Time for Some Year-End Decluttering?

A cluttered desk is said to be the sign of a cluttered mind. (I've also heard that a clean desk is the sign of a cluttered drawer, but that's another story.) In any case, clutter can lead to confusion, and confusion can lead to poor results. So like that desktop (or desk drawer), an occasional cleaning may be needed to clarify your marketing.

With the new year just around the corner, this seems as good a time as any to get started.

Declutter your message. Are you sending a clear, consistent message with all of your marketing? You should. People will remember you more readily if you keep your message consistent and clean. "You're in good hands." "A diamond is forever." "The breakfast of champions." "Is it live, or is it Memorex?" I could go on, but you get the point. A consistent, unified message helps to make your marketing more memorable and effective.

Declutter your design. Ever visited a website, seen a billboard, watched a commercial, or read a print piece that left you overwhelmed? Perhaps maybe even your own? One of Steve Jobs' proudest legacies at Apple was simplicity (and elegance) of design. It carried through (and still does) not only in the products Apple makes but also in its packaging, its website, its print ads, its stores, and all of the various other marketing the company does. Simple, clean, elegant design provides visual clarity and eliminates the unnecessary clutter, confusion, and noise.

Declutter your approach. Are you a dabbler? A jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none? That may serve you well in life, but it's no way to handle your marketing. That's not to say you shouldn't market in multiple media (you should), but you need to start with a plan that spells out the reasons and goals for each medium you enter. Once that's established, you can then work your plan, knowing that each marketing effort you start is part of a grander vision with clear expectations and tangible goals.

Schizophrenic, hit-and-miss marketing efforts, taken just for the sake of "doing something" or following the latest trend, will drain your budget and leave you with just as schizophrenic results. On the other hand, clear, consistent, clutter-free marketing will (over time) produce more consistent and satisfying results. And isn't that the goal of marketing?

So, what are some other ways you can think of to declutter your marketing? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Marketing Takes a Holiday

If you're planning a winter getaway or are already thinking about a summer retreat (and really, who among us isn't thinking about summer already?), here are a few ideas to help you take your marketing with you on the road....
  • Hold a sale. We've all seen ads with the idea of "the boss is away, so we're having a sale" or something to that effect. Have fun with it, and make it memorable.

  • Send postcards. Bring the names and addresses of your top customers with you, and send them postcards from on the road. Or send postcards back to the office, and have your employees post them in a common area where everyone (customers included) can see them.

  • Blog about it. Along those same lines, post regular updates to the company (and/or your personal) blog, with lots of photos and details about the things you're doing on your trip.

  • Encourage involvement. Ask your customers to send you updates when they go on vacation, then post them to a display at work or as guest posts on your blog.

  • Have some fun. Bring along an item related to your company, such as a shopping bag or mug with your logo on it, or a fun object like a garden gnome or stuffed animal wearing a company shirt. Then take pictures of the object sitting in front of popular tourist attractions.

  • Make a promotion/game out of it by encouraging your customers to do the same thing on their trips or by having people guess where these photos of your "mascot" were taken. If you have your customers take their own photos, supply them with the "mascot" to take with them on their trip, and offer an incentive for participating (such as $x off their next purchase for each photo they provide).
So, what other vacation-related marketing ideas can you think of? I'd love to read about them in the comments below.

Gumming Up the Works

Here's something to chew on as you think about your business plans for the coming year:

A young entrepreneur moved from Philadelphia to Chicago in 1891 with $32 in his pocket and the idea of selling his family's scouring soap to customers. As an incentive, the 29-year-old offered free baking powder with each soap purchase.

Before long, the baking powder became so popular that he began selling it instead. He then came up with a new incentive: two free packages of chewing gum with each can of baking powder sold.

As you might have guessed, the gum proved more popular than the baking powder, so he decided to change his product line once again. And that is how William Wrigley, Jr., started one of the most iconic brands of chewing gum on the market today.

In business (as in life), things don't always go exactly as we plan. Markets change, technologies evolve, and what worked yesterday won't always work today, tomorrow, or down the road.

Knowing when -- and how -- to adapt can mean the difference between success and failure for any enterprise. In Wrigley's case, that meant understanding his customers' evolving needs -- and adapting his product line to meet those new demands.

What will it mean for you and your company in 2012? Only time will tell, so be prepared to recognize new trends, embrace new attitudes, and adapt your plans accordingly.

Seven Steps to a Better Sales Letter

Even in today's increasingly wired world, sales letters remain a staple of most sales processes. Whether on paper or by email, a well-crafted sales letter can help reinforce your sales message, convey information about your products, break the ice, and warm a cold call. Here are seven tips to help you make your sales letters more appealing.
  1. Plan ahead. Outline your thoughts before you start drafting your letter. Decide what you want to say and how you want to say it.

  2. Start strong. If you're not sure how to open your letter, consider a quote, anecdote, story, or other attention-getting device. But keep it short. Remember, you want to get the reader's attention... not get it and then lose it right away.

  3. Don't bury the lead. Avoid the temptation to "build excitement" for two or three paragraphs before revealing your reason for writing. Come out and state it right away in the opening paragraph or two. If you're offering a discount or requesting a meeting, say so up front. Your reader is busy. Respect their time.

  4. Use short, active sentences. Your letter will flow better and be easier to read. By the same token, keep the tone conversational and avoid exaggerations, embellishments, and flowery prose.

  5. Consider headlines and bulleted lists. Busy readers are far more likely to skim your letter than to read it word for word. Headlines and bulleted lists will help draw attention to the points you want to emphasize.

  6. Add a P.S. A reader's eyes are naturally drawn to the P.S. line when they read a letter, so use a P.S. to restate your offer or emphasize a key point you made elsewhere in your letter. Consider making it a handwritten P.S. (depending on your penmanship) for even greater effect.

  7. Proof it carefully. Don't rely on your software's spell-checker to catch every mistake. Ideally, you'll want to print the letter out and proof it on paper, rather than just proofing it on screen. If time permits, allow a day between the time you write the letter and proofread it, so you see your words with fresher eyes and a more objective point of view.

4 Steps to Turning Objections into Sales

Objections are a natural part of virtually any sales process. How you deal with them will go a long way in helping you close more sales. Here are four steps to help you turn objections into sales:

1. Believe in what you're selling.
It's always easier to convince someone else to buy your product or service if you truly believe doing so is in the best interest of the customer. When you believe in the products you sell, your passion and enthusiasm shine through. So make sure your products and services are worthy of your talent and time. If they aren't, decide why not. Then improve them until they are.

2. Anticipate objections.
What potential worries might prospects have when they first see your products? The specifics will vary of course based on the kinds of products you sell. For some, there might be pricing concerns or worries over setup costs and the learning curve. For others, security, safety, or support might be more apropos. Whatever the case, think of as many objections as you can ahead of time, then look for creative ways to address those issues as part of your presentation. Prospects will feel more confident investing in your products or services once they see how much thought and effort you put into overcoming the "real world" challenges facing them.

3. Listen... and hear.
We've all heard the adage that we have two ears and one mouth so we listen twice as much as we speak. In sales, listening is essential -- as is truly hearing what a prospect is saying and determining what they really mean by what they say. So how can you improve your listening? Start by asking questions and restating the concerns a prospect shares with you, so you're sure you understand them properly. All of this will go a long way in helping you connect, build trust, and reach a mutually beneficial sale.

