Communicate when nature threatens

Last week I said “Allowing perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

Part of your job is to set guests’ minds at ease by giving them the advice they need to make considered decisions during situations they’re unaccustomed to.

They want to protect their investment, their vacation and their families. It’s safe to say that your local, regional and/or state tourism groups, media and attractions will put effort into this. What isn’t safe to assume is that your guests will see their message and understand it as you do.

You might be the only one in the area with their name and contact info. You might be the only one who develops a relationship with them. Your business is the one that will pay the price if they get off a plane in Minneapolis and see an airport gate “if it bleeds, it leads” style news video with an uninformed announcer from 2500 miles away saying “Glacier Park is on fire“.

They don’t know what you know. You’ve seen all of this before.

Make sure they understand that and that you are giving them time-tested advice based on your knowledge of their visit and their family. YOU need to contact them and make sure they have accurate information, otherwise, their next flight might be toward home.

Details protect your business

Last time, I added a lot to your plate:

Segmenting guests into groups. Collecting emails. Collecting cell numbers. Writing emails. Sending emails. Documenting the various communication processes so anyone can do it, even if you’re tending to a sick parent. Producing templates for the emails you might need to send. Producing templates for the text messages you might need to send. Producing a fill-in-the-blanks script that a staffer can read when calling guests who are in transit or in the area. Documenting the process so that anyone on site knows who is responsible for starting the process, which one to start, who to notify and what to say.

This isn’t about creating more work for the owner/manager. This is about putting a trust-building, by the numbers, automated where necessary system in place so that it can be handled by employees who never dealt with it before.

You won’t have time to do any of this when a fire blows up in the park. You won’t have time to manually send 300 emails or make 100 phone calls while deciding what to say on the fly.

This is about creating time to deal with critical high-season work when you least want to be “messing around with emails”, even if your place isn’t directly threatened. These tasks need to be organized, tested and ready to implement before the season starts.

Fine tuning the message

When you sit down to build this system, you’ll have a lot to think about. For example, the urgency and means of contacting them is as different as the message for each group and situation.

What conditions that merit separate communications and (most likely) separate messages? What groups should be split out of “the entire list of guests”?

A number of situations will expose themselves as you think it through. Go back over prior years and think about the times you handled this well and not so well. What did you learn after the fact that you didn’t consider when things were unfolding? Your own experiences count too – How was this done when you were on vacation and unexpected problems occurred?

Two examples:

  • If evacuations or cancellations are necessary, will evacuated / cancelled guests get priority booking for a substitute stay at your property?
  • As the situation unfolds, it will become more clear what to say to your guests with reservations a month or more out – but you need to communicate the plan now so they know what to expect. What will you say?

Your business may not be affected by fire season but nature threatens your business somehow and when it does, “fire season lessons” apply. Your area might be subject to drought, low (or high) water in rivers/lakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or a damaged bridge instead of a forest fire.

No matter what happens, send the right message to the right guests in a timely manner in the right way. Build trust. Practice, automate, document, delegate.

 

Exhibiting at trade shows – Why do it?

Should we go to every trade show every year? Some of these shows cost us well over $7000. The one show that we want to skip this year is part of an association. They have about 300 members. We know just about all of them and know what they are using. Of course, a bunch of them use our product.

Anyone who has attended a trade show knows why this question is being asked.

Avoid the knee jerk

Our thoughts first jump to the time, trouble and expense of trade show travel, time away from “real work”, conference center shipping and logistics, being on your feet all day for three to five days, skipping meals and sleep as you work 6:00 am to midnight while your friends, family and co-workers think you are “vacationing” in Orlando or Las Vegas, much less the general aggravation of things like paying $300 to rent a 10′ x 10′ piece of cheaply-made, unpadded carpet.

Trade shows can be a hassle. They require a sizable investment in time, money and people to participate, so the natural response might be “Let’s think of reasons not to go.

Don’t do that.

Why go when you own the market?

If you don’t go to a show or association meeting because you feel you own the market, what message does it send?

Here are a few possibilities:

This vendor doesn’t care enough to show up and talk to us.

This vendor only shows up when they think they can close a bunch of deals.

This vendor takes us for granted.

