These days, demographic-based branding dominates all. The problem all brands face is this: if your brand suits a particular demographic at this moment, what happens as that demographic ages and times change? Do you age with them and eventually become extinct, or do you fight to stay relevant to subsequent generations of consumers? Of course you know the answer to that question: FIGHT! Go to the mattresses to avoid becoming irrelevant and sinking into oblivion!
We are all familiar with brands—big brands—that have found themselves becoming associated with an aging demographic. Take Gap, Inc. for example: remember all the changes they made to try to turn things around a few years back? They had to find a way to differentiate their brand and revamp their stores by doing tons of promotions and expansions. It cost them a lot of effort and cash and took a long time, but most industry analysts say they’ve finally turned it around and gained their customer base back.
There’s a lot we can learn from the mistakes of the big brands like Gap, but the most important thing is “don’t get too comfortable.” Just because you appeal to people now, doesn’t mean your branding job is finished. It needs to continually evolve—or risk extinction.
Now it’s not just retail businesses that struggle with this problem. For another example, think about what’s happening in thousands of libraries across the country today: in this age of cyber everything, what good are shelves of dusty old reference books? We have Google now! The internet is on our phones which are in our pockets 24/7!
The information age is forcing libraries to adjust their function to fit the next generation of patrons. Sure, there are still people who prefer to use dusty old reference books, but that population is dwindling as more people migrate to a digital way of life.
So, libraries are facing a branding crisis of sorts just as Gap and many other retail brands do. They’re having to differentiate themselves from the old notion of “library,” appeal to a new demographic, and remain relevant for an emerging generation.
To achieve this goal, some libraries have adopted Internet cafés with free wifi. They’re finding new ways to engage the community and keep them coming through the doors by offering free classes like “eBay 101,” providing physical event space for meetings, and expanding their repertoire of services in many exciting ways.
Professional librarians are transforming themselves from the old stereotype of bespectacled old ladies poring over crusty tomes into Internet savvy cyber superheroes able to whip up queries and ferret out information, and in doing so they’re finding that their new job is to save us from being buried alive in the information age. The core mission is the same, but the way it’s carried out is evolving.
That’s exactly what businesses like yours need to do to avoid becoming extinct: Marketing your brand is never a “set-it-and-forget-it” proposition. That doesn’t mean you have to change who you are or what you stand for, but you do have to pay constant attention to keep your demographic engaged so your customers don’t dismiss you as dated, move on to a more hip competitor, and ultimately forget about you.
People are always asking us how powerful a branding tool blogs can be, so today you get your answer people! Perhaps the best example of this power can be found in the popularity of fashion blogs and the bloggers who write them. They are r-e-d HAUTE right now!
As you know, we here at GLAD WORKS are quite the Fashionistas. To that end, we’ve always got our eyes on the new hotness—in August we were even platinum sponsors of StyleWeek Providence, an organization dedicated to showcasing emerging and established fashion designers from the New England area.
With all our fashionista-ing and whatnot, we’ve noticed how super popular fashion bloggers are! In fact, they’re so powerful and popular that they’ve even gone meta! As in, there are blogs about fashion blogs!
If only we could all be that lucky, right?
You know you’ve hit it big when other bloggers blog about your blog. Don’t worry though—even if we never make it to that level of greatness, there’s no denying that blogs are extremely powerful branding machines.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
In 2009, fashion bloggers had finally typed their way to the front row of some of the most exclusive runway shows. They were sitting right there next to the Anna Wintours of the world, watching and listening and reporting back to their legions of followers. The fashion designers were all hoping that these bloggers—right alongside the editors of the fancy fashion magazines—would like what they saw and show their brands some love. Fast-forward to today and this trend is only gaining momentum.
One of the biggest advantages blogs have over other forms of communication is the fact that the blogger has already done the work of creating a personal brand, and that brand has a loyal, engaged and trusting group of fans. Companies are dying to get a little bloggy love from these people because it translates so easily into sales.
Bloggers get their credibility in three main ways: 1) they live in the “real world,” 2) they talk about themselves/put themselves out there, and 3) they tend to interact with their followers.
Bloggers use the inspirational and visual nature of blogging to share their own perspectives, writing in a conversational style that’s highly relatable, and they’re very aware of what will resonate with their audiences. Readers grow to like and trust them—even if the blogger is a little quirky. In fact, in many cases, the quirkier the blog/blogger, the better!
