Think Like a Minimalist to Get Your Marketing Message Across

I’m helping a client design a consumer rewards program, with the goal of increasing our competitive advantage and attracting new customers. Because the product mix has excellent margins, we can offer a program that provides high value to the customer. To give you an idea, joining the rewards program includes ALL THESE GREAT BENEFITS:

  • Minimalist Marketing StrategyFree product for signing up
  • Points on every purchase
  • Free product on your birthday
  • Referral rewards

Our marketing challenge is to motivate customers to sign up for the program through on-site signage and online advertising.

Because customers will only give your marketing messages a glance (if you’re lucky!), what they see needs to be arresting. Our marketing strategy for launching the consumer rewards program is to minimize what we tell customers– only try to communicate what the customer needs to know for the next step.

Marketing Communication Strategy

Step 1: Sign Up – Enjoy a free product today for signing up

Step 2: Repeat Purchases – Earn points on every purchase

Step 3: Feel Delighted by Our Brand – Surprise customers with a free product on their birthday

Step 4: Refer a Friend – Earn referral rewards

Although it’s tempting to tell customers all the great reasons they should sign up for this program and the many ways they will benefit, they may be too busy or distracted to notice a list of features. It’s the marketing communication corollary to Steve Yastrow’s sales tip, Don’t Load the Slingshot.

By sharing one compelling benefit at each stage of the customer lifecycle, we’re offering a reward for taking one specific action right away. Minimalist marketing goes against many companies’ instincts, but it matches customer behavior and attention spans perfectly.

 

Big Businesses Just Don’t Get Customers

Small Business Maintains the Marketing Edge with Customer Engagement

In a recent poll with 58 senior-level retail executives, a mere 10% listed store associates as one of the top factors affecting their brand’s customer engagement.

Instead of the people in their stores, 63% of retail executives chose “Brand image/marketing” as a primary driver of customer engagement. Many of those executives also cited “Product choice/assortment.” Here’s the full graph of all the things big brands think are more important than their retail employees:

Big Businesses Just Don't Get Customers

I’m surprised at how out-of-touch these executives seem. No one engages with marketing communications or product choices, although those are important elements of the overall customer experience. Engagement is two-way communication that is most easily achieved with another living being.

Small business retailers are close enough to their customers to realize that in-store employees are critical to engaging customers by providing service, offering recommendations and selling products. You understand your customers, and that’s one key competitive advantage for small businesses.

Teaching Children the Value of a Nickel and a Dime

It’s rare that I’m pleased to receive direct mail marketing, but I eagerly opened the nicely-designed piece sent from the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. They have some exciting shows this season, including adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and Tarzan.

But I found one aspect of their season ticket pricing off-putting. A “Season Infant Lap Pass” costs $1 per show.

Season Infant Lap Pass - $1

That’s right, if you need to bring an infant along to a performance, you have to pay one dollar for the privilege of holding a squirming baby in your lap.

As it Turns Out, Dollars are More Valuable than Nickels or Dimes. Lesson Learned!

There’s no reasonable business case for this strange charge. The Children’s Theatre might generate up to $20 in revenue per performance from the fee. That hardly seems to offset the risk of annoying customers by making them feel nickel and dimed. If even one family decides not to purchase a season ticket package because of this policy, the theatre loses money. (Also, if the theatre is trying to dissuade families from bringing infants to performances, this seems a heavy-handed approach).

From the theatre’s website FAQ’s, it appears the change is new to this season:

“Starting in the 2016-2017 season, every person, regardless of age, will need a ticket.  Children ages 0-1 year old who do not need a seat and will sit on your lap will be required to have an Infant Lap Pass for $1 for each show in every seating location throughout the theater.”

I suspect this policy will not be popular with customers, and it will be interesting to see how the Children’s Theatre reacts. In the meantime, small businesses should take a lesson from this example. Evaluate your pricing structure to see if customers might have similar reactions to your fees. And remember, a dollar is always more valuable than a dime!