If your competitors are there – these are some of the ways they might position your decision not to attend, or they might simply say “Think about why Company A wouldn’t show up.

Think about the show from the point of view of the attendees who invested in your products and services. Will your absence tell them you’re taking them for granted? Remember, these people helped you gain your dominant market position by investing in what you sell. By attending these events, they’re identifying themselves as the ones who care enough about their business and their industry to step away from the office, learn what’s new, learn what is (and isn’t) working in their industry and brainstorm with peers and vendors about solutions.

Do you prefer to listen to the ones never involve themselves in such things?

Seth calls these people your tribe. Dan calls them your herd. The concepts are different, but their needs are similar. Herds require attention and care. Your clientele does too.

Herds? Really?

I don’t refer to “herd” with the mindset that your clientele is a mindless bunch of cattle. Instead, consider “herd” from the viewpoint of a rancher. How do they attend to their care, oversight and feeding?

Do they let the herd eat what they want? Deal with the weather without concern?  If a predator appears, do they simply let that predator kill off a few of the herd? If someone shows up to rustle part of the herd, do they sit back and let it happen?

Ranchers provide the right forage and plenty of fresh, unfrozen water, while protecting the herd from predators, rustlers and other threats.

They care for the members of the herd because they know each member of the herd is returning a ROI. They know what it costs to lose a head. Do you?

While members of a cattle herd don’t choose to be there, clients can choose to leave, as can tribe members. The care and attention you provide has a great influence on their choices.

What opportunities will exhibiting at a trade show present?

Find out what concerns your market today – from the current perspective of the leaders in your market, rather than from insights and perceptions that may have been formed years ago.

It’s an opportunity to talk with someone who uses another vendor’s product. If they won’t switch to yours – isn’t it important to know why? A face-to-face, eye-to-eye discussion may yield critical insight, or it’ll confirm that those people aren’t your ideal clients. Either way, it’s valuable info.

What will you gain from a stronger relationships with your clients and other vendors in your market?

Trade shows are unique gatherings of the best clients, prospects and vendors. They’re a big opportunity – if you work shows strategically and execute them with a plan.

Effective press releases for small business

Days after a EF4 tornado tore up Central Arkansas and killed 15 people, this press release arrived in the local TV weather team’s inbox:

Saying “enough with the tornado clean-up” to a media person in the area of a killer tornado in question is at best, someone being an inattentive and/or insensitive jerk. The media person who receives it is likely to not only delete your message, but put you on their email block list.

That isn’t why you send press releases.

Why press releases?

If you haven’t written for a newspaper or magazine, or worked for a media agency, you may not realize that many of the stories you see start with ideas seeded with press releases.

Sending press releases to your local media, and selected national media (such as the editor of a nationally-read newspaper, blog, magazine, podcast, etc) can make sense to draw attention to your business and what it’s up to, but only if you don’t make a few key mistakes.

What qualities do effective press releases for small business have, and what should you watch out for? As with any other marketing piece – what matters is your understanding of and ability to reach the audience.

That doesn’t mean your PR should grind to a halt every time there’s a disaster of some kind, but you should make these efforts with care.

What media people need from your press release

Media people need story ideas, but not just any old story idea.

They need story ideas of interest to their readers, which means you need to consider their audience and what’s on their mind.

This isn’t about how many people you can get to see your press release. It’s about how many of the RIGHT people see it.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like the kind of content that you’d create when direct marketing? Of course.

Media people don’t need spam. Like you, they get plenty.

Getting stuff you don’t want to read and aren’t interested in (ie: spam, junk mail) is an annoying waste of time. Why would you expect the reader of your press release to feel differently?

What media people don’t need from your press release

They don’t need you to waste their time

When you send a press release about your new sailboat trailer product line to a writer for a national magazine for electricians, the message they get is something like this:  “My story is more important than anything you’re doing, so I think it’s OK to waste your time by telling you about something that has nothing to do with your readers’ interest, much less your publication’s chosen subject matter.

Media people don’t need story ideas that have nothing to do with what they write about / what their publication covers.

If there’s a tangent that does apply for a seemingly off-topic press release, you’d better make your point quickly. Let’s use the sailboat press release as an example.

