Monday, November 30, 2015
Buyer Personas: What They Are, Why You Need Them, and What Should You Do About It
What is a Buyer Persona?
In marketing terminology, a buyer persona is essentially a person that doesn't exist. They're a fictional representation of the type of person who is most likely to buy your product or service after hearing your marketing message. Buyer personas are created using as much actionable information about your ideal customer as possible: How old are they? Where do they live? Do they have any children? How much money do they make? What types of products have they purchased in the past? What do they like? What do they hate?
If you knew all of the answers to those questions when talking about a real person, you'd already have a pretty vivid picture about how that person acts and what their personality is. You'd certainly have an easier time talking to that person and relating to him or her - which is what buyer personas are all about in the first place.
Why Are Buyer Personas Important?
By creating a fictional representation of the person who makes up your ideal customer, you always have something to refer to when crafting your marketing materials. Say your business' buyer persona is Jane - she's a 35-year-old mother of two with a combined household income of $150,000. Instead of "throwing everything and anything at the wall and seeing what sticks" in terms of your marketing campaigns, you have something to compare your techniques to. How does your product or service fit into Jane's life? How does it solve a problem that she has? How does it align with past purchases she's made? The answers to these questions will drive your marketing decisions moving forward.
Crafting Buyer Personas
Creating a buyer persona requires you to be two things at all times: detailed and accurate. After you've been in business for an extended period of time, you have access to huge volumes of data regarding things like market research and even your past customers that you can draw from. To a certain degree, all of this data should dictate the buyer personas you create, which in turn should dictate the direction of your marketing. Are a significantly large number of your past satisfied customers men between the ages of 18 and 34 who have no kids? Congratulations - you have the basic framework to begin building a buyer persona. Any marketing technique that isn't directly appealing to that specific type of person is one that you now need to re-think.
It's important to not go "too far" when creating buyer personas, however. If buyer personas are all about focus, going out of your way to have too many personas is a great way to instantly undo all of the benefits that you've just worked so hard to build for yourself. Focus on a few core types of customers and craft buyer personas for each, and then compare every marketing move that you make against the information you've compiled for guidance on what to do next.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Resilience: Withstand the Hardship
Walt Disney was fired once because he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." A recording company executive told the Beatles that he just didn't like their sound. Stories like this are accounts of people with the persistence to avoid defeatism in the face of difficulty. They had the needed resilience to keep going, to strive for future successes instead of wallowing in failure.
Another lesser known example is that of Thomas Carlisle, who took more than a year to compile his monumental history of the French Revolution. A housekeeper mistook it for trash and out it went. Carlisle dedicated himself to re-creating it, and with three more years of hard work, recalled it from memory and produced the replacement--a monumental history produced with an equally monumental reserve of resilience in the face of defeat.
One of the most familiar such stories in the business world is that of Austrian psychiatrist, Victor Frankl. Frankl survived Nazi Germany's, Auschwitz to become a leading proponent of a humanistic therapy approach for motivating more productive decision making. In Frankl's best-selling book, "Manâs Search for Meaning," he details the critical moment when he realized the objective of creating this revolutionizing form of therapy.
Frankl had fallen into self-pity over his concentration camp existence. He now saw his life as meaningless and trivial, but he suddenly realized that to survive, he would have to overcome this feeling. He would have to find some overarching purpose. He would have to have the resilience to form some positive objectives in the face of so much negativity. Frankl envisioned himself delivering a lecture after the war on the subject of the psychology surrounding a concentration camp. From this simple beginning sprang his entire school of thought, which he called, "Meaning Therapy," with a mission of recognizing and creating significance in the lives of others. With resilience, Frankl turned around not only his life, but the lives of countless others. Today, employee resilience training is common in the work place.
Frankl's resilience was born of an ability to find meaning against all odds in a horribly negative situation. Finding meaning is just one of the characteristics of those with high resilience, though. Another, perhaps strangely, is an acceptance of reality - for only from a realistic acceptance of a challenging situation can an adequate response be generated to fix it.
