Posts Tagged ‘Branding’


Mondays with Mike: What The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Can Teach You About Marketing

Your mother, your brother, your best friend, and a loooong list of celebrities, and me too: everyone jumped on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, posting videos of themselves, donating money, and challenging their friends and family to do the same.  Those who participated got their fifteen minutes of fame, and those who wimped out were ridiculed as being no fun.

Aside from the fact that the Challenge raised millions of dollars and promoted awareness about ALS, a terrible, degenerative disease, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a remarkable example of the tremendous power of social media, and it illustrates what can happen when you invite your customers to share pics, videos, and messages that promote your brand.  There are several important principles that the Ice Bucket Challenge teaches us about developing a winning social media marketing strategy. 

  1. Be the EST.  While Challenge videos that simply featured calls out to a couple of friends followed by a typical soaking didn’t circulate terribly far, videos of particularly creative approaches were shared thousands and thousands of times.  FunniEST, coldEST, wettEST … extreme examples got the most views.  Whether it was Ben Affleck calling out his celebrity pals and then pushing his wife into their swimming pool, or whether it was a group of middle aged moms rapping their challenge, standing out from the crowd is what gets the most mileage.  Invite the participants in your social media campaign to interact in creative ways.  Ask them to give you their EST.
  2. Find something ubiquitous.  Everyone could participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, because all that’s required is water, ice, and some sort of container.  If the components had been caviar, platinum, and moon rocks, then that would have left most of us out.  Invite your fans to tweet, photograph, and share pics of themselves in your place of business, or wearing your logo.  Make it simple, repeatable, and leave room for creativity.
  3. Recognize the emotional power of social media.  There was some criticism of the Ice Bucket Challenge from folks who thought it trivialized the disease.  Some of the most powerful videos posted and shared were those made by people who suffer from ALS and from their friends and families.  Authenticity shines through in a video, and creating a powerful emotional connection with your brand through your customers’ true stories promotes your brand in a positive way.
  4. Be pictorial or easy to replicate.  Maybe you invite your fans to take your logo on vacation with them and share pics of your logo in exotic places.  Or perhaps you give away bumper stickers and ask customers to take pics of their cars in unusual spots.  The key is to make it easy to incorporate your logo into a photo that can be shared and reshared until the image covers the globe. 

Creative images make millions of impressions via social media.  You invite the participation of your customers, and while you will need to monitor and perhaps to edit content to ensure that it’s appropriate, the beauty of a social media campaign is that you can sit back and let your fans do your marketing for you. 

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5 Steps to Starting Your First Business

Woman Running Up the StairsIf you’ve been considering starting a business for some time, stop letting your fears and worries keep from making it a reality. Sure, it will require plenty of work and quite a lot of stress initially, but the payoff, both financially and spiritually, will be well worth the journey. Not sure where to begin? Here are the first five steps to starting your first business.

Step 1: Develop Your Viable Business Idea

Before you fall in love with an idea for your business that no one will actually buy into, do a little research to first see what the market is interested in, what other companies you’ll be competing against, and how you can come into a crowded market with something unique.

  • Conduct surveys and focus groups to understand how people perceive your business idea
  • Look at your competitors. What are their strengths? What areas are they leaving wide open for you?
  • Determine your unique selling proposition. Will you be the cheapest? Best quality? Unique in some other way?

Step 2: Take Care of Branding

Now that you know what you will sell, get your branding in place. This is an area I don’t recommend trying to DIY unless you happen to be a phenomenal designer. Work with a graphic designer with experience creating professional logos, as well as one who can develop a website that will attract new customers. Realize, too, that branding goes far beyond just your visual representation, and will include every message you put out to the world.

