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Marketing and Branding–When Less Is More: Harvard Business Journal Study Shows Importance of "Decision Simplicity"

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Two issues (one belief, one fact) with marketing today:

Belief: Customers are less brand loyal.

Fact: With the internet, mobile, and social media, there are many more ways for brands to interact with consumers.

What if exploiting the fact is creating a vicious cycle that is making the belief more true? That just might be what's happening today.

According to a 2012 Harvard Business Journal study entitled "To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple", the increase in marketing messages "isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage."

The authors analyzed surveys and interview with thousands of consumers and hundreds of marketing experts to figure out what makes consumers "sticky"–i.e. "likely to follow through on an intended purchase, buy the product repeatedly, and recommend it to others."

The authors looked at over 40 variables, including pricing, brand perceptions, etc. and concluded that the biggest driver of stickiness was "decision simplicity".

Decision simplicity has three parts:

1. Ease of gathering information. Ideally web navigation will figure out where the consumer is in the buying decision, and only show him info relevant to the stage he or she is at.

2. Easy to determine trust. The best way is by giving access to user-generated reviews. Consumers put a lot of weight over peer reviews, versus expert, celebrity, or technical information.

3. Ease of comparison. It should be easy to see side-by-side comparisons and trade-offs between different products and options.

Decision simplicity is one of the four types of strategic simplicity that I assist clients with.

Lyft and Medical Trials: When You're #2, Find Niches to Serve

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Yesterday, I saw an article in Crain's Chicago Business that Continuum Clinical, a company that recruits patients for drug trials, is launching a partnership with Lyft to transport patients to/from trials.

This is an example of innovation called win-win collaboration.

Continuum and the drug companies benefit because they need to make sure that patients make it reliably and safely to participate in the study, and not miss any treatments - which could affect the results.

Using a ride company makes sense since many drug trial volunteers are low-income or too sick to drive.

For Lyft, which is #2 behind Uber, this is their push into the health care niche. They will set up a special call center with trained people to assist the drug trial participants.

If you are not the leader in your wider field, it makes sense to take over and become #1 in sub-fields since, over time, leaders benefit from a positive feedback loop and distance themselves from the competition.

Thus, as Uber pulls away from Lyft for general rides, Lyft can stay around and be profitable because it can pull away in it's selected niches. 

Why Reality Will "Trump" Your Marketing Perceptions

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Misinformation

It would seem at present that the perceptions being created by many of the current political candidates are, at least in their minds, more important than the reality of the results most of them have been responsible for throughout their career. To point out the obvious, Donald Trump has been bankrupt several times throughout his career and has invested heavily in numerous failed enterprises including (but not limited to!) Trump Airlines, Trump Vodka, Trump Mortgages, Trump: The Game, and on the list goes.

When you consider the number and extent of Donald’s failed business ventures (and the ensuing losses), the reality of his being highly successful may be less of a reality then he (and his PR team) suggests.

Of course I’m not suggesting that success comes without failure, but I’d like you to consider which is more important, perception or reality.

Before you answer this question, consider for a moment the “perception” your business creates or intends to create in the eyes of your customers. Here are some examples to put you on the right track:

  • Are you attempting to create the perception to potential customers that you have a company larger than it really is?
  • Are you suggesting to customers that they are your top priority, when in reality they are #201 in your customer database, falling behind several dozen other customers?
  • Do you market levels of value you provide to customers, when in reality this value is more a perception of your management team then a reality of your existing customer comments?

When it comes to business it’s not uncommon to use perceptions in an attempt to draw more customers and to sell more products. We call this “marketing.” Problem is if your claims can’t be substantiated or are proven wrong at some point, eventually you’ll loose credibility, market share and of course profits.

Why do I suggest this will happen “eventually?”

Let’s return to Mr. Trump. It’s been documented numerous times that Donald has made claims that may not be based on 100% reality. To this point he’s been able to move beyond these inconsistencies for a variety of reasons (the power of his brand, the “reality” that most of us have learned not to trust what any politician actually says), but mark my words, these misstatements will come back to haunt him some day.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere was caught lying to the EFF about slowing Internet speeds on specific videos.

Notre Dame head coach George O’Leary lied about having a master’s degree from NY University 

RadioShack’s CEO David Edmondson lied about having earned degrees in theology and psychology.

Here’s the reality.

Good marketing is built on great value, substantiated by your customers, employees and suppliers. Rather than invest in having a marketing company to tell you what your brand or value statement is, why not just ask what your employees say what customers tell them are the most important aspects of the value you offer (for more information on how to do this, check out this blog post). What your customers advise is most valuable to them or what your suppliers suggest are the greatest competitive advantages that your company has within the marketplace?

Don’t risk your repute for the sake of short-term profits and growth. Build a marketing platform that has a foundation in truth and reality, as the alternative simply isn’t worth the risk.

