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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Piracy. An irrational fear?

I've lost count of the number of times I see small businesses hide their best work behind member only logins and forms which would take an entire lunch hour to complete. Why the secrecy? In a word - piracy. The fear that once out there 'people' can freely distribute the information, sharing it with their friends, quoting it in their presentations and potentially never crediting their source. That's all possible, but even if it happens, is it really such a bad thing?

I always encourage businesses to give some information away. I know that might make you stop reading, but stay with me. When I find some useful free stuff on a website, my perception is always 'well, if they could give that away, they obviously have a lot more to say on the subject'. Giving, adds credibility to you and your ideas.  It puts you in the position of thought leader, encouraging your readership to find out more. This blog is about proving my marketing worth and hopefully at least some entries will succeed.

It's the lamp element. Help others to see something new. Share your thoughts, your ideas, your predictions, while your business is still small enough to reap the benefits of the publicity, even if that doesn't come in the form of direct accreditation

So, vow to make at least one great piece of content to give away each month. I've listed some of my favourite 'giver' examples below, to get you started.  Most use pdf's to retain an element of publicity, but all are crafted to be shared and I haven't even touched on the SEO benefits that brings.

1. Hubspot free ebooks and case studies
2. MarketingProfs free articles all packed with links for further research
3. Econsultancy blog, reports and presentations

Happy downloading.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

What makes us choose?

We make hundreds of choices every day.

Some are completely down to us. Snooze button or get up now? Car or bus? Start that big project or give in to the distraction of email and just one more caffeine break?

Others involve third parties, helping us to make up our minds, through marketing and brands. Buy coke rather than Pepsi. Nike versus Reebok. 

Marketing gives products and services an irrational value. It adds personality, helping you to decide that product X will meet your needs better than any available alternative. In the end, you make the choice, but it's heavily influenced by how marketing has shaped your perception along the way and the brand promises i.e. what you've been led to expect from a product/service, that you've bought into.

As you encourage your customers to choose, your marketing should evoke specific reasons to help customers justify their decisions.

1. Why would customers buy your products over the competition?

Its worth revisiting why existing customers made their purchase - ask them, either personally or via a service like surveymonkey Try to narrow this down to specific words. Perhaps the great customer service builds trust, or it could be the prestige attached to being able to afford a particular service or be in the same league as others held in esteem.

2. What one attribute could your company/product/service be known for?

Volvo cars are associated with safety. Virgin is a brand that does things differently and is therefore regarded as innovative. An internal poll might give some fascinating insights, but be sure to ask suppliers, distributors and anyone else involved with your company, as well as your customers, for the most balanced view. It's fine to mean different things to different groups, but you should find there's an overarching trait that everyone agrees on. 

3. Build your marketing around your findings

Sounds like a no brainer, but so easy to overlook.  Since Volvo have established 'safety' in the minds of their buyers, their marketing plays to the FUD principle (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).  Example  It's important to note that they lead with a solution to customer safety fears rather than building on the fear, which would result in negative connotations for the brand.  

Emotional triggers are powerful things so use them wisely.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Burns night communications

"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm."

It's the first verse of Robert Burns 'Address to a Haggis' and unless you're Scottish, it might as well be written in martian.

Do you speak to your target audience in a language they understand?

I've been reviewing a number of small business websites recently and there's a lot of over hyped business speak out there. Everyone is 'results focused', 'world leading' and 'delivering exceptional value' in the 'fast paced environment'. Some are 'engaged in intersecting the world of traditional media with social media'. Which means what exactly?

Think about how you would describe your product/service if you were having a conversation, then look at the language used to do the same job on your website, powerpoint presentation and sales materials. Have you flipped into business speak just because it's in print?

In our modern world you can write as you would speak. Craft communications to be understood by your target audience and don't be afraid to let a little personality shine through.

Enjoy your haggis!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Marketing is like playing 'snap'

You know the game. You turn over cards until two pictures match and then everyone yells snap. The more turns that go by without a match, the higher the level of anticipation and the louder the eventual shout.

Small businesses often approach marketing like a game of snap. They produce some content and then throw it out there - in print, online, maybe a bit of telemarketing. No real strategy in place. Then the waiting game begins, until a lead is found and everyone can claim success (yell snap).

Marketing is not a game of chance. At it's simplest, it's about communicating your message to those who want to hear it, to help them choose your offering over the competition.

It takes time to produce great content, so you owe it to yourself and your customers to get that communication right.

Group 1 - Total strangers to your brand

Let's think of them as future customers. All marketing that you do to this group is going to be interruptive, since they've never heard of you before. We all hate junk mail so whatever you say has to be compelling in 5 seconds or less. Imagine you're at a tradeshow. What could you do/say to stand out?

