Market Smarter

Helping Businesses Market Smarter and Create a Culture of Execution

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Social media isn’t just for the hip businesses in niche industries anymore.  Companies  from Apple to local electric and plumbing companies invest time and resources in social media.   Social media enables fast, real-time communication, and the ability to target people with similar interests. This can be great free publicity for companies, but it can also be a headache to manage. Anything that a user is commenting on, good or bad, on various websites across the Internet is out there.  With the Internet being so vast, figuring out how to maintain and manage customer comments, interactions or passing along information can be daunting. How then can a company manage their online presence?  Here are 5 steps to help you with developing a social media plan for your business:

1)      Decide what problem you are trying to solve with social media.  Do you have customers posting questions about your products on other sites?   Customers airing complaints on a discussion board not controlled by your company?  Perhaps you want more people to recognize your brand.  Whatever it is, first figure out what problem you think social media will help you solve.

2)      Next, plan your goals.  If one goal is to increase customer satisfaction, give yourself a specific goal and an end date to make this happen: “We will increase customer satisfaction by reducing the number of support calls by 20% by December 2012.” Or perhaps you want to use social media to tackle a project that you have wanted to fix for some time, such as  “By December 2012, our customers will have a discussion board where they can ask questions of other users.  This will increase customer satisfaction by….”

3)      Look at what activity is happening on the web about your company.  Thanks to a growing number of search tools like Radian6, it’s easier to scan the Internet and find comments about your company on discussion boards, blogs and social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Ask yourself, what conversations are happening? Where are these conversations occurring? Take note where people make the most comments about your products or services. For example, if you own a plumbing or cleaning service, you might find the most comments on review sites like Yelp or Angie’s list. Take note of the opportunities available to you, and how other businesses are using certain sites.

4)      Put together a small committee- if you have a small company, designate two or three people who are tasked with following through on social media tasks.   These people should be ambassadors of the company and excited about promoting it. They should also have an idea of where to find customers and potential new prospects, and prioritize activities based on these  social media networks.

5)      Evaluate results and adjust your plan. Based on the goals you set in #2, what were your results? How should you adjust your plan and resources to focus on the areas with the highest return?

Following these steps to put your plan into action. If you are adding a new discussion page or Twitter account, think about posting topics that can lead for discussion or makes interesting news items. Look at your overall goal and think about how the message will help you achieve your goals.  MarketSmarter has a great template in our resource section that can walk you through the above steps. Check it out today!

 

Let’s face it; the first budget that is usually cut in tough times is the marketing budget.  But as marketers know, it is one of the most important ways to get out messages about product and services that can actually boost sales.  Even if you are facing some budget cuts this quarter, there are simple ways that you can get a message out about your company.

1)      Find those free press release sites.  Every journalist will always go through a week where it’s crunch time and some desperate space to fill at the last moment- whether it be print or online.  Every writer in every industry knows that the best place to go is free press release sites, as it is a treasure trove of information if they need a lead to a good story.  Don’t overlook those sites-you just might get a great news story out of it.

2)      Using LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook.  Author Guy Kawasaki has made his latest book, ENCHANTMENT a best seller by his ardent (and frequent) tweets.  Using LinkedIn to send out messages to your customers is a great way to connect.  Make sure you have a company site, and have as many of your employees as you can post approved messages about your company.  You’ll be surprised how many people find out about you.  Same goes with Facebook. 

3)      Networking events.  Even for medium to larger sized companies, going to a large industry networking event, or hosting your own, have great benefits.  Someone, even it is only one person, is looking for something- a new product, service or staff.  That could be the place where you start a beautiful friendship.

4)      Hosting a focus group. Taking your best customers and turning them into brand ambassadors for the price of lunch once a month is a steal.  Loyal customers always want to talk about your company to others and recommend it.  Let them.  Ask them questions to get a better insight about your products or services.  In turn, give them some guided statements that they can post on their webpages or discussion points if they are out networking.  People love hearing about good products and services from other people.  Recommendation works quite well for a little company called Apple.

