Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Have you looked at Uncle Sam lately?

Are you struggling to keep your business afloat? Do you sit and contemplate on what’s coming next? You’ve brainstormed, you’ve focused grouped ad infinitum, and you’ve employed all the test-and-learn strategies your team can envision. Yet you have a strong suspicion that these are all short-term non-sustainable tactics and measures. You’ll need to do it again next week and next month and next year. How do you break through in this shark infested marketplace, you ask? The obvious answer is you forgot to brand, and it may be too late for you to start now. Ok, I don’t mean you specifically, I mean your company did not understand or focus on building a market-bursting sustainable brand name and image. The tribe has already rendered its verdict. You are who they say you are! OK, fine, that’s water under the bridge. You did not start it and you do not have the power to change it. You just want to keep your job and get paid.
Marketing Commentator thinks you should look again at your customer definition. If you’ve maxed out on your defined milieu, and I imagine you’re getting a substantial share of cartera billetera already, you may be neglecting one major source of new prospects. The government! Yes, Uncle Sam, that who! From Local to Municipal, to County to State to Federal! You have gazillion agencies, printing regulations, procuring equipment, sending out all sorts of information for you to meet all the changing compliance standards as legislators continue to recreate the world. At least they think they can! This means they use paper, they print stuff, and they use production facilities, they need more lawyers, more accountants, and contractors, and so on! They’re big on uniforms; they love badges, awards and presentations. They have snack machines in every office! Get it? Whatever you’re in, product or service, Uncle Sam consumes, except on a very grand scale. You just got to think a little.
Redefine yourself and give Uncle Sam a second look, and you may have just discovered a gold mine. Payment rate is guaranteed with zero bad debt rates, and for almost all cases, if you do a good job you can have that business and even expand year after year. Marketing Commentator suggests this would give you a true recurring revenue stream!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Innovate, innovate, and then innovate!

If you want her business, you’ve get to tell her the truth! Yes, it’s all about her. If you ask her, she would admit it with confidence. Confidence, and power for that matter, derived from knowledge about your products, your services and your “experiences”. And knowledge about your genre and industry as a whole! The customer is indeed; Queen and you “bess” get used to it and push the reset button.
You can start by considering innovation as a constant. The data is staring you in the face! It’s year n+1 of your new product launch and the numbers are just beginning to come in, and wham, you’re experiencing a more than 70% drop in sales. It’s a mystery! This can’t be! Not what you projected! Ahhh! The damn Follow-up Effect. Say what? But 70%, you ask? There’s got to be some other explanation! It used to be closer to 30%! You mutter! Ok, you scream and then some! What the dickens is going on? Customer evolution! That’s what’s going on! You really cannot rest on your laurels or on last year’s blockbuster. Or last season’s for that matter. After long and lengthy post mortems, reconciliations and discussions, you all agree it’s a new world. OK, whaddayado? You innovate!
Fact is, innovation does not have to be radical and revolutionary; it could simply be emergent and incremental. Furthermore, innovation could also involve a re-definition of your mission statement, a slight change in your product or service offering; your processes or your business organization. It could, for that matter, be a commitment to your community and the environment. And it could very well be a new message in your advertising or a modification in your packaging. The goal should always be a positive change and the change should be geared towards increasing your value offering to the customer. Most important of all, it must be frequent and often.
Point is, she needs to know that you care a little more about her and not just about your company’s bottom-line. Caring a little more about her actually improves your bottom-line and creates a whole new blue ocean for your business. Your neighborhood bank is now open on Saturdays, and your favorite Dry Cleaner’s is open on Sunday afternoon. What do they know and why now? What have you done to change your business lately? Have you responded to what your customer is saying? Or rather, demanding? Take the issues of the day and bring them down to the individual customer level. How do these affect her in her daily life? Accept any and all ideas from all, then craft tomorrow’s winning solution. And then, do it again and again and again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Does Your Business Have A Recurring Revenue Stream?

