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.

 

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?

How Videos Boost Your Small Business Marketing

Do you know that Google owns YouTube? You probably do. Google owns lots of things and is buying and creating more things every day.

Google has a simple business goal: to take over the world. And one small part of achieving that goal is to make YouTube videos ubiquitous. If you help Google achieve this goal, you’ll be rewarded with SEO cred that boosts your small business website’s search rankings.

Here’s a process you can follow for making videos that help your small business marketing efforts:

  • Create YouTube videos that are relevant to your brand and offerings. Make them short and interesting– 90 seconds is plenty of time.
  • Write video descriptions that contain your desired search keywords.
  • Embed these videos in your website, such as in blog posts or on product pages. A great example is on Steve Yastrow’s page for his Ditch the Pitch sales training methodology.
  • Write short, interesting content to surround the video. Again, make sure to include your keywords.
  • Frequently update your site with new videos, so Google sees that you are creating fresh, relevant content for website visitors.

I follow this process with my small business clients, and we see significant success with our organic search traffic. Give it a try!

 

Your employees want to be cross-trained

How do I know your employees want to be cross-trained?

They’ve told me.

In my work with Yastrow & Company, we do extensive, in-depth employee research, and cross-training is the most universal request we hear. Practically every group of employees, in every industry and every job role tells us, “I wish I knew what everyone else in the company did everyday. It would help me do my job better if I understood where my coworkers are coming from.”

Restaurants can schedule back-of-house staff to individually work the front of the house for a shift. Companies with IT departments can have IT staff rotate through the various departments they support– and show the other employees the demands of the IT department. A retail store can ask their purchasers to work a few hours on the floor.

Sometimes management gives pushback to the idea of cross-training, and their reluctance is understandable. It’s a cost, and it takes valuable employees away from their work for a time. But the investment in cross-training helps build teams and breaks down barriers across departments. When employees understand what their coworkers do in the course of their jobs, they will be more helpful to requests. Asking back-of-house employees to work with customers for a day will make them realize the importance of the customer experience.

Offer some cross-training. I guarantee your employees will find it valuable, and it will help unify your business.

Marketing Throughout the Lifecycle

Do you have different marketing strategies for interacting with customers at each phase of the customer lifecycle? Most businesses don’t, but they should. The cost of acquiring a new customer can be quite high– think of traditional metrics like CPM, CPC or less traditional ones like the time spent making unfruitful sales calls and writing proposals. However, the cost of keeping a customer is usually much less. (Additionally, the cost for getting referrals from your customers is often nothing.)

There are many different customer lifecycle models, but I like Steve Yastrow’s. In fact, he wrote a great article about the topic, “Most Companies Stop Marketing.” Here’s his model:

As illustrated, most businesses focus their marketing on helping customers learn about them, then slack off when it comes to purchasing and the ongoing customer relationship. Think of it like the cable TV, wireless phone provider or car insurance model: reel customers in with a great deal, then see how much hassle you can get them to put up with before a competitor entices them with a better deal. Most businesses aren’t quite as blatant as this, but the result is the same– customers get upset or bored with them and move to a competitor.

Your business will have an incredible competitive advantage if you develop and implement marketing strategies for keeping your customers. When competitors lose their customers, those customers will come to you. And these customers will stay with you, breaking the cycle of fickleness.

Advertising, Courtesy of the Legal Beagles

Sometimes, advertising legalese really goes over the top. While a case can be made for clauses like, “Not valid with any other offer,” each additional restriction discourages customers from trying out your product or service. Advertising, coupons and special offers are supposed to encourage customers, not put up obstacles for them.

As an example, Steve Yastrow wrote a great article on Tom Peters’ blog about the error of forcing pharmaceutical companies to tell us a drug’s side effects in a soothing, sing-songy voice. His point is that no one should trust an advertisement to tell them everything they need to know about a drug. Consumers need to ask their doctors.

This week, in a Val-Pak mailing, I found another great example of advertising legalese run amok. As a marketing professional and graphic designer, I get a kick out of Val-Pak mailings. There are always a handful of instructive coupons that show precisely the wrong way to design an advertisement. Check out this outlandish instance of legalese:

“First time clients only. Valid ID requiredCoupon may not be bartered, copied, traded or sold.”

Can you imagine showing identification just to qualify for a $5 haircut? Checking IDs may be a foolproof way to ensure no existing clients use this coupon, but it is an unreasonable invasion of customers’ privacy.

Not only does this legalese clutter the advertisement and send an unfriendly vibe, it’s completely unenforceable. How will this company know if someone sold their $5 coupon for $3 or traded it for a baseball card? And why would they care? (I’m not a legal expert, but aren’t barter and trade synonyms?)

When writing your advertising copy, don’t get carried away by the legal beagles. If customers feel like you are trying to outsmart them, they will respond in one of two ways. 1. They will ignore your offer as not worth their time. 2. They will take it as a challenge to outsmart you, and they will probably win.

The most effective advertising, special offers and coupons will bring you smiling, happy customers. Aim for that goal, and skip the legalese.

Marketing isn’t war on your customers.

