Are You an Expert? Shout it Out!

The history of business has shown that even the biggest and best companies, as hard as they try, can’t be “everything to everybody.”  If they could, they would completely dominate commerce and there would never be competitors. But, let’s face it, competitors sprout up and grow like weeds.  Even the largest of enterprises must carve out their niche and attract customers to their core competencies and competitive superiority, otherwise they lose customers to others who figure out what the customer wants and is willing to pay for.

This, however, is not exclusive to large, well known national and international companies.  It is even truer in smaller regional or local businesses.  Clearly, becoming known as an expert in your core competency is of utmost importance.  Successful niche marketers become very good at something but then they need to shout it out to the world (or at least their portion of the world) over and over.  

I’ve heard so many businesspeople say, “We’re the best-kept secret,” but whose fault is that?

Unless you, or your business, is expert at something, there is very little reason for anyone to come to your location or discover your website or phone you.  And if you are expert at something you must somehow get the word out that you have unique reasons for your prospects to find you and your customers to buy from you.

And when you “get the word out” about your expertise, don’t whisper it!  Shout it!  Develop your unique selling proposition (USP), turn it into your branding message, make it catchy, make it specific to your marketplace, use powerful language to make it memorable, make it easy to say and remember, then shout it over and over so it hits your prospects right between the eyes.  Remember… you want them to sit up and take notice, not nod their head while rolling their eyes!   

What is your company expert at?  Define it.  What is your company or your product(s) better at than your competition?  Why do your customers choose you?  What do they want?  Figure it out, then determine how to exploit your expertise by shouting it out to those who will enjoy or profit from your expertise and excellence.  Hone your message and repeat it again and again.  Those who are attracted to your niche or expertise will come once, return, and, if the message you use is specific, benefit-laden, and easily repeated, they will tell others.

Question or comment to Larry:

Your Market is a Moving Target! Your Marketing Needs to Move Also!

One of the first tasks of marketing is to define your targeted market.  Unless you have a good description and understanding of the market(s) you want to attract, your marketing efforts will not hit the target… because you don’t know who or what the target is.

I’m sure almost all businesses have gone through this process and written out their definitions.  They design and compose their marketing messages, events, products and services to fit that demographic and / or geographic market.  If it hits the target’s bullseye they go on to other projects and then slowly, little by little, and almost imperceptibly, those messages become stale, ceasing to hit the target.  

Years ago, the hamburger chain Wendy’s had a very successful advertising campaign, “Where’s the Beef?”  They ran it for years but eventually, it stopped attracting new customers so Wendy’s replaced it with different campaign messages. 

All marketers eventually notice a slow erosion of their marketing campaign’s effectiveness.  The problem is that their marketplace changes over time just as yesterday’s “young-marrieds” became “matures” and then “seniors” over time and, as they age, the wants and needs of these prospects change while following groups have still-different wants and needs.  

Sure, the marketers are still targeting the same groups but often don’t realize that the targeted group has changed.  As an extreme example (because it changes so rapidly) let’s say that you are targeted market is early teenagers.  From a marketing perspective, there is a new generation who become early teenagers every two or three years.  These kids have different experiences, different pop-star idols (soon today’s icons will be so last generation!).  They will be attracted to different products, different messages, different colors and typefaces because they have had different experiences.  To keep being relevant, marketers need to change their message to meet the needs and wants of future generations.  The same process of change happens in all markets, but usually at a slower pace than the teenage market.

So, I challenge you to review your targeted market to see if your message is still relevant.  Redefine your “ideal client” and see if your marketing material has meaning to those you want to attract.  If your message has not changed much in the past few years, it might be ready for a makeover so you can again aim for the bull’s eye and hit it instead of being off target.

Question or comment to Larry:

Is an Insincere Smile Better than a Sincere Frown?

