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Do you “own” your niche in the market?

June 07, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

There’s an important, and often overlooked, correlation between the strength of your brand strategy and the effectiveness of your marketing activity. In other words, people who have defined their niche in the market and communicate that consistently find it much more cost effective to market their businesses than those that don’t.

Have you defined your niche yet? It’s pretty simple. You look at what you’re good at, what you want to be known for and what your clients love about you. Then you look at what your competitors are doing, and what they’re known for or good at. Ideally, there will be a nice slot for you somewhere that you can occupy: your niche.

Let me give you an example. A client of ours makes widgets. Those widgets are beautifully designed and expertly made in the UK. She’s utterly detail focused and so that’s the niche she’s chosen to occupy: high quality and great design. Over the past couple of years she’s found that a lot of competitors have sprung up around her, many of which are outright copying her designs. A fair few have copied her marketing design, too – her website, brochures, etc. And because she’s been on maternity leave, she’s understandably let the communication slide. She’s slipped into a nasty situation where they’re all jostling in the same marketplace for the same clients. It’s easy to get cross and upset about this, but ultimately she’s got to “own” her space and that should fend them off. They’re not all offering the same product, hers are higher quality and she leads the field in design, so by making sure she communicates where her niche is, she can quickly and cost effectively get things back on track.

So how do you go about owning your niche in the market?

Once you’re happy that you are really occupying a “niche” (because there’s no point in directly competing with your competitors) then you need to keep that niche at the centre of everything you do. By that I mean sitting down, and actually mapping out what you’re going to do to communicate your brand position. That could be that you create “engaging brand identities and powerful marketing campaigns that help people grow their businesses”; it might be that you’re the “UK’s leading colour consultancy” or that you’re a “gardener with knowledge”.

Once you’ve defined this, map out what marketing activity you’re going to undertake to communicate this. This is such a powerful thing to do because not only will you save money (ie, you won’t be tempted by that last minute “deal” in the local newspaper to take a full page advert), you’ll also find that your marketing is a whole lot more effective because your target market will be attracted to what you do; and they’ll “get” it much faster because throughout the year you’ve been talking to them consistently. So how do you do this?

Well you find activities that will support this, and you also make sure that at every opportunity you’re reinforcing and re-communicating your brand strategy. In other words, you stay focused. Many small businesses make life difficult for themselves because they fail to carve themselves out a niche, and once they’ve got that, they rarely communicate that niche via their marketing activity.

I’m going to visit a potential client this afternoon who owns a children’s shop. This is an enormously competitive marketplace to be in: you’re competing with the multi-million pound marketing budgets of the likes of JoJo Maman Bebe, Gap and Monsoon. You can compete on a smaller scale, but you’ve got to be focused.

Once we’ve worked out what her niche is, we need to communicate that in everything she does. She already has a plan to run a competition (fantastic idea!) but she’s got to be clear on what the style of the shop is and who her target market are. She needs to make sure that when the winners’ photo shoot happens it’s done in a location that supports her brand strategy and that will appeal to her ideal client. And all the design of the entry forms and adverts needs to look instantly engaging and attractive to her audience. Once she has these photos, she needs to use them in a way that backs up her niche and makes the most of them – and that’s just one piece of marketing that she needs to think about!

“Owning” your niche is hard work. It takes focus, determination and, frankly, some investment of your time, if not your money and someone else’s time, up front. But it WILL pay off. You’ll find that you spend less time and money in the long term on marketing that doesn’t work; and you’ll also find that your marketing is much, much more effective for it.

Fiona Humberstone is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and runs her own creative consultancy.

Travel the world and steal some ideas

June 01, 2010 by Drayton Bird

One of my heroes is Murray Raphel, a brilliant, inspiring speaker and a most excellent marketer.

If you see any of his books, buy them. They're all good, practical, down-to-earth stuff bereft of meaningless jargon.

This is hardly surprising because his family ran (and for all I know still runs) a retail business in New Jersey. That's a bit like direct marketing. You know the next day if something has worked.

Murray once said something I have never forgotten: “Search the world and steal the best".

I do this all the time. And I advocate it for two reasons.

  1. I can never have enough ideas, but they are hard to come by. So I belong to the W.A. Mozart School of creativity. Mozart said, "I never tried to be the slightest bit original".
  2. Contrary to what many, maybe most imagine, what works in one country very often works in another.

So wherever I go I look out for ideas I can steal and transfer — particularly America, where customers have the most money and the most highly-paid people trying to take it off them.

I see many examples in all sorts of places. Some have been transferred; some haven't. And I am just amazed at how poorly multi-nationals exploit this potential synergy.

One instructive case was a few years ago when I was running (or at least failing to screw up) the O & M direct Amex account. One of my main objectives was to move good ideas around the world.

We were selling an accident insurance policy with a pack that was doing OK in the UK (sounds like a song title, doesn't it?) and they had another doing as well in the US. Both were typical long-copy sells.

Then I saw some copy in our Singapore agency. A client had the idea of just letting people have the policy for a month at no charge, then they could decide to keep it or stop it.