Most marketing metaphors seem so violent. Many of these metaphors are directed at competitors- you need to outwit, outflank, outsmart the enemy. It’s a bit macho for me, but I get it. You want to beat the other guy.

I’m mostly bothered by the warlike analogies directed at customers, as if we are trying to fight, capture, abduct or otherwise force people to buy from us. As part of the marketing lexicon we have:

  • Email blasts – Hit prospects with enough firepower, and surely we’ll get a few casualties, uh I mean customers.
  • Targeting customers – Hit the bullseye, win a customer. Just hope he survives the blood loss.
  • Capturing eyeballs – Possibly the creepiest analogy. For me, it conjures up images of a mad scientist’s laboratory.
  • Launching campaigns - This analogy is the most pervasive in marketing-speak, but it comes from military campaigns. Don’t attack until you see the whites of their eyes (see above).
  • Captive audiences – Once we’ve got them where we want them, they’ll have no chance but to pay attention! I believe this is the rationale for advertising placed above urinals.
  • Guerilla marketing – In case you thought marketing warfare was only for big companies. Now small businesses can get in on the assault. You may not be able to buy enough ad space to “cut through the clutter,” but you can certainly launch surprise attacks.

All this talk of conquering makes marketers lose sight of their customers’ humanity. After all, we are marketing to actual people. And actual people aren’t coerced into their purchasing decisions and won’t be swayed by “blasts” of advertising copy. They will just ignore you.

For marketing to be effective, it has to honor the true relationship between business and customer. Marketing parlance describes an outdated model of marketing when companies felt like they were in control. That illusion has been shattered. Now customers have many options, research tools and alternatives available to them. In reality, the customers call the shots, and they are in control.

But we need metaphors and analogies. It makes marketing efforts easier to visualize and share. These descriptions need to be accurate and enforce how people actually buy. A bad analogy is like a calloused rhinocerous (and the same can be said for bad similes, eh?). Let’s try to use realistic metaphors, ones that actually depict the relationship between business and customer. Some are already in circulation, such as the following:

  • Brand story – Instead of campaigns, develop a shared story between you and your customers. Think of advertising, PR and other communication methods as ways to move the story along.
  • Relationship marketing – Brand stories build relationships. With war marketing, you capture dollars. With relationship marketing, you develop a relationship that leads to sustainable business.
  • Seek permission – Get customers’ permission before starting up a conversation with them. Don’t waste time communicating with people who will never be your customer.
  • Engage customers – It’s your responsibility to find out what interests customers and engage them.
  • Build community - Engaged customers who are in a relationship with you will be eager to share that sense of community with others. A loyal community is the perfect referral network.
  • Email broadcast – No need to blast customers. Once you’ve sought permission, update them with content you wouldn’t mind getting in your own inbox.

Interestingly, some of these terms don’t have to be metaphors. We can have real relationships with our customers. Do you have more metaphors for my list? Email me at amanda@zooinajungle.com.

Let’s look at some success stories (it’s too easy to find failures). Here are four companies successfully putting these attitudes into practice.

Old Spice

Old Spice took their “Smell Like a Man, Man” story from a few clever commercials to an Internet phenomenon. They interacted with followers on Twitter, responding to questions with YouTube videos by the Old Spice Man himself. Hilarious? Certainly. And the business results were nothing to scoff at: the Old Spice line of products has skyrocketed in sales, rising by 107% in June.

But why did it work? Companies create funny ads all the time without such dramatic results. The key to this effort was acknowleding the power of the customer. Old Spice made their spokesman into a celebrity then shared him with the world. They encouraged their customers to be part of the joke.

Etsy – Buy and Sell Handmade

Etsy’s Facebook marketing is tailored for those who wish to buy or sell handmade and vintgage objects. They adopt a breezy, conversational style while recommending their sellers’ products. Here’s an example, where 57 people enjoyed reading about bird scupltures:

Author Guy Kawasaki

Apple veteran Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter strategy is unique and encourages curiosity. Imagine my surprise when I saw Guy Kawasaki was following people I know. It was flattering, but I found upon investigation that he is following 286,644 people. It’s very egalitarian of him to eschew the general rule that you shouldn’t follow more people than follow you. And, for me, seeing he follows people I know created a greater interest to learn more about him and his company. Like, did you know you can hire Guy for speaking engagements?

Wal-Mart (yes Wal-Mart!)

The retailing supergiant has avoided brute force marketing lately. Their Save Money, Live Better brand story tries to connect with customers, and they are building a community of “Savers.” Here is an excerpt from their website that shows their implementation:

The story extends to public relations as well- recently Wal-Mart donated 6,000 articles of professional clothing to Dress for Success, a group that helps unemployed women get ready for the workplace. Finding a job seems like a great way to Save Money, Live Better.

Small businesses are especially poised to take advantage of this empowering, personalized kind of marketing. Who could possibly be better at creating stories and growing relationships with their customers? How can you start putting these concepts to work for your business today?

Let’s get started!

Small Business Marketing for Startups

Yesterday, an acquaintance asked me for advice on his startup company’s marketing. He just didn’t know how to get started with his first customer. He wanted to know what kinds of brochures, business card or website he needed to get people interested.

