In marketing, you eat the pie one bite at a time

one bite at a timeIt’s the middle of January and by now most people have gone back to life as they knew it prior to January 1st. They aren’t getting up at 5 am to jog or only eating grapefruit rinds and prunes or chewing on licorice instead of smoking.

No doubt there’s been all kinds of studies done on why we both set and violate our new year’s resolutions each January. I think one of the reasons why resolutions are so seductive and yet so elusive is because they’re too ambitious. We don’t resolve to work out once a week or lose five pounds or reduce our cigarette consumption by 20%. We want to go whole hog.  We’re going to work out six days a week, lose 50% of our body mass and stop smoking tomorrow.

No wonder we cave so quickly.

I think the same logic applies to that marketing plan you wrote in the past couple months. It was a thing of beauty – with colored Excel spread sheets, infographic-like charts and a litany of marketing tactics, each one designed to make one of your specific target markets fall to their knees.

If you have the resources (time, money and people) to execute on all of that – more power to you. Go get ‘em! But if you’re the average marketing director or business owner – you are awash in great ideas but bone dry when it comes to the resources to get it all done.

I’d like to suggest a less overwhelming way to tackle your marketing for 2015.

Prune: Look at everything you are currently doing on a consistent basis and have been doing for at least twelve months. Rank them on their effectiveness in relation to your sales goals. If you can’t measure a tactic’s effectiveness – put it at the bottom of the list. Whatever tactic is last – eliminate it and direct the time and effort towards something else.

Listen: Call up five former clients who were at one time – good, steady clients. Ask them to candidly tell you why aren’t buying from you anymore.   Be ready to probe and dig a little to get to the truth. (You’ll have to overcome that Midwest nice thing). If you hear the same thing more than twice – consider addressing that issue or missing element. If you resolve that issue somehow – make sure your entire client base and past client base knows about the change.

Take your best shot: Review that marketing plan you drafted. What’s the one tactic that you believe can have the most significant (and measurable) impact on the company’s bottom line? Keep in mind – it might be new sales, or growth from existing clients. It could also be something that reduces customer erosion or returns. Whatever it is and however it adds to the bottom line – implement it immediately and completely.

Don’t worry about the rest of the tactics for now. Get this one launched and a part of your routine. Once that is done – then you can consider adding another tactic to the mix.

Monitor and measure: This is where a lot of marketing falls flat.   If you can’t measure it, how can you possibly know if your investment of time and resources Is paying off?   People give this lip service but few will spend the time or money to actually implement a measurement program. Yes, it does take some upfront costs and time to build out the tactic in a measurable way – but isn’t that a better expense than just continuing to do something because you “think” it’s effective?

Eliminate something, listen to past customers for clues to what’s missing, add one new thing and measure it all. That’s a bite-sized way to tackle your marketing for this year that will help you stay on course!

Are you selling what your customers want to buy?

Are-you-selling-what-your customers-want-to-buyAll too often, I see businesses advertising their wares…but from their own perspective. They talk about their expertise and what they DO or MAKE, thinking that’s what people are buying. Of course, that’s not what they’re buying at all.

Hence my question — are you selling what your customers want to buy?

Confused? There’s a great story that illustrates this perfectly. A college professor stood in front of his classroom, holding a shovel. He told the class that their assignment was to write an ad, selling the shovel.

The students got to work and their ads talked about the virtues of the shovel – the hardwood handle, the forged steel blade, the balance between the blade and the handle, etc. The professor let the students go on for a while and then he stopped them and shook his head. He said, “Let me tell you the secret for selling this shovel. The secret is to realize that no one buys a shovel just because they want a shovel. They buy a shovel because they need a hole.”

No matter what it is you sell – you need to figure out what’s behind that sale. They’re not buying your service or your product. They’re buying what they get out of that service or product. When you miss that – you run the risk of not meeting that need and losing a customer.

Recently, I had a very unsatisfactory experience with a company that promised to “townhouse my house.” I think the reason they were so disappointing is because they didn’t really understand what their customers want to buy.

They believed that they were selling yard services like weeding, mowing and snow removal. As long as they could perform those chores satisfactorily – they thought I’d be happy. But I could buy those services anywhere.

What I really wanted to buy was the convenience of having someone else worry about my yard and just take care of what needed to be done. I wanted the confidence they would show up when they said they would, so I didn’t have to keep calling them back. What I really wanted was the peace of mind that I could just cross all those tasks off of my list – and my life would be easier because of it.

Ultimately – because they didn’t understand what I really was trying to buy – I stopped buying. I didn’t need or want their shovel.

