Archive | April 2013

How to reward your customers…and break new marketing ground

It is important to differentiate your business positively, not negatively. Sometimes, an entrepreneur can be too quick to please a vocal few, without first looking at what the majority of customers are doing, or how they are approaching your business.

Looking at various disincentives that businesses have in play, it’s always useful to look at what could have been done in a positive light to get the same outcome, and make more people happier in the process. For instance:

It is most industries’ norm to punish late payers. Instead, why not offer early payers a discount. You might be surprised at how many would be attracted to those kinds of terms. If you put these additional funds into a rainy day account, you may be able to pay for your wait time for payments from late payers, be more forgiving toward them, and make more friends in your business.

If you don’t believe this, test it.

Most companies look at their ‘Ideal Customer’, and stick with that profile far too long, to the detriment of other markets. You should be looking at what every list you make omits, not what they simply highlight. Focus on the exact opposite of your target market. It may be growing and has problems to solve that are also growing. Can you help? Can you offer them something different both from what they are getting now, and from what you are offering your core customers? If you are n’t sure, see if there is a way to test your theory before you start.

Do you have a Plan ‘B’?  When you make a decision based on your core customer, have you thought about the possible lost dollars from other segments of your prospects? Once you have made decision, it’s hard to back off if it does n’t work. Think of the steps you will need to re-trace by muddling your message up, and possible earning bad reviews, or comments, from those that don’t ‘get’ your approach. Is there a way that you can test your theories without incurring too much damage, and have an exit ramp that you can circle back on? If you do this early in the process, it’s easier to come up with an alternative plan that suits everyone better, rather than getting so far into a process, it is like wading through a bog. Once it’s up to your waist, it’s tough to turn around and go back.

Of course, this point also requires testing in some way, but all agile marketing is based on testing and it is the best way to find the differentiation for your business against your competition. In fact, you should build test periods and methods into your everyday marketing efforts. This may be mire straight-forward than it appears at first.  Above all, remember that differentiation is not solely about being different. It is about being different in a way that customers will pay for. Don’t just do one thing, to make one decision, to solve one problem, always test, always come up with a hidden bonus that will hook other prospect segments, not just your core prospects and customers.

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Community Management – What you SHOULD be doing.

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What is the point of all this social marketing online for a small business? This is a fair question. After all, if you are going to devote parts of your day to online marketing, you want to know a quantifiable reason why you are spending your time this way. Well, here’s a fact for you: “The average, large company in the US has 178 corporate-owned social media accounts”, according to Marketing Pilgrim.

If you are not online, the larger, more profitable businesses that can afford a media development department are going to be ‘in people’s faces’ so much, they will simply crowd you out. Even if you are a minnow, though, in a pond full of whales you will still be able to leverage this fact into your position as an underdog.

However, there are drawbacks that the larger corporate online community management have to deal with, that you don’t. The cost associated with 178 different accounts of community management is significant. And there is always the danger of also completely confusing their customers, when they try to be different, so often, across so many platforms. Where is the information cycle that each account is cycling in? Are they closing, informing, offering special discounts, or what?

You can always listen to your customers and prospects, and ask them which platforms they are into, and why. Find out what they like to do online, and then come up with five different corporate messages to get out. Tailor each one to a different platform, because a 140-character tweet is way different than a Linked In post to vendors, corporate customers, and competitors.

You don’t have to be in a situation where you need to drown out the opposition by force of numbers. You need to find your audience, and where they are, and that’s all. By being engaging to the people that are already your supporters, you will turn them into fans, and fans talk about your business to other people.

If they recommend you to someone else personally – either face-to-face, or by an e-mail, For instance – it becomes a personal recommendation, and carries an awful lot of weight. If they do the same online, it can be received by a whole host of different people, and still has the same level of importance.

So, you find out where your current supporters are online, and what they are doing on it. You find out what you are selling most of, and why that is a good buy for people – why they like it. You announce it on the platforms that they use, in the way that they like to receive it, and watch as they spread the word and grow your base. Your fans become your supporters, and then an unofficial marketing department, spreading the word on your company on your behalf.

Perhaps most importantly, keep a spread sheet on the campaign decisions, what worked and what didn’t, and refer to it next year at this time, to make sure your message is more and more defined every time you use it.

Unlike ‘the big boys’ that can do irreparable damage to their customer support by confusing their clientele, all you have to do is stop people  trashing your business on Yelp.

Sounds Easy – It’s Tough

Image“So, who are we, and what makes us different?” I have always asked that question of our clients to see if they have mastered this very important rule of marketing any business. Depressingly, most small businesses don’t know. If you are unclear of how to brand your business as different from any other, then how can your customers? This sounds a very simple thing to do but, in fact, it’s tough to be good at. It’s important, too ,because it makes up the important part of the customer’s ‘Value Proposition’.

This is a mental process that e go through in order to make decisions. The cost of any task can be broken down to its constituent points, and mean different things. (I am out of Marmalade. Shall I go and get some? How far is it? What is the weather like? Can I do without until the weekend?) But, in order to minimize or sidestep these calculations, every proposal must have as little cost as possible, thereby growing the Value part of the proposition in the customer’s mind, making the choice easier.

The most straightforward way of doing this is to show how you are different from anyone else out there. So, how can you come up with an honest, compelling, and easy to understand Cost/Value proposition?

It’s difficult, isn’t it? Because your customers and prospects want you to be different, they require you to be different, and this is the essence of the elusive marketing strategy so many companies long for. So, how about starting here?

Identify your ideal client:

Create a list of six to eight of your current ideal clients (Or prospects), and commit to sitting down with them, either face to face or over the phone for about fifteen minutes. Then,

Ask them these questions:

And note the answers with the following themes:

How do they see you, your product, your service, your company: Then press them for a follow up “Okay, we provide great service, that’s awesome, but tell me a story about a time we did.”

  1. Why did you hire us/buy from us in the first place? (What helped them decide to buy, what build trust, what resonated in your marketing and sales processes.)
  2. What’s one thing we do that you love the most? (Stick to one thing and help them get as specific as possible)
  3. What’s one thing we do that others don’t? (Again one thing –Get some industry comparison going – you might get some stories of how others have failed them in the past and there offer some interesting opportunities.)
  4. If you were to refer us what would you say? (Have them describe what you do best as though they were telling a friend. You an turn these answers into testimonials, with their permission.)
  5. Can you tell me about three other companies that you love? (It doesn’t matter who they are, if you are in a list with other companies, what sets them apart from their competition – that’s who you are.)
  6. Bonus: If you can pull this off, have them conduct an online search and simply ask them to type the phrase they would enter if you were no longer around and they needed to replace what you do for them. (I like to try to have them physically do this. It’s amazing what you learn from watching what people really do to find things online. Experience tells me you might not be optimizing your content for the same terms your prospects are looking for.)

 

The themes that come out time and time again are who you are in customers eyes.

If you are trying this with prospects, it will show you who you have to become to be a go-to vendor from their point of view.

One final thing: Do not accept Price as the only reason. Price means you are a place that people go to without thinking, so don’t le them off the hook that easy. There are many things that you do, that you haven’t noticed, so now is the time to see them through a customer’s eyes, collect evidence as to what you do better than anyone else, then come up with a business plan that includes and highlights these Value Proposition wins, and shape your next marketing campaign around them.

Now you have a sales and marketing strategy that highlights one thing (look at Wendy’s: “Now, THAT’s better.” They are launching new, salad based menu items. So ‘Better’ means not only better for you, but you feel better, when you eat it!), you have an avenue to the future. Change your internal and external working processes to highlight these, and you have kept things incredibly simple, while doing something very, very tough.