Thursday, December 14, 2017

Taken For Granted

My neighborhood was recently added to the network of a telecommunications provider (the third available to us), providing a story of what not to do in a rapidly expanding competitive environment. 

It has been widely expected that Provider III would be entering this market, and that the company would have a good chance to enroll customers simply because Providers I and II had developed some adverse images.  This is a moment when a sharp incumbent provider would take steps to minimize that opportunity.  For example, the threatened Providers could have undertaken some appreciative outreach to their existing customers, renewal price deals, whatever.  Even a simple Thank You letter could have been issued.  As it stands, I get the message that my Provider takes me for granted.

Amazingly, neither Provider has done much of anything.  My own current Provider is grotesquely silent.  The other put up a couple of pathetic tiny "we offer fiber" signs in the neighborhood.  Can they be so confident that Provider III is no threat?

I don't think complacency is a good idea at all.  Customers want to think they're valued and appreciated.  If their vendor does no more than send bills even when a new suitor---especially one with a better reputation---knocks on the door.  Appreciative outreach won't save every account but it might reduce potential losses.

Bottom Line:  Do you take customers or clients for granted?  Do you show appreciation for their choice of you as a vendor?  Don't make it easy for a competitor to poach your hard-won accounts!

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Facebook Live Wave

The Facebook Live video tool is becoming more popular within my networking circles, replacing (if relevant) traditional prepared-in-advance "studio" videos.  It's certainly a fine utility to add to a small business owner's toolkit, one that does well in projecting energy and "hot" ideas and which establishes a connection with the customer.  As with all things, a little thought is in order before use.

First, select a setting that makes sense for you and your brand.  Avoid noisy places, settings with too much or too little light, and anywhere with any odd or distracting elements.  A neutral background makes most sense.  I've seen some done from the driver's seat of a car---something that strikes me as reminiscent of reality TV shows and therefore a little off---but as long as that fits your normal style it should be fine.

Second, keep in mind that if you are going to use or display any text whatsoever that it will be reversed or flipped in the video (an artifact of the camera).  Some folks I know deliberately print signage in reverse to overcome this.  You may also want to select a background without any business or street signs that can be distracting.

Third, consider doing a dry run before recording.  Too many of these videos come across as scatterbrained and/or loaded with "ums" and "ahs" as the speaker strains for a thought.  A Live video ought to be short, so that rehearsing is not a burden. 

Finally, please do have a thought!   Sharing an idea or promoting an event is what a Live video ought to be all about as opposed to broadcasting "just because."  The viewer will appreciate the judicious request your time.

Bottom Line:  Don't shy away from Facebook Live.  It can be a wonderful tool for a business.  But at the same time be careful in how it is used and spend a little time with the details to optimize the experience.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Right Balance

An entrepreneur I know well has been ramping up messaging on social media pages and email contacts with a surprisingly candid, yet highly effective approach.  It's refreshing!

I'm hardly ever impressed by braggarts.  Perhaps you know the type.  Those folks claim to be the absolute best in their field or geographic area on little more than their own say-so.  It's a bad place to be when, if met face to face, they are found wanting.  There is but one place for their brand to go.

My peer mentioned above has been brave enough to talk about a time when she was, at least in her own view, less effective and wracked by self-doubt.  She then talks about her story overcoming those doubts and how she put her own medicine to work building a consulting practice.  And that leads to a discussion about how she in turn helps others present themselves to best effective.

What works so well in this messaging is the vulnerability.  I think that doing so establishes a genuineness and credibility with the audience.  And when someone meets my peer, I think they only find a consultant who is more effective than she claims.  She laid the foundation where there is really only one place to go---up. 

Bottom Line:  Look at brand messaging as an opportunity to establish a genuine "you."  Writing a story to share is a wonderful way to start.  Use that exercise as a means of eliminating braggadocio and undue claims.  A genuine person is most likely to attract clients and customers.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Hyperbole: A Two Edged Sword

This past week I came across a brochure published by a professional service provider whom I know well.  It was a marketing piece that I think will work against this person.

The thing had obvious flaws:  amateur production quality, abuse of fonts, underlining, and color, and ill-chosen illustrations.  All of these might have been forgivable had the brochure's text not been thick with hyperbole and overstatement.

