Pick up your head (a marketing lesson from Maggie the mostly lab)

April 28, 2009

Picture 7 This past weekend, I took Maggie the mostly lab on a long walk along a wooded trail near my home. 

We had the trail to ourselves as it was a cold, gray day…with a steady drizzle.  As we walked, I couldn't help but notice that Maggie rarely looked up, her nose close to the ground as she sniffed with vigor, weaving back and forth. 

It occurred to me that we often do the same thing.  The pressures of work, juggling all the projects or clients, trying to squeeze in a little work/life balance etc. has us nose to the ground much of time. 

But as I observed Maggie on this walk, she clearly illustrated the dangers of that mindset.

You lose sight of what's going on around you:  On our walk, the trail was a hopping place.  Four deer, 2 rabbits (including the tiniest baby rabbit I have ever seen), a woodchuck and more birds and squirrels than I could count all literally ran right in front of us, crossing the trail.  Maggie didn't see one of them.  Think how different her walk experience would have been if she had.  (I'm pretty sure I saw one of the deer mocking Maggie to the other deer.)

How many times have we missed an opportunity because we were out of touch with what was going on around us, in our industry or maybe even in our own company?  Often times, those opportunities cross our paths once and then they're gone for good if we're not ready.

You step in things you wish you hadn't:  As we rounded a bend in the trail, Maggie was so oblivious, she walked right into a patch of pricker weeds.  She let out a yelp that was so loud, she spooked all the birds in the trees around us.

Admit it, you've been so absorbed in the minutia of the day, or in an internal political battle or worrying about losing your job that you've stepped in something pretty unpleasant too.  It's so easy to get sucked into our own heads or a project that we don't see we're stepping on a landmine, often with disastrous results.

You can go down the wrong path:  At one point in the walk, I decided just to see where Maggie would lead us.  Now, I am not suggesting she is a genius but we've walked this same trail many, many times.  But because she had her head down, she very quickly took us off the main trail, and into one of the neighborhoods surrounding the area.

We have to see the big picture to make good choices.  We need to know what our customers are saying, our competition is doing and how the marketplace is responding.  Without that, we're literally making decisions in the dark and can end up where we don't want to be.

Take it from Maggie and me.  Make some time on your calendar to step back and look around.  Don't let the day's tasks drag your head down too close to the ground. 

I'm curious — how do you balance the demands of the day with the need to keep your head up?

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Don’t mistake getting stuck for being smart

April 13, 2009

37763642 If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I am a big believer in having a plan.  Strategy is king.  Today’s marketing dollars are too scarce to be wasted.  The 4th quarter and early January seems to have most marketers knee-deep in research, budgets, what if scenarios and gantt charts.

All of that is well and good.  And important.  But there is a serious danger that you can get paralyzed in your planning.  Smart is good.  Perfect is paralysis

Sometimes, especially when spending even a dollar feels like a calculated risk — we can let the need to be absolutely right freeze us in place.

Marketing is a healthy mix of art and science.  Exacting precision is for engineers and surgeons, not marketers.  We have to settle for darn close.  The reality is we don’t have the luxury of operating in a sterile space.  We have to function in the nitty-gritty of the real world.  We can’t control all the variables and factors. 

At a certain point in the process, we have to walk away from theory and leap off the edge into reality.

It feels safe to stay in planning mode.  After all, the plan looks so pristine and right.  There’s nothing tainting the purity of it. Once you step out and actually launch a new initiative, things get muddy in a hurry. 

While we can be pretty smart and quite right during the planning process, it’s in the fray of the action, that we get even smarter.  We can observe reactions, listen to customers, make little tweaks and then re-evaluate all over again.  Unlike an operating room, the marketplace brings nuances, unpredictable truths and quirks of human nature.

If you need one more nudge to get you unstuck and out from behind the planning mode, just remember, no one ever bought a product or service from a gantt chart.

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What’s really up with small business marketing?

April 6, 2009

53008672 That was the question that Jay Ehret posed on his most recent podcast. 

As Jay says in his intro…"We are marketing in a great period of transition: a digital divide. The abandonment of traditional media and the adoption of new media in small business marketing is in. Or is it?

