Marketing It, Old School

A good friend gave me a flat of soda from The Pop Shoppe for my birthday a while back. I just love the old, glass bottles (now with twist off caps, mind you!) and the nostalgic flavours. Okay, the flavours were nostalgic even when I was little, but you get my point.

As I sit here drinking my neon red-pink Cream Soda, I got to wondering — in this day and age of social media and web marketing, are there still great ways to market “old school”? Heck yes!

Three come to mind right away:

  1. Networking: Many people would rather visit the dentist than network in a group of strangers, but — done smartly — networking in person is a great tool. In some industries, it’s still the only way to get noticed. So, grab a few tips on how to get yourself out there, find an event that matches your business and personality, and go for it!
  2. Cold Calls: This one makes me cringe too, but it works really well in many industries where the trust built through personal interaction is important. Think group insurance. Think setting up referral partnerships. How can you soften the cold call? Ask for referrals from current clients and colleagues so the calls are warm. If you aren’t super comfortable on the phone, ask for a coffee meeting. Not everyone has the time to meet for coffee but if you’re in a more comfortable environment, your message will be better delivered and, hopefully, better received.
  3. Trade Shows: Done well, these can bring a great awareness to your company, sell lots of product, and fill up your email lists. Done badly, they can be a money pit. The lesson? Do them well — choose the right show or fair for your product and take the time to plan exactly what your booth will look like, how visitors will interact with you and your booth, what you will offer, and what you’d like to get from the visitors (e.g. purchase, email, feedback). As well, remember to follow up with the visitors to build a relationship and re-enforce the message they got at the event.

Take a few minutes to consider adding these oldies but goodies to your marketing activities. They may just be the fresh new approach you need!

Networking? Do Them a Favour — Walk Up to Them

While I usually write about simplifying seemingly complicated technology issues, today I thought I’d tackle an issue that is near and dear to many business people’s hearts (even if we don’t want to admit it out loud) — jumping into a room full of people to network.

You know it well. You arrive to a room already buzzing with energy. People are talking and laughing. Business cards are being offered and accepted. To most of us, the thought of mixing in with this is daunting. Where do we fit in? Who would want to talk to us? They all look busy.

The truth is, of course, they’re busy because they’re networking. This is why they’ve come to this event. They probably had to take a deep breath and dive in too (no, really).

The best piece of networking advice I’ve ever received is “Walk up to someone — you’ll be doing THEM a favour”. It’s true. Don’t you feel better when some brave soul approaches you and lets you off the hook? Be helpful; do the same for someone else. Not only will you feel altruistic but you’ll actually get some networking done!

But, wait. What happens once you’ve walked up, caught their eye, and introduced yourself? Here are some tips:

  1. Read the paper — No, not instead of networking (but wouldn’t that be nice?) Read the paper or another form of news before you go to the event. Having some knowledge of current events will give you a good source of ice-breaking small talk.
  2. Ask them about what they do — Listen to what they say and ask a question or two.
  3. Offer a business card — After a few minutes, simply say, “Let me give you my business card.” They’re not going to say no. If they don’t offer you one, ask for it. Nervous people don’t remember about business cards.

Networking means talking to several people to build your contacts. Sticking with one person isn’t getting the job done. So, after you’ve learned about this person’s business and have told them about what you do (and exchanged cards), exit the conversation gracefully.

How? Just mention that it’s been great to meet them and that you don’t want to hold them up from meeting even more people. If it’s appropriate, you can top it off with a sincere, “I’ll keep you in mind and maybe we’ll bump into one another again sometime.”

You’ve just increased your contact list, your confidence, and learned about someone who may be able to help you in the future. Good job! And remember, practice makes perfect. Adding networking to your marketing calendar more often will make it easier and you’ll soon find ways of making better connections with complete strangers!

Marketing Calendars: the Friendlier, More Gentle Cousin of the Marketing Plan

Have you ever been told, “Your business needs a marketing plan?” Did you politely smile and slowly back out of the room? I’ve done the same thing (and I’m a marketer).

They’re right, of course, in that everyone needs a plan, a goal, a well-thought out way of getting to their destination. I do, however, cringe slightly at the thought of all business people slogging over a 20 plus page document, only to complete it and file it away for review in 12 months. How helpful is that?

It’s not.

A marketing calendar, however, is a working document — something that lives on your Google Calendar or on your cork board. It lives. It works. It does the heavy lifting. The marketing calendar is where you plan what activities you’re taking on, when they need to go out, how they’re getting done, who’s doing them, and where they’re being sent. See? They’re the action genre of the marketing world.

Anything this helpful must take forever to plan and write, right? Nope. That’s the beauty.

