It's amazing how much we put up with in this world that simply isn't worthwhile. Take advertising for instance. How many times have you been offended by advertisers making wild assumptions about your preferences? Do they really know you? And what about bombarding you with unwelcome messages over and over again? When you've had enough, it seems a sign like this may be appropriate:

Wouldn't it be nice if marketers took the time to know their potential buyers before making broad generalizations or assumptions about you? And think about the effect this would have on their marketing execution. Creative is great and cleverness has its place, but making a strong connection to a buyer is key. Demonstrating that your product or services will easily solve a problem or efficiently address an issue is the objective of your marketing.

Don't play games and don't fall into the trap of pestering your market. If you do, you'll quickly find that you're not welcome!

Instead, be tactful and strategic. Pinpoint where you need to distribute your messaging and promotions. And, do it in such a manner that it is well received - consistently hitting the mark. You'll soon find that such an approach will prove to work well and help grow your business.

Recent experiences have motivated me to address customer service over a few posts. It never ceases to amaze me how companies will claim that customers are the most important aspect of their business and that they'll do anything to ensure their satisfaction. Some actually do this while most do not.

For example, take Deltacom - a large provider of communication and technology solutions. On the Deltacom web site, they state "Deltacom has earned a strong reputation built on customer satisfaction." That's nice, but there isn't any proof. In fact, my experience and that of several others I know is the exact opposite.

About a year ago, some slick sales guys came by the business claiming Deltacom was THE answer to our telecom issues. No more high prices, low services and poor quality for us. And, no need to worry about customer service issues. No, sir, Deltacom takes care of their customers.

Um. No. The short part of the story is that customer service appears to be the biggest gap in their company. Countless times we've experienced downtime due to disconnections, service drops, etc. When it happens, we go through the same routine - call them, give them our account number and then listen as a customer service rep reads off the party line statement about services being restored as soon as possible, you may hear from us, etc. That's it.

Guess what happens? Nothing. Sometimes service is immediately restored while most of the time it seems to take forever. We never hear from them on status, updates, when it is actually back up and running, etc. Never. Never. Never.

They are the absolute worst customer service organization I've ever encountered (with Charter a close second). And, it's pointless. How hard is it to ensure you have satisfied customers and those that sing your praises? It isn't - hear me loud and clear Deltacom - "It's not that hard!"

Obviously I'll never recommend them; instead, I'm doing the opposite. Oh, the power of word of mouth. And, the power of negative PR. Shame on Deltacom. Bad Deltacom.

Stay tuned for better customer service news - - an experience of how it should be courtesy of my friends at Island Realty on the Isle of Palms in South Carolina. They get it and they definitely understand the power that well-serviced customers can be for their business.

Last year, Bruster's Real Ice Cream and Nathan's Famous teamed up to offer consumers the best of good ole homemade ice cream and world famous hot dogs - at one stop. These two mega brands have joined forces to combine complementing eats that are sure to please. Rather than run out for a nice, fresh ice cream cone, why not dine on a Nathan's hot dog AND then grab a cone. What a deal. From a business perspective, this helps drive day time business for Bruster's and continues to build brand equity for Nathan's Famous.

Bruster's stores now carry signage for the unmistakable Nathan's Famous brand. The combination of Bruster's red/black with Nathan's green/yellow takes a little bit to get used to, but certainly grabs your visual attention. Regardless, the teaming has been well done and does not come across as an afterthought or 'slap it up there' idea.
So far, it appears this co-branding initiative is working. Bringing together two of America's favorite foods has got to be a winner. And the folks at both companies recognize that. Too often co-branding is done, 'half-baked' (had to use that), with mediocre results. When it makes sense, it works. We'll definitely keep an eye on our Bruster's and Nathan's buddies. Let's just hope there isn't an ice cream eating contest added to our July 4th flair in the future!

Believe it or not, but I've actually seen companies refer to marketing as a game, race or contest of some type. Having spent 20 years dedicated to this profession, this is insulting not so much to me, but to businesses out there. Let's be very clear about this: marketing is a continuous process. It is not a game, there is no finish line, and no winner is declared. Any kind of thinking along those lines suggests that marketing actually ends. If that's the case, then you can kiss any sales increases goodbye, say so long to revenue growth...you get the picture.

The idea is that properly planned and strategically executed marketing activity will influence your sales and business development efforts and ultimately help you achieve revenue goals. BUT, that's not where it ends - otherwise, pull down the blinds, shut your doors, and hit the showers. As a continuous process, marketing will keep your sales engine running well with the right amount of fuel. You never want that well to dry up.

Always consider the criticality of your marketing strategy, plan, execution, implementation and measurement. Keep that engine running and your marketing roadmap clear of obstacles and dead-ends. Doing so will put you on the path to business growth...not the end of the line. And, when you have a moment, check out MarketingSherpa's wisdom report.

Gatorade has a couple of interesting 'League of Clutch' commercials that have been airing for several weeks. In particular, the one featuring Kevin Garnett (aka KG) caught my attention and that of my client, Chip Felkel of The Felkel Group. While discussing his business, brand promise and unique attributes, this commercial came to mind. The key point is that you have two choices: be history or make history. That's pretty powerful and bold. But, when you think about it, this makes sense. I liken it to being a sideline observer or jumping in the game to make a difference in the outcome. That's what happens in the marketing arena - spectators achieve no results beyond the satisfaction of watching while those that are engaged with the market, customers, etc. are reaping the benefits of their efforts. But remember, marketing isn't a game - it's an on-going effort that continues to pay-off for your business.

