Thursday, April 11, 2013

Become a Curator of the Fine Art of Marketing.

You know the feeling. You see an ad, or a commercial, or a FaceBook post and you say "SWEET!".  It connected. It spoke to you. That is the essence of great marketing. You have to know your audience well enough to know what will strike that chord within them, get a response as close to "SWEET!" as possible.

It's easier than it seems. Like any other "study" it takes a little time but it is so worth it in terms of building business relationships.

1) Start Collecting. Think about how marketing is "hitting" you. Start a notebook section with marketing that works for you. Anything that can't be printed, you can just make a few notes about what the item was and what made it work for you. (You may want to collect a few bad examples just to remind yourself of the pitfalls, but, no matter how funny/tragic it is, don't get too distracted.)

2) Analyze. When you have a little stack, ask yourself a few questions. Are there any similar threads running through the marketing that is working for you? What captured your attention? What was it that made you keep watching/reading? Did they give you enough information to establish their case?

3) Sharpen Your Focus. Now home in on your marketplace. Look at your clients' advertising, brochures etc. Look at your competitors' marketing. How are they doing? Is there anything in their marketing that can spur some ideas for yours?

4) Face the Truth. Take a close look at your marketing  – from the way your customers are greeted to the advertising/brochures, to the stage you prepare for your presentations – whether it is a pocket folder or an elaborate trade show exhibit. How are you doing? Are you grabbing their attention? Are you leading them through your pitch in a logical progression? Are you answering the questions your potential customers need answered in order to choose you?

5) Repeat. Go back over these steps. Collect, analyze, focus and tell yourself the truth about what you are doing. The closer to get to your marketing, the better the results. You know your business. Make sure it shows.

You may finish a brochure, or a website, or a campaign ... but your marketing is never done. It has to be a vibrant, dynamic part of your sales plan if you want to succeed.

If you have a great product or service, become a great advocate for it. Get the right help to express your advantages in a positive, informative way.

NEXT: Media ... Social and Otherwise.

For more samples of our work go to:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Be an Expert on Your Marketplace. Watch it. Document it. OWN it!

50 years ago you could open a little shop or a business and plan on running it for the rest of your career. Time is up. Those days are gone forever. The essence of success is adaptation. Keep a watchful eye on your market. Your strategy for staying ahead of it will determine your long term success.

Get Personal.
First, talk to your customers. However you normally communicate, use a little of that opportunity to find out how to better serve their needs. Face-to-Face, online, on the phone, email ... a few gentle questions that show you value their business can strengthen their loyalty.

Online customers? Ask them how you are doing with an online survey. Ask where else they shop online. Ask if there are some things they would rather buy in the brick and mortar world ... and, why?Ask if there are product categories where they find the selection lacking.

Business customers? Find out how their business is doing. Ask what new ideas interest them. Who do they use for goods or services related to yours? What is their biggest challenge? Who else in the company might use goods or services like yours?

All customers. Ask if there are other things you can do for them. Who do they know that you should be trying to reach? What can you do better?

Be Trendy.
You've got to keep up. You don't have to give up your niche or compromise your brand, but you do have to know what else is out there. Know where your products or services fit in the scheme of things. Are there ideas you can pick up on that will broaden your market?

Read, read, read. Scout your competition online. Really read your trade publications and those of your customers. Go to trade shows for your industry and for the industries of your most important customers. Know what is on the horizon that might change your business. Make plans to be a vibrant part of the future. Step out of your comfort zone.

Keep Your Eye on the Technology.
10 years ago no one could have guessed the ways technology would have changed virtually every facet of our lives. The number of companies – whole categories of business – that have disappeared because they didn't understand how technology was demanding that they change is astounding. Every time you hear of a new technology coming online, ask yourself "How could that impact my business? My customers? My market?" And then ask yourself, "What can I do to adapt?"

Write it Down!
If you haven't started a marketing notebook, you really need to do it now. Keep notes of your observations. Even if they don't seem incredibly relevant in the beginning, you will begin to see patterns that can impact decisions. Don't ever be caught off guard again. Know what is coming down the tracks and stay ready so you don't have to get ready!

Be Cool.
It's so good to speak with confidence. When you take the time and effort to really know what is happening – and likely to happen – you speak from a position of strength. Make yourself an expert on your marketplace. And when you are caught a little off balance by something you haven't heard about, use it as an opportunity to dig deep and learn all you can as early as you can.

NEXT: Become a Fine Art of Marketing Collector.

For more samples of our work go to:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Who is Your REAL Competition?

