Category Archives: The Long Tail

Why Apple’s victory is about emotion

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Speaking as a marketing guy and someone with a high geek factor, Apple has a very important ace: Market cachet. To the average consumer – particularly ones not adept in tech, and they are legion – “cool” is very often more important than the tech. This is often because the customer doesn’t know enough about tech to care; they respond to emotional qualities first and, for many, that’s as far as they get. For instance, there are many cars that are outright dogs, yet they sold well because of the design. Not all Cuisinart products are good quality, but folks proudly display them.

A mass of designers and engineers can change the game, but Apple is the de facto winner among artists and celebrities, and those in the creative side of media. So long as they stay in the Apple camp, folks will want Apples because that’s what the “cool” people are using. For instance, to enroll in Full Sail University’s classes, you must have a Mac. (Note: I am not endorsing FSU by any means.) Voluntary product placement by celebrities buoys Apple (e.g., Jimmy Fallon’s MacBook on his desk every night). After all, if you know anything about tech, you can immediately spot Apple products at a hundred paces, giving them a huge passive advertising advantage.

As one who’s worked at a printer manufacturer and spent thousands of hours with engineers, few are good at the emotional qualities because their job is to live and die by the specs. This isn’t a cut against them, it’s simply the truth. I also worked training customer support people around the globe and the biggest complaint they hear from customers is, “This thing makes no sense.” Apple has excellent UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) factors.

There are companies that have gobbled huge chunks of market share through promotion, price and manufacturing efficiencies; Apple is rare in that, while their tech is quite good, and they have created a system that is simple and fairly seamless to use, much of their success is due to emotional qualities. Many users don’t care about chipsets or other tech aspects, but Apple consistently ranks first in customer satisfaction polls, and that creates a huge pool of fuel for marketing and sales. Happy users spread the word, and that is the most powerful sales tool … period.

The other side of it is the aftermarket vendors. There are SO many pieces of add-on, plug-and-play tech built for iPhones, and iPads: Many magazines offer only iPad versions; Wal-Mart is chock-full of Apple-compatible speaker towers, clock radios, keyboards and so on. Each new device built to dock an iOS product is advertising for Apple, and the shelves are full of them. It also gives weight to the brand by showing their popularity, which appeals to the herd effect to which we are all susceptible.

When you’re dealing with a juggernaut like Apple, no matter how huge your claim against them, you have to deal with the product and brand inertia. iOS devices have a projected 17% market share in 2012, vs. Android’s 68% across all vendors and Windows Mobile’s paltry 4.1%*. That alone provides sufficient capital to battle any and all competitors when you consider that Android vendors have to battle Apple and every other vendor; Apple builds one market strategy and defense, and their competitors must battle Apple and every other vendor selling a mobile product. Overcoming that chasm is almost impossible in the short term, and perhaps Sisyphean in the long-term. Only an out-of-the-blue, Hail Mary, game-changing, Oh-my-God-gotta-have-that product development can quickly narrow that gap; those do happen, but very, very rarely.

As a note, Android is gaining market share but, is it due to increases in overall mobile devices, or because Android is their preference? The projected IDC figures in the Washington Post article (link below) show that, Android will finish 2012 with 68% this year vs. 47% for 2011, and Apple will have 17% vs. 2011′s 19%. I suggest you compare figures, to see what you think. 

Technology aside, when you put dollars and emotion to the equation, it would seem Apple has lots of latitude to keep their market dominance. Their legal victory only puts more distance between them and highlights why they’re so successful in the first place: They get what users love, and they give it to them in wrapped in simplicity.

*Washington Post, 8/24/12, “Worldwide market share for smartphones, a market dominated by Apple and Android 

Engadget, 8/14, “Gartner: worldwide mobile phone sales dipped 2.3 percent while users wait for next iPhone,” 

Social media is killing your business softly

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The Roberta Flack song, “Killing Me Softly,” always reminded me of how you’re supposed to “humanely” cook a lobster by dropping them in a cold pot on the stove, and then turn up the heat so that they get hotter and hotter until they “swoon.” (Side note: Swooning, to me, is what the ladies did in Gone With the Wind; they’d put the back of their hand to their forehead and collapse on a day bed. When I heard that you’re supposed to make lobsters swoon, I pictured a lobster holding a claw over its tiny forehead and, with a southern accent saying, “Oh, my, it’ so hot in heah, I think I might jus’ suh-woon,” but that’s probably just me.) So, you dive into the social media cook pot and it gets hotter and hotter until you swoon.

