December 29, 2010
December 2, 2008
As the economy tightens, businesses have begun the belt-tightening process. They are taking a close look at all expenditures and cutting back on the non-essentials. Branding/marketing budgets are not escaping the scrutiny - nor should they. So what SHOULD a company allocate towards branding/marketing? Here are 7 areas to consider:
- Look at your business in its entirety. Think strategically, then tactically. This starts first with the 3 Simple Rules of business. Take a close look at your vision for your company - has the picture in your head of success changed? If so, then you need to re-focus your business strategy around that new vision.
- Take a long look at your business model. Is your business model out of alignment with market conditions? Do you have scalability in your processes that allows you to flex to new opportunities? This will have big impact on how you spend branding/marketing dollars. Keep in mind that advertising MORE doesn’t help an obsolete business model.
- Ask “why?” a lot. Every marketing expenditure must be tied to a strategic reason. There should be no marketing just for the sake of marketing.
- Ask “what?” a lot. Every marketing expenditure should have provable, measurable results. If a particular marketing tactic is not producing results, stop doing it.
- Make heavy use of public relations. This is key in two areas. 1) Media relations - most media outlets have had to cut back on reporting staff. As such, they are hungry for non-pitchy, relevant stories. Strongly consider using a professional PR firm to help you handle this. They can very likely articulate your story to the media better than you can. Also check out “Help-A-Reporter-Out”, a story request tool from PR guru Peter Shankman. 2) Be Your Own Media - if your story isn’t getting out, it is your fault. Your web-site is a publishing outlet waiting to tell your story. I’m a strong advocate of re-purposing all marketing tools to tell your story instead of pitching your message. If you follow the 3 Simple Rules, you will have great stories to tell.
- Drive the cost out of existing marketing expenditures. Keep in mind that almost all marketing is a commodity. This means it often can be done faster and less expensive if you shop it carefully. This especially true with web costs. Take a look at what it costs to maintain your site. If your current site doesn’t have a CMS (content management system) then you are likely wasting thousands of dollars. Also take a look at hosting costs. As far as out-bound marketing efforts, almost everything can be purchased less than what you are paying for now - direct mail, media placement, etc. Finally, consider using more interns. A college marketing student is much more likely to understand current marketing trends than a marketing person who hasn’t escaped the walls of his/her cubicle in 10 years. Interns are ideal to manage customer retention efforts (see below).
- This is the biggest one - focus on customer retention v. customer acquisition. The first reason is purely financial - it is simply much less expensive to get new business and referrals from your existing customers. However, this doesn’t mean to NOT spend money on customer retention. Instead, re-direct funds that are currently being spent on customer acquisition (for example, mass advertising) towards customer retention tools. These steps include:
- Re-purposing your web-site to be a conversation platform between you and your customers - and your customers with each other.
- Embracing social media as a digital word-of-mouth tool.
- Implementing survey and customer feedback mechanisms
- Investing in contact/relationship management tools like a CRM.
- Scrutinizing every element of the customer experience.
For B2B companies, there is an 8th step - Re-build your sales force. The bottom line - if your product/service is good, there is no excuse for an under-performing sales person. If you have a good salesperson, do everything to keep them.
Some of this is “tough love” that will ruffle some feathers with our fellow marketers/branders. However, if we don’t help businesses re-focus and properly allocate marketing resources, we will end up on a ledger with a red line through our name. For business owners and executives, you likely have been doing some version of the above for years; maybe not with marketing. Question everything, think strategically, and expect excellence from your internal and external marketing people.
August 8, 2008
How do you use social networks to sell?
We give you 3 tips to ensure better sales through these powerful channels. We also cover some things to avoid.
This video can be bought for the low-low price of $9.99 … just kidding
May 28, 2008
Part 2 of ‘The FREE Transaction’
Profiting from your FREE efforts
“I never turn down a meeting” is a common phrase we hear from our business partner, Justin Foster. The meeting may never be turned down but we are judicious about how long that meeting may run. When you are in the business of consulting and brand development, golden bits of wisdom seem to trickle out into your conversation with those around you; free advice if you will.
However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Where it becomes a problem is when you can’t control the outcome or feel that you are being hustled for information. From marketers to the doctors, professionals are constantly hit up for advice and direction.
Plain and simple, whether they’re paying for it or your are giving it away for free … they are all transactions. The best thing to do is take control of the transaction; make it work for you.
The best gauge of someone’s determination is to see how they respond to a challenge. The world is full of people with good intentions and ideas seem to flow freely, but the number of people who are willing to do something about it is a very small fraction of those people.
Recently, I had lunch with a guy who had quite a concept, I was intrigued by his zeal and his desire to see it turn into something. But zeal and desire have a hard time paying the bills when starting up a new venture, work has to be the key ingredient.
