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Friday, 19 May 2017

STOP IT - 5 Ways Small Businesses Sabotage Themselves

Attention small business owners 

You know that terror that seems to consume you, that fear that the world is out to steal your customers, lower your revenue and destroy your hopes of retiring to the mediterranean?

Well, you can stop worrying about it, because the great news is, your worst fear has finally been identified.

It's you!

Now, before you roll your eyes and bemoan the waste of 10 seconds of your life, let me explain ...

1. You think that growing your business is about keeping everything secret and making your customers pay for everything

Sound familiar?  Small businesses start with a bright idea and a passionate founder.  In my experience the age of the entrepreneur plays a big part in determining what happens next.

According to the FT, record numbers of over 50's in the UK are starting their own business.  Often it's their first experience of life as the boss and they approach their new challenge with a mindset shaped by years in corporates, smothered by layers of bureaucracy.

Today, customers expect companies to be generous.  We search the web for information, read reviews, look for star ratings and generally form our opinions about brands based on third party endorsements and discussions.  Businesses can no longer be faceless entities, they need to have personalities.  People still buy from people, but now we can do it virtually so perception counts more than ever.  Do you want to spend your money with the mean, hard to deal with company, or the benevolent and helpful one?

Think about what you could give away to gain visibility and ultimately more customers. It doesn't have to have a physical value - kindness, time and effort all count  Just as free samples draw the crowds at the farmers market, downloads, tester kits and trial sessions give customers a chance to experience your brand without risk and hopefully keep them coming back for more.

2. Your marketing is stuck in a time warp

- It's all about you
- You never contribute of even mention third parties
- There's no need for a marketing plan
- You equate professionalism with business speak

You know who you are.  Once upon a time, all a company needed was a website.  This gave them a one way system, to tell the world all the fascinating product features that would have them lining up to buy. Fast forward a few years and a website is the least you should have, customers are self educating and only third party endorsements will persuade us to part with our cash.

The best ideas need visibility and an audience if they're to spread. Your story is not about you anymore.  It's about your customers - their wants, their needs, their values. This brave new world means that companies need to think in terms of the problems that they solve, answering frequently asked questions, showing how they compare with the competition and demonstrating beyond any doubt, that your product is the only one worth buying.

Despite multiple examples to the contrary, marketing should not be regarded as another name for sales prevention.

3. You've got a Facebook page/Twitter account [insert any social platform here] but you don't know why or how to use it.

This is you, if your Facebook page is only liked by your mum and your Twitter icon is an egg.  I exaggerate a little, but we've all seen those social media pages with all the signs of a well intentioned new years resolution - one post and minimal details.  Encouraging? I think not. Would you leave your shop window empty?

Social media provides a set of new tools to do old jobs.  In the past you might have kept a journal, now you blog.  You used to call friends to share news, now you post a Facebook update.  It's all just human to human interaction, so stop worrying and start engaging.

Consumers use social media to make conversation and connections, to follow trends and to find information. What does your company provide in response?

4. You never measure or monitor your results - what is analytics anyway?

Guilty as charged?  Then how do you even know who your customers are?

Having any form of online presence (website, Facebook page etc.) means that you can now collect and use data to understand what's working and what's not. This is commonly known as analytics and every social platform provides them.

Spending money on your business and not measuring the return on that investment is madness, especially since it's now so easy to access. You may not consider yourself to be a data dude, but spend twenty minutes a week looking at the graphs, charts and numbers available and you'll be amazed by your new found knowledge.

These are really helpful articles to get you started.

Facebook Insights
Google Analytics (websites)
Twitter Analytics 
Pinterest Analytics
Google+ Analytics

5. You always undervalue what you've created

If you've recognised your business in any of the points above, there's a good chance that you're not as confident in your abilities as you should be.

Smaller companies are often scared to grow.  They apologise for their size and lack of knowledge rather than doing anything about it.  They expect customers to overlook bad design, lack of attention to detail or poor customer service, because they're a new business, or a freelancer or a family firm. Endless excuses mean that great products are overlooked and undervalued, so nobody wins.

Remember the passion that caused you to start or join your company and think about all those things which make you buy particular brands over others.  Tiffany jewellery is just as famous for the little blue box as it is for the diamonds inside.  Make sure your customers appreciate what you've produced and stop selling yourself short.

Time to take action?