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Make Money: Fill Your Dance Card

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Corporate philanthropic giving generally flows in one of three directions. The “Fill Your Dance Card” option links giving back with growing revenue. You give, in part, to build new customers.

One common way to fill your dance card is to sponsor events. Event sponsorships persist because of thier success. Eighty-nine percent of U.S. consumers stated that given similar quality and price, they prefer brands linked with a cause. Dan Ariely writes about a study involving art and donations: “These results suggest that once someone (or some organization) does us a favor, we become partial to anything related to the giving party… the magnitude of this bias increases as the magnitude of the initial favor (in this case the amount of payment) increases.”

Event sponsorships, however, represent just one way to fill your dance card. You have a boat load of other choices.

You might also investigate operating sponsorships. Or “Introduce Yourself” options. Introduce yourself options include prizes, contests, scholarships, free tickets, etc. They help potential customers meet you. For instance, a plumbing supply business offers a competitive scholarship to a local tech school. The company welcomes classes of future plumbers and gains, as Ariely suggests, their favor. At a chamber presentation, a business introduces itself by raffling a free session and other prizes. A theme park offers a free ticket to a child who reads the most books in a year. This introduces the park, supports competitive reading, and creates park partiality among the school’s students, the teacher, and their parents.

To benefit from a full dance card, identify the specific customers with whom to dance. Explore nonprofits that interact with them. Don’t forget the potential value of connecting with a nonprofit's board members, donors, and volunteers. Luxury brands often align with high-end markets, i.e., a Bentley dealer engages with the symphony. Other businesses find their potential customers on Saturday at work-site volunteers at Habitat for Humanity.

Introduce yourself options, events, and operating sponsorships present three of many way to fill your dance card by partnering with nonprofits. What steps will you take to fill your dance card? Don't dance alone when you can dance with potential customers.

For more information about business-nonprofit opportunities subscribe to The Link. Or, contact Karen.

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Cut The Administrative Crap

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It’s the first week of January as I write this so let me ask you a question. When you look around at what you’re spending time on and more importantly what your employees are spending time on, how much of this time is invested in activities that will grow your business this year and how much of the time is spent on administrative crap?

Sorry for being blunt here, but hear me out. Despite what your accountants, customers and even shareholders might request of you, there is no amount of crossing Ts and dotting Is that will support business growth.

Business growth results from increasing your value, more specifically the value of your products or services, to the marketplace. That’s right, increased value equates to increased growth.

In my book Operational Empowerment I discuss a concept I call “The Value Connection”. The concept is something I often help clients discover in their business in order to ramp up their growth trajectory. In the simplest of forms, the value connection is the degree to which employees understand and operate in order to add value to customers.

I share the example of Dave Carroll who witnessed his $3500 Taylor guitar being tossed around like a rag doll by United Airlines employees during a stop over. Although luggage damage is not a new concept for those of us who travel frequently, Dave’s story is unique because despite his continued attempts to obtain assistance from various United Airlines employees (including executives) to resolve the issue, his requests went unheard. As a result, Dave went on to record a YouTube video about the event that as of today has somewhere north of 14 million views. How’s that for brand management?

So, I want to return to my comment earlier on. Administrative “busy-work” although seemingly necessary should take a backseat to activities that add value. Are your employees clear on how they do or can add value to your customers?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Are your employees empowered to quickly deal with customer concerns or do they have to escalate everything?
  • Do your employees recognize that their attitude, personality and demeanor can have a direct impact on your company’s brand?
  • Have you made an attempt to help each and everyone of your employees connect their role with bringing value (directly or indirectly) to your customers?

As the old saying goes, value is in the eye of the beholder. Does everyone on your team recognize what your customers value? Do you?

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Holistic Marketing and Social Media

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In today's era of social media, marketing is now holistic throughout your firm.  All your employees - no matter what their job titles are - serve as de facto marketers.

A helpful sales clerk could get praised on Facebook, while a rude waiter experience might result in a Twitter rant. 

Your company needs to take advantage of this - especially since we are in an age of information overload.  Traditional ads are no longer effective and even potentially useful content (such as blog posts and articles) is frequently ignored.

To turn your employees into actual marketers, they must become producers/innovators and promote by creating actual products and services that give value. 

For example, as part of its marketing, a restaurant could get their chef to demonstrate simple recipes on its You Tube channel.  Then, they could expand on this by getting him/her to offer weekly cooking classes, for a nominal fee, at a time when the restaurant is closed or business is slow.  The classes could be promoted in the restaurant and online.

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CAN YOU GROW YOUR BUSINESS ON A BUDGET?

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I’ve yet to encounter a CEO, president or business owner who isn’t constantly considering ways in which they can grow their business. When I ask what types of initiatives they are considering, the responses tend to focus on applying what has worked in the past rather than what might work today.

