Notes from Jeff York

Small business marketing thoughts from a marketing small business owner

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It’s a solution, not my solution

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scarybox1I was once attached to a company that actively sought out to put themselves into the following trap:

Generate a suite of business solutions that we can hang our hat on. These solutions will serve the majority of businesses regardless of their market position and valuation. By generating a suite of “off the shelf” solutions, the company will save on resources that otherwise would have to go to generating unique solutions for every new client. Furthermore, once our sales team learns the suite, they can speak very passionately and effectively about it to prospects.

That company is no longer in business. This practice was a major contributor to their demise.

Quick, name two companies that operate exactly the same. Name two companies for which an off-the-shelf solution (software, operational, marketing, or otherwise) could quickly be immediately integrated and effective. You can’t because there is none.

Every business faces different challeneges dependent on a host of variables from their marketspace to their corporate values. Two different companies that make identical widgets do so in different ways.

I recently was connected to an organization which created boilerplate new business pitches. The budget that followed the boilerplate was, of course, customized to reflect the client and project, but the majority of the paperwork was submitted untouched. If you try to play this game, you put your chances of winning the business in peril. Your proposal comes off being to generic and ends up being as ineffective as a generic cover letter.

It takes work to get work. Anything worth having is worth working for. By taking the extra time to generate proposals and solutions for each individual situation shows that you are earnest when you say “I want to work with you. I want to do work for you.”

Written by Jeff York

October 16, 2009 at 2:27 pm

It’s time to get horizontal

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product2This blog has been chock full of ideas and concepts on how you can increase awareness of your product. We’ve talked about on-air advertising (television and radio), print, outdoor, Internet, direct response, economic challenges, the power of social media, and Guerilla Marketing. We’ve even talked about co-op advertising. This week, we’re going to explore the idea behind horizontal marketing.

Let’s say you make…oh, I don’t know…in keeping with the horizontal theme: mattresses. You want to increase the awareness of your product so you know you have to advertise. The problem is your particular product isn’t something that people can easily browse in a store like a candy bar or shirts. Your product has to be a destination for a shopper in order for a potential customer to lay hands on it. Beyond traditional media buys and storewide sales events, what else can you do?

Similar to the concept I forwarded with co-op advertising, are there interconnected businesses that you have a relationship with where you can co-promote together? For example, maybe there is a home improvement store or a bed sheet manufacturer where you can build a partnership. With the purchase of a mattress, you get a set of bet sheets or a gift card to a home improvement store to further improve your bedroom. Then in buying the traditional media, you can split costs with your partner thereby lowering your advertising costs.

If you own a mattress store, it’s smart to think vertically and split ad costs with mattress manufacturers, but there are endless possibilities horizontally as well, all of which can lower your marketing costs and increase your exposure.

You CAN get there from here.

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signpostFrom when I was young, I remember a TV commercial where someone stopped for directions to Bar Harbor, Maine. The reply came in a very thick Maine accent: “You can’t git therah from hereh.”

The phrase has popped up in my life from time to time. But it’s when it pops up in my professional life that I get most disturbed.

The idea of “it can’t be done” or “you can’t get there from here” is very foreign to me. I recently fielded a call from a new client. He knows that I touch all types of marketing, but already had established a relationship with a graphic artist before we started working together. To his credit, he wants to remain loyal to his vendors. That’s why that graphic artist got the call when his company decided last minute to place a full-color ad in a nationally distributed magazine. The client was very clear in what he wanted and the graphic artist tried his best, but ultimately submitted sub-par work stating that there wasn’t enough time to carry out the request and that “it can’t be done.”

The client and I are of like mind. To use his words, “If you throw enough effort or resource into something, it can get done.” That’s right, Mr. Client. You can get there from here, no matter where ‘there’ and ‘here’ are.

He called me on a Thursday night. I had approval of the ad by Monday night and it went to print.

I’m not trying to brag (although, maybe I am just a little). I’m trying to illustrate that there is ALWAYS a solution to be found somewhere. If you have a clear definition of the destination and you’re creative enough, connected enough, and/or savvy enough to build the path, you can make it happen.

Easier said than done? Sure. That’s why when you do it, the client loves you. That’s why when new competition knocks on your client’s door, your client calls you to laugh about it.

Are you prepared for the next fire drill? What are you doing today that will allow you to deliver superior service tomorrow? Are you networking and meeting new vendors? Are you researching new concepts and technologies?

Do you have a success story that you’d like to share that we can all learn from?

Wanted: The best and the brightest

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canonical-ubuntu-help-wantedYou know how important good employees are to your organization. In fact, before you started your own business, it’s likely that you were a good employee to someone yourself.

On the flip side, adding a staff, or even starting a staff, is a very scary and expensive proposition. The employee sees the net on their paycheck and that’s how much they cost, right? Of course not. You have all those extras you have to pay for: self-employment tax, workspace expenses, benefits. The list goes on.

