Notes from Jeff York

Small business marketing thoughts from a marketing small business owner

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.

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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.

Tell me something I don’t know

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600px-information_iconsvgI want to share something with you. You could have found it on your own, but you didn’t. Maybe I use Internet search tools better than you do. Maybe I needed this information before you did. Or maybe I have more free time on my hands than you do. But the bottom line is you and I might have similar interests, similar levels of curiosity, or have the occasion to solve similar problems. And I have information you might want or need.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of having to search the whole of the Internet, you could just tap into my bookmarks or my central depository of information?

Wouldn’t it be even better if you could find a group of people like us. And we’d all be willing and able to share what we know?

Like a lawyer asking a question in a courtroom, you have to know that I already know the answer.

Delicious. Or wait. Maybe Wikipedia. Or StumbleUpon. Or even my own wiki that I only let certain people have the password to. Maybe I don’t have THE answer after all since there is no ONE answer.

The bottom line is information is power and in today’s online world, people are willing to give that power away for free all the time.

Your online information gathering is so important that your OS or browser has some way of backing up your bookmarks. That information that you have deemed important enough to have it added to your browser’s database is probably very interesting to me. Let’s share.

A typical organization has vast amounts of internal knowledge and wisdom that it has gathered over the years. How is it being stored, vaulted, and recalled as needed? Do people sit around the company elders and have them spin yarns. Or is there a central database where anyone that needs the information has ready access, yet secure enough to be protected against competitor’s prying eyes.

On a personal level, how to you collect and store your information? How much are you willing to share?

At the corporate level, do you know of any positive examples where company knowledge and wisdom is collected, protected, and made available on an as-needed basis?

Written by Jeff York

May 30, 2009 at 9:20 am

Are you sure the price is right?

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sprocket kitNo one can deny it. You have spent a great deal of effort and energy in determining the price of your services and/or widgets. You looked at cost of construction, pulled apart your competition’s pricing, and nailed the price points the market will bear which you will make enough of a profit margin to build and grow your business.

Enter the recession. People are thinking twice about every single purchase before they make it. They are thinking long and hard about your price point. If they don’t continue to see true value in your offering, they are going to pass. Pass on you for too long and you could no longer have any mind share within your customer base (you are still advertising, aren’t you?).

Before you head too far down this path, now is the perfect time to take another look at your pricing structure. If you’re like many businesses, you did this initial work when you introduced your business or product, but simply adjusted for inflation and may have become complacent.

Take another look at your own pricing. Are the components cheaper? Is there a new technology out there that would lower your cost per unit? Any way in which you can demonstrate additional value from your business in the current environment will give you additional advantages over your competition.

Written by Jeff York

May 25, 2009 at 7:01 pm