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Last night, I saw the movie, “The Joneses”, and it reminded me how powerful a strong brand can be and how persuasive the users of products/brands are. (and if you see the movie, it will also make you think about the positives and negatives of commercialism in our society, but that’s another topic for another day…)

There are 3 marketing components to a brand:

1)      Brand Strategy: The definition of the brand’s audience and the objectives that the brand needs to achieve (I came upon a good article on brand strategy by Laura Lake at about.com )

2)      Brand Positioning: The identification of what the brand does and where it competes

3)      Brand Personality: The impression and value customers have of the brand

Did you know that your brand personality is ultimately determined by your CUSTOMERS, not by you?  For example, you can claim to be the “healthiest Mexican food in town,” but do your customers believe it? When your customers want healthy food, do they think of you?  Are they even willing to pay a little extra for your food because they know it is healthy? Ultimately a strong, well-defined brand adds value to your company by building awareness and recognition, securing new and repeat business, and potentially even enabling you to charge a premium for your products and services.

Let’s get back to the healthy Mexican restaurant example…you can say “healthy” on all your promotional and communication materials, like store signage, radio ads, coupons, in interviews and articles, but there is far more to demonstrating the brand personality than TELLING customers (although you do need to do that consistently)…your customers have to experience and believe your brand personality. Everything your company says and does needs to reflect it.

There are some simply ways to ensure your customers experience and believe your brand:

  • Educate your employees and make sure they understand and believe in the brand– educate them on why healthy food matters, why the company thinks healthy food is important, how your company makes the food healthy (local growers, healthy oils, healthy preparation), and how the customer benefits from the healthy food and why they do or should care. Can the person who answers the phone, clearly articulate to a customer why the food is healthy? Does the person responsible for developing new menu items believe in the importance of healthy food? Can your wait staff answer questions?
  • Integrate your brand personality in all areas of your business. For example, do you sponsor the local beer fest or the 10K run? One of these is more consistent with a “healthy” brand personality than the other. However, if your restaurant was “the most fun Mexican restaurant in town”, your sponsorship choice might be entirely different!
  • Communicate the brand and its importance to all your partners: your suppliers, your partners, your marketing firm, even your accountant!
  •  And, as discussed in the last post, provide your customers with ways to share their experience…you can do this through customer testimonials, a Facebook page for your company, a blog on your website, even a “word-of-mouth” promotion. One of my favorite restaurants is Flying Pie Pizza  in Boise, Idaho. They have customer comment cards on every table. Flying Pie Pizza makes it fun and easy for customers to say great things about them—and they promote the heck out of it. (and if you click on their website you’ll notice it is a little eclectic, just like their company and their delicious pizza)
  •   Above all else, remain consistent in everything you do!

10 minute action:

  1. Identify if you have a brand personality (if not, please let me know and we will discuss branding in more detail on this blog)
  2. List the ways your brand personality is demonstrated
  3. Write down 3 additional ways to demonstrate  your brand

 

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Yes, I did. 

In a recent ClickZ article by Sage Lewis, Sage shares the message he heard David Meerman Scott deliver during the Incisive Media’s SES NY keynote address. Read the article if you get a chance, it has a great example that brings this message to life. 

And the message is: customers don’t care about your product; they care about what other customers think of your product. Think about your own recent purchases. Did you check an online review, read customer comments or ask a trusted friend or colleague for a recommendation? In the past couple weeks (beyond the basics of groceries and gas) about 80% of my professional and personal purchases have been influenced by some type of online review or personal reference. When you consider the amount of information available at our fingertips, it makes sense that we are regularly incorporating other people’s opinions in to the decision making process. 

An interesting example of this happened to me last week. I was investigating companies who offer pet health insurance. In Google, I searched for reviews on each company and this was the first thing that came up: 

This is the second time I have reviewed this company. I am excited to say that I have been pleased with some of the changes they have implemented. Initially I gave them a low score of 2. This was heavily influenced by claims processing time exceeding what was listed on their site. I also thought that I would not be doing business with them even a year later. So, what’s changed my mind? These things …If they continue on like this, I have every confidence I will be a happy customer for the life of my pets”

Wow. From this one review, I now have an impression of the company–a company that listens to their customers and makes improvements accordingly. This is a lot more powerful that if I had gone on the company’s website and read “We listen to our customers.”

There are steps you can take to ensure your customers’ find validation for choosing you and your products/services. 

1) Identify happy customers and ask them to be a published and/or personal reference for your company and your products. Get a quote/customer case study you can publish on your website and use in other marketing assets, like brochures and public relations. Consider obtaining approval for prospects to contact this happy customer for recommendations (usually you only do this if you have a higher priced offering like a client/agency relationship, business software solution, plastic surgery, etc). And of course, never publish someone’s recommendation or contact information without their permission.
2) Build an area on your website for conversation/reviews. It will help close business. I just purchased a dog house kit online (yes, we have an animal thing going on in my household this month). The “official” product description said it required 20 minutes to assemble, but in the “review this product” section, reviewers said it “took 45 minutes to assemble and the product quality was great.” I purchased the product because I felt I had an honest evaluation of the product–what the company said PLUS what actual customers had to say.
3) Develop a process for listening to your customers on a regular basis. You want to know what customers are saying about your company, both on your website and on the internet. In the online social media course I have been taking, John Jansch refers to this as a “listening station.” This will be the topic of my next blog post.
4) Most importantly, respond to feedback, both good and bad. A customer says something good about you, thank them. A customer has constructive feedback, or is just plain upset, listen and correct as much as possible. And, if a customer has a new need or challenge, seek to understand it and see if you can help—it just might be your next product extension, or up-sell opportunity. 