I think that as a basic rule a marketer needs to use adjectives with care.  One or two chosen ones is ideal.  A few more if they can be justified.  More than half a dozen?  Never.  In the case of the professional with the brochure, self-congratulatory adjectives rained from the heavens.  In the "address" block alone were more than five.  I don't know that they were all justified.  When someone tells me that (in their opinion) they are extraordinary, I'm going to need extraordinary proof. 

The reality was that the professional, while a pretty nice person, tends to be their biggest single admirer and the services are satisfactory, not exceptional.  That language, tied with the cheapskate production of the brochure, was off putting.  And if I am not alone...  you get the point.

Bottom Line:  Be careful with the use of hyperbole.  If you can't objectively assess your market value (and potential) ask someone else to review the text.  Many small business people can use more promotional language---there are many with "imposter syndrome", but far too many take adjectives to an extreme.  And that can deeply hurt a business!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Muddy Messaging

A large company is currently running a series of ads on the television.  They're pretty bad.  For one they are 100% "Brand X" spots in which their only statement is that the competitor is "bad."  And for another, they're poorly recorded so that some of the actors' lines end up as mumbling.  

What is worse is that their message is remarkably muddy.  I do not know who the target audience is.  The actors involved portray conspicuously "bad" archetypes yet bitterly complain about the competitor, which is, as noted, "bad".  Does that mean that the poor folks buying service from the competitor are awful? (and undesirable?) or is it that even the competitors' base are too dumb to switch?---or, perhaps, are as dumb as the advertiser thinks its own customers are?  No matter which way I look at it, there is no obvious target in mind.

Advertising is expensive and every word, minute, and image counts.  There should be no question who is the intended audience nor how the advertiser will help that audience.  Anything else is a waste of good money.

Bottom Line:  How muddy is your message?  Is it obvious who you are having a conversation with? what you're inviting them to do? how you can help?  Solicit other opinions before committing money to a campaign.  Don't confuse "good" with "bad"!

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Power of Story

A recent conversation with a client illustrates the power of story in not only messaging but refining a target customer. 

The case involved marketing a health-focused product.  Our conversation began with a better understanding of a fairly vague target.  The client told her own story of becoming a customer of the product and it occurred to me that the story was much more useful than the client expected:  that is, while it was on the one hand a marvelous device for expressing the client's passion, warmth and energy and the product's virtue, it was also a means of connecting with the right target.  And in this case someone more or less exactly like the client. 

I invited the client to fill in the details of the point where the product changed the client's life and to think of speaking to those in the same life circumstances, as if a group of friends.  The story will become a valuable video in the client's messaging.

Bottom Line:  Having difficulty narrowing your focus to an ideal target customer?  Consider writing down your own story on how you came to offer your own particular product or service and then visualize who you're speaking to as concretely as possible.  You should begin to gain some very valuable perspective as well as juice up your own messaging!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Power of the Change of Perspective

It is sometimes the case that a change of perspective can make all the difference.  I have had many conversations with business owners who are so close to their own work that they can miss opportunities more readily seen by another.

Two recent cases provide some illustration:

A client expressed some frustration that a networking group was heavily represented by people who were not her target customers.  But as it turned out, those networkers were married to target customers.  The suggestion was to develop a special event that brought in the networkers to help them with gift giving to their partners!  We used a simple but effective one-off to reach the actual target customer.

Another client was no longer reaching target customers at a set of venues---large universities.  Her virtually-identical messaging, once dependable, wasn't generating responses.  A proposal was to turn to the next tier down (smaller colleges) which have very similar students but who have different, more attractive circumstances.

In both cases the business owner hadn't seen the possibilities, being a little too close to the usual and expected marketing approaches.

Bottom Line:  Are you having marketing challenges?  The remedy may be as simple as seeking another person's perspective to permit some out of the box thinking.  Don't let your closeness to existing solutions limit your possibilities!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Proper Preparation is Essential

A distinguished colleague yesterday told me about some of her recent client situations and in particular how few were really prepared to take advantage of her services building a client base with funnel methodologies.  Some had only the sketchiest idea who is their target customer.  This is disappointing and a striking challenge for our small business community.

