Notes from Jeff York

Small business marketing thoughts from a marketing small business owner

Archive for February 2009

Spread the word

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When it comes to social media, I have my toe in the water. Well, maybe I’m really up to my ankles, but I’m definitely not in over my head. I write this blog weekly. I use iChat, but not that much. More or less, I wanted the experience. After all, you can’t become a heroin junkie until you have your first fix.

By now, I would think that most of you know what an Amber Alert is. If you don’t, basically it seeks to utilize mass media’s pervasiveness in an effort to find missing children. The first few hours after a child is missing are the most crucial. Odds of a positive recovery go down substantially the longer the child is missing. That’s why the national Amber Alert system was created. With the number of TV stations, radio stations, electronic billboards, and other mass media outlets that can be utilized, sending out a “child missing” message though all those channels at once creates a better opportunity of a positive outcome.

The Amber Alert system was developed after the January 1996 abduction and murder of Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas. Although Amber’s body was discovered 4 days after her abduction, it was clear how powerful a galvanized community can be. Today, the Amber Alert system is a nationwide partnership between law enforcement, broadcasters, wireless companies, and transporation agencies. When the Amber Alert system is activated, information is sent through all of these channels in an effort to get as many people’s eyes opened as possible.

This past Friday, a 17 year old girl named Caroline Stitcher, a long distance runner in her school’s track and fieldstitcher1501 team, went running on her own and disappeared. I don’t know if an Amber Alert was initiated. What I do know is social media outlets kicked into overdrive. A Facebook page called “Help find Caroline Stitcher” appeared an quickly grew to 3,000 members. Tweets and retweets appeared on Twitter making #Caroline one of the most appeared terms over the weekend.

Right now, details on her recovery are sketchy. All I know right now is that as of Saturday night, she was home safe with her family.

I was proud of the social networking community this weekend. Although I live in Connecticut, at least there was something I could do. By retweeting details over Twitter, any of my followers in the Chicago area could have been apprised of the situation and have been on the lookout. If something more sinister had happened and she was being transported away from the Chicagoland area, then by using the Internet, we can alert more people in a wider area quicker.

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Written by Jeff York

February 22, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Failure as an opportunity

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defeat“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” – Thomas Edison

Every been beaten down emotionally or professionally? I think every has. It’s not a pleasant experience. When in the throws of the aftermath, it can be difficult to find the silver lining in such a situation. However, to paraphrase the adage, it didn’t kill you, therefore you must be stronger.

So, what did you learn? Did you make a huge mistake? In the grand scheme of things, how big was it?  Did you or your company lose money? As a past manager, I’ve made my share of mistakes as has my staff. Each and every time, we’ve learned from the experience and used it to know what not to do next time. My staff might have cost us some money, but I write that off as the cost of education. As long as we don’t make that mistake again and truely learn from it, it was worth the negative.

Let’s take what I think is an excellent way to turn lemons and make some outstanding lemonade in a group setting.

The best run organizations run in an environment where members can feel free to make mistakes, admit to them in a group, and not feel like there will be dire consequences (within reason). It’s not easy to admit to a mistake. It’s far easier to try to sweep things under the carpet and pretend they don’t exists. However, think of all the damage done when members feel like it’s in their best interest to either deny or, worse yet, displace blame.

Embrace the mistake. “Yep, I screwed up. Here’s what I did. Here’s what I/we learned. Here’s what we’re going to do.”

In this current technological age, it’s pretty easy to set up an internal or restricted access Wiki. Put the information there for people to reference and learn from. There’s no need to make it personal. The information can be added such that no names are involved at all. Just the facts, ma’am. Now the organization that suffered from the mistake can now benefit from that cost.

What about personal failures? Even been fired? Ever file for bankrupcy? Opportunities! Both of them.

What did you do that got you into that situation? Are you going to do it again? Maybe it wasn’t anything you felt you did wrong, but went out on a limb to try something new and it “failed.” If that organization isn’t strong enough or savvy enough to try new things to grow, then maybe the lesson learned is to not associate with that type of organization again.

The key thing I’ll hope you remember, sometimes the biggest failures result in the biggest successes.

Stories you’d like to share? I think we could all benefit from hearing about how you turned a difficult situation around and learned from the experience.