10 minute action:

1. Identify the current ways you are listening to your customers
2. Identify a new way to listen to your customers, then do it (or email me if you need suggestions on how to do it)
3. Call a happy customer, see how they are doing, ask for a recommendation/quote/story

 

I’ve been doing some networking in my local community.  At the second half of this post, I’ll share my experience, but first let’s talk about you.

WHY NETWORK?

You will meet interesting people who can help you meet your personal and professional goals, you will help other people meet their professional and personal goals, and you might make a new social contact.

How do you start networking? (or how should you start networking again?):

First, decide what your goal is. Do you want to grow your business, learn something new, change industries, build awareness for a cause, connect with new people in a similar profession/industry?

Second, call or email a couple of people who might have suggestions for new people you can meet. Don’t forget to catch up with the people you contact. They are probably glad to hear from you, and you may be able to help them with their own networking.

Third, consider attending a meeting or event that is of interest to you. Don’t force yourself to go to a function that is not of interest. Your time is valuable, and networking should not be a horrible chore, but rather something where you enjoy yourself, learn something new and hopefully move a step further to meeting your goal.

So, regarding my personal networking…

Over the past 6 weeks, I have sent a couple dozen, short emails, arranged 5 coffee meetings, and attended one industry meeting. Over the course of these interactions, I have

1) Learned about 6 community organizations that might be helpful to me professionally and personally. And, I have received personal invitations to attend 4 of these organization’s events.
2) I have introduced 2 colleagues to 2 of my new contacts. Networking works both ways which makes it all the more interesting.
3) I have learned about 8 new, cool technologies and marketing tools (which is my business;  you will learn about things related to your industry when you network)
4) I’ve added 15 people to my Linked In network
5) I’ve already run in to some of my new professional contacts in my personal, social circle. Small world.

The past 6 weeks has reminded me how important networking is for both personal and professional growth (not to mention, it might add a couple new business opportunities!) 

10 minute action:

1. Determine your objective for networking.
2. Take action. Make a call, invite someone to coffee, attend an industry meeting or event.

 

Back at it…

I’ve been taking an online social media course and am now back at the rootbeermarketing blog. Great way for me to test new concepts, and hopefully share some good stuff with you.  And, for those of you who asked me why I chose the name rootbeermarketing…

Root beer is fun, marketing should be fun, and doing quick marketing (in the time it takes to drink a root beer) is much, much better than not doing marketing at all. If you are a small business, check out some of the “10 minute actions” and see if they work for you. Are they easy, fairly quick and productive? Do these actions help grow your business? And, if you are a marketing colleague, feel free to add comments or contribute a full post.

Cheers!

In my last blog post, I said I was going to write about the Top 10 things I learned while building this blog. But, after 4 months of not posting anything, I realize the biggest learning of all is that YOU MUST POST TO YOUR BLOG on a regular basis.

I knew I had to post, I had a list of topics I would write about, and I had plans for how all the blog posts would tell a great story. I had great intentions, but I didn’t post. Why? Because I got all mentally tangled up in my own thoughts…and even with all the excuses, like I’m too busy to write, for me, the real issue was that I felt “exposed.”

The way I have chosen to work through this fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD…which is a marketing communication strategy which I will cover in some other blog entry) is to just WRITE, and not worry if this all adds up to anything, or if it has a typo, or if it’s the very best I can do. Maybe it will just be the best I can do today.

The good news is I think there is a story/challenge/lesson here for anyone trying to run a business…..

10 Minute Action:

  1. Is there something you should be doing for your business that you aren’t?  If yes, are you

    1)      Willing to think about it and identify WHY you aren’t doing it—the real why, not the “I’m too busy” why

    2)      Make a plan for doing whatever it is you need to do.

    (Here are some examples I gathered this week from some of my small business associates: call that unhappy customer, update your business plan, pull those receipts together for taxes, schedule a few new appointments to replace the cancelled ones)

     

The 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 Rule stems from a principle called the Pareto Principle which states that for many events 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

(If you want to learn more about the Pareto Principle there is a lot of information on the internet, but for now I am using it simply as a context for talking about customers.)

 

Many businesses claim that 80% of their sales come from 20% of their customers. The percentage is not as important as identifying if there is a segment of customers responsible for the majority of your business. Perhaps in your case it’s 60/40 or 90/10. Regardless of the exact percentage split, it’s an interesting way to think about your business and your top customers. Knowing these top customers can provide a baseline and important data for doing smart marketing.

 

Things you can do with your top customers to help you grow your business (beyond selling to them):

  • Communicate with them more frequently, or in a different way, in order to strengthen your relationship–the “connection” we talked about in the previous blog
  • Gain valuable feedback on your current products/services
  • Determine if there are some common characteristics or attributes of these customers that are different than your other customers
  • Investigate why they buy from you and if those reasons are extensible to a new set of customers or prospects
  • Develop new products or services based on their needs (or course make sure to do your research on the actual market opportunity for new offerings)
  • Use top customers as marketing references, success stories or case studies
  • Ask your top customers for referrals 

 

Does the 80/20 Rule apply to your business? Do you direct unique marketing or research activities towards these customers?  Please share your thoughts and learnings.

 

10 Minute Action:

  1. Build a physical list of your top customers, eventually this list should include complete contact information and purchase history
  2. Determine ways you will use this list to grow your business