4. Remain positive.
This is potentially the hardest step to follow. No one likes to hear criticism leveled against the products and services they've worked so hard to develop, build, and sell. But objections are natural, and they aren't personal. Remember that the customer is just trying to make sure they get the best value for their hard-earned money. So try not to get defensive when someone raises an objection. Instead, try to get to the bottom of what's causing the concern, so you can address it properly and help the prospect feel more comfortable about the sale. Stay as professional and upbeat as you can. Don't sugarcoat legitimate concerns, but don't get shaken, either. Remember that objections are a part of every sale.

Are You Just Spending Time...or Investing?

December is a time of reflection for many of us, as we approach the end of one year and the start of another. Recently, I ran across a quote from Helen Keller that I thought fit this spirit well, and I wanted to share it with you here.
I will not just live my life.
I will not just spend my life.
I will invest my life.

As you probably know, Helen Keller was an incredible woman who, despite being born both blind and deaf, became an accomplished author, speaker, and activist. She invested her life helping others, and the world was better for it. In her lifetime, she inspired many with her words and actions alike, even earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

I like the idea of life as an investment. Unfortunately, in our busy and hectic world, it can be easy sometimes to forget that time is our most precious commodity and that we must do more than spend it. We must invest it in the people we care about, the causes that inspire us, and the businesses we're working to grow.

So how are you investing your life? And how do you plan to invest it in the year ahead?

Michelangelo once wrote, "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." Make sure you're aiming high and investing your life wisely.

Why Your Business Needs a Portfolio

When many people think of a portfolio, they think about job hunting. However, portfolios can be a valuable tool for any type of business. A portfolio can not only help you showcase your products and marketing efforts, but it can also help you organize your achievements, such as special certifications, awards, letters of recognition, thank you letters, customer testimonials, and more. In addition, a company portfolio can be a great training tool for new employees, merging businesses, or joint ventures with other organizations. Here are a few tips for creating a company portfolio you can be proud of:
  • Designate one person in your company to be in charge of your company portfolio.

  • Consider inserting documents or photos into plastic sleeves or pockets in a three-ring binder. Not only are the pages protected, but they can also be reorganized.

  • Use labeled tab dividers to organize by date and/or topic.

  • Include original documents and marketing materials whenever possible, and do not write on the documents themselves. Instead, insert a piece of paper to highlight the date or write other notes.

  • Keep separate binders for news articles, advertisements, promotional materials, certifications, awards, etc.

  • Create a marketing binder that highlights all of your print materials, from simple, one page product flyers to product catalogs. This is also a great way to keep track of previous promotions, past products, and messaging.

  • Create a reminder in your calendar to update your portfolio regularly (monthly or quarterly) so information doesn't fall by the wayside.

Marketing Your Goodwill

In the business world, the benefits of charitable giving are two-fold: Giving lets you not only help those who are in need, but also enhance your company's reputation. Many customers show increased loyalty toward generous brands. Here are a few creative ways to market your goodwill:
  • Encourage customers to purchase from you rather than your competition by designating specific products or services for your charity. For example, "5 percent of proceeds from all XYZ pet products purchased benefits local animal shelters."

  • Add a feature section to your website, highlighting your charity. Include a link to the charity's website, as well as information about any upcoming charity events.

  • Create a giving campaign for your charity, and encourage customers to join in. This will help build stronger relationships with your customers and nurture a sense of pride in helping toward a common goal. For example, you might try something like this: "We will donate $1 for every canned food donation we receive during our Annual Food Drive for the Hungry."

  • Send a press release to local media to publicize your donations to charities.

  • Promote your charitable involvement in your newsletters, flyers, brochures, advertisements, etc.

  • Promote your charity at your business. Make brochures about the charity available, include charity flyers with purchases, hold internal fundraising contests, etc.

  • Advertise your products and services in your charity's preferred communication vehicles, such as newsletters.

  • Offer exclusive discounts to people involved with your charity.

  • Donate items to your charity that they can use for raffles or other fundraising events. The presence of your donation is an advertisement in itself.

  • Instead of sending customers Christmas cards or gifts, let them know you are making a contribution to your charity instead.
Of course, while corporate giving is a great way to build your business, don't forget that your primary motivation should be to help others.

Trade Show Fashion Faux Pas

It doesn't take a fashion expert to know that some things don't belong at trade shows. Here are a few examples of what not to wear at trade shows and other business events:
  • Too much or too little. There is nothing worse than freezing or sweating at a networking event. Dress in comfortable layers that you can easily add or remove as needed, such as a suit jacket over a dress shirt.

  • Clothing without a pocket or two. Pockets are always handy for business cards, pens, breath mints, etc.

  • New shoes. While new shoes may look nice, nothing looks worse than missing out on important introductions because you can't stand to be on your feet. Trade shows usually involve long hours and lots of standing and walking. Stay in the game by picking a shoe that's made for walking, or watch the competition walk all over you.

  • Cologne. Fragrances should be alluring, not overpowering. If you are within talking distance and can smell someone's perfume or cologne, it is too strong.

  • Clothes which are too tight, too short, too revealing. No matter whether your pants are popping a button because they shrunk in your closet or are snug by choice, clothing that is too tight is not only unprofessional but distracting.

  • Gaudy jewelry. You want to be remembered for your personality or impressive product knowledge, not your giant jangling earrings or over-jeweled hands.

Nailing Down the Details

I'd like to share a verse with you, written four centuries ago by a Welsh clergyman named George Herbert and published by Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard's Almanack.
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

It's amazing to think how important small details can be in our own lives, as well. In the case of this poem, the fate of an entire nation rested on a single nail. While obviously farfetched, this story does illustrate the far-reaching effects a seemingly insignificant detail can have in shaping events in our lives... and in the lives of our businesses.

So, as you consider the activities and decisions facing your company in the days, weeks, and months ahead, be careful not to overlook any horseshoe nails.

3 Things Your Business Can Learn from a Chameleon

Chameleons are amazing creatures. And not just because they appear in a hit '80s song or humorous word-nerd send-up. No, chameleons are amazing for three distinct reasons. And each relates (in its own small way) to business.

1. Chameleons adapt to changes surrounding them.
While the common belief that chameleons change colors in order to blend in with their environment is not true, chameleons do change color based on temperature, light, and mood. As a chameleon grows warmer, for example, its colors become brighter and more distinct.

Business application: Like the chameleon, we, too, need to adapt to changes affecting us. As the competition turns up the heat, we need to let our true colors shine through, so we can stand out from the crowd.

2. Chameleons can focus on two things at once.
A chameleon's eyes move independently of one another, allowing it the peculiar ability to watch two things simultaneously... without moving its head. What's more, each eye has a horizontal radius of 180 degrees and vertical radius of 90 degrees, and can see in three dimensions.

Business application: While a singular focus can have its advantages in certain situations, being too focused on only one option (tunnel vision) can sometimes make us overlook opportunities or obstacles in our way.

3. Chameleons strike quickly and with pinpoint control.
A chameleon's sticky tongue is a marvelous thing. Roughly the length of the creature's body and tail combined, it can extend and retract in just a fraction of a second, with deadly accuracy and control.

Business application: Like a chameleon hunting its dinner, we need to remain nimble, too, so we can act quickly and with pinpoint control when opportunities arise.

Fostering Innovation, Embracing Mistakes

Think mistakes are always bad? Think again. William L. McKnight, a former president and chairman of the board at 3M, has been credited by many with fostering the company's emphasis on innovation. In 1948, while president of the company, McKnight had this to say about mistakes.

"Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative."