Having a well defined target is absolutely essential.  It is not going to work to say that "my customer is everyone who needs my service", or that "anyone is my best prospect."  Marketing is costly and time consuming and must be rationed to only the absolutely best market segments.

It does take courage to be willing to focus narrowly.  And it may require some market research to determine that focus.   But it must be done.  And when you are prepared to look for that sharpest and best defined segment (in terms of age? gender? location? circumstances?) one is then properly prepared to put the professional services of those like my colleague to best effect.

Bottom Line:  Step back today and think about your own best target prospect.  Narrow to a particular demographic or behavior who is absolutely most likely to pay for your product or service.  And only then look at the appropriate marketing channel for your business.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Customer Alienation

In this age of sharper political conflict, a truly sad consequence is alienation of customers.  Some of this alienation is forced upon a business through a boycott, either because a business has taken a stand of some kind that others find disagreeable or worse, because the business owner is identified as a target because of their ethnicity or gender.

There is another class of alienation that I just don't get.  In this case a business owner (or CEO or other high ranking official) affirmatively drives off customers.  In the cases of which I am aware the rejected customers voted a certain way.  This goes beyond saying, "If you voted that way, you'd best understand we have different values than you, so don't complain".

There is a huge danger here.

Consider that it is hard to win customers.  Proof?  Consider how much money or time we spent promoting, advertising and marketing businesses.  If you spurn a large segment of the marketplace, you're going to have to make it with what's left.  In these political cases some of these businesses are redlining half or more of their prospect base.  And they're doing so when research is showing that quite a few of the remaining prospects don't like those businesses because they're national franchise operations lacking local charm and character.

This is no way to run a business.  Shouldn't this be about serving people with the best product or service?

Bottom Line:  It's hard to build a customer base and easy to destroy one.  Business owners should be leery of putting agendas before customers.  Stay away from toxic messaging!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Video Marketing Uh Ohs

Video is coming of its own as a marketing channel.  It's fresh, it's real, it's inexpensive.  Many small businesses are projecting a wonderful image using this technology that not long ago was beyond the reach of all but the biggest players.

But video can be a headache, especially when easily avoided pitfalls arise.  I have seen plenty of videos from small marketeers and there are some small matters to avoid.  Here are a few.

1) Watch your audio.  Cell phone and camcorder cameras usually yield a low quality audio or one that sounds hollow and cheap.  A wireless microphone can make a world of difference.

2) Frame the picture.  Don't find yourself hiding in the bottom third of the screen.  Try a test video to fine tune the actual framing.

3) Beware reversed letterings.  Many home made videographers find that signs, labels and other items with words on them get reversed and that doesn't look good!  Remove obvious distractions or print them reversed so they come out right.

4) Finally, watch those verbal tics.  Be careful of "ums", "and uhs" and other tics that distract from the message.

Bottom Line: Video can be an impressive tool for small business marketing success.  Be sure yours is as outstanding as possible by tending to the little details!

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Strange Way to Market

Lately I have been watching a strange marketing campaign.  It strikes me as one that violates all of the rules of successful marketing strategy.  It isn't working, but its promoter is only doubling down and making a more frantic effort along the same lines.

The marketeer chose as the strategy a variation of the old "Brand X" model where a brand seeks an advantage over a competitor by pointing at defects in the competitive product.  Over time Brand X campaigns have gotten shallower and even nastier.  (An example: an ISP even practically grunts, Tarzan-style, "Us good. Them bad".)

Our example advertiser doesn't spend any time or energy promoting their own product.  Everything is directed at assailing the competitor, describing it and the competitor in the vilest way, advancing extremely dubious claims that often don't hold water, and hinting rather conspicuously that the product could only be desirable to subhumans.  What is worse is that the marketeer in question actually attacks consumers of the alternative product as idiots---and much worse.

Step back and think about this.  You want to command the market and sell your product.  To do that you need more consumers.  To do that you need to convince those prospects to buy yours.  And yet you....insult--and attack--those prospects.  What a strange, foolish way to do business.  It is no wonder that the advertiser is failing miserably with declining sales over time.  Yet that advertiser persists and is doubling down with stronger, nastier insults.