The mailing looked like crap — and pulled like crazy. (Moral: good ideas matter more than fancy execution).

We tried it in Hong Kong. It worked there. Then in Spain. It worked there too. Then in London — and so on.

It was always hard work getting local markets to accept ideas from elsewhere because of the not-invented-here syndrome, but it made a lot more sense than starting from scratch.

The golden rule to bear in mind was laid down by Confucius: "Men's natures are alike; it is their habits that divide them". 

If there is no cultural reason why something won't work, try it. Don't change it except where absolutely necessary.

Drayton Bird is a renowned direct marketing teacher, speaker and author. Find out more about him on his profile.

Tips on managing a multi-cultural, de-centralised workforce

May 26, 2010 by Ben Dyer

I currently find myself in the fantastic city of Chennai, India. Sadly it’s a strictly business trip. I’ve flown in for six days to spend time with the SellerDeck team and hire a new team member. Hiring outside the familiar waters of the UK has been a very interesting process. Sometimes it’s a little frustrating, but it’s been a masterclass in managing a distributed team.

So, while it is fresh in my mind here are my top three tips for managing a diverse, dispersed and multi-cultural team:

1. Communication is key

Of course it depends on the roles and responsibilities within your organisation, but having everyone well-versed in a common language is the essential requirement for any team. However it’s also important to remember that you may not be talking to someone in their native dialect. So take care on phrasing, be patient and understanding.

2. Encourage questions

If someone hasn’t understood something you have communicated, it’s easy to put your head in the sand. Some cultures find it embarrassing to ask questions, especially to supervisors. So my tip is to actively encourage queries and questions as much as possible. Also, put yourself into situations where you have to be the one asking the questions - it’s empowering for the others involved.

3. Boots on the ground

Nothing beats getting together. If you are willing to employ people in far-off lands you need to be ready to get on a plane and visit. The Internet has given us hundreds of different ways to communicate, from Skype to Twitter, but nothing compares with talking face-to-face. You learn more about a team and its dynamics over a five-minute coffee break than you would ever do over the phone or by email.

Ben Dyer is CEO for SellerDeck

Five easy ways to avoid collateral damage and win more business

May 19, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

You’re probably savvy enough to realise that you need to get the pros involved when it comes to creating your logo and website. But what about everything else? The reports, invoices, proposals and posters that you create yourself? Are they sending out the right signals, or do they chirrup “cheap! cheap!”.

The good news is that you can make some simple changes to the way you design your own collateral in house that will make a big difference to how people perceive your business. Get it right and you’ll build more confidence and win more business. And you don’t need a graphic design degree or an expensive piece of software to do it. Here’s how…

  • Work out what’s important (it’s probably not your logo!)
  • Get some decent structure in place
  • Use fonts that enhance your brand (that means no Arial or Verdana!)
  • Use colours that engage and attract your ideal clients
  • Make sure your images are relevant and do you justice.

1. Work out what’s important

With the exception of your business stationery, your company logo and name shouldn’t take centre stage – so move the logo away from the top! Think about what message your clients will respond best to and make sure that’s what stands out.  Secondly, think about what you’re asking people to do. Your call to action also needs to be clear.

2. Get a decent structure in place.

Don’t send your text from one side of the screen to the other! Use columns and grids to add structure and clarity. And remember, odd numbers are good – threes, fives, sevens. Feel free to “break the grid” and use text across two columns.

3. Use fonts that enhance your brand

Fonts are often overlooked, even by some graphic designers, but nothing will scream amateur more than a dodgy stock photograph coupled with Verdana! The point is that fonts subconsciously create moods and send your clients signals about your business. Ask your designer to advise you on what fonts will work best with your brand and use them for all printed material. Emailing something? Consider creating a PDF if it’s important.

4. Use colours that engage and attract your ideal clients

Colour psychology is a powerful thing. Using the right colours will have a big impact on how your clients and colleagues perceive your business. And it’s not just about the colours you use – think also about the tones and how they all fit together. Ask your designer to recommend you a colour palette and make sure you use it!

5. Make sure your images are relevant and do you justice

Images can make or break your design. Try to avoid the temptation to use over-used and clichéd “clever” images that you have to shoehorn a headline around. Instead, pick images that are relevant to what you do and are also visually pleasing.

And finally… let’s not get things out of perspective. I’m not suggesting for one moment that these simple tricks can replace your fabulous graphic designer. But I’m a realist – I know you’re always going to need to design something in house – so why not learn how to make it look a cracker!

Fiona Humberstone is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and runs her own creative consultancy.

Editor’s round-up: Time for some changes. Nothing major, mind.

May 14, 2010 by Simon Wicks

When you run the website that never sleeps (officially, following our election shenanigans last week), you become very aware of things that aren’t working as well as they should and other things you’re not doing that you should be. We have long lists of both that never seem to get shorter, no matter how much work we do.

This week, though, we can claim two or three small victories in our battle to stem the tide of stuff that should be better.

First up, James has built a small business events calendar where you can submit your events and find out what else is going on. An events calendar is something every small business website should have, and now we’ve got one. Barring illness, accident and volcanic eruption, it’ll go live next Wednesday.