I walk into one local store about two or three times a month.    Every time I walk in, a “company-shirted” clerk at the counter mumbles, “hullo” in a dull monotone without ever looking in my direction.  Every time it happens I bristle because of the obvious show of insincerity.  I cringe in expectation as I approach the door yet, because of the convenience I continue to shop there.  If they had a nearby competitor I’d drop them in a second.

Obviously, someone at headquarters decreed, “every customer will be greeted upon entering!”  Just as obviously, nobody trained the front-line troops to understand the reasons why a warm greeting can be good for business and what a warm greeting looks and sounds like.  Can’t you just imagine the clerks plotting to figure how to obey the “the greeting decree” while doing it in the most offensive manner possible?  It sure looks the “customer elimination department” has been hard at work there.

As a refreshing contrast, I frequent another establishment where I am always welcomed with a smile and a warm, “hi there!”  Yes, I know the greeting is company imposed but, because of the way it is delivered, my impression is that the company wants me to know my business is valued and if I need assistance or have a question, I will be waited upon with courtesy.  Someone in management has figured out that customers would prefer to be waited on by a person who acts as if they enjoyed satisfying customers.

I hope no one sends me an email grousing about “the attitude of young people today” or “you can’t get good help today.”  Clerks at both businesses are about the same age so it’s not “young people.”  

The finger of blame points squarely at management – top-level management creates the culture and the way customers should be treated.  Mid-level management implements and supports the culture.  The blame for terrible customer is due to either or both groups of management.

It comes down to expectation, execution and education.  The customer-warmth tactic comes from top management, it is taught by mid-level management.  I’ve heard people being trained say, “If I don’t feel good, I don’t want to be a phony and act like I do.”  The answer is that “even if you are in a grumpy mood, pretend you are happy to see a customer because an insincere smile is better than a sincere frown.”

Is your place filled with sincere grumps?  “Have a nice day!”

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Study Election and Learn Marketing Techniques

From now until the elections in November, you and I will become inundated with campaign 2018 from candidates for local, regional, state, and national offices (from U.S. Senator to local school boards).  We will be receiving many thousands of marketing messages to attract votes and funding.  Our mailboxes will start overflowing with campaign literature.  Our inboxes will get clogged with emails from candidates and their supporters.  Social media will be filled with “Likes” from our “Friends.”  News stories on TV, radio, and newspapers will crowd out less important news.  Media advertising will explode.  Observing the process is like taking a master’s class on business strategy and tactics.

Political campaigns don’t miss a trick.  They speak of mission and vision.  They appeal to our core fears, concerns, ambitions, and beliefs.  They study opponents to create differentiated positions and attempt to extol the virtues of fundamentally unique viewpoints.  They personalize their messages to meet the needs of their audiences.  They “wordsmith” speeches and ads to gain votes in their favor.

To enhance their image, their message, and their attractiveness to the electorate, candidates employ many marketing professionals.  Speechwriters, copywriters, voice coaches, acting coaches, advertising and public relations agencies, social media experts, media advisors, wardrobe consultants, makeup artists, hair stylists, demographers, statisticians, and consultants make up the marketing army that work to get out the winning word to the right people at the right time.  After all, the candidates are selling a product (themselves) and a service (governing from a particular point of view) and need to attract more votes than their opponent to win.

Is this any different than marketing a business, the products and services a business sells?  Of course not.  

From an academic standpoint it’s much the same strategy and tactics – appeal to those who aren’t aware, get them to see, hear, listen to your message, stimulate them to understand and embrace, then evangelize for you.    A campaign is the point where image, message, vision, differentiation converge and are just as important in commerce as in an election.  

As citizens, we vote at our polling place with our ballot just as when we shop at a store or online as customers we vote with our wallets.  No matter, when voting or making a purchase we are responding consciously or subconsciously to the marketing that has been sent to us and we’ve absorbed.  The message is clear.  No matter what you are selling, market better to win!

Question or comment to Larry:

You’re Different? How So?

