Thinking of Thanks

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I’m always impressed by handwritten thank you notes.  They are a thoughtful, simple and direct way of acknowledging what you gave or did.  This past summer I received two of these rarities… on the same day.

The first was from Elise Mitchell, president of Mitchell Communications and a colleague from Counselors Academy, an organization of PR agency owners.  Elise served as the chair of our annual Spring Conference and she wrote to thank me for my contribution in helping organize it.  Elise’s note showed up in a tube mailer accompanied by agency swag.  A distinctive and memorable package.

The other was from a plumber named Mike who replaced a leaky section of pipe in my basement.  Mike was quick, efficient, friendly and personable.  As he was finishing his invoice, Mike made a comment about the weather (hot) and the impact on his physiology now that he was a father of both a growing toddler and midsection.  He mentioned how he began running and that his knees were bothering him.  Disclosing that I was training for my second marathon, we had a ten minute discussion about running shoes and where to buy them.  I used his company’s service, but in Mike’s note, he thanked ME for the advice I dispensed.

To be honest, I’m not sure if Mike writes these notes on his own, or if his employer encourages the practice.  Either way, Mike or Precision Plumbing are thinking about how to wrap up a banal transaction with a tangible coda.

So thank you Elise and Mike for setting an example of how to think and stay connected.  I’ll try to bring pen to paper more often, even if my penmanship is lousy.

AUTHOR

Bob Reed

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Building a Better Customer Trap. Part One: Who Cares?

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Here’s the question you should ask as you prepare any marketing piece that will be seen by a customer or prospect:  Why should they care?

If you can’t easily and quickly answer this, STOP.

Consider:  What are you saying (or planning to say) to make them care?

If you’re not saying anything that will resonate with what they want to accomplish or achieve, or improve upon, or resolve a problem they are facing – or the old need, want, fear or desire motivators — it’s time to re-think your message.

As a product or service marketer, you have an objective: to increase sales leads, to present your company as an innovator or thought leader, to alert them to a special offer to buy, etc.  But, effective marketing today is NOT about your company.  It’s about your customers.

Think you can’t get beyond the standard no-meaning descriptors, like, “we’ve provided high quality products for 30 years?”  Think again.  It’s just not that hard, regardless of how old the product line may be, or how seemingly banal the point of the communication.

Attack the Problem
1. As a very first step, we conduct what we call our ‘Insight Phase’ in which we talk with both customers (satisfied and less so) and prospects to pick their brains about the company, what’s important to them, and why they buy.  This can be done in-depth with as few as 4-6 contacts, all the way up through a formal research format involving dozens of contacts.  While an online survey tool is useful, we believe there is no substitute for a live conversation.

2. With target input in hand (and used to generate more probing questions), we help our clients think beyond the typical marketing-speak by holding an internal messaging brainstorm. Gather up a cross-section of staff.  Include R&D, HR, sales, management, the lot.   Plan a two hour session and generate a dozen or so questions for the group (you can modify some of the same questions you used with customers).   Think of questions beyond the obvious (who we are, what we sell, what make us different/better, although many companies don’t even have good answers to these basics!).

A telling way to start the discussion is to ask the group to give their current company ‘elevator’ speeches.  There are likely to be good tidbits from several that can be culled for later use.

Other questions to take the group beyond the basics:

  • What are some of the issues sales reps face when selling the company’s product or service?   Reps will likely be vocal about this, which then leads to deeper discussion of what the company should be emphasizing in its marketing messages.
  • What are customers buying beyond our product or service – what are they really buying?  This should open up a torrent of commentary (and will make the group think!).  Examples of answers we’ve gotten include “trust,” “we know they’ll bend over backwards for us,” “we’re confident in the end result.”
  • Define the terms used to describe your company, product or service.  Many companies say they are leaders.  So ask, what does being a leader in our industry really mean to our customers?
  • Ask the group for examples of your company’s key successes.  Often these can be turned into meaningful points that can be effectively expressed through various marketing tools.

The answers from both groups – customers and staff – should give you a rich source of new reasons why your target should care about your product or service.

Use them and the ROI of your next marketing piece will improve in multiple ways: You’re being real with your audience; you’re being specific; and, you might just open the door to having some fun with your message.

Questions, Part 2 – What don’t you know about your client’s customers?

faq_signThe last question from yesterday’s post, “Would you consider your strategic planning process to be customer centric?”, is the perfect transition into today’s list about, you guessed it, customers.

You know how important it is to get them and keep them.  At the beginning of any engagement, we query the prospect about their customers and what drives their buying decisions.  Getting these answers will not only help your marketing direction, it will help your client find — and hopefully keep — satisfied customers.

  • What problems are your customers trying to solve?
  • Who are your most valuable customers?
  • What do your most valuable customers have in common?
  • What would the last 10 former customers answer to the following question, “What were the reason(s) you left us?” (If you don’t know their names, phone or e-mail, that’s a different issue.)
  • What is the next best alternative that your best customers have for your product, service or solution?
  • How do you leverage information gathered from your customers for direct customer benefit?
  • What are you teaching your customers and prospects?
  • What makes your company or product remarkable?
  • What are your primary tactics for acquiring new customers?
  • What percentage of new customers comes directly from direct selling efforts, marketing programs, customer referrals, or unknown?
  • Do you have a Customer Advisory Panel? Do you meet them on a regular basis (i.e. at least once per quarter)?

