Back to the Brand

Today I thought I’d talk a bit about a topic that I’ve touched on in the past but it’s been a while since I really devoted time to it, because this week a client approached me because they were having trouble with branding, so it got me thinking about what branding is and how we work with it in our individual companies. According to dictionary.com, a brand is “a kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic,” “to impress indelibly,” “a trade name or trademark,” and/or “to give a product a distinctive identity by means of characteristic design, packaging, etc.”

So what does that mean to you and your business? I believe that branding is personal, and if it’s not personal and you (and any partners) don’t like it, the company won’t do as well. You have to be comfortable with, excited about, and connected to the brand you choose. That doesn’t mean it won’t change or develop over time, but whatever you go with now or in the future, it needs to be something you like. And once you settle on something you like then you can get feedback from others to make sure it’s crowd friendly too.

So how do you decide on a brand? From the definitions above your brand can be reflected through anything from the words you use to the images you use to the packaging you have. There are lots of sites you can look at to get ideas as far as what other people have done or how to pick colors that work with the feeling behind your company (and brand), but again, what you put on your site has to be something you’re comfortable with.

Why? Because once you’ve established your brand you have to show or say it everywhere. If I talked about little blue boxes you’d think about a particular jewelry company; they don’t put things in any other color boxes, just blue. If I said “Just Do It,” you’d think of a particular sports company that encourages everyone to get out there and be active and live their lives. If I talked about the ‘happiest place on earth’ you’d think of the feeling you get when you watch a particular company’s movies or going to their theme parks, a feeling they hope extends to other parts of your life as a result.

So what about your company? Have you established a brand and consistently taken it through all of your offerings, customer service solutions and presentations/packaging? If you don’t have a brand, establishing one could help you stand out among other companies in your industry and connect better with potential customers.

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Cost-Sensitive Sales

If you’re struggling to make sales, or aren’t making the sales you want, chances are good that you’ve thought of all kinds of things you can do to have more sales including adding more products to your inventory, doing paid ads, moving to a trendier location, adding more sales people to your sales team, or redoing something (like your store, your products, your packaging, your website etc.) Some of these things can get to be expensive, and you may not have a lot to spend right now. Unfortunately, you may have to spend at least a little to get in some more sales, but there are somethings you can do to bring in more sales without raising the overhead too much. Today’s post is a little longer than usual but there are lots of ideas in it to help you increase sales and be more profitable.

First and foremost is addressing something that too many companies aren’t addressing in their marketing, including on their website and social accounts: who are you, why you do what you do, and what makes you different. Maybe you really aren’t much different as far as the products or services you offer, but because you’re running the business, your business is different than any other one out there. How you approach business, the people you hire, the things you offer are all a little different because you’re behind the business, but people don’t know that unless you say so.

Another thing you could try is reusing existing supplies or technology in new ways. For example maybe you buy decorative boxes that you sell as the packaging for your gift box sets (spa day, wine inspired, new baby etc.), but some people may be interested in buying just the boxes for their own purposes, so you could offer them as a separate purchase. For technology, maybe you do embroidery on shirts that companies buy to resell from you, but you could use the same technology to embroider logos on shirts for companies, or embroider initials on towels for hotels or for newlyweds.

You can also look for products that you can resell, including digital products and items that you never touch. For example if you create dog leashes you could find some products on Amazon to sell (aka drop shipping), or a digital video course on training your dog you can sell as an affiliate.

Another way to increase sales with a physical location is to give your location a fresh coat of paint and do the deep cleaning you may have been putting off. Everyone prefers to shop in a neat and tidy space. Even when the atmosphere suggests that it’s a dark and mysterious type location that doesn’t mean that you need to have dirty floors, peeling paint or a kitchen (or back office) that hasn’t been cleaned since you moved in.

As for the people-cost concern, something I’ve always suggested are working with interns from high schools and colleges. Adding them to your team even for 1-6 months gives you the extra hands or bodies you need and gives them real world experience that they can apply to their future job, gives them the opportunity to try something out, or fulfills that school credit they have to get in the community. Especially when it comes to technology students are great to work with because they know the technology far better than many because they’ve been exposed to it for longer and understand it in ways that it may take some of us years to ever get, if we ever get it at all.

There are lots of free and low-cost marketing opportunities as well, from social media to guest blog posts, to media interviews. The only catch there may be that you have to do the work of finding blog post and media opportunities and letting them know why they should share you with their audience.