5)      Promotions.  Try to work out something with sales for a promotion and advertise it on your website. Tell people about it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.  But make sure the offer is only on the website.  See how website traffic increases and how many people are talking about your company.  Fast-food places constantly have this problem. They will offer a coupon only on their website to have servers crash. That’s a good thing (well, sort of).

While having a reduced marketing budget isn’t ideal, there are still ways to use what you have to increase awareness. Be creative.  Think of all the great ways you have heard about something, and then think, wow, that probably didn’t cost that company a dime. You can make it happen for yours.

A client is changing his business model, from selling real estate to teaching about it. He was stuck though, on one important topic: price.

"I just don't know what I should be charging for training people in this industry," he said. "I know that I am knowledgeable about what goes on in this industry, but I don't know how to price my services.  It is a bad economy and I'm not sure I should charge very much starting out, but I know the information is valuable…and I need to earn a living…”

He had many questions coupled with doubts about his own self-worth.  He viewed marketing as a necessary evil, not something he really understood.  His idea of marketing was churning out press releases and pretty brochures.

Marketing is more than that; it is a perspective.  Even in the smallest company, including sole proprietors, marketing is a critical skill, a way of thinking that needs to be learned.  It starts with becoming customer-focused. But how do you do this?

My client had taught several workshops at investment clubs in the area, both free and for a minimal fee. I told him the best way to find out what he should charge would be to ask those who have already heard him speak. At first he was hesitant, and then agreed. We invited about eight people to meet together and I facilitated a meeting to ask basic questions about the workshops: what did people like? What did they not like? How was he as a speaker? What did the information do for them? Did it make them successful?

My client learned several things that shocked him out of shoes: 1) People were interested in helping him. 2) People enjoyed his workshops and 3) People valued what he had to say.

People were excited to talk about the workshops and seminars he had taught, and were excited that he would be teaching more classes. They agreed they would pay a lot more money than the minimal fee he planned to charge because they learned a lot. They also valued his honesty and integrity because he gave them valuable information that was making them successful. In fact, the group suggested a few prices that were much higher than he expected.  The also wanted to continue to meet once a quarter to continue talking about what he could do to improve and to help him.

He suddenly felt empowered and confident about his new business model. He felt like he had new partners in his business; those in the group felt encouraged and respected. They wanted to continue to do business with him, and refer others because they felt valued.

No matter how small a business is, when you create a culture that involves customers in problem solving, your customer thinks like a marketer, and stimulates innovation to solve more of their own needs.

Learn more in Real-Time Marketing for Business Growth about how to engage customers to improve your culture.   

 

 

In a fabulous read titled REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, one of their first chapters is “Planning Is Guessing.”  As a marketer and one who ardently advocates planning, my initial reaction to the chapter name was: this could be interesting.  The succinct chapter begins by describing the chaos of market conditions, declaring that “Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control” (19).  And to a point, they’re right; Fried and Hansson assert that planning is little more than guesswork made in the past when taken in context of the present.  In other words, things change: “Plans let the past drive the future. They put blinders on you...Plans are inconsistent with improvisation.” 

When it comes to the “traditional” annual planning process, I tend to agree, but plans are a double-edged sword; they can be the driver of business growth when they are communicated clearly and often and intended to be flexible.  And they can inhibit innovation if you get too wrapped up in long, drawn out process that does not allow flexibility in their execution despite circumstances in the market that are different than you ‘planned’ for them to be.  A good planning process will enable you to pounce on opportunities as they pop up, and dodge any unforeseen obstacle; only a bad plan would prevent adaptation.  And I think that distinction must be made.

Fried and Hansson later concede that contemplating the future and its obstacles is “a worthwhile exercise,” but they stress that you should not “feel you need to write it down or obsess about it” (20).  I agree with the latter--obsession is never healthy—but in my experience working with businesses, it’s the process of developing and writing the plan that is most valuable. It helps you sort through new ideas, challenge assumptions, and develop strategies and the means to achieve your goals. Writing a plan helps people organize ideas and make them more concrete.  Again, being ‘concrete’ does not mean the plans can’t or won’t change, but plans instead give you the confidence to take risks, set goals, and establish the strategies to achieve them.

