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Marketing - more than commonsense?

June 10, 2011 by Sian Lenegan

Everyone is talking about integrated marketing. But what does it really mean in the context of your business and the day-to-day 9 to 5 shuffle?

It goes without saying that every part of your business should be connected to marketing in some way, and taking an integrated approach is the back-bone of success. But what does that mean?

If you’re a small business you wear many hats or if you are a larger company you have several departmentalised functions. Let’s start with marketing. Marketing is there to find new customers and ways of providing those customers with the satisfaction and value they derive from your product or service. The role of sales is hopefully made easier by the marketing activities. Operations or your production team are there to deliver what is promised by marketing and do so efficiently and profitably. The finance department has to support marketing and operations in the fulfillment of their accountabilities and maintain the company’s profits.

This is obviously painting a very basic picture but what I’m getting at is that every part of your business touches marketing and if everything is integrated, the power of innovation is in your hands.

Doing new things

Innovation allows us to do new things. The process by which your business does business is a marketing tool in itself. It is the mechanism by which you can find and keep customers. It’s what I would call “differentiation”.

If your business process and every department of your business is really in tune with marketing, you’ll find powerful ways to be innovative. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering; it could be in changing a few words or a small gesture. Every department of your business must always ask, “what is the best way to do this?” and always take the customer’s point of view. Which brings me nicely onto my next point.

Customer is king

Heard that one before haven’t we? What it means for business owners and marketers is that any marketing strategy starts, ends, lives, breaths and dies with your customer. Everything else is a moot point, nothing but the customer and what the customer wants matters. These customers have a sea of expectations, their attitudes, beliefs, opinions and everything else that makes up the subconscious mind is where the buying decision is made. We’re starting to dive into the psychology of sales and that’s not what this is about, let’s talk about marketing again.

There are two pillars to any successful marketing strategy — the demographics and psychographics. So what I’m saying is that if you understand who your customer is, you can determine why they buy.

Taking it seriously

OK, forgive me for being a little over dramatic, Marketing isn’t really as complicated as I’ve described and nor does it need a degree in psychology. The point is that most small and medium-sized businesses regard the function of marketing as mere “common sense”.

What is common sense? All common sense amounts to is your opinion. We see businesses all too often deciding what they want to do without any information and without any interest in what is true. This could be as simple as throwing together a clip art logo and choosing colours because that’s the colour your dog likes, but in reality it will completely and utterly turn off your target customer right away.

These may be strong words but I am trying to prove a point. There is a science to marketing. You need to be interested in it and you need to give it the investment in time and resources that it deserves. There’s a reason that companies like Disney, Fedex and McDonald’s spend what they do to get their brands right and get their marketing message out to their customers.

Small businesses obviously don’t have the money to throw at marketing like these brands do but you can afford to make sure that there isn’t one part of your business within your company that isn’t asking questions around marketing.

And if you are going to do something, isn’t it worth doing it properly? You know what they say — if you invest in peanuts you will get monkeys. Find a credible expert who can quickly show an understanding of your business and your customer to help you market effectively. It’s an investment.

 

Sian Lenegan is account director at Sixth Story.

Who are your competitors? An SEO perspective

June 08, 2011 by John Straw

Black binocularsIn the “old world”, a competitor might be someone who you could readily identify — someone in the local phone book who was on the same page as you or someone who bought ads on the same radio station as you, for the same products and services.

But in a world where customers have swapped the phone book and the local paper for search engines such as Google or Bing, a competitor is someone who ranks more highly than you for the keywords or phrases that define your business.

These competitors might not even be in the same town or country. Of course, you might be lucky. You might have a hyper-local business where you have a monopoly within a certain geographical reach, but even then, you might be missing out on customers who don’t know your business name and are searching for generic phrases.

Understanding how to be at the top of search engines can give you a huge advantage over your competition. The internet is still a relatively immature media and while an increasing number of businesses understand the importance of having a website, not all have understood the importance of natural or organic search, which is probably what brought you here.

In fact, sometimes the largest companies are the slowest to react to new technology, so you may be able to “punch above your weight” and rank more highly in Google and Bing than competition who used to be able to outspend you using traditional advertising methods.

This isn’t new. Sun Tzu, the strategist and warrior said:

“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”

He also said:

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”

The phone book of the day is a search engine and understanding your customers and how they find you is a business imperative. If your customers are finding your competitors first, then understanding why your competitors are beating you is the first step to turning around that situation.

 

John Straw is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and the founder and VP of Business Development of Linkdex.

More insight into competitors:

Do you know what your competitors are up to?

Keeping your eyes on the competition

What to do when your competitor lowers their prices

Posted in Online marketing | Tagged SEO, competitors | 3 comments

Three top tips to maximise referrals

June 07, 2011 by Craig McKenna

Receiving good referrals from your business contacts is a great way to bring in new business. The prospective customer is more comfortable with the possible transaction as you have been recommended to them and a lot of the initial hard work of engaging dialogue is removed. Referrals are good news all round but how do you get more of them?

Here are my top three tips on how to make the most of potential referrals.