As Gatorade suggests, you can be history or make history. Which one is for you?

Malcolm Gladwell became an even better known author after his book "Blink" soared on the business book best seller's chart. Following up with "The Tipping Point", Gladwell seemed to hit pay dirt.

In the latter work, there really isn't any big revelation, but he certainly makes strong, compelling reasons why it only takes a small 'thing' to finally tip something (an idea, fad, product, etc) into popularity. In some cases, this may be due to a circle of influential people who are always willing to spread (dare I say, be 'viral') the word about a new idea, service, product, experience - you name it. However, it is also true that these circles cross all social lines. Yes, there will always be the one's out there who are information junkies and feel the need to pelt their social networks with their formulated opinions. And, in a lot of cases, this activity indeed tips the scales. But, the same holds true with circles and circles of people at all kind of levels. In other words, no exclusivity.

Recently, Duncan Watts - professor of sociology at Columbia University - threw in his two cents worth about the role of influencers as they relate to that unique 'tipping point'. In an article published by Fast Company, Watts challenges the Gladwell assessment. It's an interesting read that makes a few good points, but not one that persuades this marketing mind.

Consider how buying decisions are made and what influences the purchasing process. Wherever you fit within our social spectrum, it is highly likely that somebody, somewhere, some how influenced your decision. Were these people only the 'wealthy'? Doubtful. Only the 'jetsetters'? Probably not.

Decisions are influenced by the opinions we receive from those we trust - whether a friend, colleague, neighbor, a business - whatever. That's how it works. So, a respectful 'tip of the hat' to both Gladwell and Watts who both make good points (although our loyalty resides with Gladwell).

Recently I had the opportunity to read Chip and Dan Heath's new book entitled "Made to Stick". The book was somewhat intriguing because I was applying their concepts to marketing as I read through the book. And, it made sense.

The premise of making something 'stick' that requires a balance of simplicity and concreteness is true in marketing execution. Being able to effectively connect your offering with buyers can be challenging, but it doesn't have to be impossible. However, it does require messages that have substance and are meaningful for the intended recipient. As the Heath fellas point out, there is an emotional connection involved, too.

In marketing your messages, doing so in the form of stories is very powerful. In fact, this is addressed on the Heath brothers blog where research indicates that stories carry more weight than advertisements. Well, obviously - assuming the story is well told, has substance, is believable, appeals to the buyer's emotions - - ahh, is sticky!

Well, I suppose they're on to something.

A long-time retailer in our Greenville-SC market recently closed after nearly 50 years of serving customers well. As a feed and seed store, they succumbed to the competitive pressures that our beloved big box retailers have been known to apply to the small guys out there.

What's interesting about this store as noted in the Greenville News eulogy, is the legacy they left. Rather than going down with the sunset, the former owner reflected back on the good times - the times that made great memories because of great customer service.

For years, everyone in town knew the store by it's gray, life size horse that stood outside the store marking it's location. If someone called the store, the staff would simply tell them to look for the gray horse and instantly people connected with that image. What a powerful brand icon!

But, the store wasn't just known for the familiar and stately gray horse. Once you entered the establishment, you were treated like family and nearly always returned. The brand experience was powerful and that's what we'll all miss. The personal service, the ability to get whatever you needed even if they didn't have it and the warmth of a place that felt like home.

That's what having a powerful brand can do for you. It isn't just some logo, icon or clever tag line. It's the experience that satisfies a need. Does your business have a gray horse that delivers for you?

Demonstrating marketing ROI presents plenty of challenges, but it isn't impossible. If companies will take the time to determine what they want to measure and what is reasonable, then the process will make a lot more sense to everyone involved. One of the misconceptions is that ANY marketing tactic will result in significant sales - immediately. Well, we all wish that was the case, but marketing is a process that paves the way and provides the tools for effective selling.

The best way to measure is to implement the proper tools that can provide meaningful data. For instance, a CRM solution integrates both sales and marketing activity so that you have a single view of all initiatives. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a good example and an implementation expert like Customer Effective is worth considering who has a sole focus on making CRM effective. Other tools help measure web site traffic and important statistics related to campaigns where site traffic spikes should be tracked. WebTrends has a fantastic web analytics solution for that very purpose. And, WebTrends is integrated into CRM so you have a seamless reporting capability for all data points.

Obviously there are other ways to measure - some are intangibles like name recognition and market education. The point is to have some type of ROI component in place to measure your marketing effectiveness. Having the right tool can make this process a simple one and eliminate the pain-staking task of manually pulling your data together.

What does it mean to be loyal? Many definitions use words such as allegiance, steadfastness, faithfulness and committed. This is especially true for many in our military forces who have a defined 'commitment' to defend our country and ensure the freedom we all enjoy.

This isn't always the case in sports. Many people will lay claim to their favorite team only when that team is winning. These are the fair weather fans. As soon as the team starts to lose or experiences a dip, these fans disappear into thin air.

What about customers in your business? Would you describe them as being faithful or having an allegiance toward your products, services or solutions? If not, then determine why and create the programs that will ensure your company is where they will turn every time they have a need that you can solve.

Consider the cost of obtaining a new customer. Then, consider the investment it takes to keep them. It's nearly a no-brainer to find ways to keep them when you look at the numbers involved.

Having loyal customers is of great value. Making sure you consistently deliver what they need, when they need it and in a way that provides a benefit to them is key. If you falter in delivering value, then you risk having fair weather customers.



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