What do I mean by that? First, let’s see how the heat rises in the pot. Businesses often tackle social media by doing the following:

A. They get panicky and say, “Oh, well, we’d better get a Facebook account. Jenny, you’re the youngest on staff, so you must know the most about it. Get us a Facebook page.” Jenny, who has no writing skills or knows nothing about social media, marketing or public relations, is now in charge of the company’s public image.

B.  They hire a so-called “guru,” “social media professional” or ad agency who professes to have a social media wizard and let them handle it. Sometimes that works, but often not. Why? Cookie cutter strategies, or because they simply don’t understand their client.

C. One of the top executives will decide they want to handle it since no one knows their business better than they do. While they sometimes have social media experience, they run it like they would their personal page and tell everyone all kinds of personal business, or use it for a place to fling opinions, or post lots of pictures of cute cats, or (worst of all) put lots of off-color content out there. To justify this they say, “But that’s what I see all the time.”

D. They constantly post ads and pleas for folks to call them for an estimate or a free consultation or the like.

E. Earline the office manager gets pegged to do social media because she actually knows something about it. The problem is, she is already overworked and doesn’t have time to do it the right way, so the results are mixed at best, if there is any success at all.

These are the five most common scenarios in my experience – any sound familiar? Probably you or someone you know has been through this. They flailed and thrashed as the pot got hotter and hotter, so it seemed useless and they walked away saying, “Ah, social media is a bunch of crap and it was a complete waste of time for us.” The trouble is, given that they didn’t have a plan, they’re probably right. So, what’s the answer? A strategy and some important considerations.

Social media is a big part of business today and it’s only going to be a larger part as time goes by. It will most likely morph into other forms but make no mistake: It’s here to stay and will get stronger as the penetration of tablets and Internet-connected phones continues to proliferate.

What’s the answer? It’s these items and much more:

1. Strategy – What will you do, when and for how long? You must have goals for it just like any program. “Getting people in the door” isn’t enough.

2. Resources – Who will handle it for you? It takes time, thought, preparation and effort to do it right (just like anything else in your business).

3. Audience – Whom do you want to talk with (not talk to – social media is interactive), how often and in what tone?

4. Persona – When folks see your social media, who is speaking to them from your side? Who does your audience think it is? What are they like? Why would people like them?  Do people have a positive image when they read your posts?

5. Budget – Yes, it takes money just like anything else you do in business. The big hit is payroll because someone has to do the work.

6. Tracking – Just like any advertising you might do, you must track you social media activity and the results. If you don’t, how can you be sure you’re doing it right or getting the results you desire?

Okay, the pitch: Yes, I can help you with this, and would love to do so. Am I the ultimate expert? No, and no one is. Every company is different and, to do it right and get accomplish the goals you set out to achieve, a cookie cutter approach doesn’t hack it. Drop me a line and let’s get your program moving.
Click here to contact me.

The Formula for Maximum Social Exposure

megaphone-modern.pngI’ve figured out how to get the most likes on Facebook. You either: A. Go as far in one direction as you can politically, as in, far left wing or far right wing, totally for or against same-sex unions, etc., or; B. Post something very, very religious, which gets lots of “Amens” or “nut job (fill in a religion here).”

Not judging here by any means, but merely observing behavior as someone who works with folks on social media for business. So, to get big-time social media status, fill in the blanks and post to your page or tweet for a really effective social media rant. Again, do this on YOUR page, not mine.:

“I’m so (happy because of/tired of/puzzled by/offended by) (Christians/Atheists/Muslims) and the (wonderful/horrible/crazy/mean/offensive) ways they act. They should all be (knighted/banned/killed/deported/made to wear a patch/given money).”

Or: “(Obama/Romney/Bush/Clinton) is so (conservative/liberal/smart/stupid/lost/crooked/oversexed) that he should be (strung up/re-elected/elected/castrated/made to wear a patch).”

