Better Business Feedback

Each week I read hundreds of business related emails and blog posts. As you know I am an ardent supporter of both communication and education, and am always open to hearing new perspectives on leadership, business, marketing, success and working with each other. This week one of the posts I read talked about one of the frequently played commercials on TV right now, and it had a really negative opinion of the commercial. It’s one of the commercials that has emerged from and is based on things we’ve experienced over the past few months, and while I’m not particularly fond of the commercial or the brand behind the commercial, I don’t dislike it for the reasons that they talked about in the post. I can definitely see how they would come up with those opinions, and how other people seeing the commercial might feel offended as well, but I also think that they may have overreacted on their opinions regarding the commercial. I don’t know what the process was for creating the ad, but I think a few more discussions with the target audience would have helped with those little tweaks and have given people less to criticize about it (there will almost always be someone who dislikes something about your company/marketing especially if you’re a big company).

As part of the discussions all businesses are having right now, I think it’s more important than ever to get feedback from people on marketing campaigns you’re planning that will go out to a big audience, new products you’re considering offering, and what is and isn’t working for your business right now. Whether you’ve got a large number of people who work for your business or a small number, it’s good to have a team of people you can check in with for detailed feedback, taking time to ask your email/social subscribers for their feedback, as well as taking advantage of some of the companies out there who can survey broader groups of people that would fit in your target audience.

So what does this look like? For broad information gathering sessions you can do both lengthy and short surveys. For your email/social subscribers typically you’re going to do short ones, probably not more than once a month depending on your business and audience. You can also check in with people in the company at meetings to just get some quick feedback and first thoughts.

I would also recommend though that you have a team of carefully chosen people both as part of an email list and as part of your company that you can talk with more frequently, who are willing to give you honest feedback and opinions and ask you questions/share their questions. This team can be compensated either through discounts, merchandise, team gear, or other bonuses to thank them for their time and effort, and should be those that you would call fans, supporters or very knowledgeable about you and your company.

Getting feedback isn’t about having your ideas thrown out or trampled, but instead discovering what others might see that you don’t see. Typically, that means that your ideas will only be improved upon by talking with others. You’ll also get good feedback on what people are looking for or concerned about or ready to invest in by having these crucial conversations. And, as I said, they don’t have to take a long time, and thanks to technology if you keep the questions easy-to-answer and the overall survey short, it will be easy to process the results and act on them quickly. What great feedback have you gotten for your business lately?

Conversations on Culture and Community

This month I read another older book, The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk. It was written when social media was quite new and he was on the forefront of believing in the possibilities it held for companies. It amazes me that we still have the same arguments many years later about whether it works or not, but we’ve got some companies and campaigns that have been incredibly successful. We won’t be getting into that messy topic today, instead we’ll be looking at a couple of other things that Gary brings up in the book regarding leadership, business, customers, employees and marketing.

A big focus in the book is about people. Gary talks about the importance of treating customers the same whether they’re in person or online, that happy customers are worth a lot more than any other kind, and that customers would rather do business with people they like. As I’ve always said, behind every business is at least one other person. Even when you think you’re in the B2B market, you’re always dealing with people.

But customers aren’t the only people that businesses are connected to, there are employees (and/or partners or affiliates) as well. In the book Gary said “the first thing that makes an employee happy is to be treated as an adult.” It always amazes me how poorly some businesses treat their employees, whether the markets are in good condition or there are challenges like we’re currently experiencing. Employees make or break a company, can cost it untold amounts of revenue and branding, and companies/leaders consistently tie the hands of employees who could help not only fix customer issues, they could help turn them into customers for life. We’re finally getting better at recognizing the importance of and how to care for customers, hopefully employees will be next.

Another core topic in this book is marketing. While much of the conversation is about social media, many of the principles that Gary talks about apply to all types of marketing. One of my favorite lines is “the person who post a negative comment is a customer you can talk to.” No company wants negative reviews, but when they get posted online businesses at least have a chance to make things right, as opposed to the word-of-mouth reviews that used to be the only way people shared about company experiences. Other advice Gary gives about marketing is that in this day and age there is no such thing as a time that you “end” your marketing. You may change what you’re talking about or the topic of a campaign, but the goal is to keep the conversation going.