I told him, “Decide who you want your customers to be.”

He replied, “Oh, you mean middle class or upper class?”

“No, I mean decide which specific people in which neighborhoods should be your customers. Get to know them, how they talk and what their needs are. Then you can start selling. Then you will know what should be on your website.”

When people first start looking for customers, their instinct is to look for large groups of people and hope to convince a few of those people to hire them. The idea is, “If I aim for all middle class families, surely I’ll get a couple of customers.” But this instinct is wrong. The more people with whom you try to communicate, the less each one will pay attention to you. For example, I imagine you rarely pay attention to the loudspeaker at the grocery store. It’s just not that meaningful to you because the grocery store is trying to communicate a general message to the entire store. When you try to be meaningful to everyone, you end up being meaningful to no one. Generalization for the masses is the worst way to sell a new (or any) product.

To find its first customer, a startup needs to get specific. Instead of selling to groups differentiated by demographics, sell to individual people. Talk their language and address their needs.

On a related note, marketing expert Steve Yastrow wrote two very helpful newsletters on how to differentiate your customers as individuals instead of groups– Do Differentiation Differently and How to Do Differentiation Differently. Steve’s essential message is:

“Your customer doesn’t really care if you are different. But he will be blown away if he sees that you think he is different.”

Showing your customer you think he is different is more work than blanketing a city with flyers- but it will also yield more results. As counterintuitive as it may seem, startups (and all companies) will find more customers if they focus on fewer people.

Small businesses, do you know where you want to go?

Knowing your small business’ future is the most important thing you could be working on today. And yet so many small business owners don’t have a solid idea of where they want to take their businesses. Other, more immediate issues demand your attention every day – like how to solve your biggest customers’ problem with shipping or approving a purchase order for new office chairs. These decisions seem (and are) so important. But you’ll never know if you’re making the right decision unless you have a strategic framework of where you want to be in the future.

It may seem daunting to plan your business’ future. I recommend first developing a picture of success, then filling in the details based on how to paint that picture. This method was developed by Yastrow & Company, and we’ve used it for all of our joint clients.
The picture of success has two components. The first is a deadline, such as three months from now or in the next five years. The second is financial. What business results do you hope to enjoy?
Ask yourself, “Where do we want to be one year from today?”
Asking this question may yield answers such as:
We successfully introduced our products into three new markets and now 10% of our revenue comes from these new sources.
Revenue has grown 20% from our financial customers.
Sales from our new product category have grown 50%, as we’ve educated our existing customers about them.
We diversified our customer base so our largest customer no longer accounts for 30% of sales. This stability will allow us to take advantage of new opportunities.
Once you have envisioned your picture of success, you need to assemble the tools that will enable you to create it. List what customer actions have to take place and how you will facilitate those actions. Think about the big picture and what will have to change, such as product offerings, sales efforts or reporting systems. Also think about what must stay the same, perhaps your key philosophies or an unavoidable business reality.
Then apply your picture of success to all the details of your day. Before making decisions, determine how the outcome will affect your goal. Don’t be afraid to say no to new opportunities that won’t help you to reach your goal. Small business owners face a barrage of options every day – Should we advertise in this new publication? Should we start selling this new product? Should we enter into a referral partnership with another business? By keeping your picture of success front and center, these decisions become easy.
You won’t be able to reach your goal alone, which is why my next article will focus on involving your team in your picture of success. Your team includes employees, partners, vendors and everyone who will need to cooperate to reach your business goals.

It may seem daunting to plan your business’ future. I recommend first developing a picture of success, then filling in the details based on how to paint that picture. This method was developed by Yastrow & Company, and we’ve used it for all of our joint clients.

The picture of success has two components. The first is a deadline, such as three months from now or in the next five years. The second is financial. What business results do you hope to enjoy?

Ask your small business,
“Where do we want to be one year from today?”

Asking this question may yield answers such as:

  • We successfully introduced our products into three new markets and now 10% of our revenue comes from these new sources.
  • Revenue has grown 20% from our financial customers.
  • Sales from our new product category have grown 50%, as we’ve educated our existing customers about them.
  • We diversified our customer base so our largest customer no longer accounts for 30% of sales. This stability will allow us to take advantage of new opportunities.

Once you have envisioned your picture of success, you need to assemble the tools that will enable you to create it. List what customer actions have to take place and how you will facilitate those actions. Think about the big picture and what will have to change, such as product offerings, sales efforts or reporting systems. Also think about what must stay the same, perhaps your key philosophies or an unavoidable business reality.

Then apply your picture of success to all the details of your day. Before making decisions, determine how the outcome will affect your goal. Don’t be afraid to say no to new opportunities that won’t help you to reach your goal. Small business owners face a barrage of options every day – Should we advertise in this new publication? Should we start selling this new product? Should we enter into a referral partnership with another business? By keeping your picture of success front and center, these decisions become easy.

When each decision you make fits your picture of success, you will succeed. To make your deadline, be proactive about the most important factors affecting your success, and start making improvements to your small business today.

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 yastrow.com.