I work with businesses of all shapes and sizes and love helping them understand and use marketing to grow.  You can leave me a comment here or ask me your burning marketing questions on Twitter @VLindsay.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Marketing tips from unlikely sources - Father Christmas

It’s that time of year again.

That slightly manic, tinsel filled, calorie-fest that has us clapping with glee or longing for hibernation. Either way, it’s hard to escape the signs of Christmas – decorated trees, twinkling lights and the universally jolly figure of Santa Claus.

Who knew that timeless, present bringing character, was actually a black belt marketer ...

St. Nicolas? Father Christmas? Santa Claus? – think local, act global

No matter what he's called, he's globally recognized.  Across much of the planet you'll find a variation on the theme of Father Christmas, with a story to match, usually something country specific and always relevant to the present givers and getters.

  • Your brand needs to be consistent in fonts, imagery, colour and tone if your customers are going to notice and more importantly recognise and remember you 
  • Create a story for them.  Make it simple and easy to share 
  • Be in tune with your local market.  What do they want and need?

Ho Ho Ho

Father Christmas the brand, stands for something. Ask any child who Santa Claus is and they’ll immediately talk of gifts and happiness and good things (although the odd few may be terrified).

  • Do people have an emotional connection to your brand?  
  • Which images spring to mind when they think about your company?
  • Does your business have a personality which appeals to the audience it's trying to attract?

Santa Claus is everywhere

He’s on Christmas cards, you can visit him in stores and he can even send you a personalised video from the north pole.  Decades may pass, but Father Christmas has evolved to stay relevant to each new generation and makes sure you can find him wherever you look, throughout December and worryingly beyond.  He rocks omnichannel!

  • Make sure your customers can find you wherever they currently look for information (across social media, in print and in person)
  • Partner with other brands and influencers to increase your reach 
  • Be involved with relevant third parties, to show your understanding of the market and the choices your customers face

He only visits once a year

I swear I heard sleigh bells every Christmas eve, when I was a child. Anticipation is a big part of any experience and having to wait all year to see if you get what’s on your list, is quite a build up.

In this age of instant everything, making your customers wait is no bad thing, as long as you deliver something of value (in their terms) at the end of it.

  • Have you mapped your buyers journey from information gathering to sale?
  • Do you know how long your typical sales cycle is?
  • Does every part of your sales process, reinforce your brands reputation (for better or worse)?

He’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice

Santa Claus knows his customers and doesn’t treat them all the same way.

  • With free analytics there are no excuses for not knowing your audience 
  • Use social media to eavesdrop on topics, conversations and ideas
  • We all want personal service and having a real customer relationship always pays dividends

Santa delivers on his promises

Year after year those wonderful Elfs hit the mark in fulfilling requests. Santa always delivers - supplying what was asked for, on time and to schedule.  It’s why his brand is trusted and his followers are loyal.  It probably also helps that Santa’s main audience is unlikely to call north pole customer service if things go wrong.

The magic that changes buyers into loyal customers, happens when they experience your product.

  • Does it live up to expectations?  
  • Do you make buyers feel so great about spending their money with you that they immediately join your marketing team in spreading the word to friends and family?  
  • Delight your customers, exceed their expectations, not just once a year, but every time and watch your fan base grow

Best kept secret

There are various accounts of how this Christmas figure came into being, but ultimately he was created to capture imagination and unite an audience in the big conspiracy.

Surely there is no greater form of customer engagement than participation.  The success of projects like Kickstarter reinforce our need to feel involved and our love of supporting ideas that resonate with our own ideal world.

  • How do you make customers feel like they belong to your brand?
  • What could you do to keep your company in the customers mind, after the initial sale?
  • Humans love best kept secrets and find it difficult to keep them - tap into these traits 

Merry Christmas!

P.S. The festive dachshund of joy is my dog Walnut paying homage. Hat models own.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

36 tips you need to follow from the Content Marketing Academy Conference

TCMA 2016 The Hub, Edinburgh

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend TCMA 2016, a two day event bringing together the great and the good of content marketing from around the globe.  I could blog for years on the people who attended and the inspiration they provided, but I'll start with some tips worth remembering.

