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Every customer listens differently. Can they hear you?

In the TED talk “The danger of a single story“, Chimamanda Adichie shares some powerful lessons about stories, their environments and how they form our assumptions. It’s notable that she sees this from two sides: both, assumptions she and her family made and those made about her and her country/continent.

Once you’ve watched this, and yes, I realize you’re investing 18 minutes+ into this post, you’ll be much better prepared to consider the point of this post – that your business’ story is multi-faceted and the risk of telling just one story is shortchanging your business.

To put it in terms that fit the election season’s political rhetoric: If you are a fervent member of the blue party, when someone from the red party talks – I suspect you probably dont accept that the point that they’re making is worth listening to. Likewise, if you are a fervent member of the red party, when someone from the blue party tries to make a point, the situation is likely the same.

Are you “Talking to the hand”?

The stories your customers listen to might not be quite as highly charged as political conversation, but they still might be ineffective because your customer might feel you aren’t speaking to the problems/concerns they have.

The moment they think you aren’t talking about their problem, you may as well not be talking to them. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong / misguided / misinterpreting your story. It’s over as far as that conversation is concerned.

This is what makes it critical to know your ideal customers inside and out. Their needs, wants, fears and more. Every one of those requires you to tell a different story.

 

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Starting A New Business : Part 3 – Marketing

Chester 2
Creative Commons License photo credit: Yatmandu

Good marketing doesn’t need to lie.

If you have to lie to sell your stuff, either your stuff isn’t worth buying or you aren’t worth buying it from.

Harsh words? Not if you want to stay in the business you’re about to start.

These days, buyers are empowered by the information made available to them by other buyers. I don’t have to list all the websites with ratings, reviews and so on. You already know them – they’re the sites where lies are documented (along with the good stuff).

Remember how easy (and perhaps even pleasant) it is to do business with someone you trust?

When it’s clear that you can trust the person on the other side of the table, the other end of the phone conversation, behind the register or on that website, it gives you the freedom to choose the best product or service. Building that trust is part of the job of good marketing.

Think about it. What store drives you crazy? Now consider the one that you love. The differences between them might be minor but they are significant enough that you’d never choose the drives-you-crazy store. Which one is easier to sell?

Remember the source

Consider when a business says something like this: “We’re the leading vendor of (some random product) in the valley.” The leading or A leading? Leading how? Without proof, you’re not so likely to believe an ad that makes that claim unless it includes some plausible evidence.

Now consider when several of their customers tell you that a business is the only place to go for certain items and then *justify that assertion with a glowing description of their experiences*.

The difference between those two claims? Proof that comes from a trusted party – what I usually call “testimonials”.

Standout execution that meets or exceeds what your marketing promised are what seals the relationship and generates the word of mouth proof you want.

Standout

People are conditioned to receive poorly-targeted, poorly-timed marketing delivering the wrong message because they see so much of those things.

While they may not realize that they’re subjected to poor marketing, they’ll react more predictably to efforts that are well-timed and targeted. That alone usually stands out from everyone else in your market.

Good marketing is trackable. It delivers a message that fits the recipient and where possible, their situation. It’s designed to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. It communicates the reason why people should do business with you rather than everyone else in your market.

Your marketing needs to answer your “reason why” question: “Why should you do business with us instead of everyone else?”

Fedex uses “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Clear, concise, has obvious value to the right customer and they back it up with quality. Your core concept, in conjunction with your focus on your ideal customer(s), has to be just as obvious and backed up similarly.

Look at the recent pitch from the JCPenney retail chain, which you could paraphrase as “Good pricing every day without gimmicky sales.” Frequent sales and coupons sent out every week devalue your goods and condition people to buy only when there’s a sale or a coupon. These practices subconsciously teach your clientele that you product isn’t worth full price.

Promotions provide a reason why, but they don’t necessarily discount/devalue what you sell.

