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2021 Planning Deconstructed

September 23, 2020

Big, small, for-profit, or not for profit – every organization needs a marketing plan, and that marketing plan requires a refresh every year. Now is the time to get your ducks in a row for 2021. The channels, audience expectations, and possibilities are changing faster than we can keep pace. A three-year-old marketing plan is absolutely obsolete.

Many businesses don’t even venture down the marketing plan route because they assume it has to be complicated and complex. The truth is, for most companies, even if they had such a plan, they wouldn’t execute against it because it had too many bells and whistles. I’d much rather see you oversimplify your plan and actually use it.

I want to look at the big picture vision of your marketing plan. If I asked you how confident you were that you could hop in your car and get to the destination, what’s the first thing you would say? It depends on the destination! If it’s Minneapolis, no problem. If it is Hong Kong, we have an issue. In that context, it seems absurd that I would ask you to get to an undisclosed destination, and yet that’s how many businesses run.

Without a doubt, the most crucial element of your 2021 marketing plan is the defined destinations. I use the plural because every plan should have more than one. Ask yourself these questions to define where you’re headed.

What metric will best define success when it comes to new customers for my business? Don’t assume it’s about more. It might be about bigger. Or a different composition. Or a whole new segment.

What metric will best define success when it comes to current customers of my business? Is it that they stay longer (retention)? It could also be that you have a bigger share of their wallet/spend. It might not have anything to do with sales. It could be that they become a more vocal, insistent referral source or an active source of five-star reviews and ratings.

What metric will define success when you look at your department or company’s workforce? It could be tied to improvements and enhancements in their skills or knowledge. For many businesses, the retention of key employees might be vital to a healthy 2021.

Finally, you need to define success in terms of your actual products and services. You might be planning on launching something new in 2021. Or you may want to have more of your customers using a specific service or bundle of products. Success may be tied to how many products or services your average customer buys.

Once you have defined success in these four core areas, you can begin to identify the potential barriers to achieving those goals. Is it a lack of awareness? Price issues? A competitive advantage that you don’t currently have?

If you can’t identify the potential barriers, you have some work to do before you can decide which marketing tactics will help you. It makes no sense to execute marketing if you don’t understand both where you are trying to go and what’s in the way of you getting there.

The more specific your answers, the better. Don’t just say the marketplace is crowded. List the key competitors and their position or influence on the market. Don’t just say your customers are hard to reach. Define what is in between you and that decision-maker.

If you put in the time and effort in these four core areas, I promise that you will have a great start on a marketing plan that you can dive right into executing.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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New Report Finds That Brand Leaders Are Seeking More Media Cohesion

September 17, 2020

New CMO Council research provides insight on creating more effective integration between public relations and marketing

Today, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, produced in partnership with Cision, published a new report – Bridging the Gap for Comms & Marketing: Building Cohesion in the Age of Customer Disruption. The new report details the best practices and technologies for overcoming the challenges that brand leaders face when aligning marketing and comms teams. The insights are based on a survey of over 150 brand leaders and nearly a dozen in-depth interviews with executives from companies including IBM, Nokia, Schneider Electric, Lamps Plus, Certified First, Center for Creative Leadership, R&R Partners and InnerWorkings. Download the full report.

Bridging the Gap for Comms & Marketing highlights the importance of consistent messaging across paid, owned and earned media.

Topics that emerged from the study include:

  • The future of the marketing-comms relationship
  • The primary challenges when aligning marketing and comms
  • Which technologies and solutions help drive cohesion

The misunderstanding of roles and media channels

Brand leaders surveyed for the report also addressed how COVID-19 increased the importance to deliver cohesive messaging. “With the majority of the world now spending significantly more time at home, consumption, sharing, and engaging with digital media has only increased,” said Donovan Neale-May, Executive Director of the CMO Council.

“In many cases, digital media now singularly impacts buying decisions and how consumers feel about brands, only amplifying the importance of consistent messaging across media channels. Yet over half of respondents agreed that when it comes to amplifying and aligning media strategies, there isn’t strong alignment between their teams.”

