Just a Taste will Keep Them Coming Back

Just a bite. Most times, that is all we need to quell our raging sweet tooth. And sometimes, a bite is all you need to captivate a potential customer's curiosity.

It's doesn't have to be a taste of food, either. It can be free time, free bonuses, a test drive or offering a product/service to a reputable blogger for an honest review. Here are some examples of the good, the bad and the non-existent ways to use samples as a marketing strategy.

Let's start with the non-existent. There is a lotion product that I absolutely love. It's taken me 20+ years to find one that satisfies my strict criteria. Plus, I love the company and what they stand for. Hearing that my local store no longer carried the lotion, I was devastated. I visited the company's website and discovered they carried many new scents in my favorite lotion. But being the internet has no scratch and sniff feature, how could I know if I liked them? So I called them up with my predicament. The small business sympathized, but offered to send me no samples. The only way I could smell them was to travel to their New York store...almost 300 miles away. Had they sent me a few samples, I would have shared them with friends and ordered abundantly. But, instead, they lost a customer that day. 

The bad.
When the food is cold. When you're ridding old, outdated inventory and it's obvious. When the 'customer' has to wait...a long time...to redeem.

The good.
Fortunately, there are many good examples to model after in today's markets. Apple stores are always buzzing with giddy new customers because they get to 'play'.  Adobe is another one that gets you to play with their software. And after a month, when you are just getting comfortable, they tell you it's time to buy. And you do. In a personal experience, my dog's vet offered us a free sample of an expensive supplement for my dog. Normally, I would be hesitant because I'm satisfied with the current brand, plus this new one, while promising more, was much more expensive. But actually seeing the results, I had to buy. So the manufacturer may have lost a few dollars in the free sample, but has gained much more revenue from my yearly prescriptions.

Offering free samples to potential customers reaps many benefits. Don't be stingy. Free samples allow customers to become engaged, comfortable with you and the product. You build trust.  And they actually feel excitement about their future purchase. You will experience a high conversion rate than with just some slick marketing content. And finally, free samples encourage word of mouth. I can't share my lotion with any friends, but I will recommend a very good dog supplement!

Feed them when they're hungry for a solution.

Content is King in 2013!

Content. Get used to hearing, reading, speaking that word. Content creation, content strategy, content curation...it can be dizzying. Especially because content is not what it used to be: some words describing a product or service. Oh no. Content today will be about connecting. Because customers are in the driver's seat. They demand connection. They demand transparency. They demand your understanding; of their needs, their problems, the world they live in. And that is what content does - connects. First you need to really know your audience and where they are looking. This could mean content in various voices across various channels (social, web, print, radio, outside ads, inside ads, etc.) Then, and only then, your business will have its crowning glory.

This is a great article encompassing the evolving world of content and why its more important than ever.

Don't Forget Awesome: 5 Steps To Creating Brand Content

What is it about the 'Red Cup'? Find Your 'It'.

If anyone has patronized Starbucks recently (since Nov. 2nd), you know that their signature, seasonal red cup is out again. Seems a bit early, but then again, if we are following retail's schedule - 'tis the season. With the cool winds and the leaves floating gleefully off of the bare trees, I am going out on a limb to say that I'm not the only one happy to be carrying one of these in my hands. There is something about the warmth that I wrap my hands around. Obviously, the cup does a stellar job at warming my bright pink, chilled fingers. But somehow, it warms my soul, my heart and even brings a bit of comfort - one that I can experience over and over again. Sometimes in the same day.

So how does a paper red cup stir up someone emotionally? So much so that there is a phone app, dedicated websites and You Tube videos for the cup (most of which are set up by fanatical fans). Well, for starters, it signals the start (and color) of a season we are already emotionally attached to.  Then, it helps that it is the time of year when it's cold outside (for most of us), so we are more motivated to drink warm beverages - so selling the warm beverage during the cold season surely fills a need.

