Becoming a marketing master

Becoming a marketing masterYou don’t have to be a good writer or have a mind for marketing to set a goal of becoming a marketing master. You just have to be willing to do the hard work of learning how to do it and practicing it regularly.

There’s a huge body of research that has studied how people who are at the top of their game got there. Many people assume these superstars had a wealth of natural talent that gave them a huge advantage over the others in their field.

But even when you look at remarkable performers like Tiger Woods or Warren Buffet, it’s not true. We’ve all heard the story of how Tiger started playing golf at 18 months and had over 15 years of regular practice before he began competing at a national level. Warren Buffet admits that he knew very little but invested significant time studying business and financial statements to learn how to spot patterns and trends.

In fact, the research is so consistent it has evolved into what is commonly called the ten-year rule. It states that the most accomplished professionals, no matter what field they’re in; need about ten years of intense study to get to the top of their game. The ten years isn’t an average, it’s a minimum.

And there’s one more element that matters. It can’t be casual or haphazard practice. It needs to be what is called deliberate practice. It’s you doing things with the explicit goal of improving your performance that will push you past competent to a level of excellence.

Why does all of this matter to you, in terms of marketing?

  • It means for you to develop and execute effective marketing, you need to be deliberately practicing on a regular basis.
  • It erases the excuse “I’m just not wired to be good at this” when it comes to marketing your business.

Like most other aspects of running or owning a business, it boils down to doing the hard work and committing to it for the long haul.

And there’s one other benefit to taking this sort of approach. In the case of marketing – unlike a golf game or investing, you have a potential audience and that audience requires many marketing touches before they start paying attention. The fact that marketing is a marathon not a sprint works well with this “practice every day” philosophy.

Very few marketing tactics deliver instant results and when that happens, it’s more dumb luck than anything else. Marketing is a cumulative effort. Your efforts stack up and create that consistent drip drip drip marketing that we’ve talked about before.

In many ways, marketing is the perfect skill to develop, given the ten-year rule. You have to do it consistently and intentionally to get better at it and your audience needs you to do it consistently to notice you. So the more you practice, the better you get and the better results you’ll experience.

Now the question is – what do you need to do to put this idea into play?

Daily Practice: What marketing tactics can you commit to doing on a daily basis? Is it a Facebook page update? A customer thank you call?

Weekly Practice: What can you do every single week? An insightful blog post? Sending out targeted direct mail pieces and then following up with a call?

Monthly Practice: What, come rain or shine, will you do every month? Writing a helpful newsletter that establishes your expertise? Running an ad in a niche publication aimed at your primary audience?

Be sure you build your skills by practicing every single day and before you know it, you’ll be on your way to becoming a marketing master. Not only will you get better every day but you’ll get also more customers as you practice!

Where has your planning taken you so far?

planningAs the first quarter of 2015 whizzes past us, it’s time to take stock of your planning abilities. 25% of the year is now done. How are you doing on your goals for 2015?

I suspect the answer to that question fall into one of two camps.

Camp One (also known as the Camp of the Seat of My Pants): Goals? We’re doing pretty well. I think.

Translation: We didn’t set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound) goals so we know we want to make more money than we did last year, but other than that – we’re not sure what success in 2013 looks like.

Camp Two (also known as the Camp of the Strategic Planners): We’re at 32% of goal one, 17% of goal two and we’re doing a customer survey in June to see how we’re doing on goal three.

Translation: We took the time to set SMART goals and then built a plan for accomplishing those goals. We’re tracking our progress and adjusting the plan as we go.

Now you might argue that there’s a third camp. The Camp of Lucky Breaks. No argument there. Every once in awhile a business hits one out of the park through no particular fault or planned effort of their own. They’re just in the right place at the right time. Everyone deserves a break like that every now and then. But that’s the problem – it’s unpredictable and at best, sporadic.

Since we can’t count on falling into the third camp, the truth is – as business owners and leaders, we make a conscious decision to plan or not. Make whatever excuses you want – it’s either a priority or not.   And you get to reap the benefits or not. It’s really that simple.

Whenever I think about the true value of planning, I remember my experience with our office move a few years ago.  It was a sight to see. The team at MMG is filled with native planners. They like to be organized and anticipate as many details as possible. It’s how they work with our clients and it’s just how they’re wired.