1. Make it very easy for your contacts to refer people to you

Nobody enjoys sounding confused or not being able to answer questions. If they don’t know how to articulate what it is that you do they won’t be able to refer you, so make sure your proposition is simple and that they have the tools to be able to refer you effectively. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent group of non-execs involved in a business a few years back, they were very well-connected but never brought any referrals into meetings. I challenged them on this and after much discussion it became clear that the company proposition was too cumbersome for them to articulate easily when they met potential referrals. I refined it, they brought referrals.

2. Follow-up properly

It is essential that if someone takes the time to give you a referral that you follow it up properly. Basic courtesy dictates that even if you feel that the referral is a waste of time it is important that you at the very least email/ call the referred party. You may be wrong, you really never know what potential business is behind the referral until you speak with the prospect. I received a referral a couple of years ago that seemed very random and a total waste but once I spoke to the company it transpired that they were looking to launch something new and that was what they wished to speak about, it was a great piece of business. You just never know until you make the call, so make the call.

3. Thank your referrers

This may sound like the most obvious tip of them all but it just doesn’t happen often enough. Whether the referral results in business or not you need to make the effort to thank the person that make the intro. In a recent exercise, a  client of mine found that he had received over 50 referrals over a three-year period but not one had referred more than once, a stat which surprised us both. We went back six months and thanked them all, with an email update on what had happened with the referrals, sending an email plus a couple of bottles of wine to the ones which had led to business. From those 14, eight have since referred again. Not only is it the right thing to do, but thanking your referrers actually generates more business!

Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.

Posted in Sales | Tagged sales, referrals | 0 comments

Writing rules you should break

June 03, 2011 by Sharon Tanton

Writing rules you should break - screwed up paper

Business writing can feel like a balancing act. On the one hand you want to get your point over in an engaging way, on the other you want to appear professional. So how do you get it right?

Here’s my quick guide. 

Three writing rules you should break.

1.  Write in proper sentences. Not a straightforward point, and I’m not advocating the death of punctuation. Rather I’m suggesting you treat your sentence structure with a bit of flexibility. I sometimes think of sentences as hand and footholds for the reader, as they climb their way through your writing. Sometimes it’s good to reach an easy one. A very short sentence, coming after a series of longer ones, makes an impact. Like this.

Of course ‘like this’ is not technically a sentence at all, but if it works to make your point, then why not use it? I don’t have a problem with one word sentences either. If they contribute to the flow of your writing and help the reader understand what you’re trying to say, then throw a couple into the mix. Simple.

2.  Metaphors belong in poems. Poetry is full of fabulously inspiring literary rule breaking and business writers can steal a trick or two. Metaphors are a quick win. Poets seek images that have an emotional resonance to make lasting connections with readers. Connection is your number one aim with a piece of business writing too.

I don’t mean scattering your website with moonlit walks and hosts of golden daffodils. Rather that you think laterally and creatively when you’re writing. If an image comes to mind when you’re trying to describe a process, or an idea, (like my climbing metaphor in the first point) don’t be afraid to use it. Seek them out and give your writing more impact.

A word of caution. Because metaphors and analogies make real connections with readers, it can get confusing if you throw too many in, or keep switching themes. For example, if you’ve set up your writing with driving metaphors — full throttle, stuck in gear, hair pin bend — and then you change to sailing ones — full steam ahead, stormy weather, choppy waters — your reader will become disorientated. Sea sick, even.

3.  Long words impress readers. Your English teacher at school probably gave you a big tick when you managed to wiggle some complicated piece of vocabulary into your essays, but you won’t get full marks for it in business. Simple straightforward words are better. Don’t say “cascade” when you mean “tell”, don’t say “strategize” when you mean “plan”, don’t say “empower” ever. Just don’t.

And an even quicker guide to those you mustn’t break.

1.  Spelling. Although our language is flexible and evolving, you do need to spell everything correctly. 

2.  Punctuate. Don’t forget your full stops and capital letters. Your aim is to make your reader understand. Taking away the punctuation is like taking away the road signs — no one knows when to slow down and when to stop.

3.  Don’t get your it’s and your its mixed up. People get awfully irate about it.  (My rule — see whether its could be replaced by his or her. If it can’t be, you need the other one!)

 

Sharon Tanton is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut, a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant and a Valuable Content associate.

Read more helpful advice on writing:

Posted in Marketing strategy | Tagged writing | 1 comment

How to make an exhibition of yourself

June 02, 2011 by Mike Southon

Business men on exhibition floor

The first buds of spring also herald the beginning of the conference and exhibition season, with many companies wasting a small fortune trying to promote themselves to uninterested visitors.

It is not cheap to exhibit at a trade show. The stand space itself is expensive, and then there is the cost of building the stand, developing new marketing materials, plus the considerable staff time involved in just being there.

I often find myself speaking at exhibitions when the organiser’s business model is to sell stand space on the premise that thousands of visitors will be attracted to the event by the top quality keynotes and free workshops on offer.

When I visit the stands, I receive many complaints about the aggressive sales techniques of people selling exhibition space. They complain that these commission-only salespeople provide inflated estimates of the likely visitor numbers and can be very persistent and unpleasant.