Now, the question you’ve got is cost. Yes, depending on how you’ve had your website done or you’ve done your website there may be some cost there (if you don’t have a website set one up now using any number of free services or contact an agency or tech expert for help). You may also have to buy more of something you already buy, but there could be a good chance for a (higher) discount then and you could take advantage of that and spread the cost around. And yes, you may have to pay a minimum wage for the interns (many programs require it), but it’s usually far cheaper than what a regular employee would cost you (and you may decide to hire them later which would save you future training costs). Most of these suggestions though require more of your time than your finances, but all of them require that you really commit to doing better and helping more people. These are just a few of the ways you could grow your business and reinvigorate sales, what will you do today to move your company forward?

Creating a Customer Connection

Today I thought we’d talk about 3 of what could be the scariest and most intimidating words you’ve ever heard relating to business (and maybe life too), and why they’re super important if you want to succeed in 2017. The words? Personal emotional connection.

That’s one of the secrets to being successful today in 2017, to make your customers have a personal emotional connection with what you’re selling. Yes, details are very important as are facts and information and honesty. Also important is providing consistency across your marketing, customer service, and products/services, so that whether you’ve got someone who buys from you on a weekly basis or someone who only buys every 6 months, they can expect the same experience now and in 6 months.

So what’s the big deal about a personal emotional connection? First, it’s personal. That means that the buyer feels that you’re personally interested in them and understand their personal needs and desires, and that your product or service will align with them. Second, it’s emotional. You’ve probably seen the commercials where little kids in war-torn countries look starved and you’ve probably seen the commercials with starved animals as well. Both of those commercials play on your emotions, knowing that there are plenty of people out there who will have their emotions tapped by those commercials and want to donate. Third, it’s a connection. People like knowing that they’re heard, understood, appreciated, and that they have something in common with others. You want someone to come to your brand saying “finally! Someone gets me and my needs!”

One of the biggest challenges is that although sometimes a personal emotional connection can be made instantly, more often than not it takes time. And time is not something that everyone is willing or things they’re able to wait for. But the research shows that more often than not you can get more from a customer who has a personal emotional connection with your company, than you can with someone who just buys for the price or availability. So go ahead and come up with some services and products that people would buy for price or availability and then have in place a plan to create a personal emotional connection with them, and have other products and/or services available for if and when that connection happens.

Have you made an effort to make a personal emotional connection with your customers? If so, what have you learned?

Listening in Business

This month one of the topics we’re talking about is listening. It’s so important if you want to be successful in business to be listening. Let’s take a minute today to talk about the important things you should be listening to if you want to be successful.

Your customers: what are they saying? They will let you know about their dissatisfaction and the things they love. The internet is a great place to find reviews about your products and services, and you should invite your customers to give you feedback directly as well. You can also listen to their silence and their lack of return to your business and products/services as a clue as to how much they don’t like you.

Your suppliers: are your suppliers constantly raising prices? Are they hesitating on delivery? Do they tell you it’s difficult to get what you ask for? If so it may be a clue that there’s something broken or not working right in your supply chain.

Your employees: your employees are often your first line of interaction between your customers and your products/services, so it’s important to listen to what they have to say about what you offer, what customers are saying to them, things they’re feeling challenged by and what they would like to see changed. If your employees aren’t happy, aren’t respected and don’t think your product or service is worth what you’re charging then you’ll have some difficulty getting them to work at their best for your company.

Your marketing: I know it can sometimes be difficult to understand all the metrics and know exactly what things mean, but it’s important to be in touch with your marketing team to see how people are responding to your marketing. If they’re not responding and you’ve done the proper a/b testing, and tried different marketing opportunities for a consistent period of time, maybe the marketing isn’t the issue.

The market/business world: are you in tune with what’s going on in other businesses? With how they’re marketing their products? With what’s going on with your competitors? With how others are marketing? With government or industry changes that might affect you? I know it sounds like a lot of work but it’s important to be aware of what’s going on outside of your company, not just inside your company.

How good of a listener are you as a business leader? Take time today to really listen to what’s going on in and around your business.

Caring for Customers

How many happy customers do you have in your business? Are most of your customers happy? Would they return again if you offered something else they could purchase from you? I’ve been thinking about not-so-nice reviews lately and disgruntled/dissatisfied people (not just customers) and thought we’d talk a bit about the intricacies of running a business and dealing with customers, because, let’s face it: if you want to be in business and stay in business you have to have customers. While I don’t believe that the customer always has to be right (because not every customer is right for your business), you should always do your best for your customers.

