How is your blacksmith shop different?

October 21, 2006

250pxhorseshoe_1 I want to share one of my favorite analogies with you because it’s impossible  not to get it.  And it’s a branding basic.

In the good old days, if your horse needed a new shoe and I owned the blacksmith shop, you came to me.  Not because I put a coupon in the local paper or because I was your sister’s husband.  But  because I was the only option.  One town.  One blacksmith.

Ah, if only it was that easy today, my friends.  But now, on every street, in every town, no matter what you do…you have competitors.  Lots of them. 

Let’s go back to my example and fast forward to today.  If you needed a shoe for your horse, you’d have lots of choices.  All in the same town.  Some on the very same street.  So how do you decide?

As the shopkeeper, I have two choices, in terms of trying to get you to choose my shop.  I can either differentiate myself (translation — brand) so that you can tell how doing business with me would be a unique experience or I can be the cheapest.  That’s it.  I have to give you a reason to choose my shop. I have to clearly (and repeatedly) tell you why we’re a great match.  Especially if I am not the cheapest. 

Having a good product or offering good customer service is not a brand.  You have to have/create a personality.  You have to create a bevy of loyalists who are going to not only choose you but they’re going to sing your praises to everyone they know.  That’s the power of branding.  You can create a fan club.  In her blog Flooring the Consumer, C.B. Whittemore talks about creating a customer experience that allows you to romance your customers until they fall in love.

So…are you the cheapest or is your blacksmith shop different?  Can you describe that difference?

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How will you join in on Make a Difference Day?

October 17, 2006

An Issue of USA WEEKEND. The top blank bar fea...Image via Wikipedia

USA Weekend magazine declared that October 28th is Make a Difference Day.  Cool idea.  Sure…every day should be (and can be) make a difference day, but there’s something powerful about the idea of an entire nation working together on that goal, all in one fell swoop. 

So on a personal level, I challenge you.  How are you going to make a difference on that day?  But wait, I’m not done.  On a business level — how could your team/organization make a difference?  There’s great team building and a sense of greater good that comes from working together to help someone else.

At McLellan Marketing Group, we’ve adopted families during the holidays, bought items for a womens shelter, volunteered for a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish and many other community building activities.

I’m sure the recipients of our good works benefited from them, but really we were the ones who got the most out of it.  We felt good, did good and had fun doing it.  Best of all, our team was strengthened by the common experience.

How are you going to make a difference?

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Hey politicians….we are not listening!

October 14, 2006

Images_4 Ah, fall.  The crackle of the fallen leaves, the sounds of football fans cheering in the stadium, the crisp air and the unmistakable squawking of politicians trying to get elected.


Here in Iowa, we are in the middle of a heated political battle for Governor.  In one corner, we have Jim Nussle.  His website tells us how horrific his opponent is and we can see him shown with the Iowa Pork Queen.  (Could we not all do 20 minutes on that alone?)  In the other corner, we have Chet Culver.  Chet’s site and ads tell us of the evil that is Jim Nussle.

Enough already!

Imagine for a minute that every Pepsi ad simply told you how awful Coke was, and visa versa.  How stupid can politicians be?  And a better question, how stupid are we for allowing it?

Marketing 101 — define yourself.  Tell your audience why they need/want you.  Demonstrate how you are going to add value.  Earn the audience’s trust.  Be credible, consistent and authentic.

Have you seen one political candidate this election season that has understood or embraced the principles of Marketing 101?  I sure haven’t.  And you want to know the saddest part of it all.  I’m not sure, if there was a candidate ethical and brave enough to do it — that he/she’d get elected.

Over at the Brilliant at Breakfast blog, the point is well  made.  We say we hate this sort of election antics and yet, we keep responding.

We’ve all seen horrible ads that seem to keep running over and over for products or services that appear to be less than desireable. Why do they keep running?  Because they are working and someone is making a lot of money.  I guess the politicians aren’t such dumb marketers after all.  How sad for us all.

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Who are you calling cheap?

October 12, 2006

At McLellan Marketing Group, we talk to clients a lot about their pricing strategies.  At first, they don’t see it as a marketing issue.  "It’s an operations issue," they tell us.  Cost of goods, profit margin and voila — there’s your price.  Right?