Rosanna Ortiz-Sinel, president and founder of StyleWeek Providence, thinks selling quirkiness isn’t just a matter of blogging on the Internet. In fact, it can be seen across the entire industry: “the weirder you are in the fashion industry, the more followers you get because it’s a little out of the box,” she states.
Holla, BryanBoy with that quirky, editorial look you’re so famous for!
This is not to say that ALL successful blogs MUST be cute and quirky, but hey. Sometimes it helps!
Our blog is cute and quirky and you LOVE it… Right?
Needless to say, quirky fashion bloggers can and DO wield The Mighty Hammer of Thor over a brand—they also happen to do it wearing fabulous outfits.
Ortiz-Sinel agrees that the power of a blog is significant, and mentioned that two local fashion blogs in particular (The Newport Stylephile and Audrey McClelland from Mom Generations) had a positive impact on the success of StyleWeek Providence: “they helped us go viral with our message. That was really what we needed because these bloggers are known in the industry for their focus on style and they have a lot of credibility.” The bloggers created a buzz that augmented StyleWeek Providence’s marketing and advertising by talking about it to their followers.
And stretching beyond just the world of fashion, leveraging blogs absolutely should be on the list of options for companies trying to get the word out while improving engagement. As Ortiz-Sinel saw first-hand with StyleWeek Providence, local followers can be turned on to events they might not have been aware of otherwise.
Because of their intimate and direct relationship with their readers, bloggers have tremendous influence on helping an existing brand when launching a new product, broadcasting information and generating buzz about an event, reigniting interest in a seasonal line, or entirely turning around a not-so-great image. Considering that drumming up this support may not involve much more investment than a few emails, or perhaps shipping a few sample items, the ROI is fantastic!
(NOTE: As of 2009, the FTC requires that bloggers disclose when they’ve received payments or goods in exchange for review or endorsement. Blogs have to say “care of” or c/o the brand supplying the goods, just so everything is on the up and up. For more information, see http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm )
When you see a blog post, a website, a Facebook page, or a piece of mail, what do you notice first?
Cool fonts? Maybe.
Great copy? Probably not right away.
The pictures? You got it!
Pictures are often the first thing that draws a viewer’s attention, and they help to create that initial attraction to a brand. Because of that, it’s really important to think about what the images you have posted on your website, social media sites, and even those that appear on your printed materials say about your business. If they’re crummy, people will think you’re crummy and that’s not the direction we want to head in. We want to be totally un-crummy and maybe even amazingly spectacularly gorgeous and wondrous.
Your pictures, just like your words and actions, represent your brand. They’re your big chance to stand out from the crowd and create interesting and memorable images for your marketing materials. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, right? It’s completely true, so as representatives of your brand, your pictures should look professional so they can help you communicate all the right things to your customers.
By professional, we don’t mean to say that your images should be predictable or stuffy or boring. In fact, they should be anything BUT that, but they also shouldn’t be pictures you took at home of your pet chicken or your kid unless they’re relevant to your brand and they look professional and polished.
Part of what’s special about a professionally done picture, is that they’re very high resolution. This is important because the resolution requirements for print and web are different and your pictures must be appropriate for your purposes. Pictures intended for use in print need to be much higher resolution in order for them to print clearly. Pictures intended for the web will probably not be good enough for print materials. Web pictures will not have high enough resolution to be used in print. That’s why the pictures on those invitations you made for your Great Uncle Carmine’s 90th birthday party came out kinda wonky even though they looked great on the computer. A professional photographer can help you sort all that out and make sure everything looks sharp.
Another thing a professional photographer can help you establish is consistency. Pictures that are of the same style and quality help to create consistency throughout all of your marketing collateral. This helps create that ever-important brand recognition. Another part of brand recognition is having images that draw people in by making an emotional impact on the viewer. Your pictures should work to connect your customers with your products and make them remember that connection. Animals and children are great for evoking a viewer’s emotions. If you’ve ever wondered why we use so many pictures of Bella and Dolce, there ya go. Aside from the fact that they’re wicked little divas and they sulk until we post pictures of them, we also do it because they’re adorable and people love adorable things. We’re always careful though that Bella and Dolce are relevant to our content. Their sweet little Chihuahua mugs wouldn’t work so well on a website that sells home security systems, for example. You’d need a Rottweiler for that at least.