Before our lunch was over, he asked me what I could do to help him turn it into something. My response could have been that I’d go back and do some competitive market analysis, or outline his concept and look for flaws, or pass the general idea around to my network and let them beat it up … but instead I gave him some homework. I told him to go back and write out 4 or 5 paragraphs on what the core idea of his concept was and what made his idea unique from what was out there already.
Within a week he was back with his write-up and a new appreciation for what it was going to take to get this thing off of the ground. The experience of putting his thoughts on paper convinced him that he would have to make some changes in his career to make it happen … and he seemed ok with that. That’s a good start.
Homework can vary from industry to industry. But in any regard, it adds value and depth to what before was just free advice, it acts as a barometer for one’s intentions; if it returns completed there’s something else to talk about, to move forward with.
No Strings Attached
I posed a question to Brian Gardner, the creator of the Revolution wordpress themes, about how starting out by producing free content for the open-source WordPress development platform could end up as a profitable career? Is it possible to make something for free without any expectations for a return and have it end up profiting you?
Brian says, “Yes, developing free WordPress themes for the community definitely made a difference in my business – it led to exposure, which in turn landed me the opportunity to create designs for high profile sites such as the Blog Herald and Daily Blog Tips. What began as a hobby, when I first started and offered free themes, now has become my full source of income.”
The key is controlling where you spend your time when it comes to giving away your time and efforts. In Brian’s case, his reputation as a top-tier web developer through his original efforts providing free content to the community of bloggers, has enabled him to become one of only a few developers who have produced a product that people will gladly pay for in a market (WordPress themes) where the majority of the offerings are free.
In other markets it may be as simple as contributing your time to a cause you align with, offering to sit on a board of directors, or a myriad of other opportunities to give of yourself while opening yourself or your company up for more visibility.
Just remember, your audience can smell insincerity a mile away. It is critical to find ways to give without it smelling like cheese; the successful transactions will be based on your transparency and your ability to maintain the relationships generated through your free efforts.
Transactions are produced when we enable behavior. Whether monetary, or an opportunity to educate, you can control the path of that transaction.
Be patient, monetary transactions can emerge from well-developed relationships.
Distribute your digital content.
Ensure that your audience has access to you and your content.
For a couple bucks you can get a leader card made up, like the one above, that allows you to get your online content into the hands of those you meet. Keep the card simple in design; blank lines and simple URLs.
The reason behind this, it gives you an opportunity to fill in the blanks, hand out relevant links to content you’ve written to those you meet up with. It also provides you with a blank canvas for writing in simple homework for people to do.
Because the content on the card is personal and more relevant to the person receiving it, they are more likely to hold onto it and do something with it.
May 28, 2008
Most entrepreneurs can look back into the growth of their venture and can relate with doing work for free or what seemed like for free … if they’re anything like me, their past is strewn with uncounted hours donated to the pro-bono gods in hopes of gaining recognition, visibility or access to a great client pool.
Most efforts that fall into this ‘refinement’ process as a business owner aren’t looked upon with fondness or with a realization that it actually paid off … it rarely does without some forethought and planning.
One of the most challenging things to do when you are struggling to improve your client pool is to turn down work. We have all either heard or used the excuses before:
“We’re new at this, we need to come in lower than the more-experienced players.”
“They want us to work at a discounted rate … but it will provide us with some potential visibility with their clientèle.”
“He says he’ll give us 25% of the profits! We just need to work ‘with’ him to get it off the ground.”
The bottom line is, when you reduce your rate or pro-actively offer a discount for any of the reasons related to the above examples, it can greatly affect your brand. How? - You control how you and your company are perceived. If you tell people that you are aware that you shouldn’t be paid as much as your competition, then they’ll take you at your word and will expect to pay a reduced rate. Their level of trust can be diminished because you have set yourself up as not-as-experienced, no proven track record or potentially questionable results.
Inexperience Means Less-Pay
I was talking with one the most talented illustrators I know a while back and throughout our conversation he kept discounting his offering based on his lack of experience in the marketplace. I explained to him that people weren’t going to hire him because of his business operations necessarily; the demand was placed upon his skill as an illustrator … and when it came to that, there was no visible difference between him and a 10-year veteran. In fact, the client wouldn’t know any different unless he was to bring it up!
Often, our inexperiences are viewed as ‘the telltale heart’; as loud and glaringly obvious to our clients as they seem to us. In truth, our clients want something done well, for a good price and on time; if you can hack it, your experience may be inconsequential. Your self-esteem plays a big role in how you portray your brand to your audience.
Divided We are Poor, Together we Make Money
I’ve started two companies in business incubators; places where you can get your company off the ground on a tighter budget; low rent, glorified cubicles, surrounded by other start-ups.
