Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Content Marketing: An Age-Old Strategy that Still Works Today

Content marketing has become one of the buzzwords in the business marketing world. Many claim this is a new way to market. That is not correct. Providing valuable content to lure prospects and visitors has been around for a while. The distribution channels for this content may have expanded recently, but the strategy has been around for many years.

One case in point involves a tiny electronics firm in Seattle. The company opened in 1954 as Magnolia Stationers and Camera Shop in the Magnolia Village shopping district of Seattle. The owner, Len Tweten, loved music, which eventually led him to move the business into the world of high-fidelity audio. This transition over time also prompted a business name change to Magnolia Hi-Fi.

High-quality products and commitment to service were just a part of the overall plan to grow the business. Being a small business with no real marketing plan or budget, Magnolia Hi-Fi decided the best way to differentiate itself was to educate prospects with valuable information about the Hi-Fi world. To do this, the company introduced stereo buyer's guides (over 30 years ago), which provided educational content and answers to commonly asked questions on buying audio equipment.

The buyer's guides set Magnolia Hi-Fi apart from the competition. They also positioned the company as leaders and experts in their field in the eyes of their audience.

Did this content marketing plan work?

The tiny store grew into a small chain, which was acquired by Best Buy in December of 2000... for $87 million! In 2004, the Magnolia brand was incorporated into Best Buy as a store-within-a-store, known as Magnolia Home Theatre.

Content marketing works. It works best when you use multiple channels to distribute and share your content (print and digital work in perfect tandem for this strategy). Creating valuable content your prospects are looking for takes some work and resources. But don't overlook the rewards that can come from that work. It may not net you $87 million, but it can prove to be nearly as valuable.

You can read more of the details behind this remarkable story here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The One Radio Station You Should Tune To

There's a radio station you may have never heard of, but it's one you need to tune into each and every day if you really want to grow your business. It's called WIIFM, and it stands for "What's In It For Me."

Yes, this is a fictional radio station, and yes, it's a bit cheeky, but the message is one you can't ignore. Your customers are being bombarded with messages every single day. The only messages that will register are those which adhere to the WIIFM principles.

You must clearly spell out what's in it for them, or your listener will quickly tune you out.

Here's a good quote to remember from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales:
"It's actually surprising how many people don't follow this simple guideline of courtesy. I often get long, tedious emails from people explaining to me in great detail how I can help them and how great it would be for them if I would work on their project, or endorse it, etc. But they fail to consider my context. Why should I care, and even if I do care, why should I act on this rather than any of a thousand other things?"

This is what your prospects and customers are thinking every time you broadcast your messages. So recall this quote when you sit down to create your message, whether in print, web, social media, or any other communication channel.

Are You A Little Bit Country or Rock n' Roll?

To understand what your prospects want to listen to or what they regard as important to them, you need to speak with and understand your customers. Pick up the phone, conduct surveys, go visit your customers, and take them out to lunch or coffee. There are many ways to find answers to this very important question.

Rome Was Not Built In One Day

Pablo Picasso painted over 5,000 drawings and images that very few people cared about at the time. But during the same period, he also created masterpieces that the world loves to this day. Don't expect to find answers the first time you visit a client. Keep asking, probing, and analyzing your findings until the answer becomes crystal clear.

Seth Says

If you're not attracting the right prospects to your business or converting them into customers, selling products, or building a strong brand in your community, it may be because you're not clearly stating what's important to your audience. Seth Godin said it best:

"Ten years later and the ego pendulum has clearly swung in the direction of the virus. That's what we brag about and what is too often measured. How many eyeballs are passing by is a useless measure. All that matters is how many people want to hear from you tomorrow. Don't try to convert strangers into customers. It's ineffective and wasteful. Instead, focus on turning those momentary strangers into people eager to hear from you again and again."

Favorite Station

Building and growing a lasting business brand takes a little work. Attracting audiences that care about what you have to say comes down to providing value for the type of audience you want to attract. You now know how to find out what they care about. Take those findings and craft the type of messages your listening audience will never want to tune out. When you do that, your channel will become one of the coveted favorite stations of your listening audience.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sell with Sincerity

In a sea filled with competitive businesses, sincerity is a must if you want to get (and keep) customers. Here are a few tips to help you sell with sincerity:
  • Sincerity is more than just a smile or a firm handshake. It can be heard in your voice, your words, and your actions.