  • Look at other logos and take notes on what you like (and don’t)
  • Decide what’s critical to include on your website, and what’s extra
  • Provide as much input as possible on the branding process so that your expectations are met

Step 3: Get Your Plans in Place

You wouldn’t step into the forest without a map, so why would you start a business without a plan? You’ll need both a business and a marketing plan, though neither have to be gigantic, in-depth documents. Your documents are designed to guide you and to establish the direction you want to take. Your business plan should be an overview of your company, what you want to sell, and your approach to the business. Your marketing plan should encompass who your customers are, the different channels you’ll use to reach them, and strategies for each.

  • Use your business plan as a guidance for the future, but don’t be afraid to tweak it every few months
  • Determine how much you can afford to spend on marketing before you decide on the channels you’ll use
  • Keep these documents handy where you can review them regularly

Step 4: Test It All Out

If you will be operating as an ecommerce site, ask friends or colleagues to play around on your site to ensure everything works well. Pay special attention to the checkout process, as it needs to be as simple and streamlined as possible. If you’ll be running a brick-and-mortar retail, make sure your staff is well-trained on your point of sale system, and that everything is running smoothly.

  • Click all links on your site to ensure they go where they should
  • Minimize the checkout process to just 1-2 pages
  • Hold a soft launch event in your store to test run how everything will go

Step 5: Just Do It

Waiting around for the perfect moment to open the (real or virtual) doors on your business is futile. Just jump in! There will be mistakes, so note them quickly, learn from them, and make changes for the better. Aim to create a big splash around your grand opening.

  • Notify local press about your grand opening and invite them for a tour
  • Offer special discounts your first days open
  • Amp up your social media efforts with your launch

You’ll never be flawless when you open your business (or later, either!) so consider it a learning process that will continue to help you evolve as a business owner.


Mondays with Mike: The 4 Crazy Ways To Advertise With Mobile Technology

Consumers are absolutely besieged by images, messages, and impressions.  Every time we turn on our phones, computers, televisions, e-readers, or radios, we’re inundated by advertising and information.  Given the overload that we experience, it’s often the most outrageous messages that hit their mark. 

If you’re looking to boost the number of impressions you make, one of the very best ways to do it is via social media. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram touch more users more times per day than we can really wrap our heads around.  That’s a lot of potential impressions, but you have to do something novel to really capture the attention of potential customers.  If you’re determined to make a splash, here are some ideas to get your started. 

  1. Invite users to submit videos or pics with your product or logo.  Think people won’t take the time to make and upload a video?  Think again!  Look at the thousands and thousands of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos filling up your newsfeed on Facebook.  The videos of folks dumping ice water over their heads – sometimes in very creative ways – demonstrate the power of the novelty video.  Someone makes a video, shares it, and it spreads, increasing exponentially to reach more users every day.  The best way to adapt this photo/video idea for business is to run a contest:  Invite customers to post pics of themselves wearing a hat or t-shirt with your logo while they’re on vacation or in an unusual spot.  The photo that gets the most likes or shares wins a prize.  Think about the potential here – you’re going to be making thousands of impressions and building fans for life.  Powerful stuff.
  2. Pop-up advertising.  We become completely immune to things we see or hear day after day.  When the same old ad comes on my Pandora radio, I completely tune it out.  It’s like I don’t even hear it.  Novelty is king, and that’s why pop-up advertising is so effective.  Whether you turn your pizza shop delivery vehicle into a giant slice of pizza or whether you hire a clown who walks on five foot tall stilts to entertain folks in the parking lot on a busy Saturday, the real secret to pop-up advertising is that random people will take pics and share them with their friends.  Your little attention-getting stunt will continue to make its way around social media long after your part is finished.
  3. 2014-08-25_1635Flash mobs.  More labor intensive than some other techniques, the surprise and wonder factor here is huge.  You coordinate a number of people to perform in public, making sure you get good quality video of the event, and you post the video online.  Again, like the other social media techniques, the power isn’t in the initial views.  While the folks who happen to be on the street or mall when you perform will certainly be surprised and enjoy the event, the real numbers come when the video is shared over and over, resulting in tens, or even hundreds of thousands of impressions.
  4. Work lightning fast.  Twitter is particularly useful for brief messages that are timely and relevant to rapidly developing current events.  One of my favorite examples was the Oreo hashtag during the Superbowl when the lights in the stadium abruptly went out.  “You can still dunk in the dark” was the tagline of the ad that appeared on Twitter just seconds into the blackout.  The ad was retweeted countless times, and Oreo was declared the winner of the Marketing Superbowl.  You need a smart, witty social media guru on your payroll in order to take advantage of current events opportunities, but it can be worth every penny you pay.  Seize the moment!