A common scenario is for another start-up to try and get your start-up to join forces and revel in the rewards of your dual effort. There are very few instances where this pays off.
After all, you should be working toward making a profit from your efforts, working for free toward someone else’s goal won’t further your cause.
How can this scenario succeed? Become a broker for their cause and vise versa. When you have the opportunity to push someone their way, do it; and make sure that both parties know who made the connection. The natural response will be to reciprocate by pushing opportunities your way. And if you find that the love isn’t being sent your way, move on. No harm done.
For the same amount of effort it would take to conjure up a single strategic partnership with another company or individual, you can make ten times the number of introductions that may end up in potential paying opportunities for those around you. The return on your investment is better, longer-lasting relationships and potential for them to return the favor.
April 16, 2008
“Please help yourself” … Why don’t the sample tables at your local mega-food-warehouse just put out signs that say this instead of manning it with a little lady in a hair-net? Because they’re not crazy about just giving away free stuff for the heck of it … thats why.
If we could sample the wares without having to consider buying anything, Costco would be full of messy-faced soccer moms running willy-nilly from the organic rice pilaf table to the juju-berry juice stand with no regard for lines or or how many samples they take “I am taking one for my husband, he’s over in the power tools section…” yeah right.
The wisdom behind their method of manning the table with a warm body isn’t for crowd control completely. They are representatives of the vendor’s census bureau; their job is to walk you through your experience of sampling the product. To make sure you get as much of the ’story’ as possible to help convince you that committing to a purchase might be worth it.
Similarly, many businesses have demo’s or samples of product/content available in a similar fashion; on their website, or on a counter in their office, completely free and un-monitored … the soccer moms start circling.
This kind of un-controlled free sampling can be a veritable leak in your company’s potential profit machine. Demos or samples that are distributed without any mechanism in place for tracking or continued communication with those sampling the product aren’t a loss-leader … they’re just a loss.
Consider the products or services your company gives away freely; this could be tangible goods or even the time you give away in free consulting. Ask yourself these questions to determine if you are maximizing the return on your efforts:
- Are we tracking the distribution?
- What are we doing with the metrics we are producing?
- Can we quantify the new business relationships we have generated from those who have sampled?
- Who is following up with the samplers?
- How can we begin to track it?
- To close the loop, once we start tracking it, how can we use the data?
- Who’s going to be in charge of tracking it? quantifying it? communicating back to the sampler?
- Why are we offering this for free again?
- Is it smart?
- Is it leading to a ‘next step’?
- If so, how successful are we at the transition?
- Are we motivating the sampler to take the next step?
- When they sample, are we expecting anything in return?
- Are we hurting our efforts by limiting the features or access offered to the free user?
- Are we offering too much for free?
- Could the ‘next step’ be reached more efficiently if we scaled back the free features and left them wanting more?
Care should be taken when offering anything free to your audience.
Your brand is on the line if the process and the rewards aren’t well defined.
February 18, 2008
I came across this article on how the American Marketing Association has update the “official” definition of “marketing”. The article is a good read and shows how marketing professionals are struggling to adjust to the massive changes occurring. In particular, I enjoyed their take on the role of a CMO (emphasis is mine):
The prime objective of the chief marketing officer (CMO), is to maximise sustainable profitable revenue, while minimizing the use of marketing costs and investment.
I like this definition. I have long felt that if you have a CFO managing the bottom-line/business formula (profit cop) side of the business, it makes sense to have an executive managing the revenue side of things. By focusing on ROI, it focuses marketing executives to plan and act more efficiently - which sometimes means actually spending less money on marketing.
February 17, 2008
Here is a great article on how CMOs need to interact better with CFOs if they want more influence over business strategy and budget. In particular, this paragraph caught my attention:
A recent study by Marketing Management Analytics (MMA), found that just 7 percent of finance executives are satisfied with their company’s ability to measure marketing ROI. In the same study, only 23 percent of marketing executives had confidence in their ability to measure returns, still not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Marketing doesn’t have to be a guessing game, but it becomes one for two reasons:
- Marketing executives get list-centric. Because they struggle to show results, they quickly gravitate to showing off their punch list of marketing tasks. If you want to be treated like an executive, you have to stop acting like an employee.
- Marketing executives are using dated data-points like CPM. Cost per Thousand is largely irrelevant with the advent of TiVos and web-based content. Marketing executives would serve themselves well to implement closed-loop tactics such as web traffic and conversion percentages. In addition, best key performance indicator for marketing ROI is cost per customer. At a minimum, you can at least show the finance executives that your marketing efforts are leading to increased sales while lowering over-all marketing costs. That should keep them happy.