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?

When A Business Steps Up

Sometimes smart business means stepping up where others aren’t. It’s getting harder to differentiate yourself, especially with the internet really leveling the playing field, because anyone can create a social account, website, blog or email address and start connecting with others. That said it’s more important than ever to do your best to differentiate yourself, clearly state what that difference is, and provide not just awesome customer service, but have a really great culture that supports your team as well. Today I want to share two examples of how a business or organization communicated or stepped up in a way that others don’t or haven’t.

There’s been a ton of talk recently regarding Hurricane Dorian, and already there has been significant damage report in at least one location impacted by the storm. This past week there was an early statement from an airport in Florida that they were planning to close the airport at a certain time giving consideration to the thousands of workers at the airport and their needs to see to their families and homes. As the unpredictable storm has changed they’ve made changes to their plan, but that initial statement stuck with me because you don’t always hear a company phrase it that way. Typically businesses talk about the danger and leave it at that or maybe comment about it being dangerous to travelers, but rarely do you hear a company talk about the importance of closing so that their team (large or small) can do what they need to do.

The other big news story is the CNN hosted town hall with 10 of the 2020 presidential candidates, and MSNBC will be hosting one later this month too. Thousands of people around the US had petitioned and requested that a climate question be added to the next debate or that a separate debate be held, and all requests were denied or ignored. So CNN and MSNBC took it upon themselves to invite these 10 candidates to share their thoughts on climate and what politically/governmentally needs to be done or how the government can step up.  If they both hadn’t stepped up and done the research to find a loophole in the rules that others had missed or ignored, they miss out on a great opportunity for publicity and public good will.

A good business leader is aware of potential issues that impact not just their ability to have sales but to care for the people who make those sales possible and so successful.  Good business leaders also don’t ignore the requests and feedback of thousands of people, all very publicly stated.  Focus on how you can increase your positive publicity, how you can do better for the people you connect with, and how you can step up when there is a need.

The Impact of Positive Leadership

This month the book I read is The Power of Positive Leadership by Jon Gordon. As the title indicates it is a book on leadership, and throughout the book Jon echoes something that I’ve repeatedly shared with clients and on this blog: you can’t be successful without people. It may look like everything is done online, you may never see your customers or clients or talk with them nor they with you, but behind each and every transaction there is a person (typically two since there’s one on the sales side too). Let’s take a look at a few things this book shares about the potential of positive leadership.

One of the most important points made in the book is that you have to believe if you’re going to succeed. That means being an optimist, leading with positivity, limiting the complaining, and seeing potential rather than problems. But Jon was very clear to explain that it’s not just about being positive, it’s about seeing and removing the negative as well. Positive leaders and their teams aren’t immune to negativity or problems, they’re just better about weeding out those issues and addressing them before they become debilitating problems.

The book also talked about the importance of vision and purpose, something that we’ve seen talked a lot about in business trends today. People today identify with businesses that have a purpose because it makes them more human. And having a vision and purpose as a business is great, but Jon explains that that purpose and vision has to have meaning to each individual person on the team, it can’t be just a corporate vision. Yes, they have to agree with the corporate vision and purpose, but then that vision and purpose has to become personal, and they have to have their own meaning for the vision and purpose and be able to bring some portion of it to life in their own special way.

I’ll end with one final tidbit, although there are many more in the book: give people excuses to say yes. The goal as a business owner and leader is to get people to contribute well to your team, to buy your stuff, to share about you with others. How often do you find a business that goes out of their way to make it easy to say yes to what they’re offering? How easy is their sales process, how clear are their product descriptions, how much leeway do team members have to make wins for potential customers or customers with issues, are they sending deals and offers to sweeten the potential purchase? What is the business (and you as a leader) doing to make it more likely that people say yes?

As we head into the autumn season and back to school time, I encourage you to take a look at your team and business and be honest about what type of leadership you’re bringing to the table and what impact the choices you’re making are having on your team and [potential] customers. Even if all you do is better address the negativity, you’ll be instantly improving your business, the business culture and what customers experience when they connect with you.