I know, it's the other widget store in town, or the other accounting firm in the same building – or maybe the interior designer in the next city that your clients keep seeing in Southern Living. Really? Sorry, it's much more complicated than that.

In addition to all of those obvious competitors, because their business card lists the same services as yours ... there are almost unlimited other, slight hidden competitors who may be getting even more of your business.

So, let's think about some of the possibilities. Make a list. These are the dragons you will have to slay to win business in tomorrow's market.

1) Online vendors, services, etc. Wow. The planet has shifted now that companies online are competing for the same business that you are. What they usually have going for them is price. What don't they have? That depends on you. Can you give better service? More individual attention? Better delivery? A more process? Creative solutions to specific situations?

2) They can do it themselves! So much of what we provide really can be done at some level by your clients. They can balance their books. They can bake a great birthday cake. They can write their own press release. They can do their own hair. You have to do it better. That's all there is to it. It has to be more convenient, better, less time-consuming, more professional or a combination of all of those in order to make sense.

3) They have a cousin in the business – sort of. This is virtually always a half-bogus solution. Yes, their 19 year-old cousin will design a website for them. But ... how much does she know about marketing? How well does she understand their customers' motivation? How much does she know about the marketplace? How relevant is her solution to the specific challenge? Again, it is your job to be so much better that it only makes sense to get a professional job. And then, you have to convince your potential customers of your value. Yes, the cousin will do it for free. No. It won't be a brilliant job.

4) The guy down the street. Yes, he's still there. And he may be doing a great job. What is it that you do better? It's important to know what this direct competition is offering, how well they deliver, and about their pricing. Then decide what separates you and sell to your strengths. Find the customers that need exactly what you do best and then keep them happy.

4b) Just a side note. Sometimes the ones you think are your direct competition can be a great asset to your business. If an opportunity comes up that is bigger than you usually handle, can you work together? Pool your strengths to land a really big client?

So what can we do when the competition is coming from all sides? Get to know those competitors. Read their ads, visit their websites, pick up their brochures. Know their strengths and your own. Look for a niche where no one is doing a perfect job and get perfect! Write down all the other ways your new best customer could get the job done. Then spend some time being objective about if and why you could do it better.

Be amazing at what you do. Know the competition but don't worry about them. Give your customers a great experience and they will keep coming back.

NEXT: Analyze Your Marketplace.

For more samples of our work go to:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tell Me a Story – And Make it a Good One!

Interesting = Memorable. 
Interesting = “Tell Me More.”
Interesting = Brand Awareness.

For all the obvious reasons, the stories of your business are the lifeblood of your marketing. They can take many forms, but they are often the reason someone thinks of you first.

Testimonials as Stories.

Probably one of the most effective stories you can have is a testimonial from a happy customer.  Sometimes they aren’t easy to get, but they are worth the trouble. If someone says “That was a great job.” or “I love your work.” or “Thanks for taking the time to walk me through that process.” Ask for a testimonial.

And, no, you don’t say “Can you give me  a testimonial?”

You might say; “Wow, thanks for appreciating that. Sometimes we don’t know if our customers notice. I would like to put that on my website (or in my brochure). If you will give me your email address I’ll write up a first draft and send it to you for your approval.”

For most of us, writing something for public viewing is a drill at best and torture at worst. If you offer to take the burden off and start the testimonial, they are more likely to like the idea. And, you get to structure it a little and give them a nudge in the direction you want.

How I Started My Business as a Story

People are fascinated with success stories. An appropriately humble story about how you turned job skills into a business is always interesting. If it is interesting enough, it might be the basis for a newspaper or neighborhood newsletter article. Just start putting down the facts and don’t leave out the struggles and the people who helped you overcome them.

Customer Successes as Stories

If your customers have personal successes, and especially if your product or service contributed, these can be great stories for you. Maybe Profiles of Businesses Who Use our Products or Our Clients at Society Events or Best Gardens We Helped Create.

Case Studies as Stories

Prospective clients need to hear about the range of your experience, and the depth of your expertise. A great way to share that is through case studies. 

A few notes of caution:
  • Be careful not to over-share. Protect your client’s information and your own interests by a combination of de-identifying and editing details.
  • Don’t take more than your share of the credit for client successes. Even de-identified clients like to look good.
  • Make it a quick read. There are occasions when you need a straight case study. For marketing purposes, we are looking for the unusual, the interesting, the challenging aspects.

Market Trends as Stories

Sometimes what is going on in the market makes a great story – especially for someone in a related industry. If you can gather interesting trend information from reliable sources and share it with your customers, it can be invaluable.

Be Interesting.