Good marketing is planned, not random. It provokes an action: What do you want the customer/prospect to do next? Visit a website? Make a call? Come into your store? Test drive?

On target

Many of the questions from Starting a New Business : Part 2 are critical considerations for your marketing.

For example, I asked you to consider the question “Are you familiar enough with your prospective ideal customer to enter their market?”

It’s a pretty important question. Who is your ideal customers? There might be several core groups. Go back over those questions from last week and figure out who they are. Describe them in detail. That will help you know how, when and where to speak to them as well as what they need to know in order to make a buying decision.

Good marketing doesn’t need to lie.

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Etsy’s Social Commerce: Smart at Christmas

Etsy’s new Facebook app, the Gift Recommender, is a smart move and a great example of ways to use your data to attract more business.

I’ve no doubt that some will see Etsy’s “social commerce” via Facebook as “creepy” or invasive, but I suggest you give it a try to get an idea how this new app might impact your business or generate some ideas.

If Facebook isn’t your thing, but any form of retail is, create a test Facebook account with a throwaway email address so you too can see what the fuss is about.

Etsy is widely known for their belief in automated software testing. You can read about their latest project in their developers’ blog at  http://codeascraft.etsy.com/2011/11/09/engineering-social-commerce/

Hat tip to Scobleizer for pointing it out.

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The ROI of Social Media is…

Two minutes and change that hit some of “the what and the why” discussed during my Social Media – A Roadmap for Small Businesses talk this week.

The ROI of social media is that your business is still here in five years.

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Where’s my concierge?

One of the rungs on your ascension ladder should include cater-to-their-every-whim service – within the context of your business.

Audible has figured this out, as you can see from the screen shot above.

I’ve told you about my use of it in the software business (“done-for-you software setups in 7 days, guaranteed”) as a way of getting new users started quickly as a way of increasing sales, improving our percentage of sales closed and improving our service so that renewal / maintenance agreements were a non-issue.

Have you figured it out? If so, I’d like to hear what your “cater to their every whim” concierge service is like.

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Marketing inside the Tasting Room


Puit d’Amour from St. Honoré Boulangerie

This past week, I had the pleasure of visiting the still somewhat chilly seaside of Oregon thanks to a handful of out of town appointments.

In between the productive parts of the week, we managed to visit a couple of western Oregon wineries.

While a good time was had by all, I found it interesting how different each winery’s tasting room experience was designed to sell.

The Fancy One

This winery, created originally as a farm by a Montanan from Butte, was a bit upscale, sizable and very clean. It was a long-established place, noting that “long established” means “since 1980 or so”.

They’re that new because ash from Mount St. Helens’ eruption killed most crops in the area, changing the soil for decades to come.

The room said “old money” (dark, massive woods). While there were a few sweatshirts available, the retail portion of the room was all about the wine. Lots of it. Information from two inconsistently dressed but very sharp wine servers was on target, friendly and as detailed as you wanted. They clearly loved talking wine.

The Spartan One

This tasting room had a simple, fuss-free entry off of their gravel parking lot behind the wine production area. There’s a bar, a few barstools and an area clearly used for packing shipments. All in the tasting room. The lone wine steward was reasonably well-educated about the wine but didn’t really provoke the conversation.

The Homey One

This one was very new, expecting to bottle their own wine from their own grapes for the very first time this year. Previously, they’ve made wine using grapes from nearby vineyards.

The tasting room was homey, if not a bit cluttered with every wine accessory and kitsch you could think of. A yellow lab was chilled out on the floor. A guitarist was just outside the tasting room’s open door, playing in shaded patio seating area. Unfortunately the wine at this place wasn’t very good. The staff was right at home, downright friendly and maybe even too at home if that’s possible.

The Experienced One

This winery was almost 20 years old. Their marketing materials (online) referenced comments by a well-known reviewer. The tasting room was small, uncluttered and while it had wine accessories, they include only those focused on a better wine experience (vs. coasters and talking corkscrews).