You’ll have to be a registered user to access the calendar - as with all of our tools. We put some of our goodies behind registration for a couple of reasons: for you, it reinforces the sense that by signing up to the Marketing Donut, you’re joining a community; by registering, you can leave comments, access tools and receive our monthly newsletter, MyDonut.

For us, your registration means we have people to send our newsletter to, we can keep you informed of what we’re up to and we can conduct surveys that enable us to tailor our offering to your needs. It’s basic marketing and it works for everyone, we hope.

Our registration and sign-in processes haven’t been great, however. So we’ve improved them. This is the new registration page, with its simpler form, and you can now also sign in from any page using the ‘Sign-in’ button at the top of the screen. Basically, it’s a lot less hassle to access all our special stuff.

But we haven’t stopped there: we’ve also tweaked the MyDonut newsletter, as those of you who received the latest issue yesterday will have noticed. We’ve made a few small design changes so it’s easier to scan content; the big change, though, has been shifting the main articles away from the Donut websites and onto dedicated newsletter pages.

It’s one of those things we ummed and ahhed about. Surely we want to drive as much traffic as we can to the Donut websites? Well, yes, but we have a greater obligation to think of your experience as readers. Having dedicated pages makes it much easier for you to navigate the newsletter content. We’ve still got plenty of links to the Donut sites, but the whole thing feels more coherent now.

The new format also means we can offer you exclusive content and offers. This means I can now answer the question “Why should I sign up to your newsletter?” with much more confidence. You should sign up because it’s a) really good; and b) has information you can’t get anywhere else. Sounds good to me. By the way, this month’s issue is the best yet, in my opinion (though you won’t know that unless you’re signed up).

So, I guess this is a blog about two things - making things better and building a sense of community, and I find that the two are inseparably linked. Whenever I meet you, I’m always taken aback by your enthusiasm for what we do, but at the back of my mind there’s always that feeling that we could be doing it better.

Speaking of meeting you…

Meet the Donuts!

If you happen to be going to the Business Startup exhibition at the ExCel Centre in London next Thursday and Friday (20 and 21 May), then please come to our stand and say hello. Who knows, you may even get a doughnut.

Tickets to the event are free and you can order them online or by calling 0117 930 4927. See you there?

The last few words

May 06, 2010 by Kate Horstead

One of our business writers, Kate Horstead, is standing as a candidate in a local election today. Here, she draws on her own experience of campaiging to offer some nuggets of advice for businesses who are trying to win over customers.

As the election campaign rolled into its final days and hours, the political parties geared up to speak to many of their voters for the last time before they voted, whether through a speech, direct mail, on their Twitter feed or website, on the doorsteps or in a party broadcast on TV. The last week is crucial, because however early the campaigners started, it is often the last few words people hear that will stick in their minds. Many of the postal votes have already been cast by this stage, but nerve-wrackingly, 90 per cent of the electorate is still to make its judgement.

But for the local campaign volunteers on the ground, many of whom started out their campaign many months ago, sticking leaflets through doors on drizzly winter nights, talking to voters on the doorsteps and responding to email queries, how do they organise themselves in the final days to make it really count?

As a local council candidate myself, I had established the people who were most likely to vote for us, and those who were leaning our way or yet to decide, as well as hard supporters for the other parties. In business-speak, I did my market research. I had also distributed several batches of information about what my policies are for the local area, and what my party has done so far to help local people. With just days left to win, my team and I needed to prioritise where that time should be spent to get the maximum return for our tireless efforts, or much of that groundwork could well be wasted.

Over the bank holiday weekend we distributed several different types of letters, targeted carefully at different groups. One was a tabloid to be distributed to all the houses in the constituency, while a separate letter was aimed specifically at people who said they would vote for the other main party in the constituency, as a last attempt to sway them towards us. Finally, there were personal letters addressed (handwritten) to all our non-postal voters, a friendly reminder of what we have done and what we plan to do if they vote us in.

Lastly, I fitted in a bit of last-minute face-to-face and phone canvassing, reminding voters that we were there and gathering data for polling day. My last words to them were often something direct and personal, along the lines of “A vote for us in this constituency really does count” or “Thank you for your support, it’s much appreciated”. My personal view is that however often I have knocked on their door or posted a leaflet through, and however firm they think their convictions are, people forget all too easily and those last few words can really mean a lot.

For those who sat through the leaders’ debates, your concentration is likely to have wandered at some point during the programme, but most people will have tuned in for each of the leaders’ short speeches at the end. No doubt it was the way they presented their final argument that will stick in your memory, at least until today, and the manner in which they said it might make you think twice.

But what can you learn from this as a business marketer? Obviously, as a small firm you don’t just have a week to target the right customers and sell to them, but perhaps you should try viewing every week of your marketing campaign with the same urgency as the politicians view this final week of the election campaign. Whether it is a call to action at the end of an email or a summary of what your product can offer them, make sure your last few words stick in your customers’ minds. You never know, it might help you to grasp those last few crucial sales that put you ahead of your competition.

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