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.