I know that some review sites have some pretty scary and scathing reviews on them. I was checking out a high end restaurant on Google and saw they had reviews on 2 sites, one was a more high end review site and one was an average review site. Both sites had positive and negative reviews, but what was interesting to me is that there were far fewer negative reviews on the high end review site, and the average review site had quite a few. Does that mean that the reviews on one of the sites were wrong? No, but it may mean that their non-ideal customers weren’t happy with their service, which isn’t really a surprise and shouldn’t be taken at the weight of a full negative review. However, that doesn’t mean you should discount or ignore those negative reviews on any site, often they do have important information to share with you about what you could do to improve your business for your ideal customers.

Which leads to my second point today, it should not be your goal to please everyone. Sure it’s great if a non-ideal customer leaves a great review and enjoys your product or service. They may even come back occasionally and purchase again. However, your focus should be on satisfying the needs and desires of your ideal audience, which means that you have to know your ideal audience, have products/services your audience wants, and market to that audience.

One of the best ways to satisfy the needs and desires of your ideal audience is to be consistently good at what you do. That means offering a product or service that has consistent (good) quality, consistently marketing your company, consistently reaching out to your audience, consistently caring for your staff and partners/service providers, and consistently learning and updating as your customers and employees request and you see fit. If the consistency isn’t there you’ll let down your people more than you should, not be consistent with sales, not develop the relationships with your customers that you could, and not be known for being the best at what you do.

This week I encourage you to make one change that will make your customers happier immediately and in the long run. If you care for them, they’re more likely to return the favor. What will you change or do better?

What’s Your Social Snapshot?

This week I’ve been thinking about a phrase I read in an article about using social media for business: “social snapshot.” It got me thinking about social media and business, how we’re using social media in business, how our customers are using social media and what social media is all about and I thought I’d share a few of those thoughts with you today.

As you’ve probably heard me say before social media is all about being social. The entire point of social media is to share with friends, family, associates etc. what’s going on in your life, what matters to you, things you’re enjoying, what’s frustrating/concerning you in the world etc. So as a business it’s important to do more than just promote your offerings, because that’s not what people are interested in experiencing when they interact with you on social media. Should you include sharing about your offerings? Yes, but it has to be mixed with more social content like advice, experiences, interviews, and fun. As an aside, a big part of that social experience is to be talking with others, so make sure you’re responding to everything people are putting on your page (and if it’s negative either respond appropriately or delete, block and make a note about your preferred page experience).

When you’re using social media as a business you want to put up content that your customers, fans, potential customers and potential fans would find fun, interesting, helpful or share-worthy. Share-worthy can include things that are scary/worrisome/shocking as well as positive/feel-good, and usually has a story behind it. So when you’re considering your social strategy and content plan it’s important to take into consideration not only what you’re selling but what matters to your fans around what you’re selling. For example, don’t just think about the hammer you’re trying to sell, think about the picture that they’re trying to hang with your hammer.

Finally, going back to the phrase for today “social snapshot” I want to talk a tiny bit about how most social networks technically function and what that means for your business. First of all, most people aren’t going to your page/account on the social network, they’re getting your content in their newsfeed so they’re only seeing a tiny portion of who you are and what you’re all about at a given time. If you’re not familiar with social media for most of the social sites they use an algorithm to determine what content is seen by people. What this primarily means is that not all content is seen. It also means that content isn’t seen in order of publishing, things from 3 days ago might be the first things you see when you sign in because the algorithms have determined it to be more important that what’s been published in the 3 days since then. What it means for you as a business is that at any point in time your fans may be seeing content from your page and it might not be your most recent post. This isn’t a suggestion to go back and delete posts, but rather to be very conscious about what you’re posting and make sure that it always presents your brand in the way you want it presented. If you have to choose putting your best foot forward and creating less content but content that’s better created, or creating so much (partially decent) content you’re everywhere and you blow up the internet, because people only see a small portion of your business through the social network it’s better to go with less but better content.

The second thing to consider when talking about your “social snapshot” is the importance of completely filling out your account on the social network. This means having a nice photo for your account that shows up next to your posts, a helpful description in the about section or on the about page (take advantage of the space you’re given, if you can provide more information you should), and a helpful and descriptive picture for the header/cover section if that’s an option. If you get lucky enough that people do come back to your little piece of real estate on a social network, you want to provide the best experience possible to your visitors. It’s much like how you want to make your physical store or website to look inviting and how you want them to get all they can out of connecting with you. This may sound like a silly or overly obvious thing to do, but more often than not one or all 3 of these things aren’t what they could or should be on the social accounts I see.