Feeling really creative? Here’s a do-it-yourself template: “
“I am so (happy for/sick of/angry at/bewildered by/disgusted by) ________ that I want to _________ and see (them/it/her/him/us) __________ and ____________. Then I can (live/die) happy. (Screw them/Praise them) all.”

Fact: Search Engine Optimization Isn’t Advertising

I’ve been working with a client on an Internet advertising proposal. They sent me a note and said, “We have a new client that works on websites and seo’s (sic). I am sure you understand.” I do, but not sure they do and I wonder, do you? Let me explain it a bit so that you can make more money from your site.

First let me say: SEO is NOT advertising – not even close. SEO, or search engine optimization, is important – no doubt about that. It’s function is to make your website attractive to the “crawlers” (also called “robots” or “spiders”) that the search engines like Google send out daily to examine every website they can find. Crawlers send bits of programming code back to the search engine that details the content of the sites they find, yours included.

If you sell blue handled shelf stretchers and someone enters “shelf stretchers” in a search box and hits Enter, the search engine’s servers kick into gear. They look through their lists of data to find every website with those two words in their keywords and page’s text. If they enter “red handled shelf stretcher,” you’re now pushed down the list because you sell blue ones. The more times they see those words in your web, the higher your “relevancy” ranking. This is where SEO comes in. By entering the right keywords, you get picked more in the lists of sites the search engines display.

If keywords were the only thing Google and others use to rank websites, then SEO might be enough. The fact is it’s only one small part of the relevancy formula. One big thing that makes a difference is … money. Despite how democratic the web might seem, filthy lucre is the biggest determining factor, and that’s where advertising comes in. Higher rankings mean you get closer to the Holy Grail of being first in non-paid advertising.

Postscript:  From when I first posted this, they are now out of business. Sometimes I hate it when I’m right. In the end, a balanced approach across all types of media (if they apply) still gives the best results; also, hire a pro (and, yes, I am a pro).

A Blogging Secret

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That title sounds oh, so very scintillating, doesn’t it? It comes under the heading of, “Made you look.” What is the secret? You don’t have to be Hemmingway or Ayn Rand to be a good blogger. Surprise!! The most unlikely folks have created popular blogs that have enhanced their career and expanded their world.

The secret to blogging is to: A. Go with your strengths, and; B. Write only as much as it takes. One of the things that making a living entails for me is writing, and it comes naturally. I love to play with words, ideas, a clever turn of phrase, but, to many, that’s like walking with glass shards in their shoes.

I had a manager at Lexmark by the name of Ellen Fernandez. She was a great manager: Smart, organized, able to grasp goals and make things happen. Best of all, she is a wonderful person who believes that everyone has greatness in them and working for her was a joy. One day she said, “I’m betting I could lock you in a room with instructions to write all day, and you’d be very happy.” I agreed. She said, “That would be a day of torture for me. Ask me to spend the day analyzing spreadsheets and I’d love it. I see patterns in the numbers and trends many people miss.” Nevertheless, she was a good writer and her memos were clean, to the point and well structured.

My point is, you don’t have to create a masterpiece to share quality information. Writing is like anything else: The more you do it, the more proficient you become. You exercise the language part of the brain and it gets stronger. As the saying goes, “Begun is half done.”

If you believe you are good at what you do, and it’s something you like, then share your knowledge. Someone might live a better life after learning something you shared in a blog. Don’t worry if it’s blue ribbon prose because, if your information is accurate and understandable, people will be very forgiving. Be as brief as possible, use pictures and illustrations if you have them and, if grammar is a problem, get some help. There are plenty of services online that will critique your blog and help you eliminate any errors.

Besides sharing information, blogs also help you build a body of work that can become a reference for you and others. As time goes by, you’ll see a pattern develop and it can help you think more deeply about your career and profession. So, now the secret is out, and you have something new to share.

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Also, there are videos on my YouTube channel, Franky Gee Lex, or at Business Lexington’s Channel, Smiley Pete TV, where I’ve got about 35 or so videos, many with folks I’ve interviewed.

Social Media & Your Brand – It’s What THEY Say

lightbulbhead_200px.jpgEven though I’m starting a social media and marketing school (www.facebooklexington.com), social media isn’t the be-all and end-all. You’ll notice it’s a social media AND marketing school, because too many people are giving seminars on social media, but they’re not really telling you how to use it to its best effect. Some are treating it like it’s all you need, and that’s the real fallacy – social media is only one part of your marketing and should be part of an overall strategy. Some question whether it should be in the mix at all.