How you are priced, both in terms of where your prices fall in the marketplace and also the structure of your pricing, tells your potential customers a great deal about you.  Seth Godin, in a recent post, suggests that you can be cheap or you can be better. 

While I don’t disagree with Seth, I don’t completely agree with him either.  His logic is simple. If you are of a better quality, you can be more expensive.  If you stink or are mediocre, you need to be cheap.  That feels like a sucker’s choice to me.  While what he suggests is true, it is not the only truth.  Frankly, I think you can be of marginal quality and position yourself to be expensive.  If you’re cool enough, you’ll be able to command a high price tag.  And visa versa.  You can be great and still decide to be cheap.

My point is not to tell you what your price point should be.  My point is to tell you that you should purposefully decide, from a brand perspective, what your price stragies should be.  Do you have a pricing strategy?  Can you articulate it?

Let’s talk about pricing structure in the next post, eh?

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Tag, you’re it!

October 11, 2006

Taglines, when done correctly, can give your brand quite a boost.  Like the space shuttle, which needs a high energy set of booster rockets to break through the earth’s gravity before it can soar, your company’s efforts need a spark to get it moving forward.

Fair warning — making up a tagline just to have a cool tagline is not branding.  Your tagline is not a brand.  We can talk more about that tomorrow.  But…when done right…

A good tagline can capture and transmit your brand promise.  The discipline of identifying a few key words that communicate the full weight and force of your brand message is one of the cornerstones to creating a successful brand.  Think of it as a rallying cry.  It’s what you shout in the team huddle before going into the big game.  It’s a comforting whisper in your client’s ear.  It is the enticement that lures prospects to learn more about you. 

If you do it well, your tagline can energize your team and give them focus. It reminds them every day of the promise you are making in the marketplace.  A good tagline is not a pithy witticism or platitude.  It needs to stand up to these critical questions:

~ Does it provide a clear, recognizable and sustainable differentiation from your competition?  If you can swap out your name/logo and put theirs in, you have trouble.

~ Does it respond in an authentic way to a pressing need that your clients and potential clients struggle with?

~ Does it provide you (internally) with guidance for management decision-making, hiring, training and resource allocation?

If you can say yes to all 3 questions, you probably have a pretty strong tagline. Let’s test the theory — sell me your tagline.  Convince me its a good one.

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Better to not do it at all

October 8, 2006


It is one of the cornerstones to a good marketing and branding foundation.  Ann Michael at Manage to Change has a fantastic post on this topic.   Her point (and warning) is such an excellent one.  If you aren’t going to deliver on it consistently — don’t start.  It’s, as my daughter used to say, mean teasing.

Ann’s focus is on your customers and she’s right on the money.  But it holds just as true for employees.  How you treat your team speaks volumes to your customers, vendors and potential employees.  Don’t think its not being watched and judged.  So again — don’t do what you aren’t willing to keep doing.

At my agency, McLellan Marketing Group, I have always worked with the notion that I want to ruin my employees so they can’t possibly imagine working any place else.  I hire remarkably smart, creative people.  So I know my competitors are always looking to steal them.  I want to create a work environment  that demonstrates I’m as committed to them as I need them to be to our clients.  Here are some of the things we do to keep everyone motivated and happy.

~ Weekly concierge service from our good friends at Legs on Lease (someone to run their errands)
~ Professional masseuse doing chair massages
~ We close the office at noon on Fridays
~ An annual education allowance
~ Free soda (when you have to be creative on demand…caffeine is important!)
~ We just took a 3 day trip to Mpls as a team and people could bring spouses etc.

We take the same "let’s spoil them to death" attitude with our clients.  Come to a meeting at our place — you’ll get freshly baked cookies.  Every time.  Is that a reason for them to choose us?  Of course not.  But do you think they notice if they can’t smell the cookies when they come in?  You bet they do.

How can you spoil your employees and clients?  What’s something that is uniquely branded you but also, to Ann’s point, something you are going to commit to doing for the long haul?