So – how do you go from selling shovels to realizing that your customers want to buy a hole?

Ask better questions: Don’t just ask the standard intake questions. Develop a short list of questions that will trigger a conversation about the underlying need. Listen carefully and ask enough follow up questions so you truly know the root problem you are being hired to solve.

Hire an outsider to talk to your current customers: We have that Midwest nice thing going on so sometimes customers won’t be very candid when you ask for feedback. But, when you hire a firm to do that asking for you (or secret shop you), you’ll be amazed at what you learn. We provide this service for our clients and I’m always amazed at how much we learn.

Observe them in the wild: Watching how your customers interact with what you sell can be incredibly enlightening. They might use it in a way you hadn’t imagined or for a purpose you hadn’t considered. They may have had to create a workaround because of something that isn’t quite right. If you sell your products in a retail environment, hang out in the store and listen as people considering buying your product.

The real secret to knowing what your customers actually want to buy is to never assume. Don’t be fooled into thinking you know. Do the hard work of finding out and earn their loyalty for years to come.

Useful = today’s marketing secret

Youtility, how being useful is today's marketing secretLet’s look at the reality:

  • Fragmented media choices
  • Permission-based media on the rise
  • Ability to filter, skip, ignore irrelevant advertising
  • Nothing beats word of mouth
  • A jaded, cynical consumer
  • Consumers tuning out, taking over and talking loudly about brands

That mountain of challenges is what faces marketers every single day.  So how in the world do we earn their attention, their dollars and even tougher — their loyalty?

Author, consultant and tequila loving Jay Baer believes he has the answer and outlines it in his book Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is about Help Not Hype.*  (I have 9 copies to give away — read to the end to find out how you can win!)

Jay’s premise is simple enough. If brands focus on being helpful, consumers will be drawn to them and when they’re ready to buy, that brand will have already earned the consumer’s trust — so they’re more likely to also give you their money.

Jay calls this friend-of-mine awareness (as opposed to top of mind awareness) and argues that in a congested, time starved world – if you want to keep earning market share, you need this level of connection with both customers and prospects.

The book is packed with stories, examples and very pragmatic ideas that any business — big, small, consumer or business focused — can implement.  It’s one of my favorites for 2013 — and a book you should definitely read. (Click here to order it from Amazon*)

I asked Jay a few questions about the book.  Here’s what he had to say:

If you had to describe the content of your book in a single sentence (no run ons) what would it be?  

If you sell something, you make a customer today. If you help someone, you can create a customer for life. 

What one book that you’ve read do you wish you could claim as your own?

Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by YoungMe Moon, and anything by Bill Bryson.

In your opinion, what is the one trait that all uber successful business people possess?

A true understanding of customer needs.

What’s the biggest business mistake you’ve ever made and what did you learn from it?

I botched a 1031 real estate exchange eight years ago, costing myself a ton of money. I learned to trust experts that you hire, but always follow up.

Why did you have to write this book?  What truth or insight was missing from the human consciousness — that you’ve now answered?

2 reasons. I wrote their book as a reaction to the landslide of punditry that prescribes “make your company amazing” as a strategic approach. Also, I wanted to give people a thoughtful scaffolding for why and how they should be creating content.

After someone is done reading your book — what do you hope they do as a result?

First, begin to understand how your company can insert itself gracefully into the lives of customers and prospects by being useful. Second (or maybe first), tell 3 friends to buy the book! 

Okay — the book is awesome and you should read it.  And 9 of you will get to read it for free.  Winning a copy is simple.  Leave a comment on this post and I’ll use the randomizer at random.org to pick the lucky readers!

 

*affiliate link
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Why would I pick you?

brand_redmarble_optWe have to remember that every day, both our existing customers and potential customers are looking at us and wondering “why would I pick you?”

Marketing 101 is that you need to understand how you’re different from your competitors.  It is perfectly logical — if you cannot differentiate yourself in terms of what you sell, how you sell it or why you sell it — the only differentiator left is price.

Maybe it boils down to this.

Would you rather invest the time and brain equity into figuring out (from the consumer’s point of view) how you are different or would you rather just have to be the cheapest?

Either choice is a good one.  It’s really all about your business’ strategy.  After all, Walmart seems to be doing okay with the cheapest route.  But let’s say that you don’t want to commit yourself to a perpetual price war.  Then what?

Then you need to go back to really understanding how you’re different (for the love of all that is holy, please do not say — it’s our people or we care more) and what sub-set of potential customers is in perfect alignment with that distinction.