But why should you bother hiring a professional photographer when you can just Google stuff and find great pictures for free online? Well, there’s a little thing called copyright. It’s very, very naughty to take images you find on the Internet and use them for your purposes without permission. You can always buy stock photography from a web site and that’s totally cool to use, but those photos can be kind of pricey and generic. You can always purchase exclusivity rights to the photos you choose, but that can be costly too, especially if you’re purchasing a lot of images. If you don’t own the photos, there’s a chance you’ll see that same photo on something a competitor is doing! EEEEK! It’s like showing up to Prom wearing the same dress as that annoying girl from math class. That’s so embarrassing!
We hope we’ve successfully communicated to you how important it is that the images you use to help you with your branding and marketing are tip top and full of The Fabulous. You want everything to be, well…Picture Perfect!
Sorry. We had to say it. We held it all the way to the end though! Aren’t you proud of us?
PS: Next week we’ll talk about creating content that has great viral potential. These days it’s not just enough to be cool or interesting--you’ve got to be contagious!
The other day I was riding my bike through the park when I noticed three gorgeous parrots sitting on top of a fence surrounding the playground. I was intrigued because you don’t see that kind of thing around here very often, so I took a quick detour to go check it out. On my way into the playground, one of the birds greeted me with a loud “HELLO!” from high atop the fence. I wasn’t expecting that (Duh! Parrots…talking…who knew?) and I admit it scared the heck out of me, but once I got over myself, I noticed how much attention these birds were attracting.
There were two handlers there with the parrots, and they were having a great time interacting with the public and letting parents take pictures of their kids with the birds on their shoulders. All they had with them to identify themselves were shirts with the name and logo of their pet store printed on them. There were no brochures; there was no flashy mini-van with EXOTIC PETS written on it parked in the lot, there was nothing like that. They didn’t make a big “look at us we’re so awesome!” event out of it. Not that there’s anything wrong with vehicle wraps and brochures—they all have a place in your marketing mix, but sometimes, less is more. Instead of being flashy that day, they were just two people from a pet store showing off their exotic birds and hangin’ out.
I’ve always thought parrots were pretty cool, but after seeing them up close like that and interacting with them, I wondered if maybe I could be that kind of guy—one who owns a parrot and teaches it to sing the Rocky theme song to me while I get ready for work in the morning. And then I thought, “what a great marketing idea!” I’m always going to remember that experience, and more importantly, I’ll always remember what pet store provided it. If I ever get my wife to approve such a purchase, what pet store do you think I’m going to go to?
A part of that decision was the fact that the “high pressure sale” was nowhere to be seen. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how hard it is to get a consumer’s attention in a way that’s meaningful and memorable. People these days are bombarded with so many messages coming from every direction imaginable. There’s a lot of competition for their attention and everyone seems to be getting louder and bigger to get their message noticed over all the others. Is there another way to get grab some eyeballs without looking like Arnold Horshack trying to get Mr. Kotter’s attention? (Hi five if you get that reference without clicking the link.)
Maybe the answer is not to ramp up the intensity and jump up and down shouting, “Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!” Maybe something quieter and more creative in this age of flash and hype is an option for getting noticed? Often, that kind of stuff is also the most memorable.
The parrot people didn’t have anything terribly complicated and flashy going on at the playground, but look what they got out of it? I’m on the Internet talking about that experience, and I might actually go and buy a parrot from them (if my wife will let me)!
Creativity is key here. One great way to get some creative juices flowing is to find out what your competitors are doing, and do the opposite! What got me to go over to that playground? I saw parrots in an unexpected place and I was intrigued. Normally, you’d expect to see exotic pet retailers at a mall or at an exotic pet show, not at the playground! Going out of your element and doing something totally unexpected is a great way to get noticed—and by a whole new group of people, too!
Another remarkable thing about the parrots was the emotional engagement they inspired. Parents were lined up with their kids to get a picture with the parrots, and everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves. Those families will always remember that day, and those wily parrot people got to be a part of that—they made it happen! It’s so hard to reach people on an emotional level and create a magical experience, but it’s one of the biggest things you can do to really reach your customers. So many of our decisions are not based on rational, logical thoughts—they’re based on emotions.