So what should you do? Jump wholeheartedly into social media and online marketing? Are traditional media like newspaper, TV and radio dead? Is Facebook and Twitter the magic marketing answer?"

He then interviewed four business marketing practitioners to get their take. Where should entrepreneurs do? What's working right now? What does the future hold?

It's a good listen and I think you'll walk away with some things to ponder. 

You can listen off Jay's site or download the podcast to listen on the treadmill.  Either way, grab it here.

And yes…that is me.

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Shame on you advertisers!

March 31, 2009

37034701 We've talked before about how the media hype is actually making the recession worse.  How our fear is paralyzing us from spending a buck or making a business decision that involves any sort of an investment.

As you'll recall, I said I thought it was up to the businesses of this country to ignore the doomsday talk and get out there and behave our way out of the recession.  We need to be smart but we need to grow our businesses just like we've always done.  By investing in good people, good products and good services.

So that's why I find some of the recent ads I've seen so alarming. 

An All State Insurance ad I just saw the other night started out like this (my paraphrasing):  "Today, the longest walk of the day is the walk to the mailbox…where all those bills are just waiting for you."

A local ad here from a company that sells pool tables and accessories has the owner on camera, talking about he's taken a beating during the recession…so he is being forced to sell his wares practically at cost, just to pay the wholesaler's note.

Come on! 

For a very small group of people, that's a true statement.  But when the media…and now the advertising constantly tells all of us that we should be dismal and dread our mail — we are just adding to the malaise of this country.  We're making it worse.

Does that mean you shouldn't talk about how your product or service is a good value?  Of course not.  But stop wrapping it up in the recession flag.  You should always be a good value, right?  Did your potential customers not care about that when the economy was booming?

If you don't care so much about how your marketing is impacting the economy…ponder this.  How many ads have you seen/heard/read in the last 30 days that referenced the recession or these tough economic times?  Just about all of them!  It's become the theme du jour, which means that your efforts sound a whole lot like everyone else's.

So whether you want to stand out or you want to be a part of the solution — for the love of Pete, stop or if you're one of the few who hasn't jumped on the bandwagon yet — don't start.

How can you (or are you already) marketing your product without using the recession as a crutch?

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Three worthy reads

March 21, 2009

32351511 I don't do this very often, but sometimes I come across blog posts or articles that I think are truly worthy of asking you to take five minutes and read.

You'll find this trio is a very eclectic mix from thought-provoking to down and dirty practical. 

While only the blogging post is "directly" related to marketing or branding — I will gladly argue that all three articles cut to the core of our work and the life we get to have because of that work.


We need an ethics czar by Bruce Weinstein (in BusinessWeek)

10 step intermediate guide to blogging your personal brand by Dan Schawbel  (actually good for any blogging)

Stress — buster or builder? by Robyn McMaster

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Being an entrepreneur takes more than hanging out a shingle

March 14, 2009

One of the by-products of a struggling economy and wide spread layoffs is the inevitable birth of many new consultants and budding entrepreneurs.  For some, it's a natural evolution and wise choice.  For others, it's the lesser of the evils and usually ends when the new full time job is secured.

I think the key question that is often skipped in this evolution is "do I WANT to be an entrepreneur?"  And of course the follow up questions — do I have what it takes?  Will I be good at it?  Will I like it?  Do I have the stomach and risk tolerance for it?

Here's the truth about being an entrepreneur:

"Entrepreneurship is not a career. It is a way of life."

There are two books that have recently been published that will help anyone of the edge of this important decision.

Be-an-entrepreneur The first book, aptly titled "So you want to be an entrepreneur?" is by Jon Gillespie-Brown.  Jon's book is part mentoring lessons and part workbook, with lots of great exercises that will really help you examine and plan your life based on your passions, ambitions and ultimate visions.

By actively taking part in each of the exercises, you give yourself the best chance of succeeding as an entrepreneur, or the sufficient clarity to decide what other career options are best suited to you.

The book is uplifting and celebrates the truth about being an entrepreneur — the good, bad and the ugly.