Bottom Line:  Are you selling with a Brand X or derivative strategy?  Are you finding yourself, even unintentionally, attacking prospects who go elsewhere?  Always return to basic principles of informing and courting prospects and where competitors exist only pointing out your own competitive advantages rather than any self-perceived deficiencies.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rushing to Re-cohort

Take a look around you and everywhere everyone is proclaiming that it is essential to re-engineer what they do to cater to the so-called "Millennial cohort" (which I would characterize as those in the economy who are in their 20s and 30s).  This goes beyond simply ensuring that new and younger prospects are not overlooked: it is a full bore demand that the entire marketplace adapt to these consumers.

I think there's way too much change being sought.  And it could backfire on those who reshape their appeal.

A business that puts all its eggs in the Millennial basket and fails to make the sale to that archetypically-feckless cohort risks losing its existing customer base and then has no choice but to fold.  I am seeing this sort of thing playing out with some large department chains and casual restaurants.

Even some businesses that play the Millennials' game are doing poorly because the stated Millennial core philosophies don't always lead to market success.  The fingerprints here are seen in greatly reduced productivity and unfocused management.

Perhaps worst of all, I see increasingly inane advertising campaigns darn near everywhere that I am certain are generated by older cohorts in search of Millennials they don't understand.

Bottom Line:  I continue to believe that products and services will continue to make sense if they solve real consumer needs and represent quality and attention to the customer.  Flighty efforts to focus on a single age cohort may not be appropriate in all circumstances.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Case Study in Image Self-Defeat

I recently encountered a gentleman who promotes himself as an exceptional specialist in his field, one that charges considerable fees.  I don't have any personal experience with or know anyone who has been able to speak to this fellow's competence, but I was instantly skeptical.

The clincher was the brochure.  It simply didn't look like it came from an exceptional, experienced professional.  It was home-generated on a loud, garish colored paper.  It used fonts that were hard to read.  Much of the text was written poorly.   It wasn't even folded into a neat trifold!

Was I unfair to the professional?  I don't think so.  It is one of the first tenets of marketing that you take the trouble to build the best possible image.  And for someone who has had some decades of business behind him, there's just no excuse for getting easy stuff right.  I looked at the brochure (and listened to a rambling and fairly incoherent presentation) and concluded that if he was that sloppy with his image, the advice I might get would likely be as questionable.

Bottom Line:  Take the time and expense to do the best possible image work.  Don't let easy mistakes happen that can cause a prospect to question you.  An image can be destroyed in seconds.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Are You Sending Mixed Signals?

It is surprising how many businesses send mixed signals to their markets.  That is, their messages talk to different segments in different (and usually contradictory ways) or they speak to one segment with more than one message.

One example is a pizza shop in my city.  They conspicuously brand themselves as a pizza shop (it is in their name) but they message as a traditional Italian restaurant.  And they proclaim that they are a trendy night spot/bar but also a family-friendly dining spot.  The result is confusion.  And traffic is not there.

Another example is an entrepreneur who sells two entirely different products at the same time, advertising both financial planning services and a healthy living supplement.  Because advertising time and space is limited, only half a message gets out at best for each line.  The result is confusion.

Less glaring examples exist.  Consider an advertisement that emphasizes low cost (something that appeals to a classic budget-conscious shopper) but also style/fashion/trendiness (something that appeals to a vanity shopper).  They are in fact trying to sell to two different markets in the same space.  And the result is confusion.

Bottom Line:  How do you speak to your market?  do you inadvertently send mixed messages to your market place?  Are you trying to do too much with one advertisement or promotion?  Can you simplify and speak to one target at a time and avoid trying to target too many different segments?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Why Market Research?

If there's one thing I have learned as an entrepreneur it is that most small businesses simply don't do any market research.  To the extent that budgets are restrictive I can understand this reluctance.  But there are so many good reasons to undertake some market research.  Consider:

1.  Market research means a better understanding of customers and prospects.  People come to us to satisfy needs.  We need to have a good handle of what those needs might be.  And without market research we won't know about trends among our customers until it is too late.

2. Market research means a better understanding of competitors.  It is difficult to differentiate ourselves from alternatives if we don't know what those competitors are doing.  And without market research we will have a much harder time staying ahead of the competition.

3. Market research means a better understanding of our own products and services.  We are sometimes too close to our own work to be able to spot imperfections.