For example, who buys a pet because it’s a logical thing to do? Almost nobody. I mean, let’s be honest. Does anyone truly buy a dog because they want to go for walks at 5:00 am and pick up little doggie “presents” along the way? Nope, but they do it because they’re emotionally engaged with their pet.
If you can find a way to get into people’s hearts, you win. That personal connection isn’t only what will get attention, but it’s what’s going to set you apart from your competitors too. Not only that, but it will lead to far more word-of-mouth marketing and networking. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling pets or car insurance, you’ve still gotta be creative: do the unexpected, appeal to emotions and you’re in!
We should be ashamed of ourselves for writing such a silly title!
But there it is. It’s too late to change it now.
Anyway, last week we talked all about branded content and how lovely it can be when you offer something of value to your customers instead of a bunch of self-promotional hoopla. We went over how important it is to understand your customers so you can do things that make them happy. This week, we thought you’d like to know how you can interact with them to learn everything about them—what do they want, what do they find valuable, what color socks are they wearing?
Okay, maybe you don’t care about that last part (unless you actually happen to sell socks…) but you get the idea. You want to find a place where you can go to learn about these good people who are keeping you in business, but preferably not the Psychic Network.
We’ve written a little bit about how social media can help your business in previous posts, but the site we’re focusing on today, Yelp, is a little bit different from what we talked about with sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. It sort of resembles Foursquare but it’s not exactly the same.
What makes Yelp especially well suited to learning about what your customers are thinking is that it’s a consumer review site. The main function of Yelp is to provide folks with a space specifically meant for voicing their opinions of local businesses. If you’re a business owner, this can be a really great tool to help learn about your customers and resolve customer service issues because it can provide you with that direct and honest feedback you need.
Yelp is comprised of local business listings where users can search for businesses to review, learn about, or recommend to others. It lists businesses like dentists, restaurants, beauty salons, bars, etc. The site gets over 50 million unique monthly visitors, so it’s kind of a powerhouse.
To get started on Yelp you first have to add your business to the site. Don’t forget to fill out the whole profile. An incomplete profile is frustrating for someone who’s trying to find out more about you. Plus, it makes it look like you don’t really care, and that’s not true. Remember to keep it fun and interesting because this too is branded content (remember our discussion from last week? Of course you do.)
Once you’re on there, you can wait for reviews to start rolling in. Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed so you’ll always know when something new pops up.
Feel free to invite your customers to write a review on the site to help kick things off. You may even offer them a discount for doing so, but be careful not to solicit a specific type of review. So, if you’re all “Hey Buddy! I’ll give you 50% off your next purchase if you go to Yelp and tell everyone we totally rock!” you’re going to anger the Yelp gods and you don’t want to do that because they will smote you and stuff. Besides, it would defeat the purpose if you bribed people to write positive reviews because you want to know the honest truth about how people are experiencing your brand, which leads us to our next thing: How to deal with feedback of all kinds—even from the cranky pants people.
Dealing with positive feedback is easy. You acknowledge the customer, thank them, ask them to remember you next time they need something, maybe you even toss a coupon their way, etc. But handling negative feedback is a different story. It’s actually a good thing to get some negative feedback because it might alert you to issues you didn’t even know you had! But when somebody says something bad about your business, it’s like a punch in the face. Tempting as it may be, you can’t get defensive about things. Instead, publicly address the customer’s issue and work with them to resolve the problem. There’s a good probability that that negative feedback will turn positive if the customer walks away feeling satisfied. Additionally, other people reading that interaction will see your great customer service in action! Sending the customer a private message and apologizing probably isn’t a bad idea either. It makes it personal and that can be kind of nice.
Another great way to use Yelp is to help you drive traffic to your place by offering special offers and discounts. There are also nifty little tools you can use to view business trends and track your ROI with stats and charts on your Yelp page!
As a business owner, you know that there’s nothing more important than getting customers through your door except keeping them once they’ve come. Yelp can help you do both. In fact, it provides you with the tools and information you need to create the holy grail of customers—brand evangelists!
What the heck is a brand evangelist?
The name sounds like it describes some sort of crazy-eyed, obsessed person, doesn’t it? It does, but honestly, this person is your company’s best friend.
