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?

Communicating Who and What’s Important

This weekend there’s a lot of talk about rest and work, how it’s important to recognize the hard work people do day in and day out as well as take a rest from doing that hard work. Work is important because it provides for our needs and often plays a role in fulfilling us on a personal level as well. Of course we can’t ignore how important work is to the existence and progress of our world because without work being done daily or on a regular basis the many infrastructures and components that are essential to our lives would quickly break down or become dangerous or outdated.

Work can be consuming, especially if you’re either completely overwhelmed by or totally in love with what you do. It’s normal to have periods of time where you have to devote more time than usual at work, but that should be abnormal and not something you do on a frequent basis. Work should be balanced with fun and family and personal time in our lives. When we aren’t making an effort to have that balance in our lives we run the risk of damaging those other aspects of our lives. Once a relationship has been damaged or we aren’t really caring for ourselves, it’s hard to get back to healthy and whole again.

Between Labor Day and all the hours each day we invest in it either doing it or thinking about it, I think there’s a pretty clear statement that work is important to us, but do we make the same statement about the people in our lives who are supposed to be equally or more important, including ourselves? Are you making healthy decisions for yourself, making the changes to your schedule to spend time with them when they’re free, creating regular events in your calendar to be with them, and especially communicating with them about how much they mean to you?

Each week we’re given 168 hours. If we sleep 40-50 of those hours and work 40-50 hours each week, we’ve got about 70 hours to devote to the people who are important to us and to caring for ourselves. Surely we can make time for a few phone calls, Skypes, text messages, coffee shop visits, dinner parties or date nights in all of those hours.

There’s no underestimating or understating how valuable, treasured and important those moments with your loved ones are. Have you told your loved ones lately that you loved them? What about showing them?  You’ll never regret making time to care for yourself, or telling others that you love them and are thankful for them being in your life.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” Aurde Lorde

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.

Finishing the Thought

My partner and I have been having a bit of a water issue lately so I’m really keeping on top of the weather and paying attention to when they’re calling for rain. So the other morning I was telling him that I had gone online and checked the weather for the next few days and there was rain predicted on whichever days it was predicted. And he interrupted me at what he thought was the end of my sentence and thought and said something about the likelihood of the rain and then when he was done I finished what I had been trying to tell him.

There was no argument and no issues and certainly wasn’t a big deal, but it got me thinking because I had all the information and data to tell him yet I wasn’t able to finish the thought before he jumped in with his questions and thoughts. This is fine when a couple or a group are trying to brainstorm or in a situation where many voices is a good thing. But in this case it wasn’t a good thing because I was going to address exactly what he brought up before he interrupted me. This is one reason why I like technology like texting, messaging and emails which allow you to get out a full thought. There’s no possible interruptions, you can put out your full thought (hopefully a well thought-out thought) and they then have the opportunity to send back an equally well considered thought, hopefully not one stuck on reaction.

That said, something is often lost when you’re talking virtually and not in person.  Some conversations deserve the respect of being done in person and I know how hard it is to keep your mouth closed when someone is talking about something and you have an idea or a question or think they’re missing something or are wrong about something. It’s one reason why I keep paper and pen next to me at all times at my desk, use a pad when talking with clients, and even suggest to clients to use it as a tool when they’re having (tough) conversations with a team member at work or even with their partner at home. That way the thought or idea gets written down and can be brought up when there’s a true space in conversation and not as an interruption which can escalate the conversation. It also gives you a chance to reflect before just saying something, which means you can hopefully avoid saying something cruel or hurtful.

I love when someone has excitement for life, or a story they want to tell, an idea they want to share, or has great information to share. But it can be easy to get caught up in that excitement and be tripping over each other to get the words out.  That excitement can also cause some serious damage if we’re not careful and don’t take the time to think and truly converse with each other by both speaking and listening.  Will you join me in being a better listener and communicator this week?

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?

On Relationship Fights and Conversations

Summer is here and that means lots of together time! No relationship is perfect, but constantly sniping and demeaning each other in front of the kids is not only a great way to irreparably damage your relationship with your partner, it’s also a great way to damage your relationship with your kids. I’m not talking about the occasional serious conversation or minor fight in front of them, that can be educational for the kids, and it’s healthy and normal for a relationship.

If you’re working through a very stressful time (that you can see an end to in the near future), try to have those disagreements when the kids aren’t present, scheduling them if necessary. Scheduling fights and discussions sounds dumb, but it not only protects your kids and your relationship with them, it also may help you avoid some of the fights because you’ll have more time to think things through and make sure you’ve got all the relevant information instead of just reacting.

Most of us don’t enjoy fighting or arguing, and it doesn’t feel good when we’re at odds with someone we know so intimately as they know us. But if you’re constantly fighting or going out of your way to be nasty, it’s not healthy for either of you or the kids.  At that point you either need to seek counseling as a couple, or if you’ve tried that and it’s failed or it’s not something you’re willing to do, it’s time to reconsider the relationship.

All relationships have ups and downs and some only last for a short time. But most of us want our romantic relationships to last, which means the sooner we accept that things will change, we don’t know everything and the importance of listening, patience and compromise, the more likely your relationship has of being what you want it to be.  What positive strides will you take in your relationship this summer?