My advice to any potential exhibitor is to leave any decision to the last minute, and always to offer a small percentage of what is quoted on their rate card.

But if you do decide to exhibit, it is always good practice to make the sales messages on your stand as obvious as possible. An interesting exercise is to walk down an aisle at a trade show, trying to guess what the exhibitor does just by looking at their stand.

It is clear that many of the stands have been designed by amateurs trying to do their own marketing. Alternatively, they have engaged a marketing agency whose brilliant idea is to deliberately make the messages of the company as opaque as possible. They argue that this will generate curiosity in the causal observer, encouraging them into visiting your stand to find out more. Sadly, this rarely happens in the real world.

People who attend trade shows are looking for someone to solve their problems or meet their needs. If you clearly state those problems and needs and then explain how you can address them, you stand a good chance of attracting a potential customer.

There is also one last hurdle before your company achieves an acceptable return on its investment in stand space, and that is the hapless people on the stand itself. Working at trade shows is an extremely dismal and tiring process. The people you do want to attract will studiously avoid eye contact, while those who deliberately engage your attention are often time-wasters, competitors or students, often with poor social skills.

In my experience, very little business is gained from people causally wandering onto your stand; the key to success at a trade show is in the pre-event preparation. Experienced trade show exhibitors train their staff in good stand technique and do most of their work in advance of the event, contacting potential customers to make specific appointments.

Any spare time at the show is used in scanning the other stands, eyeing up the competition and looking for new leads.

If you do spot a potential customer working on another trade show stand, it is poor etiquette to try and engage them in a sales conversation there and then. They want to sell to other people, not listen to your sales pitch. You should just ask for the name of the key decision maker for contact after the event, and take as much of their sales literature as possible for your pre-meeting research.

You can also drop into the keynotes, seminars and workshops and learn something new. If they have one on how to exhibit successfully at a trade show, then that would definitely be worth a visit.

 

Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.

For more information on what not to do at exhibitions, read Fiona Humberstone’s guide to the 12 reasons why companies fail to make a success of exhibitions — which is full of positive suggestions too!

How do you pick a good design agency?

June 01, 2011 by Fiona Humberstone

Finding a good design agency to work with on your logo design, rebrand or website isn’t easy. Even if we start with the premise that no one sets out to do a bad job (I really believe that’s true), there’s more to finding a good design agency than randomly picking the company that tops the search results.

Finding a great design agency – one that you can build a relationship with over time, one that becomes a partner to your business, one that revolutionises how your current and prospective clients view your business – isn’t an easy task.

It’s also not a decision that should be driven by budget. Sure, budget counts, but if you try and save too much money in the short term, then it’ll definitely cost you more in the long term. False starts cost time, money and heartache so it pays to find the right design agency in the first place.

I suspect that this could be an incredibly long post, so let me just give you a few bullet points to get thinking about.

  1. What’s the brief? What do you need doing? Is this a design project? A development project? A branding project or all three? Don’t be blinkered about what you think the real brief is either — be prepared to listen to the experts.
  2. Don’t be too prescriptive. We recently met with a start-up who was out of love with his logo before he’d even launched! He was on revision seven and had just given up by this point. How sad! He explained that he’d told the agency “exactly what he wanted” and it was only when he saw that, he realised he didn’t like it. We never ask the client to tell us how we want a logo to look – instead we spend time understanding their brief, their objectives and the impression they want to create and we use our expertise to deliver something waaaay above and beyond the client’s imagination. If they really insist they know what they want, then we’ll always show one version alongside two of our own.
  3. What questions are they asking you? How interested do they seem in your business? Are they passionate about what they do? Are they excited about what they can do for you? Do you get the feeling that they’re just going to deliver what you’ve asked for? Or are they going to listen to your brief, think creatively about how to solve your challenge and deliver something that really adds value to your business?
  4. How do you respond to their portfolio? Are you inspired by it? Does it have you thinking excitedly about the possibilities for your own business? Is it creative? Is it diverse? I always say that you don’t need to like everything in our portfolio but you do need to like the reason behind it. You need to like our approach – and you should like a good chunk of the portfolio if you’re going to work with the agency.
  5. What’s the team like? There are pros and cons to freelancers versus an agency. Clearly an agency is going to cost a lot more than a freelancer - their overheads are higher. The flip side is that the world doesn’t stop turning just because they land a big job or go on holiday and I believe that the diversity and vibrancy of a creative team is essential to generating ideas that are ahead of the curve. Also consider whether they have designers/developers in-house or do they outsource?
  6. Are they producing powerful design? The concept of powerful design is not easy to put your finger on — it’s about everything from creative flair to producing designs that enable you to win more business. It requires robust processes and a clear insight into a client’s business.
  7. What are their strengths? And how does that fit with what you need? All too often we’re asked to redesign a site that has been designed by a web development agency – unsurprisingly it lacks the creative flair, vision and design edge that a design/branding agency can deliver and it’s that flair that’s essential to ensure that your site engages your target audience.

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

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