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.

Big data delivers customized experiences or it’s just noise

Big Data If there is one phrase we couldn’t seem to get enough of this year — that phrase is big data.

Every day our digital activity (on the web, on our smart phones, social networks etc) creates over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. In fact, 90% of all the data in the world today has been created in the last two years.

As our phones evolve into our mobile wallets and our hub for digital tickets and coupons – they will add dramatically to the collection of data on consumer spending and behaviors.

Suffice it to say – we are leaving quite a trail. A trail that will help businesses get to know us better, anticipate our needs and provide real time service. As business owners we need to recognize this trend for what it is – both an opportunity and a threat.  It’s also what could put you out of business if you ignore it.

While you may be personally creeped out by the robustness of your data trail, the truth is – most consumers expect you to use their data to service their needs. And now.

With information literally at their fingertips 24/7 and instant access to a host of social media platforms where they can (and do) tell the world if you’ve pleased or disappointed them, today’s consumers are at the epicenter of their world— and their expectations are unbelievably high.

These consumers, especially Millennials, take for granted the idea that companies are using the data they create to tailor offerings. Here are some of the ways we need to be thinking about meeting that consumer expectation. And don’t think that if you’re a B2B company, you are exempt. Your buyers have the same expectations.

Big data needs to mean personalizing offers: Some big box retailers are using data from loyalty card holders to offer different coupons to different shoppers based on insights gleaned via analytics—in essence, personalizing pricing.

On the B2B side, your customers expect that you are intimately familiar with their buying patterns and expect you to serve up offerings that match their buying patterns.

Big data needs to mean catering to consumers in real time: Looking back over last year’s data is so 2001. Your customers expect you to be reacting to what happened yesterday and this morning. They want you to anticipate their needs based on what is happening right now. Does weather, a specific current event or financial conditions in the country influence how your products and services are used? You’d better be tweaking offers, product improvements and availability based on those real time factors.

Big data needs to mean that my customer service should be all about me: Businesses in many industries can fine-tune their customer service to individual consumers based on consolidated data from various sources. This should be heeded, especially in the B2B space – where the assumption is that you have fewer customers and those you have, you know better. In their mind – it is a given that you are tracking and responding according to their past behaviors.

It’s a fine line, of course. We’re talking a trend, which means it isn’t mainstream yet. Some people will be uncomfortable that you know so much. But that will dissipate. And among the Millennials, the attitude is almost non-existent. They expect it. So expect this concern to be somewhat generational and over the long haul, fleeting.

Transparency will be critical. You will need to explain what digital data you are collecting and why, and then assure consumers you can be trusted with the information.

Today this is still cutting edge stuff, especially for most offline businesses. But tomorrow – it will be the norm. Don’t get caught behind.

We only care about you if it’s really about us

I Love MeWe recently bought an ad for a client and the ad rep suggested we make a big deal out of the fact that our client has been in business for 130 years. I politely told her that we definitely were not going to do that.

Instead, we were going to talk about something their readers and our prospects might actually care about.

My conversation with her is what prompted this blog post. We’ve all seen the ads or sales that are somehow tied to a businesses 25th anniversary or the “we’ve been in business for a century” sale announcements.

The reality is – no one cares. While that may be a laudable accomplishment – to have hung in there that long, from your consumer’s point of view – it’s fluff or a gimmick (we’ve been around for 50 years so everything is 50% off!).

Is a business going to offer me a better product after they’ve been around for 100 years? Was the stuff they sold in their ninety-fifth year just junk? Of course not. Is someone who just turned 60 a better advisor than when she was 59? Nope.

You make that the focus of your ad or your sale when you don’t have anything better to say. And if you can’t come up with something more customer-centric than that to say – you’re lucky to still be in business.

It’s actually a symptom of an age-old marketing problem. Businesses talk about themselves rather than talking about what the customer cares about.

Here’s how to fix two of the most common “it’s all about me” types of marketing statements and make them customer centric and customer valued communications instead.

#1 — We’re old and you should care

All about us: We’re 100 years old. Come enjoy some birthday cake and celebrate with us as we cross the century mark.