The one-timer buyers! The premium bandits! They stalk your business! Sifter Offer after Sifter Offer! They get the great deals and then it’s see you later alligator. You incentivize like crazy and you still can’t beat them: “Them”, as in the proverbial competitors. What’s their magic touch, you ask? Well, stop trying to beat them and redefine the playing field! Why fight in shark-infested waters when you can simply transform the game. If you don’t already, it’s time to consider getting personal. Think of the value-added benefits in your plethora of product or service offering. Then consider bundling, based on customer proclivities and tendencies, and then watch your share-of-wallet increase while ensuring she gets a lasting and enduring experience.
Cut through the clutter by developing a recurring revenue stream for your best customers and turn one-time sales events into multiple sales and offers. This is how you increase your bottom line in the long run. And yes, you too can do this in your business. It all depends on the structure of your value proposition, and the strength of your communication. Why would this work, you ask? Because (1) we’re all creatures of habit, and (2) we all seek to simplify our lives while dealing with all the tangential roles and divergent activities of modern day society. Aunt Millie at the Corner Store knows this very well and so does the Milk Man who delivers once a week. OK, used to deliver once a week, you say! Now, when he did deliver, he always knew her name, and then some.
Do you know your customer? Do you know her name? When was the last time she bought from your store or responded to your offer? Do you know why she didn’t come back? Remember the often used term, buyer’s remorse? You encourage her to come back and you mitigate her concerns with the service phone call, with the post card, with the email or with the SMS. These are all your defensive shields to ensure she doesn’t go elsewhere and offensive tools for when she comes knocking. And that’s just CRM in its basic and fundamental form.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It’s a Jungle in Here!

You get on the 6:23 metro train or drive in early to beat the morning rush so you can get a jump on the day and the competition. A few years back, this was a shorter and easier commute. The early trains are now more crowded and the roads are more congested than ever. You’re no longer the only early bird. The number has multiplied and it has become a jungle out here.
And then you get to the office where you’re master of the game. You know all the ropes, and this is your domain. Your Blackberry begins to buzz again and then you realize the real jungle is in your hot little hands. You are constantly looking at it and you carry it with you everywhere. It’s your cell phone! It’s your voice mail! It’s IM! It’s your laptop! And it’s your PDA! You are now BFF. Somewhere along the line these productivity-enhancing devices took over. They are now the masters of the game. They define the rules, and you are playing their game. Yup, they got you, and you can’t get out of the jungle. And you have no idea how all this happened.
You have 936 messages, covering a wide spectrum from those that need quick responses to competitive tracking emails. As if that wasn’t enough, the message light is blinking from the many voices reminding you to respond to the email they just sent 9 minutes ago. “This is nuts”, you mutter and in your animated state you spill coffee all over the paperwork on your crowded desk. You discover the real jungle is in your office and you carry it with you all the time and now you must find a survival guide.
Get your business back to basics, and remember why it exists. Are these emails and voice mails added value? Do they increase your top line? Do they help you retain a single customer? Do they help you acquire a new customer? Do they add to your bottom line? Get out of this jungle, get out of this quagmire and give your business a chance to survive. Set some ground rules. Maybe, no email after 4pm? Spend the rest on the day really thinking about the customer. And remember to keep your eye on the bottomline.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Turn Your Business Into An Experience

The famous Warehouse Sale, the big discounts, 25% off, 50% off, and why not 70% off, Buy-One-Get-One Free! Promote like crazy, make the signs bigger; repeat the promotions several times, no white space, add more offers below the fold. The conventional marketing wisdom is almost universal, more advertising is better than less. Why the hell not, the competitor down the street or on your least favorite website is doing it. They must know something! You are holding the evidence of their brilliance in your hot hands. Damn right, you did your research! You got to match ‘em! Or do you, and for how long? Are you becoming as smart as your dumbest competitor?
Ok, what do we do, you ask? Daily, weekly, and monthly sales continue to drop and the pressure from stakeholders is clamping down your throats. You got an update with the boss who wants you to have all the answers. If you can’t stop the bleeding, she’ll find others who will. So you think about today and you fold and snap. Let’s offer everything FREE for one day or one weekend and they will come. Collectively, below your breaths you think, what do we do for an encore? You dare not say it. So you press on. And now you’ve trained the customer to hold out and wait for the Really Big Sale. The Big One is coming, it’ll come, just you wait, they say.
Not sustainable folks! Turn your business into an experience and yes, they will come. And yes, pricing becomes less of a variable. The key is engaging the customer and turning them into participants. This causes the value of the experience to linger even after the experience is long gone, hence the justification for premium pricing.
Think of your business as a performance and your work as theatre. You are constantly being evaluated by the consumers and they continue to decide whether or not to come back for a repeat performance. Some experts have determined that it takes about 7 years for today’s consumer to forgive a bad experience. There is very little opportunity for a do-over. Yes, you can do that too in the milieu of your calling. And this is not a high-end merchandise or service argument. You product or service is the experience and the value of your offer is predicated on what your customer gets in return emotionally. What’s in it for me, she asks? Deliver an emotional experience and you and your offering will be on stage in the long term. Now go ahead and be magical!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What’s-In-It-For-Me (WIIFM) Principle

Why do we do the things we do? With all the freedoms in this great society, we always revert to the tried and true. Ok, for the most part. Aw-righty then, let me get to the point already! Why do we patronize certain businesses and what makes an offer palatable to a particular individual? We all deal with this in our everyday lives. For now, I will reserve my commentary to business relationships. It usually boils down to two very important hurdles that must be overcome to elicit a positive response. The prospect is always asking: (1.) Tell me something I don’t know, and (2.) What’s in it for me? The second question often referred to as the WIIFM principle.
For long term sustainability, in any successful relationship, B2B, B2C or otherwise, these are two proverbial concerns that must be addressed. Are you telling them something new and are you addressing the WIIFM principle. Your task will be simple in the long term and your brand will resonate in their minds eye, and you will be able to capture their imagination if you provide sufficient value added benefits to mitigate these ever present universal concerns. Continue to re-invent yourself, and as a former mentor used to say, “..always stay 15 minutes ahead of the competition…” Now, go wow ‘em like crazy!