Open and Honest Business

Years ago my eye doctor suggested I change the contact brand I was using because it was sure to be discontinued soon. I didn’t follow her advice (I don’t see her anymore either) and today, some 10+ years later, I’m still using the same brand as I was back then. So why would she tell me that? Was it sales motivated? Was it motivated by her belief that mine are of lesser quality? I don’t know, but I often think about that conversation when I get out a new pair and happily put them in.

This week I was checking out the social profile for a charity I follow and they posted that they’d earned a GuideStar Gold Seal of Transparency. What this means is that they share goals and strategies about their work, information about their capabilities and vision and provide meaningful data to help potential investors be reassured that the organization is a great one to invest in. Charity Navigator, another popular non-profit review organization, also has a similar rating system. I understand why non-profits really need organizations like these, so that they can’t steal money that should go to good causes, but I have to wonder why there isn’t a similar system for for-profit businesses? What difference would be made if they had to provide transparent information so they couldn’t provide sub-par services and products?

And then there’s the talk that’s been going on for the past while about removing likes from Instagram. Just so everyone is on the same page, as I learned this week that doesn’t mean the like button is going away, it just means that non-account owners can’t see how many people have liked a post (and yes, the account owner can see numbers like shares and like counts). I understand the idea here, and in some ways I do support it. But the other side of the coin is that this is social media so will this encourage us to be more or less social and interact more or less frequently with each other? If it just ends up being more organic and authentic interactions I’m great with that, but if it ends up destroying engagement as a whole, it’s not very authentic to the vision and purpose of the business (which is connecting people, not making money).

There’s also the marketing email I got this week asking if I had made a purchase and if I was still interested or not. It’s a fine email, except I had made a purchase 2 days earlier. So clearly there’s a breakdown in communication between departments, that the sales department didn’t communicate with the sales development department (or whatever departments they actually are), and as a result I’m probably not the only one getting confusing emails, emails that make me question if my business was really appreciated or not.

So today our question is one of transparency and honesty. Are you clearly and efficiently communicating with your people? Are you making a serious effort to give accurate and helpful advice and insights or just trying to make a sale? People don’t like to have the wool pulled over their eyes, to find out that the deadline they were given wasn’t really that firm or didn’t even exist after all, to find that the sale price is more than the regular price. Honesty and transparency are rewarded, where does your business and your leadership stand?

The Slippery Slogan Slope

Whether you use audio or text, communication is one of the most important aspects of your business and directly impacts your success. I can’t tell you how many times I personally have clicked away from a page and potential purchase because it just didn’t have the information I needed to establish if it was the right purchase for me. If it’s a serious or big or necessary purchase that can’t be put off I’ll do the research and visit a couple other websites to find the answers I need to decide if I’m going to make the purchase or not. Often it’s a case of lacking information, but all too frequently the information that’s provided is confusing, contradictory or just plain strange.

I read an article recently by Brooke B. Sellas about 3 marketing slogans she’d change (Apartments.Com, Time Warner, Victoria’s Secret) and I agree with her thoughts on some of the issues that the current slogans have. Slogans change all the time, especially when they’re not central to the brand. But even logos and names which are typically more permanent have been known to change as the business grows and develops.  Reading the article by Sellas got me thinking about some other marketing communications that aren’t helpful to the brand either.

One headline that I recently asked “what does that even mean?” about is a credit card offer that reads “Another credit card that’s not just another card.” Another card that’s not another card? Why not lead with a line about specifically why it’s better/different than some other cards like about the best mileage deal they offer, best cashback program they have, lowest fees they have or something else that sets them apart, instead of trying word soup. Another of my favorite confusing lines are the drug commercials that say “if you’re allergic to x drug, don’t take it.” How do you know you’re allergic to it? Do you have to take it first? Why not just say that you’ll be tested to confirm you’re not allergic?

