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The Reason Why

Ever notice that some businesses have a sale every other week? (or worse, even more often than that)

I guess they think they have to.

They’re the ones who have sales so often that *everyone* seems to wait until the next sale before they buy. Hey, it’s right around the corner, why not?

It starts to look a little cheesy before long. Why is that?

Aside from the “smell of desperation”, people see credibility if given “a reason why” even if the reason is silly.

Otherwise they get the idea you’re having a sale every week because you don’t know what else to do. Once they figure that out, your sale prices *are* your regular prices. Not a good thing.

Find a reason

Why are you having a sale / promotion / event?

  • Because the Saints won.
  • Because the Colts lost.
  • Because Obama won.
  • Because McCain lost.
  • Because I’m a grandpa.
  • Because we had a monster snowstorm.
  • Because it hasn’t snowed in 2 months+.
  • Because Valentine’s Day is approaching and you wanna be a good significant other
  • Because Valentine’s Day is over and you don’t want to keep all this red stuff till next year.
  • Because your kid just scored his first goal.
  • Because your kid’s never scored a goal.
  • To send a message to someone.
  • To thank a certain group of people or an entire community.
  • To educate your customers (ie: “because TED2010 is going on this week, all our natural foods are specially priced”, or whatever)
  • And so on.

But NOT because “I need some cash flow and having a sale is the only way I know how to close sales.”

Reasons are all around you

Legitimate is in the eye of the beholder, so have a little fun with it.

Papa John’s Pizza has a heart-shaped pizza special this week. Not difficult to do, but so far, I’ve seen no other restaurants offering something like this.

Yesterday I received an email from Dan Kennedy’s company that offered a 24.8% discount off any of their information products.

Why 24.8%? Because they got 24.8″ of snow in Baltimore this week. Almost everyone knows about snowpocalypse.

Associating your sale or promotion with stuff like this is easy. Taking an extra step to tie the discount to the event (like the depth of the newly fallen snow) is even better – as long as the discount/promo/sale doesn’t last forever, or come back again with the same reason every other week.

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Shredding mad pow in my driveway

So far it’s been an incredible year for snow in the Northwest.

Two feet in the Washington DC area is a Snowpocalypse?

That’s nothing.

We have 8 feet of fresh pow* in Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. It’s so deep, we’re carving mad turns in our driveways and carrying avalanche beacons when we go out to get the mail.

Come out and join us and ski and ride your brains out!

Oh wait. Maybe not that much snow, but come on out anyhow.

Which truth is real?

As with other markets where misinformation can lead a customer astray, the internet has a way of finding the truth, even about mad pow*.

When skiers and snowboarders hop off the lift expecting to find the foot of fresh powder mentioned in the snow report and instead, find a couple inches of popcorn**, it doesn’t excite them.

When skiers and snowboard riders find a few feet of waist-deep powdery goodness, they can now use their cell phones to report snow conditions via Facebook, Twitter and this killer skier/snowboarder snow report app.

This app has forced resorts to come clean on their snow reports.

Thing is, it isn’t just snow conditions that are available in (close to) real-time from a source that’s cutting turns in it right now. Whatever you do, there is likely an enthusiast community talking about it

Whether we’re talking about stream flows, fish and wildlife migration, trail conditions, road conditions, whiter whites and brighter brights, parking availability, meal quality, service quality and more…it’s out there on the net for the savvy customer who wants to check you out before buying.

Help them find it – and don’t claim to be shredding pow in your driveway unless you really are

* Translation: Fresh, deep, powdery snow, often blamed for high levels of absenteeism at work and/or school.

** Translation: smallish, hard popcorn-looking snow that looks like that stuff sprayed on ceilings in office buildings and homes. Not really what you want to ski/ride on, but still better than a good day at work.

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Little, inexpensive things mean a lot

Relax, Mr. Accountant
credit: Dennis Wong

What transforms an experience from “acceptable” to “cant wait to tell my friends”?

To me, “acceptable” service starts with a smile, an effort to make sure the customer received what they came for, eye contact and a thank you.

“Can’t wait to tell my friends” service doesn’t come *before* you do little inexpensive things, it comes *because of* little inexpensive things.

That’s right – the things that transform your service to “cant wait to tell my friends” are often simple, inexpensive little things.

By themselves they might not seem like such a big deal. Below, a few examples. In each case, consider the perception of the customer.

The birthday card

  • A birthday postcard sent via an automated postcard service during your customers’ birthday month vs. no card at all.
  • A birthday postcard sent via an automated postcard service vs a hand written birthday card signed by the owner or manager.
  • A voice mail from the business owner wishing you a happy birthday, vs. a brief call to invite you into their establishment that required 4 callbacks to get you in person.