We had several meetings in the months leading up to the move, trying to anticipate anything and everything we’d need. There were plenty of checklists and task assignments.

I watched in amazement at how smoothly the move went. Each area of the office was assigned a different color of duct tape and everything that belonged in that area was marked with the appropriate colored tape (including me by the end of the day!)

This allowed the moving crew to load the truck by area, knowing they’d unload in the same way. When we got to the new office, there were color-coded charts on the walls, and large colored signs by each area in the office. The unloading was incredibly fast and efficient.  Even on move day, – we were back on track and taking care of clients. Within two work days, we were completely settled into the new space and everyone was working at full speed.

That’s the thing – while planning does require an investment, it almost always pays dividends. Here’s the short list of planning perks.

You get where you want to be – by starting with the end in mind, you can plan the path to get there.

Resource conservation – you’ll burn fewer resources (time, money, good will) to accomplish your goals, which means you’re that much further ahead.

You can track your course – when you are actively monitoring a goal’s progress, you can make course corrections faster and minimize your losses.

You’ve lost the first quarter. Will you lose the second too or is it time to get planning?

Don’t forget the marketing basics

marketing basicsIt’s so easy to be mesmerized by all the marketing technology around us and forget about the marketing basics. But whether you’re executing a traditional campaign or a digital one — the marketing basics matter.

My Italian grandma (who provided many marketing tips via this series) spent most of her time in the kitchen. I remember sitting at the table, watching her work her magic and her reaching for a huge jar of oregano. As she pointed the jar at me, she said, “You always need to keep the basics in stock. And no matter how fancy you’re getting, the basics still matter.”

I remember her words when I’m trying to re-create her spaghetti sauce and I remember those same words when working with clients. Because she was right. No matter how fancy we get — we need to keep reaching for the basics.

Sometimes we all get so caught up in what is the hottest, latest, and most buzzed about marketing fad that we lose sight of the cornerstone principles that make advertising and marketing work.

Here are some marketing basics that will always matter:

One ad/tactic – one message: Most people have a tendency to want to shove many marketing messages into a single ad out of fear that they might never get another shot at the audience. Of course we know that if the ad is ineffective – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

Regardless of what marketing tactic you’re using – ask yourself this question: if someone could only remember one thing from this – what would I want them to retain? Now – write to emphasize that one point and nothing more.

You can’t time marketing: Just like the sage advice about investing – you should give up any hope of being able to accurately time your marketing. Very few businesses can predict with even a modicum of certainty when someone is going to become a customer.

Just like dollar cost averaging – you need to be making regular, consistent marketing “deposits” so that whenever the market rises/a prospect is ready to buy – you’re there and top of mind.

You need a plan and a budget: You cannot consistently market your business the way you need to without a plan and a budget. It does not happen by accident or happy coincidence. At best, you’re going to be hit or miss with your efforts. A plan helps you stay on course, even when you’re short-handed or swamped. For too many businesses, marketing is what they do when things get quiet or they lose a client.

Here’s a test that will tell you a great deal about your marketing. When you are crazy busy and couldn’t take another customer that day if you tried – are you still out there marketing? If your answer is no, then you either don’t have a marketing plan or you aren’t following the one you have.

Without a budget, you can’t really have an actual, executable plan. Let’s face it, if you had a million dollars – your marketing plan would look markedly different than a $5,000 one would look.

Your current customers need to be a primary audience: Everyone’s quick to chase after the potential customer and those new dollars. But what most marketers lose sight of is the fact that a good chunk of their new revenue should be coming from existing customers. Marketing plans are typically thin in several areas and the percentage of dollars and effort earmarked for current customers is almost always one of them.

We all know it’s a lot easier to get someone to buy for a second or third (or tenth) time than it is to get them to buy for the first time. And yet, we spend the majority of our time and money chasing after the toughest sale, not the easiest one.

Keep these marketing basics in play and watch your marketing efforts get stronger and deliver better results. My grandma knew what she was talking about!

How effective is your email marketing?

effective is your email marketingEmail is still one of marketing’s greatest tactics but how effective is your email marketing? It’s easy to understand the allure of email marketing.