Other key survey findings include:

  • Nearly 2/3 brand leaders felt they’re effective at integrating and amplifying earned media to drive customer experience and engagement strategies
  • 81% of brand leaders said the change in global business climate due to the pandemic has led to a definite rise in earned media efforts and importance

One out of five marketing leaders were dissatisfied with their earned media performance

“In order for organizations to achieve true integration between marketing and comms, they must first attain collaboration within the one constant both teams can agree upon: data. Both teams need to treat data as the source of truth and have someone with the skills to interpret that data as it relates to specific KPIs in order to understand progress and ROI,” said Maggie Lower, Cision’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Cision’s own partnership with The CMO Council validates the opportunities that can arise when PR and marketing work together.”

For more information and to download the full report here.

CMO Council, in partnership with Cision, will host a webinar – Shifting the Content Game – on September 23rd to discuss the report findings in further detail. Learn more and register here.

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You didn’t get there on your own

September 16, 2020

One of the contributors to every organization’s success is the business partners that come alongside us to serve our clients better. Most businesses are reasonably good at showing their appreciation for customers. But the vendors who often save the day don’t always get showered with the thanks they deserve.

One of the truths of being in business is that sooner or later our clients get in a jam and we have the opportunity to save the day for them. But we rarely do that without an assist. I think in those moments, we probably gush with praise. As we should. But in the calm of “normal” workdays, our business partners are often the unsung heroes.

Harvard Business School and Wharton published research that shows that expressing your gratitude can result in a huge spike in a vendor or partner’s investment and willingness to help your business when you are in a jam. And if there is a given, it’s that we’re going to be presented with the opportunity to help a client navigate their way out of a mess.

I’ve seen some really wonderful ways that businesses express their gratitude to those save the day partners. But the common thread that connects all of them is that they’re intentional and calendared. If we don’t assign it that level of importance, it will get lost in the chaos of our day.

The suggestions below are not new ideas. And you’ve probably done some of all of them once or twice. What I am suggesting is that you magnify that occasional burst of gratitude by systemizing them. Which one of these, or a variation of one, would work for your organization?

Send your thanks up the chain: When someone at one of your partner companies goes above and beyond, don’t just thank them, send a note (not an email) or letter, celebrating what their teammate did. Let them know that the extra effort is what you value most about your work with their company and how it has earned your confidence and loyalty.

What if you identified one partner a month to celebrate with a letter to their boss? Get it on your calendar, so it actually happens.

Create connections: There isn’t a business you work with that isn’t looking for new customers. If they’ve been a rock star for you, odds are they can deliver that same level of service to other businesses in your network.

Do you send out a monthly newsletter? Or hold a holiday party for clients and prospects? Why not spotlight a vendor who is worthy of some extra praise?

Invite them in: One of the most impressive ways to thank a good business partner is to be a better customer. Why not ask your best vendors to help you refine the way you work with them? I’m guessing they have some pretty interesting ideas that will help you bring even more value to your customers, make your processes smoother, and elevate your product or services.

This could be a monthly or quarterly initiative. Ask your team who has demonstrated a depth of expertise that you could tap into and invite them in. This collaborative brainstorming will make your company better and deepen the relationship you have with that partner.

We should thank our vendors because it’s the right thing to do. But if you need more incentive, just remember that there’s another jam around the corner, and our business partners can be our best referral sources.

Gratitude can be your business’ superpower when it’s heartfelt and shared liberally. Give it a go.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Give your message some space

September 9, 2020

This past fall, I was able to spend some time in New York City and was able to catch several Broadway shows. Some were musicals, and some were dramas. Some were based on real-life events, and others were pure fiction. Some featured award-winning, famous actors and others did not. Some were set in modern-day, and others harkened back to an earlier time.

To say they were all very different would be an understatement. But all of them had one thing in common. Each one was roomy. What I mean by that is each show gave the audience plenty of room to absorb the message.

The sets were simple and more representative than actual. For example, in Come From Away, twelve chairs were a plane, a path, and a church. To Kill A Mockingbird, two tables and four chairs were a courtroom. The dialogue was deliberate, and the silences were purposeful and effective. It occurred to me that we could learn from these masterful playwrights and directors.