In line with that, the final thought I want to share is about community. It’s understood that there’s only so low you can go with a price and only so excellent you can make a product or service, so what’s left is the people. Choose to be creative, choose to impress your customers, choose to give customers and employees the chance to talk with leadership, choose to be polite, choose to give customers reasons to care about your brand, choose to care about your customers more than the bottom line, and choose to build a community that supports each other and cares about each other.

What are you building with your business?

Massive Marketing Messages

Marketing is everywhere! It’s amazing how many marketing messages we see in a day. Some studies even say that people see over 4,000 marketing messages each day. It’s hard to believe that’s how many ads we see, but when you think about the number of emails you get each day, number of commercials you see on TV or while watching videos, number of ads you see on each web page you visit, number of messages you see when out shopping (think about the last time you visited a big box store or even your local grocery store), and number of messages you see while out driving around, that number might even be a conservative estimate.

The other day I was on my way to work with a client and I got to looking, carefully of course, at the billboards I passed. Billboards are interesting because sometimes everyone in the car will have lots of time to look at them because you’re stuck in traffic, other times only some people will be able to really look at them because they’re passengers, and then there’s the driver who maybe gets 3 seconds (if that) to glance at a billboard under normal driving circumstances.

Thinking about how I was able or unable to process the message on the billboard in the 3 or so seconds I had got me thinking about how we create marketing, who we’re trying to reach with each message, and if we’re really thinking about our audience when we create our marketing. Most brands can’t get away with less than 5 words and an image, only the biggest and most well-known can do something like that (think about your favorite insurance gecko). The challenge for every other brand that wants to use a billboard to promote their offering is coming up with the right text and image to get people to not only understand what they posted but also remember it in the limited time they see it.

Are you able to say what you need to in few enough words that the text is large enough to read from a car by the driver who likely can’t give you full attention? Are you using an image that people associate (even sterotypically) with your message, relying on the text to communicate your message, or trying to do too much for the given situation? In the case of billboards I definitively think that it’s better to include an image than just use text, and most billboards are doing too much or have too busy an image to properly process.

So what does this teach for other types of marketing we’re doing? The same principles apply whether you’re talking about a billboard or email or car sign or TV ad: it needs to be readable and you have to choose the images you use wisely. Unless you’re designing a billboard, it doesn’t have to be read and understood in 3 seconds, but you still have to make sure people know why they should stick around to get the whole message if you’re going to try for their attention for longer than 3 seconds. For some other types of marketing you’re able to use less stereotypical images to create an ad that makes people think more or catches their attention more, something you’re not able to really do with billboards because of the lack of time and attention people can give to them typically.

So this week I encourage you to take a look at the marketing you’re doing and make sure that it’s readable, provides sufficient context, includes at least one relevant image, and shares your message clearly and as simply as necessary and appropriate.

New Year, New Sales

Since the new year has begun, I’ve purchased phone cases for my new phone, broken a garbage can lid (thus needing a new garbage can), cleaned up and packed away some holiday decorations, knew several people who have passed away and attended services and after events for one of them, gathered with family and extended family, and looked into clearance sales. What was the hardest part of all of this (other than losing people I knew)? That there weren’t hardly any emails or marketing from companies that I might have purchased from if I knew they were doing sales or had the products I was looking for.

Yes, the weeks of mid-November through Christmas are some of the busiest when it comes to marketing, and it often costs more to market at those times and is often harder to get in front of your target audience since they’re seeing so many messages. Yes, people also are willing to spend money then in part because they know that there will be sales and they know they have to buy gifts. Yes, many people cry when they see their January credit card bills. But the fact remains, just because the holidays are over, doesn’t mean that people stop spending money.

I’m not suggesting that you should be doing marketing or even sales/selling at the level that you did during the holiday/year end shopping season, but what I am saying is that life happens, people need to eat, things break, and people still have needs they’re going to be shopping for, and if you’re not sharing your offers with them, they will go with the cheaper, easier or more obvious choice. And while they may get lucky and end up buying exactly what they were looking for, chances are good that they would have preferred to know their options, and might have been more satisfied with the product or service you were offering but didn’t know was available.