Written by Jeff York

February 15, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Cooperative Advertising

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stack-o-moneyFor many small business owners, the idea of coop advertising is foreign. Typically, it’s only something available to franchisees and those whom sell product from vendors. However, if you’ve been a long time reader of this blog, you know that as a small business owner, now is as important as ever to continue (or start) to advertise. The idea of generating a coop for advertising might be a great way for you to explore expanding your advertising opportunities.

If you’re not familiar with coop advertising, here’s how it works. I’ll explain both franchisee and vendor based coop.

Franchise owners typically have to pay to their corporation a percentage of sales. Part of that fee gets put into a pool to be used for advertising. The brand-holding corporation then can leverage the strength of those dollars to execute national campaigns, regional/localized campaigns, and secure best pricing from the media.

Vendor based coop works a little differently. A local retailer agrees to mention their vendor for a minimum of a certain percentage of the advertising message. In exchange, the vendor agrees to pay a certain percentage of the advertising costs. This helps the local business owner to defray the cost of advertising and/or do more advertising since they have more dollars to work with than their budget allocation. These additional dollars also help the business owner to use the strength of their buy to obtain best pricing from the media which can be used to maximize the campaign.

See the similarity here? In both scenarios, the business owner has the advantage of additional dollars that they didn’t have to generate themselves which puts them at the advantage when negotiating both pricing and overall campaign with the media.

Many business owners don’t know they have coop dollars available from their vendors. If you have that type of business, it’s certainly in your best interest to explore that today. Call your vendors and ask if they have any coop programs that you can participate in. Don’t think of it as asking them for money. Far from it, they want you to participate. If you sell more of their product, everyone wins.

Without metrics to back me up, I’m willing to bet that the majority of people that read this blog are not in either type of situation. Therefore, you may be asking yourself, how can I leverage the strength of coop to help my business?

Here’s where you might have to get creative. Think about your particular business. Are there similar businesses that perhaps don’t serve your region? You can advertise your goods/services regionally (instead of locally) and tag the spots with several business all participating in your coop. Maybe your business is located in a plaza or other business area. Pooling advertising together to generate foot traffic to your location helps everyone.

Not owning a franchise or having vendor based programs doesn’t mean that you can’t use the power of cooperative advertising to your benefit. You may have to get creative in how you choose partners and develop formal advertising agreements with other companies. If you’re not sure how to get started, ask your business contacts that have experience with one of these scenarios or contact a marketing company. They will be able to give you real-world expertise as to what to expect and how to execute.

Huddling the family around the Netflix box

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home_content_box1Remember gathering the family together to sit by the old radio and listening to Amos ‘n’ Andy, The Adventures of the Thin Man, and Fibber McGee & Molly? Of course not. You’re likely too young. Most of that generation is gone.

TV burst onto the screen and as a society and we still participated in that new medium as a family unit. With only a few choices to select from (and many shows ported over from radio), prime time meant prime family time.

Enter cable with the ability to deliver a myriad of programming choices. Now seeking particular demographics became feasible. Audiences fractured. Broadcast, still dominant, sees its numbers dwindle to the point that it may be impossible to top M*A*S*H’s finale even with a Superbowl broadcast.

With the further splintering effects of a society that operates at a quicker pace, family activities prevented a coming together like we had seen in the past. Even the evening dinner came a casualty.

Enter today’s economic predicament. Shaky income situations leads to reassessment of free time and differing choices on what we spend money on. The bottom line, as I wrote about before, does it have value?

At the same time is the development of IP delivered content. Through vehicles such as iTunes, Hulu, and TiVo, we can get the content we want when we want it. And with the ability to connect devices to the big screen TVs we now have in our living rooms, we’re not confined trying to watch the content on a small iPod screen or sitting at our desktop computer. We can now sit down and watch the content where it was meant to be consumed.

So, I pose this question in hopes that it sparks a conversation; if we aren’t going out as much and re-assessing how we’re spending money, does that not invite a return to the days of quality family time? If we’re able to receive content according to both our tastes and time schedules via The Netflix Player or Apple TV, could we not begin to see the opportunity as advertisers of reaching large, demographically heterogeneous audiences again?