There is some discussion among the marketing mavens in the uppermost floors of skyscrapers in the world’s major cities, and the discussion centers on whether social media is worth it. Some major companies are not seeing the returns they expected on huge expenditures in social media. For instance, despite going viral, there is reason to believe that the Old Spice Man videos didn’t help sales; coupons and in-store promotions did. It could be argued that it bought mind share, but how do you know?

I believe it has to do with the fact that social media misses the mark for many folks. Why? Two big reasons:

A. Not enough people are doing social media right. What’s most important is not the number of friends, how often you post, how many people see your post, and so on. It’s how many people give you their money.
B.  People are throwing time and resources at it (which equals money – it’s not free like people tell you) without a real strategy. That is a recipe for waste and disappointment. When you post, are you leading up to something? Are you finding ways to tie your posts to your products or services?

The foremost question is, are you promoting your brand?

I love this quote from Johnathan Salem Baskin: “Brands don’t exist, at least not like rocks or tax returns. Brands are ideas that have no external existence or legitimacy apart from the creative agency of human experience. Brands aren’t things but rather conclusions, and therefore have no voice, reputation, attributes, or actions that aren’t the result of somebody doing something (or something happening to them).”

My main definition of brand is this: A brand is the promise of continued delightful experiences based on a history of delightful experiences. If you’ve read this blog, you know that I rave over the service and food at Bella Notte (go there and you’ll understand). The number one reason I do is, I’m delighted every time I’m there without fail. Do your customers have that unwavering loyalty? Do they post to FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, Scoville, Yelp, etc., etc., etc.? Eating at Bella Notte here in Lexington compels me to tell the world … on social media. In one sense, it’s not what you post, it’s what everyone else posts for you.

Is social media a fad? No, it’s a constantly morphing electronic entity that has roots running back to the 80s. First it was dial up service and bulletin boards; now it’s social media on a variety of devices (even refrigerators) and who knows what tomorrow. Be ready to change.

In the end, social media is a way to measure sentiment and gauge your performance. You have to “prime the well” (a saying lost on many who use social media because they’re too young) and create conversations, then find ways to listen closely. You need to make it part of all your marketing. It needs a plan, goals, measurements and ways to judge the ROI. Don’t think it’s free because that will really cost you.

If you want help making it the most it can be with the least “wasted motion,” give us a call. It does work, if you know how.

Frank Communications Lexington, 859-335-8742, our Website (click here)our Facebook page

We’re all smart, but …

 Time and again, clients ask me, “What should I do?” While many think I’m being a smarta**, my response is, “What do you think you should do?” 

This isn’t a flippant answer but, instead, a serious question. Most people know more about what to do than they think and, like many things, need some training. Moreover, they need to learn how to think about what they communicate to their customers. Part of my job is helping people hone in on what their customers hear from them that keeps them coming back. Businesses often have a very hard time answering that question because they’ve been doing what comes naturally and not analyzing what those things are.

You talk to customers all the time and have a good idea what they want, like, need and, conversely, don’t want, like or need. Time has taught you to largely think like them and tailor your business in order to cater to them. You work hard to “walk in their shoes” and anticipate their next desire. You develop a relationship with them and use what you learned from them with the next new customers. 

On the other hand, learning how to create a motivating advertising or marketing campaign, write ad or brochure copy in a way that speaks directly to them, or even see through their eyes takes time; often a long time. The truth is, some folks never learn, and that doesn’t make them any less of a business person, it simply means that it’s not their strength. As we all know, dealing with someone one-on-one is totally different than trying to persuade people you can’t talk with personally through ads, brochures and so on.

It’s like my mechanic – he doesn’t want to do ads anymore than I want to do his job all the time. He’s an excellent mechanic and has spent decades learning the tricks of the trade. His experience lets him solve mechanical problems in a heartbeat, whereas I’d spend a lot of time researching the problem. On the other hand, he named me “Old Golden Tongue” and calls me when he has to write an important letter or put an ad somewhere. “I understand cars,” he says, “but people are a bit harder for me.” 