The investment bank, Morgan Stanley, had its offices in the World Trade center before that awful day on September 11, 2001. As it happens, Morgan Stanley had a diligent concern for preparedness, which included preparing for possible disasters requiring building evacuation. When the first tower was hit, it took them exactly one minute to begin the evacuation of their offices in the second tower. Only because of their preparedness and training were almost all of the company's 2,700 employees saved when the second plane struck its target fifteen minutes later.
Their realistic approach, accepting the reality of the existing threat of terrorism, brought about the preparedness plan that allowed Morgan Stanley to remain in business. This resilience in the face of potential disaster saved them when the danger became a reality.
Some people and some businesses break under pressure. Others succeed due to their resilience in overcoming adversity or planning for its resolution. Which one are you?
Friday, November 20, 2015
Inspiraiton from Acts of Courage
Three company leaders who went above and beyond the call with their courage, demonstrating the kind of direction that characterizes great leadership, are the CEOs of Bluebell Ice Cream, Canada's Maple Leaf Foods, and Southwest Airlines.
After many were taken ill, and three people died from a listeria bacteria contamination of Blue Bell ice cream products, the company voluntarily recalled some eight million gallons of their ice cream products from retail shelves. Once the severity of the situation was known, CEO Paul Kruse recalled the products and initiated a program of employee training and plant sanitization that would take four months to complete. Four facilities in three states had to be sanitized and thoroughly inspected and tested for the presence of the bacteria before production could resume. There was the distinct possibility that the company would be unable to financially survive this hiatus while 1,400 employees were laid off, and an equal number being partially furloughed. Kruse secured capital from an outside investor and saved the company.
A similar circumstance faced Maple Leaf Foods' CEO, Michael H. McCain, when numerous deaths were attributed to contaminated meat produced by his company. Meeting the obvious media interest, he stood resolutely in front of the cameras accepting responsibility for the problem. Not all leaders are cut out to handle this kind of pressure, or deliver a necessary and potentially disastrous response with this much courage. An old, Latin proverb tells us that fortune favors the bold, but abandons the timid. Maple Leaf Foods was saved because of McCain's bold resolve and dedication, which rested on the foundation of his courage.
The CEO of Southwest Airlines, James Parker, displayed a similar courage in the face of a different kind of threat. Deep in the shadow of the recent horrific events of 9/11, the trend for businesses was to cut workforces and pull back on expansion projects in the recognition that far less prosperous times may lay immediately ahead. But, while these fears gripped industries nationwide, and particularly the airline industry, one airline CEO made the brave choice to buck this trend. Only three days after 9/11, Parker announced that Southwest would not be cutting employees, and in fact, would be keeping them all, as well as initiating a new profit sharing program with them.
These CEOs are cut from a different cloth than some, such as those from some of the large Wall Street banks prior to the 2008 crash, as well as Enron and WorldCom, to name a few. These companies were unable to find the ethical internal compass to reject risky operating plans in the name of artificially elevated profit taking. The scandals that ensued in each case demonstrate a lack of courage and a lack of commitment to ethical standards in business. True courage in leadership is as valuable as any given asset for an organization, no matter how large or small.
Ernest Hemmingway said that courage is grace under pressure. The three CEOs of Maple Leaf, Blue Bell, and Southwest certainly had an element of grace under pressure, but they had more than that. Echoing what John Wayne said, author Arthur Koestler wrote, "Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears." These three men did not let either notions of greed, nor the fear of failure sidetrack what they knew they needed to do. They saddled up, anyway.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Put Your Core Values on Display Through Marketing
It's About Clarity
In many ways, the most important part of marketing has nothing to do with whatever new product you're touting at the time. It's about distilling everything - your products, your services, your employees and more - into a single message that lets the customer know who you are, what you're trying to do, and why you're trying to do it.
Consider the message that ends every Visa commercial you've ever seen, the message: "It's everywhere you want to be." This message isn't overly reliant on how shiny the cards are or what perks or rewards you might get for signing up. It's beautifully simple and conveys an important message: by signing up for a Visa card, you've got access to a trusted financial resource anywhere you could possibly need it. You've got a partner that you can depend on, day in and day out.