All the proceeds of this book are being donated to the Grameen Foundation, which does some amazing work.

Entrepreneurjourneysbook-188x300 The second book you should spend some time with is Sramana Mitra's Entrepreneur Journeys.  Mitra interviews a dozen innovative entrepreneurs and focuses the conversations on five core topics:

  • Bootstrapping
  • Taking on giants
  • Disrupting business models
  • Addressing unmet market needs
  • Tackling planet scale problems

The interviews are very intimate and frank.  There's no sugar-coating or sidestepping the tough issues in this book.  I was surprised at how open the entrepreneurs were and how freely their exposed their pain and failures, along with their successes.

The interviewees weren't the standard company or people we hear about everywhere else.  So the stories and examples were not only relevant but also fresh.

Both books were enjoyable and fast reads.  You'll want to read through Gillespie-Brown's once and then go back and work your way through the exercises. And you'll probably want to re-visit Mitra's if you decide to bite off entrepreneurship and find yourself taking on a giant or doing a little bootstrapping.

Even if you have no intention of hanging out your own shingle…the lessons in the books are good for anyone engaged in leading a business.

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Best recession marketing tip — give it away!

March 10, 2009

80099712 Are you worried about sales?  Have you had to lay off some staff?  Are you scared about making it through the recession?

Give away your product or service.

I know it's counter-intuitive.  There's nothing conservative about giving away your hard-earned wares.  I'm not going to go all new age on you — but there's some magical that happens when you share what you have. 

Here are some of the benefits:

You and your staff will be reminded how good you are.  When sales are coming a bit more slowly or everyone is pushing you on price, it's easy to forget just how good you are at your craft.  By giving it to someone who really needs it — they're bound to be effusive with their gratitude — and that feels good.

It's amazing word of mouth.  In these days of doom and gloom media — who isn't going to love a story of genuine generosity?  And what do you think the recipient is going to do once they enjoy your wares?  Right — talk about it.  To everyone and anyone.

It's a statement of faith and confidence.  Think of it as a "screw you" to the recession.  It's standing tall and saying…"we're not only going to get through this economic downturn….but we're going to do it by helping others.  We're going to serve our employees, our clients and those who may not be able to afford what we sell — so we're going to give it away."

Want a concrete example?  My agency, McLellan Marketing Group, just announced that we're taking applications for our 3rd annual Adopt a Charity program.

Here's how it works.  Non-profits apply (they can download our application here) and we choose one in April.  Then, for an entire year — we adopt them.  Not only do we adopt them, but some of our business partners like Brackett Media and Event Services and Radio Garage also adopt them.  

Over the course of the year, the charity will receive over $75,000 in free services.

Do you know a non-profit who could use a professional marketing squad for a year?  Encourage them to download the application and get it in before the end of March. 

More important — get out there and give the recession a raspberry.  Give away a little of what you have.  Share your expertise.  You'll be amazed at how good it is for business.  And your heart.

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Do you want to truly be a remarkable leader? (Win the book!)

March 5, 2009

GTY I don't ask the question lightly.  It's no small commitment.  To genuinely be a leader, you have to go far beyond reaching your organizational goals or profitability targets.

To be an extreme leader, you have to be ready to love.  As my friend Steve Farber would say…

“Real leadership is an extreme act rooted in love and motivated by a desire to create a better world…Truly great leaders in life become so because they cause others to be greater than themselves.”

In today's world…we need those kinds of leaders more than ever.  Do you have what it takes to be one?

That's the challenge that Steve's new book, Greater Than Yourself puts on the table for all of us.  In a style that is uniquely his, Farber's business parable takes on a journey we won't soon forget.  Like his earlier books, Radical Leap (my vote for best leadership book) and Radical Edge — this book moves at an incredible pace and you'll find yourself completely enveloped in the story and the lessons within.

It's not just a feel good or inspirational read.  You'll find actionable steps that will lead you to putting the book into practice.

There's also free resources to help you get started at the Greater Than Yourself website.  Be sure you watch Steve's video interviews with Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family), and Matthew Kelly (The Dream Manager, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose) and his own GTY project partner, Tommy Spaulding.