Staff was knowledgeable and friendly in an average sort of way. Nothing bad, but nothing outstanding.

What struck me

While we didn’t visit all of the wineries (there are quite a few), the ones we did visit took very different approaches to their goal – presumably that of selling wine.

In every tasting room, there was little to take home other than wine that would bring you back to them to buy more. Few items had a website address on them – at least those that you could take with you.

No one asked us for contact information, not even those who sold us a bottle of wine.

In some cases, there were Oregon wine country brochures and/or county-specific winery marketing association brochures, rather than winery-specific info.

Every winery but the “Fancy One” was out of “wine menus”. These are descriptive sheets about each of their wines that left you room to take notes and perhaps note which one you prefer over another and why. In two different places, the only one they had was leftover from a Memorial Day special event – in both situations, it was the last one they had.

Why is this important?

How will they choose?

Out of the 40+ wineries in that Oregon county, during our visit they often have but ONE chance to get a visitor to fall in love with their place, their wine, their mystique, and the grapes that only they know how to nurture.

These small facilities (small in the wine world) sell at most one wine in retail locations. Some sell only at the winery. That’s right – they have no retail presence.

Ordinarily, you’d want these visitors to ask their local store for your wine, but they often can’t. Their small production (number of cases produced annually) prevents widespread distribution. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’ve got to get them loving your stuff quickly in that situation.

Think about trying to penetrate (much less stand out in) mainstream retail wine shelf space the next time you walk into a grocery that carries wine (or a wine center store). It’s like looking at the salad dressing bottle shelves at WalMart. Your eyes glaze over at all the choices.

When the mind is presented with a zillion choices, one of two things tends to happen. People take the default choice (Gallo?, Wishbone?) or they make no choice at all. Next time you’re in your local grocery, watch people look at the wine shelves. They’ll look and look and in many cases, they’ll give up and take a Gallo (or whatever they saw on TV recently, or whatever is on sale).

Why? Because no one stands out in that environment. That’s why you see more and more outlandish labels and wine names. They know their bottles are on a shelf with 200 others so they’ll do A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G to catch your eye.

What do you want me to do next?

Knowing that the competition (where you might not be stocked) often caters to “How much?”, why wouldn’t you try to hook folks while they’re in your tasting room? It’s the best possible situation for the winery. They can’t grab a Gallo. They can shop by price, but they still get to taste before they buy. They have experts to help them choose what fits their taste buds and their budget.

There’s something else critical about that the tasting room visitor: She walks in the front door with a sign over her head that says “I like wine and I’m willing to drive all the way here to try YOURS.”  Think about how often you get the opportunity to make a first impression on someone who has tipped their hand that strongly.

What does the winery want them to do next? Beyond taking home a case (or even a single bottle), they want these visitors to go home and order more of their wines online (if they can). They want them to ask their local store to stock or custom order them. They want their visitors want them to go to the DailyGrape and watch Gary‘s reviews of their wines and then order from him.

If that’s what you want them to do, you have to make it easy.

And now, it’s your turn.

Now…think about the “browsers” who enter your business. Think about the first time buyers and, where appropriate, the tourists who enter your business.

How do you “stick” in their minds? How do you help them return, even if all they can do is return to your website?

Wineries have to deal with customers in states (like Montana) who cannot (easily) have wine shipped to them due to arcane laws put in place (and kept there) by fear-driven trade associations.

In one way or another, we all have situations like that, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take every step possible to make it easy to buy. How are you making it “easy to buy” even for your customers who have to exert effort to do so?

Let’s simplify that a bit: How are you making your stuff easy to buy?

What do you want them (your visitors) to do next?

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A business problem, not a water problem

Photo credit: Michael Hyatt

When book publisher Michael Hyatt posted this image saying “When you read this at Panera, you know your city has a water problem”, it struck me as a business problem.

Sure, the city might have a problem, but that shouldn’t be your customers’ problem.