This is my recommendation for pulling together a basic, easy-to-follow, effective marketing calendar:

  1. Brainstorm: Take an hour to think about what marketing activities have worked in the past, what you love to do, what activities you really dislike (e.g. maybe you’re not a good writer and so drafting that newsletter each month feels like climbing Mt. Everest), how much of a time and money budget you can dedicate to marketing, who your competitors are and who your target audience is. Freaked out? Only give yourself 5-10 minutes for each topic and go at it full speed ahead…there are no right or wrong answers
  2. Organize the pieces: Take a look at the “what works” and the “what you love” lists and see if there are any cross-overs. Start there. Choose two or three activities that you can do consistently. If you commit to a monthly newsletter, make sure you can actually deliver a monthly newsletter. Be sure to take into account how much time each activity will take to prepare
  3. Get out your calendars: Actually, physically schedule the activities you have chosen. Writing a monthly newsletter? Set a date to start writing, a date to lay it out in an e-newsletter program, and a delivery date. Do this for each activity for the next three months. Take a look at your commitments and make sure they are realistic. Frustration does not encourage consistency
  4. Review your marketing calendar: Remember how I said this was a living, working, moving document? This is where that comes in. After you’ve lived your activity schedule for a month, take a look at how that went. Do you wish you left more time for preparation? Do you think you can add another activity? Adjust your next few months accordingly

As you go through this cycle of doing your activities and reviewing your schedule, you will begin to see trends. Maybe some of your activities work better than others. Tweak the calendar as you go, remembering that activities take a bit of time to get results. Don’t revamp your activities every month, but it is okay to make improvements as you go along and learn more about your market, your targets, and what they’re looking for from your business.

Show Up Knowing You’ll Get a Chance

We’ve all heard the line, “Showing up is half the battle.” The second half of the battle, of course, is getting the chance to make the score. Sunday’s Olympic hockey battle between the US and Canada was no different. What was unique, however, was how the players spoke about the game in these exact terms afterward.

Sidney Crosby, the Canadian player to make the final, winning goal (I say this for those who accidentally locked themselves in the storm cellar on Sunday) said that he didn’t actually remember the play leading up to the goal. Just that he was somewhere around the left-hand side of the net and that it went in. What he did know, however, was that, “I felt like I was getting chances and usually when you’re getting chances they’re eventually going to go in.”

Well, exactly.

Jonathon Toews, who scored the first goal of the game for Canada, said, “I just had that feeling that it was going to happen, that I was going to find a way to score.”

So, what does all this hockey stuff mean for the average business owner? Like a hockey player, we get opportunities; ours, of course, are in the form of networking events, social media, word-of-mouth and RFPs. Show up to all your opportunities knowing that you’ll get a chance. Bring your best game, be impeccable in what you offer, stay focused and, eventually, something great will come of it.

Getting Really Clear About Your Target Market

Clients often begin a brainstorming session by saying, “I already know my target market. We don’t need to spend time on that.” I usually humour them and move along, knowing that a discussion around who really is their target market is to come at some point. We all think we know our target — phrases such as “small business”, “making over $xx per year”, “those having had a long-term issue with blank” come to mind. For me, I thought I had a good list of who I could help and who could use my services.

And then, one day, I had an opportunity to submit a proposal for a new project. I had a weird feeling about it, though, and procrastinated on actually pulling the information together. I had no idea why. The business owner was great — they loved their business and was really good at what they did. The business was long-term and very successful. Furthermore, the owner already had a great foundation of marketing activities — I had the opportunity to bring some real creativity to the additional pieces we would add to the mix. What was the problem? Why was I blocking out this seemingly fantastic opportunity?

I didn’t know. All I knew was that I couldn’t take it on.

After some soul searching — soul wrenching, really — I decided to consult with my friend and colleague Mary Ellen Sanajko of Conduit Coaching. She asked if maybe my definition of my target market was off.

“Off? I’m a marketer,” I thought, “I do this for a living. How can it be that far off?”

Mary Ellen encouraged me to look back at the clients/projects I loved working with/on and to find the common thread. Suddenly, I had new descriptive phrases such as “has a spark in their eye” and “confidence in their business idea”. All intangibles, all a little “out there”. But Mary Ellen was right. I needed to add a different dimension to my target definition.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the potential client I was speaking about earlier definitely had a spark in their eye and a great confidence for their business idea. But there were a few other things on my new list that were missing for me. And I’ve learned the hard way through the years that if you have an inkling about not taking on a project, don’t. Even if the most lovely person in the universe is the one offering it.

What is the take away from my little story? Even if you think you know your target market inside and out, take a few minutes to think about your favourite clients or projects and just see what common thread might tie them together. You may just have found the key to making your business  not just successful, but over-the-top satisfying as well.

The Joy of Referrals

I was chatting with a coaching client the other day when the topic of referrals came up. She was concerned that networking was all for naught if you didn’t really get to know the people you were meeting. After all, how can you (or they) offer a referral about someone you’ve briefly met at an event?

