Notes from Jeff York

Small business marketing thoughts from a marketing small business owner

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

Try it, you’ll like it

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364543785_9f2275ebc5At the risk of sounding like a Successories poster, it’s against man’s nature to be complacent. There is an explorer’s spirit in all of us. Whether it’s sailing new routes and discovering America or devising a strategy for sending a person to Mars, we have a long history of trying and discovering new things.

So, how does that impact us personally?

I can’t argue that while being pressed to deliver more constantly in our professional lives, it’s easy to just keep our head down and to remain within our comfort zone by pumping out what we know has worked in the past. It’s easy to justify in your head that you just don’t have the time right now to be inventive. Just get through the project in front of you now and you’ll do something different when there’s more time.

Ever notice that there’s never more time?

Try this: when you’re starting your next project, put your foot down and say to yourself, “This is going to be the project where we try something new.” Find a boundary and push it. Set a new limit. Turn the project around in your head to look at it from a different angle.

You might think this is easier said than done, but consider this…how much off time do you have in your life? Morning and evening commutes? Time in the shower? There are good stretches of time when you can be devoting time to coming up with new angles on a project.

Written by Jeff York

May 21, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Invest in your people

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41T9YVNKTNLIn a past post, I suggested that it it always a good idea to invest in education and training for yourself. The best way to stay on top of new technologies, new processes, or just learning new tricks is from education.

The same also holds true if you are an employer. You’ve heard it time and time again. Your employees are your biggest asset. It’s true. They are committed to your organization and want to do anything they can to help it succeed. In fact, their success is dependent on your success. One of the best things you can do to help your employees to help you is to get them training.

Many sales professionals are given a formal training curriculum before they hit the streets. If they are new to the sales profession, then this training will help them develop their techniques. If they are experienced, then at a minimum the training will help with learn the company’s product/service and how to be effective quickly.

Why would you not offer the same to the rest of your staff? From support staff to senior management, everyone has something new they can learn.

Do you have a formal education or training program in place in your company? If so, what have you found to be effective for your people? If not, are you planning to develop one?

Written by Jeff York

May 10, 2009 at 1:03 am

The Peer Posse

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open_signYou’re a small business owner. Every day you wrestle with problems and challenges that impact your business. When a new situation arises, you call upon your background and muscle through the situation as best you can. You know you’re not the only small business. You have to think that you’re not the first person to deal with these particular problems.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find someone like you that’s been in this situation before? Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a like-minded individual that you could bounce ideas and thoughts off of?

You can.

Growing up, my parents owned a small business. It was a small store in a medium sized city in Connecticut. For the first decade, my parents rarely interacted with other store owners or even other business owners. They belonged to the chamber of commerce, but I don’t know why. They never took advantage of anything the chamber offered. Every time a new challenge presented itself, they struggled with it as if it was the first time this situation ever appeared in business. They had a brain trust of two, each other, in which to put towards a solution.

Then, they started talking with other business owners. And not just any business owners. They started talking with a few people that owned exactly the same kind of store they did. Something very interesting happened then. They stopped feeling isolated. They started working with the other stores as a collective group. If we were out of an item, the other stores would sell it to us at cost knowing that in the future, we will do the same. We started buying from distributors collectively driving the cost of goods down. Had I been a teenage marketing wizard, I would have been able to help them all with their advertising with solutions that no one store could have been able to afforded or executed on their own. But another interesting thing happened. My parents stopped feeling isolated. Their problem-solving brain-trust increased. There was a larger experience base to draw from.

By now, you have to be thinking that my parents got lucky. They did. After all, other businesses are called competitors for a reason. I’m not advocating that you start sleeping with the enemy. But I am hopeful that you will stop acting as if you’re on an island.

Want to know the easiest way to speak with other business owners and to find help in working through challenges that confront your business? Peer groups. Networking groups. These people have joined these groups for two reasons: to generate new business leads and to discuss small business topics with other people…people exactly like you.

I’ve found the best way to get started is to join your local chamber of commerce. Most chambers have meetings designed for just this purpose. Today, as a small business owner myself, I belong to exactly the same chamber group my parents did. However, I am much more active in the chamber’s events than they were. It helps me be more at ease with working crowds, it helps me generate new business leads, and just as importantly, it provides me access to other small business owners would are facing or have faced the same issues I do.

