Mini Marketing

October 25, 2017

marketingThe list of marketing tactics that you can use to reach an audience is staggering. The different ways you can slice and dice humankind into different audience segments is never-ending. The stories you can tell and the messages you can deliver are countless.

And that’s exactly what is ruining your marketing.

The truth is there is not a business on the planet that needs to be on everyone’s radar screen. Whether you are a global business or a Mom and Pop local shop – you have a very finite number of people who actually can benefit from what you do. One of the biggest mistakes marketing people make is inflating their number. They fish with a very wide net when a spear gun is a much better choice.

Stay with me on this analogy. When you cast out a wide net, it gets filled up with a wide variety of fish, debris, and seaweed. You spend a lot of time sorting out the good from the bad. You often will talk yourself into trying some odd fish that looks good but turns out to be hideous. And by the time you dig down to the ones you actually wanted – they’re a little worse for wear. If there’s even one in the net at all.

That’s how most businesses approach their marketing. They cast a wide net, trying to have a presence everywhere because they don’t want to risk missing someone. I’m here to tell you, you can miss most of the someones as long as you connect with a relatively small number of the right someones.

Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired magazine, has been talking about this idea since 2008. You’ve probably heard of the 1,000 fans theory. His hypothesis is that an artist (performer, author, artist, etc.) can survive on 1,000 true fans. The number 1,000 is not a precise number but more of a ballpark. But the concept holds either way.

The idea is basically that as your fan base gets larger and larger, the ROI per fan gets less and less because you can’t possibly cater to them all. The long tail is past the sweet point of the effort to engage. According to Kelly, if you want to make money, you will make much more from the first 1,000 fans that are diehard because they’ll buy whatever you produce and engage no matter what. They will also tell the world about you and how much they love you. Back in 2008, the world looked very different, but changes in our connectedness and online behavior only make this base idea more relevant.

Odds are your business is a little bigger than a single artist, so recognize that the number 1,000 is symbolic. But the message is dead on. You need to figure out who your fans are and talk to them on a regular basis about the things they care about. That will attract more of them.

Here’s the danger zone in this effort. Once they have their attention, many marketers just check the box and consider it done. And they’re off to chase the next audience.

That’s where you can do it better by being smarter about keeping the target small and focused. The minute you broaden your message or your channel, you make your fans feel like customers. That shift – from being someone you care about to someone you want to convince to buy something, changes everything. They don’t feel special. They don’t feel catered to and they sure don’t feel like telling the world about you.

Marketing shouldn’t be wide. It should be deep. That’s where people evolve from prospects to customers and if you stay focused – become your raving fans.

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Gratitude magnified

September 6, 2017

gratitude magnifiedLast week we explored the idea of how smart businesses recognize that gratitude isn’t just a worthy emotion – it’s smart marketing. Everyone wants to be appreciated and today, when businesses must compete for both customers and employees, it’s an important retention tool. We covered how to create a spirit of gratitude inside your organization last week. But how do you expand that out to your vendors and customers as well? Gratitude magnified.

The sad fact is this. You don’t have to do much to get noticed. Your vendors and customers are so used to not being appreciated, you’ll completely catch them off guard by showing a little appreciation. Much like with your internal team, this isn’t about how expensive it is, it’s about how genuine it is.

Let’s start with your vendors. Here are a few ways to let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.

Put the spotlight on them. All too often, our vendors remain in the shadows – quietly helping us serve our clients. But a memorable way to say thank you is to shine the spotlight on them. Of course, they should be asking you for a written testimonial but like most businesses, they’re too busy and it never rises to the top of the To-Do list. Proactively write a letter that specifically states why you value working with them and how they help you and your business.

Put it on letterhead and send them a hard copy for their own use. But don’t stop there. Take snippets of your glowing praise and post it on their Facebook page or tweet about their efforts.

Another way to get them some well-deserved attention is to actively connect them to other potential customers or referral sources. No doubt you know and work with other people they should meet. You can introduce them informally, make LinkedIn connections or better yet – why not throw a referral party and invite all of your vendors to come and meet each other. Odds are – they’re going to make some great connections and remember just who made it happen. That’s gratitude magnified.

For your customers, a more personal touch might be in order. Sure – you can do the holiday card or gift or even hold a client appreciation event. But I believe the more personal you make it, the more meaningful it is.

I’ve written about it before, but there’s something magical about a handwritten note. Think of it as your love letter to your customer. Let them know why you value their loyalty and trust. Share with them how they make your job easier, more fun or more exciting. Don’t type it – no matter how awful your handwriting is. It doesn’t have to be super long but it should be very specific. A generic thank you feels like you sent everyone the same note.