So, you need a staff, but you know that hiring the wrong people is a very expensive mistake to learn. What do you do to ensure that you minimize that risk?

Much of it depends on the type of position you are looking to fill. Is this a front line person that needs basic skills and needs to be dependable? Is this a manager that is going to generate leadership and drive a department? Is this someone that you might need as your right hand person with the possibility of having as a partner.

Ads in the paper for front line employees have become a very last-century activity. In fact, many papers are just a fraction of their former selves due to the acceptance of the Internet as a tool for job seekers and the lack of advertising/classified dollars. You have to post your position(s) where the most eyeballs will be. Monster and Careerbuilder are just two of the possible ways you can look to fill your positions. I’m a strong advocate of posting positions on your own website regardless of the level of the position. People who are really interested in your company are more valuable than those simply looking for a job.

It’s helpful to start to network to find a strong manager for your company. Talk to people you know and place feelers out there in your connected community. Let people know you’re interested. People that know people are often an excellent source of information about a candidate beyond what you might find on their resume.

But don’t let any of this work and expense be the reason for not adding to staff. If you’re growing your sole proprietorship, then you’re likely at the ceiling point where you might not be able to grow your business any further. Besides a second set of hands, new employees can also be an extra set of eyes and another prespective on problem solving.

Written by Jeff York

September 8, 2009 at 4:34 pm

How much is that little doggie in the (virtual) window?

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ers7lrgI love electronics. Like oh-so-many other guys, I like going into my local electronics retailer and picking up and playing with the gadgets. I may not buy them, but they’re fun to play with. I remember one year telling my wife that I was going to take my birthday as a vacation day from work and spend the morning at Best Buy.

You’ve done it yourself I’m sure. You’ve gone into a Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry’s, CompUSA, or any of the other brick-and-mortar electronics retailers and just played. You might have gone in for something specific and just got sidetracked or maybe you were just going in to have fun and kill some time. But you’ve tinkered.

Then came the Internet. And with it, ease of comparison shopping. Then the brick-and-mortar that you visited just became the playground to test out new gear. You figured out which model you wanted and then went home where you could find it online for the cheapest price from a company that you hope wouldn’t drop it too many times before it shipped.

What happened to the brick-and-mortar stores? Circuit City is gone with its brand sold to a company that maintains an online-only presence. CompUSA is gone as well. Even market leader Best Buy is reporting in 1st Q 09 a domestic segment increase of almost 1%, but comparable store sales decline of 4.9%.

What does all this mean to you, the small business owner?

You know all that overhead you endure month after month? The salarys, the building and maintenance cost? The inventory? Know how you work so hard to generate positive foot traffic so people come in?

Ask yourself, if you were in your customer’s shoes, would you buy from you?  Is there a compelling reason for someone to buy from you rather than just play with your floor models and then go home and order it?

Of course there is. You know all the reasons as well as I do. First and foremost, the item’s already in the customer’s hands. Why let them put it down and then go home? They have have it TODAY. Despite the rigors of the current economy, we’re still a nation of “gotta have it now” people. Secondly, your staff is there to support you if you need to learn how to use it, need to select a better one, or return it. No need to ship it off to some post office box. Just bring it back and you’re happy to help. Thirdly… Fourthly… Fifthly…

You know all the reasons. I don’t need to tell you. But you do need to tell your customers. Before you become a Circuit City, CompUSA, or Ritz Camera, you had better make sure that your marketing and branding all position you against your competition correctly. And don’t forget, your competition includes all those faceless retailers that don’t even have a storefront.

It’s on sale

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L4-77782As I write this, today is one of the major national holidays: Independence Day. Around many of the holidays, many retailers (and other small businesses) decide to take the opportunity to go into sale mode.

On a fundamental level, just what is a sale? It’s when you take your goods and/or services and discount their price point in hopes of spurring buying behaviors.

Is this a good idea? To help you decide, let’s take a look at both sides of the equation.

Pro:

Lowering your price is the perfect reason to ramp up your marketing efforts. You have an intrinsic reason for advertising. Your advertising takes on a more active voice rather than branding-oriented and compels immediate action. Generating more traffic to your business increases the likelihood that customers will buy more than what they came for. Decreasing the price of certain merchandise helps move that product making way for new items for which you might want to dedicate shelf space.

Con:

Lowering your price implies that you’ve been overcharging all along. Having sales increases foot traffic which demands that you increase staffing to accommodate. Creating a sales mentality with your customer base may create a situation where they will not buy an item until you place it on sale. Lowering price means you have to sell more product to realize the same profit.

Before going into sale mode, determine if the reasons for having a sale benefit you in the long run. If your product/service is currently priced correctly, then there might not be a need for lowering it. Having a sale is often a good short term cash flow fix which in turn creates long term branding issues.

Written by Jeff York

July 4, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Can you manage to be a leader?

