I don’t think it takes a huge amount to make us feel valued as consumers. Know my name when you can, talk to me as a human being, I have been loyal to you, please be courteous and considerate and offer me a fair deal. It’s not a big ask and it’s not rocket science either.
Actually it’s just the little things. Perhaps it’s worth making the point that these little things are worth far more than the constant discounts and money-off offers that we are being bombarded with.
I heard a story a while back about a guy who had worked in Las Vegas as a porter for years. He was a master at remembering faces. Importantly he knew if someone had stayed before. So if a guest arrived and indeed they had stayed before he would put the luggage trolley in the hall on the left, meaning they were a previous guest. The receptionist would then greet the guest with a simple “hello Mr Clark, welcome back”. If they had not stayed before then the trolley was left on the right and the welcome here was equally effective — “Good morning Mr Clark, welcome to our resort and thank you for choosing us, can I show you around?” or words to that effect. Nice, very nice.
Here’s a thought. Think of the challenge as a festive lunch. The doorbell goes, you open the door, the house is warm — you greet your guest with a huge smile and a kiss (kissing customers is optional). You chat, feed them, give them gifts — they might not like the gift but they appreciate the gesture – and at the end of the evening you part as friends having had a great time.
So yes, you’ve put a lot of effort into the relationship, but my you are rewarded. Your guest leaves feeling loved, cared for and appreciated, and the Brucey bonus is that they will probably tell their friends that they’ve had a good time as well.
Let’s call this the Festive Lunch strategy. Consider these things:
In analyzing your data have you segmented it accurately? Do you want to invite everyone? Do you invite the ones who you know will never ask you over for lunch? You really should invite the ones who had you over for lunch a year back — they would really appreciate it.
Are you rewarding your loyal valuable customers with appropriate offers or rewards? Are you using the knowledge you have of them in the most appropriate way, showing them you understand them? Defining their traits might lead to some great insights. If you’re a busy working mum you might want to save time rather than money, so offering money off wouldn’t be as effective as offering a means of saving time (priority parking or bag packing).
The key is not to discount current behaviour, but to reward new or valuable behaviours (to us) for a change of habit.
Well good luck. If they have been loyal this will be unwelcome. Offer them a surprise, an amuse bouche, and they’ll be feeling the love. Use your knowledge of them appropriately, and make sure you offer them an appropriate product and pricing strategy. They will stay a little longer.
Are the channels you communicate to them in appropriate? Do you offer choice, and rewards or value back if you have a low cost to serve channel?
We are all hit with a lot of communications these days. Is your message clear and concise? Is it easy to understand and digest (sorry!)? Present the facts and costs clearly, separate the important from the not so.
Finally it is vital to avoid the trap of “well my competitor’s got a reward card/scheme, we better get one”. That simply gets you to a me-too place. Drill down the USP – what would drive the competitive advantage you are seeking? And the point here is that if you are simply paying for loyalty with no increase in acquisition or retention rates then what’s the point, especially if you have not set any measurement or tracking metrics. It will cost you dear.
Yes building loyalty can be hard but most of the time a smile and a handshake go a long way. Remember my name and feed me well. I’ll remember you, I’ll remember the care you took to make me feel welcome and valued, and you know what, I will stay a little longer.
How hard can that be?
You don’t have to look far to see concrete signs of the recession hitting small businesses hard. Walk down any UK high street and the empty shops say it all.
But boarded up shops is one thing — the danger is that they could soon become piles of rubble as unused properties are demolished to avoid paying rates.
Parliamentary under-secretary of state Bob Neill has announced this month that the government is to take an extra £400m per annum from businesses next year, by scrapping business rate relief given to the owners of empty properties.
But don’t blame us, says Neill.
"This is a Labour tax,” he says. “There are many Labour taxes that we would like to scrap, but we are simply unable at this point because of the disastrous fiscal legacy left by Labour. But we are taking action to tackle problems with business rates — such as scrapping Labour's retrospective ports tax and by increasing small business rate relief."
In fact, Labour introduced this tax in order to encourage regeneration schemes before the recession took hold. Obviously, this “incentive” to keep business premises occupied could not compete with the global recession.
So will we really see businesses bulldozing their own premises to avoid rates?
It’s happening already according to the British Property Federation. What it calls the “bombsite Britain” tax has led to millions of square feet of property being demolished since its introduction two years ago.
There are plenty of empty premises, that’s for sure. According to the Local Data Company, 13 per cent of all town centre shops are now lying vacant. The majority of the boarded-up blackspots are in the Midlands and the North with a shocking 29 per cent of all businesses in Blackpool closed up.
Napolean Bonaparte called us a nation of shopkeepers. The fact is that our high streets reflect the state of our nation and it doesn’t look good — some are turning onto ghost towns, others are high street clones with few independent stores.
So what can be done to encourage more enterprise on our high streets?
