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?

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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?

Crushing Business

Today we’re taking a look at a book Crushing It! by Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary’s a wine expert who was using social media to promote his wine expertise and that snowballed into becoming a well-known expert on social media, and this book, which is a follow up to his earlier book Crush It!, is a look into some of the insights and lessons on entrepreneurship, social media, influence and success.

One of the big parts of this book are the stories that Gary shares, stories from dozens of entrepreneurs who read his first edition of the book and applied what he taught. I don’t typically pick up books that are mostly stories like this, but what all the stories reminded me was that you can absolutely be successful in whatever venture you start. Not everyone will be successful, but there are enough stories from a wide variety of industries that prove you can do it.

The second lesson I want to reflect on today was that of doing your own thing. Yes, there are principles like selling a quality product or places/things to participate in like social media and newsletters, that you should be participating in, but you have to be true to you and your business and your brand (don’t just copy someone else).

As I mentioned in the last lesson, the next lessons is regarding those principles and places. One of the reasons Gary has been so successful is because he doesn’t just mass produce and blast the same exact stuff everywhere, and he also follows the rules (formal and informal). Gary calls it “developing quality micro-content,” where your content is specific to the audience and the platform/place you’re sharing it. This means taking time to know the rules before just diving into a platform.

Fourth, is the importance of having a why. Yes, you should absolutely have a ‘why’ regarding why you’re in business. The more personal and passionate, the easier others will connect with your brand on a personal level. But you should also have a why behind the content you’re sharing, the people/influencers you’re connecting with, and the marketing you’re doing.

Fifth, there are some foundation keys that every business owner should be considering in order to achieve success. They include serving, offering value, teaching, authenticity, passion, patience, speed, work ethic, content, tracking and applying data, mastering social media, and being conscious of the intent behind actions and decisions.

When it comes down to it, through this book Gary encourages business owners to use social media, collaborate, do your own thing and commit the investment to make it happen. What are you crushing in your business?

What Kind of Content Are You Creating?

Last week I shared a little about my passion for reading, and while I’ve read thousands of books there are only a couple hundred that want to read more than once, and even fewer than that that I would be happy to pick up any and every day or night. The fact is that most of us keep picking up the next book or TV show or blog post or video, we don’t typically do repeats. And we don’t have to because there’s so much new content of all forms being added to the world on a daily basis. I add several forms of content to the world on a daily and weekly basis between social content (60+ pins and posts per week), blog posts (7 or so per week), and newsletters (4 per week). Whether you add more or less to the world each week, you’re probably adding content too.

Recently I read a blog post that raised the question of creating memorable content, which got me thinking about the whole content story and all the pros and cons that go along with it. I support businesses and people creating content and sharing it with the world, I think it’s good to share your voice, opinions and create a community where people can learn from each other, encourage each other, and grow personally. All of the content we’re creating is providing ideas, answers, insights, inspiring us to ask questions, and challenging us to question how we’ve always done things. I do think we need to be careful about passing judgment on the value of someone’s content, what may not be valuable to you would be valuable to someone else.

So what about the question of memorable and viral? Well, I have several people whose content I always look forward to. Their content isn’t necessarily memorable and I don’t think they go viral often or ever, but it’s always good reading/watching, I always get something out of it and I always look forward to their next publication. Back to the point, viral is a great way to get your content and you in front of tons of people for a very short time, the hope would be that you have something to convert them into so that you can continue to build a relationship long after the content is no longer viral. And as far as memorable, I certainly can’t remember everything I’ve watched or seen, and as we add more content to the world in all forms it will be harder for it to be memorable.

So I propose that instead of working towards memorable or viral content, that we instead work towards second reads and watches, and consistently deliver goodness. Why? Because with this shift to second (and beyond) views we’re increasing the chance that people will remember us (and our content), we’ll know that people are clearly finding value in the content (and us) and increase our chances of getting them to read from us (and hopefully buy from us) again. And with the shift from viral to consistent goodness, it’s about building relationships with people who will miss you when you’re gone, who share your products and content, who look forward to seeing what you have to say, and always find value in what you bring to the table.

What kind of content will you create this week?

Doing Business Together

There are lots of ways you can do things in business.  You can learn from others, you can have others do things for you, and you can steal from/copy others.  I believe all business owners should have some hand in their business, but that delegation is important as well.  It’s not a good idea to just straight out steal from others or copy their work, because then it’s not your work and you’re not being respectful of what they’re building (having permission or being legally able to use their stuff is different).  The third one is one of my favorites, I love learning from other businesses and leaders.  Whether you read books, watch videos, take classes or watch the ads, there are lots of ways to learn from other businesses and get ideas for building yours.

What got me thinking about this?  Well, I’m rather captured by the Bud Light commercial wherein a barrel of corn syrup is delivered to them incorrectly and they travel to bring it to the two other kingdoms/factories that do use corn syrup to try to find where it was supposed to end up. With a lot of effort and traveling the corn syrup does make it to the proper destination and the people of Bud Light have saved the day.  The commercial is supposed to share the fact that Bud Light doesn’t use corn syrup (and that corn syrup is bad), but what has captured my attention is the idea that the people of Bud Light are so willing to go the distance to support the other beer makers.