It’s cost effective (but not free), it’s easy to plan and execute in advance and very few people don’t access their email every single day, so in theory – the audience is engaged with the medium.

So why do so many efforts fall flat? I think we almost take it for granted. We think just firing off an email without thinking through the steps will still be effective. But the reality is, there are many elements that can make or break an email campaign at each stage of the effort.

Is deliverability impacting the effectiveness of your email marketing?

Just because you click send doesn’t mean it actually gets into the recipient’s inbox. Here are some of the critical things to be mindful of as you develop your email.

List Quality: You can absolutely go out and buy a big batch of emails. But the best email list is going to come from actually building your own list by offering something of value that someone is willing to trade their email list for.

CAN SPAM compliance: If you break the rules, your emails will end up going nowhere. You need to be very familiar with the boundaries and requirements of this regulation.

Are opens impacting the effectiveness of your email marketing?

Getting it into their mailbox is the first step, but now you need to get them to actually read it.

Subject line: Like the headline of an ad, your subject line is the most important element of your email. You only have a few seconds to grab the recipient’s attention and entice them to click open.

Time Sent: The e-marketing company Mail Chimp did a study and found that Tuesdays and Wednesdays had the highest open rates throughout the week. They also found that 10-2 pm local time (so you’ll have to find some middle ground if you mail across time zones) worked best.

Are click throughs impacting the effectiveness of your email marketing?

While it’s great to get someone to open the email, what you really want them to do is click on something – to learn more, to buy something or to ask you to contact them.

Relevance: If your list or your content isn’t pretty targeted – your content may be off target. Even the best headline in the world isn’t going to make someone click on a link that is irrelevant to them. You need to know your audience well and write to them about things they will definitely care about.

Design/layout: I don’t care how exciting your offer is – if I can’t find it or can’t understand what I need to do to get to the next step, I can’t move forward. Make sure your email design is clean, easy to read and the calls to action are very clear.

Offer/Call to Action: If the offer isn’t compelling, time sensitive and a great value – it’s not likely you’re going to get a lot of takers. This is one of the most common mistake business owners make – they don’t sweeten the pot enough.

Is revenue (or the lack thereof) impacting the effectiveness of your email marketing?

Ultimately, you are sending out these emails to make money. Short of that, it was a valiant effort but it didn’t achieve the objective.

Landing page content/design: When someone is interested enough to click on a link – you sure want them to land on a page that only heightens their interest. Great photos, testimonials, video demos and very clean design with clear calls to action are what drive sales.

Check out experience: If you actually sell something from your website – you want to avoid cart abandonment at all costs. Make sure the check out experience is simple, fast and doesn’t ask the buyer to duplicate efforts or invest too much time.

If you want effective email marketing  — it has to be a well-orchestrated machine. So take the time to think it though, invest in good tools and test, test test!

Want to dig in a little deeper?  Grab this great (and free) ebook on ways you can better answer the question — “how effective is your email marketing” from the good folks at Copyblogger.

Creative versus strategy

Creative versus strategyCreative versus strategy. For as long as I’ve been in advertising and marketing – there’s been that age-old tug of war.  Should advertising and marketing tools be creative/clever/funny/pretty or should the emphasis be on strategically driving the sales message?

As you can imagine – the real answer is both.  An ad, website, brochure, e-book etc. that is visually interesting and has a compelling message is much more likely to have impact when it comes to trial or purchase of whatever is being sold.

But sooner or later, compromises need to be make due to budget, timeframes, or other considerations.

When it comes to the creative side of the equation, your materials need to be:

Aligned with the visual brand: Carry the look and feel of your brand through everything you do.  Don’t ask your consumers to try to play connect the dots.  You should use creative elements to link each piece back to your brand.

Professionally produced: Yes, I know you can make a brochure in Microsoft Publisher.  That doesn’t mean you should.  I can use a pair of my own scissors to cut my hair too.  But I think we can agree it’s going to look better if I let a pro cut it.

Using graphics/photos that connote quality and that you do this for a living: Unless what you sell retails for $3.99 or less, clip art isn’t going to cut it.  There was a day when it was new enough that people found it cute or quirky.  But today, it just screams cheap.

Attention grabbing:  If your ad look like every other ad in the paper – no one is going to look at it.  Whether it is with words or visuals – you need to pop from the page, whether that’s on the web, newspaper or trade show booth.