Today, 3M holds patents on hundreds (if not thousands) of products, ranging from Scotch® brand tapes and Post-It® Notes to fiber optics, fuel cell components, security devices, and more. By accepting mistakes as an inevitable part of business, 3M has built and maintained a highly successful brand in a fiercely competitive market. Along the way, they've earned a reputation as a leader in fostering innovation and attracting top talent to their team.

So what can you learn from one of the world's leading brands? Embracing initiative means accepting mistakes and learning to loosen the reins.

The Power of a Good Word

Referrals are among the most effective and least expensive marketing tools available to small business owners. People don't always trust an ad or sales call, but they do trust their friends.

Think about the places you've done business with in the past week, month, or year. What first led you to those establishments? Was it an ad on TV, on the radio, or in the newspaper? Perhaps a piece of direct mail? Maybe a billboard or website? Or a particularly persuasive sales call? All of these are effective means of marketing to the public. But none is as effective as a referral from a colleague or friend.

A referral from a friend will carry far more weight in most people's minds than the cleverest ad or most well-articulated sales call. So how can you generate more referrals for your company?
  • Model it. If you want your customers to start referring people to you, refer your friends and colleagues to your customers' companies, too. Reciprocity is a powerful thing. If you refer business to others, they will be far more likely to refer business to you.

  • Ask. When you meet with established customers to follow up on a sale or just to check in, ask if they know anyone else who might need your services. Even if they can't think of anyone on the spot, your question will plant a seed and remind them to think of you when they do come across a friend who might benefit from what you sell.

  • Offer an incentive. Provide a discount or special thank-you gift for those who do provide referrals. Make it something fun and worthwhile that will make your customers realize how seriously you take their business. In some cases, that might mean a month of free service, a free upgrade or enhanced service plan, or some other unique perk available only to them. Tailor your incentive to your own specific business and customer base. You may also want to offer a discount to the prospect who was referred.

  • Keep doing what you're doing. If you're providing outstanding service and support, along with exceptional products and services, referrals will come. If someone enjoys doing business with you and feels like you're providing good value for their money, it's almost certain that eventually they will start telling others about you and talking you up with their friends and colleagues. Of course, the opposite is true, as well, so make sure you're providing the kind of service worthy of a positive referral.

  • Say thanks. Whether you have a formal referral program or not, when someone tells you they were referred by a friend, make a point of thanking that friend. Even something as simple as a hand-written note in the mail will let your customer know how much you appreciate their kindness.

What's Your Mission?

Gandhi once said, "A small body of determined spirits, fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission, can alter the course of history." Gandhi and his followers certainly did just that, as have many others who took a mission to heart.

In the 1980 movie, The Blues Brothers, Jake and Elwood Blues are men on a mission. They experience a revelation and decide they must get their old band back together in order to earn enough money to save the Catholic boarding school where they were raised. Not quite as grand a mission as Gandhi's, no doubt, but a mission just the same.

Chances are, your company has a mission, too, with an accompanying mission statement, carefully crafted and culled to provide optimal guidance in the decisions you make as an organization.

But what about you personally? What's your mission? What drives your own personal decisions? Your career, aspirations, and dreams? What prism do you use to focus your thoughts and cast light on the choices you face at work, at home, and in the world?

Experts like Dr. Stephen Covey advocate the need for a personal mission statement to guide the decisions that affect your own life and career. Just as successful companies use mission statements to clarify and filter their organizational decisions, many successful individuals do the same on a personal level, as well.

FranklinCovey has put together an online Mission Statement Builder to help you create a personal mission statement for yourself, your family, and your team. I recommend checking it out and giving it a try.

As you begin filtering your day-to-day decisions through a personal mission statement, you may be surprised to find that reaching your goals becomes easier.

The Power of Words

Here's a little story about how the power of words can evoke emotion, especially in the world of marketing.

An elderly blind man was sitting on a busy street corner with a cardboard sign next to an empty tin cup. The sign read, "Blind -- Please help." People would glance at the sign, but nobody gave the man any money.

Then a young copywriter saw the man with his sign and empty cup. He felt disappointed as he watched all the people walk past without an ounce of empathy, so he took a marker, flipped the sign over, and rewrote the blind man's message.

Suddenly, people started putting money in his cup until it was overflowing. Surprised, the blind man asked a stranger to tell him what the sign said. He replied, "It's a beautiful day. You can see it. I cannot."

Who's Who?

Depending on the nature of your business, your customers may spend a lot of time on the phone talking to sales reps, customer service, customer support, etc. If you're looking for a great way to add a personal touch to these interactions, consider posting photos of your sales or support staff on your website, business cards, and other marketing materials.

Employee photos are a compelling way to capture your visitors' attention on your website. More importantly, though, conversion rates increase when people can connect emotionally. Photos are a great way to foster this kind of connection between your customers and staff.

Because people buy from people, they are often curious about who they are speaking with. Photos increase interest in day-to-day interactions and help customers and prospects recognize and remember the members of your team, making them more likely to approach your staff at trade shows or other social events.

In addition to posting individual photos, group photos and candid shots of employees at work are great ways to show off your facility, the various skills you can offer in-house, and the potential bulk of your workforce.

An Important Message from...You

If your business is looking for a great way to relay important messages and create a favorable impression of your company, consider a "message from the owner" (or president, CEO, etc.). Here are a few tips to create a "message" that speaks for itself:
  • In addition to creating a standard "mission statement" message from the owner, consider offering regular messages via a company website, newsletter, blog, sales letter, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc. to communicate new initiatives, announce new products, or simply offer an insightful perspective on a relevant subject.

  • Include a photo of the owner/president/CEO. Readers feel more of a connection when they can put a face with a name.

  • While the messaging is most effective when it comes from the owner him/herself, consider help from a member of your communications team for message ideas, editing, and wordsmith help.

  • In addition to sharing a message with customers, a message from the owner is also a great way to create a sense of community within an organization and narrow the gap between the owner and coworkers.

  • Encourage feedback and open lines of communication whenever possible. A forum where customers or coworkers can ask questions and receive a response from the owner can be a powerful marketing tool. Consider highlighting questions and responses as topics for the messages.

Try Before You Buy

What better way to offer a glimpse into your quality products, services, and support than with a risk-free trial or evaluation? Depending on your product, a free trial is not only an effective marketing tool to increase interest and expand your customer base, but it also helps establish rapport with potential customers and shows them your product or service is valuable and worth purchasing. Here are a few tips for offering a free trial:
  • Set a clear time frame for your trial offer, such as a 30 or 60-day evaluation period.

  • Consider a first-time discount if the user decides to purchase from you, as well as a referral program that offers coupons with a trial to pass along to friends.

  • Avoid scaring away potential customers by asking only for necessary information when signing up for the free trial.

  • Don't spam those who provide information. Offer an option to sign up for promotions if they are interested.

  • Notify users before the trial ends to avoid sharp cutoffs or automatic billing.

  • Lastly, think of a free trial program as a way to improve your products or services. You can gain valuable feedback from those who choose not to purchase from you.

Jared from Subway Has Important Marketing Advice For You

So what in the world could a pitchman for sub sandwiches be able to teach you about marketing? As it turns out, quite a bit!

Jared's story about how he lost weight while eating Subway sandwiches has some important marketing lessons that should not go unnoticed. With a little thought and analysis, you can choose the areas where you can apply these lessons to your business.

Lesson number one -- Jared has an intriguing story that people become curious to learn more about. This story line is interesting and different, which helps it stand out from the barrage of boring, yawn-inspiring advertisements. Think about how you can create a story around your products, services, and brand. Strive for real human interest, not just simple feature descriptions.

