Friday, February 28, 2014

Turn You Competitors' Customers into YOUR Customers

Here are a few creative ways to help turn your competitors' customers into your own:

  • Offer a comparison chart that focuses on reasons why customers should choose your product over the competition. For example, you may offer a standard five-year warranty, while your competitors may only offer a three-year warranty. Or perhaps they offer an extended five-year warranty option, but at an additional price.

  • Stay informed of what your competitors are doing, but avoid copying their ideas. Instead, add value and make their ideas even better. For example, if a competitor offers free shipping on purchases of $100+, you could provide free shipping on all purchases and possibly even returns.

  • Create a unique tagline or slogan that focuses on your key selling points, such as: "Hassle-Free Returns" or "Receive your lunch order within 30 minutes or it's free."

  • Add value to a comparable product through added services, such as longer support hours, free training, and live phone operators (no automated phone service).

  • Create a customer survey. Ask your audience how you can improve, what new offerings they wish you provided, what they like best about your company, and what areas they may find lacking. Their answers could easily point to ideas that will help you gain a competitive advantage.

  • Provide a risk-free trial to test your products or services before committing to a change.

  • Compare your guarantee to your competition. If your competitors don't offer a guarantee, this is an extra reason to promote your guarantee heavily.

  • Compete with low-price competitors in creative ways. Offer exclusive discounts when items are purchased together as a package, or offer free or discounted add-on bonuses.

  • Romance your competitors' customers. Show them the affection they may be missing from their current vendor, and let them know you're willing to go the extra mile to win their business.

  • Even if prospects are happy with their current provider, be sure to continue your marketing efforts. Create front-of-mind awareness so you're at the top of their list if they ever change their mind.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Improve the Effectiveness of your Newsletter

Newsletters have a proven track record for creating front-of-mind awareness, establishing and maintaining credibility, and publicizing an organization to the community. Here are a few tips to improve the effectiveness of your newsletter:

  • Become a resource by including how-to articles, helpful industry tips and tricks, and links to other articles and podcasts that may be of interest to your audience.

  • Feature a special offer or promotion in each issue to track your newsletter results.

  • Include a customer testimonial section to highlight customers who are finding success using your products or services. This will not only boost your credibility, but also increase customer visibility.

  • Offer subscribers a "sneak peak" at new products. This will make them feel special and encourage them to spread the word about their insider knowledge.

  • Create an "Ask the Expert" section, featuring industry experts to answer customer questions. Include the name and business of the customer who asks the featured question.

  • Keep track of customer/recipient birthdays and send them a free birthday giveaway or discount.

  • Provide highlights from an online customer portal or discussion board where customers can chat about industry trends, new products, and other relevant issues. Include a web link, and encourage newsletter readers to join in the discussions.

  • Commit to a regular schedule. Readers will look forward to and expect your newsletter, so inform them if you take a hiatus from the regular routine.

  • Post current and archived issues on your website with a link to subscribe.

Give us a call today if you'd like to see examples or need more ideas for creating a newsletter that your audience will look forward to receiving. Our creative experts would love to help.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Making Business Sweet: The Benefits of Delayed Gratification

Imagine taking several children, one at a time, into a room, where you've placed a tantalizing marshmallow on a table. You tell the children that if they can resist eating the delicious sweet sitting in front of them while you step out of the room for a few minutes, they can have two when you return. If the child can't wait, they can eat the first marshmallow whenever they want, but they won't get the second marshmallow when you return.

That's exactly the experiment researchers at Stanford performed in the late 1960s. The footage they obtained of the children was quite fascinating. Some children looked away from the treat in front of them, while others tried to distract themselves by kicking the table or fiddling with their hair. Some of the children poked or stroked the marshmallow.

Years later, the researchers were able to make the connection that the children most capable of delaying gratification were the ones who were also more likely to succeed in school, resist other temptations in life (such as drugs or excessive alcohol), and avoid having behavioral problems. Clearly, the ability to delay gratification is significantly linked to personal success.