My point is, you know your business and I know mine (which is communications, advertising and marketing). As a another good friend of mine says – who, by the way, is an awesome accountant but a really lousy writer – “We’re all smart, just in different ways, and the trick is to find someone who’s smart in ways that make you look better.” Give me a call and let’s see if I can help you.

Frank Goad, Pres.
Frank Communications Lexington
For information, email: fcl.info@frankcomlex.com
www.frankcomlex.com
859-335-8742  

Your Website And Smart “Spiders”

Your Website And Smart “Spiders”

Not too long ago, to keep your search engine rankings for your website up there, you merely had to put some content up and add a few links or a video. Not so much anymore because the spiders have been getting smarter with every passing month.

First, let’s assume you don’t know what a spider (or bot) is in search engine terms. Google, Yahoo, Bing (Microsoft) and all other search engines send out little programs that, in effect, roam the web and “crawl” over every single website they can find all over the world, and then send info on what they find back “home.” How many web pages is that?

Hold on to your hat: Google has indexed over 40 Billion web pages (not sites, but all website pages). Your site is in there, too. Google will re-index all those pages every 30-90 days, too, so, yes, you are being watched … sort of. How do they do it?

First, Google has over 1,000,000 servers! Mind boggling, and they can find anything on them almost instantly so that you can have it when you do a search. Millions of spiders are coursing over pages and sending a constant stream of info back to the servers where every jot and tittle is cataloged and made ready for search.

As if this wasn’t enough, the spiders are getting smarter every day. One of the things they “measure” is relevancy, which is based on (among other things): The sources you quote; whether it looks, sounds or “smells” like another article (meaning it might be nothing more than a copy); how reliable your sources are (popular? oft quoted?), and; how many sources you have used. Bewildered? Discouraged?

Well, don’t be. It simply means that, when you put articles and content up there, you write shorter pieces on which you do more synthesis. Having longer articles isn’t always better because the spiders are looking “into” your pieces and judging the relevancy and originality. Step up your creativity a bit, cast a bit wider net for sources and you might wind up better than before.

Social media is filling gaps in real life

 For anyone who says Facebook is evil, or that LinkedIn is nothing but a time-suck, you might want to think again. “Trend spotter” Marian Salzman, in her latest work, “11 Trends for 2011,” points out something about social media you might want to consider when making your advertising and marketing plans for next year.

“People around the world are losing faith. Many Americans, for example, have lost trust in their politicians, their institutions, heir media and the direction of the nation. To compensate because they haven’t lost trust in self-reliance and faith in echnology), they are looking to their networks, turbocharged by omputers and the Internet.The Network Effect is making good n its promise. …

“With almost 2 billion Internet users worldwide (including 239 million in the U.S., 51 million in the U.K., 45 million in France, 81 million in India and a whopping 420 million in China), there’s a virtually unlimited supply of people out there who can meet anyone’s networking needs—whether it’s old friends, new buddies, lovers, advocates, employers, partners, suppliers, fellow enthusiasts, fellow sufferers, co-religionists or people to just
hang out with. There’s a new sense of unlimited possible partners for anything from recovery to marriage.

“As world citizens continue to embrace social media—from Facebook,Twitter and LinkedIn to Orkut, QQ and Copains ’avant—they are realizing that keyboards and mobile devices can also facilitate real conversations and mediate real human connections. (Although, in a related aside, we’ve been witnessing an interesting decline in people’s personas on social media— from an authentic expression of self to a measured, calculated
projection of values—with attendant societal implications both online and off.*) The more niche the passion, the more social the match experience. And as time goes by, the interactions will build into rich, detailed connections and an ongoing sense of ambient awareness—true connectedness to a wider network of
people. ”

*I believe it’s because people are smarter and realize that, once you post something online, it’s there forever, like it or not.

It’s Your Brand, So Make Your Mark(er)

In my recent Business Lexington video, I talked about how customers own your brand. Their emotional attachments are the most powerful part of your brand. People go with what they know and your job is to become better known than your competitors by creating a distinctive brand that they love. Take the new Sharpie pens – everyone knows and loves the Sharpie brand. Folks in creative and artistic fields (designers, etc.) seem to go crazy over them. I’ve got several (the siren’s song got me) and they are nice.