I’m all about joint ventures and even just supporting other businesses, whether they’re local-to-you businesses or others you’ve connected with online.  The business world is a rapidly expanding one with lots of others who are trying to succeed just like you are.  I believe there are enough people on earth that there are enough customers for each of us to have all that we need to be both comfortable and growing.  There’s no reason to hinder another business from succeeding, in fact I’d argue it’s better for all of us if more of us are successful.

I would encourage you to reach out to another business or business owner and see how you can support each other in building a better business world, a better experience for your customers and theirs, or just give someone a leg up that you wished you had gotten or are thankful that you did get.

Seth Godin Teaches Marketing

We’ve reached the end of February, today we’re taking a look at our business read for February, This is Marketing by Seth Godin. I often pick up Seth’s books because they’re easy to read and packed with lots of little and big insights that inspire me, remind me of something, confirm something for me, and of course give insights into being a better business owner and marketer. This book talked about many of the things that I work with my clients on and many of the things I believe can help us make business better for everyone. Let’s take a look at just a few of the lessons in it.

Marketing is about making change happen. It can be evil and it can be used to get people to do bad things like do drugs or steal or send people into foreclosure. But it can also empower people and give them the solutions and support they’re seeking. Marketing gives answers, inspires people to try things, shows what you stand for, activates curiosity, connects people with solutions, and raises awareness. it’s up to us marketers to decide if we’re going to be evil, to spam people, or respect and build on the trust they’re giving us.

Be market driven: this means that your focus is ultimately and primarily on humanity, on people. You remember that you’re marketing to humans, that every customer service interaction is a chance to wow and to care for them, that fear pops up for everyone at different points in time, that you ask people to give you their attention, that everyone is different, and you can do good things for your business by focusing on your true fans, a small audience, rather than those who don’t resonate with your work.

Finally, always be improving. Seth has written many books, and some of the ideas aren’t as applicable as they were when he wrote them. He’s learned things since he wrote his first book, yes, but the bigger impact is on the sheer amount of change that has happened in those years. You can totally go ahead and make something “perfect,” but it’s likely that that thing you make that’s perfect will be outdated or irrelevant in a matter of weeks, months or years, depending on how much transformation is happening in that industry. So instead go ahead and get out there with your well-developed product or service, and back up a not-quite-perfect offering with outstanding customer service that outshines minor imperfections and in-progress work.

What have you learned from Seth Godin?

Preparing for Changes in Business

This week one of the big conversations in the business world has been the revelation that Google+ had “a security hole highlighted the challenge of keeping its small number of users safe” which was discovered back in March. As a result of the security issue, and possibly also as well the fact that it wasn’t ever as popular as other social networks, Google plans to close the network. For some it isn’t a big surprise, and some probably don’t really remember anything about Google+, let alone used it.

But today I don’t want to discuss social networks that aren’t used or the fact that many aren’t surprised it’s closing, I want to talk about something else that we’ve talked about already this year and will talk about more over the next few years and that’s dealing with big changes that affect your business. For some Google+ was just another marketing opportunity, but some had invested quite a bit in it and are really upset that it’s closing. Other businesses are seriously being affected by disruptive businesses who are coming in and upending an industry, one of the most discussed examples being the ride-share companies (i.e. Uber, Lyft etc.) totally changing how the industry (taxis) has historically run. What do you do when things end or change?

This is why you have to be consistently updating your own business, aware of and considering ways you can innovate or transform what you offer, and not rely on one product or service or marketing tool. I don’t recommend trying every option or implementing every innovation or trying to market through every resource, but I strongly advise against only being locked into one option. Yes, there are companies who will survive through the end or change, for instance there are still some companies that sell records and record players (1880’s-1980’s were their prime years), but those companies are few and far between because there’s just not enough demand to sustain many companies.

What can you do to prepare your company for the eventual transformation of your industry and how you do business?

The Business of Relationships

Today I thought we’d talk about something that some businesses are interested in but others haven’t hopped on the bandwagon yet: creating a better relationship with your customers. Some businesses are happy to just get a customer, and have designed their business to be a limited number of transactions between them and a specific customer, maybe even as few as one, or a couple with quite a few years between. That’s OK, it certainly works for some businesses, and often the case is that those products or services cost more as a result. However, in most cases businesses want to have more than one sale with a customer, and statistically it’s cheaper to sell again to one customer than to gain a new one. So let’s talk about things that impact building a relationship with a customer.

Regular communications are the first place to start. Sometimes this is necessary to gain a customer in the first place, but it’s also key to developing a relationship with a customer and getting them to come back for more sales in the future. There are several options to how you can do this, from local events to social media to an email newsletter to a print newsletter to a blog. Once you’ve chosen the method of communicating you have to consistently follow through, whether it’s daily/weekly social media posts, weekly blog/newsletters or monthly events, or whatever schedule you choose to follow that is consistent and frequent enough to keep you top-of-mind, but not too frequently that it’s overwhelming or annoying.