One of the common mistakes we make as marketers is trying to pack five pounds of message into a one-pound bag. We end up drowning our core messages with noise in a desire to include everything. My recent experiences as an audience member reminded me that when we do that, we actually weaken our messages because they don’t have room to breathe, grow, or take hold.

The truth is that our audience is only going to remember one or two key points of any marketing message. Given the barrage of marketing messages out there, we can help our audience get the main point by not complicating the delivery so they can grasp and retain the message easier and faster.

There are some ways we can minimize the noise and give our core message the room it needs.

Visuals: One of the common missteps I see in ads, websites, tradeshow booths, and collateral material is the reliance on the photo montage. Rather than letting one visual stand alone and deliver the message, we feel compelled to use multiple images. That means the audience’s attention is immediately divided. Each photo or visual is smaller and has less impact.

White space: Another way we demonstrate our lack of conviction in our product or service is by using up every inch of space in a layout. We’re so worried that we’re not going to catch or keep someone’s attention that we need to add a starburst, five different font families, a headline, subhead, body text, bullet points, and some bold and underlined words as well.

Instead, we create a blur for our audience and force them to decipher what is most important … if they’re willing to invest the time.

Words: How do you leave room when it comes to words? There are a few ways. First – use fewer of them. Don’t tell them what you want them to know, and then tell them what you told them, and then sum it up by telling them again. Just say it. Say it boldly and clearly. And then, shut up.

Let your audience have time and space with your message so they can connect to it and assign it meaning that is relevant to them. Or, in some cases, decide that you aren’t relevant to them at all, and move on. Either outcome is better than having no impact.

It takes incredible confidence in your product or service to execute on this idea of giving your marketing message some space. If you lack that assurance, more words or pictures probably isn’t going to cut it. Instead, you probably need to take a step back and ask what would need to change so you could get comfortable giving your message a little bit of white space.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Viral is an elusive state

September 2, 2020

Pre-COVID, my daughter and I flew to Vegas to see a Lady Gaga concert. We were fortunate and had terrific seats. Right before the show started, security walked Bradley Cooper to the seats directly in front of us. As you probably know, he and Lady Gaga co-starred in A Star is Born and everyone was abuzz about their chemistry in the film.

Oddly, most people didn’t notice him there. As the concert started, we surmised that she might call him up on stage to sing with her so when she sat down at her piano and began to talk about a friend of hers, I was ready. From our unique vantage point, I caught the moment on video and uploaded it to my Facebook news feed before we left the venue.

Over 10,000 views, 50+ shares, and hundreds of reactions and comments later on Facebook, it certainly caught the attention of my audience. I was just sharing a cool experience that my daughter and I had with my Facebook friends, but it quickly went way beyond that. Because of our unique placement in the audience, over the course of the next couple of days, we showed up on The Today Show, Entertainment Tonight, and a bunch of other news outlets, and the video was exposed to more and more people.

On a very micro scale, it went viral. Not intentionally, but it certainly got more attention than most. For many marketers, creating a video for the business or client and having it catch fire is the holy grail. We all want to launch the next ice bucket challenge, but it’s rarely manufactured. It usually is lightning in a bottle sort of magic. Let’s use my Lady Gaga video to dissect this a little bit.

Timeliness matters: If I had shared my version of what happened at the concert a few days after it happened, no one would have cared. My video was share-worthy because no one but the people at the show knew it had happened and there was no official Lady Gaga issued video of the event yet. My video was live 15 minutes after the concert ended.

If you want your video to take off and it’s tied to a moment or event – there’s no time to finesse the edit or run it by legal. You either can go live immediately, or you risk sacrificing your edge.

It’s tied to a more significant reason or cultural hot button: A Star is Born was a huge movie, the Oscar nominations had come out four days before, and both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga were nominated. On top of all that, they’d never performed the song (Shallow) live before. All of those factors contributed to the interest level.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was tied to a charity and a crazy stunt which also added an element of participation, which the Lady Gaga video did not.

It captures something unexpected: No one who bought a ticket to that concert thought Bradley Cooper might show up. It was a fluke event, and that was part of the appeal. Think of the videos of the kid on gas after being at the dentist or the cat frightened by a cucumber. One of the reasons we share them is because they surprise and delight us. That’s pretty tough to manufacture.