They go at a bit of a premium over most other felt-tipped pens, but they’re selling well. I’ve seen their display pegs in stores empty many times. Why? I’m convinced it’s the brand more than the pen. Don’t get me wrong – I like them and think they’re worth the money.

The “creatives” I mentioned have had a long love affair with Sharpie permanent markers. Many use the permanent markers like the rest of us use any pen. Despite bleeding through pages, they faithfully keep one around. Is the rest of the world as enamored? Don’t know, but I do know artists who buy them by the box.

In a crowded market already filled with products that are just as good, and with many being cheaper, they jumped in and captured a healthy segment of pen sales, and THAT’S the power of branding.

The manufacturer has a good track record and has marketed the brand well. From collections of colors in varying point sizes to mini-markers for your key chain to highlighters, they’ve done great at imprinting a recognizable name on a variety of creatively conceived and well-made products.

Go to their website, (www.sharpie.com) and you’ll see special offers, news on their racing events, and art galleries of things folks have created with their markers. A cool one is a collection of mugs at a coffee shop all decorated with Sharpies. They’re doing the right things to keep the brand vibrant and continually build loyalty. Their website is fun and attractive to keep us coming back for new stuff. They even have a program to “upcycle” your used markers. 

Back to the Sharpie pen: First they introduced a black fine point version, then blue, then a pack with red, green, blue and black, and then a retractable Sharpie click pen. Now they’re introducing one with a metal cap that is close to half the body’s length and a grippy rubber “clutch” surface. One-by-one, they’ve introduced new product variations while emphasizing the brand’s art and doodling personality.

This demonstrates that customers own the brand because they:

  • Play to their customer’s loyalties
  • Understand how they use their products
  • Engage them by exhibiting customer works
  • Understand customer demographics, uses and feelings
  • Create products based on expanding customer demands
  • Continually find ways to promote the brand
  • Most importantly, they never lose the playful attitude

They know what their customers like and channel their attitudes, perceptions and desires into products they’ll buy. If Sharpie wanted to attack the high end pen market that Mont Blanc, Waterman and Cartier occupy, credibility would take time in that prestige market, but they could do it.

Imagine this ad: A picture of a 24K gold Sharpie pen, cap on the end and the point exposed. It’s lying on a highly polished antique cherry desk replete with mother of pearl inlay. In the edges of the light are silver and gold accessories. The picture murmurs, “Rich people own this.” The pen lies on a glossy photo of a high-fashion model in an expensive Dior dress with the point aimed straight at the model’s face. Looking at the picture, we see … a mustache drawn on her lip. Whimsy, irreverence, luxury and doodling – they could pull it off.

They could blast into that territory with Waterman as a partner and have instant credibility. I think many folks would buy a prestige pen with Sharpie guts. You might say, “That’s like Rolex announcing, ‘We created a lower-cost line with Seiko movements.’” Sharpie has enough brand loyalty to make people giggle with delight every time they doodle a daisy during a stuffy meeting with a $100 pen; I don’t think Seiko has the same loyalty.

In the end, you must talk to your customers … a lot. Ask them simple questions like, “When you think of our store (company, etc.), what do you think of?” or, “What do you like best about us?” What products sell best? What gets the most inquiries and least returns?

Since they own your brand, find out what they think of it. Knowing that lets you serve up exactly what they want and create new products and services they’ll like, and that’s sharp business.

Want More Customers? Reach Out.

This post is about your 80/20 and something much more valuable in your life. Most of you know the old saw about 80% of your business coming from 20% of your customers or clients. This is about your having a larger, more loyal 20% and getting benefits worth far more than the coins they give you.

A Lexington millionaire I knew (who, despite being twenty years my senior, often kicked my butt on the racquetball court) said he became rich by spending an hour a day doing one thing: Calling his best customers regularly just to say “Hi.” He explained that, “People do business with folks they know, like and trust. Without building a relationship, they can’t know, like or trust you. It’s up to you to reach out to them. After all, the most popular people are the ones who go out of their way to be friendly. That’s why they’re popular – they make everyone else feel genuinely important.”

He said to avoid long calls to show respect for their time, and that leaving a message just to say “Hello” was often just as beneficial. After you’ve called a few times, they’ll welcome your call because they’ll know you only want to check in. Some will look forward to the call the way we look forward to a birthday card (and you can collect birth dates, too, as you call).