For Better Marketing, Get to Know Your Customers

Marketing can be simply defined as the ways you influence customers to buy from you. And to influence effectively, you should understand your customers. Knowing your customers will help you communicate with them in meaningful ways and choose media channels they will actually see.

For better marketing, get to know your customers

Here are checklists of the kinds of demographic and characteristic knowledge you should have about your customers.

Customer Demographic Checklist

Understanding facts and figures about your customers is the first step to designing marketing campaigns that will appeal to them. You should know:

  • Size of your target market
  • Your current share of this market
  • Geography – where your customers live and work
  • Percentage of your customers who are men vs. women
  • Percentage of your customers at various ages/stages of their lives
  • Which media channels they find most compelling, i.e., radio, Facebook, Yelp, magazines, etc.

Customer Characteristic Checklist

Demographics are only the start, though. They can help you choose where to place your messages, and give some guidance on where to start with message development. For instance, a Boomer woman near retirement will generally require a different marketing approach from a Millennial man who just started a business.

To truly influence and persuade customers, you need a knowledge of their personalities, preferences and characteristics. Things like:

  • How do products/services like yours affect their lives?
  • What do they love about your industry?
  • What do they hate?
  • When do they make purchasing decisions?
  • How much research do customers complete before they buy?
  • What makes you special to your customers and differentiates you from competition
  • Who is your indirect competition? What different products/services might a customer buy instead of yours?

If you know less than half of the items on my checklists, your marketing strategy needs more research! Start talking to customers, and let them tell you how to persuade them.

Campfire Stories and Small Business Marketing

Campfire Stories and Small Business MarketingA great campfire story compels the audience to listen, eager to hear what happens next. And they will remember the story, to share with others later. Wouldn’t you love for your marketing to capture some of that feeling? Unfortunately, small business marketing tends to focus on tangible features and benefits, i.e., “Enjoy life in your new kitchen with a state-of-the-art redesign!” A new kitchen is great, but communicating in facts and figures just isn’t that memorable or motivating.

If campfire stories were like most small business marketing campaigns, they would go something like this:

“It was a dark and stormy night, exactly 7:03 P.M. Scattered thunderstorms approached from the west, as lightning created significant property damage. Seeking shelter from these dangerous conditions, two young adults overcame their fears and entered a house that had a reputation for being haunted. After recording some rather disturbing experiences in a journal, they disappeared… never to be heard from again.”

“Just the facts” is a terrible way to interest and motivate customers. Get out your marshmallows and dream up a story that will help customers remember you in a meaningful way.

Be Comparatively Better and Absolutely More Successful

Find the Differences that Matter to Beat the Competition

Be comparatively better and absolutely more successfulCustomers will always compare your small business to your competitors. Their frame of reference for evaluating you is often if you are better or worse than what they’ve experienced in the past. If you learn what irks customers about competitors and excel in those areas, you will have a significant competitive advantage.

Not every difference matters. Customers probably don’t care if you’ve been in business 15 years, while your competitor has only been around for three. They might not even care that your certifications are more thorough. You must find the meaningful differences that can set you apart from the competition in the customer’s mind.

Let’s take my experience with construction contractors as an example. What really matters to me in a contractor is that he answers my call or calls me back the same day. I want a schedule that actually means something. When there’s a problem, I want him to tell me about it right away. That seems like basic customer service, doesn’t it? But compared to most contractors, a firm that meets those criteria will win my loyalty and business.

For some industries, being better than competitors is pretty simple. You just have to be aware of the differences that matter. How will you learn what matters? That’s also pretty simple. Ask your customers. They will tell you.

Facebook as a Customer Service Tool

Have you ever had a customer reach out to you with a customer service issue on social media?

Most businesses think of social media as only a marketing tool (if they think of these channels at all). But including social media in your customer service strategy could lead to happier customers who rave about your business in public.