A variation on this would be to help your client experience something important to them at a whole new level. Maybe they’ve always wanted to learn how to bake or they love live theatre or professional hockey. Use your connections to get them behind the scenes at a local bakery for a one-on-one lesson or see if you can score them backstage access after a play or game. The key to this strategy is to go beyond just buying them something. It’s the extra effort that really says thank you. That’s gratitude magnified.

Just a final warning – all of your efforts get drastically watered down if you attach any sort of ask or payback to your act of gratitude. This isn’t the time to ask for more business or a referral. Just be grateful and then be quiet.

I think you’ll be surprised at what you hear in return.

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Become a partner, not a vendor

June 21, 2017

PartnerI know very few businesses that aren’t looking for additional sales. Ninety-nine percent of the time, those businesses identify potential customers and then woo them until they either buy something, tell them to go away or they get busy enough that they go back to ignoring the prospects. Without a doubt, we need to chase after new clients. But we often overlook the quickest, easiest sale –our existing customer base.  Businesses that grow year after year don’t do it by chasing new prospects.  They do it by delighting their customers in a way that they can’t get anywhere else – by becoming a partner, not a vendor.

Want to have that kind of permanent impact on your sales to existing customers? Partner them with smarter employees from within your organization. By smarter, I don’t mean someone who knows the most about your business, products or services.

I mean someone who knows the most about your customer’s business and business in general. The more your project managers, customer service team and salespeople understand how business works, the more they can serve their clients in ways beyond just selling them something.

Businesses that are thriving today aren’t selling their clients stuff. They are helping them solve problems.  We need to deeply and genuinely understand our client’s business or life (if we sell consumer goods) so that they can be helpful.  As we’ve talked about before, helpful is the new entry point of marketing and sales, whether that entry point begins online or in your brick and mortar location.

Your employees don’t magically become more knowledgeable and helpful. It requires a big investment (both time and money) on your part. But it’s an investment that keeps on paying dividends.

There are many reasons why your team needs to understand your clients’ core needs.

  • It allows them to bring better, more complex solutions to their client’s real problems
  • It allows them to be a valuable resource to their client, rather than just a vendor
  • It differentiates them from other companies that are still just selling stuff
  • It allows you to charge a premium price – because they can document the value they deliver
  • It typically means they are better at retaining clients
  • If you’re selling to a business, it gets them to the C-suite table, rather than having to deal with middle management

You have a choice to make – you can either be a trusted advisor or a vendor.  In both cases, you can earn referrals from your client. But customers treat partners and vendors very differently when it comes to price, repeat business and expectations.

So you have to decide – how do you want to be referred and what kinds of new client relationships are you trying to earn.

If you want to be your customer’s partner and want to be able to rely on repeat business from them, here’s how you can build a team who is prepared to deliver on that promise:

  • Broaden their education by taking classes
  • Join a club, networking group or professional association focused on best business practices in your customer’s field
  • Ask clients if they can shadow them for a few days and ask a lot of questions
  • Read leading books on the industry
  • Visit trade shows and attend their educational workshops
  • Start their own small business on the side to learn about business in general

For this strategy to work, it has to be a company-wide initiative. Everyone has to adopt the idea that it’s their job to understand and guide your client’s business or life to a very different depth than most organizations would be able to do.

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Don’t forget the packaging

May 10, 2017

packagingWe seem to be in a marketing era that rewards straightforward, cut to the chase marketing and sales tactics.  The recession taught us that consumers were leery of any hyperbole or inflated promises so marketers let the pendulum swing to the other extreme – stripped down copy that was information based, educational in nature and absolutely void of spin or packaging.

I think we can look back at 2008 and see the birth of content marketing – the helpful era.  I’m a big fan of the genre and I believe serving our potential customers and current customers by going out of our way to be helpful is smart marketing.

But I do think the pendulum has swung a little too far.  I believe as human beings, we can’t help but appreciate a little bit of sizzle with our steak.  I’m happy to see the hyped marketing copy days in the rear view mirror but I do think we’ve lost something in our rush to pure practicality.  We’ve sacrificed some of the showmanship that allows us to build anticipation, celebrate our product/service’s ability to delight our customers and create buzz around our brand.

I’m not advocating that we go back to the “monster truck” style of marketing but I do think we need to remember that part of receiving a great gift is getting to unwrap a beautiful package.

When I use the word packaging, I’m not just limiting my meaning to the literal packaging of a tangible product.  Whether you operate a brick and mortar store, run a service business or sell something intangible – you can pick up your game when it comes to packaging.

How do you deliver the goods? The advertising industry is a great example of a profession that has allowed their packaging to be diminished over time. When I started in the business, computers were not the norm and everyone didn’t have access to one. When we wanted to present new ad concepts to a client – we delivered them in person.  They were mounted on a board and we’d cover our ideas with paper that was branded with the agency’s name and logo.