Lesson number two -- Jared's story has an emotional appeal to it. The story is believable, and people become engaged because we all like to pull for underdogs. Every human being makes daily purchasing decisions with emotional aspects to them. If you can infuse your brand story with believable emotional appeal, you will have a distinct advantage over your competition.

Lesson number three -- Jared provides visual proof that eating at Subway has helped him take off the pounds. As much as possible and in as many areas as possible, you must provide testimonials and proof in your marketing that reassure your audience how your products and services will work for them, too.

Lesson number four -- The Jared campaign has been running for a long time now. Surely, the franchisees, employees, corporate management, and even the ad agency handling the account must be getting sick and tired of seeing the Jared ads. Many companies, large and small, mistakenly stop a successful marketing campaign simply because they themselves are tired of it, even though their audience is still responding. If you need entertainment, go to the movies. If you want to make money, continue running a successful ad until your market stops responding to it and the campaign stops producing results.

Lesson number five -- This lesson is perhaps the most important for you and your company. Subway makes sandwiches. Sure it has a little different twist, but it is similar to thousands of other sub shops across the country. One of the things that has helped it stand apart and enjoy growing sales is that Subway was the first within its category to take its product (subs) and reposition it as a health food. Through Jared's story, Subway took a sub sandwich and turned it into a diet product. With one simple story, the company was able to tie into the healthy eating wave. The product didn't change much, but the story around the product did. Now how brilliant is that?

So how can you reposition what you currently sell into something that can increase the value proposition without completely recreating it? Jared and Subway have provided a path. Create a story with emotional appeal that repositions you and your business in the minds of your target audience. If Subway can turn bread and sandwich meat into a diet pill, surely you can come up with something.



How to Build a Powerful Brand

The word branding began simply as a way to tell one person's cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. Unless you are selling cattle, the branding we are referring to here is a little different. Wikipedia defines it this way: A brand can take many forms, including a name, sign, symbol, color combination, or slogan. The word brand has continued to evolve to encompass identity -- it affects the personality of a product, company or service.

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's goods or services as distinct from those of other sellers."

If you ask someone to give an example of a brand, the most likely answers will be: Coca-Cola, Disney, Starbucks, Google, and Apple, among a few select others. While most companies don't have the budgets and resources to build brand awareness like these large corporations do, it is still important to understand why building a brand is important for companies of every size.

What are the advantages of building a brand name?

Let's take a look at a few examples. People willingly and gladly pay four dollars for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, when they could pay a lot less at many other places. Coke products have been imitated by many companies, yet they can still charge a healthy premium over the other brands. Apple has built legions of loyal customers who stay in line overnight to be the first ones to purchase their latest products. That is the power of having a brand name.

Still think this only applies to big companies? Think again. Every company has a brand of some sort. Your brand is your reputation in the marketplace, and it is being defined every day by your customers, your prospects, and even your competitors.

How do you build your brand?

Fulfill the promises that your company makes. Every time. Each time you do this successfully, you are building your brand. When you do this consistently over time, you build trust. Trust leads to word of mouth. Word of mouth leads to more customers and longevity. Do that long enough, and your company will be the next overnight sensation with a powerful brand name everyone can remember.

Turn Callers Into Customers with Messaging On Hold

Think about the last time you called a business and were put on hold. Dead air can make a 30-second wait feel like forever. The majority of callers will hang up if they feel like they've been on hold too long, and many of them will never call back.

On-hold messaging is a great way to decrease caller hang-up by entertaining callers and making their wait feel much shorter. It's also a creative way to inform and educate callers. Many of your customers aren't aware of the variety of products or services you offer. On-hold messaging provides an easy marketing opportunity to target customers or prospects that have already shown interest by calling your business.

Here are a few ways to get the most out of your on-hold messaging:
  • Inform callers about upcoming sales or promotions.

  • Advertise tradeshows, open houses, and other events.

  • Educate callers about new products and services.

  • Highlight industry resources and other helpful websites, articles, etc.

  • Provide fun facts and intriguing trivia questions and answers to get the listener thinking.

  • Remind callers about upcoming holidays and important events.
While nobody likes getting put on hold, well-produced messaging can keep your callers entertained and informed while they wait.

Is Your Company Tagline Boring Your Customers?

A tagline is a short, descriptive phrase used alongside a company logo to drive home the message and promise of a brand. If your tagline is getting long in the tooth or does not resonate any longer, it may be time to take a look at upgrading it. Even big brands like Coca-Cola change their tagline when it needs reinvigorating. It's never too late to change a tired tagline.

Eric Swartz of the Byline Group suggests sitting down and asking yourself some core questions about your company:
  • Who are you?
  • What are your values?
  • What is your vision?
  • How would you describe your corporate culture?
  • What nouns and adjectives would you use to convey your brand's promise and its solution?
  • What words might your customers use to describe your company?
  • Are there any misconceptions about your company that need to be cleared up?
(More information here: Slogans That Are the Real Thing)

To get your creative juices flowing, here is a list of the top 10 taglines since 1948:
  1. "Got milk?" (1993, California Milk Processor Board)
  2. "Don't leave home without it." (1975, American Express)
  3. "Just do it." (1988, Nike)
  4. "Where's the beef?" (1984, Wendy's)
  5. "You're in good hands with Allstate." (1956, Allstate Insurance)
  6. "Think different." (1998, Apple Computer)
  7. "We try harder." (1962, Avis)
  8. "Tastes great, less filling." (1974, Miller Light)
  9. "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands." (1954, M&M Candies)
  10. "Takes a licking and keeps on ticking." (1956, Timex)

(Source: The 100 Most Influential Taglines Since 1948)

Not having a great tagline (or one at all) may not doom a business, but having a memorable tagline can certainly help a business stand out from the clutter of a crowded marketplace.

Free Shipping: A Powerful Marketing Tactic

The online commerce world is constantly changing, yet one thing remains the same: the dramatic impact "free shipping" has on sales. "Free shipping" is the top offer customers look for and will respond to in e-mail messages. In addition, many customers abandon their shopping carts because of high shipping charges and select retailers who offer free shipping over those who don't.

Many people wonder, is free shipping really free? Unlikely. Pricing is often a perception game, with the cost of shipping getting absorbed into the product cost. However, many people would often rather pay more for a product than pay the extra shipping.

Here are a few creative shipping promotion ideas to encourage customers to purchase from you rather than your competitor's website:
  • Offer a shipping promo relevant to purchase amount. For example: Receive free shipping with an order or $50 or more.

  • Send a free shipping code as an exclusive offer, such as a birthday or anniversary promo, or to those who "like" you on Facebook.

  • Depending on the types of products you offer, consider an affordable $1/item shipping option.

  • Offer free site-to-store pickup, which also encourages additional sales when customers pick up their package.

  • Offer a customer loyalty club that offers free shipping or reimburses shipping after reaching X amount of annual purchases.

  • Consider offering a free shipping club that usually carries an annual membership fee. For example: Pay a $30 annual membership fee to receive free shipping on every purchase for one year. This not only encourages loyal customers to purchase more than they may otherwise, but also encourages customers to do their shopping exclusively at your business versus another because of free shipping.

  • Offer a flat-rate shipping promo. While shipping isn't free, it can often encourage customers to make more purchases, knowing they will only pay X for shipping regardless of their purchase amount.

Boost Sales with FAQs

Many people enjoy shopping online for one main reason: convenience. A frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on your website will save your customers time by providing them with quick answers and relevant advice. At the same time, it will also save you time by eliminating repetitive questions. A well-produced FAQ will reinforce buying decisions and shorten the time it takes to order from your business. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your FAQ section:
  • Answer each FAQ with well-written content that will also help rank in search engines for keywords relevant to your industry. Doing this can help turn your site into a resource for customers and other prospects.