People power is one way. Pop-up shops, cafes and galleries are moving into empty premises and using them to improve community life. By starting small, many projects have been able to get off the ground. Some have turned into permanently successful going concerns — like the Dock Kitchen in West London which was set up in the old Virgin recording studios complex.
But pop-up shops aren’t going to save the high street single-handedly. Even economic recovery may not immediately change the fortunes of our shop-keepers, according to the British Retail Consortium. Director general, Stephen Robertson, has said: "Many of the problems of town centres have more fundamental causes than simply the economic slowdown. High street shops are often battling to pay big bills for business rates and rents”.
The BRC has called for a moratorium on business and property rates. Certainly, national and local government have to find ways to reduce the barriers that stop entrepreneurs setting up businesses on our high streets — from business rates to planning and even parking.
Something’s got to be done — before boarded-up Britain becomes bombsite Britain.
We all have good years and suffer tough ones, but Christmas comes in all economic conditions. It's like a lifelong census of your approach and attitude, and says much about you as a leader.
In austere times when staff may have been let go, wages frozen or cut, and profits and cash placed under pressure, it can on the surface appear a good idea to avoid the costs of the Christmas bash. Let's face it, many of us do find it a bit cringeworthy to watch Brenda from Accounts Receivable suddenly hyperactive and over friendly on Egg nog (what actually IS egg nog? Does anyone know?).
But the truth is you need your team firing on all cylinders in difficult times. They are your biggest cost and you need more from less if you are to improve your profitability. If you cut Christmas and the water coolers you'll look not only look petty and run the risk of annoying even your best and most loyal people, but you'll panic your entire team into insecurity, which is bad for morale, bad for productivity, and bad for profits. Leaders lift horizons and spirits. Losers wallow in the recent past.
What does it say about you if you won't invest the equivalent of a couple of hours worth of pay in saying "thanks guys"? And not to celebrate the survival of your remaining crew to this point in the most treacherous economic storms known to man because you've lost a few overboard is weak leadership. In tough times you need to lift horizons and stay to task, not wallow in the inevitable imperfections of the journey. Business is a challenge worth doing because you can lose. Celebrate those who have left as if martyrs to the business cause.
There's no sin in a laugh. Think back to the war years when times were really austere and remember that humour helped us come through.
So, don't cut back on Christmas. Don't let tough times of the politics of different religions convince you to reign back. Celebrate - we could all perish in an asteroid collision tomorrow. Count your blessings at this time of year, not your excuses.
Above all never miss an opportunity to say "thanks" and to raise horizons. These two simple traits separate the Gandhis from Gordon Gekkos, Greed is not good. Generosity is great!
Alex Pratt is an entrepreneur and the author of Austerity Business.
Alex has given us a copy of Austerity Business to give away to a lucky Marketing Donut reader. All you have to do is leave a comment below telling us what you're doing to thank your staff this Christmas. We'll put all the commentators' names in a hat and pick one out on Thursday, 23 December to receive the book. Get commenting!
Entries will only be accepted via the Marketing Donut website. You can enter by leaving a comment on this blog post telling us how you're thanking your staff this Christmas. To leave a comment, you will need to sign in or register to set up an account. Registration is completely free. Multiple comments from the same user will only be entered once. Comments will only be published at our discretion and no links will be allowed. Inappropriate or offensive comments will not be published. Comments submitted between Thursday 16th December and Thursday 23rd December 2010 (17:00 GMT) will be entered into a draw and a winner will be picked at random. The winner will be contacted on Thursday 23rd December using the email address they provided when they registered on the Marketing Donut. If the prize is not claimed by Monday 10th January 2011, another winner will be selected. We will post the prize to a UK address in January 2011. The prize is one copy of Alex Pratt's book 'Austerity Business', there is no cash alternative.
For this month’s issue of MyDonut, we've interviewed three small businesses that have been around for more than 100 years. Two of them sent us some great photos – so good that I thought we should have a blog post about them.
As a child of the 1970s - an era before the great retail modernisation of the 80s, I find these images of Parsons the Jewellers in Bristol and London cheesemonger Paxton and Whitfield familiar and strangely comforting. Perhaps you will, too.
This is the Jermyn Street shop interior as it was in the 1960s:
The exterior of the shop looks today much as it always has – it still has a reassuringly old-fashioned air from the outside:
But the inside is much more modern, though it retains its ‘artisan’ feel:
The three images show the changing faces of Parson’s the Jewellers, which has inhabited three different sites in Bristol over the last three hundred years.
The original Old Market premises before being demolished to make way for a roundabout in 1966. Just creeping into the top left is the base of a statue of Cupid that was perched precariously on top of the fascia. The statue disappeared when the shop was moved and was rediscovered above a jeweller in Hatton Garden, London, where it remains.