  • Don't read from a script. No one wants to listen to a sales pitch that sounds like a recording. Mix in your personality, passion, and even personal experiences with the product.

  • Ask questions and listen with interest. Show that you really care about what the person is saying (in contrast to simply listening because it is the polite thing to do).

  • Be yourself. Remember that people buy from other people. If they like working with you, they are more likely to remember you and return again.

  • Back off the business mode when using social media sites. Rather, use them for their intended purpose: to be social and build relationships.

  • Remember that sincerity has to last. It doesn't end after the sale. If customers have a problem with a product or service, sincerity is a must to resolve their issue.
George Henry Lewes once said, "Insincerity is always weakness; sincerity even in error is strength." Sincerity in sales can not only help you build a stronger relationship with your customers, but will also help your business receive honest feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Make Marketing and Sales Work Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

Marketing is about telling your story. Sales is about having conversations.

From the point of view of marketing, every single business is unique. No two are exactly alike. The mistake occurs when everyone in the industry looks at what others are doing and copies it. The story is no longer unique.

To sell more and to make the job of sales easier, you need to position your marketing message in a unique way that resonates with and attracts the types of customers you're looking for.

When you do this right, you will end up having conversations. Conversations that will ultimately lead to sales.

If you don't tell your story, you can be sure that your competitors will tell the story for you. And that is not the story you want prospects to hear.

Stories and the Caveman

From the beginning of time, when early human beings drew paintings on cave walls, people have been telling stories. Stories are in our DNA. Stories connect one generation to the next. The human brain has a special soft spot for stories.

That's why the most successful brands have a story wrapped up in everything they do. We're bombarded with marketing messages every day. Why do we remember some brand messages and not others? Because those brands have planted a seed in our brains with their unique and interesting story.

No one forgets Coke and their story of a top secret recipe kept in a vault. Apple, Starbucks, and Virgin are among other brands that tell their story very well.

Why Do We Do It?

Your story should be not just about what you do or even how you do it. The story really should be about why you do it. That part of the story is what connects people with you and your business. That's what becomes the story of your brand and business.

How Do We Do It?

This doesn't have to be difficult to do. All you need is a pad of paper, a pen, and a quiet space to think. All you have to do is answer the question: "Why are we doing what we do?"

That's a big, hairy topic, I know. But you have to tackle it and get it down on paper. If you can manage to answer it in an authentic way that captures the imagination of your prospects, you'll make your marketing messages focused and much more effective. People may not remember you or your logo very well, but they will always remember your story.

In turn, that makes the job of sales much easier. It opens the door to conversations. Those conversations will lead to real sales. Your story will make it easier to reach prospects looking for what you do.

A unique marketing story told in an authentic way will make the job of selling much easier. That's what successful marketing is all about.

The two go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Features Tell, But Benefits Sell!

When it comes to marketing, it's often necessary to rethink what you're really selling. For example, rather than selling life insurance, vitamins, or digital cameras, you may really be selling peace of mind, longevity, or treasured memories. Here are a few tips to help you focus less on features and more on the benefits your products and services have to offer:
  • Sell the sizzle, not the steak, by explaining the direct benefits your customers will experience if they choose your products or services. For example, instead of telling a customer that the cell phone they're looking at has 16GB of memory, tell them it can hold XX songs, videos, and photos. By repositioning a product feature as a benefit, you'll show your customers the many positive ways your product features will impact them directly.

  • Highlight benefits when creating a headline for brochures, flyers, or other promotional materials. While features are also important, they're not the hook to get customers interested. For example, instead of writing a headline about a car's six side-impact airbags, focus on the added safety benefits and peace of mind for your customer and their family.

  • If you haven't already, create your own features and benefits sheet. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side, write all the features of your product or service you're offering. On the right side, write out the corresponding benefits that go with each feature.

  • If you're having a difficult time thinking in terms of benefits, consider a freelance writer. As an outsider, a freelance writer can separate themselves from your company and look at your products and services from a new perspective. They can also more easily put themselves in the shoes of your customer.

