Election lessons for small business owners

Plenty has been written about the Obama campaign’s use of technology and social media (much less a zillion other things).

I suggest you read all of it, as there are important examples to use in your small business.

For example, this Mashable.com summary of notable social media and technology events during the 2008 Presidential election campaign.

Think back to the coverage in this blog of the candidates’ email and mobile marketing processes. That’s just a small piece of the picture.

The fundamental piece of all of these social marketing tools, technologies, video sources and collaborative sites is message to market match.

Message to market match means speaking to the prospect or customer using the language THEY use when discussing the topic THEY are interested in. Or the need they have. Or the want they have.

Look at the message on MySpace for the Obama campaign and you don’t find just one profile. You find one for *each state*. You don’t find a MySpace-like message in MySpace lingo on LinkedIn (where the audience is all business people) any more than you would talk to a 45 year old customer in the same way you’d talk to your teenage kid.

Are you using the right language and the right lingo for the person you are trying to engage? Or are you trying to use the same message for everyone. It’s easier, but it sure doesn’t sell like a message that’s fine tuned to the audience.

MTV Total Request Live and the Lawrence Welk Show are music shows…with wildly different audiences. If you tried to talk with the MTV crowd about the Lennon Sisters, they’ll look at you like you’re from Mars. Likewise, if you talk about Korn to a Welk viewer, they’re likely to think you mean a crop from Iowa, not a metal band from Bakersfield.

The error in your conversation’s lingo doesn’t have to be that extreme.

Last week I was chatting with the owner of a shop that restores, customizes, sells and locates custom cars after a speaking engagement. She noted that their shop has experts in brakes, electrical and other common car problems, yet no one comes to her shop for these common repairs.

“Why would they?”, I asked. I suggested that no one knows they do that kind of work on normal cars.

Their marketing speaks to the car enthusiast, The name of the shop effectively says “We build and restore custom classic cars”. It doesn’t even begin to send the message “regular shop work is done here on regular cars”.

All the cars parked out front and in the showroom are customs, restore jobs and most are 30 or 40 years old. All the communications you see speak to the motorhead, not the guy with the ’99 Suburban that needs brakes.

If you want to attract the guy who needs brakes for a regular vehicle, you have to speak their language – not say “we do high end custom work”.

The owner I was speaking with grasped the idea quickly once I explained why the message wasn’t even being heard by the average Joe. We discussed several things she needed to do in order to get this other message out to the right group of people.

That’s the key. Quoting Robert Collier (again), “Enter the conversation already going on in the prospect’s mind.”

In the right language.

President proof your business: Through the eyes of your clients

No matter who is elected as the next President of the United States, things are going to be different over the next 4 to 8 years. Whether Obama or McCain wins, the wind in the business community is going to shift.

Is your business sail going to be set in the right direction to catch that wind? We’re going to talk about “president-proofing” your business on and off for a while, so let’s get started with episode 1.

Whether you do business with the government or not, the change that is taking place now and the changes that will take place starting on January 20th 2009 are going to present a pile of opportunity.

Either you recognize these opportunities as early as possible and set your sail to catch the wind, or you could find yourself tacking against a storm.

Whenever there is change -of any kind – in the air, you will find it accompanied by opportunity.

The problem with these great new opportunities is that they can be frustratingly difficult to detect when you are blinded by the day to day crisis management of your business. Even if you’ve successfully implemented processes and systems in your business that funnel responsibilities to your staff and shield you from what I would call the “daily mundane crisis”, stuff happens.

A critical step in seeing through the day to day fog of business crisis is something we talked about a few weeks ago (Airplane Time). I think we hit that topic hard enough already, so I suggest you review that post as part of your efforts to President-proof your business.

So how do you see those opportunities? Open your eyes.

When I say “Open your eyes”, what I mean is that you need to look really hard at the changes likely to come from a new President and his management (aka the Cabinet and staff), much less from 400+ elected or re-elected Congressional members.

No matter how you vote, examining the middle ground of each candidate’s goals and platform is a safe bet, but is it going to result in a breakthrough for your business? I’m not so sure. On the other hand, expecting massive, immediate change isn’t a reality-based expectation either.

Presidential inertia (voluntary or otherwise) will set in at the White House, as will a realization of how things really work in Congress when you’re no longer a Senator. Even if the same party controls the White House and the Congress, it isn’t necessarily a blank check.

Don’t believe me? Look at the lack of movement that has come as a result of the almost-month-old bailout bill. Life is more complex than Washington sometimes seems to recognize.

So how do you push the envelope and come up with ideas that are going to propel you safely and profitably through 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s gauntlet of *whatever* and create that new, great new thing?

Look at your clients. Look at your market.

Don’t worry so much about how the upcoming changes – whatever they are – will affect you and your business. Look at how these changes will affect your clients and your prospects.

Do any of these changes relate even remotely to what you already do? Deal with it. Create products and services that make the impacts of these annoying little changes simply go away.

Make em scatter like cockroaches suddenly exposed to sunlight.

Put yourself in your clients’ place. Look at the new world through THEIR open eyes, not just yours. Talk to them about their anticipated concerns for the upcoming administration to confirm (or destroy) that their concerns are what you expected.

What is going to make them the most insanely annoyed, angry or crazy about the upcoming administration?

What is going to start making them lose sleep at night? What is simply going to be different, perhaps notably different for them – even if it isn’t going to make them crazy?