Key to all of these social media strategies is the fact that by getting consumers involved with spreading the word about your brand, you’re transforming them into your biggest fans.  Social media works because everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame, and there’s no reason while they can’t have that fifteen minutes while wearing your logo and creating millions of brand impressions. 


Win More Customers with These Body Language Adjustments

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????Small business owners get out of practice. They spend so much time in their offices and online that they sometimes forget how to act when they come face to face with a prospect or customer. While many professionals spend time practicing what they will say in a meeting, few focus on what their body language looks like. This is unfortunate since studies show over half how we communicate comes from our facial expression and body positions.

Here is what you can do to win over more customers:

  1. Smile. The first thing a person sees when meeting is your facial expression. This begins on your approach and will set the tone for the entire meeting. Prepare for this by remembering positive things that make you smile about a minute before beginning that meeting. This will make smiling more unconscious and authentic. In the meeting, looking someone straight in the eye and smiling will instantly make them more comfortable. It will also make you more likable which increases the chance of a sale.
  2. Sit up straight. Customers get more confidence from people that hold themselves up straight then those that slouch. Most small business owners have poor posture from being at computers all day or talking on a smart phone. Before the meeting, stand with feet shoulder width apart and get a grounded footing. Then stand straight as if someone had a string attached to the top of your head. This will help you stand, walk and sit straighter. Customers will buy more from people that show confidence in themselves with this type of posture.
  3. Lean in. The physical orientation of two people together says a lot about their relationship. Slouching back in a chair or sitting straight on the end doesn’t make the other person comfortable. Instead, leaning forward will engage people in any conversation. This also enables you to talk more softly so people need to tune in to what you are saying. Leaning in can also show a greater intent to listen which the customer will appreciate. However, be careful not to invade their personal space. Also, try to sit side by side with someone you are trying to win over rather than two opposing chairs or across a desk or a table. This will help them feel you are both on the “same side”.
  4. Matching body language. When you “mirror” similar body language to the customer, it builds feelings of trust because it generates unconscious positive feelings of affirmation. It will make them think you agree with what they are saying which increases the likability factor.  This does not mean that every time the customer crosses their leg, you need to do the same. Instead, look for body language cues to copy over the course of your meeting.

Remember that business body language differs by culture. All of this takes practice so always make it a standard part of your pre-meeting preparation.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Who Are the Online Influencers, and How Can You Reach Them?

Stocksy_txp89ac3847maA000_Small_295975Is your business taking advantage of online influencers to build your reputation, build relationships and make sales? Online influencers—or people whose opinions are shared online and disproportionately influence others—come in several varieties, including:

  • Bloggers with lots of followers among your target market (check out Klout or Alltop to help you identify these),
  • Journalists who report about your industry (you’ll know these by reading industry publications, major newspapers and business publications), and
  • Decision-makers (and those connected with them) at companies you want to sell to (LinkedIn is a useful tool for identifying these).