If your sailboat product line press release reads like something sailboat owners want to read – DON’T send it to the electrician publication.

On the other hand, if there is a unique technique or technology that you used during your manufacturing process handled grounding, wire protection, or wiring that spends time underwater, then write a press release specific to those topics. That’s something the electricians who don’t sail are more likely to care about.

Media people don’t want to see press releases about stuff their readers don’t care about.

I get press release emails quite often because of the weekly newspaper column I write. I can think of one in the last seven years that had anything to do with what I write about. That one press release was not about an author’s just released romance novel – and yes, I do get those releases.

Think twice before you send

If you look over the press release image, you’ll see that the PR agent’s client is an author and that author appears to have some sort of relationship with Wyndham resorts.

If you’re the author or an employee, manager or stockholder of Wyndham, would you want that PR email blast associated with you?

I sure wouldn’t.

You do PR so people will discuss and hopefully promote the subject matter in your press release. Take care what you send and send it to someone whose audience genuinely cares about the topic.

Simple, right?

Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!” – Who knows, but it can’t hurt”

Broncos Defense

Any number of claims will be made about this weekend’s Bronco victory in the AFC Championship game, but one stands out above the rest.

Sponsorship evaluation firm Front Row Analytics said the city of Omaha got its money worth with each verbal mention of Omaha worth the equivalent of $150,000 in advertising.

This claim, from an ESPN story about Manning’s calls during the game – each of which generated donations to Manning’s Peyback Foundation, ignores marketing reality and most likely determines the value of advertising based on conference championship football game advertising rates.

Problem is, that’s not what determines the value of advertising – though it can impact the price.

While the PR and donation campaign by the Omaha Chamber is pretty smart, don’t even think about believing the claim that “each verbal mention of Omaha is worth the equivalent of $150,000 worth of advertising”. In no universe is this claim going to hold water.

It’s quite clear that Omaha Steaks’ SVP Todd Simon understands the nature of this project – in this quote from the same ESPN story:

“This is really great for Omaha as a community and for the businesses that are embedded here,” said Todd Simon, a senior vice president of Omaha Steaks, which his family owns. “Who knows whether any of this will translate to the bottom line, if ever, but it can’t hurt.

The emphasis in the above sentence is mine.

Don’t get me wrong. This was a very intelligent project by the Omaha Chamber and they should be quite proud of what they pulled off. It’s particularly impressive to see them jump on it so quickly and get something fun, beneficial and PR-friendly organized after last week’s game against the Chargers, where Manning said “Omaha” 44 times.

It’s also a great example of the “Use the news” tactic that we’ve discussed repeatedly in the past.

“It can’t hurt”

If each of Manning’s 31 mentions of “Omaha” are worth $150k, then Front Row should be able to describe how Omaha can track those mentions to purchase / investment and related actions made as a result. Obviously, I don’t believe they can do this. They can certainly inquire at every sale made over the next few months, but this is unlikely to produce results that would provoke someone into additional advertising investments.

Small businesses should not be investing their marketing budget in “who knows…but it can’t hurt” advertising.

Every bit of your advertising spend can be tracked so that you know whether it worked or not. Don’t let it out the door if it isn’t trackable.

Start a streak

What have you done every day, every week or every month for years?

For example, I’ve written a weekly column for the Flathead Beacon since 2006.

I don’t get a week off from the column if it’s Christmas or the Fourth of July. It just gets done.

Some find that a massive, if not surprising, achievement. Others see it as if it were a ball and chain.

Me? It’s just something I need to get done every week. Some weeks, it’s harder than others – but I still make sure it gets done – and yes, I’m better at getting that done regularly than I am at some other things because I’m accountable to the community who reads it.

The value of that accountability shouldn’t be discounted. It’s a powerful tool and motivator.

Think about it

Think about the consistency of the tasks *you* perform to grow your business. Would more consistency in how you podcast, blog, tweet, vlog, post to Facebook, send an email, make a call, drop a mailing or send a newsletter mean more/better business? Would adding a new item to the list make more of an impact?

Of the things you do regularly, which of them produce the best response? (if you don’t know – fix that)

Would it help if that work was done more often? Think about it.

Did you train them to defend your business or your reputation?