  • You may also consider a customer focus group that will help you identify issues that are important to customers, so you can gain a fresh new insight and perspective.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Increase Your Facebook Following

Even though Facebook has more than one billion active monthly users, many businesses still aren't using it to its full potential. Here are a few easy ways to use Facebook to increase exposure, communicate with customers, and grow your business:
  • Offer Facebook fan-only specials that are promoted to fans who currently "like" your page. Encourage them to stay tuned for future deals as well.

  • Use Facebook as a quick way to spread the word on exciting flash sales that have short time windows to act.

  • Run contests via your Facebook page. Remember to read Facebook's contest rules first, though, so you don't violate any inadvertently.

  • Ask thought-provoking questions, create quizzes, and post survey links to encourage fan participation.

  • Add a Facebook social media widget that enables users to like your page without having to search for you on Facebook.

  • Include a Facebook link in your email signature, on your website, and on printed pieces such as business cards, receipts, statement stuffers, table tents, and newsletters.

  • Share exciting news about your company by posting updates on your Facebook page.

  • Don't forget that Facebook is a social website. Use it as a way to communicate with your audience, rather than simply to promote your brand. Post interesting content you think will be relevant to your audience, and encourage people to share your posts and to comment on them.

  • Post photos from company gatherings, including grand openings, customer appreciation events, staff outings, and other celebrations. Encourage fans to tag themselves in the photos. This will allow their friends to see the photos and increase your exposure.

  • Request input and involve your fans in product decisions, such as new product launches, celebratory events, and preferred customer rewards. Share responses on your wall, and thank fans for their contributions.

  • Schedule posts in advance to be published at a later time to ensure your messages are delivered at the optimal time to reach your audience. Check out this Facebook help center post for step-by-step instructions on scheduling a post.
Like most types of marketing, Facebook requires dedication. While immediate results are unlikely, a well-nurtured Facebook account can help many organizations strengthen relationships and grow their business.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why You Need a Competitive Advantage

A successful business follows one core marketing concept: "Find a need and fulfill it." However, there may be many players offering similar services and products in your field. This is where having a competitive advantage can lead you to the top.

To be in the top 10% of your field, you need more than just a competitive advantage. You must also communicate that advantage loud and clear through everything you do.

Competitive advantage is defined as "a superiority gained by an organization when it can provide the same value as its competitors but at a lower price, or can charge higher prices by providing greater value through differentiation. Competitive advantage results from matching core competencies to opportunities."

In other words, when you create a competitive advantage for your business, you can win either by charging less than your competitors through improved efficiencies or by charging higher prices than others because of the added value you provide.

In 1985, Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor, wrote the definitive guide called Competitive Advantage. In his book, Porter defined three ways companies can have a competitive advantage:

  1. Being the Cost Leader: offering lower prices than your competitors by providing a reasonable value while still making a profit. Wal-mart is one company that's famous for this strategy, but Costco may have mastered it even better. Low prices are in Costco's DNA and have become the company's competitive advantage. Costco still charges just $1.50 for a hot dog and a fountain drink. As prices increased, Costco began manufacturing its own hot dogs in order to keep the prices low. Massive buying power and a super-efficient distribution system, coupled with a lower-overhead warehouse business model, have allowed Costco to remain a leader with this strategy.

  2. Differentiation: providing products and services that stand apart from your competitors. This strategy involves creating a brand that clearly communicates how your company delivers value in a way others can't match. The result is a product or service people are willing to pay more to receive. Starbucks has mastered the art of charging higher prices than its competitors by selling more than coffee. The company sells a brand and overall coffee-buying experience others can't duplicate. Buying a Starbucks coffee includes the atmosphere the company creates for its customers. It's an added value the company's thousands of locations "sell" and which customers continue to buy into every day.

  3. Focus: providing your products and solutions to a niche target market that you know well. With this strategy, you understand your customers' pains and problems better than your competitors. Therefore, you can offer the best solutions at the best price. Apple understands its target audience. While others have tried slashing prices to remain relevant, Apple has been able to innovate and charge premium prices because the company understands who its market is.

Where does your business fit in these models?

If you haven't defined your competitive advantage or aren't clear what it could be, first answer these questions to help refine your search.

  1. What is it exactly that you provide? What problems do your services and products solve? Be crystal clear on the products, services, and solutions you provide.