To successfully reach and influence online influencers, follow these steps:

  • Know what your goals are. Do you want a key influencer to write about your company in a newspaper, review your product on her blog, or introduce you to someone who can help your business grow? By determining specific goals, you’ll be better able to identify which influencers will be most useful in achieving them.
  • Be active on the social channels your influencers frequent. That includes social media as well as the influencers’ own blog and/or website. Spend some time “lurking” to get a sense of what the person cares about and thinks before you reach out to him or her.
  • Start small. Retweeting or sharing an influencer’s post is a good start to getting yourself on their radar. Then move on to commenting on posts. Don’t just say “Great post!” but offer a brief, thoughtful insight—ideally, you want to engage the person in an online conversation or get a conversation going among other followers.
  • Acknowledge any interaction. If an online influencer responds to your comment, retweets something you tweeted or even just thanks you for a comment, be sure to respond!
  • Move it on up. Once you feel that the influencer is aware of you as an individual and you’ve built up some goodwill on social media, you can reach out via email. To avoid being perceived as spam or a “cold call,” refer to your social media relationship and any mutual connections you may have. You don’t want to seem like a stalker or salesperson, so if email doesn’t get a response after two or three tries, go back to social media.
  • Once you’ve made a connection, be straightforward. Politely ask for what you want from the person, be it an introduction, an article or a review: “I’d love it if you’d review our new product X. May I send you a sample?”
  • Maintain the relationship. Don’t go dark once you get what you want. Keep the relationship going by interacting with your influencer just as you would any friend or colleague. 

The Customer Experience Can Always Be Improved

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Customers place a certain value on consistency and familiarity when it comes to painlessly ordering or experiencing goods and services. For example (as a customer myself):

  • When I order something online from a company I’ve visited before, I expect the menu screen to be essentially the same as I’ve become accustomed to—I don’t want to bother with relearning the ordering protocol.
  • When I phone my heating oil company to place an order, I expect the usual protocol: to be told the current price per gallon, to be given a reasonable time frame for the delivery, and to have the delivery driver already know exactly where my fill spout is and how to get to it, without requiring me to be home at the time.

However, while customers value a feeling of consistency, a masterful company knows it always needs to improve, even to maintain that semblance of consistency, because customer expectations are continually getting more intense.

In the early twentieth century, just about thirty years after the telephone was invented and greeted with awe, the great writer and observer Marcel Proust made note of how unappreciated the phone had already become. Within a single generation, the telephone had gone from a miracle to an ordinary nuisance, spending more time complaining when hum or static broke up the line than on recognizing the essential wonder of this still quite new technology.

What was true of the telephone then is true today of all aspects of the customer experience.  And today, of course, the timetable in which perceptions change is much shorter than thirty years. What was a groundbreaking improvement in customer convenience last year is ho-hum today; what was timely last week feels as slow now as a dial-up modem.

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

A masterful company understands this and adapts and retools continually. For instance, a retail chain could have a simply stated goal as follows for each new location: “Make this store better than the last one we opened.” This simple approach is an optimal way to improve with every store opening and also avoid endless second-guessing and regrets about past shortfalls.

“Better,” sadly, is always going to be subjective.  And “better” very likely does not mean “change up everything.”  To do so will unnerve your existing customers who have gotten used to things the way they are.  And it may also deter not-yet customers, who are surprised by something so outside the norms of your industry.  A subtle, deft hand is necessary.

And, sometimes, the success or failure of your intended improvement won’t be clear for some time.  This stuff isn’t easy.  But standing still doesn’t work either.  Because it will feel to your customers, and your prospective customers, as if you’re moving backward.

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Sooner or later as you continue to improve the customer experience you provide, you’re going to run into another issue:  “Is this [our customer experience, our customer service] better than it needs to be?

Think this through carefully.  Features (even very subtle features and nearly invisible touches) that your customers value need to be shielded from willy-nilly cost cutting. At the same time, there are undoubtedly excesses built into some customer encounters and services. A specific sort of excess you should tune your antennae for is called lily-gilding. (The term comes from an approximation of Shakespeare:’‘To gild refined gold, to paint the lily’’—to overdo the already perfect, in other words.)

Lily-gilding is the brilliantly hand polished finish on an end table—when the end table is always hidden by a tablecloth. It’s an air conditioning compressor too powerful for the space it cools.