Overall, market research helps us make better decisions because we have a better handle on our customers, prospects, products, services and competitors.

Bottom line:  Moving along without market research is a risk.  It means doing business on a hunch, assumption and pure faith.  It means giving an advantage to a competitor who might be using this tool to better understand their market and better serving your prospects and customers.  There are low cost ways to find better information.  Don't let this opportunity pass you by!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Good Brands Can Be Undermined

I'm not sure if it's a trend yet, but I haven noted the passing of a good many franchise businesses, predominantly restaurants, in recent years in my thriving and affluent metropolitan area.  I think they are examples for a teachable moment in brand erosion.

To be sure, restaurants live on the edge and can close in a heartbeat.  And to be sure, I've seen them come and go in my twenty-six years of residence here. It surprises me when a franchise goes belly-up in an up market.  These businesses typically bring to bear substantial name recognition and ready knowledge of their offerings.

Are there food habits changing?  I don't think that's the cause.  Similar genre restaurants do quite well (some of the victims are fast food chicken, pizza, and buffets).  People aren't necessarily eating healthier nor more cheaply, either.  The economy isn't so iffy that overall dollars are drying up.

What I have seen at a few of these places is execrable customer service.  And there is nothing so good at killing a business---even one with a major brand name.  One local franchise holder was so bad at hiring and training good employees that at least three of their restaurant stores went down.  In the next door metro, that franchise is thriving.

BOTTOM LINE:  No matter how strong your brand might get to be, it can be wrecked by poor customer service.  And where competition is strong, that effect could be even more intense.  Make sure yours is top-notch!  Remember that even a powerful franchise name can't overcome that!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Market Research Can Save a Business

It's generally understood that good market research can help a business by identifying weak products and services, finding new prospects, and zeroing in on effective messaging.  Sometimes, market research can save an entire business.

A case in point is a little online dating service called In Tune Hookup in the early 2000s.  Its developers had difficulty making the video aspect work and didn't get any traction.  A serious market research application suggested a realignment of the core business from the dating service (where there were a huge number of nearly identical competitors) to a wiki- format video sharing service.  The result was Youtube, sold in only a few years later to Google for $1.65 billion.

Admittedly that is an extreme example (not to mention that there is disagreement about the origins of Youtube) but it isn't hard to find other cases where a business realigned to a profitable form after an outside perspective was applied.  It can be difficult for a business owner to see as clearly from the inside when the enterprise encounters difficulty.

Bottom Line: Don't hesitate if the bottom line isn't where it should be.  Find a market research professional or at least a business coach who can help spotlight trouble spots and if necessary recommend a realignment that could lead to wild success!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Web Sites Can Hinder You

I'm sure all of you have had dealings with ornery or unhelpful web sites.  It is a truism that a bad web site can be quite costly with respect to lost business.

In fact, I just shut one off after a protracted fight.  I am interested in having a service performed, but the web site is resolutely disinterested in giving me the tiniest shred of pricing information.  I am forced to build the desired product with the online tool and only when done will I be informed what the bottom line will be.  That is unacceptable.

Another web site I looked at had a cascade of page choices, all poorly labelled and none particularly useful.  It was as if each page was labelled "The Information You Want is on the NEXT Page" (which would then bear the same label.)  Ridiculous.

And let's not even discuss failure to provide contact information without a hunt!

These web site failures are, unfortunately, working for your competitors.  Whatever other marketing you may do can be utterly undone by a web site.  A web site provides clues on the way you do business and how you can (or can't) solve a potential customer's problems.

Bottom Line:  Don't let a badly designed web site hurt you!  Have your site reviewed by a friend or ally and if necessary engage a professional designer who does good work.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Titling Yourself

In my metro area there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are published or who are working on a book, and I expect this is true of many similar markets.  It's a fantastic idea for those who aren't daunted by the time and cost commitment to making a book a reality.

A book can significantly add to credibility, establishing the author as an expert in their field.  A book can be used as a pot sweetener when holding or participating in a business event, and a book can even in the right circumstances generate some additional revenue.

But a book requires thought.  A prospective author should ask some hard questions.

Is writing and publishing a more productive activity than an alternative?  That work and expense may substantially detract from critical business activity.  There may be cases when a book may not be more than a vanity item for the author.