We’d “reveal” our ideas by lifting the flapped paper, almost like opening a curtain before the big show. It created a sense of drama and anticipation. Today, we just email PDFs – hardly an ounce of show in that.

Is the current delivery model more efficient? You bet.  But, does it help our clients truly appreciate the time and energy that went into creating those concepts?  No, in that way it sells our work short.

Do you beautify the ordinary? When is a box more than just a box? Tiffany’s blue box. Apple’s elegant packaging.  Can you take something that most companies just do out of necessity and make it part of the experience? Apple’s the master at this. Have you ever heard of “unboxing?” It’s a term that has been coined by Apple customers that is linked to unpacking a new Apple product.

For Apple fans – this is an event — an event worth capturing on video. Just search unboxing on YouTube and you’ll be amazed at both the volume of videos and the number of views.  One video of the Apple watch being unboxed has been viewed over 500,000 times.

What aspects of your product/service are necessities that could be re-engineered into something people would talk about? Savvy companies are doing with things as ordinary as a room key, a box, an invoice, delivery follow up, or customer service access.

If you want to be a brand worth talking about – make sure you haven’t stripped all the sizzle out of the equation. You don’t want to overdue it but adding some style and attention to detail elevates your brand and brings back some of the sexy.

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What does your welcome mat say?

April 19, 2017

WelcomeWhat does your welcome mat say?  Several summers ago, I spent some time in Europe with my daughter celebrating her college graduation and even though I was on vacation, I couldn’t help but see things through a marketing lens.

One of the places we visited was Madrid, Spain and neither of us spoke very much Spanish. I was eavesdropping as we did our tourist thing and I would say about 50% of the people in Madrid are from the United States or Canada and spoke English. It was interesting to me to see how different businesses react to the challenge/opportunity of a non-Spanish speaking guest.

Just a note – we try very hard to show our respect for the countries we visit and always learn many of the more common phrases. We address everyone in Spanish in terms of greetings, directions, saying please and thank you, etc. We certainly don’t expect them to Americanize their country, but we are hardly fluent and are very self conscious of that fact.

My point isn’t about communicating in Europe but instead, how some of the business owners have recognized an opportunity to attract more foreign guests by making it clear that they’ll be welcomed and accommodated. And even more to the point – It got me thinking about how we can adopt that same attitude, even if we don’t face a language barrier with some of our potential customers.

Some establishments make it clear by displaying English versions of their menus, by having a large sign that says, ”we speak English” or by hoisting a British flag near their entrance. This was true in the more tourist crowded parts of the city as well as some of the very local pubs, where we were the only non-locals in the joint.

All of this got me wondering – how do we put out welcome mats (or not) for our potential customers?

Identify your outliers: First think about who, beyond your usual customer, might need your services/products. Is there a group of people who are “lingering” outside your door and just need to be invited in? Might they actually be even more grateful for your product or service, if they felt welcome? Imagine what that kind of word of mouth among their peers might be worth to you.

Move the barriers: Could it be there’s a communication barrier of some kind in the way? It may not be a language issue but are you using jargon that tells the novices they’re not welcome? And remember, sometimes it’s what you don’t say that gets in the way. What might make a potential customer pause and re-think “walking through your door?”

Add more welcome mats: Let’s assume you either have a literal front door to your business or your website is your virtual one. How welcoming are they? Do they reassure that fringe audience that you not only can help them but you really want to? Do you have a way for them to see themselves as your customer? That could be anything from a FAQ section that answers their specific questions, testimonials that come from folks just like them or a marketing tool that explains how you onboard new clients so they can visualize becoming one of your best customers.

You know that you want them as a customer. But they may not be as tuned in as you think. If they’re nervous about doing business with you or spending big money or switching from an old vendor – they may need a little positive reinforcement. Or it may be that they feel like an outsider or that they wouldn’t belong.

It’s your job to make sure they know just how much you’d like to help them and make it easy for them to walk in the door.

 

 

 

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Transparency leads to trust

March 29, 2017

TransparencyI really don’t like surprises. Granted, I’m anti-surprise to the extreme. I used to drive my mom crazy by ferreting out where she hid the Christmas gifts and then “guessing” what I was opening on Christmas morning. I suspect most people aren’t quite that determined to avoid surprises, but the reality is, especially when it comes to business – we don’t like them.  Your customers want transparency, not surprises.

There’s an excellent book out there by Patrick Lencioni called Getting Naked, A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty. The core message of the book is that the more transparent we can be with our customers the more they learn to trust us over time.

Businesses are often plagued with customers who have doubts, uncertainties and unexpressed concerns. Those emotions breed mistrust and worry, which leads to a lot of questioning, push back and micro managing from your clients.

I’d like to suggest that there’s a different way, as does the book Getting Naked. I think many businesses operate under the misguided notion that clients shouldn’t see you sweat, know if there’s a potential problem or will throw a fit if you explain your pricing to them.