Everything should be on purpose: Think through every element of your piece from font selection to size.  If you can’t explain why an element has to be there or be a certain way – it should go.

On the strategic side of the equation, your materials need to be:

One piece, one message:  If there is a universal sin in marketing – it’s that everyone writes too much.  Cut the copy in half.  At least.  You can’t possibly tell the whole story in a single ad or marketing piece.  So focus on one core message and make your point powerfully and succinctly.

One piece won’t cut it: Consumers want multiple pieces, in multiple places so they can browse, download and review over time.  They’re going to be shopping you for a while, so don’t bore them with only one thing to look at.

WITFM:  Your audience wants to know how what you sell is going to make their life easier, better, etc. They need to know you’re credible so unless your brand is a household name, you do need to tell them a little about you. But they want the focus to be on them so think 80/20 and no, you’re not the 80.

Location, location, location:  If I can’t find you, you don’t exist.  And I want to find you in multiple places.  Being found on Google and the other search engines is mandatory today. But you also need to know where else your consumers go to look for you and be there with bells on.  Don’t assume that online is the only game in town.

Most B2C marketers tend to lean too heavily on the pretty (think the Super Bowl ads) and most B2B marketers are a bit like the old Dragnet’s Joe Friday – the facts ma’am, just the facts. (Think most niche B2B magazine ads).  The key is finding the balance between the two because at the end of the day creative versus strategy isn’t an either or.  You need both.

Love advice is not good marketing advice

Love advice is not good marketing adviceAs we celebrated Valentine’s Day this month – there were many a cliché uttered in the name of love. I want you to remember that in most cases, they don’t work as well as marketing maxims. Love advice is not good marketing advice.

In fact, in general I might suggest that you shun cupid’s advice when it comes to marketing your organization. Let me give you a few examples.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder: While this may be true in human interactions, buyers have a very short attention span. When your marketing is sporadic or worse – nonexistent, you can’t expect a prospect to think about you when they’re finally ready to buy.

Trying to reach our consumers, no matter what we sell, is a little like trying to time the market. The truth is – we don’t know when they’re going to be ready to pull the trigger. We do know that when they’re ready – typically they will identify three potential solutions and explore them. That’s why marketing’s job is to keep your product or service top of mind all the time so that when the prospect is actually ready – you’re in the short set of possibilities. Absence doesn’t make it more likely that you’ll get a shot at the sale.

Love is blind: While in human interactions it’s true that appearances don’t trump love…in marketing, love is definitely not blind. How you present yourself has incredible impact on your ability to capture and keep the attention of a customer. When it comes to marketing, this isn’t so much about attractiveness as it is about consistency and being true to your brand.

Adhering to graphic standards that represent and promote your brand is vital to growing demand and brand loyalty. Consistent use of logo and brand colors begins to create a subconscious connection with your prospects and repeat customers. Pretty soon – if you’ve honored your brand’s visual guidelines you can trigger a reaction every time you use the brand’s color palette or logo. Think how we immediately associate a red soda can with Coke or a brown truck with UPS. You can create the same effect.

Opposites attract: We all know couples that seem like they couldn’t possibly have anything in common who are deliriously happy with one another. Shows what we know. But that phrase doesn’t work so well when it comes to customers. The truth is – every business has what we call “sweet spot” customers. Those people who are the perfect fit to what we have to offer. One of the reasons they’re our best fit is because they see the world in the same way we do. They agree with how we approach our industry and the specifics of not only what we do but how we do it.

Many companies go broke trying to be everything to everyone. Instead of embracing their sweet spot customers, they chase after every dollar, no matter how bad the fit may be. The result of that is almost always a very rocky relationship that ends in an ugly crash. And then, that former customer runs around town (or your industry) telling people about their bad experience. You’re far better to

All you need is love: In today’s economic times – I don’t care how much fun you are to work with, if you can’t generate results you won’t get to stick around for too long. One of the marketing mistakes that many organizations make is that they don’t put the spotlight on the results and give them their due.

There you have it. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s Valentine’s Day fueled parade but when it comes to love clichés and marketing – it is definitely not better to have loved and lost. Remember — love advice is not good marketing advice!

Instead, market smart and keep those customers for life!