In fact, nutty as it may seem, perhaps you’ve even found yourself in the role of brand evangelist at some point or another in your life. For example, have you ever had a really, really, EPIC slice of pizza? One that was so good that every slice of pizza you have for the rest of your life will be a disappointment? And not only did the food at this place please your taste buds, but the service was amazing, the waiter was hilarious, and the prices were great and you just had The! Best! Time! Ever!
Since that incredible experience, have you told everyone about it?
Then you, dear friend, have had an evangelizing moment where the company has touched your soul and provided for you a temple at which to worship. So what if it was a pizza place and not something more sophisticated? We’ve all been a brand evangelist at some point. If you haven’t ever experienced this, you must have a knack for finding all the crummiest places. Either that, or you’re a big cranky pants.
At any rate, you want your customers to experience this evangelizing moment so that they can become brand evangelists. Sure, not ALL of your customers are going to become so enthusiastic about your business that they become evangelists (because they’re cranky), but some people are thrilled to pieces when they find something great and they can’t wait to share the news with the world. These are the people you’ll want to treat like family. You want to make sure they stay loyal and enthusiastic and LOUD!
There are lots of ways you can do this.
Perhaps the biggest, yet most overlooked group of potential brand enthusiasts you have are your employees. Yup! Those people sitting around you every day, even the weird guy who looks like Melvin, that stapler-obsessed man from the movie Office Space, can be your biggest brand enthusiast. After all, they experience your brand every day. They are in fact part of your brand. And they go out into the world and talk about their jobs, what they do at work, the services they provide, etc. You want your employees, as representatives of your brand, to love and believe in what you do so they can spread the good word! If your employee’s don’t care about your brand, nobody else will either, so start internally and then work outward.
Once you’ve got your employees singing your praises, you’re ready to tackle the outside world. One of the best ways to turn ordinary customers into brand evangelists is to listen to them. What do they need that your business can provide? What value can you offer them? Just ask them and they’ll tell you. In fact, people feel honored when asked for their opinion and are often quite willing to share their thoughts. It makes them feel special and that goes a long way toward creating some amazingly loyal and enthusiastic customers.
It’s also important to know what people are saying about your business. Using social media is a great way to sort of listen in on the buzz and find out what people are digging about you…and what they’re not.
Be prepared to hear the good and the bad news about your brand, and use that to turn frowns upside down (if there are any, which there won’t be because you rock)! One of the fastest ways to create brand evangelists is to resolve customer service issues quickly, and to the customer’s satisfaction. If a customer goes online to share an experience, you have an opportunity to interact with them and change their opinion of your brand.
When interacting with customers, be sure to use a voice that they can relate to. If you’re stuffy and weird, they won’t feel comfortable dealing with you. Make sure your brand speaks in a voice similar to the customer’s own, and they will listen.
Interaction is crucial in creating brand evangelists. The more interaction a brand has with its customers, the better. Take the time to engage them either on social media sites or even simply by taking the time to talk with them when they visit your office/pizza emporium/donut shop /turtle hatchery, etc.
Be available! Give your customers ample ways to connect with you. This can be via email, phone, facebook, twitter, etc. Availability lets them know you ARE interested in them and that you DO care about their opinions.
But, what about your existing evangelists?
Well, make it easy for them to love you! People are far more likely to listen to other customers about how great you are than they are to you. They know you have a biased opinion—of course you’re going to say only good things about your brand, but other customers will tell the truth (one hopes). So, make those customers super happy! Offer them special deals to help fortify your relationship with them, know them by name, remember their preferences—whatever you can think of that will make them feel special and valued. Maybe you could even give them a stack of coupons or business cards to hand out to their friends!
Whatever methods you use to turn ordinary customers into brand evangelists, think about how you yourself like to be treated as a customer and use that to help guide your efforts. You’re already an expert, you just have to put what you know into practice and you’ll have everyone singing your praises in no time (maybe even the cranky people)!
Have you thought about starting a blog for your website? Do you know how to spell the word B-L-O-G but you don’t know what to actually put in one? Well, you’ve come to the right place because today we’re talking about branded content!
The idea of branded content isn’t new. It’s been around for a very long time, and you encounter it every day in many ways. It can be a recipe on the back of a box of pasta you’ve been meaning to buy ingredients for, or it can be a newsletter from your bank, or a blog post on your insurance company’s website. Branded Content can be lots of things, and they all contribute to your experience of a brand. Since we could totally write a book about this, today we’ll just focus on branded content as it applies to blog posts.