Facebook as a Customer Service ToolOne great example of a business using Facebook for customer service is my client Grady Veterinary Hospital. The practice receives frequent queries on Facebook, and always responds promptly and thoroughly, in a caring manner. If appropriate, the staff replies publicly. This customer service approach on Facebook is partially responsible for the practice’s 194 reviews, averaging 4.3 stars.

Customer service personnel need to be adept at more than just phone and email communication. Small businesses should empower them to interact on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp or other social media where your business has a presence.

By honoring customers’ communication preferences, you show that you listen to them and that they are important to you. Already, a reconciliatory tone has been set. And the customer has an easy platform to shout your praises from the virtual rooftops.

No One Cares about Free Estimates

Have you ever paid for an estimate? Neither have I. And yet the marketing universe is full of badges, buttons and starbursts proclaiming their benefits:

No one cares about free estimates.

Promoting free estimates is like boasting about offering a toll-free number. It’s simply a cost of doing business, and customers won’t be persuaded to buy from you because of either.

Instead of wasting valuable customer attention with offers of free estimates, give them a unique, persuasive reason to contact you. It’s true that the marketing power of “free” is very strong, so consider free consultations or free upgrades as compelling alternatives. By thinking creatively, this one simple change will result in more customers reaching out, interested in your small business.

What Church Potlucks Taught Me about Marketing

What Church Potlucks Taught Me about MarketingThere’s a curious phenomenon at church potlucks, which anyone who has cooked for one has witnessed. Simply cooking a dish you know to be delicious is not enough to entice people to eat it. As my mom taught me, you have to nicely display and properly portion the food. Slice meat into individual servings, and cut cakes into appropriately-sized pieces.

My younger, incredulous self had two questions for my mom:

  • I did the cooking. Can’t the people eating it show the initiative to portion it for their own consumption?
  • How do people survive in life if they don’t even have the ability to try dishing up a new food?

My disbelief notwithstanding, my mom was right. If I didn’t plan for how people would dish up my food, it would go uneaten. But if I served the same casserole cut into small squares, it would disappear.

The church potluck is a mini marketplace and can teach us several things about small business marketing.

  1. As there are so many options in the buffet line, people just choose the easiest, most familiar ones. Similarly, your business has plenty of competition, and customers will gravitate to the choice that is easiest to understand.
  2. No one likes to be embarrassed or feel like he’s not in control of a situation. Cutting up food carries some social risk– what if you drop it? what if you suddenly see something you don’t like? (like the one time I found limp, cooked pickles in a casserole)  You need to make things as easy for your customer as possible. Make her feel smart and in-control.
  3. Word of mouth is powerful. If one early-adopter raves about your pie (or product), others will just have to try it. Before you know it, your dish will be the talk of the church! Or, your product will be on everyone’s wish list.
  4. On the flip side, the unknown is scary. Very few people are willing to be the first to try something new. You have to make it attractive for them to be first.

All of the above factors come into play even at a church potluck where the food is free, and the risks are low. Since your customers pay for your offerings, their reactions in the actual marketplace will be more pronounced. But take my mom’s advice, and you’ll be successful.

 

Traditional Website Navigation Isn’t Boring. It’s Easy to Use.

Imagine a car designer saying, “It’s boring to have the brake on the right and the accelerator on the left. We need to stand out! Let’s put the brake next to this cup-holder.” How well would a car like this sell? Can you imagine re-training generations of drivers to drive differently just for the sake of one car design?

Every day, web designers are having the same conversation about website design (admittedly, with less fatal results). They are so bored of putting the “Contact” button on the right side of the menu bar that they forget having these conventions makes websites easy to use.

Sometimes web marketers mistake user habits for boring design. If users are researching dozens or hundreds of websites looking for products and services like yours, they appreciate a site that’s easy to navigate– and they’re only going to visit your site for about three seconds before they decide to stay or move onto the next one.

A website design must show the user what they’re looking for in those first three seconds before any user will take the time to admire beautiful design elements or creative devices. Part of that experience is having traditional elements in expected places. If a user can’t find your contact information, how will he ever call you?