Get the book today.  Pay for the super fast shipping.  Then, prepare to be different and better leader.

I have three copies of the book to give away.  To enter, leave a comment and if you will — tell us about someone who lifted you up to be even better than you were.

Update:  Congrats to our book winners — Chris O, Peter K and Janet G.

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Are you making the recession worse?

February 2, 2009

34996025 Let me first acknowledge that I know the recession is real.  I know people are losing their jobs, homes and life savings.    I get that.

But the truth is….we’re making it worse.  We’re letting fear make it worse.

Just like the kid who works himself up into a frenzy because he imagines what might be under his bed — we're allowing fear and all the hype freeze us with fear. 

That paralysis is the biggest threat your business has ever faced.

Look around you.  Ask other business owners.  They will sheepishly admit that business is good.   Some, under the promise of anonymity, will confess that it’s great.  For the vast majority of businesses, especially B-to-B and the service sectors – things are fine.

And yet, they behave as though they’re down to their last dime.

I was talking to a friend of mine who owns a small business last week.  He admitted they’re having a fantastic start to the year and everything looks good moving forward. 

He went on to tell me that he needs a new company car.  He has the money to pay cash for it.  Car prices have never been lower.  But he’s holding off.

Just in case.

Simpson College here in Iowa has a brilliant outreach program, thanks to the Associate Director of the department.  She’s like a Pied Piper, getting to know theatre kids when they’re younger and encouraging them to visit campus, attend their very profitable summer program, etc.

Simpson just announced that despite great enrollment numbers and the construction of a new theatre space (capital campaign) – they’re eliminating the position.

Just in case enrollment goes down.

People, we have to stop this.  A stimulus package alone isn’t going to cut it.  Do you think any of those stimulus dollars are coming your way?  Check the list – you’re not on it!

Small business owners are the backbone of this country and we will determine how long we’re in this recession.  I’m not asking you to spend with reckless abandon.  But I am suggesting that we don’t get our business advice from the local or national news.

Look around.  See how your business is actually doing.  And behave accordingly.  We can be paralyzed with fear of what might be coming, or we can behave ourselves out of this recession.

But…it is up to us.

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HP launches MarketSplash to serve small businesses

January 27, 2009

Picture 6 One of the biggest challenges of a fledging small business is producing professional grade stationery, business cards and marketing materials.

HP believes they've created a viable solution at MarketSplash — a web-based shop that allows you to design and customize DIY templates for your business basics like stationery, business cards, static website, postcards and even promotional items like polos and mugs.

The templates give you several options — uploading your logo and beginning your design from there, or choosing one of their templated logos, or choosing industry-based templates that don't require a logo at all.

You can also opt to have them custom design a logo or stationery package for you, if you'd prefer.

The offerings and designs are vastly superior to the all too often heard "I designed it myself on Publisher" option that many start ups and small businesses rely upon.   Make no mistake, this isn't like hiring an agency to truly help you discover your brand promise and design your identity pieces to fit that promise.  But for many organizations, that's just not a viable choice.

So, MarketSplash is a happy middle ground for those companies who want to project a very professional, consistent image but can't afford an agency.

I spent about an hour getting a guided tour of MarketSplash last week and found it incredibly easy to navigate and use.  I was able to select a business card template, change the font, color and enter my own contact information in about 10 minutes. 

I have to admit, I was impressed by quite a few of the templates and the flexibility of the design modules.   But what I found most interesting were the delivery options.  After designing my cards (or whatever I needed), I could:

  • Complete the order online (choosing paper, finishes etc) and have the printed materials delivered to me via the post office
  • Have the order sent to my local Staples and pick up the printed materials in 45 minutes
  • Download the PDF files and print them off on my office or home printer

That gives me hope that HP truly does understand some of the challenges and unique needs of the small business owner. 

For a limited time, HP is offering 100 free business cards (including shipping) to new customers. 

Go check out the site and let me know what you think.   And what else would you like to be able to buy right from the site?

Note:  I'm going to order some items from the site and will let you know about the quality/experience once the items arrive.

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