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    I was recently asked to speak to a group of business women on the topic of social media. Most of these women have been in business for years, and they know how to succeed. However, they wanted to know more about the social media scene, so they asked me to give an overview of the topic. I was struck by the knowledge gap as I was speaking, and I feel that as Marketers, we still need to make sure that we are educating business people about these tools. I’ve seen several blog posts about convincing the CEO to embrace social media, and I found myself fighting a similar battle during my presentation. So, how do we bridge the knowledge gap?

    First, we have to quell the fear. Many business people are still afraid of moving their message online. They fear that their email addresses might be sold, that clients or co-workers may have access to private information, and that there’s no way to establish and decipher truth. We need to assure them that as connectivity grows, so too does accountability and integrity. Just as there are bad seeds in the real world, you will find bad seeds in the virtual world. But most entities will keep your information secure and site credible sources for their work. The virtual world is not a place to fear, but rather, a place to grow exponentially.

    Once we’ve conquered the fear, we need to show the relevance of social media. There are statistics, case studies, and success stories all over the internet, so find and present the information that is most compelling. When business owners see how social media has impacted their competitors, they won’t want to be left behind. When they see how it has helped organizations that they work with and hold stock in, they will want a piece of the action as well. By helping them understand the future of business, you can help them figure out how these tools fit into their strategy.

    Finally, help them strategize. Many business owners don’t understand that social media is a tool to advance their strategy, not a fad that forces them to change what they’ve always known. Social media is about connecting with people, so you don’t have to stop using your brand, message, and product. Rather, you can use social media as a way to expose these core components to many more people. When clients are ready to accept social media into their Marketing strategy, you need to be diligent in showing them how to use the tools. Help them create and monitor their accounts, teach them the lingo, and address security and ettiquette concerns. Every company may not need every tool, so help them evaluate which tools are most profitable for them. When you help them strategize, you ensure a long-term place for social media.

    I was excited to speak on social media, and I’m excited to help implement social media strategies. However, I realized that I need to lay the foundation before I can build the house. And once the house is built, it’ll be open to the community!

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    I just came home from the ice cream shop, and I saw a father out with his kids. It reminded me of my father-daughter dates, complete with a special occasion double-scoop from  Baskin-Robbins. Guess which ice cream shop I visited today? That’s right, Baskin-Robbins. And guess which ice cream shop is my favorite? You got it, Baskin-Robbins. You can build a lifelong customer out of someone with an emotional connection to your product. Here’s a few thoughts on building an emotional connection with your customers.

    Define your target audience. Some companies want to mass-market their product, but it’s more effective to have a well-defined target audience. By targeting a subset of the market, you can fully understand what makes them tick. Every product can’t meet the needs of every person, so it’s better to make a quality product that meets a specific need in your target audience.

    Make the message emotional. The most convincing pitch touches your heart, which in turn touches your wallet. If you feel emotionally invested in something, you’re more likely to get financially invested. Ask your audience to feel something for your product, and create situations that give them memories. Don’t just focus on the call to purchase, but rather the call to connect. When people start connecting with you outside your product, they are much more likely to make you their long-term choice.

    Create the atmosphere. Images are a powerful way to stir up emotion, but you can use all the senses to create a connection. If you can pinpoint the trigger for your target audience, you can create an atmosphere that entices them to buy. Stores at Christmas are a perfect example of creating the atmosphere. They touch your olfactory senses with candles that smell like cinnamon and gingerbread, your eyes with bright bulbs on a beautiful tree, your ears with carols, and your hands with rich textures. It’s hard to stay within budget when you are over-whelmed with thoughts about the perfect Christmas, and you can’t wait to see the joy on someone’s face as they open their gift. The atmosphere helps solidify the emotional connection, which keeps customers coming back again and again.