  • Allow answers to expand and minimize with a single click, so the questions remain easily scannable and readers don't have to wait for a new page to load each time. Do not create the FAQ as a separate file (such as a PDF) that customers need to download to read.

  • Update FAQs frequently to ensure answers are still relevant.

  • Organize questions so they are easy to find, such as by category, with the most popular questions first.

  • Use brief, informative answers. If detailed answers are required, provide a link to more information. Have the link open in a new window, so the visitor doesn't have to leave the current page.

  • Focus on providing helpful information. Avoid flashy designs that distract from your content.

  • Include various contact methods should the reader want more answers. In addition to general contact information (phone, fax, email, mailing address, etc.), provide a question form that's easily accessible from your FAQ page.

Become a Resource for Your Customers

The average prospect is bombarded by so many salesmen eager for their business that they can be selective over the solution provider they choose. While quality and price will always remain important factors, the level of expertise and guidance provided is often just as important. Here are a few ways you can become a resource for your customers:
  • Offer hands-on training as an extension of your customer's organization. By enhancing their ability to anticipate, understand, and solve problems, you can help them develop solutions faster and more efficiently than on their own.

  • Provide a newsletter, or encourage customers to sign up for your blog. Then fill that newsletter or blog with tips, articles, industry trends, new product highlights, and relevant industry articles and resources. Create an archive section on your website that makes all previous information you've provided available for viewing.

  • Create a resource page on your website that offers a comprehensive list of engaging and helpful links to industry resources, helpful websites, associations, event calendars, etc.

  • Create an industry chat forum through your web page that gives people with similar interests the ability to chat with others about your industry, products, resources, etc.

  • Stay current on industry trends and new products, as well as competitor solutions, so you can offer educated answers to your customers.

  • Stay involved with your customers. Periodically check in to see how they are doing and to show that you sincerely care about them and your relationship with them.

  • Put yourself in your customers' shoes. Learn more about their industry, customers, associations, events, etc. Think of creative ways you can help them be more successful in their ventures.

  • Don't just use a sales pitch. Instead, share your enthusiasm and knowledge. Salespeople who are passionate are the most successful because their belief in the products or services shines through.

What does a $300 million cable have to do with your bottom line?

We've all heard the adage that time is money. Well, in the financial markets of New York and London, they measure that time in milliseconds and the money in hundreds of millions of dollars.

More precisely, a new transatlantic cable, currently in development, will save traders about 6 milliseconds per transmission. The project's cost: $300 million. Once finished, the company behind the cable plans to charge as much as 50 times more to use the service than existing alternatives, and financial companies are already chomping at the bit to pay.

Why? According to one estimate, a savings of just one millisecond would add $100 million to a large hedge fund's annual bottom line.

So where can your company shave time?
  • Start small. Sure, you're not likely to see a $100 million savings, but even little time-savers -- a few minutes here, a couple seconds there -- add up and can help you work more productively.

  • Streamline processes. Engineers working on the new transatlantic cable project studied commercial flight paths between New York and London in planning their route. As a result, the new cable will be about 310 miles shorter than existing lines. What best practices can you follow to achieve similar savings at your company?

  • Plan for the future. This is the first new transatlantic line installed in the last 10 years, and planners have spared no expense to make sure it lives up to its promise. If it fails -- or someone builds a faster conduit -- all they'll have is a very expensive piece of cord lying at the bottom of the ocean. So how can you plan ahead to keep momentum going? Start by investing in technology, building up infrastructure, and creating a mindset of efficiency and effort at your company.

Why You Must Diversify Your Marketing

If you ever listen to financial experts, you will inevitably come across an often repeated phrase: "Diversify your financial portfolio." Why do financial planners preach this ad nauseam?

History has taught them that, if you put all of your eggs in one basket, you increase your risk of losing your portfolio. The greater the concentration in one type of investment (just stocks, or just bonds, or just parking cash in a low-interest money market account), the greater the risk that you will lose in the long run. So diversification in this instance is really just risk management.

Advertising and marketing have been around a long time now. Traditional options range from mass marketing like radio, TV, billboard, and newspaper ads to personalized print and direct mail advertising. Websites, email marketing, social media, and mobile ads are the new kids on the block. Experts in each of these specialties claim their medium is the best investment. Whether a fresh-out-of-school social media guru or an old-school yellow page ad rep, each has a valid point to consider that paints their tool in the best light.

So what should you do? Which medium really is the best to use for your business? Only you can answer that, but the smart money may be to take a page out of the financial experts' wisdom and apply it to marketing your company: diversification. You don't need to use every advertising medium known to man, but you shouldn't put all of your eggs in one basket either.

The prospects, leads, and customers you are looking for use different media for different reasons. When you only use one, you are only reaching a small portion of your audience. So manage risk in your marketing campaigns by diversifying your marketing portfolio. When you accomplish this, your financial portfolio will be much happier, too!

Measure twice

There's an old adage among carpenters: "Measure twice, cut once." A moment spent verifying a measurement can save the time and frustration of having to re-cut, sand, or replace a board if the size is off by even the smallest amount. Taking shortcuts can literally lead to "short cuts," which require more time, resources, and expense to fix and make right.

The same idea holds true for pouring a slab of concrete, laying tile, hanging a door, installing cabinetry... and running a business. Sometimes, in the rush to get things done, we all forget to "measure twice" before pushing forward on a project or policy. We think we're working smarter, when in reality our shortcuts are short-circuiting our efforts and making us spend even more time, energy, and money fixing mistakes we would never have made if we had just taken the time to do it right from the start.

Of course, measuring twice doesn't mean delaying decisions indefinitely or dragging our heels for fear of making a mistake. That could prove even more harmful than moving too fast. What it does mean is taking a step back, verifying our course, and then moving forward more confidently than before.

So the next time you're tempted to cut corners, just to get things done, stop for a minute, assess the situation, and make sure those corners aren't important to the structural integrity of your project before you pull out that blade.

A Lesson from the Stands

Sports and business have long enjoyed a unique connection. Many of the traits shared by top athletes and coaches are as valuable in the boardroom as they are in the locker room. Authors, speakers, and business consultants often use sports-related anecdotes and stories to illustrate points they're trying to make to a business audience.

Today, I'd like to share a sports-related story with a slightly different twist. This tale doesn't involve a famous player, team, or coach, and it doesn't take place in the locker room or on the playing field. Instead, it involves two fans in the stands at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Earlier this summer, the San Francisco Giants were hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the top of the ninth inning, Pittsburgh's Ryan Doumit hit a foul ball into the stands, and the cameras caught the image of a young fan catching the ball and then handing it to a stranger in front of him. The move was greeted with cheers from the people surrounding the boy. After some speculation, the TV announcers explained that, apparently, the other fan had caught a foul ball earlier in the game and handed it to the boy as a souvenir. He was just returning the favor.

Sometimes, it's easy to get so caught up in the negativity around us that we start looking for ulterior motives in every seemingly kind act. But cynicism only breeds more cynicism, and every silver lining does not always involve a cloud. Occasionally, it takes a kind act (or two kind acts in this case) to remind us that fair play, generosity, and sportsmanship are still alive and well -- in all areas of life.

Staying on Course

The earth's magnetic fields are in constant fluctuation. Earlier this year, The Independent (a London newspaper) reported that the magnetic north pole is "currently relocating towards Russia at a rate of about 40 miles a year." According to the article, this speed "has increased by a third in the past decade" and represents a "faster [movement] than at any time in human history."