Here's a great quote from Guy Kawasaki on engaging customers.

"To be successful in business, you need to think beyond transactions, numbers, and sales and focus on the most important factor of any relationship: people. Enchant people with your likeability, your trustworthiness, and all your other engaging, human qualities, and you'll form honest, mutually beneficial relationships. When you do so, you'll find that customers embrace your ideas and adopt your perspective—for life."


Next: The Competition – How Much Do You Know?

For more samples of our work go to:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Your Audience, Up Close and Personal

In real estate it's location, location, location. In marketing it's customer, customer, customer. 

Let's zero in on your market. Everything begins and ends with the customer. You gave some thought and maybe did a little research on your customers in our Where Do I Start? (2/14) blog, so now let's dig a little deeper. Beyond gender, age, education, geography and other basic demographics, how much do you know? And, how much can you project?

• The number one question is always: What do they want when they are shopping for my product or service?

And by that, I mean What do they REALLY want? They shop for a dress for a party because they want to look amazing. They shop for an accountant because they are tired of wondering if they are really getting all of their tax deductions. They shop for a great wine because they want to impress their friends, or become more knowledgable, or savor a wine experience.

So what is that deep reason they might choose what you offer?

• Once you have determined that, the number two question is: What can you do to help them choose your product or service?

Special offers, certifications, discounts, guarantees, gift-with-purchase, sweepstakes, loyalty discounts ... these and about a million more are all other ways companies in tight markets try to increase their edge over the competition.

Frequently, education is a good choice. Offer some fashion or accessorizing tips to the dress shopper. Show your expertise with an unusual deduction for an accountant shopper. And the obvious, wine and pairings tips for your wine shopper. 

What kind of an edge will work best with your customer?

• Are there generalizations you can make about age, income, gender, interests, etc.?

Of course your product or service can apply to a broad spectrum of customers. But when you squint a little and think about them, does a certain "type" come to mind? Your language, your offers, your overall marketing plan should be aimed directly at them and their likes and aspirations.

If you deal primarily with small business people when they are thinking about their business objectives, that is the profile you want to keep in mind. But also recognize that you are still connecting to people – not businesses. They respond to human motivators. Aim your marketing at their business objectives, but talk to them like they are people you know. Still women (or men), still busy (or not busy enough), still wanting to succeed.

• What other groups might be interested in your product or service?

Visualize your favorite customer groups and figure out how to get more. Look at what draws your current customers to you and think of other groups with those needs in common. Do you have a camping equipment store or site and most of your customers are young men? What could you do to attract area scout troops? Group discounts? A special event? Ladies camp. What could you offer that might be inviting to women? 

• How can you expand your offering? 

What do your best customers like (or want) in addition to what you offer now? Could you offer perfumes in your boutique? Do your tax customers need bookkeeping help? Would your wine customers like to also shop for a selection of hors d'oeuvres or cheeses? Are your campers interested in biking? or canoeing? Can you slide over into some specific sporting goods?

• Who would be a good partner? 

Can you introduce your customers to something new? Would a make-up artist like to host a workshop in your boutique? Do you keep a mutual referral network with other professionals? Is there a local chef who could give a little demonstration in your shop and you give a tasting in their restaurant? Is there a fishing guru, outdoor travel agency or lodge who would like to host a seminar for your customers?

Take a little time.

Let your customers needs and wants swirl around in your head for a few days and write down ideas that pop into your head. Adopt the McDonald's Think Tank policy and write down everything, no matter how lame or far-fetched it may seem. Bad ideas spark good ideas.

Next: Tell Me a Story - and Make it a Good One!

For more samples of our work go to:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Marketing Plan: First Steps

You understand your audience/customer (see 2/14 How do I start?). You have a good idea of what you want to say (see 2/15 What is your BIG message?).  Now with that basic information it's time to get down to the real work of developing an effective, workable plan.

The first real step in developing your marketing plan is finding a little time every day to work on it. It's not a one-weekend project. This is a good time to develop a habit of daily, concentrated attention to the most important part of your business – marketing. You can be the best in your field and it's wasted if no one knows.

So, because you have other things to do, you will need an efficient system for gathering, keeping and using marketing information. Right now is a great time to decide how you will control ALL the information you will want in order to make a brilliant plan. I recommend a three-ring binder. It's easy. You can keep it with you to work at odd moments. And you can organize and re-organize as your business and your priorities change.

If you are totally electronic, you can do the same thing on your tablet or desktop. Just think of what will end up being the easiest way to keep varied forms of media together. It will probably end up being a combination with some printed materials and some bookmarked items.