Monday, August 31, 2009

What Happened To Product?

It’s 9:06am August 31, 2009, and I just got this morning’s edition of eMarketer Daily. Like any other marketer, I am constantly looking for another mouse trap and not necessarily a better mouse trap. Hence, I wake up every day and read as many e-publications about marketing as I can. In fact, I have “google” alerts on marketing musings, since I dare not miss what the experts are saying. Else I get rusty and loose my edge and become devoid of talking points. And then it hit me, is there a danger of all this being a herd mentality? Have I really learnt anything new from all these material I continue to digest and regurgitate in everyday business conversations? Or is this all designed to make me part of the in-crowd and look smart without necessarily making a genuine contribution to the conversation?
What about product, you ask? I will get to that in a moment. First let me get this off my chest, or more appropriately, let me put this all in context. Yes, and I agree, the essence of marketing is to position your idea, product or service, to the intended audience, in the most positive way necessary to engender a positive response and action that results in attaining your stated goals. For businesses this is what we all define as profit. Hence good marketers or pretenders try as much as they can to push the profit motive at all costs. And to continue this search for gains minute after minute, hour after hour, week after week, month after month and year after year, with the stated goal of exceeding your projections, or forecasts and beat the preceding comparable period. This is one of the many forces that cause the deluge of analysis, articles and lots of meetings so we can all be the best at what we do as marketers. Sell, sell, sell and then some!
Over the years, many have professed that with the advent or rather age of the internet, the customer is Queen. I happen to agree. A few years back, it wasn’t very difficult to sell an idea, a service or a product to a target audience. If you build it they will come, was the mantra in many boardrooms and “garages” all over the horizon. You simply had to convince some of the people all the time. It wasn’t a level playing field and consumers had little, if any, know-how to ascertain if they were getting a good deal or being taking in for a raw deal. If you were savvy enough to create trust, you were successful. The focus then was on service. Everyone had an uncle or cousin in the business. If you didn’t, you knew someone who did. Of course, your uncle or cousin would not put one on you, they were family. And so it goes everyone was happy, the neighborhood flourished and balance was maintained in the marketing ecosystem. You grew up and went to the family business, or you knew someone who will let you in or a really good deal, which gave you the inside scoop to success, fulfillment and self actualization. Right or wrong, the focus was always on delivery and credibility. If you screwed up more than once, it didn’t take long for the neighborhood to call you out. And once everyone figured it out, you were toast, and not the toast to the town. You went to your favorite Coffee Shop or Barber Shop because you knew the gal or guy, mam or sir. It was the thing to do, and you derived some level of satisfaction in this engagement.
The common thread in all this was always a good product. I use product in this argument as generic for any offer, service or otherwise. For sustainability your product had to be the best. There is always the best Bakery in town, the best Pizza store in town, the best Barber in town, and the only Corner store. No, you wouldn’t dare start another corner store. Aunt Millie had the market cornered, pun intended. You had to be great, and your product had to be the best. Today, you stand the chance of having your business become a me-too enterprise, if you do not have a product that has relevance in the marketplace. Why do you exist? What is your essence of being, and what’s your DNA?
Why is Apple so successful? Think about the i-Phone, the i-Pod, the i-Mac, i-Tunes, i-Mac, and so on and so on. It’s all about dominance in a product category. Apple has successfully captured the market and has been able to knock off Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and a host of other players who should have the benefit of first mover advantage in some of these business categories. Has anyone seen an IBM laptop lately? Apple simply has the best product in all these categories, and consumers are voting with their wallets and pocket books. How many out there have a Xerox machine in their offices that’s not made by Xerox? Or how many people out there have a Kodak camera not made by Kodak? My sentiments exactly! Yes, let’s market like crazy, let’s price effectively, let’s focus on promotion and advertising, and let’s get it to the target audience at the right place and at the right time. But let’s remember to have something worth selling. It will make it easier to sell, it will make it easier to market, and it will make it easier to generate a profit. There is a very good reason why product is the 1st of the 4-P’s in the proverbial marketing mix.