The article goes on to talk about some of the ramifications these changes are bringing about. For example, magnetic compass directions are changing by about one degree per year, causing some airports to have to relabel runways to correspond with the new readings.

I mention this because it illustrates an important point for business owners. Like magnetic north, the business world is in a constant state of flux. Communication channels that didn't exist five years ago (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are now essential tools for marketing and customer interaction. Smartphones and handheld devices such as the iPad are changing the way people live, work, and shop. Competition for many of us has grown stiffer, and the rules are changing all the time.

Like airports that rely on magnetic compasses to identify their runways, we must keep a constant eye on the changes going on in our industries and in the business world at large. A one-degree change on a compass wheel may seem insignificant and small, but over time and across great distances, its impact can be severe.

Staying the course isn't always the best way to stay on course, especially when the course keeps shifting.

What's Your Story?

Want to breathe some life into your marketing? Try telling a story.

The art of storytelling is as old as civilization itself. Through the years, storytellers have used their skills to educate, entertain, enthrall, and explain the world around them. Heroes, villains, gods, and demons. Storytellers breathe life into their characters and keep their audiences spellbound until the end.

So what does any of this have to do with business? A lot, really.

At its heart, marketing is storytelling. Like a storyteller of old, you need to connect with your audience (your customers and prospects), engage them, educate them, enthrall them, and inspire them to act on that newfound knowledge by buying your wares or responding to your offer.

Does that mean you need to strive to become the next Steinbeck or Shakespeare, or that you should fill your website with flowery prose? Certainly not. But it does mean you should try to make your materials more engaging and less dry, dull, and routine.

One way to tell your story is through the eyes of a satisfied customer. Case studies and testimonials provide an ideal medium. Start with a look at the customer involved. Introduce them and offer some background information about who they are and what they do. Next, present the challenge facing them (a difficult deadline, a tight budget, a bad experience with the competition). This will serve as your antagonist and provide the conflict necessary in all good storytelling. Finally, talk about how you (or someone at your company) helped them overcome those challenges and live happily ever after.

The key is to make the customer the focus of your story, not your company. Your company merely helps that person overcome their challenges. Readers need to relate to a story's main character and to the struggles they face. Otherwise, they won't feel invested in the story enough to care how it ends. They'll also tune out if they sense a story is nothing more than chest-thumping and self-absorbed bravado.

Of course, storytelling isn't limited just to case studies or testimonials. Consider your company-focused content, like your history and executive bios. Are there any interesting stories from your company's past you'd like to share? For example, what led your company's founders to start your company? Did they as consumers have a need that no one else was meeting? What challenges did they face? Were there any obstacles that stood in their way? And how did they position themselves to overcome those challenges...to the benefit of their customers (people like those who are reading your materials)?

Even product literature offers a chance to tell a story and captivate an audience. What led your company to introduce the product you're writing about? What challenges does it help customers (like those reading your materials) overcome? How has customer feedback helped you improve the product? And what role do you see customer interaction playing in future product offerings and upgrades?

Notice a common theme here? In all of these, the focus is on the customer. They are the heroes of the stories you tell. It's their challenges, struggles, and needs that shape your decisions and encourage you to do what you do.

And that makes for one very compelling storyline.

Location-Based Marketing: A Small-Business Primer

Location-based services such as Gowalla, Foursquare, and Facebook Places are becoming increasingly popular. These services allow users to "check in" at restaurants, bars, stores, and other places of interest, directly from their smartphone or portable device. Users can add notes about the business, see who else is checked in, and earn points, badges, and other benefits. For their part, businesses can provide special incentives for customers who check in, such as coupons, discounts, and "check-in-only" specials.

AT&T got into the location-based act earlier this year when it launched ShopAlerts. The service (free to AT&T customers) sends text alerts to a user's smartphone whenever the person is near a business that uses the ShopAlerts system. The messages contain product information, special promotions, event listings, or whatever the vendor wishes to say. Available in limited release in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, the company hopes to add more locations in the near future.

So should your business care about location-based marketing? Perhaps. At the very least, you'll probably want to check your company's listings on the most popular services (Facebook Places, Foursquare, and Gowalla) to a.) make sure there is a listing and b.) verify all the information is accurate. Typically, a service will require you to verify your claim of ownership before they allow you to edit any of the contact information. Foursquare recently changed its guidelines to make it easier to claim your business listing. Follow the links at the end of this post for more information.

You'll also want to keep an eye on what users are saying when they check in. Read reviews and follow up on feedback, just as you would if someone voiced a complaint in person. As location-based services become more popular, people are using them to decide where to go to spend their money. Lousy reviews will hurt your referral traffic.

If you decide to run a promotion or special through a location-based service, make sure it's tailored to your target audience. You can gauge the success of such efforts by tracking check-ins and people's use of the promotions involved, then adapt your efforts and tweak them on the fly.

For more information about the most common services, here are a few links to get you started:

Facebook Places
Foursquare for Business
Gowalla - Business Services
SCVNGR for Business
Yelp for Business Owners

Door Hanger Marketing

If you're looking for a unique way to target a specific market, the solution may be hanging under your nose.

Because door hangers stand alone without competition, they are more likely to be read and remembered. While you can easily maximize marketing real estate and print messaging on both sides of the hanger, be careful not to bombard the reader with information. Door hangers are most effective when you provide a simple yet enticing message as creative as the hanger itself. Direct the reader to contact you or visit your website for more information.

While a single door hanger can create a lasting impression, a follow-up door hanger campaign will create even greater awareness and help readers think of you when their need for your product or service arises.

Want to track your campaign or ensure your recipients hang onto your door hanger after removing it from the knob? Consider including a tear-away discount card or coupon, affixing a magnet to the back, or offering a calendar of upcoming promotions and giveaways.

Six Steps to an Effective Email Signature Line

Despite the growing popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and other communications channels, email remains popular in the business world. Here are a few tips to help you make your email messages stand out, with an effective signature line.

Create a standard. Maintaining a unified brand is essential for effective marketing and communication. You would (probably) never dream of letting each employee design their own unique business card or letterhead. Even if you did, you'd likely offer guidelines, such as standard color palettes, font selections, and basic layout rules. The same is true with email. A standard email template and signature will ensure that all communications from your company reinforce your brand and create a positive impression for your company.

Keep it professional. Many email programs provide a wide assortment of templates and font choices. Use both sparingly. Make sure your message doesn't get lost in an overly busy layout or hard-to-read font.

Keep it concise. Make sure your signature isn't so long that it proves a distraction for what you're trying to say. Quotations, anecdotes, and unnecessary graphics can clutter up an otherwise effective signature line.

But not too brief. Of course, you do want to make sure people can reach you...and not just by hitting reply. Name, title, phone/extension, and company website are a good place to start. You might also want to include links to social media channels, such as your Twitter profile and company Facebook page.

Create multiple signatures, especially if you have more than one role at your company. Make sure each signature complies with the company standard and offers proper contact information based on the context of the message you're sending.

Standardize any legalese. If your company has a policy about email confidentiality or proper email usage, add this to your signature line, and make sure the same wording gets added to the company's email signature guidelines.

Sweet Treats = Sweet Deals

Are you looking for a unique way to create a memorable atmosphere for your customers and prospects? Consider offering refreshments at your business on an everyday basis. Something as simple as coffee, lemonade, and cookies will encourage visitors to stop and chat while they enjoy a tasty treat. (By the way, cookies are even more enticing when baked fresh onsite -- even if baked in a portable pizza oven.)