Often when I talk to an owner of a small business I hear them exclaim that they are different from those they compete against.  Upon hearing that phrase, I ask, “How so?”

The answer is usually a list of generalities like, “We give better service” or “We’re friendlier” or “We care more.”  These points of differentiation are nice, but not easily measured and compared.  Furthermore, it is very difficult to get the prospect to see, feel, and want these general differentiators.

I almost never hear them speak in measurable specifics; points of differentiation that can be quantified and compared such as, ”Our service staff is the only one that is 100% certified in our geographic area” or “Our customers can choose more delivery options than anyplace else” or “Our backorder rate is better than 98% of companies in our industry.”                                          

Take a look your competitor’s websites and other advertising.  What do they say about themselves?  How do you compare?  What points can you make that can illustrate and demonstrate your “betterness?”

It’s not good enough to say, “we’re different” because everyone can say that and does.  No one pays attention to that sort of boasting.   People do listen when a point of differentiation is specific and measurable.  It gives them something to compare to help make purchasing decisions.

I challenge you to write a list of specific and measurable points of differentiation for your company or product.  Compare them to your competition and see where you come out on top.  Determine a talking point, slogan, or phrase you can use to drive home your advantages to your customers, your staff and your prospects and prosper on your “difference” and “betterness.”

The second part of this challenge is to determine how you will use it to promote your business and / or your products and services.

  • Use these differentiating statements in your advertising of course.
  • Insert them into your sales presentation scripts
  • Answer the phone with a statement like: “Thanks for calling XYZ company where we guarantee orders placed by 2 pm will be shipped the same day!”
  • Teach these points of differentiation to all of your staff, even those who never act in a marketing or sales situation, because it builds pride in their work also.

Once you start using measurable, specific, demonstratable points of differentiation, you will have a series of statements to separate your company and the products / services you sell from your competition instead of some tired cliché or generality.

Question or comment to Larry:

Why is a Headline like a Police Siren?

We all know the alarming shock of seeing the flashing lights and hearing the piercing scream of a police car, fire truck, or ambulance, and we all know what to do when one of these vehicles comes into our hearing and visual range.  We pull over to the curb and stop quickly.

That’s exactly the reaction we, as marketers, want to create when writing headlines for our marketing material.

Every copywriter will tell you that the headline is the most important part of a newsletter, print ad, article, website, brochure, or flyer. The writer works hard to write well-crafted headlines to stop the eye, grab it, and arrest it from straying.  Police cars have sirens and flashing lights to stop the bad guys, grab and arrest them.  Both headlines and sirens work to grab attention.

Headlines have the power to focus the eye and the brain on a provocative, curiosity evoking statement or question.  If you don’t arrest the eye at the headline you will never get the reader to look at the body copy, so your audience will never bother to see the rest of your creative effort where you are extolling the features, the benefits, and the offer.

But writing headlines isn’t easy.  Unfortunately, headlines rarely just show up on the writer’s blank page in a “flash-of-brilliance.”  Like most creative endeavors, there is a process to writing vivid, eye-stopping headlines.  It becomes easier if there is aprocess or system used repetitively so it becomes a natural part of the work.

Often, when writing advertising copy, a press release, or a business letter, the process many professional copy writers use is to write the body copy first then write at least ten possible headlines and sometimes as many as twenty-five.  At times, this can be painstakingly difficult, but it is necessary to discover the best way to attract attention.  Unless you are on a very tight deadline, it’s best to put the list aside for a few hours and review it later.

This “time out” allows the writer’s subconscious to add its own creativity to the effort.  After the writing exercise and the “rest period,” the selection of the best, most evocative headline usually becomes evident.  The next time you need to stop a reader’s eyes, try this arresting process and your headline will be just like a police car with siren howling and flashing lights.  That will stop them from turning the page or clicking off your website.  

Question or comment to Larry:

Inform Them, Satisfy Them, Retain Them!