Your days of being alone in this are over.

Let’s talk about me

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wordofmouthLet’s say I’m your ad agency. You hire to me to create compelling messages that talk about how great you are, how you deliver more (service, value, expertise, whatever) than your competition. And then we channel that message into all the right places for you to reach new customers. Finally, we repeat that message enough to cut through the clutter and reach into the consciousness of the audience.

Success? Likely, yes. But then what? It’s one thing to toot your own horn. It’s quite another to have someone do that for you. When interviewing for a job, you get the chance to talk all about how great you are. If you’re then a serious candidate, then the employer’s going to want to talk to others that know you.

If you’re bidding on new work, your prospect will likely want to know what you’ve done in the past. Then they’re going to want to talk to people you’ve done work for.

Third party information about you carries a lot of weight and credibility. When conducting B2C business, why not put that power to work as well?

How? Testimonials. Get others to talk about you.

I’ve done it successfully in TV commercials, in radio spots, in print collateral, and even in my own personal online bio (check out my LinkedIn page).

In the past, you’ve heard me suggest that you should talk to your customers. It’s vital to know what they think of you. If you’re doing your job well, then it’s likely you will have no shortage of people wanting to sing your praises. Get them to write something. Ask them if they’d be willing to be on camera or in front of a microphone.

It’s the closest thing you can get to buying word-of-mouth advertising.

Written by Jeff York

April 25, 2009 at 10:17 am

You’ve got the whole world in your hands

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iphone_homeA recent post made on Twitter: New phone books arrived yesterday. I’ve already recycled them today. Have they not heard of the Internet?!?

Between my wife’s iPhone and my Blackberry, there is little that we can’t do from the road. Email, phone, data from the Internet, media consumption all are easy and convenient with one of these two devices.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying Pandora for Blackberry. Connecting the phone to my car’s audio system, I now have a music delivery system that I find superior to my XM radio. The business model for Pandora? On screen ads.

As one of the majority of drivers that has to endure morning and evening rush hour commutes, I signed up for a free email subscription to Traffic.com. Their business model? Embedded ads.

With both of these services, I find myself paying close attention to the ads that are placed. Typically, the products and services offered interest me. For example, recently Land Rover sponsored Traffic.com’s reports. I haven’t checked out Land Rover lately and I wondered what they were offering. Land Rover would have continued to have been out of sight/out of mind for me if not to reaching me where I use media today.

How about your business? Are you looking closely at handheld and portable devices as an avenue to reach new customers? Free apps offered to iPhone users or pushed data to handhelds are just a couple of the new routes that advertisers can take.

When is good enough not good enough?

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It’s a phase that many of us hear all the time. It’s a phase that sends shivers up my spine.

“Ah, that’s good enough.”

Almost sounds like quitting on a project. Almost sounds like someone could do better if they wanted to, but it’s just not worth the effort. Almost sounds like someone regards the task as beneath their best efforts.

So I have to ask, if that’s the case, why bother?

However, I have a tendency to go the other way. I want everything that I work on to be perfect. I need to learn that there is a time when you have to balance doing the best job possible with delivering on-time. I once heard a saying, “Audio engineers never finish an album. They just give up on it.”

But just the same, at what point is it acceptable to stop working on a project? When it is acceptable to walk away when there’s something that can be done to make it better?

More importantly, at what point is it acceptable to accept mediocrity in employees? When is it acceptable to keep someone around that just does enough to get by? When is it time to make room for someone with the interest and desire to learn more and do better.

You have to weigh both sides of the equation. When is the project do? What really needs to be delivered? Will there be the opportunity at a later date to revisit, rebuild, and/or improve?

I like to live by the motto “Try your best. Do your best. Be the best.” Because, in my opinion, at the end of the day, if you can look back and respond “yes” to the questions “does it fulfill the need/expectation of the client” and “are you proud of it,” then it’s good enough.

If not, it’s just not good enough.

Written by Jeff York

April 10, 2009 at 10:11 pm