In 5 of 6 cases, a happy birthday message arrives. What’s the difference in the perception of the message?

A cup of coffee

  • A tasty cup of latte made from freshly ground, freshly roasted beans vs. a cup of latte made from coffee ground 2 weeks ago and roasted who knows when (matters to those who can tell, doesn’t matter to those who cannot).
  • A tasty cup of latte made from freshly ground, freshly roasted beans vs. a tasty cup of latte made from freshly-ground, freshly-roasted beans that is topped with latte art such as the cat you see above.
  • A tasty cup of latte made from freshly-ground, freshly-roasted beans that is topped with latte art in the shape of a fleur-de-lis to celebrate the Saints’ Super Bowl win.
  • A tasty cup of latte made from freshly-ground, freshly-roasted beans that is topped with latte art in the shape of a heart for the runup to Valentine’s Day

Doesn’t make the coffee taste better, but it does provoke someone to talk about what transformed a mundane cup of coffee (no matter how good) into something you tell everyone about, that you take a picture of with your phone and post on Facebook or Twitter, and that causes you to bring your best friend the cat lover to this place as a little surprise. Next thing you know, she’s bringing all her cat lover friends.

In the latter case, something to create a little free buzz (pun intended). Perhaps you do so before the game and give your customers a choice of the Colts’ horseshoe or the Saints’ fleur-de-lis. You can do this year-round for holidays, sports events, you name it.

The letter

  • A letter from your Senator congratulating you on an achievement, with the Senator’s signature signed by the Senator’s personal assistant.
  • A letter from your Senator congratulating you on an achievement, with the signature rubber stamped onto the letter.
  • A letter from your Senator congratulating you on an achievement, with the signature printed as part of the letter.
  • A letter from your Senator congratulating you on an achievement, with a handwritten signature.
  • A letter from your Senator congratulating you on an achievement, with a handwritten signature , and a brief handwritten PS from the Senator.

Which of these would you show to your friends? Which would you frame and hang on your office wall? Which would you keep in your scrapbook for the rest of your life? Which would you show your grandkids 30-40 years from now?

Little, inexpensive things mean a lot.  They create relationships that few competitors can hope to break.

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Why people buy

When Geese Go Shopping.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Limbo Poet

Many times I’ve suggested that you read Cialdini’s Influence.

Today’s guest post is a follow on to Cialdini – an audio documentary about what makes people buy: “Desire by Design” from American Radioworks.

Enter the conversation in their minds…

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iTunes LP, the rich media salesperson

Creative Commons License photo credit: Polifemus

A couple of days ago, Apple introduced iTunes9 and demonstrated a new iTunes feature called iTunes LP.

That’s “LP” as in long-playing album.

Those of us who were of music-buying age in the 1960s (not me, old man), 1970s and early 1980s remember some of the albums we bought.

I remember a Santana album back in the late 70s that came with a really cool poster. Others came with liner notes that included lyrics, tour photos and all sorts of special items that only a real fan could appreciate.

When CDs rolled into town, most of that ground to a halt. You had to survive on just the music, which was getting companded and less rich-sounding by the minute. No, this isn’t an audiophile rant. Maybe later.

A few groups included little booklets in their CD packages, and over time, some shipped CDs with bigger packaging and extra treats, but these were rare.

Digital Shifting

Then, MP3s arrived and the last vestiges of liner notes were gone.

This week, they returned.

In the video above, you can see Apple exec Phil Robbin showing off the iTunes LP feature. Watch the 3 minute clip before moving on. You need to see it before our discussion continues.

So what?

Whether you sell software, food, $700 blenders, recreational vehicles, luxurious experiences in a bed and breakfast, or detail cars – you’d better get what “LP-ing” means to your marketing and sales process.

How can your products and services benefit from being presented in that way?

Look at what you sell through the lens of iTunes LP. You should have already been doing so – we’ve talked about using audio and video to market/deliver your services but now, you have a great new example.

iTunes LP just scratches the surface for now, just like iPhone/iTouch apps. You have so many opportunities to leverage these capabilities, but you have to take advantage of them even if they aren’t perfect.

We’ve come a long way since 1994. Internet/technology-wise, it’s just past 8am. There’s still plenty of opportunity.

Get to work.

Postscript for the argumentative

Some might say that Apple copied what the Microsoft Zune HD already does. So what. Both copy what was done 20 years ago in a vinyl record. Does that make it less useful? Less impactful? No. For that matter, the iPod and Zune are modern day versions of the Sony Walkman, which copies…. (and so on).