To stand out in the crowded marketplace you need to do both.  Be audaciously true to your brand AND be consistent.  So what could you do?

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Link love or lazy links?

October 7, 2006

I’ve noticed that one of the prevailing types of posts in the blogosphere are link lists.  You know what I’m talking about — where a blogger will simply list 2-5 links to other blog site’s blog posts.  So here’s the question of the day — smart or lazy?

Here’s my general philosophy about marketing messages.  Don’t make your consumers work any harder than they have to.  Keep in mind, they are only marginally interested in what you have to say.  All along, they are wondering "what’s in this for me?" and if you don’t answer the question pretty quickly, they will move on. Images

So my answer to the question posed above is it all depends.  Some link lists are great.  The author tells you why they think you’d find value in the link they are providing.  Check out how Church of the Customer bloggers handle their links list.  By reading the brief description, I know whether or not it’s worth my time to check it out.  Genuine link love.

But, I’ve also stumbled upon plenty of lazy linkers out there.  A laundry list of links with no explanation serves no purpose to your readers.  If anything, it seems to me that the poster is simply either too lazy to actually write something and feels pressure to post or…even worse, they are trying to fake link love to get link backs.  (We all know you shouldn’t fake it!)

Either way, your consumers are too smart.   If you are linking for your own benefit — knock it off.  If you’re linking to share great posts or give someone a well deserved shout out — then be sure to put a little meat on the bone for your readers so they can decide if its of interest.

Long term, if you don’t — they’ll self select you right out of the mix.

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Who is your posse?

October 5, 2006

Like many of you, I own my own business.  I have employees, clients, vendors, peers.  Love them all.  But there are times when I still feel a bit like the lighthouse operator — out there all alone, trying to shine my light in the right places.

That’s why I have a posse.  They keep my passion at full tilt, they keep me sane, they offer me comfort, support or a kick in the pants — depending on what I need.  Each owns a marketing agency like I do…so they know the road I travel.  Each is brilliant and each one has helped me build and grow my business.

Twice a year, we physically gather (the picture is us in Jackson Hole, WY a couple weeks agoCimg3345) to spend two days sharing best practices, learning and laughing together.  In between our gatherings, we connect through a list serv, the phone and shared projects.  We’ve been together for 6+ years now.  They’re not just my business advisors and sounding board — they’re my friends.  They all own marketing agencies throughout the country.  You’ll find them in San Diego (Market Design Group), San Francisco (Gumas Advertising), Denver (AOR), Philly (Altus and 2010 Design), New Hampshire (Bedford Granite) and Washington DC (Fixation).  And of course, there’s us in Des Moines, IA.  If you need an agency in one of these geographical areas, you will find none better.

But here’s my real point.  I’ve got mine, do you?

Who do you surround yourself with?  Who pushes you to be better?  Who can you share everything (including financials) with and know you’re safe?

If you don’t have a posse, you need to find one.  If you want to create one from scratch, I highly recommend the book Meet & Grow Rich by Joe Vitale and Bill Hibbler.  It’s about creating what they call MasterMind groups.  Posse…MasterMind.  Potato…Potato.  I don’t care what you call it.  I just care that you think about getting one.

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October 3, 2006

L.L.Bean retail store in Freeport, Maine.Image via Wikipedia

I think we all know happens when we assume something, eh?

Here’s a lesson oft learned the hard way.  When proofreading, do not assume.

Overzealous proofreading can create a catastrophe no different than doing a poor job or not doing it at all.  Recently mail order giant L.L. Bean barely averted disaster because they have a culture that puts great value on diligent proofreading.  An employee was 100% certain (always be wary…) that the toll-free number in the catalog proof was incorrect.  It was listed as an 877 number and the employee knew it was really supposed to be an 800 number.  So, he changed it.

Yes, you guessed it. The number was correct as it originated in the proof.  Had he not proudly mentioned his "catch" to a fellow employee, L.L. Bean would have had about 500,000 catalogs in their recycle bin.  Ouch.

Whenever you proof phone numbers, it’s always a good idea to take the extra second or two and dial the number.  Remember the rule — before you correct, check!

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