Can the author demonstrate either some new perspective or ideas?  "Yet-another-book-on-the-same-subject" is a reality.  I've seen too many interchangeable titles here and always crave something original.  Again, there is the vanity risk of having one's name on a cover of a relatively empty book.

Is the author prepared to work with professional editors?  Some books I've seen are simply terrible because the author declined to involve someone whose skills can boost a book's success.  It is an additional cost but could save the day.

Bottom Line:  Titling yourself can be a huge boost to your venture, or it can be an embarrassment.  Do think about taking the plunge but ask those hard questions before committing.  You may be the rock star of your market!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Bad Image; Bad Mojo

I recently had the need to do some business with a well known chain specializing in certain higher priced goods.  That business consisted of redeeming a service we paid for (one of those "X for life" deals).   The story is almost hilarious except that in three contacts this business cost themselves my business.  They created a horrible image.

First contact was with a sales associate who, learning my intent, rolled her eyes and affected an "I couldn't care less" attitude in filling my order.  Yeah, I redeemed your service.  Even if no more money crossed the counter you still need to act like I am a meaningful customer!

Second contact was with a sales associate who forcefully and belligerently argued for all kinds of reasons why she couldn't honor my contract but eventually did because I didn't give up.  And even then made sure I had to come back---four days later.

Final contact was a pickup.  It took four employees to find my order in a single product filing cabinet (three small drawers.)  And yes, it looked as incompetent as described.

And after that last episode, a hapless employee asked if I might like to stay longer to see more of the current merchandise.  Uh huh.  Not any more!

Bottom Line: Be sure to treat customers well at every transaction,  honor your agreements with promptness and appreciation, and focus on creating the comforting image of a business that knows what it is doing.  Little things may mean the difference in generating bigger future sales or losing a customer for good.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Is Livestreaming the Real Deal?

I am seeing ever more use of "livestreaming" video by small business owners in my market.  While I am wholeheartedly in favor of the use of video in marketing, I confess to being concerned that livestreaming isn't working extremely well right now.

Everything is a question of production values.  Home brew video is generally a problem for many.  Most of the small businesses I know don't invest in proper video recording equipment and often record straight to a smartphone.  It shows.

Livestreamers take this to the next extreme, usually recording as video "selfies" and creating wildly changing backgrounds and lighting effects as they adjust position or focus on subjects of interest.  I am reminded of The Blair Witch Project.  The result really isn't pretty.

My advice is to engage a professional videographer who has the equipment and experience to cast a livestream to best effect.  Barring that, the camera should at least be mounted on a stable tripod with light to its rear, and, if possible, a wireless microphone should be used by the speaker to improve sound quality.

Bottom Line:  Video is a wonderful tool that can bring life to a marketing program.  Livestreaming is a video technique that can boomerang on the user.  The small business owner using livestreams must ensure that equipment and control are as professional as possible.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Easiest Market Research You Can Do

During a conversation with a client yesterday, I discovered that the client was struggling with uneven marketing of product demonstrations and yet had no data to identify problem causes.  This example can illustrate some of the easiest market research a business can do.

Larger businesses install POS (point of sale) data recorders for their sales.  Many larger businesses collect all manner of data on their sales transactions, customers, and product reviews, among others.  They are able to perform a wide range of business analytics as a result and can immediately spot areas of concern, weak products or services, and less successful sales agents, for example.\

Small business can do some of the same simply by recording -- in a spreadsheet or ledger or even a notebook -- information on every transaction.   Such details as who is the buyer, when was the transaction?  were there additional prospects? how many?  In my client's case the subject was sales demonstrations which also called for collecting data on location, number of guests, demographics of guests, specific orders placed, number of invitations, and time of day.

With data in hand, patterns can be discerned that spotlight problem causes.  Was there a particularly good or bad day and time for demonstrations?  Did some invitation drives and prospect lists yield better results?  Were there noticeable demographic differences at the more successful demonstrations?  And more.

Bottom Line:  Collect data while it is fresh and periodically review those data to fine tune your marketing.  Weed out the less efficient channels, prospects and messages, and more clearly see the route to success!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Stay Focused

One of the marketing behaviors that strikes me as counter-productive is what I call "double messaging".  It is common among business owners who are trying to market multiple products or services, but it also shows up among entrepreneurs who pitch different businesses at the same time.  I have heard a 30 second "commercial" that included material on three separate businesses!