The most common approaches pursued typically fall into one of three categories:

  1. Improve marketing to expand market reach (i.e. new brand, better website, new marketing materials)
  2. Increase the size and skill set of the sales force (i.e. more sales reps, increased skill sets)
  3. Investigate possible M&A opportunities (i.e. increase market share, expand into new markets)

 

If this is how you think growing a business should be approached, then there’s something wrong with your thinking because…

  • Historical marketing practices are lost amidst the expanding global marketplace
  • Customers are more educated than ever before and don’t respond to traditional sales tactics
  • M&A carries with it significant investment and risk at a time when the economy remains delicate

Put another way, seeking to grow your business by applying strategies that yielded success 10 – 20 years ago is asinine. The world, the economy and most importantly, your customers, have evolved.

Disagree? Well would you buy a car today with roll up windows just because they were once the most effective way to cool down the car? Or would you visit a teller at the bank to pay your bills rather than setup automatic payments online just because it was once considered the best way to ensure your transaction was secure? Of course not.

If you wouldn’t revert to how you used to do things personally, why would you ever revert to practicing old approaches to growing your business?

You need to think and be more customer centric – more people centric. Mass marketing and blanket approaches to selling are no longer relevant and anyone trying to tell you they are doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

The truth is, you can grow your business on a budget. To meet the needs of today’s customers and clients requires that you shift your attention from marketing and selling to empowering your customers. Today’s customer needs to feel valued.

 

When was the last time you asked your best customers where they seek out your products and services? That’s where you should market.

When was the last time your salesforce met with customers not to sell, but to learn how you can improve your product or service? That’s how you should sell.

It’s time to step out of the 1980s and stop treating customers like they’re all the same. Making meaningful connections and empowering customers is the key component of your customer attraction and retention strategy.

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Are You Underwhelming Your Customers?

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Have you ever purchased something only to realize shortly after that what you purchased was nothing special? Have you ever made a purchase and then realized that what you invested in was no different then something you owned previously? 

We've all been there. 

Most recently for me it was the purchase of something called an "ogoSport Sports Disk" which is supposed to combine the sports of Frisbee and badminton. My wife and I thought it would be a great game for the boys but in reality the disks are too heavy to fly and the lack of a handle makes badminton near impossible.

Just another underwhelming product with great marketing. I'm sure you had dozens of similar experiences with examples like "New Coke" and "Blu Ray" immediately coming to mind.

But what's the true cost of introducing an underwhelming product or service into the marketplace? Obviously a loss of revenue will occur, but what about the soft costs like lack of trust, loyalty, reputation or brand?

I often ask my strategy clients this very question and I'm curious about your business. Are you producing or delivering any underwhelming products or services?

Unsure?

Here are some questions for you to consider in order to assess the extent to which your products or services may be underwhelming your customers:

  1. Does our product or service deliver exactly what our marketing promises? Can we support this?
  2. Are our customers willing to provide testimonials of their experiences that align with our marketing promises?
  3. Is the demand of our products and services steadily increasing relative to our marketing investment?
  4. What kind of comments are being portrayed online relative to our products/services (i.e. social media)?
  5. Does our reputation with new prospective customers precede our presence?
The key message is this. Be absolutely sure that what you promise (aka your marketing) delivers the value customers expect. If it doesn't the results can be catastrophic.

As I often tell my clients, don't be caught in the overwhelm of business decline simply because you underwhelmed your customers.

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Top Trademark Trends from 2013

Top Trademark Trends of 2013

The world of trademarks in 2013 once again reflected the overall culture and economy of the United States. Trademark application filings increased slightly by just over 1%. The year’s most popular terms made it into many trademark applications, and the biggest news stories of the year were also reflected in the trademark records.

BOSTON STRONG. The Boston Marathon bombing in April was a major news story. Regrettably, within days multiple parties had filed to register BOSTON STRONG trademarks. Most of these applications have been refused initially by the USPTO for failing to function as an indicator of the source of goods or services.

REDSKINS. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board at the USPTO heard oral arguments in a case seeking to cancel the registered trademark rights of the Washington Redskins football team. The plaintiffs alleged that the term ‘Redskins’ is disparaging and thus cannot be registered. While the hearing before the Board was held in March, a decision is still forthcoming. The controversy over the ‘Redskins’ name continued throughout the year as players, celebrities, the President, and the NFL Commissioner all provided comments about their position on the name.

Top pop culture terms of 2013.The most popular words and phenomena in pop culture made their way into many trademark filings. Such applications included TWERKING, TWERK TEAM, TWERK FOR TROOPS, HASHTAG LABS, HASHTAG LUNCHBAG, HASHTAG CLOTHING, YOLO HOTEL, YOLONOTES, YOLO KIDS, YOLO DONUTS, MUSTACHE SMASH, MUSTACHE PRETZELS, MOUSTACHE BREWING CO.

