Archives for May 2008

Differentiate or Die: Standing Out In A Crowd

How important a core difference is essential to marketing success.

Marketing behaviorQuite often a small business owner will ask me to reveal the most powerful marketing strategy I have seen. The answer may surprise you.

The most powerful marketing strategy I know has little to do with direct mail, adverting, special promotions, websites or referrals. No, before any of those ‘tactics’ will have any major impact on your business you must first find, commit and communicate a compelling difference between you and everyone else that says they do the same thing as you.

Let’s do a quick mental exercise.

Pretend that you are in a room full of your competitors and I asked this question. “If you think you offer a fair price, please raise your hands”. “Now, lower your hands if you don’t offer great customer service.” “Lower your hands if you don’t feel you are an expert and can deliver valuable advice” How many hands do you think would be up? Almost all right? So, if you don’t do an effective job at “educating” you customers on how specifically you are different, guess what the deciding factor is? PRICE!!!! Who wants to compete on price?

Look, we all know that every business is special and unique in its own way. But the bigger question is does your potential clients know? You have to answer the following question “why should I choose you?” from the customer perspective. There are several ways you can establish a unique selling proposition. Here are a few:

  • Unique service
  • Market niche
  • Special offer
  • Solve a specific problem
  • Message of value
  • Unique habit
  • Unique product
  • Unique packaging
  • Outrageous guarantee
  • Customer service
  • Against the competition
  • A way of doing business

Once you have spent some time and discovered your uniqueness, you must commit to it. These core differences will become the foundation for all of your marketing material and advertising messages. You will use these unique differences to create your marketing materials that educate.

Dig deep into this exercise, it will serve you well. This is another prime example of why it is so important to spend time on Strategy before jumping into Tactics.

Must Have Marketing Materials

While there’s no such thing as a one size fits all marketing strategy – each strategy must be designed around your specific target audience, business model, and the size and goals of your company. That being said, there are several tools which every business must have in their marketing toolbox.

Marketing Material Must Haves

Business Card I know this sounds simple and basic however it is a proven fact that when you don’t have a business card with you – you’ll meet the one person you’d love to do business with. It may be in line at the grocery or while you’re on vacation at Disney. If you don’t have cards with you – opportunities to build your business will come up. The solution…get business cards and keep them with you at all times. That doesn’t mean you have to be ready to make a sales pitch but the ability to hand deliver a business card to your next greatest customer means no missed opportunities.

Make sure each business card has your Unique Selling Proposition – your tagline or slogan which identifies who you are and what you do. If you have a logo, it also belongs on your business card AND of course, contact information including your URL.

Opt-In List Each name on your prospect database is worth its weight in gold. Companies spend thousands of dollars building databases because each name on their list is worth sales. Bath and Body Works created the largest specialty retail database, 10 million names, and values each name on their list at $18.

An opt in list gives you the potential to communicate directly with individuals who are confirmed prospects. You know they’re already interested in your products or services.

Website
Even if you’re a brick and mortar operation, a website will help your local customers find you. Local search, typing your keyword and city into search engines – Pizza, New York, are quickly becoming a small business owner’s best friend. You don’t need a website to be represented on local search rankings; however it definitely helps drive traffic to your storefront. Additionally, a website serves as a quick and easy brochure and is an absolute must in today’s competitive economy.

A USP, unique selling proposition. A USP is quite simply your slogan or tagline which identifies what makes you unique. It’s what differentiates you from your competition. A classic example is “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”

Other tools to have in your marketing toolbox include:

Content in the form of articles, reports, books, case studies and blog postings
Direct response like postcards, sales letters, and email marketing campaigns
Social networking efforts like a MySpace or FaceBook page, forum and chat room memberships, and local organization and association affiliations.

Marketing is the lifeblood of any business. Without it even the best products and services go unnoticed and business falters. To be successful, to attain business goals, take a look at the marketing tools in your toolbox. Do you have what you need to get the job done?

Does Local Business Have to Mean Having An Office?

I’m curious about the opinions of the small business owners who read this blog. Do you think that you have to have a public office space to be taken seriously as a local businessman or woman? A fellow shared an opinion with me recently that went something like this:

If you don’t invest yourself into a physical presence in the community (ie: rent office space) other business owners will not respect you or send you their business.

I was both surprised and to be honest, a bit peeved about it. In this high tech, high speed world I am 100% virtual. Why should I have to house my desk in a retail office space in order to be seen as ‘in business’ by other small business owners.

Many small business owners have rejected the confines of big business with it’s stuffed shirt attitude and entrepreneurs have given up corporate politics to enjoy being able to run their own businesses their way.

But has the small business community given birth to its own snobbery?

I realize that at least in part, this guy’s opinion is based on his knowledge of the local small business environment – but I think it is an attitude shared elsewhere as well. In some small way, some business owners feels like more of a business person when they leave their home to ‘go to the office’ or to ‘open the store’.

I’m as much ‘in business’ as they are – I don’t want or need a storefront or office space to build websites and consult with my podcast and internet marketing clients. Do you really want me to charge you the prices I’d have to charge if I had to carry an extra $1500 or so in monthly expenses just to look at a different set of walls and sit under a different set of lights?

It’s time to shake off these old fashioned attitudes. The lines between small office and home office is blurring so far as to disappear.