What questions about customers do you ask?

Questions, Part 1

question-mark“Judge a man by his questions, not his answers.”
- Voltaire

Silver Bullet thinking goes down the slippery slope of making assumptions.  Like so many experienced marketing and PR people, we don’t like to assume anything.

When we engage prospects, we ask questions, about their marketing, about their business, about their industry.  You name it.  Ask the right kinds of questions and you’ll begin to sense that what a client needs isn’t necessarily what they want.

This is the first of several posts about the kinds of questions we ask, starting with strategy and planning:

  • Do you have a marketing vision?
  • Do you have a marketing strategy and plan for next year?
  • What issues are having an impact on your business, e.g. external influences that could change your business, both positively and negatively?
  • How are your sales, service, delivery and operational managers involved in marketing plan development and execution?
  • If you could measure only one economic driver at your company, what would it be?  Does this driver matter to your customers?
  • If you have multiple marketing groups (i.e. your company is organized by product and channel, or marketing functions such as research, promotions, web marketing, and communications), how do you align individual programs so that the customer is not confused?
  • Would you consider your strategic planning process to be customer centric?

What kinds of strategic planning questions do you ask?

Shooting Blanks

bang_gun_with_flagWhat are you loading into your strategic marketing chamber?   Blanks or live rounds?

No Silver Bullet will occasionally share real-world stories from companies that made marketing mistakes through “fire, ready, aim”.   Share yours and read on for a few valuable lessons clients experienced with agencies that pushed doing over thinking.

“I should have stood on the roof of my office building and thrown the $28,000 into the wind,” said the executive director of national medical trade association, who took a full-page ad in USA Today to promote an event.

Lesson: Appeal as directly as possible to those with a vested interest in your event (especially when funds are limited)!

“Every PR agency I’ve ever hired has been a waste of money,” said a financial industry client.  Could it be because the agencies used standard PR tools, without thought about what results might be achieved through broad exposure; or more important, what value would be realized by the business?  Not to mention considering changing their strategy upon realizing their work was not moving the needle.

Lesson: PR alone is frequently NOT enough to achieve desired results.

A cookie-cutter is good only for making uniform cookies, not marketing. Element-R won a competitive pitch among three finalists.  We beat one on ideas; the other competitor shot itself in the foot.  It inserted the wrong client into its set of recommendations.  Incredulous, the prospect shared the mistake with us.  Not just lazy, shockingly indifferent.

Lesson: Marketing recommendations are NEVER transferable.

The Silver Bullet Antidote: Understand What Your Marketing Should be Doing for You

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It seems like effectively communicating with your market gets more complex by the hour (even for those of us who have been at it for 25 years).

A single tactic; throwing money at multiple tactics and seeing what sticks; or any effort completed without both a tight grip on the marketplace AND a clear objective are all examples of a silver bullet mentality.

Yes we know … marketing 101, right?  Surprisingly few businesses apply what they know about people who do buy from them, or apply any real strategy whatsoever.  Apply is the key verb.

Amazing, but true.  And we have the stories, as well as lessons for those who seek to make their marketing do more than it did last year.

Starting with our premise – that your marketing should be a continual process of educating your customers and prospects about the value of your product or service – what exactly are some of the rules that will take you on the road to being a better marketer?

Let’s begin at the beginning.  Whenever we critique a client’s marketing materials – be it PR, web site, brochure, presentation, social media approach, etc. – we always find room for improving the following:

  • Presenting your company and its services in compelling language that is relevant to the buyer
  • Being crystal clear in showing how you differ from competitors
  • Regularly expressing and reinforcing the value you bring, even to current customers
  • Persuading, not just stating, features and benefits
  • Getting your market’s attention.  This applies to content as well as how the message is delivered

There is so much to be said on all of the above, and many more key points we’ve learned in working with dozens of companies of all sizes.   All of it – the insight into why your customers buy; the analysis and creation of proper, strong brand messages; the new campaigns to take your message out to the market; the integration and cohesion of all your marketing tools — takes time and effort.

But the payoff will be your company in the spotlight, getting the attention you’ve worked for, and the envy of your competitors.

Wishful Thinking is the Silver Bullet

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt

The search for the Silver Bullet is ever-present as it is elusive.  There will always be a situation where someone hopes – vainly – to find that single, immediate and instantly applicable answer, solution, short cut or cure-all that saves the day, delivers more sales, or grabs market share.

We see it in constantly in business communications.  “We need an ad.”  “We want to improve our web site.”  “Let’s start a blog.”  “How about issuing a press release?”

All this “stuff” should never go before the substance that comes from dedicated thinking and planning.  Companies seek a silver bullet because they lack an understanding of what they really should do: create traceable, significant and logical customer connections by delivering relevant, compelling and persuasive messages about the value of their product or service.  Sorry to say it, but that takes thought.

Several times each week, No Silver Bullet will look at all things thinking related to business communications, as well as planning and its many windows of opportunity, from the strategic and long-term, to what needs to be accomplished in the next five minutes.  We’ll focus on business, marketing and PR, as well as items that fall outside the office walls, while commenting on how people try to get things done; what happens when they succeed and the fallout when they don’t.

The world is picking up speed, so don’t wish, think.