Have you tried social media for your business? If so what are the things you’ve learned and what have your customers responded to best?

Website Essentials

I’ve been looking at a lot of websites for clients lately, and talking with others about whether or not they need one.  I know it’s a topic that we’ve talked about a lot, but since I’m seeing the same issues coming up again and again, I thought I’d share a few reminders with you today.

First, a recent statistic I saw said that 75% of people look online to find out about your business.  If you don’t have a website they won’t find you.  Even having a simple DIY website is better than nothing, and some DIY websites I’ve seen look and read much better than the professional ones, probably because they’ve got actual heart and passion behind them.  But back to the point: if you don’t have a website you NEED one.  A social profile will never replace a website.  They’re fine as marketing tools, but I would never ever recommend choosing a social profile over a website if you can only create one.

Second, websites have to contain updated information.  It’s another reason why I support DIY websites.  Yes, I know it adds another thing to your plate, but if you don’t have to wait for your developer to get back in touch with you or don’t have to find a new developer because your old one isn’t in business anymore, and you don’t have to pay their fees for updating your site, I’d say it’s worth it, especially for the little things like the copyright date or updating event dates or dated special offers. If it’s been more than a week past the written date, people will question what else isn’t up to date on your site.

Third, don’t be afraid to get personal.  There’s competition in just about every industry so if you don’t stand out, you have a much smaller chance of getting the sale.  Your website is one of the first things potential customers will see and if they think your offerings look like every Tom, Dick and Harry’s out there they won’t have a reason to choose you. Let your personality out a little on the site, show them who you are, and help them get to know you and the distinctive advantage you bring to the market or why your products are better than the countless others out there that are very similar.  Every business is started by a person, and I think it’s important to show the world and your potential customers who that person is.  You don’t have to look like a super celebrity, just show your smiling face to the world.

Can you have bells and whistles on your site? Sure, but they’re no good if the information isn’t there.  Worry less about having the perfect website, and focus more on having one that works for you and shows off you and your business.

Video Sound Smarts

As we get back into the swing of things in this new year, today I want to talk about something that I don’t talk about a lot and isn’t a personal preference: video.  That said video is wildly popular for both marketing and entertainment.  If you’re using video for marketing or if you’re considering it, here are a few things to consider when making your next video.

Video on your websites: one of the quickest ways to send potential customers packing is to have a video that autoplays on your website.  Video is great, but you should give your website visitor the controls for watching your video.  The only website that has an exception to this is a site like YouTube because people go there for the videos.  You may have great videos on your website, but that’s not typically why people are there, they’re there to learn about your company.

The second two things to consider for videos are about your marketing videos.  These are things to consider whether you’re using video in your Facebook ads, on TV or even on your website for when your visitors click on them.

Soundless videos: I’d say it’s a trend, but it’s not something that’s going away and it’s really something that’s always existed because of closed captioning.  When doing a soundless video, or the video is on a platform that cuts the sound unless the watcher engages it, or the user just doesn’t have the ability to use sound at the moment, one of the most important things to include is proper text. Obviously you’re not going to include the amount of text that closed captioning includes, but you should include enough text that those watching it can understand what’s going on in the video.

Include the right sound:  No, I’m not really talking about the background music although that’s important.  What I’m really talking about here is making sure that for those who aren’t watching the video or can’t watch the video that they understand what’s going on in it.  Two obvious examples would be if your laundry room is in the room next to your TV and you’re in the laundry room getting the laundry done or folding it and can’t see the TV but can hear it, and the other example would be if you have a sight impairment.  These two people can’t see what’s on the TV so if you’ve got a well dramatized commercial going on and all it has is nice background music and maybe mentions how many awards in general it’s won and that there’s a special deal and then the commercial ends, you have no clue what the commercial was about, do you?  I’d have to tell you or you would have to be able to see the TV to know that it was a car commercial.  Including the right words in your video is essential because you don’t know that someone has their eyes glued to the screen, especially in this age of multiple devices at our fingertips at all times.

As a marketer I spend a lot of time checking out what businesses are doing.  I would say that at least half of the videos I see have one or all of these issues.  So this week as you’re consider or getting started on your new year of marketing make sure that you’re doing the very best you can to reach your potential customers with your videos.