Did you twitch a little at the phrase “sub-set of potential customers?”  This is one of the main reasons why I think companies don’t discover and honor their brand better.  They want everyone’s money — not just the right people’s money.  I’ll dig into that later this week.  For now, let’s stay focused on the discovering how you’re different.

We have a branding process that we walk clients through and I’m proud to say that many of our clients will tell you that it completely changed the way they did business.  It’s one of our favorite things to do at McLellan Marketing Group.

But…for you do it yourselfers — start by really taking some time and answering these questions, but remember, the answer can never be the product or service you sell:

  • Beyond profitability, what is the mission of your company?
  • If your company were to leave a legacy, what would it be?
  • How does your organization make the world a better place?
  • If firm disappeared tomorrow, what would be missed most of all?
  • What is the single most-important aspect of your company?
  • With regard to your organization, what do you feel passionate about?
  • What business is your company in?
  • What business is your company not in?
  • Which three adjectives best describe your organization?
  • Who (customer) would love your company the most?
  • How do you prioritize your customers? If you had to allocate 100 points between the different customers segments or types (in terms of importance), how would you do so?
  • What customer need does your product/service fulfill? Why does your target customer need or want you sell?
  • What emotion(s) do you most closely associate with your product or service?
  • How will your organization change your industry?
  • How will your company change the world?

And some fun ones to twist your brain around:

  • If your company was a shape, what would it be?
  • If your organization was a texture, what would it be?
  • If your firm was a mood or feeling, what would it be?
  • If company was something from nature, what would it be?

If you’re really brave — pull together some of your best customers and see how they answer these questions.  Or, schedule a team retreat and walk through them with your employees.

If you actually take the time to really dig into each of these questions until you’ve come up with answers that resonate and aren’t the first or a trite response — I think you’ll be surprised at how it changes the way you look at your business, what potential customers you approach and how you describe yourself.

Are you brave enough to tackle these questions?

 

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Moving your prospects to the next step

BabyStepsWhen you’re creating any sort of communication aimed at a potential buyer, you want them to do what?

When I ask this question, I typically hear a range of answers like:

• Know more about our business
• Understand how we’re better than our competitors
• Wonder if we’re the right fit for them

And of course….

• Buy what we sell!

All of that is probably true. But it’s too complicated. No matter how or where we’re communicating with a prospect, what we should want them to do is… take the next step.

Your job is simply moving your prospect to the next step.

That next step might be downloading an ebook, filling out the bounce back postcard to get a no obligation quote, emailing us with questions, signing up for a workshop, clicking on the buy now button or picking up the phone to schedule a meeting.

The answer is…we want them to take the next step in the sales cycle, whatever that may be. You want the reader (or listener or viewer) to do something to escalate the conversation. At that moment – you are talking to them. You want them to talk back somehow. And your copy should tell them exactly what to do.

I can hear you now… “I don’t have to tell them to call me. They’re not stupid. They know it’s an ad.” Very true. They’re not stupid. But they are incredibly busy, fragmented and they’re probably doing three other things while they flip through that magazine that houses your ad or click to the page on your website that has your workshops on it.

A call to action isn’t a remedy for stupid; it’s a remedy for their attention deficit. Its purpose is to get them to step out of a passive role and take a more active one. Because you have about 2 seconds before they change the channel, turn the page or click on the clapping monkey animated GIF that will take them away from your offer.

How do you write copy that captures their attention for that millisecond so they’ll take action?

Be very specific and direct: You need to spell it out for them and it needs to be simple. Click here to sign up or call XXX-XXXX to schedule an appointment. This isn’t the place to be cute or vague. You don’t even have to be polite and add a “please: or “thank you.” Just give them simple instructions that leave no room for doubt.

Focus on the benefit: Remember, you are trying to stop a moving train. They’re halfway to that next click or page turn. To get them to stop that momentum and move in a different direction will take something pretty compelling. Remember that we’re all motivated by the “what’s in it for me” equation so don’t be shy about telling them how they will benefit.

Keep it simple: If what you ask them to do is complicated, requires multiple steps, has complex directions or asks for too much information, — they will just move on. How many times have you started to fill out a form and then looked at how many questions it asked and said, “forget it” as you stopped?

Make it immediate: Sometimes this isn’t possible but whenever you can, make the call to action something they can complete right now in the moment. Remember, they might discover your ad or marketing piece at 2 am or while they’re standing in line at an airport.

For most organizations, a sale is a multi-step, complicated process. So keep that in mind as you create your calls to action. You’ll have a lot more success getting people to take one baby step at a time. Just give them the steps.