I’m not sure about the location of this shop but, there is a clue in the newspaper advert for Parsons next to the photo. I’d say it’s the Clare Street branch, opened in 1923 and long since closed.
The shop now resides in The Mall in the centre of Bristol – you can see a photo of the modern-day premises here: http://www.parsonsjewellersltd.co.uk/
If you’re interested in photographs of small shops, then I strongly recommend Shutting Up Shop: The Decline of the Traditional Small Shop by the photographer John Londei. It’s a marvellous book which powerfully evokes an era before mega-chains when almost every shop was a small family-run businesses and each had its own unique flavour. Is this something we’ll ever see again?
By the way, we’d also love you to send us your own images of old businesses and business premises. Just email them and we’ll try to include them on the site.
I see it all the time. I even take advantage of it. Some businesses have too many discount sales and special offers — in fact it can seem like a permanent sale. I call this the DFS effect.
But what happens? No-one buys at full price.
Now it is, of course, very tempting to drop your prices when you have stock to move, and I am not suggesting that you don’t ever have sales, just don’t have them all the time.
If every email you’re sending out to your list is just what’s on sale, or that you’ve knocked so-and-so-many per cent off “this weekend only”, and if you send them often enough, it’s not going to take long to wipe out all your full price sales.
There is a certain children’s mail order company that I often use to buy things for my small people and I know that I only have to hang on for another week or so every time I want to buy something and sure enough a discount voucher will plop onto the doormat through the post. I am regular customer and so I know I don’t have to wait long. Now what’s silly about this is that yes I do buy when I get my discount voucher, but the business has lost my momentum, and also the cash I was ready to part with “on the spot”.
Now for a big mail order catalogue, or a large chain of furniture stores (ahem!) the continuous offers and discounting is part of a major marketing plan, but if you’re a small business you don’t always have the luxury of bigger margins and a constant flow of orders. If you’re a smaller business you value every sale, and all of those that are not at full price just mean you have to work harder or sell more (or both!). You also then set a precedent that your prices are not “real” but “inflated” (yes I know those DFS sofas were on sale somewhere for a week at £1500 but no-one was buying them, right?).
So stick by your guns and don’t be on sale all the time. Think about value-added offers instead, or extras you can include. Once you lower your prices (which is effectively what you do when you’re always on sale) it’s really hard to push them back up again to the same customers. Then you’re left with either finding new customers, or accepting that you’ll only ever be able to sell for less.
And don’t even think about offering five years interest free credit if you’re a small business either! Money up front thank you very much.
As more and more businesses buy social media services from agencies and consultants, there remains some grey area around exactly what you can outsource, what you can’t – or shouldn’t, and how the whole relationship is supposed to work
I’m a provider of social media consultancy and training, but not so long ago I was in the other side of the agency fence, in the corporate camp. So with dual hats on, here’s my guide to buying social media services for business.
Whether you want a full-blown strategy, campaigns, specific training or ongoing coaching in social media, this is a partnership with your provider. A great agency will have to really get under the skin of your organisation and understand what you need to achieve before translating it into social media goals, tactics and measurements.
If part of social media is to do with engaging your target audience and sharing relevant messages (and of course, there are other uses), you’ll need to be very clear first of all about who that audience is and what your messages are. Before you can start engaging, are you clear about the ‘who’ and ‘what’? A good agency can work that through with you. Clear and consistent messages make your social media efforts impactful and relevant.
The ultimate aim of any agency worth its salt has to be to educate, equip and organise their client brilliantly in their social media endeavours, to the point that the client is empowered to manage at least a good chunk of their social media activity in-house. To be authentic, responsive and to seize the social media initiative, an organisation needs to be actively engaging first-hand with their audiences.
A good agency or consultant will ensure that those involved in social media activity know how to use a whole range of tools for engaging, sharing, listening and monitoring. But more than that, they’ll ensure that those people also understand the bigger picture and the context in which social technologies are used.
Assessing an organisation’s scope for using social media can be hard to do from the inside. Internal pressures, barriers and preconceptions can fog the vision and opportunities can be missed. Without a doubt, an external and objective view is valuable. An outside view should bring vision, ideas, creativity and inspiration, but also should apply these to your company’s reality (which could include lack of resource or buy-in) and provide creative solutions.
A key activity that’s well-worth engaging an agency for is monitoring and listening. We all do that to some extent in any case, in our everyday social media use, through RSS feeds, alerts and Twitter search streams. But agencies can add value by monitoring and listening against some very specific terms, themes and audiences. And the genuine value is when they can take that information, analyse it, and provide you with insightful stats, trends and recommendations as a result.
Another area where agencies can add value is in providing on-going coaching, to ensure that you have a good grasp of what’s working, what isn’t and where there are additional opportunities to be leveraged. They should be concerned with helping you develop as a socially-engaged business and as individual users of social media. If they are not actively offering that, demand it!