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Bad conversation: Like peeing on the seat

Remember driving across the country in your car as a kid on those family vacations?

Picture this: Your dad, brother, uncle or whoever gets out of the car, goes into the restroom, comes back a few moments later and without a word, they’re ready for the next leg of the trip.

Next, your mom, sister, aunt or grandmother heads for the restroom, comes back almost immediately and is beside themselves about how gross that bathroom is.

The car doors slam and you’re moving a mile or five down the road to find a bathroom that might have been cleaned in the last year or two.

When mom, sis or whoever returns from the clean bathroom, they can’t help but comment about the gross one a few miles back and they might even be incredulous about the fact that you (dad, brother, whoever) didn’t think anything of it – much less that you didn’t say a word.

Maybe it’s about expectations, but that’s not where I’m heading today.

Standing up

Newsflash from the Business is Personal Department of Obviousness: Guys go standing up. Ladies do not.

As a result, the conversation about restrooms is different even though the facility is exactly the same for both.

Peeing on the seat is (effectively) meaningless to one group and like kryptonite to another. The perception of two audiences is totally different, despite everything in the room being identical.

Likewise, you can sell the side of the road in a bad neighborhood as “acceptable” to a guy who has to go, while you better not even think about stopping there for most ladies. Yeah, I know there are exceptions. Move along.

Are your conversations one size fits all?

The question is, do the conversations you start with your clients and prospects look like those bathrooms? Are they one size fits all?

If they’re acceptable to those who stand up, is your message lost on those who are sitting down?

All too often, I see websites, ads, pitches and other materials treated like those bathrooms – one message for everyone. It doesn’t work.

Talking to everyone is talking to no one.

One size may (more or less) fit all when it comes to doorways, water in the tank, toilet seats and the hardware – but that’s where it ends. How you talk (verbally, on paper or on the web) with different folks is much the same as those bathrooms.

The *conversation* you would have in person with a single mom is different than the one you’ll have with the 12 year old boy or the 47 year old menopausal woman.  So why is your marketing and other content aimed at some random spot in the middle of those three?

You already know that the perception and expectations of each group that enters the bathroom (ie: reads your ad, reads/hears your pitch, listens to your talk, reads your blog) is totally different – so why not do something about it.

Talk to the 72-75 year old widows differently than you would 65 year old ladies whose husbands are alive.

Talk to the 22 year old skateboarder and the 32 year old mom of three in a way and about the things that matter to them – not as if they are just a gaggle of identical humanoids (or the Borg).

Otherwise, you may as well not bother having the conversation.

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Let them show some appreciation

Sweet Child O Mine
Creative Commons License photo credit: ssh

How do you allow your customers to show their appreciation for friends, clients, family members or someone in the community who did something helpful?

For example, there’s this cool retired lady in my town who runs the Chamber of Commerce. Everyone calls her “the Chamber Mom”. I think you can visualize the nurturing role she plays for our Chamber just from that description.

You could show appreciation for her hard work or (for someone like her) by giving her lunch for two at a local restaurant, or even coffee for 2 at a local coffee shop.

So…exactly how easy is it for your customers to do just that?

Do you have a lunch for two gift card ready to sell, with no frustrating wait for swiping the card, adding value to it and so on? IE: an impulse buy when someone is thinking of someone they’d like to show appreciation for.

You’ve seen these before. Big retail uses them. Even phone cards come in “sizes”.

And why exactly haven’t you taken the gift (ie: the idea) these businesses have given you and turned it into your own?

I don’t know either.

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Don’t Shoot the Photographer

Last week I was talking with some friends about shooting weddings. Everyone in the conversation has a strong interest in photography, often concentrating on different subjects and all are at different stages in their photography life.

One of the guys mentioned that there was a nationwide event called “A Million Little Pictures” where small one-use cameras will be used all over the U.S. to document the summer of 2009. In September, the photos will be brought together to form a single exhibit in Atlanta and one other city.

During this conversation, I mentioned to the guy whose wedding photography business is taking off that he shouldn’t be surprised to find these on every table at a wedding. It’s been done for a good while, at least a decade, even now that digital has take over.

Someone else said a future wedding they will be attending is going to have digital point and shoot cameras on the tables with a central docking station to print small prints on photo paper embossed with the bride and groom’s name.

And then it came: Someone mentioned that another wedding photographer they know feels that is a direct attack on the professional photographer’s profits.

He doesn’t get it.

That was my comment about the other wedding photographer thinking point and shoots were cutting into their profits.

After some brief discussion, someone asked why I said that.

First, a couple of obvious reasons.

The wedding is about the bride and groom and their families, not the photographer.