Right now, we're just creating the space for your research. You can start putting in anything you have already collected and we will talk about getting more information later.

Here are the tabs I would start with:

  1. Audience (Your analysis and other tidbits you pick up along the way)
  2. BIG Message (Your Value Proposition and Supporting Benefits as well as, thoughts and ideas you may want to incorporate on the next round)
  3. Stories (How you started the business, great customer experiences, employee stories – just a few notes to remind you of possible story lines)
  4. Competition (Direct competition's pricing, ads, their press, their website, FB, etc. and then broaden this to include some other ways your customers could do or get what you offer i.e. maid service instead of a new vacuum)
  5. Marketplace (Articles and notes about what is happening out there that might affect your product or service)
  6. Samples (Ads, websites, etc. that you like from any field ... that really get their message across) 
  7. Media (Trade magazines & websites, news media ... all the potential places you might get some publicity)
  8. Social Media (The info you need to be fabulous on LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter, etc.)
  9. Networking (Organizations and events where your customers, competition and possible strategic partners might meet ... plus, networking tips and ideas)
  10. Goals (Be specific. What would you like your marketing to do for your business over the next 6 months? Year? 5 Years?)
  11. Schedule (Calendars highlighting events that may be meaningful to your business, lead times for decisions about participation, production of various marketing components, etc.)
  12. Budget (Estimates, proposals, articles/notes about cheaper ways to get things done)
  13. Reference (A list of your bookmarks of general marketing ideas, articles that are too broad or don't fit perfectly in any of the other tabs, etc.)
  14. Measuring (How will you decide how you are doing? This will be somewhat different for everyone but it is critical that you keep track of what is working and what is not.)
This is all about making what can sometimes seem overwhelming a little more manageable. The good news is that once you start filling in these tabs you will realize that no one knows your customer better than you do. No one knows more about your offering than you do. YOU are the one who can build the framework for your great marketing plan.

NEXT: How to expand on what you know about your audience.

For a look at more of the n8 Marketing portfolio go to:

Friday, February 15, 2013

What is your BIG message?

Before you start your marketing plan, there are a few things you need to be very clear about.

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. What do I really have to say to them?
In fact, always start there. The other things will flow from clarity in these two very basic areas. You would be surprised how much marketing, advertising and overall communication is sent out every day without a handle on these basics.

What is your BIG message? You may have a thousand benefits that crush your competition, but one specific advantage should stand out. Here are a few things to remember;
  1. Price is seldom enough. Having great pricing is important, but it won't drive most decisions.
  2. Your BIG message should be based on the wants, needs, desires of your audience. 
  3. The marketplace, in almost every instance, is infinite. Seriously, no matter what you do and where you are, your potential customers have almost unlimited (AKA Internet) options. You have to break through with compelling, solid reasons for them to choose your product or service.
  4. Your BIG message should clearly show how your product or service is a better choice than your competitors'. 
An example of a BIG message could be something like: 
We provide detailed care instructions and ongoing "tech" support with every exotic plant we sell. 
In a market where most exotic nurseries probably advertise primarily about varieties (and customers may need a little reassurance that they really can be successful with delicate plants), after-purchase support could be a differentiator.

So, to get to your BIG message,   
  1. Think about your target customer. (See "How do I get started?" blog, 2/14)
  2. Think about what they really want from you. (beauty, fame, great dinner, success with tropical plants)
  3. Think about how your product or service helps them achieve their goal.
  4. Write down no more than 2 sentences that describe the feature you offer that pushes them toward their goal.
Remember, this is not about what you want to tell them. It is about what they need to hear in order to choose your product or service in an infinite market. 

This is what is sometimes called your Value Proposition. Now, step back and read your Value Proposition as if you don't know anything about your product or service. Email it to your Aunt who isn't clear on what you do and see if she can rephrase it. When you are sure it is very clear, put it aside for a few hours and read it again. Your business is evolving. Make sure you keep your Value Proposition clear and current. 

Now, make a stream-of-consciousness list of other benefits you offer. Price, delivery, proximity, quality, uniqueness, healthy/environmental/socially conscious choice, customization, large number of options, guarantees, certifications, etc. You get the idea. Put down everything.

Go back to thinking about your customer and what they really want and put these benefits in order of importance to them. Think about this Value Proposition and this Benefits List in contrast to what they are doing now and to other available options. Does it make a compelling argument for choosing your product or service? 

If not, it's time to step back and rethink. If you aren't convinced that your product or service is the clear winner, what can you do to improve your position in the market?

NEXT: First steps for your Marketing Plan.