I’ve been waging savage battles in my garden for some time, but recently I realised I was losing the war.
Despite a sustained campaign – the horticultural equivalent of shock and awe – the weeds just keep coming back for more. Wildly overgrown pear trees have launched a daring counter offensive behind my shed. My borders are barren and my lawn is baldy.
A few days ago, just when I was coming to terms with the painful realisation I’m no Alan Titchmarsh, a leaflet fell through my door, posted by a local landscape gardening firm. It looked professional, included endorsements from satisfied punters and promised “A high-quality service at an affordable price”. Nothing groundbreaking: but effective enough.
It made me think. Sure, even the smallest firms need to harness cutting-edge marketing solutions. Like many people these days, when I need something I usually turn to Google first for help.
But while it’s easy to focus on web and e-marketing, this shouldn’t be at the expense of more traditional alternatives. You must get the basics right – and often this means low-cost or no-cost solutions.
Trevor’s a lovely guy who lives a few doors down from my house. He’s a central heating engineer: the sign on his van told me so. I didn’t know him, but called his mobile and he came around and fixed my radiators last winter. I told my friends how good he was and they too got him in, this time to take care of the far greater job of fitting a new system.
I’m not sure whether Trevor has his own website (let alone Twitters), but I know he recognises the importance of doing a good job at a fair price, while the simple sign on his van probably enables him to get much of his work. I’ve also seen his card in our local newsagent’s window.
My garden? Well, the landscape people gave me a good quote and will soon launch the final decisive battle. Look out weeds – victory is mine.
Some of the most successful businesses and acclaimed entrepreneurs have achieved that recognition because they have gone against the grain. You only have to think of some of the highest profile business brands in the UK – Virgin, EasyJet, Egg, lastminute.com and dozens more – and the common ingredient is that they’ve all looked at what everyone else in the market place is doing and have then done almost exactly the opposite.
Sticking your neck out is not easy in any environment. This is particularly so in a business environment where failure is largely seen as shameful. It's risky to stick your neck out. But if you are clever about the way you do it, doing things differently, sticking your neck out, breaking the mould – call it what you like – is one of the most brilliant business strategies you can adopt.
Think about it. Why do what everybody else is doing, in the same way that everybody else is doing it, thereby becoming just another business in the marketplace providing the same thing to the same pool of people? Isn’t that creating a rod for your own back? Why not take the bold step of turning industry paradigms on their head and get some real attention?
I got thinking about this because two nights ago, I drove into London ahead of the Institute of Directors convention. For various reasons, I needed to stay at or near Heathrow Airport the night before. And the thought of staying at a dire airport hotel overnight filled me with dread. The other viable option was staying at the delightfully modern and comfortable Heathrow Hilton Hotel at Terminal 4, but the cheapest room they had available was more expensive than most reasonable hotels in central London. But then I remembered about a brilliant hotel concept which would absolutely meet my needs and which I was sure would be a very pleasant experience.
Yotel is a brilliant concept based on a combination of the podular hotels found in Japan and business class cabins on British Airways. Take a look at the image below and perhaps even click on the photo to take a quick look at the Yotel website. You’ll very quickly see that Yotel offers a very different service to the highly saturated accommodation market.
I’m pleased to report that I arrived at Yotel on Tuesday night sometime after midnight, swiftly checked into my pod (I should mention that booking was absolutely painless and swift online), and after finding my very comfortable room I was fast asleep in a very comfortable bed in a quiet environment within minutes. At the other end of my sleep I got up, got showered and got dressed was on the road into London for my meetings before most Londoner's alarms had gone off.
Interestingly, this whole experience cost me a third of what it would cost me to stay for exactly the same amount of time in the Hilton Heathrow Hotel, literally just 200 yards from Yotel. With my Yotel experience, there was no concierge, there was no fancy art work in the big foyer and it’s located inside an airport terminal rather than on its own plot of land.
By turning the concept of hotels almost completely on its head, Simon Woodroffe has created a business which he is now going to expand in multiple locations. And if it’s anything like his Yo!Sushi concept (which started with just one sushi restaurant in London and has just opened its 50th restaurant in the global chain), it will be highly successful.
I also stayed there again last night - same deal, same experience, and I'll be back because it met my needs perfectly and it was a delightfully easy, completely comfortably, and "design-ily" cool experience.
So, why not turn your industry on its head?
If your customers are not listening it is not their fault! It is your fault… you are not communicating in a way that they can hear your message.
Your sales presentations/offers and so forth are probably all wrong. Read on...