Every day, we must adapt to the cards we’re dealt.

Rather than “We are not serving tap water, sodas or brewed tea today” and taking what might be perceived as a political shot at the city (the same one who does their next restaurant inspection?), a customer-centered management team could have called Culligan (et al) to get all the restaurant-approved water they’d need to provide glasses of water and brewed tea.

If you’re Culligan, there’s a win-win there.

Perhaps you can’t easily and quickly alter the water supply for a soda dispensing system, but that still doesn’t require a sign.

A quick look at last week’s sales totals from the register would have told them that they sell 430 sodas per day on average and run over to Costco or Sam’s (or called their normal supplier) for a canned/bottled supply that would span the gap for them.

The next work day, they could consult with their soda mix supplier and explain the situation further, ask for advice on water supply adaptation and then contact their plumber to arrange for a way to feed the third-party water into their soda system. Or they simply could have adapted using pre-mix, though that would probably be too much of an interference to the restaurant’s workflow.

Instead, they chose to sell no soda and no tea (both high profit margin items) and take a shot at the city.

Maybe the city needed a smack, but the place to do that is at the city offices, at a council meeting and worst case, in the local press.

Using your customers as pawns in that game makes for a losing battle, especially when they are standing at your front door with their wallets and purses open.

PS: Interesting that coffee wasn’t mentioned on that sign. Might be because many places use high-tech water filtration systems for their coffee water supply lines. I wonder if a non-franchise restaurant would have reacted the same way.

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25 (or 6) to 54: Is that demographic important to you?

25 (or 6) to 54 is not a song from Chicago (that’s 25 or 6 to 4, video above).

It’s people.

People aged 25 (or 26) to 54 make up…

  • SIXTY-TWO percent of all social media use.
  • FIFTY THREE percent of Facebook users (687 million as of June 2011)
  • SEVENTY-FOUR percent of Twitter users.

We’re talking about a ton of people who have jobs, families, purchasing power, retirement plans, homes, cars and P&L responsibilities.

In other words – they might not be who you assumed they were. Many of them are potential customers who need and/or want what you create.

Typical

The typical social network user is 37 years old. Not a 13-15 year old who hasn’t yet gotten their license.

59% of people from ages 16 to 32 get their news online (is *that* demographic important to you?)

Are you taking social media interaction seriously from a strategic point of view? Are your competitors?

 

Social media use age profile (click to see full-size)

Graphic source: http://news.community102.com/how-different-age-groups-interact-online For the sources of these numbers, see the links at the bottom of the graphic. They’re readable when the graphic is viewed full-size (click the image).

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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.

 

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Checkmate on the Fridge

My favorite story about setting expectations comes from a really smart real estate agent.

When you decide to buy or sell a house with her, she gives you a pre-printed list of all the things that can happen during the process of buying or selling.

A list of 20 or 30 things that could delay the sale or otherwise go wrong might seem like a bad thing to give to a customer, but it works for her.

She explains that the list contains the most common roadblocks encountered during a transaction and assures the customer that she knows how to handle all of them.

If and when they occur, she’ll call and say “Number 16 on your list just happened, and I’ll take care of it.”

Works for me

How does this work for her?

First off – it shows the buyer/seller that she is experienced and is prepared for the little things that come along and try to derail a transaction. By discussing them in advance, she sets expectations, establishes her expertise (again, by warning you about these things in advance and telling you she has your back) and leaves you far more confident about things.

If trouble occurs, the sheet (which also acts as a timeline) shows that she predicted that it could occur and handled it for you vs. the appearance that this could be a surprise.

Once the transaction is done, the list serves as a reminder of all the things that *could* have gone wrong but didn’t. The list also reminds you of the value she delivered by taking care of all those things.

She could have simply provided a generic FAQ list and made the client sign it (likely without reading it) and handle it like other agents handle these things.

Instead, she leverages it into an advantage that – among other things – demonstrates why the client should value her services.