Them, meaning “your staff”.

Are they using your policies and training as a shield to protect your business, or are they using them as tools and leverage to protect your customers and your brand?

There’s a big difference between the two. An example is this story involving a repeatedly broken-down U-Haul truck, whose details quickly spread across Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

You can see things ratchet up here (the tweets are listed in reverse chronological order, 21m means “21 minutes ago”, 3h means “3 hours ago”):

If some of those names don’t mean much, consider that:

  • @Mashable reaches almost 3 million people via Twitter and millions more in the business and tech world via retweets and Mashable.com.
  • @petershankman reaches 140k people on Twitter and has an email list full of journalists, authors, bloggers and PR people waiting for his HARO emails several times a day (HARO - Help-a-Reporter-Out)
The timeframe between 28 Jun (11pm) and the tweets marked 3h is about 36 hours. There are no responses from UHaul during that timeframe. Yet minutes after I mentioned the situation to @PenskeCares, they responded with this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/PenskeCares/statuses/219109851844984834″]

After social media pressure started to heat up, U-Haul finally spoke up on day three with this (which you see Dave’s response to at “21m”, above):

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/UHaul_Cares/status/219102539017224193″]

Defending the brand

I’m sure that Dave and his dad will be cared for. What about the several hundred thousand people (according to HashTracking.com) who have seen this? Will it be what pops into their head the next time moving related topics are on their mind? That certainly isn’t what U-Haul wants. Will Dave, his friends and family ever use U-Haul again?

Is this what would happen if your business had a problem with someone who knows how to enlist help like this?

Things break. People make mistakes. Customers generally understand. They’re cranky when it happens because it’s unexpected change, discomfort and challenge, but their reaction depends on how you respond.

Your staff’s character and training determine how they implement your policies – and whether the situation becomes the next feel good story (or customer service nightmare) that your customers talk about on Facebook, Twitter and to their friends and family.

Character, Training and Policy

Reputation damage prevention comes down to character, training and policy implementation because you can’t always be there. There’s little doubt in my mind that U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen would have taken care of this properly – just like you would.

But Joe isn’t the one answering the phone.

He has managers and call centers handling that. Initially, it appears they did little to assure Dave that they had his back even though (or because) this drama took place in the region near U-Haul’s Phoenix corporate headquarters.

Efforts to defend their business damaged their reputation – by design, but not by intent. By design means we train our employees to defend our business, but we seldom empower them to defend its brand.

Why? We want to be the one making the decision when money is spent or time is committed to resolve a problem. We believe that no one would make the same decision we would because the staff isn’t spending their money. The problem is that we aren’t always around when these decisions are needed, so we make policy. Policies produce consistent handling of daily operations, a good thing.

We often provide our staff with policy that encourages non-responsibility (“It’s our policy” and “There’s nothing else I can do”) combined with job insecurity (“violating policy is a termination offense”). This prevents your staff from doing the right thing when the unusual occurs.

For edge cases requiring conscientious thought, our policies are often silent. They rarely say “If use of this policy could damage our reputation, do what you think is best for the customer if the short-term cost to the company is less than (whatever), otherwise ask for approval of your resolution.”

And that’s where U-Haul is right now, both at the corporate customer support level and sadly, at a few franchises in the U.S. Southwest. Franchisees have just as much ability to damage the brand as HQ does.

It’s OK to train your staff to defend the business, but be sure they’re empowered and trained to defend your reputation as well.

Your customer’s lowest low. Washed away.

In the case of Portland Oregon’s Plaza Dry Cleaners, a picture really is worth 1000 words.

I’m guessing Plaza owner Steve Young knows at least one thing that’s on his customers’ minds – particularly those who might not be able to afford his service at a time when they most need it.

Imagine the loyalty this builds in someone who is dealing with the fear, humiliation and anything else that goes with being unemployed. It’s such a kind act for people in his neighborhood.

Are you entering the conversation already going on in your customers’ minds? Steve did.

Outstanding.

News story from the Oregonian

Visiting Portland? Live there? Get your stuff cleaned at Plaza

Plaza Dry Cleaners
909 NW Everett
Portland OR 97209
(503)241-5417

Help Them Buy Better

Nap @ Västra hamnen
Creative Commons License photo credit: bjaglin

A few days ago, Seth Godin asked why ethical marketers wouldn’t be “eager to have aggressive, clear and well-defined regulations” (about marketing).