So go ahead, put a little effort into your January marketing, because people are out there shopping. You’ve probably got a better chance of your potential customers hearing you now that they’re not inundated with holiday messages or spending as much time with family and friends. Plus, it’s a great time to set the standard for how the rest of the year will go and be an excellent communicator, building relationships and connections with customers and potential customers.

Cohesive Marketing Communication

This week I had someone approach me asking about their Facebook account and why they weren’t getting subscriptions from their ads or their page. I asked them to send me their links and I took a look and didn’t even have to get as far as seeing the ads to see some issues that could definitely be the reasons why they weren’t getting subscriptions. When they followed up on my feedback, they asked if they should just scrap their FB page and start over. My answer was that the issue really wasn’t with their FB, although there were things they could improve there, but with the offer they were presenting on their website and a lack of cohesive communication on their offer, and if anything needed to be scraped, it was the website.

I share this with you today because it’s not an isolated incident. I talk with companies on a too-regular basis that do absolutely have issues with their social accounts, but they have far larger issues with the offer they’re presenting and/or their website. You can send all the traffic you want to an offer on social media and then through to your website, but if the ad isn’t clear, if the ad doesn’t match what’s on the website, if what’s on the website isn’t clear and understandable, very little if anything is going to convert.

If I could encourage you to do anything with this new year it would be to review everything about your company online that you can get your hands on and make sure it all is current and lines up clearly. If you do this yearly, unless something big has happened, you’re probably going to just have a few small changes to make and it won’t take long. If you want an outside opinion, shoot me a message with your links. If you know after taking a look at everything that you’re due for an overhaul, I’d love to work with you on going through it all and making sure that you’re set up for your best year ever, and able to support more people in this new decade.

Creating ‘Likeable’ Companies

This month I read Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen. It’s a good book for those who are just getting started with social media, especially companies who are wondering if social media is right for them or why it’s worth joining. For those who have social media experience, it’s a good reminder about best practices when using social media. It definitely does address some of the questions of what it takes to be likable in business and on social media.  As always the rules of posting consistently, knowing the network and being social are always recommended by the author, but they also included some other good insights as we’re looking towards the new year and maybe the next level of social media.

One of the things that I really appreciated that was discussed in this book was a real life example of what a tricky company can do with social media. Tricky companies include those who are in very regulated industries like medical or financial, or companies that offer products or services that are considered boring or strange like storage or incontinence. Dave shared an example of a medical company that primarily used social media to listen and hear what people were saying about company/product/service keywords and specifically about their brand. It’s a great way to use social media even if you can’t do a lot with other aspects of it since people do post reactions and insights that you can learn about what people think about your product or are in need/want of that you offer.

Second, the book talked about how social media is one of the newest ways to provide feedback to brands and for brands to provide customer service. It’s also the new version of word of mouth that people use to share with each other the companies they do and don’t recommend. The big difference between feedback in the past is that it wasn’t available for everyone to see, and now it is. Filling out a feedback card in the past gave the feedback just to the company, now it gives it to the company and all of your connections, which can be a very good thing for both the company and all of a person’s connections. Companies can do a lot of good or damage depending on the responses they give to questions and comments on their accounts, building or destroying trust and future business opportunities. With social media the grapevine got a lot faster and bigger, something that companies should work to their benefit rather than being scared of it or hiding from it.

Third, as I always remind my clients one of the biggest keys to being likable is being human. Have people clearly running the company page, respond in very human ways to comments and questions (avoid using canned responses), apologize, and respond quickly and helpfully to all customer needs. Real people use social media, and they want companies to be equally real with them.

Finally, I leave you with a bit of a warning from the book: social media cannot make up for a bad product, company or organization.  It won’t instantly fix any/all of the marketing problems you may have or low sales numbers.  It can be part of the solution, part of how you market and part of your future plans for how you support and connect with customers, and it should showcase your organization truthfully as the great brand that you are.

What are your new plans or commitments when it comes to social media in the new year?