People have problems/hurts/needs that they want sorted out. You need to know what they are. Ask questions, shut up and listen to the answers.
Customers are only interested in how you can help them relieve the pain or get more pleasure.
People will buy from you if you are able to cut to the chase. Tell them what they will get… Don’t bore them. Be precise.
People don’t buy from you for what you do but for what your product or service will do for them (probably after you are gone). How will they be better off after you have gone?
Customers want you to make it absolutely clear what they will get by buying from you. Tell them how you will make things better for them.
Customers love it when you make it clear that you can deliver. So tell them: “We can do that” and give them some brief proofs or examples.
Customers love it when you shut up.
What we expect governs how we react. A child may be disappointed with their present if it’s not the one they expected. Another child, with lower expectations, might be delighted with the same toy.
In business, setting the expectations of customers, staff and suppliers is critical. Often, they will judge you not against an absolute standard, but against what they expect. For instance, the expectations on phoning an overseas call centre can be very low - so it may be relatively easy to please a caller. On the other hand, a visit to The Ritz may be eagerly anticipated, and easily disappointed. Which is why following a recent visit I shall never be returning there again.
We have to work hard to set expectations, but they must be reasonable and the cost must work too. Miss this part out and we will have big problems. So we mustn’t deliver a Tata Motors People’s Car if we charge for a Rolls Royce. Unfortunately, it’s more common for customers to expect a Rolls when they have paid for a Tata. That’s life, but it’s down to us to educate them.
I recently dropped off an outboard motor for a service. Before they would accept it, the company told me it would be at least three weeks before they did the job. It’s a long time, but I’m not angry that I’m still waiting, because they set my expectations correctly up front.
After simple delivery, setting expectations is the most important business tool for nurturing good relations with staff, suppliers and customers. Too bad it’s not talked about more.
You might perceive businesses’ use of merchandise, also known as promotional gifts, to be one of two things: a desperate ploy by large corporates to con their customers into buying even more stuff they don’t need, or a tacky technique used by fledgling small businesses that don’t know any better. But although it can often be used for the wrong reasons, there is in fact a third way to use it; as a successful, targeted marketing campaign to build customer loyalty, drive more people to your website or inspire new customers to make a purchase.
Speaking to sales expert Andy Preston of Outstanding Results for a recent Small Business Update feature, I found out that some firms have ditched the cheap stationery and garish wall calendars for an altogether more thoughtful variety of merchandise. He told me about an outdoor clothing company that once produced a compass displaying its name and the words ‘helping you find your way to the best clothing supplier’. Their existing customers might already have a compass – hardy, all-weather hikers that they are - but the point is that they will feel valued by that business because it has actually presented them with something that is not only in tune with their interests but could also come in handy in the future. As the item is relevant and quirky, it is also likely to attract potential new customers to find out more about the business.
It might sound more costly, but if you sample small quantities of different types of merchandise and measure the outcome, you could be surprised by the difference in the return you get for each. Investing a bit of effort and money in an unusual gift for a smaller group of recipients is likely to give you a far better return than mass producing a luminous-coloured biro or an ugly soft toy, neither of which would add much to people’s lives or to their opinion of you.
Think about your industry and your target or current audience, and match your merchandise to the message you want to communicate and the customer’s interests or needs. It doesn’t have to be complicated - if you run a bar, printing beer mats instead of bog-standard flyers could do the trick, and if you’re a florist a packet of seeds or a flower pot might appeal. With a bit of imagination, merchandise can be a rewarding way of boosting your business, however tight your budget.
Marketing? Isn’t that a huge area to tackle? Sure, but not if you break it down into bite-size chunks. So after getting to grips with advertising, we turned our thoughts to another vital topic, customer care.
We’re all customers and know that excellent customer care is something that makes a business stand out. In fact, customer care is at the heart of all successful companies as it can help you develop a loyal customer base and improve relationships with your customers.
Easy to say — but where do you start as a small business? On the Marketing Donut we explain — without the jargon — what customer care actually is and how to get a handle on it.
We outline the different areas that make up customer service and give suggestions on how to communicate with your customers, understand them, and improve your customer service and handling their complaints. Keep communicating with them so you can respond as their needs change and reward them for their loyalty which gives you the opportunity to sell more to them.
With the help of our high-profile experts, such as Derek Williams, initiator of the WOW Awards, and Darren Young of the Customer Service Network, we provide you with sound advice and various tools to crack this vital part of running a business.
Customer care sounds easy now, doesn’t it? Find out what you’re already doing right and where you can improve on 20 April, the launch date of the Marketing Donut.