Create the magic wand that makes the pain go away and take insanely great care of them through “these difficult times” (whatever that’s gonna mean).

PS: While I really appreciate comments, candidate-specific responses here will be deleted. If that’s on your mind when your comment juices are flowing, you’re missing the point of this post. Read it again.

31 flavors of marketing: Another election-related marketing campaign

Last weekend, I took my granddaughter home to her mom and dad. As we started back toward the Flathead on a balmy fall afternoon, the Mrs and I stopped for a little ice cream at Baskin-Robbins.

Down in the corner of the ice cream case were a blue flavor and a red flavor (thankfully not colored that way). One was McCain-themed, one was Obama-themed, each with a clever description of the recipe.

I didn’t see a scorecard anywhere, and it really didn’t matter. They put the effort into using the news in their marketing, and in fact, in their product.

Time is running out for your effort in this area, at least for this time around. If you don’t have time to do it now, put a reminder several weeks in advance of the next election.

If you do have time now, use these examples to come up with a campaign IN ADVANCE so it’ll be ready next time.

No matter what, there’s always news that you can use. Just crack open a USA Today or cnn.com, or whatever your favorite (or least-favorite) news delivery source is. Use what they give you.

Baskin-Robbins’ payoff on Google so far is 13,300 search results for “Baskin Robbins Flavor Debate”. 13,330 discussions about their business. How many ice cream cones did that sell?

Have a little fun with the news and yes, profit from it.

If 7-11 can use the news, why can’t you?

Over the years, I’ve advised a number of businesses to use what’s currently going on in the news, sports (Super Bowl, World Series, Olympics) and politics as creative fuel for campaigns of this nature: http://www.7-election.com

But few have the nerve to actually do so, particularly as well as this campaign (no pun intended) by 7-11 convenience stores.

The public relations boost from local media alone is worth it. Many times these kinds of things are picked up nationally. This was the case with the introduction of a Palin sandwich in a Anchorage Alaska restaurant called “Lion’s Den”.

In case you want clear evidence, click here to find 1,250,000 search results for “Palin sandwich”.

Could your business use some national publicity for the price of a couple of cases of custom cups, plates, pizza boxes, etc?

If you’re on a tight budget, mosey over to the local election headquarters and tell them you’d like a pile of free stickers to put on your pizza boxes, coffee cups, or whatever.

Let your customers choose which sticker they want. Keep track, make a big deal of it when you announce the results of your very scientific poll just before the election.

The person *really* in charge of the economy

Depending on what you do for a living and, perhaps, what political party you prefer, the economy might be bad, good, great, lousy or so-so in your eyes.

If you listen to whoever is writing John McCain’s speeches, you might believe that the fundamentals of the economy are strong and recent bounces in fundamental numbers are an early indication that the surge, er I mean the tax rebates, worked.

If you listen to whoever is writing Barack Obama’s speeches, you might believe that the economy is in terrible shape and that if things keep going in their current direction, it’ll only get worse.

If you look back to the days of the Great Depression, you would find the same thing.

While I don’t intentionally compare today with the economics of the depression (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac notwithstanding, perhaps), you could just as easily find people in really bad shape 85 years ago as you could find them in really good shape.

For most people, it comes down to your view of things at the moment. What do you see out the window? How’s it feel to sit at your desk? Are you buried in work? Or are you scraping for every job, every client?

You know, of course, that all of that is the responsibility of the person in charge of the economy.

You.

What you did a year ago, 6 months ago, last month, last week and today will determine – for the most part – how the economy (YOUR economy) is next week, next month and next year.

If you listen to pundits, the media or whoever, you’ll get the idea that things will be better or worse depending on who gets elected.

Think back a bit. Did the number of leads you got in the month after the last election change radically when the party in control changed (or didn’t change)?

For that matter, didn’t you go into business for yourself so that you’d have more control over your level of success? If so, why would an election even be on your radar, success-wise?

Rather than getting yourself tangled up in the victim’s web created by the political process – or at least, the current one – spend your time making plans and implementing things.

Elections don’t generate leads, they don’t create clients, they don’t close sales and they sure don’t generate profit.

If times are tight in your business, look around at every aspect of your business and ask yourself: How do I create profit by doing THAT?

Does it bring in leads? Does it help me close sales? Does it help me retain customers? Does it prevent others from “stealing” my customers? Does it make the experience of working with me more enjoyable or more efficient? Does it allow you to be more effective, more efficient or more productive?

If you can’t say yes to at least one of those, should you be doing it? If you don’t, STOP DOING IT.

It’s not up to John or Barack to decide the economy you experience – it’s up to you. Sure, they might do something that creates an opportunity, but that isn’t what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about taking action that will have an impact on your business today, next week and in the days before the election is decided.

Take half an hour to examine just 3 things you do in your business. Take action to eliminate them, or improve them.  Do it today.

And the really sneaky part? Do it again tomorrow for 3 other things. Make it a habit.

Business owners are the Root of all Evil?

Today’s guest post comes from Ayn Rand. Yep, the author of Atlas Shrugged.

As the 2008 Presidential Election looms closer, people like you and I will be discussed more and more by the candidates and the press.

We’ll be called rich, evil, greedy and any number of other things. “We” meaning entrepreneurs and business owners.

Don’t let yourself get stuck in the mud, believing what they say.

Instead, listen to Francisco and think about what you do. Then get out there and do it better.