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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.
According to this excellent blog from Deb Wenger, traditional media may be unwittingly killing itself in the race to compete with social media platforms.
The shocking truth would appear to be this:
The mainstream media simply cannot compete with social media – on any level.
And that includes News sourcing and issuing. Bloggers rarely even, it seems, use the traditional journalistic avenues to find their blog content. Bloggers have a different News agenda to the Press. And their online audiences are organically increasing, too.
The message from Wenger’s blog is painfully clear.
The only way for the traditional media providers to survive is to adapt, collaborate and embrace social media as an intrinsic part of its modus operandi.
Anything less will inevitably see audiences finding their news elsewhere, online - and usually for free.
If I were involved in traditional media management, Wenger’s blog post would both fascinate and horrify me at the same time.
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.
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.
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.
I’m pleased to report that the wraps are off: The IT Donut, a new website for small businesses, will be launching the week of 23 August.
Expect heaps of advice about choosing, using and generally not getting totally frustrated with IT in your business.
I’ve taken on the role of editor (the next few months are looking to be very busy), but thankfully there’s a whole team of great people from BHP Information Solutions working hard on the site too. And because you can’t substitute for first-hand knowledge and experience, we’re on the hunt for experts who know all about IT at the sharp end of business.
You see, when businesses use IT, there’s an ideal world, and there’s what actually happens. The two often differ quite considerably.
The IT Donut isn’t going to live in the plain sailing, smooth running and largely theoretical ideal world. It will acknowledge the situations and challenges businesses face every day with their IT.
Although the team behind the website is packed with experience (I’ve been writing about small businesses and IT for years now), we need people who’ve been there and done it to help us cover every area. These IT experts are the people who’ll really bring the site to life.
So if you know a bit about IT in business, I want to hear from you. You might be an expert in web hosting, networking or accounting software. Or you might be a business that’s experimented with cloud computing, open source software – or gained some other knowledge that you’d like to share.
Whatever your expertise, give me a shout. It’s your chance to be involved in one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on – and to get some great PR while you’re at it.
Emails are the lifeblood of your communications.
That is all your email has to do.
It doesn’t have to close the deal. It doesn’t have to take the payment. Leave that for your website to do.
Then your reader has the option whether to click on the link and take it further or just consume the information you have provided.
To test the sort of content that is right for you, call a couple of prospects or clients and give them the information you want to send in an email. If you find your hands going clammy at the thought, then perhaps your message is not right at this time.
People will buy when they are ready to do so. There is nothing you can do to get them to buy quicker or differently to the way they will do so. It is your job to understand how your prospects buy and map your communications accordingly. A couple of things will happen – less of your emails will be found in the spam box and the number of sales will increase.