    Be consistent. Above all, you must have a quality product. Trust is hard to build but easy to lose, so you must make sure that your customers know that you provide a quality product at all times. Don’t just solicit an emotional connection via superficial means, but be vulnerable to connect. Engage your customers on a personal level, and allow your company to be invested in the customers. Talk to them, listen to them, understand them. When customers know you’re in it for the long haul, they are much more likely to stay in as well.

    My dad and I always had a blast on our father-daughter dates, and they wouldn’t have been complete without a little Baskin-Robbins. Whose memories are incomplete without your product?

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    I’ve been thinking a lot about market research lately, and how important it is to know your customers. Some companies are flying blind when it comes to offering and advertising their products or services. Here’s a few tips on why and how to get to know your customers!

    Meet their needs and solve their problems. It may seem obvious, but how are you going to meet their needs if you have no idea what their needs are? Some companies think that because they sell a certain product, they don’t need to find out about their customers’ needs. But just because you fill a niche, you’re not off the hook! Take Zippo for example. I just saw an article about Zippo changing their marketing strategy, as their sales have been falling. They have focused on pocket lighters for the majority of their existence, but have recently started moving into female-friendly and outdoor-friendly products. By recognizing that their products were being used in different ways, they were able to gain more market share and expand their business. Talk to your customers and find out what they need.

    How do I talk to my customers? There are many ways to speak to your customers, but the biggest point is to listen to what they’re saying. Don’t go into research trying to prove a hypothesis about what customers like and dislike, just be open.

    -          Focus Groups: Focus groups involve speaking with a small group of the target demographic, usually in a moderated session. The moderator asks guiding questions to open up the discussion, and keeps the conversation flowing. Taping these sessions gives companies the opportunity to view facial reactions and other body language, and to accurately record spoken responses. Maiden Form used a focus group when their sales were falling, and found out that their target demographic of young females viewed them as a brand their mom would use! They quickly re-worked their strategy and sales started rising.

    -          Surveys: Surveys are great because you can reach a large number of people to ensure a strong sampling of the target demographic. Once you receive the responses, you can use statistical analysis to figure out the most important problems your customers face. You can also use surveys to determine ways to improve your solutions to those problems. ConstantContact and Survey Monkey are two services that make it easy for you to set up online surveys.

    -          Usability studies: There are two ways to view this: Is my solution useful? Is my solution usable? Let’s take a look at the first question. You need to make sure that your product or service uniquely solves a customer’s problem. Coming into an established market is difficult, so you need to make sure that you have a unique value proposition. You also need to make sure your solution is easy to use. My favorite example of this is the label, “some assembly required.” I know dads around the world shudder at this phrase, as it usually indicates hours of work with obscure tools. Instructions and usage should be customer-friendly, and you need to do testing to figure this out. Focus groups can act as a moderated testing situation, where participants are given product examples and asked to rate them on different aspects. For software and other technology, a Beta version usually reveals bugs in the product. UserTesting.com offers a low-cost remote usability service that is perfect for website owners. There are many ways to figure out if your product is useful and usable, and these must be included in market research.

    Market research is not a one-time endeavor, but rather a continual process of understanding your customers’ needs. So, how does your company stack up in the market research category?

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    Today’s post features “The Medici Effect“, by Frans Johansson. I’ve been promoting this book to my friends, family and random co-workers since I first read it in spring 2008. This was the most eye-opening book of my college career, and I would recommend it as a yearly read for anyone who needs a touch of creativity. Why do you need creativity in Marketing you say? Check out the highlights of the book to see if you can use any of the tips!

    Connecting things that wouldn’t normally be connected

    The book talks about jogging your brain by connecting things that wouldn’t normally be connected. Force the connection if you have to! He gives examples of architecture and insects, music and airlines, and many more. When people go out of their way to find a connection, they might just happen upon a brilliant idea! As you think about your product, service, company, and customer, think about new ways to incorporate your brand into life.