Video is a very effective marketing channel, but the odds of us creating something that goes viral are pretty slim. If you happen to be in the right place at the right time – take full advantage and leverage it for all you can. But we need to stop trying to create something that is, almost by design, a freak event.

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Change like we can’t imagine (yet)

August 26, 2020

Voice technology is changing everything. I know that’s a ridiculously bold statement. But let’s go back in time.

It was about 1989 and I was walking through an airport. I spotted a man on one of those bag phones and thought, “why in the world would anyone ever want to carry a phone with them all the time?” If someone had stopped me that day and said, “mobile technology is going to change everything,” I wouldn’t have believed them and I certainly couldn’t have imagined the critical role that our cell phones play in our lives today.

In fairness, voice is changing everything, at least initially, thanks to our cell phones. We’re at the caveman stage of understanding how to harness voice technology and how it will dramatically alter the way we live, work, play and communicate.

This sounds like hyperbole but we’ve been watching our world build up to this since cell phones came on the scene. As they became commonplace, another element that is critical for voice was also gaining some steam – artificial intelligence (AI).

Remember back in the 90s, when you first experienced an automated phone tree, where you were asked simple questions and based on your answers, routed through a series of pre-recorded messages? I don’t know about you, but for me, that was rarely a positive experience. I typically ended up shouting at the phone in an attempt to be understood and hitting zero as often as I needed to, to get to a human being. The natural language processing technology just wasn’t that good yet and while the intention was sound, the experience was not.

Fast forward to this past week. Using my cell phone, I was able to contact United and get a real-time update on where my lost luggage was in 37 seconds. Thanks to AI and voice technology, it was seamless, easy, and efficient. Think about the conversations you have with Siri, Alexa, or Google. And even with that huge leap forward, we’re still at the inventing fire stage of this shift.

As marketers, we are always looking at whatever is new and wondering, is it a fad? Is this just another channel? Is this something that is going to be widely adopted by my audience or industry? We’re already working with limited resources – do I need to invest in this too?

Voice, I believe, is a seismic shift, like the internet and mobile phones were. And in a way – they’re all simply the next wave of the same shift. But voice will touch everything. It is already changing SEO and search. This year, it is estimated that over 50% of all searches will be conducted by voice. The whole idea of wanting to be on the first page of a Google search result will go by the wayside because voice searches don’t offer up ten options. It offers up one. Suddenly it’s the featured snippet or nothing.

There will be a day when people going to your website can navigate through it without ever clicking on a link. How we think about our owned media, like our websites, is going to be flipped on its head.

If you aren’t learning more about voice, as a marketer you need to make that commitment. Here are two conferences worth considering:

MAICON: The first annual Marketing Artificial Intelligence Conference took place in July 2019 and although the 2020 conference has been canceled due to COVID, the dates for the 2021 conference are locked into place – July 13-15, 2021. We heard a lot about the merging of AI and voice at the first conference and the conversation is bound to grow in 2021.

Voice Summit: This event has been in existence for four years and is the largest voice-first event with over 5,000 attendees last year. They are still on track for their event, October 5-15, 2020 but keep up to date here for any changes.

Now is the time to learn and explore this new opportunity.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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Are you selling from a position of confidence?

August 23, 2020

Given everything we’re all carrying on our shoulders right now, how in the world do we muster up the confidence to sell?

Marketing and sales are all about confidence. When you believe in what you’re selling, know it is the right answer for the prospect, and can see the benefits the prospect could enjoy – it’s much easier to approach a new opportunity and offer your assistance.

That’s where I think we can regain our confidence. By recognizing that we have something valuable to offer and by seeing it as us offering assistance. Your marketing should be helpful and useful, which builds trust. Once the trust is seeded, sales is about continuing the trust-building while offering tailored solutions that are going to exceed expectations.

Barbara Corcoran, from ABC’s Shark Tank, recently shared a letter that she wrote to the show’s producer Mark Burnett. It’s clear from the letter than she had received a “thanks, but no thanks” response to her audition and I’m sure Mark expected her just to exit gracefully.