I think that’s a recipe for disaster. Here are some areas (I call it the three Ps of Transparency) where transparency can lead to trust, better customer relationships and increased sales.

Pricing: This is probably one of the biggest areas that needs more transparency. I believe many businesses are uncomfortable talking about their pricing because they’re either not sure how to justify the cost, know they’re not the cheapest game in town or hate the negotiations that come after the initial price is outlined.

We can’t let our money insecurities trickle down to our clients. If you are uncomfortable with your price point, maybe you need to think about how to add more value to what you deliver so you actually believe the client is getting a bargain. If you can’t hold your head up high when you talk about your pricing, then the problem is in what you deliver, not with your customer.

Process: If you’d like your customers to stop calling and asking for updates, proactively give them not only an outline of the entire delivery process but frequent updates. When they know exactly where everything is at, they will stop asking.

The other factor related to process is that for some reason business people believe that they can’t admit they don’t know something. So they fake it. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t that good at faking it and the client gets this vague sense of unease, which leads to more micromanaging on their part.

Saying “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable response as long as it’s followed with an explanation of how you’re going to get the information. We have to get over the idea that our clients expect us to be perfect and all knowing.

Problems: This is the biggie. No matter how buttoned up you are, sometimes there are issues that cause delays, errors and other undesirable results. This is the worry that keeps your client awake at night. And the companion worry for them is that it’s going to be a surprise.

The minute you get an inkling that there might be a problem – tell your customer. Give them as much advance warning as possible and carefully outline the possible solutions or workarounds. If it’s your fault – tell them. Don’t mince words or make excuses. Own up to it, clearly and directly apologize and then tell them how you’re going to fix it.

If you want your customers to trust you and to grow to rely on you – remember that they know you’re human, they know mistakes happen and all they want from you is your honesty. Weave transparency into every interaction and watch the trust grow.

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Rudolph – a marketing expert?

December 21, 2016

RudolphLike many of you, I’ve been juggling my work life with getting ready for the quickly approaching holidays. I can’t help myself – I see marketing everywhere I look, even classic Christmas stories! Have you ever really considered the marketing messages that are woven into the classic Christmas story about that scamp Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?

Marketing lesson #1: You can’t hide the truth.

Rudolph didn’t embrace the fact that he was different from all the other reindeer. He tried to pass himself off as something he wasn’t just because he wanted to have a cute little black nose and the chance to play some reindeer games. That didn’t go too well for him. He got called out in public for faking it and that made people question his integrity.

If social media has taught us anything, it’s that you can fool people for a little while, but if you can’t walk the talk…don’t even try it. Be true to who or what you are and you’ll attract the perfect customers.

Marketing lesson #2: Never make assumptions. Just ask.

One of the main reasons Rudolph ran off was because he assumed Clarice wouldn’t love him once that fact that he had “a nose so bright” became common knowledge. Think of the grief he could have saved everyone if he had just checked in with her.

The speed of marketing has accelerated so much over the past few years but the one thing you shouldn’t rush past is actually talking to your customers and prospects. Check your assumptions before you go off in some crazy direction, based on a false belief.

Marketing lesson #3: Your worst enemy can turn into your greatest ally.

Sure…the Abominable Snow Monster tried to eat his girlfriend but Rudolph came to see him as a buddy — even letting him put the star atop the Christmas tree. All it took was someone like Hermey the Elf taking the time to listen to the Bumble so he could acknowledge his pain and voila, he turned the grumbling beast into a helpful and happy pal.

When someone criticizes your company, product or services’ shortcomings, it’s human nature to get defensive and assume the worst. Instead — listen. If you really work towards understanding their perspective — you can not only save the relationship but you can turn that negative word of mouth risk into a brand advocate.

Marketing lesson #4: Create raving fans and a community by giving first.

Rudolph didn’t have to promise the Misfit Toys anything. At that moment, they couldn’t help him. But with a generous heart, he promised them he’d try to find them good homes with children who would love them.

When you do something without regard for “repayment” of any kind, you create value. When you create value, people keep coming back. When they do that, you begin to build a relationship and a sense of loyalty and no one has even tried to buy or sell yet. Which makes the selling a whole lot easier, when the time comes.

Marketing lesson #5: When you find what makes you unique, it can be your ticket to new heights.

When Rudolph began to see his nose as an asset and recognized it was what set him apart from all the other reindeer, he suddenly got asked by Santa to take a leadership position. From then on, it was his calling card. People told others about his nose and pretty soon, he was known from coast to coast. That’s what branding is all about!

Companies like Apple rise to the top because they celebrate what makes them different. They recognize that having a niche means you can create brand loyalty as opposed to being lost in a sea of sameness.

Maybe the real lesson here is if you look hard enough, there’s a marketing lesson in everything!

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