1. Being consistent in the content you create makes you unique, builds credibility and ultimately trust

2. Choose how you communicate to attract the audience who need you most

3. Spend more time thinking about how you'll distribute your content once it's produced

4. Create content that addresses problems with solutions, painpoints with remedies, questions with answers and rituals with ideas

5. Use predictive search to see what mainstream searchers are looking for.  It shows demand and gives insight

6. Have a goal for every piece of marketing you create

7. When you make a video, treat the viewer like they've been a friend for years

8. Aim for visually pleasing on Facebook - the initial image will attract a viewer to watch more

9. Make the first couple of words in any content reiterate the search that brought visitors to it

10. Be transparent

11. Create Ebooks

12. Become the wikipedia for your industry

13. Commit to creating regular new content for your website and do it

14. Think about the words your audience might use in a google search and make your titles fit

15. Always tell people what they should do next.  No call to action = no action.

16. Invest in good images and design.  Perception is everything

17. Share every piece of content multiple times, in different formats for each platform

18. Hone your skills to do the right things in the most efficient way possible

19. Build a team around you to do specific tasks, so you're open to opportunities

20. Try running webinars - an hour builds trust and speeds the time to sale

21. You are not your customer.  Serve your audience

22. Inject your personality to educate, entertain and inspire your audience

23. Don't sell the thing, sell the dream

24. The biggest missed opportunity is playing it safe

25. Engaging content is far more about brains than budget - show your passion

26. Be bigger, be bolder and aim for fanatical fans

27. Think like a teacher to deliver value (in your audiences terms)

28. Strategy is the plumbing of content marketing - where do you want to go?

29. Make life easier and you'll gain customers.  Walk in their shoes.

30. Look for and dominate an unsaturated niche

31. Have an aggressive keywords strategy so Google only looks at you

32. Know who shares your content most and work on delighting them

33. 'I will never let you down' is a differentiator

34. It can take 3 to 5 years to create the awareness that results in sales - aim for reliable reach

35. User generated content is gold

36. Make your brand human

Ready? Go!

Friday, 12 February 2016

Attract customers with personality not information

Valentines day looms again in all its heart shaped madness.

According to a recent survey by the Retail and Marketing Association, 53% of American women would end their relationship if they didn't get something on Valentines Day.  Who are these people?! Would they really be so shallow as to dump their partners for not conforming to this marketing ruse?

Could it be that we're all getting so jaded by marketing overload, that we long for something to break the routine? The unexpected.  The marvellous. The extraordinary.

Perhaps it comes down to the element of surprise, after all, even those who argue that they hate surprises, would be hard pushed not to feel touched when they discover there's no charge for their coffee, or their company has catered lunch rather than leaving them to starve through their midday meeting.

Simple acts of kindness make great stories.  We share them.  They shape our brand perception. They make an emotional connection with us that remains long after the event.  Like the sweets that accompany the restaurant bill, every little unexpected joy makes us like your company more, turning us from happy customers into loyal fans.

It doesn't have to be hearts and flowers this month, but what could you be doing to surprise and delight?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Write to be read - what are you saying?!

They could have written no smoking in capital letters on an A5 card by the bedside.

They could have put a sticker on the back of the door with the familiar anti-puff sign.

It might have featured on the room key.

Instead, this hotel, turned a boring ‘thou shalt not’ into a humorous note, conveying what they need to, but in a way that also shows their personality and reinforces your choice of accommodation in the first place.

With so much information bombarding us every day, it's easy to ignore the details, dismissing the little things like the no smoking sign, rather than seeing it for the fantastic marketing tool that it is.   Today I challenge you to look at the supposedly insignificant things that could add weight to your sell. Are they helpful, do then entertain or somehow emotionally appeal to your audience?  Would anyone ever be inspired to blog about them?

This same hotel lobby bathroom -

I'd love to see your examples of great communication.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Are You Speaking Your Customers Language?

Knowing the "voice of the customer" is marketing speak for

a) understanding who buys your products
b) gathering, interpreting and using customer intelligence
c) talking benefits rather than features
d) all of the above

Unsurprisingly, the answer is d) all of the above, but the ad below shows that you could of course, just take the term literally.

Who cares?

A survey by MarketingProfs found that just over half (56%) of the companies who took part, thought they had a clear understanding of their customers tastes and needs, which means that almost the same number do not. It's this vague understanding of who to market to, that results in all those wasted marketing budgets.

One mouth and two ears

Despite the logic that we should be listening twice as much as we speak, hearing what customers have to say is often way down on the priority list, unless you're a completely customer centric organisation like Zappos.

The majority of companies ask their audiences for feedback via focus groups, surveys etc. Some are even clever enough to add customer service (a.k.a. complaints) to the mix, and while this is listening, it tends to be a rather misleading snapshot in time.