Smarter Words for Success

I love words. They’re all around us: they’re what we speak, what we read, what we hear and what we think. But when it comes to communication there are some words that people use that aren’t the best choice or don’t say the best thing or hinder your confidence from building and success from happening. So today I thought we’d take a look at some phrases that are best left out of your vocabulary, especially in situations of careers or success.

No Problem:
This is one of the ones that really frustrates me. Most often you’ll hear this where a ‘you’re welcome’ could have been said, or an ‘I’m glad I could help.’ It makes it sound like your question or need could have been a problem and they’re not really all that thrilled or even satisfied to have been able to help you.

I’m Sorry:
This is a phrase we absolutely should use more often, we aren’t always willing to apologize when we’re in the wrong. However, it’s also used to apologize when there’s no need to apologize, for example when you’re sharing your opinion. You’re not sorry that you’ve got a different opinion than someone else (or at least you shouldn’t be), you just see it differently or don’t agree.

I Hate to Bother You/Sorry to Bother You:
The issue first is that you’re assuming that your question is going to be a bother, or that you’re being a bother. If you have a need or a question, there’s no need to feel guilty for asking about it or getting the help you need, and there’s also no need to apologize for needing help, we all need help at one point or another. Instead, after you’ve had your question answered or gotten the help you need, if you feel it really was a bother or they went out of their way to assist you, you can say something like ‘I really appreciate all your assistance.’

I would encourage you to think about the words you’re using. Are they closing doors and relationships that could be great ones? Are they unnecessarily limiting you, your options and your future? Do they place blame where blame isn’t due? Do they show that you’re confident, that you’re willing to work, that you believe in yourself and that you’re a capable human? Take even one day this week and really think about the words you’re using, the impact they’re having, and if there are words that would be more empowering or positive for you and those you’re talking with.

Studying Social Media

Lately I’ve been reflecting on social media, and the number of people who are calling it “evil.” I don’t deny that there are some bad people on there, that some people aren’t really considerate of what they’re posting or that there aren’t vulnerabilities or weaknesses on the social platforms, because all of those things are true. But if we were to get rid of social media for those reasons it would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to use an old expression.

One of the things I love about social media is your ability to control what you see and who you connect with. Don’t like those constantly negative posts someone you’ve connected with posts? Unfriend/Unfollow them. Don’t like seeing only spam from a company you ordered from once? Block them or unlike the account.  Just want to see puppies, updates from your favorite restaurant and updates from your family? Just connect with them. You don’t have total control on what you see on most sites, but all the same you do have a lot of say in who you could be hearing from.

Social media has incredible potential for people and businesses, but it relies on us all being respectful and considerate of each other and the resource. Of course everyone has bad days and needs to vent, that’s part of life, but no one wants to read that on a regular basis. We want to see the family updates, the calls for prayer or support, the news and updates from our communities, pictures of fun adventures, and reasons to celebrate. Thanks to social media we can connect with and build a community that can relate with us and will support and encourage us, even if few in our physical vicinity do. Social media can give us a glimpse behind the curtain of our favorite brands.

There are certainly things that are wrong with social media, but instead of focusing on them, why don’t we work harder to promote and spread the good? Why not consider what we’re posting before throwing it out there for the world to see?  Why not respect the opinions of others and engage in constructive rather than destructive conversations?  If the bad is only a very small percentage of what’s on social media isn’t it time we start talking about the good?

Time for Explanations

Explanations are tough. There are many funny stories and explanations that people have come up with for kids with regards to the typically titled ‘birds and the bees’ discussion, but that’s only one of the many things that parents have to explain to their kids throughout their lifetimes. Sometimes those discussions are hard when they have to talk about things like Alzheimer’s or violent/racial incidents. Others are just part of the course of life like sex and Santa. There’s definitely a wrong way to have discussions, one of the worst things can be refusing to have any discussion at all.

One of the hardest things is not having a good explanation, there are some things that you just can’t explain, and some things that the truth is very hard to accept or believe. A really simple example would be some of those cop/investigation shows where they get to the end of the investigation and it seems like 3 random things happened and as a result someone’s dead. It sounds kind of logical, but at the same time really doesn’t seem like it, and it’s even harder to accept that that’s actually something that happened in real life.

But explanations are important to us, regardless of the age we are. We like knowing how things work, how they’re connected or what leads/led to what. Explanations are great because so often we’re able to get one, with as much investigating as we’ve done over the years and as connected as we are in this day and age thanks to technology. But as I said, sometimes the explanation doesn’t make sense. Sometimes you can investigate further and find out how it does make sense, but other times you’re left at a loss and unable to make heads or tails of it.

In the case of the extreme flooding parts of the world have seen over the past year, several serious shooting incidents including the one in Christchurch a day or so ago, there really isn’t a good answer to give your children, or yourself. Sometimes bad things just happen. So in response you can teach your kids to be smarter, more caring, more considerate and to always do the research. You can’t protect those you love from harm, but you can give them the tools to make the world a better place, and give them the best chance possible to have a life filled with less hurt and loss.