‘Weird Al’ Takes on Marketing

A good parody makes the audience somewhat uncomfortable, even as they laugh. The humor has to hit close to home to be truly funny. As you watch “Weird Al” Yankovic’s music video for “Mission Statement,” which buzzwords are a little too familiar to you?

To avoid using jargon in your marketing messages, see my tips in “Sadly, Interesting is More Important than Accurate.”

Your Receptionist May Be Your Most Important Employee

In Small Business Marketing, Receptionists Are on the Front Line

Your Receptionist Might Be Your Most Important EmployeeReceptionist positions are often considered entry-level with high turnover. Small businesses don’t spend much time training the receptionist, sometimes just giving her an admonition to be friendly and punctual.

But from your customer’s perspective, your receptionist just might be your small business’s most important employee! An effective receptionist:

  • Is a customer’s first impression of your company
  • Develops meaningful customer relationships
  • Keeps customers happy
  • Is a key source of business intelligence

Everytime the phone rings or someone walks through the door, your receptionist is the spokesperson for your business. Customers will evaluate your business based on their interactions with the receptionist. More often than anyone else, she is in a position to execute your marketing strategies.

Receptionists are also in a position to uncover important business intelligence that should inform your small business marketing strategies. They talk to customers all day long. Through skillful conversation, they can identify how customers learned about you, what competitors they evaluated and problem areas in your products or services.

Does your receptionist know how important she is to your small business? Help her understand her professional role, and you’ll welcome a new, valuable member to your marketing team.

Why I Love Small Business Marketing

Why I Love Small Business MarketingSmall businesses are my favorite marketing clients. I love them!

With big businesses (and sometimes with medium-sized ones), there are so many considerations outside the actual process of making a product, marketing it and selling it to customers who want it. Petty politics and communication breakdowns prevent departments from working together. Budgeting can get fuzzy, with resources being spent inefficiently. And one person or group can only make so much of an impact in an organization of hundreds or thousands.

In contrast, successful small businesses emphasize results over personalities. Customers take center stage, and every marketing dollar can be spent for maximum impact. Small businesses are nimble and can put smart new marketing strategies into place right away. Working with these clients is incredibly rewarding, because we can see the results of our work together almost immediately.

Small businesses, focus on these strengths. These are the reasons I love small business marketing, and the keys for small business success.

Marketing 101: What is a Brand?

The basic marketing question, “What is a brand?” is rarely even adequately covered in marketing classes. But understanding your business’s brand is the most crucial concept for any marketing effort to be successful.

So, what is it, then?

Your brand is the essence, the soul, of your business. Your brand is what your business values. It’s what makes your business valuable and useful to customers, suppliers, employees– and yourself. Your brand is why your business exists.

See, it’s pretty important, eh?

The excellent movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, shows a beautiful example of branding. From the film’s introduction:

Sushi Branding“JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimages, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.”

Jiro Ono has spent his entire working life (since he was nine years old!) honing his brand. He goes so far as to ensure his suppliers put their heart and soul into their businesses, as well. His son, Yoshikazu, says, “Our tuna vendor only sells tuna. Our octopus vendor only sells octopus.” And their rice vendor refuses to sell Jiro’s special rice blend to anyone but Jiro, claiming no one else could possibly prepare it properly.

The soul, or brand, of every business in this film is ever-present. They put their heart and honor into being the very best and consciously defining what they do and who they are.

Perfection is not just a platitude for these businesses. If the tuna dealer can’t find any fish he considers perfect, there’s no tuna for sale that day. Jiro’s apprentices spend 45 minutes massaging the octopus to ensure it is tender enough to serve.

Watch the trailer: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Watch the trailer: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

When a business knows its brand, marketing decisions become much easier. Sukiyabashi Jiro would never consider switching suppliers to lower costs or starting mass sushi production, because it wouldn’t fit their purpose. They know who they are, so they also know who they aren’t.

To truly direct a business and its employees, a brand must be specific enough to escape being generic. It has to answer the question, “Why does this business exist?” Answers like, “To be the most trusted provider of…” aren’t meaningful or unique enough to give your brand life– on the whole, aren’t your competitors pretty trustworthy, too?

For defining a compelling and meaningful brand, small businesses have the advantage over big ones. The soul is a unified thing, and it’s hard for large businesses to unify behind one purpose and set of values. Small businesses have the vision of one person (or a small group of people) to give them a truly purposeful brand. Don’t you think it’s worth answering the question, “What is my business’s brand?”

Marketing by Design

Design isn’t the veneer that’s slapped on at the end of a project. It isn’t just “pretty” or “nice to have.”

Design doesn’t come from consensus. It’s not something a committee of competing interests can develop.

Design isn’t just for objects. Companies shouldn’t confine design to the “Design Department.” Services, experiences and even marketing strategies should be designed.

True design is the complete, unified whole as envisioned by one person or a small group of cohorts. If you’ve been reading the Steve Job’s biography (and who hasn’t?), these concepts should sound familiar. I’m thrilled such a popular book is championing the key essence of true design. Apple and Pixar’s successes prove that dedication to true design works– more than works. True design results in “insanely great” things.