Personal Marketing

We’re getting closer to Christmas and Hanukkah with each day, I hope that your business is filled with cheer and good will (and lots of sales!).  Today I thought we’d take a moment to talk about one of the challenges when it comes to marketing and business.  There are 2 general audiences and 2 sub audiences that businesses may try to reach: the general audiences are men and women, and the sub audiences are boys and girls.  No, everyone doesn’t fit into those neat packages, there are men who have no interest in football and women who love football for example.  But as I was thinking about the differences between targeting men and women in business it got me thinking about Christmas and making sales this time of year.

It struck me as interesting that many of the Christmas stories we know and love are based around men (or boys); think about Santa, Jesus, and Scrooge, not to mention more modern characters like Buddy the Elf (Elf), Jack Frost, Kevin McCallister (Home Alone), Charlie Brown, George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life), Clark Griswold (National Lampoon) and Ralphie Parker (A Christmas Story).  Yes, some of these were given the lead role because men are traditionally seen as leaders.  And yes, each of those stories has at least one female in a serious role too.   But I couldn’t name the women like I could the men that the story is based around.

The point is that it’s easy to stick a man in a lead role because that’s what we know, just like it’s easy to try to incorporate sports, sex, cars or success into your marketing to target men for example, or kids, love, relationships and beauty to target women because that’s what a large portion of them like.  But what more businesses are realizing is that there’s a lot more to men and women than just those blanket categories.  The recent Dollar Shave Club ads highlight this well with regards to men.  In the ads you’re shown a bunch of different guys who shop for different types of body wash or some other related product.  There’s Mr. Muscles, the Slob, the Cool Dude, the Clean Cut Guy, and the Average Joe.  Yes, all these guys use the same types of products (body wash etc.), but each product isn’t right for every guy (no matter what a celebrity spokesperson might say).

In this world of customization and numerous companies offering something similar yet different, it’s very hard to be successful with a blanket product or campaign that speaks to (or tries to speak to) one or more of the general audiences as a whole.  In those cases there’s a specific goal with the ad, and it’s usually more often about branding, not a specific product (think about some of the holiday ads you’re seeing for major companies).  I understand the appeal to selling to “everyone” but let’s face it, that’s not a reality anymore with all the options that are available in 2016.  Taking the time to really get to know your customers and their likes, dislikes and interests will help you get clear on how to target within the larger general audience to speak to your specific audience.  Don’t stoop to the old standby, easy answers unless they’re the right ones when it comes to your customers.  Take the time to customize your marketing and show your customers that they matter to you and you understand them.

Empowering Through Sales

It’s September so of course I’m thinking about lots of education topics and about the next generation.  Last week we talked about something that kids are known for: asking questions, but we talked about it with regards to building a better business.  Something that we may talk about in other contexts later this month or next month is the topic of bullying because it’s a serious topic that affects people of all ages, not just kids, but it’s most discussed with regards to kids.  What I want to talk about today is something that relates to bullying, is actually in some ways the opposite: empowerment.

The way I see it businesses are in the business of empowering their customers in one way or another.  Whether they offer a product or service they empower their customers through the solutions they offer to problems in their lives (darkness, coldness/heat, hunger, transportation, infertility, crazy kids, divorce, loneliness, sickness etc.).  The dictionary defines empower as “to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means, to enable or permit.”  By putting whatever you sell in their lives you’re giving them the power to overcome the challenges in their lives, to make living life a little easier or better, and you’re giving them the opportunity to make the right choices for their life.

So the question we ask often is how can we make our customers and employees happier?  Logic, systems, leadership, training, testing, communication, marketing, good people and customer service are all ways that we as business owners can give our customers and employees can make their experience with us better, longer, and more satisfying.  Make sure that what you offer and what you tell people make sense.  Make sure that you’ve got good systems, leadership, training, hiring practices and communication in place to support and guide your employees. Make sure that people can find you, know what you offer and are able to understand what you offer and how to use/apply it.  And make sure that the experience they have with you and what you offer makes them want to come back for more, even if their initial purchase with you isn’t the greatest.

By choosing to go the extra mile with preparing your products and services for customers, giving your employees the tools they need to be successful and support your customers and giving your customers an experience that reinforces the great product or service you’ve sold them, not only are you more likely to be more successful as a business, you’re empowering your clients and customers to solve their problems and enjoy their lives.

How do you empower your customers and/or employees?