Next, it is offered with special blends of coffee drinks. Since the drinks, in the cups, are both offered for a limited time, fans are trying to get their fill in fast. Yet, they are still wanting more come January.  Starbucks makes it an experience - not just coffee (or tea). They want you to share stories, be charitable - they promote a campaign of 'good'. (Something we all like to feel?) Finally, there is a bonding experience between coffee drinkers and, most especially, the brand.

How can you brew up a red cup of your own?

  • Dig into your treasure chest of product or service goodies. Or find a new one. Pick out the shiniest goody, one that is most treasured by your customers and most unique to your competition. 
  • Capitalize on it by building an experience around it. Develop a social media plan, build a dedicated website page(s), create a special logo (name, design, etc.), create videos, share customer quotes and even consider Copyright if you are especially excited (and protective).
  • Leave them wanting more. Offer for a limited time or in limited quantities. Make it an annual thing or something to look forward to and build excitement. Offer only to certain customers. Anything that makes it more desirable.

Then sit back and enjoy one nice, hot cup of joe in your hands.

Relate to Your Customers Before You Sell.

With the recent passing of my beloved canine companion, I've been submerged into a world of sympathy and empathy. Yes, there is a difference in the words. At least it 'feels' like a difference. There are dog lovers who understand the loss, sharing empathy. They can remember how empty and quiet the house is once the food bowls have been removed - no more sound of lapping up water. No more clickety-clack of excited paws. No more protective, yet friendly greeting for the mail carrier every day. The routine has been lost and is it quite uncomfortable for some time. Then there are the people without pets who can only have sympathy to the sadness I must be feeling, but cannot relate to the specific hardships I am experiencing.

As may be obvious by now, I have been in a reflective mode lately. But getting back into marketing mode has me still thinking. Most of us are selling products or services that help resolve a painpoint of a customer or something to make their lives/work/hobbies easier or more enjoyable. You may think what you are selling is the best thing since sliced bread, but how you present it to the customer makes all the difference. Trust me. Do you want to be thought of as a trustworthy expert? Then read up.

You need to show customers that you understand the specific hardships or obstacles they are experiencing and how you came up with the (best) solution. Put yourself back in their world by addressing the same fears and questions that you had before your brilliant idea hit the market. Cool features and add-ons are nice. Every kid (influencer) loves a horn (cool feature) on their tricycle. But what sells the tricycle is addressing the concerns (gaining trust) of the parent (purchaser).  

Relate to your customer's point of view. Gain their trust. Show them the cool features. Then gain their business. Don't skip this critical step.

Responsible Marketing

Recently, our federal government was sued by the tobacco industry for 'forcing' the cigarette manufacturers to apply very revealing, shocking and bordlerline grotesque images on their boxes showing the possible health effects from smoking.

This is a controversial issue that raises the question of responsibility. 1) How much control should the government have over product labeling, 2)What is considered responsible corporate marketing and, 3) Does the consumer have any responsibility?

Government's responsibility
Our government has the right, as well should, to set the standards for label information. This allows for consistency and fairness across industry and competition. What the government requires also provides the consumer with enough information to formulate an educated opinion/decision about the product or service and provide ample warning for potential issues.  But should they be able to cross over the 'text' line and require certain, predetermined graphics? This may be a question between information versus persuasion. Government informs. Marketing persuades.

Corporate marketing responsibility
It is the responsibility of a corporation or small business to post accurate and truthful labeling following the government standards. The marketing should be truthful, not be deceitful. It should not be targeted to the wrong audience. 

Businesses should, in clear conscience, be able to honestly sell their product or service. And if they can't sell it honestly, then there is something not right about the product. And it will eventually fall apart. Because if government doesn't stop you, industry will. Walt Disney will be eliminating marketing of sugary snacks and drinks. Walmart is also issuing restrictions for their vendors and how they manufacture. Cities are implementing taxes and bans. Better the lives of your customers and you will sell. Honestly!