Some companies mistakenly attack the concept of branded content in ways that turn people off by thinly disguising a sales pitch under the guise of “help” for the consumer. They try to establish themselves as authorities in their field who can teach folks very important stuff. However, in most cases this branded content comes off as self-serving, low quality fluff and people recognize that. Instead of fostering loyalty and a sense of credibility, you have aroused suspicion of bias and vested interests. That’s so not awesome.
We don’t want that to happen to you and your carefully thought out brand, so while you’re thinking about adding a blog to your website, keep these tips in mind: they can be helpful when creating valuable and useful branded content that both contributes something to humanity and gets you noticed for your awesomeness. Winning!
The first step: knowing what will be of value to your customers.
Here, let us explain what we mean…
Let’s say you own an ice cream store, and you have a cute website with little dancing ice cream cones and cherries all over it and everything. On your website, there’s a blog where you write all about your superior ice cream making skills and tell the ice cream lovers of the world how yours is the only stuff worth eating. To demonstrate, you’ve also got a nifty live streaming video of people standing around your shop eating drippy cones and gettin’ sticky with it.
That kind of content doesn’t deliver value to customers unless they happen to have some sort of fetish for sticky ice cream faces. You need to look at WHY they would spend more than five seconds looking at the screen and then clicking away.
Good quality branded content however, will offer something far more valuable to people. What if instead of blogging braggadocios babble, you provide a communal space where customers can share their ideas for new flavors with you? Perhaps you could even have voting buttons to get immediate feedback, and then actually make that new flavor? Heck you could even name it after the customer who thought it up!
What if you collaborated with them to create the wackiest sundae imaginable? What if instead of that video of sticky faces, you posted a tour of the kitchen where your ice cream is made, or a video tutorial for how to make ice cream at home (in the winter when your shop is closed, of course)?
These things would be useful to ice cream lovers and they’d come back to you time and time again because you have made it all about THEM and NOT you.
The key here is that you don’t always have to have an angle when creating content. People know when they’re being sold to, and most hate it. Don’t you? Who likes walking into a showroom only to be jumped on by salespeople like hungry fleas? Again, over promotion and bombardment only makes consumers question motives.
This is not to say that your brand shouldn’t have a place at the picnic table. It absolutely can, but it shouldn’t also be the farmer, the cow, the ice cream machine, and the friendly teenager you have serving up cones to make it the YOUR BRAND show. If you’ve created quality content, the association with your brand will be positive enough without all the self-promotional hoopla.
Naturally, your brand personality also needs to be approachable in tone, voice and messaging. Good content should be sharable, too! Users like to share things they like, and if they like what you’re saying, you want them to be able to embed, download, or share it as much as they want to. And don’t get trapped into making SEO (search engine optimization) the entire goal of your content. It’s still important because search engines have to be able to see and understand your content so users can find it, but if it sounds robotic, people will realize it’s written for machines, not them, and it can actually frost them over (get it? Ice cream? Frost? We are clever! Search engines miss that, you know.)
Once you’ve got some great content ideas, don’t stop! Keep rolling with it and be prepared to constantly evaluate what folks are responding to—and what they’re not.
So to recap: customers judge a brand based on their experience with it; the experience is the brand and you want your customer’s experience to be epic. Make your blog content all about delivering something fun, interesting, and valuable to people and it’ll be the cherry on top of your sundae rather than an ice cream headache.
Oof. That was a really, really, dorky last line, right? Sorry about that.
PS: Next week we’ll talk about opinion websites that can help you determine what your customers like and dislike, what interests them and how they experience your brand! This is gonna be GREAT!
Perhaps the best way to explain Social Media is to break it down a little bit. Printed media like a newspaper is a one-way communication—you read it but you don’t tell it what you thought of the article. Maybe you call a friend and tell them about it, but you don’t sit there talking directly to your newspaper.
If you do talk to your newspaper, we’ll just back away slowly and let you continue…
Anyway, Social Media, on the other hand, allows for a two-way communication between you and whatever you’re reading or experiencing. The term Social Media can be applied to many different things--it can refer to a review website like Epinions.com which allows users to log on and share their opinions regarding a wide assortment of products and services, or it can be more complex like Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, or Twitter.