Adults and delayed gratification

Hopefully, most adults can be left alone with a marshmallow and avoid eating it when the situation calls for it, but that doesn't mean most adults have mastered self control and delayed gratification. It's always tempting to accept immediate pleasure or reward rather than wait for something more important down the line. We all have different areas where we know we would struggle to resist temptation. Just like the children in this experiment, however, we need to keep in mind the larger picture and see the good that can come from waiting.

What marshmallows have to do with business success

Business is all about being able to see the big picture. For companies to be successful, they have to be able to look beyond the current options and see where they want to go in the future. Sometimes, achieving these long-term goals means being able to pass over smaller rewards and delay gratification for the greater good.

For example, some companies may find themselves tempted to maintain their traditional marketing techniques rather than branching out into social media and inbound marketing. Sure, the company may continue to find occasional new customers, but that's the small reward. The fact is the Internet is now critical for reaching an ever-growing portion of the consumer base. While entering the world of Internet marketing may require patience and extra work upfront, the reward companies receive from reaching their customers online can be enormous.

Children are not known for their patience, and an experiment first done in the 1960s has shown that many struggle with delayed gratification, even when the promised reward is sweet. While adults may have more self control than a child, we can still struggle sometimes to wait for potential opportunities to come to fruition.

When making business decisions, it's always important to determine goals and then keep your eyes on the prize. Opportunities abound for companies that exercise patience and work toward a larger reward. Don't settle for mediocrity. Instead, challenge yourself to think big and build the business of your dreams.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The 9 Best Business Blogs You Should Be Reading

Ever feel like you're missing out on the latest buzz from the business world? We get it: The sheer amount of info out there can seem overwhelming, but whether you're a business owner, entrepreneur, or manager, it's essential to keep up.

Now, here's the good news: We're here to make it easy for you to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. We've searched the web for the best, brightest, and most innovative business blogs out there. Add these top blogs to your reading list for a simple way to stay in the loop!

1. You're the Boss (http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com)

This New York Times blog is all about small business, from best practices to breaking trends. Written by entrepreneurs, business owners, and experts from a range of fields, You're the Boss provides a place for small business owners to connect, share their successes (and mistakes), and compare notes from the battlefield.

2. Seth Godin's Blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com)

Seth Godin, a.k.a. marketing guru extraordinaire, provides a wide range of tips, ideas, advice, and general musings on a range of topics. The best thing about Godin's, blog, however, is simply his quirky, creative writing style, which allows him to be motivational, inspirational, and insightful without ever slipping into cheesy territory.

3. Workshifting (http://www.workshifting.com)

Not only is Workshifting beautifully designed, but its content is hyper-focused on its readers' needs and interests. Content melds work and lifestyle topics relevant to today's on-the-move workforce, with an emphasis on the issues that affect work-from-home, flex schedule, and other employees who work outside the office environment.

4. She Takes on the World (http://www.shetakesontheworld.com)

With accolades from sources such as the Stevie Awards, Inc., and Forbes, She Takes on the World offers tips of the trade with a focus on female entrepreneurs. Along with content from founder Natalie McNeill, this blog offers content from a series of guest bloggers, expert advice from industry leaders, and articles about work-life balance. Yes, it's geared toward women in business, but hey, it's got a lot of great content for guys, too.

5. Pando Daily (http://pando.com)

For the latest in news from the tech front, turn to Pando Daily. Founded by Sarah Lacy -- formerly of TechCrunch -- this comprehensive blog serves as a journal of record for Silicon Valley. Its focus on start-ups, the tech industry, social media, marketing, and almost everything else that impacts the business world makes for interesting reading, as do its interviews with and features by industry insiders.

6. Naked Capitalism (http://www.nakedcapitalism.com)

Naked Capitalism offers a no-holds-barred look at the current state of the economy and the financial industry, and how it affects business. Economists, investment bankers, political advisors, and journalists make up the contributor list. Expect to put on your critical thinking cap when you sit down to read this thought-provoking blog.