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Happy05You walk into the office on Monday. You know that there’s a project due soon so you check in with key employees that have been assigned parts to find out their status and expected delivery time. You meet with other employees that you need to join the process and give them the appropriate materials and guidelines so they can start. You then head to your desk to provide a status report to your supervisor. Then it’s time to dive into your inbox and coffee while thinking how well the day has started.

Leadership or management? You might think this is an easy one, but in reality, I haven’t given you enough information to make a determination.

Leadership and management are status-independent activities. Certainly you manage down to your employees, but you can also manage up (ever have a boss that needs you more than you need him?) and even manage sideways. I’ve known many first rung employees that have demonstrated tremendous natural leadership.

Leadership comes from your actions and interactions. Leadership comes from within and is projected outward. Leadership is the ideal building block from which to build management skills that will create an environment of success.

So back to the original example. We know that our hero is managing people and a process. But was he leading?

To the first group, he took the time to understand the challenges they faced and listened to what they would need to continue forward. He worked with them to develop a feasible plan to enable them to be successful. To the second group, he shared the vision of what the project was about and what they hoped to accomplish. He invited feedback and insights into how the new group could add to the team. And he didn’t leave until they knew how they could get support from him if they needed it before the next check in.

Communication, actions, and attitude all contribute to your position as a leader.

It’s not about being soft and easily manipulated. It’s not about never making a mistake either. It’s about trying to do the best by the team at all times. It’s about having people want to follow you.

Following is always a voluntary activity. There is no such thing as a leader with no followers.

Written by Jeff York

June 28, 2009 at 12:09 am

Say that again…and again

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shouting1Having an on-target message is only part of the formula you need for a successful marketing campaign. What good is a solid, well-crafted message if no one hears it? Putting it into the right channels (tv, radio, etc.) to reach the right demographic is crucial. But if you ever have the chance to talk shop with a media buyer, you will hear them talk about reach and frequency.

Reach is putting the right message into the right channel to reach the desired people. If you’re a mom-and-pop business with a small local hardware store, do you really need to spend the money reaching across the entire state or will a local campaign be more effective?

What I wanted to talk about this week is the importance of frequency. It is often the most neglected part of the media buy. Failure in mass media marketing often comes at the hands of well-intentioned, but inexperienced media reps that overestimate an advertiser’s goals or budget.

The narrative often starts with a sales rep that makes a living from selling one form of media and one single channel (one group of radio stations, one newspaper, one tv channel, etc.) and a neophyte business owner. They have been trained and know the power of their particular offering. They have a meeting with a business owner who is looking to grow their business. They may not need to buy the entire coverage area that the sales reps offers, but that’s all the rep can offer. The campaign starts, it’s more expensive than the business owner needs (the business owner is paying a premium for reach without any benefit from it) and pulls the plug on the whole program early, thereby ending all frequency. Even in the areas where the message would have had effect, the ending of the campaign early ends all chance of success.

In today’s ultra-saturated media world, you have to reach your desired audience over and over again just to start to penetrate the clutter. It’s not enough to state your message and disappear. You have to repeat it over and over again. Say it enough times, and people start to recall your message on their own. Say it enough times in a respectable medium and it will have legitimacy.

Say it enough times and it will be effective.

Put a face on that

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vinceshamwowEvery so often, I come into contact with a business or a business’s ad agency that wants to explore the idea of a pitchman or spokesman. They see others doing it in their advertising and they think it must be a great idea.

It can be…or it can be a critical and expensive disaster.

Before going down this road, let’s think for a minute what you’re actually doing by adding a spokesman to your marketing. You are hoping that the equity from this famous person will translate into legitimacy for your business and product. This immediately rules out one class of spokesman: the infamous.

How big is your business? Are you currently local with hopes of going regional? Are you on the cusp of reaching into new national markets? This will also help you determine how much “celebrity” to bring on board. Why pay for a top dollar famous actor when you’re just reaching into a local market? This may seem like common sense to some, but believe me, it’s come up in conversation with business owners.

On the reverse, is the person you’re considering really a celebrity with all of your prospective clients? This comes into play often when using a professional sports figure. Recently I was part of a discussion as to using players from the local women’s college basketball team. The client loves women’s basketball. The sales rep loves this particular women’s college basketball team. Neither is part of a good reason to select a spokesman from this pool. Additionally, unless you’re grabbing one of the best off of a team, even at the pro level, it’s not likely going to be a hit.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is this spokesman willing to be on your team? Is this person in it for the check or your success? Most celebrities that I’ve worked on commercial shoots for are in it for the quick buck. They’re pros and they walk in, do what’s expected of them, and walk away. I’ve also been attached to projects where a celebrity clearly loves the client. They want the product to succeed. This invariably translates well into all of the marketing components.

Here’s another thought…create a character instead of using a spokesman. They don’t even have to be a fictious character. Dave Thomas from Wendy’s was a classic example of someone that was an immediate successful face on the business. Until his death in 2002, Dave served as a steller face on the brand and brought success to the organization not seen since the Clara Peller “Where’s the Beef?” campaign.