Make it social

Social media now gives everyone a constant, two way chance to speak, (or at least type) and be heard.  No matter what size your business is, it's easier than every before to know what your customer thinks, feels and cares about.

My favourite and free tools for this job are

  • SocialMention - monitoring over a hundred social media sites, Social Mention interprets how the world is feeling about a particular word, phrase, industry etc. in terms of strength, sentiment, passion and reach of those currently contributing. 
  • Twazzup - one for Twitter lovers, this little tool is a mine of information, including top influencers, retweets, link sharing and best associated keywords for your search. 
  • Addictomatic - similar to Twazzup but with a longer reach, since this monitors across platforms such as YouTube, Flickr and Delicious.
  • IceRocket - pulls in FaceBook, Twitter and blog coverage and has the nifty advantage of scanning across languages, so international rantings won't be missed.
  • Google Search By Image - image based, you can now start your search for what customers might associate with a particular photograph to help you rethink keywords, web links and overall communications.

You might not always like what you hear, but knowing what's being said, at least lets you join the conversation.  Today, there are no excuses for being a wallflower.

Friday, 8 January 2016

4 Easy Steps to a Great Marketing Plan

For those of you smug enough to have done your 2016 marketing plan pre Christmas - high five, you can stop reading now.

Still with me?  You're not alone. In my experience, most marketing strategy is reviewed in January, while resolutions are fresh in the mind and energy levels high.  That means that it's also the perfect opportunity to develop your marketing plan.

Here are the four simple steps to departmental greatness.

Step 1 - Ask

What does your business want to achieve this year and how can marketing contribute to meeting those goals?  Your marketing plan should support the company strategy.

Define specifics, (marketing will do XYZ) and then tactics, which are the tools to make XYZ happen (social media, direct mail, campaigns etc). Asking what your business needs from marketing, makes it far easier to choose tactics and show your contribution month on month.  The result might be something like - increase sales by X% in Y timeframe across Z geography.  With this goal in place you can weigh up the options to decide which marketing activities will have most impact.  These objectives are the bare bones of your marketing plan.

Step 2 - Agree

Make sure everyone in the organisation knows what to expect from marketing by agreeing specifics in advance.  The devil really is in the detail, so make sure you include timelines, budget/resource constraints and a definition of what success looks like (perception setting).

To go back to the example, increasing sales by X% in Y timeframe across Z geography, could mean you need to attract more new customers or make existing customers more profitable.  The timeframe set might coincide with a product launch or quarter earnings release and the geography target should build on work done in previous years, or gain first mover advantage. 

Step 3 - Build

Produce a detailed marketing plan.  A month by month overview of marketing activities will highlight any gaps or clashes with projects from other departments.

Remember to show who each activity is aimed at (existing customer, new lead, internal audience etc) and what you expect the target group to do as a result of each marketing activity.  Setting the scene will help your business feel informed and open communication channels. Without this, sales teams (and others) often develop their own materials, leading to all kinds of mixed messages (aka random acts of marketing). 

Think of your marketing plan as a story.  What do your potential customers need to know about your company, to help them choose your product over all available alternatives? What are the frequently asked questions you need to address?  How will they perceive your brand? Focus on delivering consistent, relevant and personal information to the waiting world.  Build trust first and then sell.

Step 4 - Engage

  • Plan marketing to flow like a conversation between your company and your audience.  
  • Build brand recognition, off and online, by using the same fonts, tone, colours and imagery.  
  • Create messaging and employ tools which meet the needs of your audience. 
  • Consult with sales and customer services before crafting content to ensure best fit. 
  • Spend time creating content that resonates with the groups you're trying to reach.  
  • Show how your product/service solves a problem or provides a benefit.  
  • Think about why customers might use/buy your brand rather than alternatives.  
  • Make it clear what makes your product unique. 
  • Listen for feedback from your customers, fellow employees, bloggers, social media etc.

For new businesses much of the above will involve educated guesswork using one of the many free tools available to better understand your target market.  Established businesses can use the raft of analytics available to fill in any customer information blanks.

A marketing plan is a living document, so expect it to change as you learn more about your market and its needs.  Having something to chart your progress and measure your results against, will give you and your business confidence and purpose.  It also let's you know when to crack open the champagne, so make sure you've got one, or ask me to help you develop one.