Creating friendships is a natural part of business that is often overlooked. Regularly reaching out as a friend to the people who are your best customers benefits both sides of the equation; it’s about win-win, so show the 20% some love. You don’t have to send gifts, just call to say “Hi,” ask about their family and so on. The more you do this the better you know them, and you’ll become familiar with folks you never expected to become friends with. For those folks who aren’t in your 20%, maybe it’s because they have no reason to think of you; call and give them one.

To be effective and to show folks you are genuinely interested in them requires consistency. One method to keep on track with this year-after-year is to take your address book (physical or electronic) and create a spreadsheet with everyone on it. Then divide them up into twelve groups to call in twelve months. Call them some time that month, but don’t wait ’til month’s end because most folks are busy then. Better still, call at least twice a year.

What to say when you call? Tell them about something cool that’s coming up before anyone else knows. Ask how you can help without asking for a sale, or call about an event they might be interested in (a charity fun run/walk, a bake sale, a Big Lebowski bowling event, etc.). Maybe asking for an opinion (vs. professional advice) on something you’re involved with outside their specialty; this avoids looking like you’re trying to poach free service. Maybe you meet for coffee or rendezvous at a meeting or event. Whatever works for you.

You can keep it strictly to business, too. Check on their account or orders or whatever as a pretense to call. Or, call and explain that you do this occasionally just to see how your business is doing in their eyes (you should do that in any case). If they haven’t ordered in awhile, calling just to say “Hi” is even more important. Sure, Facebook is cool and easy, but one-to-one contact between two humans is much more powerful than a poke or a wall post. Do this in addition to social media to multiply its effect and bridge the time between calls.

If you do this year-in and year-out, you’ll get a lot more than sales. You’ll get the satisfaction of helping someone else and the one thing that makes life its richest: Friends.

Training IS Marketing – What Are You Doing?

Despite all the talk about social media, “the long tail,” web advertising and other new frontiers in marketing, most local businesses still deal with customers one-on-one. All of those things are the acts that get customers in the door. What about once they’re in your store or on the phone? Training ensures that your company takes advantage of every opportunity that comes to you.

Training staff is still critical and it seems to not be getting enough attention anymore. I think that’s largely because of thinner budgets. Want a budget problem? Start losing sales because of untrained personnel. Maybe you already are.

Yes, it costs money, but it’s an investment. How many sales are lost because a customer didn’t get the answers they wanted, or because they saw your team member as unqualified or uncaring? I’m betting it’s way more than you realize. What if you have multiple locations? If there is a lack of consistency between your stores, customers don’t react well to that.

Think of the times that you’ve gone into a store and the person at the counter couldn’t answer your questions. Even worse, let’s say they only said, “I dunno,” and didn’t offer to find out. Are they lazy or stupid? Well, that’s a possibility, but it’s more likely they were not told what to do. Despite being something so simple, the basics are often overlooked when a company is overworked and understaffed. Because some other team members know what to do it’s easy to assume everyone does.

Training doesn’t have to be expensive or mind boggling. Start by taking notice of all the processes in your store or company. How do people answer the phone? How do they answer questions? What do they do when they don’t have an answer? Do they use suggestion to build sales? What steps are there for follow-up? What reference materials do they have? How do they record calls?

Take that information and start at the beginning. Create a flow chart or series of steps so that the major things they do can be guided and repeated. This might seem like digging into minutiae, but it doesn’t have to be. Just hit those things that are done most frequently and address those. Polishing the little things builds customer trust, loyalty and lowers (or eliminates) the barriers to repeat sales, price objections and add-on sales.

Outside sales reps are even more important, so make sure they, too, are adequately trained on your product, your company and approach customers in a style you are comfortable with.  When did you last go with a rep on a call? If you do, shut up! Make sure that the customer/prospect focuses on the rep, not you. Deflect any questions they have to the salesman as soon as possible. Your deference to them builds their credibility in the customer’s eyes as the real authority so that, when they return and you’re not with them, they already have a firm foundation.

You can say something like, “Brad here is one of our top people, not only in sales, but also in customer satisfaction. I’m here to see how he does it with so much success.” Okay, Brad’s a schmuck and you want to fire him, but this could be a golden opportunity for all. Lemons into lemonade and maybe ol’ Brad gets a boost and turns into your top producer after all. It’s happened and I’ve seen it.