I agree with the authors that whatever plans you do have must be current and relevant. “Figure out the next most important thing and do that,” they say, suggesting an admirable, rather zen-like aim to be present in the moment.  It’s okay to jump on a plane and go, they say, you can get your necessities when you arrive; and this could work as long as you knew enough and have the resources to survive in the environment you went to. This might be true for a small minority of people, but not for most businesses. You need to make sure you have the resources necessary to sustain your business and the staff that runs it. I say put a plan together first, then improvise. Planning might sound rigid, but it’s not; it is actually a framework that allows for more creativity.

I don’t think the question is whether or not to plan, because planning is (like it or not) proven to help businesses succeed. I think the real question is “What kind of planning process are you following?” Is it a once a year planning processes that is time consuming and produces little value, or are you implementing a real-time planning process that is flexible to changing business needs?  If a plan isn’t used, reviewed and updated often by the people who use it to guide decision making, then you are probably better off without it. As Fried and Hansson summarized it perfectly, “Working without a plan may seem scary.  But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier.” 

While I don’t agree with everything Fried and Hansson said in this chapter, they nevertheless bring up some excellent points. So take this opportunity to ask yourself a few questions about your marketing planning or business planning process:

  1. Do we follow a rigid planning process every year, just because it’s the way it has always been done?
  2. Have we evaluated how a real-time planning process can actually be more effective?
  3. Does my company culture foster an environment that encourages and facilitates open discussion and adaptation?  Do people feel comfortable speaking up if they see the plan isn’t working as anticipated? 
  4. Is the plan communicated often and with everyone?  Talking regularly about your business plan is a great way to make sure everyone understands where you are going, and why. This will also help with your internal branding (company culture) to build awareness and gain valuable input on the plan to build it further.

How successful is your planning process? I would love to hear about your experiences and what works for you.

 

 

First Impressions are everything, and you have seconds, not minutes, to capture a customer’s attention when they visit your website. Clicking on a web page is similar to passing a storefront with all the trappings and signs that will either lead you inside, or pass by because it is of no interest to you.  If you are lucky enough to lead a visitor inside your website and engage them, the more likely he or she will express interest, make a purchase, and find enough value to keep them coming back for repeat purchases.

Great design is just one of the fundamentals needed to keep a potential customer from clicking the close button too soon. Designing an effective website begins by focusing on the customer experience. Usability is critical and the site should be designed around how customers will read, search, and find information. Start by mapping out how customers interact with your site. Evaluate recent web metrics to discover how the most popular pages are prioritized and try to infer what series of decisions users make. If you design the site this way instead of following the typical hierarchy of website navigation frames, you should arrive at a simple but elegant framework that is geared to how customers make decisions.

Users like simplicity and they want information delivered fast. They want to view sites that are free from clutter, easy to read, intuitive to navigate, quick to download, and protective of their privacy. A user also wants to be able to contact a company through multiple means such as email or by phone, and often they want multiple choices of interaction (click to chat, call now, and so on) if help is needed.

If a customer is a repeat visitor to your site, make use of cookies to welcome customers back by using information the customer has already provided. When shopping online, the user expects to see product details and pictures, pricing information, shipping costs, and delivery information. She also wants an easy-to-use shopping cart with the ability to add and delete items, pay through a secure site, and receive an order confirmation via email. The ability to track delivery is also becoming more important to consumers.

One of the most important factors to keep in mind as you develop a Web site and other types of digital marketing is that everything is connected. If your goal is to target customers that make ample use of mobile devices, consider this in your initial design and strategy, and design a website version for mobile devices.

If your goal as a B2B company is to build a database of people who are interested in your products and services, you will probably need to offer something of value, such as a free report or article, to encourage registration. Ask users if they are interested in receiving information from your company so you have their permission to send it to them. It will also help you understand their needs so you can customize information based on individual preferences and cultivate a relationship with your customers.

If it has been a while since you visited your own site, now is a good time to evaluate your online marketing strategies and website design, customer experience, and other factors that weigh into the importance of how you get a customer’s attention, and keep them coming back for more.

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