Consumer responsibility
We, as consumers, have the responsibility to educate ourselves on the information that is provided to us, whether by the government or the business.  We should be confident that our decisions/opinions will be based upon factual information. And once we make our decisions, we must accept the consequences of those decisions, not sue everyone who may be remotely responsible. Otherwise, our government will be placing graphic images of rotting teeth on gummy candy packages (or even some kids' vitamins) and hardened arteries on your fast food bag. If there was only a way to sue the sun for a nasty sunburn...

Have fun marketing. But let's watch out for each other.

Tune in to Your Customers. Listen to Their Music.

It may happen in the car while driving to work or while watching television. Maybe you overhear it while shopping. It doesn't matter where you are, the time of day or who you are standing next to at the time...that it hits. That song. The one that takes you back in time. You know the exact time - the year, your hairstyle and some other details that just come back from the cob webs in your mind. But the vivid pictures aren't all that come back to you. Weirdly enough, you experience similar emotions from that time - whether it was an exhilerating championship or a bad break-up - either way, you start, willingly or begrundingly, reliving the moments, like watching it on VHS in slow motion.

What power music holds in our emotional world. It can bring us comfort, relief, excitement, nostalgia or inspiration. Isn't that the kind of connection we all want with our customers? Don't we ultimately want a hold on their excitement? We want them to find a comfortable confidence in our product, service or solution. It's time to tune into their music.  Yes, your product has bells and whistles and your service comes with a guarantee. But to really get their attention, find out what gets to their emotions. Can you help relieve a frustration for them? Can you  bring happiness in their lives? Can you get them excited about a hobby or their job? Help to make their lives easier, whether it's personal or business. Just listen.

When you connect with their emotions, you capture and take hold of their attention. They will remember the feeling and, thus, will remember the details of your business when it's decision time.

Music (& Marketing) is more than just bells and whistles. Make a symphony.

Happy Employees + Happy Customers = Happy New Year

Happy New Year! Has that phrase lost its usefulness? What kind of wish is that - really? Has it worked for you? No? You want to know why? Because, like everything else in life, our happiness is our responsibility. Sitting around waiting for that overused wish to kick in is not practical.

Now is a grand time to reflect on our personal happiness. But why stop there? Being an astute business owner like yourself, it would do you good to reflect on the happiness of your employees and your customers. There is a strong correlation between the two. If one isn't happy, then the other isn't either.

This concept hit me like an avalanche a few weeks ago. I was patronizing a cool, little grocery store. Okay, it was Trader Joe's. It just opened on my side of the city. I still remember opening day, it was if the gates of heaven had opened. With a smile on my face and my feet practically floating through the air, I pushed my loaded cart up and down each goody-filled aisle. I, along with everyone else in that store, was in a state of bliss.  Every visit thereafter has been nothing short of pleasantness. Sometimes, I float, er, stop in if I'm in a bad mood, just so I'm happy again. On this most recent visit, I paid particular attention to what makes it such a happy place.  The upbeat music? Bright lighting? Cool copywriting on the products? (I have a soft spot in my heart for that). Yah, sure. But that wasn't all. It didn't 'register' until I was at the cash register. I conversed with a TJ employee about working there. She listed several reasons for her thrill of jumping out of bed at 5am; job rotation, team atmosphere, respect for company and coworkers, motivation & support from management and just pure belief in the product.

Aaaah ha. The employees are so happy working there, they want you to see and feel what they do.  They are happy to help you and make your visit both fun and fulfilling, because that is what their days are about.  Ever been to a business with disgruntled, miserable employees? How does it make you feel going there or calling them?

This may seem like a lesson in Customer Service, rather than Marketing, but it isn't, totally. It's Marketing your brand, your image...through your employees. How do you want customers to see your company/product/service? Fun, quality, knowledgeable, respectful, committed, motivated? Or lazy, mad, disengaged?

Start investing in your employee's happiness. Then have a Happy New Year.

Getting to the Bottom of your Overhead

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I overheard two employees in awe over the low produce prices at a nearby competitor. In response to the one employee's reciting of the sale ad, the other employee commented, "Well, they don't have our overhead. Our unnecessary overhead."

