  A business can improve its search position by keeping a web property with strong content, fresh material, and plenty of both.  Use videos and a blog to add searchable material.  Consult your web master for ways to enhance searchability of the web site.  But most of all, ensure your messaging reflects ways in which you are unique and different.  Continue to work the non-search methods most businesses use.

Bottom line: Search is part of the equation, but it is not the most critical to a small business.  Be careful buying into programs that focus on building the maximum SEO.  Very often, that program may not result in the strongest return on investment.  Depend on established marketing techniques.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Exhibition Signage Always Demands Thought

Over the weekend I was part of a nonprofit and small business exposition in our metropolitan area.  This event, as they usually do, offered insights on some promotional trends and techniques.  This time, I was especially interested in signage.

Stand-up (vertical) banners have become very popular with exhibitors.  They are colorful, sturdy and don't depend on walls and cords.  They do occupy some floor space which is often allocated sparingly by expo planning committees.  What was striking to me was how many of these there were and how they no longer allow someone to stand out...the bulk of the herd uses them, too!

A few exhibitors used older-style banners designed to be suspended in some way.  As always, there is almost never a way to suspend them!  Some tried using them to front tables (where they disappeared behind legs) or on walls.  Of the rest there was a mix of signs on table stands, signs-in-the-form-of computer screens, or nothing at all.

I was drawn most to the table stand signs and those others that were colorful but clear (abstract shapes, hard-to-read logos and text, and random colors all failed with me).

It is clear that the mission to stand out in the crowd is both eternal and challenging.  At any given point in time the successes can change from the time before.  That means only that we need to be vigilant and observant--watching how it is done successfully now and think ahead to what may be more successful next time.

The Bottom Line: Exhibition signage can't be dusted off each time with the same expectation of success.  Can something be rethought that will help you stand out?  And remember to stay faithful to your brand--always use signage that reinforces the brand in all of its forms.  Good luck at your next expo outing!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Millennial Trap

Earlier this week I attended a presentation on the impact of so-called "Millennials" on the workplace.   (These are people born in the 1980s and 1990s.)  The speaker urged the listeners to look past what he himself thought were the cohort's narcissism, difficulty with interpersonal communication, impatience with authority, and resistance to "team play" and embrace the cohort's purported high degree of creativity.

I have seen similar thinking on this cohort and the take is always the same: the world must obey Millennial desires or pay the price in failed business.  I'm sorry, but I am not buying it.

I wasn't old enough to remember the buzz about the Baby Boomers when they arrived on the scene in the 1960s, but I was very much in the thick of it when "Generation X" came of age in the 1980s and 1990s.  And I recall quite a lot said that the market needed to accomodate the new arrivals.  In the end, Generation X seems to have disappeared into the blurry backdrop of "older consumers."  This cohort has been a bit more entrepreneurial perhaps, but it has behaved like all the others.  Businesses did not radically transform in the late years of the 20th century in terms of marketing.  And the Millennials won't make any bigger an impact.

The ground rules of the marketplace are ever the same: bring forward a product or service that solves a problem for a target customer, find a way to alert the target customer to this solution, and keep the customer engaged with you.  I'm pretty sure this was the case as far back as we wish to go in history.  The details about market research and advertising may have changed, but not the fundamentals.

Bottom Line:  Millennials are interesting and youth always brings with it some new perspectives and ideas.  That said, they are not reinventing the fundamentals of finding, attracting and retaining customers.  Establishing the value proposition, focusing on the right target, and communicating with the customer will always be core to what we do.  Don't fall into the trap that new consumers mean the rulebook needs to be rewritten!