Group 2 - Previous interactions and existing Customers

They've heard of you/your brand before and may have even purchased something. The marketing that this group needs should move them along the sales cycle. Educate them. Expand your content to build on what they already know. Challenge their assumptions. This group needs engagement. Show them why they should care and you'll see results.

Group 3 - Repeat customers

Your biggest supporters. Repeat customers are marketing tools in their own right. They can tell you what they like/don't like (product development) and build your brand through word of mouth (PR). This group have invested time and money to keep you in business and the content they receive should reflect this. You need to validate their decision to stick with you. Can you offer them sneak peaks, exclusive news, invite them to participate in a way that acknowledges their status? Social media makes this easier than you'd think.

So, when you've produced a great white paper, webcast, press release, blog entry etc. think about how it can be reworked to meet the needs of each group. Then think about how each group will want to receive those messages - smart phone, ipad, social media, direct mail, youtube video etc. Its a sure fire way to get lots more snaps ; )

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Keeping Pace with change

I found it amazing to watch Richard Branson's latest launch.

The time, effort and people skills needed to create this 3 mins and 26 seconds of wonder is undeniable and the wow factor created, reinforces the brand as forward thinking and innovative.

My children (7, 5 and 2 years respectively), were under whelmed. In their world the iphone has always existed. Their entire lives are on a hard drive. Their minds are wide open and everything is possible. Does this make it harder or easier to grab their attention? What kind of consumers are we raising and how can we keep them interested?

I think the answer lies in three little words
- Anticipated
- Personal
- Relevant

Those of you who follow Seth Godin might recognise these terms from 'Permission Marketing' published in 1999. I'd urge you to read it if you haven't already Thirteen years on it's comforting to find that while technology seems to evolve daily, human nature takes longer to catch up.

Stop worrying about which social media platform to master next and instead think about
- what you have to say
- who you're going to say it to
- when they need to hear it
- why they'll bother to listen 

Small businesses only need to keep pace with the changes that are important to their customers. Build your marketing around what's in it for them and you'll have a loyal audience no matter how or where they find you.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Do you meet my needs?

I read an article recently which stated that customers were generally 60% through the sales cycle before they engaged a sales person. Its called self education, or in plain english, the online researching, discussing with friends and family, article reading and general background checks we do, to convince ourselves that our money will be well spent.
In marketing terms it's the consideration phase and it's important. You've got a need in mind and you want to know that the company/product/service you choose, will help you meet that need. So, how do you evaluate? In a word - positioning.

Positioning sounds rather old fashioned now, but it's simply creating ideas, images and feelings in the mind of your customer. Some examples of great positioning
  • answering the questions your customer is likely to have through web content, tweets and facebook discussions, before they need to ask them directly 
  • recognizing the bigger reasons around a need and playing to them i.e. I want a watch but if I get a Rolex all my friends will know it cost a lot and be jealous. Rolex play to the idea of prestige rather than the ability to tell time 
  • creating an emotional link to a brand i.e. John Lewis (never knowingly undersold), gives the impression of being on the customers side and having their best interests at heart. They are selling integrity as well as merchandise 
Of course the most obvious example of positioning is whether you consider yourself to be a Mac or a PC. Apple positioning their products in the world of Art, free thinkers, rebels and creative geniuses. The Apple brand has created a loyal fan base who will sleep outside to be first in the queue for the latest gadget. They're convinced of greatness as soon as they see the icon. Now that's positioning.

Ask yourself

  • Who is my product/service for?
  • What do they expect it to do for them?
  • Will my product/service meet my customers needs better than the alternatives they can choose from? (in other words help customers choose you over the competition)
Thinking as the buyer rather than the seller will help you position your offering and see where improvements can be made. If you don't position yourself, others will, so make sure it's your choice to gain maximum advantage.

Now, Pret or Subway for lunch?

Do I know what you do?

I wrote an earlier post on the first question which we all ask when making any kind of purchase decision, "have I heard of you?" and "do I know what you do?" is the logical next step.  These days we're all time poor, and if we don't understand, its easier to walk away than take the time to learn.