If need be, get outside help with training. Steve Ickes runs the Lexington branch of Sandler Institute, and they have a sales training program that works for many people. Chief Learning Officer magazine has a great site with hundreds of ideas about training and leadership development. Bersin and Associates’ website has a wealth of info, too.

To prove my point, a recent report was generated by McKinsey Quarterly based on a survey of 1,200 purchasing decisions in the U.S. and Western Europe. It stated that customers said sales reps need to be well versed in their products and know how theirs is different from the competition. More importantly, they want to know how that product or service will make a difference in their business, their life, etc. As you would expect, price was almost always second to a great experience with the vendor.

Sales training can be considered a value-add but, in reality, it should be a foundational piece of the product or services you offer. Everyone in the company needs to start from a common base of information. If you need help assessing these things, organizing a plan for your company or help creating training, please drop me a line at frank@frankcomlex.com, or by using the comment form on bottom of the page at the Frank Communications website.

P.R. vs. Marketing … or is it AND Marketing?

lemur_long_tail

Public relations has changed – no revelation there – but it’s still important. The truly effective PR agent these days still courts the press and other “large” media, but they also court new media even more. PR has moved closer to marketing because of these changes, too. Chris Anderson wrote a great book called, “The Long Tail” that talks about the changes in marketing. Its premise is:

“The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of ‘hits’ (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly targeted goods and services can be economically attractive as mainstream fare.”

What this means (as if you can’t figure it out) is that marketing and PR are no longer totally dependent on a narrow group of outlets, those being TV, radio and newspapers. (Make no mistake though: Consistent appearances in traditional media needs to be a part of any marketing plan. You still need to cover all the bases.) PR agents used to send press releases to reporters whom they hoped and prayed liked what they sent so that they would make a story out of it. The experts developed relationships with reporters and writers at the “bigs” and got a book of newspaper clippings with their work.

For the rest of us, unless it’s a truly revolutionary or far-reaching story, reporters often ignore these releases. Who can blame them? They get hundreds of press releases, most of which are not suitable for what they write about, and are sent by folks who try to cover the earth believing the odds are in their favor if they send it to anyone they can. So, what to do?

With the proliferation of platforms (i.e., new media, podcasts, etc.), you can now talk directly to the folks who care about what you have to say. Let’s pretend you’ve invented a revolutionary left-handed cow milking speeder-upper. The folks at the LHSCMA (Left-Handed Speed Cow Milkers of Albania) will get all atwitter about it, so that’s whom you talk to. If there’s a left-handed cow milker’s trade organization and they have a magazine or website, they’ll like your press release, too. It’s not just a press release, though, it’s talking to people and organizations using their mediums. Your goal is to have a marketing conversation with these groups.

What you have to do is find LHSCMA members and others who care about this and will put it in their blogs – Albanian blogs, of course – and who have websites and e-newsletters and so on. THEY are the ones who’ll care and spread the word. Find secondary organizations who read their items (the RHSCMA of course – you know who they are) and let them know. Putting an ad in Newsweek or on TV’s “Meet the Press” would be horribly expensive and useless. There was a time when that was the only way to do it – sell it to the whole world. Now you can work the long tail.

You can now be your own press agent IF you learn to cultivate the tiny grottoes of the Web, meaning, get in contact with the blogs and websites of organizations, clubs, forums, etc., who have an interest in your message. Cultivate followers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other new media. Get a website up that has real content (and, yes, a blog) and continually update it in order to continually build value. Get their feedback and post it. Get them to link their blogs and websites to yours. Whatever you do, put up information, and not constant blather, or you’ll get tuned out. It doesn’t have to be about your specialty – just make sure it’s interesting and useful.

Most of all, don’t expect a broad-based relationship to happen overnight, or over-month for that matter (over-month: a new word, and you saw it here first, you trendsetter you). It takes time, constant effort and the cultivation of a two-way, long-distance relationship with lots of different folks. Put up new information whenever you can and then let folks know it’s there. Marketing is now a conversation directly with your audience. If you don’t have time to carry on the conversation, hire someone (and, yes, I’m available), but make sure you are talking with them or you’ll be tuned out.