All about them: Over the many years we’ve been in business, we’ve learned that our customers value three things. They value incredible customer service (click here to speak live with one of our teammates), fair pricing (click here to read about our fair price every time program) and they want quality they can count on (watch a short video about our factory’s 100% right or 100% wrong policy).

You’re saying the same thing – we’ve been in business long enough to be stable, to have earned our customer’s trust and no one has to worry about you being a fly by night operation. But when you push beyond focusing on yourself, you can outline exactly why your longevity is of value to the prospect that is considering doing business with you.

#2 – The difference is our people (perhaps the most trite sentence uttered in marketing today)

All about us: Our people really care. You’re not just a number to us.

All about them: Hi Mr. McLellan – we see that you’re going to be staying at our hotel XYZ in Big City. We’re glad to have you staying with us and want to make sure we do everything in our power to make your stay an awesome one. As the manager of the hotel, I want you to have my direct line (123-456-7890) and email (manager@BigHotel.com) so you can get a hold of me if there’s anything you need.

Don’t tell me that your people care. Show me. It sounds like hype when you brag about it. It feels remarkable when I experience it for myself. The truth is…most businesses say it but few actually deliver on it. Why not just shut up and show it?

If you’re going to expend the effort to talk to your customers and prospects, stop talking about yourself and talk about what they care about — what’s in it for me.

Danger! Distraction ahead!

Dangersign1_optThere’s a lot of discussion around the notion that our attention spans are shortening. Forbes recently blamed it on social media and the nonstop 24/7 media barrage.

While I think our uber plugged in lives certainly contributes, there’s more to the story. Yes, we are being bombarded with more information than ever before but we also distract ourselves when we don’t keep things in perspective.

For example, one of the greatest dangers to our focus is actually all the attention we afford our competition. Should we keep an eye on them? Sure. But we shouldn’t let them pull us off course.

Have you ever had the experience of driving along, paying attention to something off in the horizon and next thing you know, you’ve driven to that spot?  And it wasn’t where you meant to go?

The same phenomenon can happen in your business.  Most business owners I meet pay a lot of attention to what their competition is doing.  In the good old days, you might watch for a competitor’s ad in the newspaper. But today, you can track tweets, Facebook page updates, their Pinterest boards, blog comments and a whole host of other streams of information. You could literally be monitoring your competition like it was a full-time job. While we definitely need to keep an eye on the competitive landscape, there’s a very fine line.

The danger in keeping track of the other guys is that you lose track of your own path.  We tend to move towards what we pay attention to. (Re-read that last sentence…it really is that important.) You don’t want to let your competitors determine your marketing strategy and that’s exactly what’s going to happen if you spend too much time and energy keeping an eye on their activities.  When you feel it happening your brain needs to broadcast — Danger! Distraction ahead!

Or else, you’re at risk of:

Deplete your resources: You have only so many hours and so many dollars. If you let your competition re-direct your attention and your marketing messages – pretty soon, you’ll run out of opportunities to tell your own story.

Look like you’re playing the “us too” game: No one is impressed with a copycat. Even the coolest idea or product benefit falls flat when someone else has already claimed them as their point of difference. No one’s going to see you as an industry leader if you’re always a follower.

We know that it takes a fair amount of repetition to seed your message. The last thing in the world you want to do is invest time, money and your audience’s attention just to divert it with a completely different message that is in reaction to your competition. It’s like getting to the final mile marker of a marathon and then swerving off course, only to have to go back to the starting blocks when you want to resume your own race.

You want to be the leader in your industry, not follow someone else.  The best way to beat your competition isn’t watching what they do.  It’s doing what you should be doing.

If you have and follow a marketing plan — you can enjoy the best of both worlds.  The marketing plan keeps you on your course and heading in the direction you have determined.  When you know where you’re headed and keep checking the map to see that you’re on course, you can afford to peek at what the competitors are doing.

You should keep an eye on your competitor…but you shouldn’t let them change your game plan. It’s much easier to stay on track if you have a well-defined track to begin with.

Odds are, if you set and follow your own course, your competitors will be the ones following you.