In customer interactions, lily-gilding takes the form of fancying up your offering beyond what your customers are interested in (or interested in paying for). This has both obvious and hidden costs. The hidden costs include excess features that can make your offering less attractive by complicating it for customers or implying to customers that they’re paying for something they don’t need.

This is rarely a central problem in customer service.  But it is absolutely one to keep half an eye on as you strive, always, to improve. 


Mondays with Mike: 5 Tips For Finding Prospects On Twitter

Twitter

I’ll admit it.  I thought Twitter was a silly little fad when I first learned about it.  Seriously – how much effect can 140 characters have?  It turns out that it’s a massively powerful medium, and I wish I’d started using it earlier.  It can be a goldmine in terms of establishing relationships with existing and prospective customers.  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Search for your company name.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s so essential!  This first key step lets you know who’s talking about you … and what they’re saying.  You’ll know right away if there’s a problem you hadn’t heard about, and you’ll get a read on the public’s impression of your company.  The folks who are already tweeting about you are the first ones you should make contact with.  In addition to alerting you to problems folks may be having, Twitter gives you a real-time means of responding to criticism in professional and productive ways, establishing your business as a stand-up organization that cares about its clients.
  2. Search for your competitors.  Not only is it just good business practice to know what the other guy is up to, but monitoring the chatter about your competition can also give you priceless inside information into problems or challenges your competitor is facing.  If you learn that customers are upset that the pizza shop down the road discontinued a particular entrée, you may want to advertise that you’re adding a new menu item (which, coincidentally, is what consumers are begging for!)  Unscripted, candid feedback on the other guy’s business may give you ideas about new products or tip you off about mistakes you should avoid making. 
  3. Search for relevant keywords.  Information is power, and knowing what terms people are using to search for services and products like yours is so important.  You can use the information to load your messages up with the right keywords, and you’ll discover links to articles and discussions in your industry that you might never have seen.  Everything you uncover can help you tweak your message and be more sure of reaching the right people.
  4. Use an autoresponder.  Twitter works because it’s instantaneously interactive, and if your Twitter followers don’t get that play from you, they’ll lose interest.  You should thank new followers (automatically,) and using an autoresponder even lets you create and send messages even if you’re taking the day off to go fishing with your kids. 
  5. Produce relevant content.  If your tweets are boring, repetitive, or irrelevant, then you’re going to lose followers as soon as you get them.  Armed with the competitor’s information and the relevant keywords, you’re prepped to start creating useful articles that your followers will actually read and use.  Even though each tweet has a maximum of 140 characters, you can send the link to your content.  Giving your customers useful tips and suggestions that relate to your industry can win you loyal customers for life.

Twitter is so much more than selfies.  It’s a more powerful medium than I ever though it could be, and harnessing that power gives you far-reaching access to millions of potential customers.    


Three Ways to Improve Your Business Messaging

All businesses need to communicate a consistent story that describes who they are, what they do and why customers need their products or services.  But even relatively small businesses count on a number of employees to deliver the story in everything from advertising to bids.  Add social media to the mix and your business can become victim to issues ranging from sales errors to serious legal concerns.  To avoid potential financial losses or hits to your company’s reputation, you need to take control over every aspect of your business messaging to keep it correct and consistent.

Here are three methods for ensuring that the public hears the message that you intend to send.

Provide a Single Source of Key Company Information

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When a newspaper ad shows a 20 percent discount until July while your website shows a 10 percent discount until May, you have to honor the better offer.  You also have to honor bids offered to customers by sales reps who quoted lower prices shortly after you increased prices across your entire product line.  These can be costly errors that you can control by developing a better communication system with your employees.