Well, this took me a little by surprise. After all, we marketers — and business people in general — are big fans of networking. But maybe we don’t articulate why it’s an important activity very well. Yes, you’re out to meet new people. And, yes, you may only meet some of them once. But, if you do network regularly, don’t you begin to see some of the same people over and over? And don’t you get to know them, their businesses, their life in those repeated run-ins? Of course you do.

But, alas, she understood the value of these repeat meetings. It was those she met once or twice that had her concerned. I explained it by breaking out the three levels of referrals:

  1. I met this person at an event last week. He seems to do what you’re looking for. Obviously, this person isn’t giving a personal recommendation. They’re simply connecting someone with a need to someone who seems to do that or sell that. This is the level of referral you will be getting or giving for those people you meet briefly. Because there is the possibility of a referral, even from those you barely know, make sure that you are clear on why your product or service is so special while you network. That is what will click in their brains when a colleague says later on, “Have you ever heard of someone who…”
  2. John at Leaf Spots does that. He’s really good. This will come from someone who knows you better. Perhaps they’ve tried your product or service themselves or have heard good things from someone who has. Either way, your reputation is getting a boost with this referral. This is also the recommendation that my client thought all referrals should be and was a little daunted by the amount of networking time it was going to take to establish these “fans”.
  3. I’m bringing in Stacey at Gleefully Yours as a subcontractor or co-contractor. These are the best, usually the most lucrative — and the scariest — referrals to give and to receive. You are attaching your reputation and project performance to another business person. In essence, they are becoming your temporary partner. These referrals come from a contact you may have met at a networking function but with whom you have developed a business relationship through such nurturing activities such as regular coffee meetings or working together on other projects. These are worth their weight in gold and it’s important to spend the time developing at least a few of these.

Once I explained that not all referrals are the same — and that no one expects them to be — my client’s block towards networking seemed to significantly soften. She doesn’t have to make friends with everyone she meets — and neither do you. Networking is for learning about new people, re-enforcing relationships with those you’ve already met, and keeping your ear to the proverbial ground for new, exciting business information. More on that later…

All Tweets Are Final

Despite my initial objections (what will I say??), I find myself really enjoying Twitter. I’m not on there very often but — when I do visit (it’s like a little land of its own) — I often learn a new tidbit or meet a new personality. Those who visit more often or have an on-going feed on their desktop often develop a community. They have a group of people they chat with, exchange ideas with, and promote (usually through “re-tweets”).

I am, however, very cautious with my own “tweets” or comments. After all, all my followers will have access to whatever I spontaneously type and — worst of all — All Tweets Are Final. That is, you can never take anything back that you say on Twitter. It’s all recorded for forever more.

My recommendations? There are a few ways to prevent making comments you’ll dread later:

  • Think it through: I know the format of Twitter is to encourage spontaneity, but take a few moments to re-read what you’ve dashed off. Make sure this is a comment you would feel comfortable saying in a business meeting.
  • Consider scheduling your messages: Hoot Suite is a Twitter management program (free) that allows you to schedule your tweets ahead of time. I know! It takes the spontaneity and fun of being wild and free. But, if you tend to message impulsively, this will become your friend. Schedule your messages and then, if regret visits before it goes live, simply delete it.
  • Give yourself guidelines: What are you comfortable talking about on Twitter? This will depend on your focus — business, personal, a combination of both? If your primary focus is business, maybe it’s wise to not talk about your morning bathroom routine. If you’d like to present yourself as a serious professional, perhaps your guideline will include “no rants or swearing”. Decide what you want to project and stick to it.

Twitter can be a great addition to your business — if you just remember that All Tweets Are Final.

Post-Script — Okay, apparently Tweets are no longer final! You CAN delete your own tweets now by hovering over your post and pressing the “Delete” when it shows itself. However, Twitter remains an instant medium and even if you do delete something, there is always the possibility that someone has seen it!

Avoiding Social Media Overload

We’re all looking for simple ways to market our products and services and many of us have at least started down the path to social media.

It’s true that social media does not require an outlay of cash or special equipment. What is not true is the notion that social media a free medium. After all, if you added up all the time you spent writing blogs, updating your Facebook account, and searching for new contacts on LinkedIn, I’m willing to bet it would be a substantial sum. That is, if you take the time to keep them up-to-date.

That, my friends, is the catch-22 of social media — it takes time to update all your activities and not keeping them up-to-date costs reputation and will cause the gains you’ve made to slip. My advice? Choose the best social media bits for your business and keep them up-to-date.

But, how do you choose which bits are best for you?