That one simple message is one of the single best examples of putting your core values on display for your audience through marketing in the modern era. It says everything that you need to know about what type of company Visa is AND what type of service they offer in six short words.
Honesty and Integrity Can Also Mean Humility, Too
If you've decided that two of the most important core values for your business are honesty and integrity, you need to accept the fact that the best way to display this to your audience will not necessarily always be positive.
Consider what happens when you make a mistake as a business owner. Maybe you released a product and said that it did one thing, while it really did another. Maybe you claimed that it did one thing really well, when in reality, it was barely functional and not ready for public consumption. These are the types of mistakes that business owners make on a regular basis - it's a fact of life.
The thing that separates the successful business owners from the ones who quickly disappear, however, is what they do next. If you've always told your customers that you value honesty and integrity, the path is clear: you own up to your mistake in your marketing. You acknowledge the problem as a learning opportunity and pledge to take the experience and use it to do better work in the future.
It's something that you see time and again. Coca-Cola introduced the stunning disaster that was New Coke in 1985. Microsoft released the Windows 8 operating system. What do these businesses have in common? They're still around, thanks to the fact that they understood that the core values of honesty and integrity sometimes mean humility, too. They admitted that they made mistakes, apologized to their customers, and pledged to do better in the future.
Far too many business owners label the core values of their business as "not for public consumption." Now, more than ever, the relationship between a business and its customers is one that is forged from a strong sense of transparency. One of the best ways to show your customers what type of business you are is to let those core values reflect outward with your marketing materials.
Friday, November 13, 2015
Creative Examples of What You Can Do With a Well-Placed QR Code
It's About Education, Not Destination
If you're only using QR codes as a substitute for a hyperlink, you're not coming close to unlocking the benefits of this technology. Consider the example of a restaurant that uses QR codes for customer education. There's only so much information that you can fit on a "take home" menu before it starts to get unwieldy. The larger that menu is, the more likely it is to get thrown in the garbage because it's difficult to store long-term.
If you were a restaurant owner, you might include an abbreviated menu featuring just items that are available to carry-out as a print marketing material. The QR code on that same menu, however, can be used to instantly educate the user about what your restaurant looks like, what items you have available for dine-in visitors and more. The physical print information that the customer is receiving is contextually relevant, in that dine-in options aren't necessarily on their mind if they're looking to order in. However, they do have access to all of that additional data should the need arise.
The customer has everything they need to order in and stay home for the evening if they choose, but you're also using the opportunity to show them what a great time they'll have, and what a great selection they'll be exposed to when they do decide to pay you a visit. More than that, you're saving physical space on your material and are leaving contextual information in the digital realm. This is the power of a well-placed QR code at work.
Adding to an Experience
Another great way to use a QR code in your campaign has to do with adding to the experience before, during, and after the event. As previously stated, a QR code should be about delivering quality information to your customers. In the days leading up to an in-store event, for example, a QR code on the print mailer that you send out may automatically send relevant details about who is going to be there, why the customer should come, and more to that person.
After the event, however, you can update what that QR code actually does to redirect the user to photos, video and other multimedia elements that were captured while the event was going on. Did a speaker host a question and answer session during the event? Suddenly, that same QR code can be used to deliver all that content right to the user's smartphone to let them relive the experience (if they were there), or show them what they missed (if they, unfortunately, couldn't make it).
Now, you don't have to send out another print mailer with updated information because the QR code itself is inherently malleable. It can be whatever you need it to at any given moment with a few quick modifications.
A well-placed QR code can do wonders for combining the best parts of both print and digital campaigns together. More than anything, however, it gives the user a choice regarding how they want to view the information that you're trying to get across. It allows them to pick a forum for the receipt of this data, allowing them to gain exposure to your message in the format that matters most to them.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The Innocence of Children
We were all children at some point, complete with the requisite innocence of childhood and before the experiences of life turned us into knowing adults. While most of us have trouble remembering the innocence of our own early lives, there is no denying that the innocence we observe in today's small children inspires in us a faint recollection and a distant longing for whatever feeling that was, way back when. Innocence is attractive to us precisely because it is something we have largely lost and cannot regain.