So, how are you designing your company and your marketing? Who has the vision? Where’s the passion? If you can easily answer these questions, you’re doing design right.

Public Relations has come a long way.

Public relations is a great marketing tool for small businesses and is much more effective at reaching consumers than advertising. People remember stories better than taglines and trust articles more than direct mail.

Local media- newspaper, TV and radio- love covering interest stories that involve local small businesses. Small businesses online can earn similar coverage from special interest blogs, Twitter users and other Internet media outlets. Basically, if a small business can craft a meaningful, intriguing story, they can get really useful PR.

Consumers can learn more about a small business through in-depth coverage than they would from a 30-second spot. Good PR helps consumers make more informed decisions by illuminating what makes businesses interesting, such as involvement in charities or social activism.

As great as PR is for businesses, media and consumers today, the discipline has come a long way since its founding in the early years of the 20th century. Then, it was seen as a way to manipulate consumers into consuming more. The father of public relations, Edward Bernays, said of PR:

If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?

Bernays also asserted,

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.”

Certainly, Bernays’ tactics were successful in his day. He was instrumental in popularizing cigarette use among women, and he was horrified to learn that a dog-eared copy of his book, Crystallizing Public Opinion, resided on Joseph Goebbels’ shelf.

But his approach to PR no longer works. After years of being manipulated, consumers grew skeptical of marketing claims. Now consumers do their research and often know more about your products and services than your salespeople do. Effective PR in 2010 means being truthful and crafting stories that are of genuine interest to consumers. Businesses must ensure they are ethical and  respectful of consumers’ rights. Because if they aren’t, consumers will find out, and they will learn that there is such a thing as bad press.

Give Thanks to Your Customers

How often do you “give thanks” to your customers? I don’t mean sending them a coupon or throwing them a scanty “Thank you!” as they walk out the door. I mean being truly thankful to your customers.

They could spend money with your competitors, yet they choose you. Without customers, you and your employees wouldn’t be able to make a living. Even be thankful for the customers who complain. Without them, you would never improve, and many silent customers would simply stop buying.

I can’t tell you how to give thanks to your customers because I don’t know them. Giving thanks is a personal, individualized practice, and you need to do it based on what you know about your customers.

So on the day after Thanksgiving, after you’ve given thanks to God, family and country, spare some time to be thankful for your customers.

Life is a Zoo in a Jungle

I often am asked, “What does Zoo in a Jungle Marketing mean?” While I certainly do like animals, there’s a deeper philosophy to the name. My company name is inspired by author Peter DeVries when he said, “Life is a zoo in a jungle.

Life is a zoo in a jungle. This quote sums up two keys to small business success: personal responsibility and seizing opportunity. Everyone lives with constraints to their freedom, much like zoo animals live in cages. Some of these constraints are internal. We worry if we are capable, smart, creative or likeable. Others are external, like regulations, competitors or the weather. Often, these constraints keep us from fulfilling our greatest potential and highest ability.

Successful businesspeople take personal responsibility for the constraints that surround them – both internal and external constraints. Less successful people make excuses instead. You may say that it’s not your fault that the economy is bad, or that you would be successful if only circumstances were different. The fact remains that external constraints are facts you may not be able to change, but you will have to work with them. (People who make excuses for their own internal constraints should consider leaving the path of entrepreneurialism- it might be too dangerous for them.)

If you heed the internal constraints and ignore the impact of the external ones, you will remain in your cage, afraid to venture out into the unknown world. But it is in this jungle where opportunity resides. Once you take responsibility for your constraints, you can seize opportunity and uncage your potential.

To hear more, listen to the interview on my small business marketing philosophy below:

Small Business Marketing Philosophy

Download the small business marketing philosophy MP3 file here. (1.2MB)