The other thing to consider about building a relationship is about customer experience. If customers know they only have to deal with something once they’re willing to put up with a less-than-perfect website, pushy marketing, and even possibly some rudeness or poor customer service. However, if you want to build a relationship with a customer, the website should be up to date and have colors that are easy for people to view without being overwhelming, customer service should be responsive to all questions or queries, and care should be taken to both creating products and marketing materials so there aren’t obvious spelling or grammar issues, outdated information or so little information they have no idea what’s going on.

What about your business? Are you working on building a relationship with your customers or just working to get the sale?

Mastering Permission Marketing

Marketing is one of the biggest challenges to being a business. Things are constantly changing, growing and evolving as to what’s most effective, what’s got the lowest cost, how to reach the most people, and ways you can reach people, so while even many of the tried-and-true practices have stuck around, there are many others that are new and great opportunities for marketing. But perhaps the biggest issue is that it typically has to be done consistently and with quality to be most effective, which takes time and effort.

One of the types of marketing you can do is called permission based marketing. As you can imagine, this means that the person has given their permission to you to market to them. They’ve given you that permission where they’ve given you that permission for one of two reasons: one reason is that it’s the only way they can sign up for marketing from you (for example you only have a Facebook page, you’re not on any other social sites and don’t have a newsletter or blog). The other reason they gave you that permission where they gave it to you is because that’s how they prefer to be marketed to.

As someone who does and consults on marketing I’m very intentional about what I choose as far as marketing. One of my favorite ways to be marketed to is email because it’s one I have the most control over. This week I received two emails from people I signed up to receive emails from, emails with two very different messages. One told me that they were going to send maybe an email a month and the rest of the updates I could get on Facebook in groups. The other explained that they wanted to make some additions to what they send but wanted to give us (the subscribers) the ability to choose what we each do/don’t receive. I found one email to be incredibly frustrating and the other exciting.

As a side note I should mention there’s a difference between changing what you send (i.e. just product/service updates to tips) and how you send it (Facebook to Twitter). Yes, surveying your customers is a good idea if you’re going to change the content, but it’s not typically as big of an issue as changing how you do the marketing.

As mentioned earlier, the thing to remember about permission marketing in situations where you give your customers or visitors the opportunity to choose from a variety of marketing opportunities (newsletter, blog, podcast, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.), is that the person who gave their permission specifically indicated how they wanted to be marketed to. If you’re venturing into new marketing options and want to see if they would rather receive updates that way, let them know! Give them the ability to subscribe to their preferred opportunity, and unsubscribe from what they don’t enjoy too.

There’s a cost to all marketing so I understand that a business may choose to go in a direction where they get more bang for their buck, but the best part about permission marketing is that a business has the ability to ask their existing subscribers how they want to be marketed to, and to invite people to unsubscribe/subscribe where they prefer. This gives your customers the ability to cut your marketing costs and tell you exactly what their preferences are.

Making the decision to stop one type of marketing or start another is a big decision, one that is not only about you but also about your customers. I encourage you to not make the decisions for them, unless you’re left with no other option (for example the site is closing down).

Are you practicing permission marketing, and if so what have you found works for you and your customers?

Beyond Boring Businesses

One of the things that you hear from business owners is that they want to go viral, or be super popular, but let’s face it, there are some businesses that just aren’t naturally built to be celebrated as some are. Even a business that has difficult and boring days like a vet who has to put pets to sleep or give them shots will see at least one cute animal they can share with their community each day and week to include in their marketing. But what about the businesses that don’t really have the greatest built-in marketing opportunities?

The first thing I would say is that the business is as boring as you make it out to be. Second, even if you do have one of the most boring businesses in the world, it doesn’t mean that you should treat your customers poorly, not be passionate about your offerings, or be lazy and inconsiderate about the experience you offer. Regardless whether your business is the most exciting or the most boring in the world, you are offering something that is of value, something that people need, and you should be proud of that.

One example of a boring industry is the home/car insurance industry. It’s really not that interesting, few of us deal with them other than to pay a bill. And for those of us that deal with them it’s not really interesting or exciting to talk about your house being robbed or being in a serious car accident. Those are moments we would rather forget. But as we’ve seen through the many Farmers Insurance commercials, there are some crazy stories that go along with insurance claims, and they’re true! While the crazy is, I’m sure, a very small percentage of the claims they deal with, they’ve brought those stories to the forefront to illustrate that if they can deal with the crazy they can surely handle the boring.

No, it’s not always the right choice to find the crazy to highlight, but there is always an emotion that you can speak to with your customers, and there are almost always stories you can share to show the community that you support ranging from the heart-wrenching to the sweet. Don’t worry about going viral or being the most interesting business in the world, focus on helping your customers feel recognized, that you understand the different situations they’re dealing with and showing them that you can help make their day even just a little better.

What are your tips for navigating the boring parts of business?