Lessons in Leverage

There’s always been a group of people who look for the shortest or fastest route through, around or to something or someone. I have no problem with letting go of things that are unnecessary or taking out unnecessary steps, but fastest/shortest isn’t always best. For example, for a time there was a large interest in buying likes and other social points to unnaturally inflate business accounts so they would look more popular or active than they were. It’s something that the social networks have cracked down on fortunately but still something a few people are still doing. I understand the desire to present large numbers to people, especially when some celebrities have so many social interactions and connections, but when you have fake likes etc. it completely screws up your metrics and any data you want to analyze and it means you’re not being honest with your customers.

So what can we do as businesses to grow faster or quicker? One option we have is to get really good at leveraging. What does this mean? It means that we build a business smarter, taking advantage of the tools and resources we have access to. Sometimes it means a little extra effort or resources expended, but in the long run you’ll connect better with your team and your customers, and be more successful for longer.

Let’s take a look at some examples. For social media there are many things you can do with a social account, but the question I often raise with clients is how fully they’re taking advantage of all that a social network offers. Are you posting, doing ads, being social and promoting the account through your emails, website etc. or just doing one/some of the above? If you’re not leveraging all that the social account has to offer, it’s likely you’re missing out on some great opportunities for growth.

Another example has to do with your employees, team, and customers. Do you have people of all ages on your team and are you talking with all of them to get different generational perspectives? Are you tapping into the different skill sets and interests that each of them have or trying to force them into your preferred box? What about your customers? Are you getting their feedback on what you’re offering and finding out what they need? These are simple conversations to initiate, and can pay off big in the long term if you’re implementing what you’re learning.

A final example is one that I share about regularly, and that’s holidays. If everyone around you is talking about the upcoming holiday, how can you leverage that holiday positively for your business? Rather than complain about the holiday or how it steals customers from you, turn it into a money making opportunity. Offer relevant seasonal offerings, surprise your customers with seasonal gifts, and be flexible with your team and their schedules so they can be with their families too (a happy team is a productive team). Make the holiday work for your business.

What about you? What are you leveraging in your business to help it grow?

Getting Ready for Holiday Business

With only 11 weeks left in the year, 37 days to Black Friday, 67 days to Hanukkah and 70 days until Christmas, it’s definitively time to get your plan in place for the rest of the year and the holiday shopping season. If you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to offer and how you’re going to market those offerings and your business you’re basically saying that whatever happens happens and you’re going to just accept it. Personally that’s not my preference, but without a plan that’s what you’re saying. In line with a plan regarding your offerings and marketing those offerings should be a plan on how you’re going to capitalize on those sales in the future, such as through a newsletter, blog, podcast and/or social media.

So let’s start with what should be in the plan. In your plan for your offerings should be the offerings you’re going to feature that are classics and favorites, offerings you have available every holiday season, and offerings available for this holiday season alone. Of course you may have other offerings, but they won’t be those you focus on promoting for the next 11 weeks. Make sure that for seasonal offerings you can get/give enough if your offering would go viral or be in high demand, unless you’re intentionally planning to extremely limit what’s available because of the low cost or high product cost.

Once you’ve got the offerings selected, then it’s time to talk about marketing. Hopefully you’ve been actively marketing all year long and aren’t planning to attempt to do all your proactive marketing in the last 11 weeks of the year, but that’s what some businesses do. It’s also a good time to review all your social accounts and your website to make sure they’re not only up to date but also are clearly displaying and celebrating your holiday/seasonal offerings.

Finally, make sure that you’re not after one sale, but building a relationship that could result in sales in the future from your customers or from their friends. Have things like a newsletter, blog, and/or podcast you update at least weekly that people can subscribe to, have social accounts that you consistently post to where they can connect with you, and if you’re a local business consider offering a mailing list that they can get post cards and other materials mailed to them. Now’s also a great time to evaluate your strategies for each of those and make sure that you like what you’re doing and your customers do too.

How are you getting ready for the holidays?

A Question of Value

If you’re in business you have to be making money, right? If you’re not making money (not enough to cover expenses), the old saying goes that you’ve got a hobby, not a business. I was having a conversation the other day with my partner about a program for the computer that has a pricey yearly fee, and he was considering paying that fee, and I told him that I use a different, open source, program that works just fine and I haven’t had any complaints from clients about it, or had any difficulty using it, and didn’t really notice any differences from that program and the open source one I use. It brought us into an extensive conversation about what we would be willing to pay on a yearly basis, why there is a cost to begin with, and whether the cost is reasonable or not.