7. Anita Loomba (http://anitaloomba.com)

For a clear picture of the confluence of digital marketing and social media, turn to Anita Loomba's blog. Offering helpful tips, best practices, success stories, and the latest in industry news, Loomba covers the ever-changing, always increasing influence of social media and business marketing in her accessible blog.

8. How to Change the World (http://blog.guykawasaki.com)

Author, former Apple marketing guru, venture capitalist, and all-around smarty Guy Kawasaki offers hands-on advice to entrepreneurs in his How to Change the World blog. Expect to be motivated and inspired, but in a practical, realistic way.

9. Peter Shankman (http://shankman.com/blog/)

Finally, for a dose of humor to lighten the workweek, give Peter Shankman's blog a read. An angel investor and entrepreneur, Shankman has a, shall we say, creative approach to the world of business, and his entertaining writing style reflects it. Plus, he's got some good advice -- so give it a try.

How to Make Networking as Easy as Child's Play

Networking is an important aspect of the professional world on many levels. If you own a business, you network to find more clients, meet potential connections, and even find other companies you might collaborate with on a project one day. Those searching for a job have continuously heard how critical networking can be for finding the right fit.

Unfortunately, many of us find networking stressful. After all, it involves going up to people we've never met before, introducing ourselves, making small talk, and selling ourselves and our skills, all at the same time. While it may become more natural with practice, for most people it never becomes an easy process. Except, of course, for the under ten years old crowd.

While at the park the other day, two very young girls made eye contact and instantly became friends. Without so much as an introduction, they both stopped their respective games, took off toward the slide, and took turns racing each other around the playground. The mothers remarked how easy it is to find friends when you don't even have to worry about making small talk. How do kids do it?

They're confident.
Most little children don't know too much about rejection just yet. When they approach a new potential friend, they don't worry about being told 'no.' The child is having fun, they know they're having fun, and they would enjoy it if the other child joined them. If the other child doesn't want to, however, it really won't affect the fun the first child is already having.

Business leaders need to adapt this attitude. Are you good at what you do? Do you have something important to bring to the business world? If so, be confident in those skills. Present them to new connections, and offer those folks the chance to work with you. But remember that a refusal is their loss, and don't let it discourage you. Approach the next potential connection with the same enthusiasm.

They have something concrete in mind.
When children run up to another child on the playground, they don't agree to play together and then idly stare at each other. Like the two little girls, they race off toward the slide or begin digging in the mud. When one child asks another to play, they already have some great activities to get started with.

When approaching another business professional, know some concrete ways you could help them directly. If you develop a software program, when the conversation turns toward business, discuss their current software situation as well as the needs of the company and how your product or expertise might be able to help.

They aren't pushy.
Like adults, all kids have different personalities. Sometimes one child is shy or may not want to play with other kids on that particular day. If one child says they don't want to play, that typically is the end of the discussion. The inquiring child will retreat or find someone else to play with.

Networking professionals must also find this balance. No one appreciates a connection who's overly pushy, even after they're told their products or services aren't needed right now. Professionals also tend to dislike those who seem more interested in making sales instead of making more genuine connections. You should make sure to always handle rejection smoothly and, when at networking events, focus more on meeting people. The sale can always come later.

Networking is undoubtedly an art. It requires confidence, eloquence, and the ability to form connections with other professionals to grow businesses and help people find the perfect position for their talents. Imagining a networking event to be a playground for adults can help you overcome your fears and approach the others in attendance easier and with confidence.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What, Exactly, is Content Marketing?

You've probably heard all the buzz about content marketing, yet may still be wondering what, exactly, it is. Content marketing is simply the new form of marketing that uses informative content, rather than blatant sales pitches, to attract potential customers. Instead of proverbially bashing people over the head with whatever you're trying to sell, content marketing entices them to come to you to learn more about your product, services, and brand.

So, how the heck do you do that?

Create a two-way conversation.

Old-school advertising was pretty much a one-way street with the company doing all the talking. Content marketing turns it into a two-way conversation by actively engaging the audience. Do this by encouraging comments on your blog posts and social media sites, holding contests, or otherwise reaching out to your audience for input.