He set the context by talking about the lies used to sell sunscreen, noting that lobbyists kindly helped the FDA water down proposed sunscreen regulations.

To quote Seth:

Why aren’t ethical marketers (of any product) eager to have clear and well-defined regulations, creating a set of honest definitions so that they can actually do what they set out to do–make a difference and make a living at the same time? If you’re busy competing against people willing to cut corners, I’d think you’d want the rules to be really aggressive, clear and obvious.

Yes, clear and obvious regulations would be great, but the assertion that we need more regulations to deal with them requires that I call BullSeth.

Enforcement and Influence

The enforcement of existing regulations in a fair and consistent manner is the primary issue.

Selective enforcement of these regulations is sometimes used to send a political message to some industries while others are left to their own honor or lack thereof.

At times, the agencies responsible for enforcement find themselves taking direction from elected officials who often take direction in the form of campaign contributions. At other times, these agencies do whatever they like, regardless of regulatory boundaries created to manage their work.

Before the everything-is-one-party’s-fault types weigh in, keep in mind that this ISN’T a (R) problem or a (D) problem. It’s universal regardless of the animal you represent.

A healthy business / consumer / economic environment doesn’t require oppressive business marketing/advertising regulations like Germany’s, we need those who represent us to use the existing regulations in a fair and consistent manner AND continue to improve them.

Smart businesses can’t sit around and wait for that to happen.

Don’t Wait, Educate.

Waiting for these changes isn’t going to cut it. Smart businesses educate prospects and customers about the quality choices they have.

That doesn’t mean your marketing has to be boring (far from it). It doesn’t mean your marketing can’t be compelling, entertaining, motivational and most importantly, effective – but it can be all those things without breaking existing laws, much less new ones.

In the meantime, we have to do our part to eliminate the slimeballs. Yes, I absolutely mean put them out of business, even if it means a game of Whack-a-Mole as they close one and start another.

Ethical business people don’t do enough to call out the slimy behavior of their competitors. Neither do consumers.

Buy Better

Meanwhile, people continue to take it from the cretins Seth referred to, rewarding these “businesses” for their behavior.

If folks keep buying from them and media outlets keep accepting their advertising, do you really think they are going to change?

Have you ever contacted a media outlet about the advertising they accepted from vendors advertising one thing and delivering another? Sure, it’s your word against the vendor’s. And yes, the media outlet will likely claim they have no responsibility for what appears in their paper, on their station or on their website.

I think you’re smarter than that.

The power of the customer to deal with these vendors comes simply: STOP BUYING FROM THESE IDIOTS.

It’s Just Word of Mouth

Businesses can help them do that.

Customers have lots of resources that enable them to take control, including Yelp, Urbanspoon, Angie’s List, Trip Advisor, etc. These services help people find businesses that deliver what they say and avoid the ones who don’t.

In a perfect world, we shouldn’t need any of them. Until we get there, we all have to help each other by calling BS when it’s warranted and giving kudos as well.

Too few businesses pay attention to those services. If you think no one is using them to make daily purchasing choices in your little town, you’re dead wrong – particularly if your area is frequented by tourists. You need to be monitoring them, addressing issues, “claiming” your business so people can find you, and encouraging consumers to share their thoughts there.

Encourage your customers to use tools that help them buy better. Provide them when you can. Help them stop buying from the wrong people.

Golf Boys – The PGA’s First Boy Band. Not Kidding.

Unlike Farmers Insurance, the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) hasn’t really ever come off as an organization with a sense of humor, no matter how funny some of their members might be.

While golf is full of decades-old (if not centuries-old) tradition and is traditionally thought of as a game for the well-heeled, it’s really about spending time with your friends, even when you’re playing a course that would make a good cow pasture.

Friends who golf aren’t just mostly-white, stodgy old geezers in funny-looking polyester pants.

The boy band may not have this on their agenda, I have to ask: What have you done to reach out beyond your traditional market?

PS: Farmers Insurance is donating $1000 to charity for every 100,000 views of this video.