Celebrating a special event such as a corporate anniversary, coworker's birthday, or holiday? Consider offering mini cupcakes, muffins, caramel roll bites, popcorn, or seasonal snacks.

Don't attack visitors and push a sales pitch down their throat while they are enjoying a treat. Instead, create an inviting environment with a high-top table or small table and chairs, then use this perfect opportunity to visit and build relationships.

While your visitors will likely do a great job promoting your delicious goodies to others via word of mouth, don't forget to devote some space in your next marketing promotion to invite others to stop by for a sweet treat and a sweet deal on XYZ.

The Positive Side of Negative Reviews

Does your business offer an outlet to post or share customer reviews, good and bad alike? Many businesses cringe at the thought of sharing negative customer reviews, thinking they may taint their image or scare away business. However, negative reviews can be good for business.

Negative feedback provides credibility and tells customers the business is confident enough to show a range of customer feedback. Nobody is perfect, and the same holds true for businesses. Honest feedback and suggestions for improvement can even improve your business (IF you are eager to fix the issue).

Negative reviews offer a great opportunity to show you care about your customers -- not only to the person who wrote the review, but also to everyone else reading it. Quickly resolve any complaints, and reestablish credibility by offering refunds, future discounts, gift cards, etc.

While negative reviews can be a great learning tool for your business and customers alike, be sure to maintain a constant online presence to neutralize negative conversations and quickly delete any inappropriate comments.

Marketing as an Underdog

Have you ever watched a small, passionate business overcome challenges and succeed when the odds are against them? While getting your feet off the ground may be tough, there are actually several advantages to marketing as an underdog. Here are a few reasons why customers love and support the underdogs, especially during difficult economic times:
  • Customers relate to the underdog's passion and determination to succeed against the odds.

  • Underdogs often start local. By supporting them, you are also supporting your community.

  • Underdogs will work harder at keeping your loyalty, while business giants may view you as just another fish in the sea.

  • Underdogs often resolve any issues much faster and change rules or policies easily to better accommodate their customers.

  • Underdogs are often smaller and can take on creative opportunities or risks that business giants won't consider.

  • Even if companies grow large, people identify with them easier when they understand the journey the company has had to endure along the way.
As Vince Lombardi once said, "It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get up." If your business has an encouraging story to tell about how your business persevered, share it in your marketing materials, website, blog, etc. Stories about overcoming adversity are a great way to connect and strengthen relationships with prospects and customers.

Being Direct Can Improve Your Bottom Line

Finding new customers for your products and services can be a challenge at any time, but in today's economic environment, it can be even more critical to the health and well-being of your company. Smart marketers are continually on the lookout for effective methods that will bring new leads into their sales cycle funnel. The challenge for businesses today is the same as it has always been:
  • Find new, profitable customers.

  • Communicate, educate, nurture, and serve them.

  • Build a bond and relationship so they continually come back to you.
The difference today is that marketing budgets are getting cut to the bone, making it more difficult to recover from a dud campaign. So finding a cost-effective return on your ad spend investment is especially important. There can be no denying the compelling case made by the new tools of search engine marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing. However, in the frantic search for cost-effective marketing, it's easy to forget one of the most powerful tools still available to you: direct mail. Dollar for dollar, direct-mail marketing, when done correctly, results in more sales than any other marketing medium available. You may be able to get in front of more eyeballs with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and email blasts, but if the majority of those are not interested in your products or services, really how cost-effective is that?

As the shiny-new-object feel of online and social media are starting to wear off, more marketers are demanding proof of ROI. New media companies have been feverishly trying to figure out how to solve the problem of getting your message in front of a relevant audience. There have been improvements, but there is still a long way to go. In reality, they are trying to solve a problem that direct-mail marketing solved a long time ago. What may have been forgotten (or maybe never learned) is that just like with anything else worthwhile in life, a successful direct-mail campaign requires real homework. There is no simple "Send" button. It requires thinking, and in today's immediate gratification, microwave oven, frantic world, this is a tougher proposition.

A successful direct-mail campaign is not as daunting or difficult as it may seem. It requires a pen and paper (remember those!), some data, quiet time, and your brain. Here are the basic steps involved:

Step1: Take a look at your existing customer database. Find out who your best current customers are. Learn as much as you can about them: what industries they are in, the size of their company, how many years they have been in business, their approximate sales per year, etc. The more data you can find, the better.

Step 2: Pick one or two out of those customers, and think about why they are using your services. It is best if you can call them or invite them to coffee and ask them directly. Tell them exactly why you are asking (because you want more customers just like them). Most people would be honored to hear this and will share a lot of very useful info with you. Ask them questions and listen to their answers. You want to find out not only why they are using your company but also what their concerns are and what keeps them up at night (in relation to the types of products and services you sell).

Step 3: Based on your findings, create a direct-mail piece that clearly answers the concerns of your target audience. The piece needs to be visually appealing and have a clear call to action (call you, take advantage of a special discount, come see you, go to your website... you get the point). Don't hide or bury this call to action. Make it very easy to find.

Step 4: Now it is time to find contact information for more of the types of people you identified in step one. This is where direct mail really shines and where it holds a big advantage over all other media. With the huge amount of very detailed data compiled on businesses and consumers, you can find just about any type of mailing list imaginable with a little effort. Your goal here is to find characteristics and demographics that most closely match your best current customers.

Step 5: When you reach the right prospects at the right time with the right type of message, your mail is not "junk mail." It is actually as close as you can get to legally printing money!

Repeat the above steps as often as your budget allows. It's best to mail monthly or at least quarterly. Not every prospect on your list is ready to buy today, but if you mail consistently, you can bet they will remember you because you made the effort to stay top of mind. If your budget is tight right now, mail to fewer prospects until your budget grows. But don't wait!

The point here is not to demean or belittle other forms of advertising and marketing. It is just a reminder not to forget about one of the most powerful tools you have in your marketing arsenal. It is not shiny or new, but it is proven, effective, and extremely powerful if used correctly.

It's all about how you say it

Marketing that is misleading or deceptive is poor business practice. Not only will misleading marketing cause distrust, but it will also damage your company's reputation. While the following can be used legitimately, here are a few of the top culprits that can often make marketing messages appear misleading:

* Free. While the word "free" may grab attention, it should always be followed by detailed information about the offer to ensure the marketing message isn't misleading. For example, if your promotion highlights a "free gift bag," be sure to include expanded details if necessary regarding how to acquire the free gift, such as "free gift bag with $50 purchase."

* Up to... Marketing messages that say "up to XX percent off" are often misleading and cause disappointment amongst customers who arrive for a sale and find very few items at the advertised XX percent discount. Not only can a false impression annoy customers, but it will also make them leery of future sales and promotions.

* Limited Time Offer. Sales and limited time offers are legit; however, low tactics to fake time sensitivity are not. For example, if your website says "offer ends at midnight tonight" (no matter which day a customer sees it on), those who rush to buy will feel cheated when they return to the site later and see the identical promotion. A legitimate sale deadline will make customers feel more confident with their purchases.

There is no need to avoid these words entirely when promoting your business or special offers. Just remember to use clarity in your messaging. Honest, straightforward communications increase customer retention and loyalty, which also means more profits for you.

How can you come up with more ideas for content?

Coming up with ideas for fresh, new content for offline marketing and the new digital world can be a constant and ongoing battle. The need for content creation has become a hungry, never fully satisfied monster that must be tamed. It simply cannot be ignored if you want your website to rank high in search engines, your blog to be read regularly, and your direct mail to have the intended effect on your target audience.