Are you sitting there with that frustrated look on your face because you don’t know what Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare or Twitter are exactly? Don’t worry. We’ll get to each of those and explain them to you thoroughly over the next few weeks. First, we have to talk about why you care in the first place.
You care about Social Media because contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about people making friends with each other and “liking” this and that and posting goofy pictures of their cats for everyone to enjoy. It’s about way more than that now.
Social Media has become an extremely valuable and cost effective tool for helping businesses grow. It’s a way to get new customers, increase brand awareness, and stay connected with the public and even your competitors!
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be talking about all the how’s and why’s of some of the most popular Social Media sites like the above-mentioned Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare, and what each of them can do for your business. Come back next week as we explore the wild and wonderful world of Twitter!
What in the Twittersphere is going on over there?
With the New Year upon us, it’s once again time to look back and learn from the trials and tribulations of year past. Can you recall the goals you set this time last year? Do you feel confident that you accomplished what you set out to do? Is your team amped up for a successful new year?
Once you’ve reflected and reviewed, it’s time to set some new goals and marketing strategies for your company’s growth. Take note of where you excelled and where your efforts fell short — then use that to help you map out your marketing plan. Just be sure that throughout the process, you consider new ideas and open yourself up to inspiration. It’s fresh and inspired thinking that will motivate both your team and your customers in the new year!
As you begin to develop and navigate your new plan, here are some ideas to help you along the way…
Don’t think outside the box — tear the box down and build a better one. Knowing that your company has likely grown and changed over time, do you still have a good understanding of its needs and goals? Everything changes, so don’t be afraid to explore new possibilities and reinvent the way you do things. Dedicate yourself to evaluating and discovering what it is that will put you in a league above your competition. Then work to define your market and increase your value within it.
Look within. Your team can be an untapped gold mine of ideas and valuable insight within your company. Including them in your marketing process can lead to new ideas and perspectives that you may never have considered. It can also reinforce the bond that your employees feel with your company. A creative and well planned marketing plan can light a spark within them to cultivate more successful connections with existing and potential clients. Don’t overlook your team’s importance as a representation of your company’s brand — they need the right tools, motivation and confidence to be at their best.
Diets are for people — not marketing endeavors. We’ve all heard it before… in the face of economic challenges, cutting your marketing budget is not the answer. But when your reality calls for more strategic budgeting, what does that really mean for you? Well, it’s just like a diet, you still need to eat to live — you simply have to eat smarter. Your business needs marketing to grow, but those efforts should be focused and properly portioned to ensure optimal health and success. Your marketing budget should grow proportionately with your income over time, so be cautious not to spend everything on a single campaign up front. And be sure to diversify your strategy with a variety of ways to interact with your customers.
Knowledge is Power. The more you know about the market you’re in, the more control you have to define your place within it. Take the time to investigate and understand who your competitors are, what they are offering and how extensive their marketing efforts are. Research current trends and renew your understanding of who your clients are, what they want, and what they are spending. The world around us changes quickly, and we need to learn how to change with it.
Stop talking and listen. Your prospect doesn’t necessarily want to hear every little thing about your company. Rather, they want to feel as though, through your offerings, you’ve taken the time to understand them and their needs. Communication is key, so take some cues from them by asking what they really want. Talking and interacting with your customers reinforces consumer loyalty and is, simply put, good business. Armed with a new understanding for your audience, you can channel their insights directly into your marketing strategies. Before you know it, you’ll be hitting a home run with your audience!
What’s in it for me? This is the most critical question that consumers will ask before engaging with your company, product, or service. Everyone is self-motivated, and consumers will not buy from you unless they have a clear understanding of how it will benefit them. So, you need to ensure that your marketing message is bold in defining that benefit. Clearly defined offerings that live up to their claims will achieve more successful sales and will keep customers coming back for more.
Practice makes perfect. Mastering the art of the perfect pitch doesn’t come naturally for most, some practice is typically required. To do this, don’t be afraid to recruit the help of a trusted friend or colleague and “rehearse” with them. After all, if they can‘t take you seriously, neither will your prospect. But with their feedback, you’ll be better equipped to refine your delivery for a more successful customer presentation.
Face time. Don’t just deliver the service and walk away — make the effort to maintain a personal connection. It may sound ‘old school’, but with some much technology running our lives these days, most of us have forgotten how important face-to-face interactions can be when doing business. It can go a long way to reinforce the reasons your client chose you over your competition and it can help you to maintain those relationships long-term.