The photography that comes from tabletop amateur one-use digital or film cameras is going to be at least a level of magnitude weaker than the quality of the shots the professional will produce. Different enough in quality that even an amateur will be able to see the difference.

This amateur photography will cover plenty of things that the photographer could miss. Not important stuff to the wedding party and the families, but fun for the guests.

At a wedding attended by 100 (much less 500) people, the photographer or photographers can only be so many places and most of that will be focused on their primary duty: making sure they get “those shots”.

You know, the shots that you have to have if you expect the mother of the bride to speak to you after the wedding day, much less place a big print order.

The mother and the families aren’t going to order 20″ x 30″ wall sized prints of their casual point and shoot shots. They might order an album of 4″ x 6″ copies of them, but so what? You’ve got formal portrait and album orders.

Focus on the high margin stuff.

Smarter than the average bear

Arguing with the bride’s family about these fun amateur photos is a great way to lose a client. Instead, be the only one who doesn’t make a fuss about these cameras, get the job and do it right. If you do, these casual, shot from the hip images can be the icing on the cake.

The thinking photographer can use these one-time cameras as another source of print and product sales by offering to simplify the post-wedding task of dealing with hundreds of photos – and print them using your print/order systems.

The primary photographer doesn’t need to spend hours editing these shots. Worst case if you feel the need to do that, it can be outsourced to an intern. Print orders of this nature can be offered via your online portrait store, automating the print process and making it easy for out of town guests to get the prints they want.

Photographers can take advantage of these amateur shots by offering to include them in unique products to purchase as part of their print order. Most of these print orders will be for small prints, so the quality from one shot cameras will be sufficient.

Photographers looking for an edge can provide the digital one-shot cameras to the wedding guests as part of a higher end wedding coverage package. Little things like a one-shot digital camera on every table can get you that coverage upsell. It doesn’t have to be logical to upgrade, it just has to be a big enough carrot.

A unique edge that a confident photographer will use with their branding on the cameras while their competitors complain about those same cameras “taking their profit”.

One last benefit…

Offer a DVD of the images to every guest. Make the price whatever makes sense to you (or include it in your coverage package), but low enough that 100% of them take it. They just paid you to put them on your newsletter mailing list.

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Social Media: Time Waster or Essential Small Business Tool?

Polio outbreak campaign
Creative Commons License photo credit: coda

If someone threw a party for a big group of people who are interested in the products and services you offer, wouldn’t you want to be there?

Yeah, you would and social media can help you do just that.

Given that you’re reading this, I can’t help but assume that you know what social media is. Still, you may still wonder how it could possibly be of productive use for your business as opposed to another way to waste your staff’s time.

Note that last word in the phrase “Social Media”. Really, that’s all it is. A media.

What’s critical to understand is that it is a very different kind of media than businesses are used to dealing with.

It’s interactive and independent. It’s not controlled by a major media company, which likely keeps them up at night.

If you want to learn more about your favorite music, where do you go? If you want to hang out and discuss music with 100,000 fans of The Who, The Beatles or Miley Cyrus, you don’t go through a music industry gatekeeper to do so.

Social media enables you and those 100,000 other people to find each other. Easily.

I Leica cameras

Let’s say that I’m a big fan of Leica cameras, as Ed Dale is. (Sorry Ed, I’m a Canon guy).

If I want to have a conversation with someone about them or learn more about them here at home (remember, I’m in a fairly rural community), I’ve got a problem.

So how do I find others who are into Leica camera gear?

You can call a local camera store. You can visit your local photography club. If your community has a central web-based events calendar, you could check that out or subscribe to updates. You can visit a local photography exhibition and ask someone there. And of course, you could Google <your town> photography club.

Even after doing all that, you may find that there is a small number of people in your area who are interested in Leicas. On a photography social media site like Digital Photography School, it’s a different story.

Now imagine that your business specializes in Leicas in some way. Maybe you sell them, repair them or create accessories for them.

Wouldn’t you want to take part in the discussions that all these Leica enthusiasts have? Worst case, you’d want to listen in on them and get your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the community of Leica fans.

If you’ve taken my advice to heart here at Business is Personal, I’m thinking you’d want to be right in the middle of all those conversations.

Join the Conversation

Even if you don’t participate in the conversations (though you should), there’s a huge amount of value there. Because of this, social media is a great research tool.

It provides an efficient way to keep an eye on what people are saying about your products, business, industry and competitors.

It allows you to easily reach out to your customers and prospects and improve your relationship with them. The more responsive you can be to your customers, the more likely you are to keep them.

Social media allows you one more way (and one more place) to demonstrate your expertise to people who need it. People want to do business with the expert.