Keep up your end of the bargain.

Asking for audience participation is good, but it's not so good if you do nothing with the information you gleaned. Reply to audience comments; respond to their requests and needs. Perhaps a certain aspect of your website keeps getting the same complaint. Hold up your end of the conversation by acknowledging the issue and perhaps even tweaking whatever's wrong to better fill people's needs.

Make it easy to find you.

Of course, you won't have any conversations at all if people can't find you. In addition to a user-friendly company website, you should set up a blog and accounts on your chosen social media platforms that all easily link back to your website. When you share a blog post or add new information to your website, share the link across your social media channels.

You don't have to go nuts and join every single social media platform out there. Instead, focus on the ones where your target audience is most likely to tread. Learn more by analyzing the social media habits of your target demographic, then go where those folks go.

Fuel your audience with quality content.

Keeping your audience engaged means keeping up a steady flow of quality content. Again, you don't have to go nuts trying to post something new and exciting every five minutes, but you do want to add fuel to your content marketing fire with fresh content on a regular basis.

Note the keyword "quality" here. Provide content that's polished, informative, compelling, and even entertaining. While text may make up a good chunk of your content, also take advantage of the power of pictures and videos. Include them in related posts, or let them fly solo if they say all they need to say on their own.

Since people are none too fond of reading the same stuff again and again, make sure you cover a variety of different topics that are relevant to your audience.

Don't bombard your audience.

Bombarding your audience can consist of that aforementioned strategy of beating them over the head to "buy, buy, buy" with every post you create. But it can also include posting at such a rapid and fanatical rate that your audience has no time to absorb, respond, or even breathe.

More is not necessarily better, especially if the more is of poor quality. Over-posting can not only mar your reputation as a professional, but it can backfire in a big way. Instead of being attracted to your company, you may instead find your audience fleeing in droves, leaving you with no one left to talk to but yourself.

Mastering the art of attraction is just one aspect of content marketing, but it's one of the most essential for eventual success.

Blaze Your Own Trail to Business Success

Something interesting happens between childhood and adulthood. As children, people tend to not want others to copy them. As adults, however, we spend a considerable amount of time trying to copy those around us. We see someone with a new idea, and all we want to do is imitate their accomplishments. Someone successfully develops a new app, and 50 similar ones seem to spring up overnight.

While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it's not always the key to success.

Consider this example: Two sisters, Anna and Mary, sit down together to draw pictures. As with many big sister/little sister pairs, Mary looks up to her big sister. She carefully watches as Anna sets about drawing a picture of their family house with everyone out in the yard. Mary picks up each crayon as Anna lays it down, then goes about copying her sister's artwork.

After a few minutes, Anna notices what Mary is doing. "Mary, don't just copy me!" she exclaims. "You have to make your own picture."

Anna recognizes what many adults fail to see. If Mary simply copies her picture, she won't be able to demonstrate her own strengths. If the sisters' drawings are exactly the same, neither will stand out as unique. When they both create their own pictures, however, then each picture stands on its own merits and creative vision.

How to apply this to business

Developing new ideas in business is difficult. It takes a uniquely creative mind to come up with a useful service or product that no one else has thought of before. It can certainly be tempting to just copy another company or business model and hitch a ride on their road to success.

Unfortunately, this strategy rarely works. If you're offering potential customers exactly the same product or service as an already established company, what reason would they possibly have to switch to you? Your business isn't unique or special. Instead, it's a copy of one they already know and trust.

Creating something unique

There's nothing wrong with using another person's success as a source of inspiration, but have confidence that you have something special to bring to the table, too. Find a way to work that into your business model.

For example, say you worked in retail for a considerable amount of time while putting yourself through school. You may decide to specialize in helping retail stores with their marketing plans. Or perhaps you've found new ways to cut administrative costs and are able to offer potential clients lower prices for the same high-quality service.

Whether you're a budding entrepreneur or an established business pro, keep looking for things you can bring to the table that your competitors can't.

Blaze your own trail. Find your own niche. And build your own success story other entrepreneurs will want to copy.