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?

Why Isn’t Every Business Using Yelp for Customer Service?

My husband and I had a great experience dining at Jimmy G’s, so I wrote them a five-star review on Yelp.

Positive review of Jimmy G's on Yelp

Less than an hour later, I received an email from Ross, the manager, thanking me for reviewing the restaurant. At first I thought, “What courtesy! How kind! How unusual!”

But then I thought… “Why isn’t every consumer business doing this?” Ross’s simple message turned me into a raving fan. I’m even giving them publicity on my blog. And it only took five minutes of his time.

How long would it take you to write a short thank-you message on Yelp to each of your reviewers?

Beyond thanking positive reviewers, what if you could repair customer relationships that resulted in negative reviews? Usually, it wouldn’t take more than an apology and a token of your sincerity.

Wouldn’t that be valuable to your business?

“Top Selling” and Other Pointless Marketing Claims

Customers don't care if you're opening under new managementDescribing a product or service can often turn into a navel-gazing activity for marketing writers. When a business doesn’t understand their customers and what they care about, they usually engage in marketing that appeals to their own management.

The problem is that your customers don’t care about your inside baseball. Your internal realities have little meaning for your customers. Just because a product is a popular seller doesn’t mean it’s going to fit a customer’s specific needs. And what could be less meaningful to a retail customer than who manages a business? She just wants a good experience.

If you find yourself using the following phrases in your marketing descriptions, you probably need to get to know your customers better:

  • Top-selling
  • New-and-improved
  • Under new management
  • Inventory reduction
Learn what truly motivates your customers, and you won’t struggle with writing great marketing copy.


Why the Facebook Timeline Makes Marketing Sense

Lately, I’ve heard many complaints about the new Facebook timeline for businesses. Change can certainly be unwelcome and inconvenient, but the new timeline design has actually improved Facebook marketing opportunities for businesses.

A Simply Measured study released at the end of March shows that brands received, on average, a 46% increase in engagement when updating to the timeline. Photo and video post engagement increased an impressive 65%. Engagement includes commenting on or sharing a post. Engaging with customers is what makes Facebook a powerful marketing tool, so these increases can be very valuable for businesses.

Customization is another great benefit to the Facebook timeline design– now businesses can uniquely portray their brand with a cover image, highlighted stories and important events in the business’s history. Before, all business Facebook pages looked pretty much the same, and it was difficult to communicate your brand rather than Facebook’s brand. Facebook now tries to put the emphasis on the business, not themselves.

Before the timeline, it was easy for a business’s Facebook page to become cluttered with posts, comments or complaints from customers. Now, there is much better organization for this content. Businesses can also send and receive private messages from Facebook users. For most businesses, this will help keep their Facebook marketing communication free from confusion– a customer who asks a question or makes a complaint can now receive a private answer.

To see some examples of how other businesses and brands are marketing with Facebook, I recommend checking out Facebook’s own page – “Introducing New Facebook Pages.” There’s also a brief overview of new features. If you still have questions, or need some help, send me an email – amanda@zooinajungle.com. I’m always glad to talk small business marketing!

Don’t Make These Marketing Design Mistakes!

Route 52 near Cincinnati is an interesting drive– it follows the Ohio River, takes you through some cute small towns and, surprisingly, presents drivers with a stark marketing lesson. That lesson is to think like a customer.

On my drive, I first  encountered a restaurant whose logo includes a whimsical mouse wearing a chef hat and handling your food:

If there is a mouse on the sign, isn’t it reasonable for customers to assume the restaurant has a lax rodent policy? Either way, a restaurant never benefits from an association with mice.

Next, I drove past a gynecology clinic featuring a mermaid on their sign:

I’m certainly not an expert in this field, but I’m not sure mermaids would even require a gynecologist.

When designing a logo and other marketing materials, businesses must think like their customers. It doesn’t matter how cute, clever or “different” the logo might be if customers are off-put by the concept.

Here are some marketing design tips to help you think like a customer:

  • Understand your customer’s expectations. Would a customer think you are a better doctor with a mermaid on your sign?
  • Consider common associations in our culture. Will customers have a pleasant impression of your restaurant when they associate it with a mouse?
  • Be practical, then be creative. First answer the question, “What are we trying to say to customers?” Then, you will be able to create fun, interesting messages that resonate with customers.
  • Ask others for their opinions. An outside opinion can be valuable to gain insights you might have overlooked.

Foursquare for Small Business Marketing

Foursquare is a social site that reports having 15 million members worldwide. The number is pretty impressive, but is Foursquare an effective small business marketing tool? As with any marketing tactic, the answer depends on the kind of business you have. Here are some details to help you decide.

The Foursquare blog describes their purpose is to help members, “Keep up with friends, discover what’s nearby, and save money at places you love.” But what does that mean? In practice, Foursquare members use their mobile phones to “check-in” to the places they go and can leave comments or tips about the place. All this information is shared with their network of friends. The member who has checked-in the most at one place becomes the “mayor” of that place.

With all this conversation going on, there’s plenty of marketing opportunity for small businesses with physical locations, like restaurants, retail shops or veterinarians. The first step to use Foursquare in your marketing efforts is to search for your business and claim it. Foursquare describes businesses as “venues.”