Invite critique. Nobody is perfect, but feedback can get you closer to your goals. Just ask your clients to oblige you with their impressions of you, your company, or your product. They will usually tell it like it is and you’ll be able to gather valuable feedback to help you refine your business practices. In today’s world of social media, people are able to interact with companies in new and unprecedented ways. Take advantage of this open channel and don’t be afraid to hear what your customers have to say!
When you strip away all of the definitions, guidelines and process, marketing is simply about satisfying your customer’s needs. And it’s up to you to figure out how you can best do just that. Trust in your business and trust in the process. When done creatively, and effectively, a solid marketing plan will help to guide you toward greater success! Here’s to a successful 2011!
Now that we've identified the strengths of your small business (February) and discussed how to create a game plan that makes the most of those strengths (March), it's time to put that game plan into action.
Step 3. Execute and evolve that plan, and continue to build momentum.
Your game plan will be unique to your business, industry and personality type. Whether you're playing Monopoly, chess or LIFE (see March column), your plan can succeed only if it's actually carried out.
Who hasn't heard the riddle about the toads on a log? Three toads are sitting on a log and decide to jump off. So, how many toads are still left on the log? Three; they all decided to jump, but none of them took an action.
First, we have to presuppose that in your plan (strategic plan, marketing plan, communications plan, growth plan…), you've broken down your large objectives into smaller goals, and then gone one level (or more) deeper to turn those smaller goals into detailed tasks.
If you hadn't gone to that level of detail, now's the time to do it. Go ahead; I'll wait.
[Imagine easy listening elevator music here.]
Stumped? Okay, let's see if this helps.
Let's say that your main objective is to grow your widget sales by 10% within the next 5 years. In order to reach that target, your goal is to grow your current client base by 15% (to account for attrition and economic fluctuations). And in order to reach that goal, you've identified three tasks:
- Ask five of your current clients for one referral each.
- Attend one additional trade show in the next 18 months to promote your new widget design.
- Publish a bylined article in the trade journal for the American Widget Association.
This example is overly simplified, but do you see how it works? Start with a big-picture objective, then create real, achievable tasks to help get you there.
Since we have our handy widget example, let's use that to illustrate our final step of this process:
- Execute: Now is the time that you'll need your task lists. There's no hard-and-fast rule for where to start on your list…sometimes it makes sense to start with the easiest ones that you can quickly take care of…other times a task may require some advance planning and you need to work on that one first.
For instance, in our list above, I might suggest working on the trade show first. To secure a booth space for an upcoming event, you'll probably need to research industry shows, find out which ones are most popular with potential widget clients, decide how much space you'll need (if any), estimate the cash outlay so you can apportion resources, and more.
And I typically ask a client for referrals in person (that kind of favor is something you can usually bring up at the end of a meeting or over lunch), so this task will probably take several weeks to complete.
Writing an article can be a time commitment for you and for your editor/proofreader, so it's helpful to have those resources set aside before you begin.
- Evolve: Keep in mind that your plan will never be enshrined in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Schoolchildren and tourists will never parade past a glass-enclosed case, point at your masterpiece and whisper in awed tones, "I can't believe I'm so close to this piece of history."
Your plan is a working document; it should have scribbles, scratches and a revision date. You should discuss it with a trusted team of advisors to get their thoughts and opinions. You should be willing to
hear objections to your ideas (even if you don't act on them.)
Just as your business has (most likely) changed from what you originally envisioned, your plan will grow, morph and adapt to fit your needs, aspirations and ideas. And that's a good thing. If people didn't change and evolve to suit changing conditions, we'd never have invented air conditioning or developed the technology to cram pre-formed biscuits into a pop-open can.
- Build Momentum: Remember that motivation you had when you started your business? That nagging thought that wouldn't go away…the idea that stuck in your head saying you just might be able to make a go of this crazy idea…?
That's what working this plan can do for you. It can motivate you to take charge of your destiny just as you did when you stopped working for someone else and took a chance by working for yourself. Creating a plan that takes your biggest aspirations and carves them into manageable tasks puts you in the driver's seat, ensuring that you're doing what you can to build this business.
So, have you jumped off the log yet? Email me at email@example.com and let me know where you land.
Next month, we'll talk about some tactics for motivating and managing your employees.