Why is this counter-productive?  Listeners---potential customers---are only going to give us so much time to gain their attention.  A single message must be highly focused to have a chance of gaining this acceptance.  If we muddle the message with too many threads of thought we run a huge risk of the potential customer switching off.

It will be necessary to prioritize.  Pick a message and focus strictly on that one business, product or service.  Be crystal clear what are its benefits to the prospect.  Be crystal clear on how the prospect can obtain the product or service.

The result is a laser focused message that can be readily absorbed by a potential customer in that narrow time window they allow us.

Bottom Line: Be careful to tidy up your advertising and promotional messages to prospects.  Are they trying to do too much at one time?  Is there a potential for confusion?  Stay focused!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Social Media Overload

Not long ago I spoke with a business owner who was a little discouraged.  This individual had a desire to entirely redo the marketing plan after a contract period with a marketing agency which yielded little gains.

What I found quite surprising was that the marketing agency had recommended, essentially, was a 100% pure social media diet, and that that diet was high on misfits.  A business that was ideal for older women was having to fiddle around with a social media property that was weak on older consumers, and was nowhere near the one that was closest to the target.  And so on.

It is times like these when I wonder if businesses need to "detox" from social media!

Social media is fun.  It can be valuable for business---in fact, nothing is better at achieving deep engagement with customers.  It can in some cases be a vital component of marketing.  But it cannot be the only tool.  It cannot be used like Aladdin's Magic Lamp.

Traditional techniques have their place, too.  Advertising where it works.  Face to face engagement.  Expos.  "Door to door" and its equivalents.  A marketing plan must include the widest spectrum of meaningful choices; that is, channels appropriate to the target audience.

Someday social media may be the one and only answer.  The world of "Star Trek" or "The Jetsons", one supposes.  But I doubt it.  We've used a surprisingly narrow band of tools for several centuries now and there is a reason.

Bottom Line: Don't "toxify" with social media.  Get your message in the right place and spread it around wherever it is most likely to be noticed.  Let Social Media be a fun complement, not the whole package.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Marketing Lessons from Speech Contests

We're holding a lot of speech contests this month in the Toastmasters International organization.  Contestants are vying for titles in both prepared and extemporaneous speaking.  Watching, so far this season, over thirty speakers (and many more in past contest cycles) I am ever more conscious of how a speech contest can provide useful lessons for marketing a small business.

For one, many contestants don't package themselves well.  There is something to dressing for success in these things and in contrast the average speaker appears to have emerged from work in the garage or from a back yard barbecue.  What is more this ultra-casual style is often accompanied by scowls, fidgeting, and poor posture.  The image can be that the contestant isn't taking things seriously or just doesn't want to make the extra effort to optimize presentation.

For another, many contestants don't have the best product.  That product---their speeches---is at times (a) poorly organized, (b) delivered without confidence, (c) difficult to understand, (d) littered with "crutch" words and sounds, (e) presented without energy, and (f) absent of logic.  And often the speaker doesn't think about the audience and doesn't couch things or speak in a way that recognizes that audience.

The result is predictable.  The product and presenter lose points with the judges.  The judges select the competitor that offers the best product on the table and who gives the most in presenting that product.  Sound familiar?

Bottom line:  The business that takes the time and trouble to present a good product or service in the most appealing way, recognizing the audience and its needs, is the one most likely to make the sale.  If speech contest judges understand that, it's a good bet that any customer does as well.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Some Guerrilla Market Research Techniques

Let's face it: market research can be very expensive.  It's getting difficult to to anything with a market research company for less than $10,000.  And as a result, many small businesses simply do without.  But there are some tricks for learning things that don't require a major cash outlay.

One tactic is "guerrilla market research".  This is based on the idea that we pick up our best intelligence from looking for ourselves.  A competitor brick and mortar can be observed: I've taken a seat on a bench and watched customers enter and leave and made notes about who I saw.  Obviously one should be respectful and not camp out at the front door for this.  Mystery shopping is a related technique that allows allows for the observation of product lines and pricing, for example.