No matter how hard you try to have every project run smoothly, on-time, and on-budget, sooner or later, you screw up.  No matter how hard you try to satisfy every customer on every sale, sooner or later someone will be dissatisfied. Maybe one of your vendors ships the wrong item to you causing you to run late, maybe a color or a taste or a size is a smidge wrong, maybe the computer goes down at a crucial moment, a staff member has a family emergency, a vehicle or piece of machinery breaks down or something else untoward happens to cause your customer to be very unhappy.  Let’s face it, stuff happens.

Handle it wrong or try to cover it up, and you’ll probably lose a customer forever (and they will tell everyone they know about it) however there is a high probability they will stay with you if you handle problems in a forthright, businesslike, customer-centric manner.  The key to retaining them is the way you and your staff handle your “damage control.”  Your customer will respect you if you honestly explain the problem, tell them how you will resolve it, and inform them of your progress at every step along the way, including a follow-up after the project or product is delivered.

Some people might consider this overkill; I call it good customer service and one (but certainly not the only one) to customer retention. 

Realize that your advertising, your marketing, and your sales process all work to tell your customers and prospects how good you are, how you are dedicated to satisfying them, and all those “under-promise and overdeliver” clichés amplify your statements into promises.  They are expecting you to satisfy them and deliver on those promises. 

So, when something goes south, no matter whether it is your fault or something way beyond your control, it’s really time to make good on those promises.

Clearly keeping the customer informed with timely progress updates reinforces the fact that you value their business and want to continue serving them.  Your “damage control process” shows your understanding of their concern and informs them that you are doing everything possible to rectify the situation.  When it is all over, send them a note or a small gift to celebrate… it will be better next time… and if you do it right, there will be a next time because you have worked hard to inform them, ultimately satisfy them, and retain them.

Question or comment to Larry:

Marketers Need to Know: Where are they? Where are they not?

When I was a student, I must admit I thought it really didn’t relate to my (limited) worldview.  Since then, I’ve found how important geography can be for business use, and the many practical uses of this subject are just as relevant as they were when you and I were in school.  Be assured that, in the world of growing a business, geography is very practical as a tool for marketing tasks, delivery and scheduling decisions, and optimizing staffing levels.

Even in this age of GPS on your mobile phone, physical maps can give very useful information to marketers and managers at minimal cost. Companies analyze where customers come from.  Just as importantly, they also analyze where customers do NOT come from.  This is particularly useful for:

  • Discovering the effect of advertising and use of media;
  • Whether to invest in opening new locations or closing old ones;
  • Directing salespeople to geographic areas;
  • Aiding analysis of market penetration and market share;
  • When overlaid with demographic data, to see whether an area meets the ideal customer criteria;
  • When planning a sales trip to a regular client, a salesperson can determine where to do some prospecting;
  • Figuring out logistics in moving inventory from one location to another; 
  • Determining boundaries for promotions, especially when using direct mail (and before you send an email, direct mail can still be a very effective medium for some businesses).

Many companies use software that can map customer distribution and market penetration to optimize their delivery or service resources.  A small company that serves a limited geographic area can find it easier and more economical to use a manual method.

One company, which serves a three-county geographic area, mounted a regional map on the wall.  They use different colors of pushpins to show addresses of new customers and old customers.  Every three months they take a photo of the map and compare the current distribution of customers to photos from previous time periods.  While this certainly isn’t a precise statistical study, general advertising and customer purchasing patterns show up vividly.  Future promotional and advertising plans can be made from this information.  Naturally, they remove the pushpins after they take the photo and start over.

The same principle can apply if your market is more local or much larger using zip code, state, or national maps.  So, take a geographical analysis approach to track marketing results, get a better understanding of your customer and prospect base, and increase the return on your advertising investment. 