Google has clearly stated, in no uncertain terms, that relevant, quality content is key to where your website ranks in its search engines. No matter how great your printed materials look, if the content falls flat, you won't get the results you hope for. Clearly, having very good content can be your competitive advantage in all of your marketing efforts, so it is worth your time to invest in improving the quality of what you have to say.

Idea generation can take its sweet time if you sit back and wait for inspiration to strike. Even though ideas by necessity come from a creative process, nevertheless, you must have a planned approach and a systematic way to harness those ideas in order to be successful.

It really doesn't matter what kind of system you put in place. You just need to have one. Of course, your system does need to have some basic components, starting with an organized way to collect, store, and categorize your ideas. Think of it as a swipe file, a place you can turn when you need fresh content. If you take care of your swipe file by constantly feeding it and pruning it, you will never run out of ideas for fresh content.

When you need to refill the swipe file, put your journalist's hat on to come up with ideas for interesting stories and content your audience craves. While you're thinking about potential topics and doing your research, look at the world around you through a journalist's eyes. Sometimes the best content is right under our nose; we just haven't noticed it yet.

People love good stories and useful content. Give them what they want, and they will beat a path to your door.

The press release, evolved

When you think of ways to spread newsy tidbits about your business, it's unlikely that press releases are the first thing you think of. With the recent overtake of social media, they are often viewed as a thing of the past. However, press releases are just as important as ever and can be easily modified to fit the new age marketing world.

For example, social media news releases are designed to meet the ways people now connect, via blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social channels. Likewise, information releases are often published online through sites such as Business Wire. By continuing to post press releases and other newsworthy information, you not only keep your communications up-to-date, but you also beef up your search engine results.

Even though social media avenues have become the more popular communication method when it comes to information updates, traditional press releases continue to maintain higher credibility in situations such as crisis communication, announcing new products and services, mergers, etc. So even though its role has evolved and will continue to change, the press release will remain an important tool in business communications for years to come.

USPS Offers Discounts for Direct Mail with QR Codes

The United States Postal Service has announced a discount program that provides an amazing opportunity for businesses that want to increase their sales through direct mail marketing.

For the months of July and August 2011, any business that uses QR codes on their direct mail piece will receive a 3% upfront discount off the postage amount. It is not often that the Postal Service has a sale, so this is a great time to take advantage of a discount and to also get started with your QR code campaign.

Please review the FAQ below from the USPS for some general information, and please don't hesitate to contact us for help with your next direct mail marketing campaign.

2011 Mobile Barcode Promotion -- FAQs


1. What is the 2011 Mobile Barcode Promotion?
The Mobile Barcode Promotion is intended to build awareness of mobile technology and demonstrate to mailers how mobile barcodes can increase the value of mail. The promotion provides business mailers with an upfront 3% discount on standard and first-class letters, flats, and cards that include a two-dimensional (2-D) barcode that can be read or scanned by a smartphone.

2. Why is the Postal Service offering this promotion?
The Mobile Barcode Promotion was designed to increase the value of direct mail and build awareness around integrating mobile technology into direct mail communications.

3. When does the Mobile Barcode Promotion begin?
The promotion runs from July 1 through August 31, 2011.

4. Who is eligible to participate?
All companies, including Mail Service Providers (MSPs), who mail using a permit imprint and submit their mailing documentation electronically are eligible to participate.

5. Do I have to apply/register to participate in the Mobile Barcode Promotion?
The Mobile Barcode Promotion does not require an application or advance registration.

6. How do I participate?
Submit qualifying standard or first-class letters, flats, or cards electronically using a permit imprint payment method to the Business Mail Entry Unit (BMEU) for acceptance within the specified promotion period, and meet all other promotion requirements.

7. What are the promotion requirements?
All of the following must apply:
  • All mailpieces in the mailing postage statement must include a mobile 2-D barcode on the outside of the mailpiece or within the mailpiece.

  • The mobile barcode must be used for marketing purposes and must be relevant to the contents of the mailpiece. The objective of the 2-D mobile barcode on eligible mail pieces must be to initiate interaction with consumers via mobile smartphones to market, promote, or educate.

  • Mail must be tendered for acceptance during the promotion period, July 1, 2011, through August 31, 2011.
More information is available online at the Postal Service's Mobile Barcode Promotion website.

Are you making your customers feel left out?

Have you ever gotten excited over an advertised offer only to read the fine print that says something like "offer available to new customers only"? Many businesses focus their marketing efforts on generating new customers while forgetting the golden opportunity that repeat customers provide.

Nearly every sale has a repeat potential. It is not only easier, but also more cost-effective to market to an audience who has already done business with you (hopefully their experience was positive). Not only are they familiar with you and your business, but they have already shown interest in your products or services.

In addition to repeat product sales, up-selling is a great way to target current customers. For example, "if you like XX product, you will love QQ." Customers who are educated about their purchases feel more confident making informed decisions and will view you as the expert. Avoid being pushy, or you will drive away your current customer base. Instead, offer a lucrative discount that will do the selling for you.

In addition to increasing sales volume, current customers are also a potential goldmine when it comes to referrals. Customer referrals will not only help you build stronger relationships with your current customers, but will also help you expand your customer base through increased awareness to prime prospects.

There are many ways to generate customer referrals, but one of the easiest occurs throughout day-to-day conversations. If a loyal customer compliments your business in casual conversation, ask if you can use that statement as a customer quote.

Repeat customers offer stability and predictability -- a must for any successful business. After all, happy customers can sell your business just as well as your sales team.

Why You Should Be A Content Curator

"Content curator" is such a new term that even Wikipedia doesn't have a definition for it yet. So what does it mean? And, more importantly, why should you start to think of yourself as a content curator for your customers and prospects?

In the traditional definition, a curator is someone with an expertise on a given subject. For example, a gallery or museum curator does the research, selects an object or piece of artwork for display, and shares that work with the public.

We need curators for the Internet.

The web has made an unprecedented amount of information available to anyone with access to a computer and an Internet connection. What's more, there seems no end to the dizzying pace at which new content is being added all the time.

Unfortunately, quantity does not always equal quality, especially when it comes to Internet content. Sure, there's plenty of outstanding content online, but there's also a lot of useless and, in some cases, wrong or misleading content, too. No wonder so many people find themselves feeling fatigued with information overload.

This is where you can be the hero. Everyone's an expert or has at least some expertise in something. Take your business, for example. If you're a plumber, you're pretty knowledgeable about plumbing, right? Or say you're a lawyer. Legal issues might be your thing. If you own your own company, whatever products or services you offer, you know a thing or two about starting and running a business, too, now don't you?

If you care enough about your community (customers, prospects, and peers) and are willing to find, sort, organize, and share quality information relevant to your circle of friends, customers and peers, you should consider becoming a content curator. With this relatively simple act, you will do a huge favor for others that are also looking for information in your area of expertise. The benefits you'll receive from this type of caring and sharing will far outweigh the amount of time you devote to it.

So start thinking about how you could be a content curator, too. Your customers, friends, and peers will thank you.


What began in 2004 with four neighbors in search of a locally grown tomato has become CitySeed, a community-based nonprofit that believes everyone should have access to fresh, healthy food!  In addition to establishing five farmer's markets that accept food stamps and WIC coupons in New Haven's neighborhoods, CitySeed has also advocated for food policy change on the local, state and federal levels.  We appreciate your support in helping us grow an equitable, local food system that promotes economic development, community development, and sustainable agriculture.

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