It's a little harder to watch competing service providers, people who work from home, say.  But there are business expos now and then that competitors may use and that's an opportunity to see who the most interested prospects might be.  Most of all we can look at competitors on social media or web sites and see who engages with the business.  

Bottom Line: Don't not do market research because money is a concern.  There are ways---many ways---to observe a market that don't cost a fortune and which provide solid, useful data.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Have We Lost Credibility?

Advertising is replete with claims.  It has to be by its very nature.  A business can only attract customers by asserting that it can solve problems those customers might be having.  But that said, there is a very fine line between making a credible claim and, well, lying.  Sadly a prospect who has become jaded by some bad experiences may reject many other advertising claims.

How, then, to establish credibility within an advertising message?

The first advice I give is to avoid fantastic claims.  This ranges from the sly intimation that various cosmetics or "enhancements" will make one more attractive to the simple but absurd label on the pizza box that says "now try the best."  If it sounds over-the-top to you, it will also to a prospect.

The second advice is to support a claim that may sound boastful with some data, either in the form of a testimonial or survey or some such.  If you can prove that "our customers say we have the best in town", then feel free to make the claim.

And the third advice is stick to plausible but meaningful differentiation.  Do you have a special expertise? is your product made in a unique way?  Your service may not lead to World Peace but it just might be the very right thing for a customer who needs someone who has a certification in forensic accounting.

Bottom Line:  By making extravagant claims you risk alienating prospects.  People are pretty good at spotting nonsense and then disbelieving anything else that's said.  But by making sensible and defensible comparisons one can earn trust and improve the bottom line.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Is Digital Going Too Far?

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the hyper-digital Age is doing a number on interpersonal communication.  Look around you and see how many people are buried in mobile devices, oblivious of other human beings.  Not only that but we're increasingly prodded to take our relationships with others---including customers---to Digital Land in the form of social media.  I'm starting to wonder if we're going in the wrong direction.

Social Media offers a wealth of good outcomes.  We can engage with a wide range of people, reach people when they are not at our location, and connect with incredible networks.  At the same time, we're more easily able to lose ourselves in digital canyons and lose our souls to "digital heroin".

We're going to need to recapture the magic of our humanity to be successful in our businesses.  To whatever extent possible take advantage of opportunities to talk with people.  This can include networking groups, trade fairs, sidewalk sales, open houses, and -- when online -- videos (either recorded or live fed) where we are real human beings and not strings of text.  At the same time we're going to be better differentiated from our competition who are glued to their smart phones!

Bottom Line:  Are you becoming hyper-digitized and losing a chance to speak with customers?  Review how you interact with the wider world and explore ways to introduce your wonderful personality to other people.  Smile, talk, listen and be successful.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Back To Life!

In recent months I have seen at least a number of examples of iconic brand images restored to life.  For those keeping score I include KFC's Colonel (albeit in a creepy form), Green Giant (ditto creepy) , Planter's (well, a bit too creepy also) and Miller Beer (at least the jingle).  I think Koolaid should be on this list, too.  And while Spring picked up the Verizon guy, I count that as a rescucitation.  I must confess to thinking that despite the slight missteps, this is a good idea.

In my youth I was taught never to fix anything that wasn't broken.  But our culture has a driving, insane need to reinvent and rethink and this has played havoc with branding.

Sometimes there are winners.  I would suggest that the GEICO lizard, the Aflac duck and Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man series improved on earlier duds.  But there have been losses.  McDonald's has lost their way.  MetLife is a loser for dumping the Peanuts gang.  And even the "Dell Dude" was much better than anything since.

Too often the baby is thrown out with the bathwater.  We get it when the Frito Bandito is quetly replaced, or when the Hawaiian Punch guy disappeared.  Some images do more harm than good.  But tossing out a well established, harmless association just to be fresh??  There's too much risk the campaign will lose energy or even stray into pure creepiness.  Think The Noid or the Midas Hand.  Hence it pleases me to no end when bad ideas are scrapped and the tried or true strays back into our lives.

Bottom Line:  Not all of us have brand mascots, but we do all have brands.  Any time we change the image and associations we build carefully over time risks a reversal of our gains.  Thus, if you get the urge to refresh things, think twice and ask people who will give you a candid appraisal.  And if you do fall off the rails because of a refresh, think about reviving the best of what came before!