Claim your venue on Foursquare

It can be complicated to claim your venue, especially if the phone number is missing or the address is incorrect. Here’s a brief tutorial on how to claim your venue on Foursquare:

1. Search and find your venue

2. Click “Do you manage this venue? Claim here”

3. Follow Foursquare’s instructions. If the venue’s phone number is correct, this can be pretty easy:

But if Foursquare can’t confirm your phone number, as in this business’s case, they’ll have to mail a postcard to the address with instructions for claiming the venue:

As you can see, they also allow you to submit an address change, in case the listing is incorrect. If Foursquare must send your business a postcard, claiming your venue can take some weeks, so be patient.

Marketing opportunities with Foursquare

Once you’ve claimed your venue, the main marketing opportunity with Foursquare is to designate Specials. Right now, creating these Specials is free for the business. Here’s a graphic from the site that shows the kinds of specials a business might run, based on a spectrum of goals from Customer Acquisition to Customer Retention:

If your business is already receiving many check-ins, these Specials can help you reach your business goals. For instance, if one of your goals is to encourage first-time customers to come back a second time, you might run a Check-In Special.

To track the success of their Specials, businesses use the Merchant Dashboard. Foursquare seems to provide pretty good analytics and reporting. They also have some great Case Studies that delve into these marketing issues further. These show success stories of businesses (small and large) profiting from Foursquare.

Along with Specials, a business will also want to keep an eye on their check-in trends and customer comments. Responding to customer comments and recognizing check-in regulars is good customer service.

Based on this overview, you should be able to determine if Foursquare is right for your marketing efforts and take the first steps towards implementing a Foursquare marketing strategy. Have more questions about Foursquare and your business? Email me at amanda@zooinajungle.com or call 513.833.4203.

Fake Word-of-Mouth Marketing Could Cost You

Word-of-mouth marketing, the kind of marketing where your customers spread the word for you, is an exceptionally effective marketing strategy in our world of connections and sharing. Customers trust word-of-mouth because it comes from their disinterested friends, family or online community.

When a business first opens or releases a new product, they might be tempted to “get the ball rolling” by asking employees or relatives to post favorable reviews, but this dishonesty might cost them. Online word-of-mouth marketing only works because customers trust the recommendations, reviews and ratings. It’s dangerous to risk losing that trust.

For instance, potential customers might spot the fakes and publicly denounce the reviews. Even worse, the FTC might come knocking on your door. From an FTC news release:

“A public relations agency hired by video game developers will settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it engaged in deceptive advertising by having employees pose as ordinary consumers posting game reviews at the online iTunes store, and not disclosing that the reviews came from paid employees working on behalf of the developers.”

Clearly, this PR agency will have a difficult time reclaiming its reputation. As with every aspect of life, honesty is the best policy. Inspire real customers with great experiences, and you won’t need to run the risk of fake word-of-mouth.

What are your customers thinking?

Do you know what your customers are thinking? Do you know what really matters to them? You should find out! It will make your marketing more effective and efficient.

Sometimes what your customers think and value might surprise you. I had a conversation with a contractor who learned by accident that his customers preferred slightly rusty service vans to pristine, freshly-painted ones. He had purchased a fleet of used vehicles, but unexpectedly needed to put them in the field before he could get them painted. Many of his customers (most of whom were selling their homes, so didn’t want to invest too much capital in the improvements) mentioned they preferred a less expensive contractor who didn’t spend thousands on the appearance of his vans. They believed “the savings were passed on to them,” so to speak. Now, the contractor doesn’t worry so much about keeping the paint jobs up-to-date.

A large part of marketing is learning what matters to your customer through research. How will you know what to say to them in marketing communications unless you know what they believe?

Getting started with research can be as simple as asking a few customers for their opinions, but to get the most value out of research, it’s best to engage a marketing firm. Customers are more likely to give their honest opinions to a third-party, and a marketing firm will have methodologies for getting customers to speak freely.

Oh, did I mention Zoo in a Jungle Marketing excels at qualitative market research? We do!

Be Good, Businesses

The plumber ruined my plaster ceiling.

A year later, the roofer broke my deck.

Does this look right to you?

Does this look "right" to you?

They both told me, “I want to make this right.” Then, they did everything in their power to avoid paying. (With limited success. I’m pretty tenacious.)

In the age of word-of-mouth marketing, with Angie’s List, Yelp and girlfriends getting together for coffee, how could any business person be so short-sighted to think shirking a responsibility today would result in profit tomorrow?

Honesty and virtue are key ingredients to long-term success. It sounds old-fashioned, because there’s nothing new about being a good business with good people.

Dishonesty can lead to short-term gains–remember Enron?–but ultimately ends in business disaster. For the plumber, I wrote a reasonable yet scathing review of his business and chose one of his dozen competitors to be my go-to plumber. As for the roofer, I related my story to friends and neighbors, so they can make informed decisions in the future. I’m just one home-owner, but my influence extends beyond my own purchasing needs.

And the same is true of your customers. Each day, your customers are evaluating your dependability and trustworthiness. They are sharing their opinions with friends and family. Their opinions carry more weight than the most perfectly-designed marketing campaign.

So, be good. Do the right thing.

Your business will profit from it, and so will your conscience.

P.S. Bonus: The effects of unethical business decisions extend further than word-of-mouth. If you have customers who won’t pay anything until the last jot and tittle of the contract are fulfilled, they’ve likely been treated badly in the past. They feel the need to protect themselves. And who can blame them? We’ve all heard the lie at sometime or other, “I want to make this right.”