Everyone in your company needs to turn to a single source where they can find the up-to-date information that they need to do their jobs effectively and accurately.  Here are two of the most typical examples of systems that can be worth the initial effort:

  • Marketing information can be maintained in word processing documents on your company’s network.  With an easy-to-follow organization and identification system, your employees can copy and paste this content into their advertising or other business documents to deliver a consistent message to the public.  But to be effective, the content needs to be up-to-the minute, so make sure that timely updates are a number one priority for the individuals who are responsible for them.
  • Product pricing information can be easy to find if your sales staff members can use their smart phones to gain instant access to a secure online database.  If your company’s growth requires you to find a high-tech solution to help your sales reps, this type of system might be a good investment to consider.  But even if your young company is operating on a shoe string budget, your reps should make a quick phone call to confirm prices before handing a quote over to a customer.

Channel All Important Communications Through One Person for Review

No matter how many safeguards that you use to ensure consistency, the most current information may not always be available.  In fact, your employees may not even be aware of your plans to target new types of customers or change prices within the next few weeks.

This is why you need to select a very small group of inner-circle staff members to have signing authority for the release of important messaging,- even if that “small group” consists of just you! 

Reserve Social Media Messaging for Employees That You Trust

Even in the hands of experts, social media campaigns can unexpectedly go wrong, as was the case in 2012, when McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign and customers decided to use it to post complaints.  But social media has become an important part of company marketing tools, especially for small businesses looking to get maximum return on their limited advertising dollars.

Twitter quickly becomes a double-edged sword in the hands of your employees, even if their intentions are honorable.  What would happen if a loyal employee decides to respond in kind when a customer tweets a rudely-worded complaint?  The original complaint will likely fade out in a short time.  But a snarky response issued under your company’s name can catch the attention of the news media, causing serious damage to your brand.

Rule of thumb:  Grant permission to only a few individuals to broadcast messages on social media accounts that bear the company name.  And, while you may not have control over their private activities, strongly encourage all employees to keep your company name out of their personal Tweets, as well.  Also, consider putting together a style and communications guide to minimize the potential for off-message posts.

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Clearly, the words that you broadcast to the world can make a tremendous difference to your company’s reputation and bottom line.  Taking control over your company’s message takes some effort, but it is a task that you should make a priority.


What Is the Ice Bucket Challenge for Small Business Owners?

Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426)Have you taken the “Ice Bucket Challenge”? It challenges friends to put a bucket of ice over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association. The rules state that within 24 hours of being challenged, participants need to video record themselves by accepting the challenge followed by pouring a bucket of ice over their head. The participant then challenges others on that video. As a result of this viral phenomenon, the ALS Association has received $31.5 million in donations during the past month. 

What would the small business version of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Consider these for yourself:

“The Cash Flow” Challenge: You only have $1000 in the bank on Monday to keep running your business until Friday. Help to beat this challenge: Learn how to read a cash flow statement every month so there are no surprises.  If cash is low, isolate the expenses that need to absolutely be paid or it will drive you out of business. Be direct to vendors and employees about when they can expect to be paid.

“The Customer Satisfaction” Challenge: Your top customer is dissatisfied and is threatening to leave your business. Help to beat this challenge: Listen fully to what the customer has to say. Ask them what the best solution to the problem is. Follow through to a resolution and report back to them on the results.

“The Key Employee Left” Challenge: A key employee just quit and now you have to replace them in 24 hours. Where do you look to replace them? Help to beat this challenge: Always ensure that your employees are cross trained so if one leaves, another can do that job for at least a short time.

“The New Version of Your Product Doesn’t Work” Challenge: You announced a new product, but the latest test show it does not work. You have thousands on backorder. Help to beat this challenge: Isolate what is wrong with the product and what can it be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. Take any other functionality out and notify backorder customers when a product can be shipped.

“The 16 Hours of Work Needs to Get Done in 24 Hours” Challenge: You have a huge pile of work to get done today that will take a lot longer than you have. Help to beat this challenge: First decide what not to do. How will it really affect the business if the work was done tomorrow instead of today? What two things must get done today that are critical to the company?

What would your small business challenge be?




 
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