I have no issue with having a headline or slogan to help you stand out, but I think you get the point that it’s a really easy way to screw up your brand and create a disconnect with your clients and customers. If you know that slogan or those first lines are your opportunity to really catch the attention of your potential buyer, why aren’t we more attentive to what they communicate (and what they say about us as a business)? Don’t choose a headline or slogan just because you think you need one, invest instead in doing your very best to communicate specifics to potential customers.

Taught by Toni Morrison

This week the world lost a great thinker and writer, Toni Morrison. She won a Nobel Prize for her literary work and has received other awards and recognition as well, she’s been an editor and a professor, and was a mother. Her words and spirit have spoken to many generations and groups of people, so today I thought we’d take a look at what made her so well liked and successful (even if that may not have been her goal) and what we can learn from her life and success.

It all starts with words. Toni is known for her culturally relevant and forward thinking, and her words were always accurate but sensitive. She did it all when it came to writing, including editing the works of others, and many of the tributes that have been shared have echoed how her words have stuck with them, and that her words made them realize how important, valuable and powerful words can be. As a business owner one of the most powerful tools you have are words, and too many businesses today aren’t providing sufficient words, both written and audio. They aren’t speaking to their people, let alone speaking in a passionate, persuasive and informative manner.

She told a story. One of the things that we’re really been talking about in business over the past few years is the value of telling a story, and how our customers can relate better to us when we tell a story. As powerful as her stories were, the words she chose were words of truth, words that spoke to the situations, experiences and emotions of the African American culture she so often wrote about. Go ahead and tell stories in your business and to your customers, but don’t waste your time or theirs with false stories or tales that go nowhere. Keep it relevant and accurate to who you are, who your customers are and what you’re all about.

Finally, she knew what it was to nurture and love. In one interview she talked about some famous authors who had one breakout hit but ended their working years doing menial labor jobs. She questioned what happened that they weren’t able to continue to bring greatness to the literary world, and that’s something that we have to question in business as well. Why do some companies start out so well and peter out? One of the reasons is because they don’t take the time to nurture and care for their customers and provide an experience that customers want to come back to and want to tell others about.  No one has had a bad thing to say about Toni Morrison(although not everyone has loved her work), would people be equally positive about you?

Toni Morrison lived 88 wonderful, engaged and filled years, years in which she chose to make an impact one word and one relationship at a time.  Are the words and actions you’re taking in your business building a similar legacy that will last as long as she did and beyond or are you working on a one-hit-wonder?

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?

Failure and Loss in Business

Just about every day in the news there’s a story about how a company is struggling or losing or failing. Over the past few years we’ve seen the struggles that some of the biggest brands have been going through, some able to do something of a turnaround, others not able to pull themselves out of a hole.

It’s frustrating from the perspective of outsiders like myself who advise businesses and see some glaring issues they aren’t addressing or trying or have simply dismissed. I also don’t always believe we need businesses the size that some are and their size is definitely a factor in how much they’re struggling. But I do believe every business has something to contribute, and when they fail they are letting people down. Yes, every business has a life cycle and many have a definitive end (such as when the owner retires), but I’d much rather see a business go out on a high note than crash and burn.

It’s also frustrating from a customer perspective when they’re seeing a company they love struggle and may even have some anxiety or fear around the loss of the company from a service or product perspective. If you rely on a product or service for your health or care of your family, there’s a much higher cost to switch than if we’re talking about something like a lawn care company.

It’s never a good idea to avoid the bad news or data about how well you’re doing or how you may be struggling. The sooner we face the truth, the easier it is to fix or address it. We also need to find a balance between continually increasing the number of customers we reach with not getting too big to manage and sustain. And the final truth we need to accept is that sometimes businesses fail and that’s just the way it goes. The good news is there are other businesses out there that can fill in the gap, but of course it’s likely not the same.

As I said from the beginning, I don’t think businesses need to fail in spectacular ways. As business owners we need to be more prepared for the natural ups and downs that a business goes through, we need to be more willing to reach out and get help and accept criticism, and we need to be open to change and growth so that we can change and grow as our customers do.  What steps does your business need you to take today?

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?