Instead, she sent him this letter, outlining very respectfully why this was not the right decision.

Check out her letter below.  Are you approaching your marketing and sales with that same level of intensity and passion?  Do you present yourself with confidence?

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You actually have to say thank you

August 19, 2020

I don’t know many business leaders who aren’t incredibly grateful for the team of people who help them carry out the organization’s vision. When asked, they will rave about the skills, professionalism, and passion of their team and tell story after story about how they routinely save the day. But those same business leaders are so busy that unfortunately, they often forget to slow down and say thank you. Sadly, in today’s ultra-competitive job market, that can be a very costly mistake.

When it comes to our employees, The International Business Research Journal cited studies that have shown that organizational gratitude reduces employee turnover, fosters employees’ commitment to the organization, and increases productivity.

Those are huge wins on their own, but beyond that is what an attitude of gratitude does for your company culture. We know cultural fit is a crucial component for job seekers. If a company’s culture attracts employees who value and exude gratitude, your customers are the beneficiary of that chain reaction. Happier, more loyal employees lead to happier, more loyal clients.

Best of all, you can bake gratitude into your work environment with a minimum of dollars. Here are some of the most effective ways to make sure that your organization’s internal brand includes more than a sprinkling of thanks.

Make it personal: Most of the time, we deal with employees in batches. By department, by tenure, or perhaps by skill set or location. Gratitude is a very personal thing. There’s nothing wrong with thanking groups of people. We should do that. But it’s very different when you single out a person and make your appreciation about them and just them. Work anniversaries, hitting significant milestones, or earning a new level of expertise are all excellent reasons to stop and thank your team member.

Make it 360 degrees: Many companies have peer recognition programs, and they usually start off strong and then most wane from neglect and focus. Teaching your team to appreciate each other and to practice gratitude internally is a smart tactic. Just make sure your program has a champion, so it doesn’t feel like yet another “idea of the month” that we managers often get accused of starting and allowing to die on the vine.

Involve your clients: There’s no better way to emphasize that you value, teach, and practice gratitude than asking your customers to share in that experience. This can shift from sincere to uncomfortable in a hurry. Don’t ask them to do anything that will make them feel silly, like ring the bell for five-star service. An easy way to invite them is to send a letter, sharing your core values, and asking them to send you examples of team members who have lived out those values. This has a double benefit. It gives you a chance to remind your customers what you stand for and gets them to help you recognize your superstars.

Know what matters: There’s a fantastic book by Matthew Kelly called The Dream Manager. It’s a business allegory that reminds us to invest in our employees, know what matters to them, and help them achieve their dreams. Some employees may appreciate you demonstrating your gratitude through a new educational opportunity or a cash bonus. Others might prefer an extra day off or a gift card so they can treat their family to dinner. Knowing how to say thank you in the most meaningful way will make the thank you last a lot longer.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.

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The ROI of gratitude

August 12, 2020

When you focus on being thankful, there’s nothing but good that can come from that emphasis. I have always believed that gratitude can be a business’s secret marketing weapon when it’s baked into the company’s values, policies, and behaviors.

I believe that most people are grateful by default. But I do not believe most people express that gratitude by default, and if they do, it’s not with the frequency that it could or should be. When we’re on the receiving end of genuine gratitude, we feel its power. But we get busy and as ridiculous as it sounds, we forget to be grateful.

Much like any other value, belief, or behavior you want to instill in your company, I think you have to bake in gratitude. It needs to be systematized, even though that makes it sound rote or mechanical so that it becomes part of your organization’s DNA and culture.

When we experience someone’s thankfulness, it colors our view of them and our interaction. It also earns us some extra grace for that inevitable mistake or misstep. More important – it literally pays off.

  • Baylor University did a study that documents that a salesperson’s expression of gratitude increased customer commitment, repeat purchases and referrals
  • The International Business Research Journal cites studies that have demonstrated that organizational gratitude reduces employee turnover, fosters employees’ commitment to the organization and increases productivity
  • Harvard Business School and Wharton published research that shows that expressing your gratitude can result in a huge spike in a vendor or partner’s investment and willingness to help your business when you are in a jam

If gratitude delivers that kind of ROI for a business, how do we make sure that it’s a core value and expression of our brand? You have to institutionalize it. It needs to be part of the rituals, best practices, and habits of your organization.

