Your Phone System is Killing Your Marketing

As a small business, if you have an automated phone system, it’s killing your marketing. From your customer’s perspective, everything you do is marketing. And the upbeat, chipper voice on your phone system drowns out all other marketing attempts.

When customers hear this:

“Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed.”

They already know you don’t care about them, and the feeling becomes mutual.

Maybe they are calling after receiving a flyer in the mail about your latest special offer. Or maybe a friend recommended they try you out. It doesn’t really matter why they are calling. It just matters that now they want to hang up instead of dealing with a phone system maze.

Brand Harmony by Steve YastrowWhen you spend marketing money to get phone calls, make sure a real person picks up the phone. A customer’s impression of your business extends beyond the marketing campaign. As Steve Yastrow writes about his book Brand Harmony:

“When each experience you create for your customers blends with every other experience they have with your organization to tell one compelling, integrated story: that’s brand harmony.”

Consider the story you are telling your customer– does every interaction blend together to tell the best story of your brand?

Are you marketing beans or frijoles?

Maybe there was an upcoming chili cook-off. Maybe there was a corresponding sale on Bean-O. Or perhaps the blizzard warning inspired a desire  for comfort food. Whatever the reason, my Kroger grocery store was out of black beans. But I knew where to look.

“No one ever buys the frijoles negros in the international food aisle!” I exclaimed to my husband as we wheeled the cart around. Sure enough, we found ample quantities of beans for my Black Bean Mushroom Chili recipe – a grocery-shopping happy ending.

Same product. Different marketing. (For those without a smattering of Spanish lingo, frijoles negros means black beans). And a definite marketing lesson for small businesses.

Are your customers trying to buy beans while you sell them frijoles? If so, you are missing a huge opportunity.

It comes down to speaking the language of your customer. How many Kroger shoppers left that night without purchasing the beans they came for? Kroger could complain that customers just don’t understand, or that they don’t read the labels closely enough. They might talk about niche markets and modern grocery trends favoring ethnic foods. But that won’t sell any more beans, will it?

Many specialized businesses have difficulty speaking the imprecise language of their customers and become frustrated. But it’s not your customer’s job to understand you. It’s your job to sell to her in the language she wants to hear.

Small Business Podcast: Everything is Marketing

On David Weatherholt’s radio program “Getting Down to Business,” I explored further the concept that marketing is everything. Every interaction customer have with your business affects your brand. But what does “brand” mean?

A synonym for “brand” is “reputation.” It’s as simple as that. Everything you do, whether it be a traditional marketing interaction or not, affects your reputation. To your customers, marketing is everything you do.

Listen or download below for more examples and insight:

Everything is Marketing

Download the everything is marketing MP3 file here. (5.63 MB)

Brand Harmony: New Paperback Edition

Recently, I was given the privilege of designing the cover for the paperback edition of one of my favorite business books, Brand Harmony by Steve Yastrow. The process of redesigning helped me reconnect with the core principles of my small business marketing philosophy. We had to create a visual that showed the essence of Brand Harmony, which is thoughtfully orchestrating every experience customers have with your business, so that each customer has a compelling and motivating story about you.

The possibilities for the design were endless, ranging from representing a pointillist painting to depicting the employees of a company seamlessly working together. We finally settled on the violin motif because of its beautiful simplicity – which is just what a small business’ brand should be. (Accomplished photographer Laura Poland found just the right angle to capture the cover image.)

Brand Harmony is an exceptionally good book for the small business owner or marketing professional because of its radical ideas on marketing such as:

  • How to cut your advertising budget and make more money.
  • Brute force branding – why it doesn’t work.
  • Clear action steps about connecting with your customers and finding out what is truly important to them.
  • How to create your “Picture of Success” and develop a path to reach it.

After all this to-do, I’m sure you’d like to see the cover, eh? Here are the front and back covers:

And if you’d like to buy the book, it’s only $10 at

What experiences are you creating for your customers?

With a small business, marketing can be defined as, “The experiences you create for your customers.”

One of the most powerful concepts in marketing is Brand Harmony, developed by Steve Yastrow. I work closely with Yastrow & Company, and have seen the benefits of Brand Harmony for our client companies. Steve Yastrow’s book of the same name, Brand Harmony, defines your brand as, “Every experience your customer has with your company.” (14) If these experiences blend into a harmonious whole, your customer develops a rich, positive brand impression of your company and products.

A company we work with, Prairie City Bakery, creates a great experience with their baked products. They sell baked goods such as cookies, muffins and doughnuts to food service vendors, convenience stores, drug stores, etc. They have faced the challenges of offering a great-tasting and high-quality product while also providing a quick snack for consumers. Part of this experience is the packaging, which makes it look homemade. President Bill Skeens is fond of saying, “People eat with their eyes,” a statement which shows an understanding of the importance of customer experience.

Netflix also creates good customer experiences. The system learns which movies you like and dislike to recommend other titles to you. If you lose a DVD, they don’t accuse you of stealing it. With their increasingly populated Watch Instantly section, you hardly even have to bother with DVDs. (But every company has room for improvement. Netflix team members…if you are reading this… please add a “Holiday” movies genre. It’s ridiculously difficult to find those titles.)

Each time a customer comes into contact with you or your products, you are creating an experience for that customer, even if you aren’t trying. Sometimes, especially if you aren’t trying. The worst– and most memorable–customer experiences come from brand disharmony.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “The system won’t let me.” from a customer service representative or retail store cashier? Technology is an area where many companies create disharmony. Rarely are systems designed with the customer experience in mind. Recently, I discovered that my bank’s idea of offering electronic payment is to print a physical check and mail it to my vendors for me. Imagine my surprise when I received a late notice from a vendor that I had paid “electronically.” The bank told me they needed four days’ notice to process the payment, and I had only given them two. How is that a better experience than simply writing and mailing a check myself? Why would they design such a useless system?

When you create brand disharmony, you confuse your customers. They don’t know what to think about you– Even worse, they know exactly what to think about you, and it’s unfit for print. But when the experiences you’ve created for your customers create Brand Harmony, they feel an affinity for your company and have a rich sense of why they want to buy from you.

Think of some companies you have an affinity for and that create great Brand Harmony with you. What experiences do you have with those companies? Now, ask yourself: How can I gain inspiration from these companies? What experiences should I create with my customers?

Don’t just think of your “traditional” marketing communications. Customers don’t care if your billing department and marketing department are separated by a chasm. If your invoices and advertisements don’t create complementary experiences, your brand will be weak in their minds.

By thoughtfully considering what experiences your customers should have and putting those thoughts into action, you can help your customers know exactly why they buy from you. If they have a good answer for that question, they will be less likely to switch to a competitor or make do with a substitute product or service.