We really have little choice in the loss of our innocence. We value experience as a necessary part of being functional adults, so we allow our innocence to die at its hands. That makes observed innocence all that much more attractive to us.
We still see flashes of that inherent goodness in adults, but it is usually reserved for times of emergency and imminent danger. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanoes have brought out the best in heroic bravery. We honored the dedication of first-responders to the 9/11 disaster. We see images and videos on Internet social media, depicting the work of individuals who rise to specific occasions helping others in need, from mining disasters to oil spill clean-ups. But for adults, this is the exception, and not the rule. Only in the innocence of children can goodness still be displayed as the norm, as the way children simply are.
We adults chuckle at innocence, but deep down inside we respect it. Few things can be more deeply inspiring than innocence as French philosopher Jean Baudrillard said, "There is no aphrodisiac like innocence."
What is it we see in the eyes of a young child? We see untainted belief in the goodness of human beings. We see the belief in the goodness of ourselves, vicariously re-lived in our young counterparts. We see a willingness to embrace the irrational and an ignorance of the concept of death. The eyes of the innocent are a deep well of remembered truths and valued feelings. What can be more inspiring than the look of a child who sees into your own soul with a clarity that you, yourself, can no longer muster? Innocence, it seems, can be far more powerful than experience.
Founder of the Hilton hotel chain Conrad Hilton once said, "Be ever watchful for the opportunity to shelter little children with the umbrella of your charity; â¦[They are] in their innocence the repositories of our hopes for the upward progress of humanity."
We never completely outlive our innocence, but as adults, we need to spend the time to view its full force in the eyes of our children.
Monday, November 9, 2015
Signs That It May Be Time to Change Your Brand
Changing your brand may be a difficult decision, but sometimes it is the best chance you have to re-organize your priorities and start anew. There are a few key warning signs that it may be time to change your brand that you should always be on the lookout for.
Time Has Passed and Passed... and Passed...
A lot can happen in a decade. Since 2005 alone, the world saw the rise of the smartphone, the fall (and arguable recovery) of desktop computing, the "death" of physical media and more. If the one thing that you CAN'T say about the last ten years is, "I've updated by brand at least once, preferably twice during this period of time," then you're looking at a clear-cut sign that it's time for a change.
So much happens in a decade that without a brand refresh, you run the risk of developing a reputation for being old and stale. Even if you know that isn't true, relying on the same logo and marketing approach from President Bush's second term will land you right back there anyway. A brand change or upgrade is a perfect way to start fresh with a bold, new (and most importantly modern) voice.
Your Target Audience is Changing
At some point, any successful business that has operated for an appreciable amount of time needs to deal with a target audience that "ages out" of what attracted them to their business in the first place. If you think of the most successful brands in history, be it Pepsi or Microsoft or something in between, they've all had to deal with the same issue at some point in their history.
If despite your best marketing efforts your once steady sales have started to stagnate, or if you just can't seem to rile up your audience the way you once did no matter what you try, it may be time to rethink your brand and who it is geared towards. Remember that a 30-year-old in 2015, and a 30-year-old in 1965, represent two completely different things and barely resemble one another. If your core audience has gone away, a dramatic change to your brand (but adherence to the values you established in the first place) is a great way to attract the attention of a whole new crop of people in one bold and striking move.
Changing Your Brand Doesn't Mean Changing Your Vision
These are just a few of the many signs that it may be time to change your brand. Above all else, it's important to remember that a brand realignment is not an admission of guilt that something went wrong, or defeat in terms of your business in general. Instead, it's an opportunity. It's a chance to throw out the old and rise from the ashes like the phoenix, ready to take a new generation of your target audience by storm and impact their lives with your products or services in a much more organic and impacting way.
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