Here are some tips:

  • Take a look at your web stats: (pleeeease tell me you have a website!) Log in to your web stats page (call your web host if you have no idea what I’m talking about) and look at where your referrals are coming from. Referrals are the sites that send visitors to your website.¬† If you never receive referrals from, say Facebook, then maybe that bit can be retired from your social media schedule. If, however, you receive a lot of traffic from LinkedIn, you may want to increase the amount of effort you put into the LinkedIn community.
  • Do what you enjoy: Social media is — well — social. It’s meant to be an informal place to chat, learn, and share. Others can tell when it’s not fun for you. Stiff, formal essays or efficient comments don’t communicate “I know my stuff and I’m happy to share.”; rather, they scream, “I’m just here because I need to market!” Choose the mediums you’re comfortable with and you enjoy contributing to. Love commenting on blogs but don’t like list building in LinkedIn? Well, there you go.
  • Go where you can be helpful: If you’re using social media to market, find areas where you can show your stuff. I don’t mean become the show-off of the forum, but go where you can intelligently contribute to discussions and offer advice when it’s called for.

Okay, have your short-list of social media activities ready? Now, do what ever you need to do to keep them up-to-date. Schedule in time, pre-write blogs, ask colleagues to contribute, add a Twitter function to your Blackberry. Whatever it takes…figure out how it will work best for you, your schedule, and personality, and do it. It’s easy for this stuff to slip (I know from personal experience!) but, if social media is a piece of your marketing activities, it needs to be a priority.

As always, please let me know how your social media activities are going. Did you pare down the list? Did it help?

Brand is Your Business’s Persona

Developing your business’s brand can be one of the most fun and most challenging pieces in your marketing program. It’s like working really hard on a work-out regime (the day-to-day work of running the business) and finally getting to put on a really great outfit (the logo, business card, you get my drift). Settling on your brand is a lot like deciding what your great outfit is going to be.

Before you call in a graphic artist to design your outfit, you need to do some brainstorming. You need to have a pretty good idea what personality, purpose, and values your company will embody. How do you do that? Ask yourself some questions —

  1. What is your company’s story? Why does it exist and why did you choose its name?
  2. What are you selling? If it’s a product, this can be simple to answer: a widget. However, a service can be more difficult. Selling spa services? You’re actually selling an experience, relaxation, a deserved break, and maintenance services for the body and soul.
  3. To whom are you selling your product or service? Be specific. New mothers, hot-rod enthusiasts, chic professionals.
  4. What adjectives would you use to describe your business? Serious? Fresh? Creative? Professional? Wacky? Pretend you’re describing a person.
  5. What values does your business hold? Environmental sensitivity, over-the-top customer service, or a commitment to a specific cause?

Write all of your answers down and take it to your graphic artist. It will be a big help to them in designing your business’s visual personality.

Finally, let me say that the visual end-result of branding — logo, website, business cards — should be taken on with the full guidance of a professional graphic artist. We all think we’re graphic artists in the making (I’m guilty too), but seriously, they are trained for this sort of thing and we should leave it to them!

Valentino: An Impeccable Product Backed By Business Sense

I really wasn’t expecting it, but my weekend viewing of Valentino: The Last Emperor brought me many business musings. To be honest, I went into the theatre with a very limited understanding of Valentino: the fashion house, the man, or his product. I came out with a deep respect for his craft and for his business partner’s patience.

Like many creative types, Valentino is a beautiful dreamer. He designs gorgeous gowns in fabulous fabrics. Chic, famous women wear his creations. It almost made me cry to watch his seamstresses painstakingly cut and hand-sew one of the most breathtaking gowns I’ve ever seen (and this from someone overly comfortable in jeans). The truth, however, is that Valentino designs in a bit of a vacuum. He creates without a thought to selling, material costs, or running the company surrounding the merchandise.

Cue his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti. Giancarlo and Valentino met in 1960, just when Valentino was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. The likes of Elizabeth Taylor wore his gowns but his lack of business sense was steering his company towards doom. Giancarlo became the business person behind the brand, controlling costs, managing the workforce, and allowing Valentino do be the best at what he does — creating.

Valentino, the brand, became wildly successful in a very competitive industry. It had the perfect balance of business sense backing an impeccable product. Even after being purchased in the 1990’s, Valentino’s day-to-day management resided with Valentino at the creative helm with Giancarlo driving the business side.

Today, of course, Valentino is retired but this business model still reigns supreme in the most financially successful creative companies. The marketing, sales, accounting, and distribution must be as important as the product or success will never reach its potential. This is true of all entrepreneurial ventures. We have our area of expertise but businesses require attention in several areas.

How can the Valentino story help your business? Do you need to outsource your bookkeeping? Does your marketing need some extra time or support? Quick — list 3 things you can do to be your own “Giancarlo” and block out some time this week to get started.

How are being your own Giancarlo? Let us know by leaving a comment…