Granted, this grocery store, one which I frequent most often (mostly for the convenient location) is appealing to the sight, smell and touch...wide open floors, soft romantic lighting and display furniture nicer than my living room furniture. Immediately upon entering, you are warm and comforted from the scent of melted butter and sugar (yah, you know the one) coming from the bakery.  In addition to these teasers, there are chef demonstrations, a milkshake bar and an olive oil bar. All evoking emotions that will hopefully make me buy more.

But will people buy more because of this fluff and fanfare? Or will they stick to their list, thus their budget and see through the fluff to the real reason why they are there; to buy food to nourish their family at a reasonable cost.

Sadly, when companies look to cut costs, marketing is usually first on the chopping block (Bamboo, $50, Aisle 97). Most make the mistake of placing marketing in the fluff aisle. Alright, some of it is fluff and solely their to tug at your heart strings and your pocket strings. (ooh, that's pretty - aahh, nice cocktail napkins). But to really maximize marketing and make a case for why it is a main ingredient to your company's strategic success, here is a list to consider on your next cost cutting trip:

  • Fluff is big expensive ads. Reaching a large audience on a minimal budget is not fluff. That means placing smaller, yet more noticeable ads in very strategic mediums and utilizing less costly methods of reaching your audience such as email campaigns and social media.
  • Fluff is exhibiting at multiple trade shows with enormous displays. Again, be very strategic on which shows to attend. Some shows you may be able to just attend and get a feel for competition and what people are craving. And if you do exhibit, place your investment more on the quality of information, the presentation, and the take away collateral - all of which are very economical and memorable - more so than a giant circus tent exhibit that everyone forgets about a week later.
  • Fluff is guessing at what the market is wanting, what your competitors are up to and what people really think of you. This is the valuable marketing dollar, friends! This information is critical in creating your marketing message, your selling tactic and your short term and long term strategies.  What is more important than that?
  • Fluff is fancy letterhead and colorful tchotchkes. Do you want to stay in the minds of the customer? Give them a message that sticks. Solve their problem. Prove that you can. Give them a sample, provide free work or boast your customer testimonials. There is not a tchotchke out there that can take the place of your true work, product and service.

So you need to cut costs? Take a look at your true overhead, even if it is just in the marketing department. Stick to this list. Stay within budget. Then head to the express lane to success.

How My Bathroom Remodel Changed My Business Model

It started so innocently. A tiny corner of wallpaper taunting me, "go ahead and try". Two commercial breaks later, my powder room wall was stripped bare. Now what? I had no plan. No hardware, plumbing or paint color picked out. No measurements. No budget. Just ambition. And so it started - my quest for a beautiful bathroom on a tight schedule and even tighter budget.

Local Rocks

I believe in eating local. But buying home goods? If it's quality and cheap, I'll travel or ship. But the harsh realities of poor customer service, inflexibility, lengthy waiting times and nightmarish returns are very punishing.

I needed a 16-inch towel bar. Apparently this bathroom was last updated in the late 20's, as the standard for towel bars today is 18 inches. Have our hands grown over the generations? I scoured the internet and visited two national chains. Nada, nothing and zilch.  Then, on a pleasure visit to a local public market, I came upon beautiful, hand-forged steel sculptures and a friendly, knowledgeable and passionate owner.  Somehow we got to talking about bathrooms and he was able to make me a 16" towel bar to my liking, to match the image I was trying to achieve and also make matching hardware for the rest of the room. It was a custom, quality solution. It was going to be a conversation piece. Well, maybe just a 'thought' piece for those in there alone.

Save vs. Splurge

A tight budget meant no $150/hr professional consultant and installer. No fancy chandeliers, granite countertops or marble floors. I divided what was most important to me with what just needs to be functional. Like a toilet. It needs to look like a normal toilet and function like one.  But a sink and lighting and an 'mmm' smelling handsoap would improve my overall image of the room, making it an enjoyable and memorable visit.