Robert Collier said to join the conversation already going on in your prospect’s head. That’s exactly what social media allows you to do.

Rotary rings

Social media also provides you with the ability to connect with people you might NEVER have met any other way – someone who can make a substantial difference in your life or business (or vice versa).

I follow the Cary (Kildaire) North Carolina Rotary Club on Twitter.

Why? They’re a large, successful club in a high-tech town. I’m (currently) our club President in a small, new club in a small rural town. I can learn a lot from a large successful club.

I have a Rotary search setup in Tweetdeck so that I can find people who talk about Rotary. If they’re interesting and helpful comments, I eventually follow them. That’s how I found the Cary Rotary Club on Twitter.

One of their comments earlier in the week said someone from Rotarian magazine (the monthly magazine that Rotary International publishes for their members) was looking for a source to talk about social media and Rotary.

A perfect fit

Gee, is that a good fit for me and my business? Rotary members are mostly business owners. I’m a Rotarian and currently club president. Marketing is my business. It’s a *perfect* fit.

The Cary post on Twitter included the email address of the reporter, so I emailed her and soon enough we had an appointment to speak.

The next day, we had a 45 minute phone interview for a story that will appear in Rotarian magazine.

We talked about the interaction of social media with Rotary and Rotary’s 4 Way Test, as well as social media’s use in business for marketing and other purposes. We also talked about common mistakes that people new to social media might make and should avoid.

I have no idea what will come from that, but it’s exactly the kind of publicity I can use, to the perfect audience for my business. For free.

In addition, it’s a pretty cool thing to be a Rotary member who is interviewed in The Rotarian, so that’s a nice bonus (and yes, I will likely have to spin the wheel when the magazine comes out).

Back to you

Enough about me, even if it was a good example.

As you can see, there are a number of benefits to participating in social media.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about some of the pitfalls to avoid and some things to focus on.

As you might expect, it’s personal.

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Warm chocolate chip cookies and the big difference between you and them


Almost every day, I stumble upon someone looking for a way to differentiate their business from their competitors’.

Far too often, they try to compete almost solely on price.

Since I’ve beat the dont-compete-solely-on-price drum in the past (eg: all those WalMart posts), so today we’re going to take a different tack.

Is it the steak or the sizzle? Or maybe something else?

Ever been to Sizzler, Western Sizzlin’ or Ryan’s Steak House?

Likewise, have you been to Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Charley’s, Shula’s or Chicago Chop House?

Which would you prefer if you had a coupon for a free meal, or if someone else was buying?

My money is on Charley’s (followed very closely by Ruth’s) – though I have to admit I haven’t made it to Shula’s as yet.

Why? Because everything about the place is simply amazing. The steak, the experience, the service, and so on.

One of the best moments I’ve had with my dad was after a photography trade show (yeah, back in the software company days), where we found ourselves sitting at the bar in Charley’s near the Tampa airport.

If you eat at the bar (almost no one seems to), you get to watch the chefs fire the steak – away from the quiet luxury of the dining room – and you still get incredible service, quite possibly more attentive than the service in the dining room if that’s possible.

What about retail?

Over the last several months, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the CPSIA situation.

Despite widespread knowledge of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act by some store owners, I see very few of them using it as a competitive advantage.

Maybe they’ve been too busy spending time trying to get their Congressional reps/Senators to change the bill. OK, maybe that’s a reason, but it isn’t an excuse. You know the difference, right?

Here’s an example: If you have a newborn and you walk into an upscale handmade baby clothing store and see a sign that says “All of our fashions for babies are tested and certified safe according to the CPSIA”, isn’t it obvious that it plants a seed in the mind of the persnickety shopper?

IE: “Shouldn’t everyone’s stuff be tested and certified safe?” Hmmm. Remember, in a store like that – the persnickety shopper is absolutely the one you *want* in your store.

If you wanted to get really aggressive about it, add “…Do the other stores you frequent care as much about your baby’s safety as we do? Ask them about the CPSIA and their testing and safety certification of the fashions they offer for your child.”

Fresh from the oven

If you have a choice, do you want warm, soft chocolate chip cookies made from scratch that are fresh out of Grandma’s oven, or do you want generic store-brand “chocolate” chip cookies that you know might have been baked a month ago?

I’d bet that you’d prefer the warm cookies from Grandma’s oven.

What about your business, product and service can create a chasm that wide, making it *that* easy to make a decision between your product/service and theirs?

Make a point of focusing on it. Educate your clientele to call attention to it so that they expect exactly what you do/sell if they find themselves elsewhere. You want to be the standard that everyone else has to meet.