    Planning for failure

    Sad to say, but we all know most ideas fail. But if everyone in your company is so afraid to fail that they never try, you’re missing out on a wealth of brain power and ideas. To encourage creativity and problem-solving, create an environment where it’s ok to fail. This is not talking about laziness or sub-par performance, but rather genuine attempts to find a new way to solve a problem. When your company and employees allow time to fail, re-formulate, and try again, your customers win. Ultimately, failure is a part of improvement, so encourage out-of-the-box thinking once in a while.

    Breaking down the barriers

    These chapters focus on communication and inter-discipline collaboration. To make an out-of-the-norm connection with an idea, it would stand to reason that you would need to make an out-of-the-norm connection with a person or place. If people in your organization are holed up in their offices, behind their desks, with their computers, how are they going to encounter anything new? Break out of the silos! Encourage your employees to talk to each other and bounce ideas off each other. You may think that Marketing and Accounting have nothing in common, but you might be surprised to find that both of your clients face a particular problem. Don’t be afraid to interact with those outside your normal circle, both inside and outside the organization.

    I could go on about “The Medici Effect”, but I would suggest you take a look for yourself. It’s a quick, engaging read that’s well worth the while… and after you check it out, you’ll agree that you need a little creativity in Marketing.

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    I was pleasantly surprised with a promotion from Starbucks, the Starbucks Treat Receipt. If you buy any beverage before 2:00 pm, you can use the receipt to get any grande iced beverage for $2.00! Now, I’m a pretty avid Starbucks fan, so discounts are always appreciated. Of course, encountering any promotion always makes me wonder about redemption rates and the increase in sales. With a survey of one (me), I decided to do a little analysis on this Treat Receipt.

    Normally, my husband and I stop in at Starbucks on Sunday mornings. Let’s take a look at how the Treat Receipt has affected our behavior:

    Before Treat Receipt: $8 spent in the morning

    We each purchase a beverage and one or two pastries, making our average ticket about $8.00. We normally make this trip one time on Sunday, so our daily total remains at $8.00.

    First Treat Receipt: $8 purchase in the morning + $2 purchase in the afternoon = $10

    We received our first Treat Receipt with our normal morning purchase. We were excited to use the receipt, so we made an additional trip on Sunday afternoon, increasing our daily total by $2.00.

    Second Treat Receipt: $5 purchase in the morning + $2 purchase in the afternoon = $7

    However, after learning about the Treat Receipt, we changed our behavior. Instead of purchasing two separate beverages, we shared a single large beverage, thus decreasing our normal morning total by $3.00. We then utilized the promotion in the afternoon, which decreased our daily total by $1.00.

    I wonder how often people change their morning purchase based on their plans to take advantage of the promotion? I also wonder how many people already frequent Starbucks more than once a day and thus decrease their daily totals by utilizing the promotion? I’m sure the marketing gurus at headquarters have numbers to answer these questions. Average ticket amounts and cannibalization are important factors to consider when offering promotions to core customers. Clearly, the second scenario described above is the goal of the promotion. As I said, I only have a single data point, so my conclusions may be way off-base.

    On the other hand, what if the goal isn’t to increase the average ticket over the summer? There are many other qualitative goals that may yield future value. For example, I might not be willing to spend $5 on a beverage I’ve never tried. The Treat Receipt is a low-risk way for me to sample a drink that may become my favorite. The promotion could result in me increasing my average ticket in the future by getting me hooked on something new (and more expensive). The promotion goal may be to increase brand loyalty through more touch points. Each time I visit the store, Starbucks gains more face time, which builds trust and credibility. The more experiences I have, the more likely I am to have a good experience.

    With no numbers to back me up, I guess I’ll be content to ponder… with my grande Java Chip frappucino, of course!

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    Welcome to Musing Marketing, my foray into the professional blogosphere. I’m learning to view the world through a marketing lens, and I hope that what I see will inspire others to contemplate marketing. I am planning to post commentary, book reviews, and general interest items weekly. For now, I’m taking it one post at a time… enjoy your stay at Musing Marketing!

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