Introduction to Marketing Quality

The Passion and Purpose of Design

Do you want your marketing to be good? Do you want it to be great?
Over the next few months, this series of articles will provide practical tips to help you create a great marketing message and make your business more successful. We will explore your customer experience, web marketing, graphic design and writing. But today, we need to establish a foundation for the marketing tools that will come later.
Marketing is really all about design. Great marketing is about quality design. We design graphics. We craft stories and narratives. We compose photographs of happy, smiling people for the advertising campaigns we planned. We design grand brand strategies with flow charts. We even design our budgets.
We design every communication we have with customers, whether intentionally or not. We need to take ownership of our design and design for quality.
Robert Pirsig writes in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that quality cannot be defined, but it does exist, and we all know what it is. He describes quality as a train in motion. Everything we know is catalogued in boxcars, and everything we don’t know yet lays on the track in front of us. To practice quality, we need to acknowledge that reality is constantly changing, and we must combine what we’ve always known with what we’re about to learn.  In business, aspects about our customers are constantly changing, and we need to keep up by designing our customer interactions with quality.1
To create quality design, we need to have a passion for it. Pirsig describes it as “caring” and writes, “Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares.2” Passion is a mindset, and that is why we have to establish the quality mindset before explaining specific tools or methods.
Lack of passion leads to an overabundance of mediocrity and—even worse—a lack of purpose. If the purpose of the design is lost, then the design is useless.
In Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a small group of architects fight for the purpose of design. The protagonist Howard Roark designed buildings to help make living a joy, not to impress the neighbors or conform with precedent. He had a passion for building what “should be” and never settled for mediocrity. As he exchanged with a prospective client who asked him to use supposedly decorative flourishes:
“’Mr. Janss, when you buy an automobile, you don’t want it to have rose garlands about the windows, a lion on each fender and an angel sitting on the roof. Why don’t you?’
‘That would be silly,’ stated Mr. Janss.
‘Why would it be silly? Now I think it would be beautiful. Besides, Louis the Fourteenth had a carriage like that and what was good enough for Louis is good enough or for us. We shouldn’t go in for rash innovations and we shouldn’t break with tradition.’
‘Now you know damn well you don’t believe anything of the sort!’
‘I know I don’t. But that’s what you believe, isn’t it? Now take a human body. Why wouldn’t you like to see a human body with a curling tail with a crest of ostrich feathers at the end? And with ears shaped like acanthus leaves? It would be ornamental, you know, instead of the stark, bare ugliness we have now. Well, why don’t you like the idea? Because it would be useless and pointless. Because the beauty of the human body is that it doesn’t have a single muscle which doesn’t serve its purpose; that there’s not a line wasted; that every detail of it fits one idea, the idea of a man and the life of a man.’”3
Purposeful design is not limited to architects. The purpose of marketing design is to focus on the customer. We want to inform our customers, delight them, help them use our products and get them to do things (like buy something or refer a friend). Don’t focus on competitors, impressing trade groups or what you did last year unless it helps you with your customer goals.
Don’t let your next web page be mediocre. Think again before letting Val-Pak design your company’s ad for you. Realize that a typo speaks more about you than anything else you’ve written. If you seek out passionate, purposeful design, you will see the results in your bottom line.
In the next article, I’ll build on the design principles of passion and purpose and provide helpful tools you can start using right away to increase the quality of your marketing.

Do you want your marketing to be good? Do you want it to be great?

Marketing is really all about design. Great marketing is about quality design. We design graphics. We craft stories and narratives. We compose photographs of happy, smiling people for the advertising campaigns we planned. We design grand brand strategies with flow charts. We even design our budgets.

We design every communication we have with customers, whether intentionally or not. We need to take ownership of our design and design for quality.

Robert Pirsig writes in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that quality cannot be defined, but it does exist, and we all know what it is. He describes quality as a train in motion. Everything we know is catalogued in boxcars, and everything we don’t know yet lays on the track in front of us. To practice quality, we need to acknowledge that reality is constantly changing, and we must combine what we’ve always known with what we’re about to learn.  In business, aspects about our customers are constantly changing, and we need to keep up by designing our customer interactions with quality.1

To create quality design, we need to have a passion for it. Pirsig describes it as “caring” and writes, “Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares.2″ Passion is a mindset, and that is why we have to establish the quality mindset before explaining specific tools or methods.

Lack of passion leads to an overabundance of mediocrity and—even worse—a lack of purpose. If the purpose of the design is lost, then the design is useless.

In Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a small group of architects fight for the purpose of design. The protagonist Howard Roark designed buildings to help make living a joy, not to impress the neighbors or conform with precedent. He had a passion for building what “should be” and never settled for mediocrity. As he exchanged with a prospective client who asked him to use supposedly decorative flourishes:

“’Mr. Janss, when you buy an automobile, you don’t want it to have rose garlands about the windows, a lion on each fender and an angel sitting on the roof. Why don’t you?’

‘That would be silly,’ stated Mr. Janss.

‘Why would it be silly? Now I think it would be beautiful. Besides, Louis the Fourteenth had a carriage like that and what was good enough for Louis is good enough or for us. We shouldn’t go in for rash innovations and we shouldn’t break with tradition.’

‘Now you know damn well you don’t believe anything of the sort!’

‘I know I don’t. But that’s what you believe, isn’t it? Now take a human body. Why wouldn’t you like to see a human body with a curling tail with a crest of ostrich feathers at the end? And with ears shaped like acanthus leaves? It would be ornamental, you know, instead of the stark, bare ugliness we have now. Well, why don’t you like the idea? Because it would be useless and pointless. Because the beauty of the human body is that it doesn’t have a single muscle which doesn’t serve its purpose; that there’s not a line wasted; that every detail of it fits one idea, the idea of a man and the life of a man.’”3

Purposeful design is not limited to architects. The purpose of marketing design is to focus on the customer. We want to inform our customers, delight them, help them use our products and get them to do things (like buy something or refer a friend). Don’t focus on competitors, impressing trade groups or what you did last year unless it helps you with your customer goals.

Don’t let your next web page be mediocre. Think again before letting Val-Pak design your company’s ad for you. Realize that a typo speaks more about you than anything else you’ve written. If you seek out passionate, purposeful design, you will see the results in your bottom line.

Footnotes
1. Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
2. Ibid., 281.
3. Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. New York: Plume, 1999. 163.