Let’s look at some ways you can shower your customers with gratitude. This can’t be faked. Gratitude that comes from an authentic place is marketing magic. Gratitude that is scripted and rehearsed to manipulate others is pretty easy to spot. I am all for you spreading gratitude far and wide, but make sure it’s coming from a genuine place. Assuming that’s the case, here are some options to consider:

A handwritten thank you note: In today’s ping-crazed world, where emails and instant messages are all the rage, there’s something very special about a handwritten note. Be specific and clear about what you value about your relationship and being able to be of service.

Client only events: A really special way to express your gratitude is to give your best customers access to something not available to the general public. It might be a sneak preview of a new product, or you could consider bringing in a subject matter expert that will help them grow their business. This is about giving back without any expectations.

Introductions: One of the most significant assets you have is your collection of connections. Thoughtful and targeted introductions that widen their circle and give them new partnership opportunities are invaluable. In your introduction, talk about how awesome they are to work with and give them a rock-solid endorsement.

Ratings and Reviews: Every business is influenced by ratings and reviews these days. Why not create a program that systemizes public ravings about your best customers?

Big or small, start recognizing your clients and overtly thanking them for choosing you and your business. Not only does it have a positive effect on your bottom line, but it’s good for your heart too.

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How to get ratings and reviews

August 5, 2020

A couple summers ago, my daughter and I went on a three-week African adventure. As you can imagine, we stayed in many different hotels, resorts and safari lodges while we were there. We also enjoyed the company of several different tour guides, tour companies, restaurants, and venues.

Every one of those businesses survives and thrives on word of mouth recommendations, and in today’s world – rating and reviews from crucial sites like Trip Advisor, Yelp, and others.

What I found fascinating is the range of ways they did or didn’t ask for our feedback and/or reviews.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating – I don’t care what you sell or who you serve, there is power in capturing customer feedback. I’ve never known a business, no matter how amazing it is, that can’t benefit from candid input from a recent customer. Not only can you up your game by heeding their observations and unmet needs but you can earn their loyalty by responding and sharing how you are going to take their feedback into account.

Beyond that, research shows us time and time again that ratings and reviews play a significant role in influencing buying decisions. I think one of the most foolish misperceptions surrounding ratings and reviews is the idea that you shouldn’t ask for them, because you’ll get bad ones. Guess what – you’re going to get the bad ones, whether you ask or not.

People are much more inclined to share their bad experiences and frustration on review sites and social media channels. The only way to counter-balance that is to ask your best, happiest customers to leave a review too. It takes 10-12 good reviews to nullify the impact of a bad review, but the good news is – the more good reviews you earn by asking for them – the further down those bad reviews go.

How do you get ratings and reviews? There’s no one right answer but trying a mix of these tactics should net you some good results.

Be extraordinary: The easiest way to get positive reviews is to be worthy of them. This is not as easy as it sounds. I’m not talking about being satisfactory. I am talking about knocking their socks off with your service. This takes time, training, and a shared vision of what customer service looks like in your organization.

Have signage at the point of delivery: If you own a retail establishment, be sure you advertise that you’d welcome reviews and ratings in your store. If you run an online business, include a postcard with links to the review sites that mean the most to your business.

Share your reviews on your social channels: Let everyone know that you are actively monitoring and responding to reviews by sharing a few. Better yet – share one that is not a 5-star and talk about how you are going to evolve your business based on that feedback.

Follow up after the sale: Call, email, or send snail mail to your customer a few days after delivery. Genuinely ask about their experience and if the product/service is meeting their needs. Once you’ve engaged them in the conversation, invite them to leave a review.

Don’t forget your older sales: It’s definitely worth putting together a campaign aimed at people who have purchased from you, but maybe not in the last couple of months. You might score a twofer – a great review and trigger a repeat purchase!

Soliciting ratings and reviews should be part of every organization’s marketing plan. This is not a one tactic fits all situation, so experiment with several of these until you find the right combination. Don’t leave such an important aspect of how potential customers evaluate your business to chance.

 

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