Question or comment to Larry:

Qualify Creatively to Generate Sales, Not Leads

Everyone who sells for a living wants more leads – lots and lots of leads.  So, in companies both large and small, the marketing department turns on the lead-generating machine (more advertising, trade shows, sales events, etc.) and the salespeople start pounding on doors.  Of course, in a small company, the marketing department and sales department is often just one person who might also be the only employee, and so the marketing and sales roles need to be efficient.

All too often, salespeople are chasing bad leads – tire kickers, inquirers, folks who will attend a trade show to just pick up promotional give-a-ways, folks who collect literature, and those who won’t buy anything or can’t buy anything for any number of reasons.  The goal of generating leads is to generate qualified leads (with emphasis on the “qualified” part) so that the time and effort invested in the sales process is spent on those prospects who are most likely to make a purchase.

Non-productive leads can be minimized, but certainly not eliminated, by using positioning statements in marketing strategy and asking the prospect probing questions relative to their real interest or their ability to purchase what you sell.  It isn’t necessary to ask “in person”; your advertising can ask those questions also, often in very subtle but meaningful ways.  

  • An investment firm’s advertising states “If your portfolio is over $500,000…”
  • A home improvement contractor’s website asks prospects to fill in a number of blanks about a proposed project before committing to send out a salesperson.
  • At a trade show, a salesperson of industrial equipment takes an inquirer’s contact information and asks a series of qualifying questions to determine whether to schedule an appointment after the show.
  • An employee training firm asks questions to discover how many employees a prospect has to offer either a “distance-learning” or “in-person” training package.
  • A children’s day school clearly states the acceptable ages of children and then asks about the age of a prospect’s children before offering a complimentary tour.

Sure, if you ask to respectfully qualify prospects, you won’t get as many responses, but you will be wasting less time chasing unqualified prospects, and those who qualify will be more likely to be really interested in and able to purchase your product or service.  The net result of attracting better-qualified leads is that salespeople will spend their time more productively, selling more while prospecting less.  Isn’t a small group of qualified leads better than a ton of bad ones?

Question or comment to Larry:

Soup Keeps the Hungry Beast Satisfied

Last week we meet two other couples, all long-time friends, for dinner at a local restaurant.  We chatted, looked over the menu and placed our orders; none of us ordered an appetizer.  We had plenty to talk about, as we had not seen each other for some time – news about families, vacations, and a little catching up on other friends (OK, it was gossip) who were not there.

Then one of us remarked that it seemed like we were waiting a long time for our meals and we were starting to get hungry.  A couple moments later, the server came and told us that the kitchen staff was running behind and our dinner was delayed, “but, she was going to serve us a bowl of soup ‘on the house’ to enjoy while we were waiting.”  The cups of soup were delivered along with more bread.  The soup was delicious, and our hunger subsided while we continued our enjoying the company of old friends.

Conversation around the table continued, but now the topic was that there is a right way and a wrong way to handle a potential customer dissatisfaction snafu in the kitchen and that they had handled it the right way… bravo!  

They had three options, one terrible, one neutral, and one that would ensure attracting great “word of mouth advertising” and repeat customers.  The terrible option was that they could have ignored the situation, and we probably would have grumbled about “slow service.”  The neutral option was that they could have told us about the problem and “thank you for your patience.”  But they chose the best possible result and exceeded our expectations.  They kept the hungry beast satisfied and will have six people talking to their friends about the wonderful, thoughtful service and dining experience.

We all know that, as much as we want our businesses to always satisfy (over-satisfy) our customers, sometimes things go awry.  Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes the situation is beyond our control, but the customer doesn’t care about that.  They, very rightly, care about their own satisfaction.  But the way we work to rectify the situation is the real issue.

Just as our experience in the restaurant above illustrates, we have three options when things go awry.  A business that plans on growing needs to satisfy customers, even when things are not going perfectly, and the actions they choose to use to delight instead ofdisappoint are critical… and I like my soup served hot! 

Question or comment to Larry:

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