#HASHTAGS.Dozens of trademark applications were filed with the USPTO in 2013 for marks featuring hashtags, including: #DREAMJOB, #RUNTHISTOWN, #WECANDOTHAT, and #TAGMEBRO.

Non-traditional marks.Brands in 2013 continued to expand their use and registration of non-traditional trademarks. Sounds, shapes, colors, moving graphics, and other non-traditional trademarks continue to be effective ways for brands to connect with consumers in a world where it is increasingly difficult to stand out among the myriad of advertisements. For example, Facebook applied to register the design of part of its mobile app menu, Lego applied to register the configuration of is yellow head piece, Pepperidge  Farm applied to register the three-dimensional configuration of its Goldfish cracker, and the University of Arkansas applied to register the sound of its "Woooooooo. Pig. Sooie!" cheer.

gTLDs. New “dot anything” top level domain names finally began going live late in 2013. To date, their impact on the internet and on brand owners has been less than most feared.

Trademark scams continue.Solicitations offering negligible or questionable services continue to get sent by a variety of companies, often with government-looking notices, to US trademark applicants and registrants. At the end of 2013, The U.K. intellectual property office began to crack down on such entities, partnering with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to handle complaints and consider legal sanctions. Perhaps the USPTO will follow suit in 2014?

What to look for in 2014.As the economy continues to grow slowly, it is likely that the number of new trademark applications will continue to rise. Expect even more trademark disputes to go viral via social media.

About Erik M. Pelton: Erik Pelton® has been making trademarks bloom since 1999® as the founder of Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC®, a boutique trademark law firm in Falls Church, Virginia. The firm has registered more than 1,900 U.S. trademarks for clients and has represented dozens of parties in trademark disputes. In 2013, Erik presented on trademark and branding issues to a variety of audiences, including the American Bar Association, Catholic University School of Law, and two high school classes.

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Sure Fire Ways to Build a Successful Sales Force - Part 2: Work Smarter with People

Your sales force is defined by the people you choose. At first glance, that might seem obvious, but consider what it entails.

The choices you make in this area will have a direct bearing on how well your team works together, how cohesive they will be in reaching the goals you set for your business, how quickly they will get there, and how motivated they will be every step along the way.

All of these factors combined define your organization and tell your customers a lot about what they can expect when doing business with you. So it’s really important to get it right.

Working smarter with people entails three key activities: assigning the right number of people, identifying roles and planning compensation strategically. These are points 2, 3 and 4 in our list of seven sure-fire ways to build a successful sales force. Let’s have a look at each step in detail.

 

Assign the right number of people

How much can one sales rep realistically manage? If you overwhelm them, you risk missing out on leads. Give them too little and they might starve while only your overhead grows.

Do your research. Look at what the data tells you. What is the average size of a sale in your business? How many opportunities in your sales pipeline does each rep have to manage to reach that sum? And how long does it take them to achieve this? Your answers to these questions will help you identify how many people you need on the front lines of your sales force.

 

Identify roles

It’s important that you clearly identify the roles of each member of your sales team and ensure there’s no overlap, otherwise you risk having conflict on the ground between members of your sales team. Watch out for this two common mistakes: 1) combining both direct sales and channel in the same territory with the same person. I’ve seen many businesses try this and more often than not, they pay a steep price: lost sales, confused customers and cranky, demoralized channel partners. 2) A combined role as a player / coach sales leaders. Sell, or lead. Do not do both at the same time. Player / coaches always default to “playing (aka selling) at the detriment of coaching their team. Worse, they are viewed as competition by the team who see them in competition for leads, and commissions. Know who does what at every level of your team. No exceptions.

 
Plan compensation strategically

Compensation is the big carrot that motivates sales people, but you have to use it right to get the best results. My advice is to look at having unique compensation plans for each group in your sales force where there is well-defined set of challenges.

Modify that carrot to suit varied tastes. If a team deals mainly with transactional sales, consider compensating based on volume. On large enterprise opportunities that take years to close, look at paying a larger percentage or basing bonuses on other key performance indicators such as activities, adherence to budget, or even a team goal.

When I sold for Open Text, I had the US Air Force as my client. It took us eighteen months to close one deal worth $13 million. Had my compensation only been based on revenue from this customer I might have starved while waiting for that commission, even though I was working as hard as my colleagues who were bringing plenty of smaller deals over a shorter term. Remember the golden rule: Sales people do exactly what they are paid to do.

Working smarter with people is about understanding what makes it easiest for them to do their jobs effectively, knowing what motivates them best and how to compensate fairly. As always, data can help you at every step. You can track, monitor, measure, course correct as often as required to grow quickly. The outcome is that you have a sales force that sells more, faster.

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