Some of the Best Projects Have No Plans

I knew this project was on my to-do list, but I never got around to a plan. And I'm glad I didn't because I learned so much along the way and had fun doing it.  I knew the sooner I got this project done, I would feel better and my house would look better.

I invested time in researching the internet for solutions, visiting stores for comparison pricing, talking to experts (and handy neighbors) in learning how a bathroom works and snooping around fancy restaurants and store bathrooms for ideas. This extra time resulted in a much more exciting and interesting bathroom than the original picture in my head.

So here are my lessons learned for my future business model:

1. In an impersonal world, sometimes it's nice to be personal with someone you trust doing business with. A little face-to-face interaction brings a new level of trust and opens the door to new relationships and possibly new business opportunities. Nothing beats a nice word of mouth referral. Plus, local vendors are usually more flexible and willing to work on a custom solution.

2. If it affects my business image or reputation - I splurge on the investment. If it is something that needs to be functional and reliable - I splurge. If it is something that goes unnoticed or brings little or no value to my clients...I skimp.

3. Sometimes plans hold you back. Sometimes they narrow your vision. Sometimes they don't predict an economic downfall or a change in customer preferences or an emergency that will dip into your marketing budget. Commit to being flexible and enjoying the adventure.

Spring Cleaning Your Marketing

It never fails, this time of the year - I get the urge to clean each room of my home from the top of the curtain rods to the bottom of the forgotten baseboards. But, after a few days, I lose the urge to clean and consider buying new curtains, sheets and rugs. Then I consider my budget.  Time to dust off the cleaning supplies and get to work.

Now is also a good time of the year to freshen up your marketing. If you don't have it in your budget for a major image overhaul, or don't need one - consider some small 'refreshers' to your brand:

  • Brighten your colors...in your logo and print or even in your office. You want your brand to be eye-catching, maybe it's gathered a bit of dust and needs a little polishing.
  • Add to your print pieces. Okay, so you have the business cards and letterhead, how about custom envelopes, portfolios or professional-looking brochures? Or add a new 'leave-behind' or giveaway to your inventory. Customers appreciate the little surprises. And it doesn't hurt to keep your brand in front of them after you leave!
  • Change some wording; to your website, brochures, anywhere that you have copy written. Maybe the design needs modernized or maybe some of the information is outdated? For it's not only the season of spring, but of taxes, too - so give your content a good, thorough audit. Make sure the information is correct, easy to understand and free of any grammatical errors.
  • Start or revisit your marketing inventory. Keep an organized inventory of the marketing materials that exist in your library, the date they were created, last edited and then categorize them.  Then set a timeframe, say 6 months, when you revisit each document to ensure integrity.

'Springing' for a little touch-up/clean-up is well worth it. The attention to detail shows your customers that you care about your image and you are on top of things! And that will put a smile on your face and a 'spring' in your step!

Toss the Textbooks

Do we really need textbooks anymore? It's been oh, just a handful of years since I've been in college, so I'm betting there are still those way-over-priced-backbreaking textbooks displayed in college bookstores everywhere. Granted, when it comes to science or mathematics, a tangible referral would come in handy if I had a need to say, perform an aortic dissection. Well, I'm in the marketing field so I'm lightening up my attitude and my backpack. I say toss the textbooks and ignite the imagination. Create your own rules. Go your own way.

This anti-textbook attitude of mine leaks into the professional world as well. Every business is unique. Every business owner is unique. What may be effective for a coffee shop owner who loves music in the city may not sell one grande-skim-double-shot-no-whip-vanilla-latte for the coffee shop owner who is a book-loving introvert in the suburbs.  You see, there are many factors that go into whipping up a perfect marketing recipe including the obvious; pricing, packaging, place and promotion.  What about other factors such as personality, picky people and personal beliefs?  Just to name a few. 

I guess the lesson of the day is, don't feel pressure to follow industry pack or, worse, the 'Marketing for Everyone' textbook.  Toss the textbook and enjoy your latte snuggled up in your imagination. You'll be surprised where it takes you.