  2. Who are you serving? What is your target market? Who are your ideal customers?

  3. Who is your competition? This could include local businesses or Internet-based companies. It could also include services and products from other industries that your customers are purchasing to solve their problems.

Once you've completed these steps, the research phase is done. Now you must analyze your findings in order to discover where your products and services can realize a competitive advantage. The answer may not appear right away, so you must continue to revisit the process until it becomes clear.

Once you've found your competitive advantage in the marketplace, it's time to communicate that advantage in every marketing piece and everything you do until it becomes a part of the DNA and culture of your company.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Innovate, Don't Imitate

One of the most effective ways to keep a competitive edge is to think like a prospective customer and compare your business frequently to your competition. What does your competitor offer that your business does not?

While it's helpful to stay informed of what your competition is doing, you should avoid copying their ideas. Rather, if you see a good idea that you'd like to implement, find a way to add more value and make it an even better idea. For example, if your competitor offers free shipping on purchases of $100, you could provide free shipping on all purchases and possibly even returns, which removes potential risk when placing an order.

If your competition sells a comparable product, an easy way to add extra value to your business is through service. Whether you have longer business or customer support hours, free shipping, a better warranty, free training, or live phone operators (no automated phone service), it's often these types of value-ads that really stand out when customers compare businesses.

Another great way to gain customer perspective is with a customer survey or questionnaire. Ask your audience how you can improve, what new offerings they wish you provided, and what they like best about your company. Their answers could easily point to innovative ideas that will give you a competitive advantage.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Email versus Direct Mail Marketing: Which Works Better?

As more businesses and marketers have turned to email marketing, it is fair to wonder if direct mail marketing still works as effectively as it once did.

Email marketing is a good way to stay in touch with customers and prospects. Just like social media marketing, it has its place in the marketing mix. However, a downside to the massive increase in marketing emails is that only an estimated 19% are even being opened (according to the Direct Marketing Association).

Direct mail marketing still works, and it works very well. However, marketers cannot just create any type of campaign and expect it to be successful. Here are some tips and suggestions from the pros:
  • Keep specialized lists, and target each with the right message. That means no mass-mailing everyone the same message and offers. This requires a bit more preparation but will generate the best responses because you are offering the right message to the right audience.

  • Instead of mass quantity, think quality first. Fewer, better-targeted and better-crafted mailing pieces are more effective than regular, lesser-quality pieces.

  • Think lumpy mailings. People still enjoy receiving freebies, so include a logo pen, pencil, tiny Frisbee, mini-DVD, or mini-CD card with your contact info on it. Although these types of mailings can be more pricey, the retention and response rates can pay a handsome ROI on the investment.

  • Be creative. People still enjoy programs that offer discounts or a gift with repeat purchases. Set up a loyalty rewards program that ties a buyer's repeat purchases with discounts and rewards. Then announce it with a direct mail campaign.
Head to the link below to learn more information from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Then start setting up your next direct mail print campaign today!

3 "Old School" Marketing Tactics that Still Matter

Friday, March 1, 2013

Should you focus on the process or the outcome?

If the economic doldrums still have you down, take action with these quick, simple, yet very effective "kick in the pants" steps for a fast turnaround.

It's no secret that you must have a process for continually bringing qualified leads into your sales funnel. This is the lifeblood of your business.

Some things are out of your control. Businesses close, move, and change ownership. Any of these could lead to the loss of a client you thought would never leave. To prepare for these moments, you must have processes in place to bring in new prospects to replace the ones you lose.

Preparing for client turnover is something you control. Whether you have an existing process, need to dust off an old one, or are creating a brand new procedure from scratch, your client-generation plan must have goals.

Base your goals on the process, not just the outcome. What does this mean? Simply put, you can't control how many leads will end up hiring you, but you can control how many of these prospects you reach.

Commit to a plan that will help you uncover prospects well-suited for the products and services you sell. Don't rely on any one single platform or marketing tool to spread your message. Instead, use multiple channels, including print, email, social media, and the Internet, to bolster your communication and lead funnel process. If you commit to the process, the outcomes will take care of themselves.

Be encouraged. Take action. Businesses are waiting for the kinds of solutions you offer. You just need to let them know that yours are the ones they're after.