Most people understand the need to pay for products and services. The business world has even done a fair job of explaining the concept of luxury goods and services and the value of paying extra or more for some products and services. Some businesses are better than others at explaining the value of their offerings, regardless of the price. I speak with businesses each week who struggle with their marketing not (just) because their marketing is weak or insufficient, but because they haven’t established the true value of their offerings. Sometimes a brand itself is enough to establish value, but more often than not it is up to the product or service to establish the value.

For extended return periods, free exchanges, free 2 day shipping, special/unique features, limited editions, a special cause or story or regular (quality) updates, yes, it’s understandably worth paying (a little) more. A company can easily retain faithful customers that are willing to invest a little more in their products or services because they offer things like this.

But the other is true as well. Because they offer a lower price or a small subscription fee, a company can gain customers that would not be willing to subscribe to more expensive subscription programs or would not make the investment in the more expensive product. Maybe it means a company has to be a little more creative about what they offer in the subscription or not offer all the bells and whistles another company might offer, but some customers are just fine with that.

It is possible that the number of people that are willing to pay the higher amounts make up for the customers that are lost because the price is higher, but it’s not something you should assume without doing proper research.

So what did my partner end up doing? As you probably guessed, he went ahead with the free open source computer program too. We both agreed that if the cost was more reasonable and better aligned with the lack of improvements and special features we would both have been willing to invest in it.  But the benefits aren’t worth the cost.

What about your costs and benefits? Is your company clear about the value you offer and why your pricing is what it is?

The Next Chapter in Advertising

Lately I’ve been thinking about advertising. I know, not a big shock considering I work with and write about businesses. One of the reasons it’s been on my mind is because of all the talk about privacy and the sheer number of ads that people typically see on a daily basis (one report indicates about 5,000 per day, but even if we’re only seeing a fraction of that it’s still a ton). I know I get several hundred emails in a day and many of them have a banner ad or some other type of promotion in them, then there are all the ads you see when you watch TV, or are driving down the street or are perusing your favorite shopping website.

If I’m honest I don’t have a problem with ads, and I don’t just say that because I’m in business and advertise. We have so much going on in our lives that ads and promotions are a good way to let people know about something a company is offering they may want or need, without us having to do all the work to find out what’s on sale or what’s new. But I do agree that some companies abuse the privilege of advertising. They spam you or don’t tell you about fees or hide key details that had you known you would have never clicked on the ad. I wish companies would be more responsible about ads, which brings us to the other topic: privacy.

I like my privacy as much as the next person, and like many people I do feel like some companies have more information than they should, and not all companies are as respectful of that data and that trust that people are placing with them. As a result of how some companies act, I’m not surprised by the uproar and the way that the hammer is really coming down on all things privacy and advertising, and I’m more than a little frustrated at these companies for causing so much fear and hesitance to end up on those of us businesses that are very careful and respectful.

So where does this leave businesses? I don’t think it means the end of advertising. It does mean that businesses should be more responsible because of the sheer number of options that people could switch to if they don’t like the practices of a business. It also means that it’s time for a change when it comes to how businesses are advertising. Businesses should clearly communicate with their customers regarding their ethics, and options when it comes to a customer’s privacy.

It also presents an opportunity for a business and customer to have more open conversation about what the customer wants to share with a company, what the customer wants from the company, how the customer wants it from the company, and why the company advertises/includes the advertisements they do. More people would be more open to ads if they knew they would be relevant to them, were at a frequency they were comfortable with. Likewise, people would be more willing to share some information, especially about preferences and interests, as long as the information that is requested is reasonable, and when it’s acted upon the customer and their privacy is respected and protected. And again, more people would be receptive to ads if they were delivered through a preferred means, and there are very few situations where only an email or only a mobile number would suffice, and would not be interchangeable, especially if allowing a customer to choose one or the other would mean someone would be receptive to getting information.

The advertising arena is changing, it’s a question of whether it becomes a customer vs. business thing, or if we’re able to figure out how to work together so that we still grow our businesses but we also respect and support our customers. How are you navigating the changing ad market?