The Best Marketing Technique Ever

Marketing

I’m stirred up and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Marketing is something so important to us, yet alot of times we don’t take any time to implement them or we are so busy focusing on our customers that our heads are in a zone. So I’d love to hear from you today:

If you could only use ONE marketing technicque, which would it be and why?

Home Business or Brick & Mortar?: Make Your Choice

You’ve always dreamed of owning your own business, being your own boss and living the good life. You’ve got the perfect idea for a business and you’re ready to run with it. Now the question is should you create a home-based business or a traditional brick-and-mortar business?

Here are some tips to help you decide which is right for you.

Brick and Mortar is Rarely a Necessity

In reality, there are many and nearly endless business ideas that can be run from home, especially with the Internet making it easier to receive and ship orders and communicate with clients and customers. Even if you have large product inventories, you needn’t clutter up your home with all those boxes. There are many fulfillment centers that will handle the storage and shipping of your products for you, so you can concentrate on selling more products.

Consider the Additional Start up and Maintenance Costs of Brick-And-Mortar

In most cases, a home business is cheaper to start than a brick-and-mortar option. Added expenses for brick-and-mortar come in the form of rent/lease/property purchases, larger staff requirements, licenses, etc.

Do you have money saved up for such a venture or will you need to take out a loan to get started? One option is to start small and home-based, if possible and expand as your profits allow and you prefer to move into a more traditional business setting.

Warning: Large Doses of Discipline Required

As a business owner you must have discipline unlike that of an employee as well, no matter which type of business you choose. However, working at home requires additional discipline that not everyone posses. Yes, it takes a lot to get up and go to a 9 to 5 job every day, but when you’re in business for yourself it takes more than just a paycheck to keep you motivated some times, especially if you’re working amongst the many distraction of home life.

With Discipline Comes Freedom

Most home businesses still allow you a large amount of freedom in your lifestyle and mobility. Setting your own hours and moving your business if you decide to relocate is much simpler with the home based business.

Overall, you need to make a decision that is right for you, your finances and target lifestyle. Whether you build your business from home, an office, a workshop or a retail store, careful planning will help you achieve the success you’re looking for. There are plenty of great business ideas at the Business Idea Library to get the ideas flowing.

How Much Should You Budget For Marketing?

This is one of those questions that business owners wonder about, but aren’t sure who to ask. And yes, you should have marketing in your budget. It’s not a “wait until a good opportunity comes along” sort of thing.

If you budget for marketing and create an actual plan – you are 95% more likely to:

  • Actually market consistently
  • Spend to your budget, rather than impulse shop
  • Track and measure success of marketing efforts
  • Be consistent in your message and delivery

So back to…how much should you spend? A good rule of thumb is at minimum of 4-7% of your gross sales. Some marketers recommend as much as 10%. There are many variables, like the maturity of your business, percentage of repeat business and the lifetime value of a client. (We’ll talk about how to figure that out soon!)

But if you’d like to get some specific, every industry has a typical percentage of sales that is generally used for advertising and marketing expenditure projections.

Why not reach out to your industry trade and professional groups? They should be able to give you the specifics in your field.

Generate Leads For Your Business

There’s little worth more to a business, regardless of size or industry, which can have the tremendous profitable effect a database of leads can have. Whether you call it your opt-in list, leads, or good old fashioned rolodex, the names on your list are worth money.

The strategies for online and offline businesses differ slightly however the value of the database for both is equally important.

To create a database of leads, as a business owner of an online business, one simple strategy is to place a form on your website. Research indicates that the right upper corner is the best place for this form; though test to validate this for your particular business.

On the form, experts recommend keeping them simple, ask for a name and an email address so prospects can be notified of news, new products and updates or you can exchange their email address or contact information for something. It’s important to ask for a name in addition to the email address so you can personalize your marketing messages.

Another strategy is to offer something in exchange for an email address – ideally something that must be delivered via email – a digital product. Options include reports, video or audio tutorials, e-books, memberships and so on. The offer largely depends on your business model and products or services.

You know what your prospects value most- give it to them in exchange for their permission to contact them.

For offline, brick and mortar businesses, building a lead database is as simple as frequent customer card, a sweepstakes entry, contest, or special promotion. Retailers are often excellent at this and many point of sale software systems are designed to integrate data collection into ringing up the sale.

Bath and Beyond gave away coupons for free lip gloss in exchange for customer email addresses. JosABank asks for your information directly when you make a purchase and DicksSportingGoods uses the discount card/points strategy to obtain customer information.

Email address can be collected as part of a promotion or in exchange for a coupon or drawing. Let your imagination help you create a promotion that will stimulate interest and build an extensive database of leads.

Generating leads is of course the first step.

The second step, the one that makes your database of leads profitable and worth the effort, is to communicate with them. Again, how you communicate with your leads is based largely on your industry and business model but also on your target audience. For example, a business catering to a young high school or college aged audience may have better results reaching their audience by text message while other audiences may prefer email or even snail mail communication.

The key is to stay in touch with prospects in a manner which captures and maintains their attention.

Like most things in business, lead generation is a process – a strategy. Take the time to plan it, test it, and perfect it and then follow through and make the most of your efforts by marketing to your database.

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