Telling the world what you do starts with a simple business description.  It's the text you need to fill your profile page on LinkedIn, or Twitter or Facebook (assuming you've build a business page).  It should be clear and concise and free of jargon.  Think of this step as a foundation stone.  Your business description/profile should be the facts without frills version of what you do, but attracting customers means taking a step further and building familiarity.
  1. Think about your ideal customer.  Who are they?  What age are they?  Where do they live?  What do they do?  How much spare time do they have to hear your message?  What are they reading your message on?   The language you use to describe your business is key.  Which words would your ideal customer use to describe what you do? (It's often helpful to get a friend or family member to tell you what they think your business does.  If your mother doesn't understand your description, there's a good chance no-one else will).
  2. Does your company produce products/services which mean the same to everyone? If you sell ice cream then most people know what that means.  If you're an applications developer then explaining what you do to a technical audience, requires the use of terms they understand and would expect you to use for credibility.  An applications developer pitching to the marketing team needs a different slant.  Don't leave any group to assume they know what you do.  Tell them.
  3. Familiarity comes from meeting your ideal customer where they already are.  Often I hear SMEs moaning about the uphill battle to attract customers.  These days we all have so much choice that its unlikely we'll go looking for the next big thing unless it comes to find us.  Having worked out who you want to target, consider where those people are now.  e.g. Twitter is a great tool for finding others interested in what you have to say.  Type relevant words into the Twitter search bar and it will return lists of those already talking about that subject.  Also think about the publications/blogs they might read.  If you know who's already influential to their world, you can work on a plan to be seen in the same space etc.
  4. Be there when people are looking for you.  Seems like the opposite of what I've just said above, but now that we're all so google dependant, make sure that you can be found when someone types in a search term relevant to your business.  It seems so obvious, but without visibility there can be no familiarity.  Your google rankings is a whole other blog post though.
Have you guessed what I do yet?

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

4 Traits of the small business owner

The advice I would give anyone who has made a resolution to start a small business? You will need curiosity, kindness, stamina and a willingness to look stupid.

> Curiosity because the internet is full of wonderful, free tools and advice to get you started. There are groups to join, blogs to read, sites to bookmark, you just need to be interested enough to go looking for them. Feel free to ask for recommendations.

> Kindness because your first steps into the small business world are about building trust. No one has ever heard of you. They don't know what you do. Be prepared to give away some of what you know, take time to network, whether its on the school run or at a designated event. Since people do business with people, kindness is a rather under utilised way of differentiating your brand from the rest of the noise.

> Stamina is self explanatory. There will be ridiculously late nights and early mornings. Moments when you think its just not worth the effort. Days when you're fed up self motivating. Just keep going. Having a small business is a labour of love.
> The willingness to look stupid comes from the daily revelation that no matter how long you've been in business there is always something you won't be prepared for. In my case this always surfaces around tax return time.

I'm in my third year of being a 'solopreneur' now and I'm still working on each of these traits but I know I'm not alone. Go on, you know you want to.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


A morning coffee with some fellow freelancers kicked off the generalist versus specialist debate. Which is best and does it matter? Should one be more expensive than the other?

On reflection both attributes carry equal weight and we all need to balance the generalist and specialist elements of what we do for the companies and products we represent.

Generalists because
  • everyone needs a level of education to make sure you're not assuming anything e.g. top of the funnel* marketing messages designed to set the ground rules 
  • customers want value for money, knowing about lots of different areas, how they interact, what to consider, where to prioritise etc. before making further investment. Think wikipedia versus squidoo pages
  • wisdom is gained from experience and generalists tend to have a wealth of experience to draw from, earned from a number of years of 'doing' 
*in the spirit of not assuming anything, top of the funnel refers to the lead generation or sales funnel where lots of potential customers start the sales process and the aim is to retain as many of these as possible through to actual sales.

Specialists because
  • audiences like 'boxes'. She's a social media expert, he's a copywriter etc. Putting a label on who you are and what you do is essential to finding and retaining your audience 
  • the devil is in the detail. Specialism drives differentiation (giving your customers a reason to buy your product/services over the available competition) 
  • narrowing your focus ensures you can keep up with the latest developments in your field, spotting the opportunities, increasing your usefulness in a particular area and as a result the likely success of the endeavour. 
As to whether one should be more expensive than the other, I think your customers will ultimately decide.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Excitement of new

The above came from Santa. A present for my 7 year old, who was delighted with the box but disheartened when an hour later all he had was a pile of bricks and a seemingly endless instruction booklet. Trying to restore the joy, 5 further hours of parental input had the dream model complete. Waking up to success is not as fulfilling as taking the time to get there yourself though and I fear this model will now be just another thing to dust.

The lesson? I'd like to think we all start the New Year with a sense of excitement. Even if you haven't made any resolutions, hope is renewed by the possibilities ahead and how we might do things differently in the next 12 months. Trouble is our focus tends to be on the outcome and not how we get there. Doing, is a huge part of the initial excitement and eventual satisfaction. It's the learning along the way that actually changes our outlook, pushes us forward and renews our passion.

This is my first day back at work post Christmas holidays and I'm going to use the excitement to set myself some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time sensitive) goals to help me enjoy the journey. Some may call this stalling. I see it as breaking myself in gently ......

Happy New Year.